Women's Lives, Men's Laws

Catharine A. MacKinnon, Author Belknap Press $39.95 (558p) ISBN 978-0-674-01540-1
As an activist and legal scholar, MacKinnon has been a prominent force in feminism since the mid-1970s, when she pioneered the legal claim for sexual harassment. Her latest volume brings together 29 essays that show how the juridical legal system empowers men at the expense of women. In tortuous academic prose, MacKinnon offers thought-provoking commentary on a wide range of subjects, including the ERA, abortion, Brown v. Board of Education, the history of sexual harassment law and the intersections of sexism with racial inequality and animal rights. ""Interrogating how animals are treated like women, and women like animals, and both like things, can shed reciprocal light,"" she writes in her essay ""Of Mice and Men."" Elsewhere, she wonders whether the law should ""rationally reflect society or change it? From whose point of view?"" MacKinnon's cause celebre-her arguments for the censorship of pornography-runs throughout the volume, but this controversial thread may weaken the book as a whole. ""Pornography,"" in her view, consists solely of visual images illustrating the subordination of women. And she appears to be unduly dismissive of women who watch or make pornography or who oppose its censorship. MacKinnon also seems to believe that there is little difference between actual violence and violence that is modeled, staged or faked. Readers who vehemently disagree with these interpretations may be annoyed to find them cropping up repeatedly but, for others, this book serves as a provocative, startling window on the battles currently being fought in some of the most contested areas of American law.
Reviewed on: 01/31/2005
Release date: 02/01/2005
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Paperback - 558 pages - 978-0-674-02406-9
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