On MacKinnon

Having the sex positive readings of last class at my back, I felt intensely disoriented and confronted by MacKinnon’s article, “Pleasure under Patriarchy”. Her language swung between theoretical distance and an almost oratorical furor; personally, I preferred the former for its relative lack of loaded, incendiary language. However, I did find useful some arguments that MacKinnon mobilized in support of her larger theoretical goal. It is these that I want to point to as possible moments of connection with previous authors.

MacKinnon argues that, like gender, sexuality and desire are entirely social constructions. She criticizes a feminist approach to sexuality that ignores question of “how it comes to be attached and attributed to what it is, embodied and practiced as it is, contextualized in the ways it is, signifying and referring to what it does” (317). This is part of a passage that more clearly fleshes out things that were only hinted at in Sedwick, Butler, and Rubin’s works; she is calling for the application of gendered power relationships to sexuality in a historical, contextual way. However, in her own application of this, her arguments begin to diverge wildly from Butler and Rubin, in particular.

Because I feel like MacKinnon’s divergence from Rubin is more pervasive and probably a larger project than a blog post might want to take on, I’ll approach a particular section of argument that brought to mind Butler’s paper. In the brief (almost dismissive) discussion of gay and lesbian sexual practice, MacKinnon seems to be in conversation with Butler in terms of the causal relationship between heterosexuality and homosexuality. MacKinnon, in the space of one paragraph, relegates gay sex to the realm of “sexual mimicry” and explicitly posits gayness and lesbianism as products of and rearrangements of heterosexuality (330—331). In return, Butler would argue that this portrait of maleness and femaleness, heterosexuality and homosexuality, ignores the fact that both are performative and mutually constituting. Because MacKinnon is understanding and working with dominance and submission as inherently gendered, she then states that “it may also be that sexuality is so gender marked that it carries dominance and submission with it, no matter the gender of its participants”, as if somehow the act of dominance imbues masculinity upon its actor regardless of the actor’s gender (331). This is not intuitive to me, and I was not persuaded by MacKinnon’s text.


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