The first part of this essay interrogates the substance, significance, and style of feminist legal thinker Catharine MacKinnon’s oeuvre. It argues that both the feminist dimensions of our contemporary sexual landscape (identifying, then remedying, conduct as sexually discriminating or subordinating) and its panicked equivalences (regrouping consented-to but unwanted and uncomfortable sex as assaultive) can be understood nontrivially but incompletely as MacKinnon’s progeny. MacKinnon bequeaths both political projects to feminism, two political children. The second part of the essay tracks the rhetorical use of “children” in MacKinnon’s scholarship, the textual travails of MacKinnon’s little girls. Children perform two rhetorical functions for MacKinnon. First, the figure of the child allows MacKinnon to draw out innocence as an ideological formation that mystifies the sexual subordination of women. But second, MacKinnon remodels women as children. By rendering the former always already helpless against, vulnerable to, and abused by sex, MacKinnon authorizes a politics of censorship and repression: a politics categorically opposed to pornography, prostitution, and kink, certainly, and all but categorically opposed to sex. The ways the “child” and its cognates affectively and schematically operate in MacKinnon’s texts serve to mirror and magnify a split within feminist politics, at once radical and transformative, paternalistic and panicked.
Catharine MacKinnon’s Wayward Children
joseph j. fischel is an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University and author of Screw Consent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice (University of California Press, 2019). He is currently researching the life and afterlife of sodomy law in New Orleans and beyond.
Joseph J. Fischel; Catharine MacKinnon’s Wayward Children. differences 1 May 2019; 30 (1): 34–54. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-7481204
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