My Encounter With Catherine A. MacKinnon


Seven, or maybe eight, years ago, I met Catherine MacKinnon at a Gender Studies “brown bag” lunch at the local university. It was the sort of event designed to allow people in the Humanities, the Law School, Social Work, the Social Sciences and often even the Real Sciences to mingle more casually than a formal workshop setting. Someone invited MacKinnon because she was teaching a class that year, though no faculty dared show up lest they lose their 90s pro-porn street cred. I have a theory that in the 90s, it was required that every academic feminist write at least one essay about how she enjoys watching gay porn while wearing Calvin Klein Boxer shorts. It’s still only a theory because I haven’t finished reading all the feminist articles about how awesome gay porn is. This investment in the Calvin Klein-Boxer shorts archive held many faculty back from an interesting encounter.

As it was, MacKinnon showed up to be greeted by a room full of women with the only men being Chamberlain and myself. She had this kind of ravaged beauty, as if she had once been beyond stunning but it had been burnt away by an intense rage. After the anger, what was left was an even more dignified grace. She spoke calmly, even sweetly, and the collected presentation of her thoughts belied how insane the contents of her speech were. I wrote earlier that I was sympathetic to her anti-porn position, but I wrote this out of an abstract admiration of some of the qualities I saw in her argument. They hearken back to things John Locke says about the social contract; about a contract being void if any party willingly agrees to willfully harm himself in the deal. My sympathy for that position comes from a real-life conviction that sometimes we harm ourselves without knowing it, and occasionally it takes an outside intervention to show that. I am not convinced, however, that this translates to pornography. The argument itself, stripped of her rhetoric, is what I found so interesting.

This was different. MacKinnon told us she was outlining an extension of her ‘Marxist’ social theory on gender to gays and lesbians. I thought, “this could really be interesting” and began to nod in advance. A murmer went around the room. Then she launched it to it. She told us that she subscribes to the belief that more young boys have been molested by their fathers, older brothers, uncles, or some guy, than actually recall their abuse (she was once married to Jeffrey Masson for a while, so this shouldn’t have been a surprise); the statistic she gave out was absurd, like 90% of boys were being molested. These young boys go on to repress their memories, and are thereby inaugurated into a gender system that encourages them to seek revenge for this abuse on women. Where’s the gay? She insisted that gay men handle this abuse better than straight men do, because “at least they don’t rape women. They just rape each other.” She seemed very pleased with the gays, turning to smile at me. How it referred to lesbians, I forget. Something equally stupid and offensive, I’m sure. I remember straight women being the worst of the bunch, next to the rapists, because they didn’t just go out and become lesbians to get away from rape.

Like I said, she presented herself with grace and delivered this material in a soft-spoken voice but with enough of a tremor in her features so that you thought twice about challenging her in case she would leap across the room and tear out your throat with her teeth. What was most crazy was that all the young lesbians and straight/bi feminists were eating this shit up with a spoon. Some of them had tears in their eyes! I wanted to challenge some of the assumptions about childhood abuse and fantasy that she’d taken from Masson’s book, Assault on Truth, so I began to raise my hand. Chamberlain gave me a look and subtly shook his head “no.” He was a little more intimidated by the atmosphere in the room than I. I caught up with him, though, when a bookish undergraduate raised her hand and asked, “It seems that this is a chicken or egg situation. How do you know that it was the abuse of young boys that first led to the system of gender repression, or if it was the system of gender repression that causes the boys to be abused in the first place?” MacKinnon smiled and answered, “I’ve always believed that if you break all the eggs, there will be no more chickens.”

Both Chamberlain and I instinctively crossed our legs.

Betty Crocker or Queen Elizabeth?

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14 Responses to “My Encounter With Catherine A. MacKinnon”

  1. az Says:

    That story is great. Especially the chicken and egg punchline. Thank you.

  2. darknessatnoon Says:

    My pleasure! Unfortunately, I’ve got plenty of bizarre academic encounters to discuss. At least I’ll have fodder for posts for some time.

  3. Zed Says:

    My favorite McKinnon line comes from a New York Times Magazine article about her and Jeffrey Masson. She was asked how the apparent heteronormativity of her private life jibed with her public discourse, and she explained their relationship by saying, “He’s not not a man, and I’m not not a woman.”I think that might be the funniest use of the double negative I’ve ever seen.

  4. darknessatnoon Says:

    Zed, I wish you had come to this ‘special event’ to meet our illustrious speaker. I forget what kept you away, but you know more about anti-porn feminism than anyone I’ve met. I think you’re the only person I know who has ever been able to read one of Andrea Dworkin’s novels.

  5. Zed Says:

    Alas, I never made it all the way through Mercy, but I did read a handful of her essays. Seeing her lecture was an experience, too.As a Chris Kraus fan, shouldn’t you read her novels? Powers of horror, both of them.

  6. Zed Says:

    A request: If you’re going to do academic anecdote blogging, you should tell the story of your response to Joseph Massad over at the Institutionalized Humanities.

  7. darknessatnoon Says:

    Oh, well then you’re not as exceptional as I surmised! :)I will try to take up your challenge. And I’ll blog about the experience. Maybe! I can’t believe I haven’t gotten to blogging about Chris Kraus, yet.

  8. darknessatnoon Says:

    “A request: If you’re going to do academic anecdote blogging, you should tell the story of your response to Joseph Massad over at the Institutionalized Humanities.”I can’t. Joseph is such a fucking moron that I cannot even see his name without feeling a rising fury. Still, it was a funny incident… No, I wouldn’t be able to write about it with a level head, or without foaming at the mouth. Plus, there would be no way of writing about it and maintaining ANY measure of anonymity given how infamous the incident was.Plus, I’m sure he googles his own name, HOURLY, between eating babies and bashing gay Arabs.

  9. Zed Says:

    Gay Arab babies: The Breakfast of Champions!

  10. darknessatnoon Says:

    “Gay Arab babies: The Breakfast of Champions!”Several comments come to mind, however I can’t make them without totally undermining the tone of the above post. Thanks for baiting me.

  11. Greythorn Says:

    This is one feminist who can recognize shit for shit. Mackinnon is a true misandrist, and she seems to have a raging hatred not only for the entire male gender, but for gender equality as well.

  12. darknessatnoon Says:

    To be fair, Greythorn, I think the young woman who asked the question also recognized it was shit. Her question pointed out a really great/obvious contradiction, and I should give her more credit. Still, it IS shit, and MacKinnon’s sway over people is very troubling.

  13. sammyinsydney Says:

    okay you had me laughin hard with that post. i really think you need to tell more stories about life at ooh-klah… anytime foolfathomfive spoke of you when i first met him it was filled with these wondrous scenes of confrontation.my favorite one he told about himself was the art history class where a sheepish female student protested at some gay art because it was shit and blood on a sheet. he screamed in rage, “To some of us shit and blood on a sheet is beautiful!”

  14. darknessatnoon Says:

    Hi Sammy,That incident involved a discussion of Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed. I actually wasn’t there at the time, but as I recall hearing it, an older student raised her hand and asked how this could be beautiful. It didn’t adhere to any definition of beauty she’d ever heard of. The professor gave some multi-culti non-answer about their being many kinds of beauty, when Dat finally interrupted to say “Being a faggot, I find shit and cum all over a bed to be very beautiful!”

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