PHIL 242 - “Sexuality”
- CATHARINE MACKINNON
PERFORMANCE, PERSPECTIVE, AND MATERIAL REALITY
SEXUALITYAS ACORE ISSUE FOR FEMINISM
- “Crucial feminist questions”: “What do sexuality and gender inequality have to do with each
other? How do dominance and submission become sexualized, or why is hierarchy sexy? How
does it get attached to male and female?”
- MacKinnon’sAnswer: “Rape, battery, sexual harassment, sexual abuse of children, prostitution,
and pornography... express and actualize the distinctive power of men over women in society;
their effective permissibility confirms and extends it.”
- “It has become customary to affirm that sexuality is socially constructed. Seldom specified is
what, socially, it is constructed of, far less who does the constructing or how, when, or where.”
- “If women have been deprived not only of their own experience but of terms of their own in
which to view it, then a feminist theory of sexuality which seeks to understand women’s
situation in order to change it must first identify and criticize the construct “sexuality” as a
construct that has circumscribed and defined experience as well as theory. This requires
capturing it in the world, in its situated social meanings, as it is being constructed in life on a
- “Sexual meaning is not made only, or even primarily, through words and texts. It is made in
social relations of power in the world, through which process gender is also produced.”
- The study of politics is based on “power itself, as socially defined,” and the ways this is
experienced by material bodies, in real life.
- This leads MacKinnon to a variety of sources of evidence: • Crime statistics • Men’s and
women’s accounts of what sex feels like to them • What kinds of pornography make money
NEED FOR PRACTICAL, LEGAL REACTIONS
- MacKinnon has devoted much of her life to legal changes...
- ...In particular, her writing is extremely influential in laws about sexual harassment and hate
speech, and in debates about how to interpret the legal status of equality.
WHAT GETS DEFINED AS ‘SEX’?
- Widely understood in terms of ...heterosexual... ...genital-genital contact... ...directed to male
orgasm. (This provides evidence that sexuality is defined politically and culturally, and by men)
WHAT DO PEOPLE (ESPECIALLY MEN) FIND SEXY?
- Evidence is also available from pornography (and also from what non-pornographic movies are
considered hot, etc.):
- ...what our culture finds sexy is not reproduction...
- ...not love, concern, and tenderness...
- ...but domination and violence.
- (So force is part of what we mean by sexuality, not just something that gets mixed up with
sexuality from time to time.) VARIETIES OF PORNOGRAPHYAND SEXUALITY
- MacKinnon thinks this is evidence that in societies like ours, sexuality and violent domination
cannot be separated from each other...
- ...but this doesn’t mean that all sexuality is the same:
- pornography ranges from humiliation and torture to availability and “have-ability”
- sexual practice ranges from “the street and the fist” to pressure, guilt trips, ‘how-to
HOWARE WOMEN INVOLVED?
- MacKinnon argues that sexuality victimizes women: “Women also embrace standards of
women’s place in this regime as “our own” to varying degrees and in varying voices...
- ...as affirmation of identity and right to pleasure, in order to be loved and approved and paid, in
order just to make it through another day.
- ...This, not inert passivity is the meaning of being a victim. The term is not moral: who is to
blame or to be pitied or condemned or held responsible. It is not prescriptive: what we shou