Catharine MacKinnon on Sexuality

In her article “Sexuality, Pornography, and Methods”, MacKinnon takes a radical feminist view of sexuality and characterizes it as a “social construct of male power” that is imposed on women by men (316). Male power dictates to women how sexuality is to be “felt and expressed and experienced” (317). MacKinnon also equates female sexual assertiveness with the acceptance of male sexual aggression and thus not resisting against rape (322). MacKinnon draws on the inherent (?) power dynamics involved when a penis penetrates a vagina and equates what she describes as the social construct of female sexuality with what “male desire requires for arousal and satisfaction” (318-319). She also indicates that the social norm of sexuality is heterosexuality, which is by nature characterized by male dominance and female submission (319).  The dominant and submissive script of normative sexuality can be seen in heterosexual relationships and are also allegedly replicated in butch/femme relationships in the lesbian community, as well as the top/bottom dynamic in the BDSM community (324). MacKinnon also takes an anti-pornography stance in the essay. Pornography, MacKinnon asserts, provides for the fulfillment of male sexual fantasies that often involve subjecting the women to violence and degradation.
MacKinnon’s rational seems to be that women cannot experience sexuality independent of men or male expectations, for “violence and abuse”, she claims, are central to sexuality (323). MacKinnon’s claims seem to suggest internalized sexism and slut-shaming for she invalidates the experiences of women who have sexual desire for their own sake, especially when those desires do not involve men (masturbatory desires or same-sex desires). Furthermore, her argument is transphobic. Right from the start, she invalidates the feminist theories of those who are not biologically female, regardless of whether the individual identifies as such (316). Furthermore, her discrediting penetrative sex as oppressive is complicated by the fact that it can take place between transwomen and their partners, as well as lesbians, gay men, and many other combinations of partners. Her critique of pornography is based on the generalization that pornography is merely a vehicle for women to be subjected to objectification and fantasized degradation by men. However, some pornography features men being dominated by women, and others only involve partners of one gender (MacKinnon would undoubtedly make the argument that the woman is merely assuming the masculine position of power, and that the queer couples are merely reflecting heterosexual scripts in who is the dominant figure). (What is of note is that MacKinnon once had a male fiancé with whom she presumably had an allosexual heterosexual relationship; it appears as if her personal life does not quite align with her political views.)

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One thought on “Catharine MacKinnon on Sexuality

  1. I would agree that much of MacKinnon’s argument is rooted in the gender binary and thus excludes the sort of “gray area” of the gender neutral/trans population. I also think that MacKinnon has an overly simplistic view of female sexuality- that it cannot be viewed as an expression of agency because it is an inherent “response to powerlessness” (343). This view seems to eliminate the possibility of empowering sex between various combinations of partners (like you wrote about).

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