Catharine A. MacKinnon

American feminist and legal activist

Catharine Alice MacKinnon (born 7 October 1946) is an American radical feminist, scholar, lawyer, teacher, and activist.

I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated.



Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory (1982) Signs Vol. 7, No.3

  • Women and men are divided by gender, made into the sexes as we know them, by the social requirements of heterosexuality, which institutionalizes male sexual dominance and female sexual submission.
    • p. 533

Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence (1983) Signs Vol. 8 No. 4

  • ”Perhaps the wrong of rape has proven so difficult to articulate because the unquestionable starting point has been that rape is definable as distinct from intercourse, when for women it is difficult to distinguish them under conditions of male dominance.”
    • p. 647

Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (1987)

  • Stopped as attribute of a person, sex inequality takes the form of gender; moving as a relation between people, it takes the form of sexuality. Gender emerges as the congealed form of the sexualization of inequaltiy between men and women.
    • "Introduction - The Art of the Impossible", p. 6
  • Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated. You might think that's too broad. I'm not talking about sending all of you men to jail for that. I'm talking about attempting to change the nature of the relations between women and men by having women ask ourselves: "Did I feel violated?" To me, part of the culture of sexual inequality that makes women not report rape is that the definition of rape is not based on our sense of our violation.
    • "A Rally Against Rape" (1981), p. 82
  • Men who are in prison for rape think it's the dumbest thing that ever happened... It isn't just a miscarriage of justice; they were put in jail for something very little different from what most men do most of the time and call it sex. The only difference is they got caught. That view is nonremorseful and not rehabilitative. It may also be true. It seems to me we have here a convergence between the rapist's view of what he has done and the victim's perspective on what was done to her. That is, for both, their ordinary experiences of heterosexual intercourse and the act of rape have something in common. Now this gets us into intense trouble. because that's exactly how judges and juries see it who refuse to convict men accused of rape. A rape victim has to prove that it was not intercourse. She has to show that there was force and she resisted, because if there was sex, consent is inferred. Finders of fact look for "more force than usual during the preliminaries." Rape is defined by distinction from intercourse—not nonviolence, intercourse. They ask, does this even look more like fucking or like rape? But what is their standard for sex, and is this question asked from the woman's point of view? The level of force is not adjudicated at her point of violation; it is adjudicated at the standard of the normal level of force. Who sets this standard?"
    • "Sex and Violence: A Perspective" (1981), p. 88
  • In all these situations, there was not enough violence against them to take it beyond the category of "sex"; they were not coerced enough.
    • "Sex and Violence: A Perspective" (1981), p. 88
  • In my opinion, no feminism worthy of the name is not methodologically post-marxist.
    • "Desire and Power: A Feminist Perspective" (1983), p. 60
  • To be a prisoner means to be defined as a member of a group for whom the rules of what can be done to you, of what is seen as abuse of you, are reduced as part of the definition of your status.
    • "Francis Biddle's Sister: Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech" (1984), p. 170
  • Show me an abuse of women in society, I'll show it to you made sex in the pornography. If you want to know who is being hurt in this society, go see what is being done and to whom in pornography and then go look for them other places in the world. You will find them being hurt in just that way.
    • "Francis Biddle's Sister: Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech" (1984), p. 188
  • We are stripped of authority and reduced and devaluated and silenced. Silenced here means that the purposes of the First Amendment, premised upon conditions presumed and promoted by protecting free speech, do not pertain to women because they are not our conditions. Consider them: individual self-fulfillment – how does pornography promote our individual self-fulfillment? How does sexual inequality even permit it? Even if she can form words, who listens to a woman with a penis in her mouth?
    • "Francis Biddle's Sister: Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech" (1984), p. 193

Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: "Pleasure under Patriarchy" (1989) Ethics, Vol. 99, No. 2 pp. 314-346

  • Compare victims' reports of rape with women's reports of sex. They look a lot alike
  • the major distinction between intercourse (normal) and rape (abnormal) is that the normal happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it.
  • Male sexuality is apparently activated by violence against women and expresses itself in violence against women to a significant extent.
  • Women fake vaginal orgasms, the only 'mature' sexuality, because men demand that they enjoy vaginal penetration.
  • Nor is homosexuality without stake in this gendered sexual system. Putting to one side the obviously gendered content of expressly adopted roles, clothing, and sexual mimicry, to the extent the gender of a sexual object is crucial to arousal, the structure of social power that stands behind and defines gender is hardly irrelevant, even if it is rearranged.
  • Some have argued that lesbian sexuality-meaning here simply women having sex with women not men-solves the problem of gender by eliminating men from women's voluntary sexual encounters. Yet women's sexuality remains constructed under conditions of male supremacy; women remain socially defined as women in relation to men; the definition of women as men's inferiors remains sexual even if not heterosexual, whether men are present at the time or not.

Reflections on Sex Equality under Law (1991) Yale Law Journal Vol.100 No. 5

  • "Women are raped and coerced into sex."
    • p. 1213
  • “Women are socially disadvantaged in controlling sexual access to their bodies through socialization to customs that define a woman's body as for sexual use by men. Sexual access is regularly forced or pressured or routinized beyond denial.”
    • p. 1212

Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1991)


Originally published in: (1982) "Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory" Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7(3):515–44

  • Objectivity is the methodological stance of which objectification is the social process. Sexual objectification is the primary process of the subjection of women. It unites act with word, construction with expression, perception with enforcement, myth with reality. Man fucks woman; subject verb object.

