Catharine MacKinnon speaking at Cambridge
August 21, 2019

Recognizing the Lifelong Work of Pioneer Catharine MacKinnon to End Sexual Exploitation

Catharine MacKinnon is a giant in the movement to end sexual exploitation. Her work as a radical feminist has been groundbreaking, leading to much progress on various fronts of the movement, including sexual inequality, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, pornography, and more. Over the past few decades she has influenced the views of many activists, researchers, students, and more, securing her place in history alongside the likes of Andrea Dworkin and other radical feminists. That is why the National Organization for Women presented her with the Woman of Vision award at their 2019 NOW Conference in July. 

At the conference, which was held in Minneapolis, NOW president Toni Van Pelt said, “Catharine A. MacKinnon is truly a woman of vision. It was her vision of sexual abuse as sex inequality that transformed legal theory and the public debate over issues such as sexual harassment, rape, pornography, and prostitution. It was her vision that led to the Supreme Court of Canada to largely accept her approaches to equality, pornography, and hate speech, and it was her vision that helped her win with co-counsel a damage award of millions for women survivors of Serbian genocidal sexual atrocities. NOW is proud to honor her with our Woman of Vision award.” 

Pioneering the Prosecution of Pornography

MacKinnon has done work that has been truly monumental, such as her representation of Linda Boreman (also known by stage name Linda Lovelace), who starred in the notorious pornographic film, Deep Throat. Linda Boreman’s life was filled with rape, beatings, and overall terror as she was sold for her pretty face by her manager husband. When Boreman went public with her story, MacKinnon stepped forward to represent her, and, with Andrea Dworkin, she pursued civil rights litigation as a means to fight pornography. Prior to these landmark hearings in which Boreman testified, MacKinnon said “the legal argument over pornography had essentially only considered the freedom of speech issues.”

These hearings paved the way for people who had been victimized by pornography to speak up about their experiences in the making or use of pornography. Because of MacKinnon’s work here, pornography has become more than just an issue of free speech. In her own words, “The ‘speech’ of the pornographers is the use and abuse of the bodies of mainly women, who were far from free and were not speaking for themselves.” Her work has led to the much-needed expansion of the conversations and considerations surrounding the harms and prosecution of pornography.

Laying the Groundwork for Addressing Gender Inequality in Sexual Harassment

Catharine MacKinnon was a trailblazer in other areas of the movement, as well, notably including her establishment of the legal claim that sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of gender discrimination. She coined the term while she was still in law school at Yale in 1974, leading to her writing her first book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination (1978). Less than a decade after the book was written, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed with MacKinnon’s claim in the 1986 Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case, in which MacKinnon was co-counsel.

Academic Achievements and Leadership

Catharine MacKinnonAs if her achievements outside the classroom weren’t impressive enough, Catharine MacKinnon also has an awe-inspiring academic history. She received both a J.D. and a Ph.D. from Yale University. She has taught as a guest professor at law schools and universities all over the world, including Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, Yale Law School, University of Basel, Hebrew University, and more. She was hired in 1990 with tenure to teach at the University of Michigan Law School. 

Her research and writings have been the basis and inspiration for many other researchers and students in various fields, as well. She has written such books as Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women’s Equality (with Andrea Dworkin), Toward a Feminist Theory of State, Only Words, In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings, and more. According to Brittanica, her Feminism Unmodified has been “documented as one of the most widely cited books on law in the English language.”

A Woman Worthy of Recognition

Catharine MacKinnon’s vast involvement and influence in the movement to end sexual exploitation and gender-based discrimination has been more than enough to earn her a place in history. The acknowledgement of her achievements by the National Organization of Women is much deserved. Because of Catharine MacKinnon’s work, we are closer to a world free from sexual exploitation, and for that we are forever grateful! 

To read some of the incredible research MacKinnon and other esteemed researchers have done on the harms of pornography, please visit pornharmsresearch.com and our page on the public health impacts of pornography.

To say thank you to Catherine MacKinnon for her inspiring and groundbreaking work, please share this tweet:

Thank you, Catharine MacKinnon, for your groundbreaking work that has laid the foundation for new laws and research regarding sexual exploitation. We stand with @NationalNOW in recognizing your contributions to the #EndExploitation movement. Click To Tweet

Renae Powers

Office Administrator (2019)

As Office Administrator for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Renae advances the day-to-day functioning for the NCOSE office, runs the NCOSE Online Store, maintains the various calendars and timelines for NCOSE, serves as IT, implements in-office events, serves in an administrative capacity for the Law Center, and generally meets the administrative needs to bring about NCOSE’s mission.

Prior to joining the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s staff, Renae was a flight attendant. Her experiences in the airline industry have made her a passionate advocate to end inflight sexual assault and harassment. After attending the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation’s Global Summit in 2018, she wrote a guest blog for the NCOSE website on inflight sexual assault and harassment as well as tracked down pending federal legislation which proved invaluable to NCOSE’s Fly Free Campaign. Renae has been passionate about seeing an end to sexual exploitation for many years, but for a long time she believed that there was nothing she could do to make a difference. Now she is very excited to be able to support the movement behind the scenes at NCOSE!

Renae is a student at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government. She is an alumna of Phi Theta Kappa, a National Honor Society. Prior to going to college, she graduated early from high school (with Honors) and graduated as class valedictorian at both esthetician school and flight attendant school. When she is not busy with work or school, Renae enjoys reading, dancing, traveling to new places, and participating in theatrical productions. She also loves spending time with her little brothers.

Further Reading

Related