Only Words (1993)

  • Imagine that for hundreds of years your most formative traumas, your daily suffering and pain, the abuse you live through, the terror you live with, are unspeakable — not the basis of literature. You grow up with your father holding you down and covering your mouth so another man can make a horrible searing pain between your legs.… You learn how to leave your body and create someone else who takes over when you cannot stand it any more. You develop a self who is ingratiating and obsequious and imitative and aggressively passive and silent — you learn, in a word, femininity.
    • pp. 3-7
  • Empirically, all pornography is made under conditions of inequality based on sex, overwhelmingly by poor, desperate, homeless, pimped women who were sexually abused as children.
    • p. 20

Are Women Human?: and Other International Dialogues (2006)

  • So the idea that there is nothing essential, in the sense that there are no human universals, is dogma. Ask most anyone who is going to be shot at dawn.
    • "Postmodernism and Human Rights" (2000), p. 53
  • What postmodernism gives us instead is a multicultural defense for male violence - a defense for it wherever it is, which in effect is a pretty universal defense.
    • "Postmodernism and Human Rights" (2000), p. 54
  • Can postmodernism hold the perpetrators of genocide accountable?
    • "Postmodernism and Human Rights" (2000), p. 58
  • Postmodernism is an academic theory, originating in academia with an academic elite, not in the world of women and men, where feminist theory is rooted.
    • "Postmodernism and Human Rights" (2000), p. 62


  • All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.
    • The allegation that Catharine MacKinnon equated sex with rape, or suggested that all sex is hostile, seems to have been first made in the October 1986 issue of Playboy. Catharine MacKinnon has denied ever saying anything of the kind. [1]
    • Instead MacKinnon asserts that rape and intercourse are "difficult to distinguish" (1983), and that "the major distinction between intercourse (normal) and rape (abnormal) is that the normal happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it" (1989).
  • In a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give meaningful consent.
    • These words were quoted by the conservative writer Cal Thomas as coming from Professing Feminism, a book by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge which he mistakenly ascribed to Catharine MacKinnon. [2] The actual passage in that book are the authors' characterization of MacKinnon's views rather than a direct quotation:
      • And Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon have long argued that in a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not in a strong enough social position to give meaningful consent—an assault on individual female autonomy uncannily reminiscent of old arguments for why women should not have political rights.
    • Instead MacKinnon argues that heterosexuality "institutionalizes male sexual dominance and female sexual submission" (1982) and that "Sexual access is regularly forced or pressured or routinized beyond denial" (1991).
  • Feminism, Socialism, and Communism are one in [sic] the same, and Socialist/Communist government is the goal of Feminism.
    • Falsely attributed to Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (First Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 10 in "Waste, Fraud, and Abuse: Hearing Before the Committee on Ways and Means", US House of Representatives, 2003-07-17, and spread on the Internet.
    • Probably based on the quotation opening Chapter 1: "Marxism and feminism are one, and that one is Marxism." — Heidi Hartmann and Amy Bridges, "The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism"

About MacKinnon

  • In the 1980s, Ellen Willis led the so-called pro-sex radical feminists in their heated challenge to the antipornography movement. Countering the arguments of Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and others that "sexual liberation is a male supremacist plot, Willis proclaimed that sexual liberation was the keystone of broader social and cultural change.
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2020)
  • I find myself again cut off, babbling "buts." I find myself then, also, drawn to Catharine MacKinnon's eloquent "discourses on life and law," in which she argues that viewing gender as a matter of sameness and difference covers up the reality of gender as a system of power, hierarchy, and privilege, of imposed inequality. The point is that more than one thing is true for us at the same time.
    • Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
  • "Sometimes I wonder if MacKinnon has simply been driven mad by all the sick things people do to one another. I, too, recoil in pain and incomprehension whenever I hear about the latest psychopath who has shot his mother, machine-gunned his coworkers, raped his daughter, or slashed a prostitute. I notice that such men are more likely to have read the bible than pornography, but I do not hold either script responsible for their actions."
  • "Sexual speech, not MacKinnon's speech, is the most repressed and disdained kind of expression in our world, and MacKinnon is no rebel or radical to attack it."
  • "She ends her letter, characteristically, by picturing me and her other critics as indifferent to the suffering of women. But many feminists, including several who wrote or spoke to me about my review, regret her single-minded concentration on lurid sex. They think that though it has predictably attracted much publicity, it tends to stereotype women as victims, and takes attention from still urgent questions of economic, political, and professional equality."
  • "Perhaps MacKinnon should reflect on these suggestions that the censorship issue is not so simple-minded, so transparently gender-against-gender, as she insists. She should stop calling names long enough to ask whether personal sensationalism, hyperbole, and bad arguments are really what the cause of sexual equality now needs."
  • "Don’t even get me started on MacKinnon... Now I’d just look at her and shake my head and go, “tsk tsk tsk,” and say, “You know what, I’m really sorry you are that bitter and angry,” cuz that’s what it is. It’s her fuel. It’s what drives her. It’s not that she is not smart, but I do believe she is deluded, and I do believe anger and fear and jealousy and resentment and frustration and out-and-out prudery are what drive her, are her motivating forces... MacKinnon really does feel like she is helping women, while at the same time, she and Dworkin and their ilk silence women. They won’t listen to our stories, our truths."
    • Nina Hartley, interviewed in Bust Guide to the New Girl Order (1999)
  • In her brilliant study Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination, Catharine A. MacKinnon delineates the intersection of compulsory heterosexuality and economics.
Wikipedia has an article about: