Catharine MacKinnon's Book Feminism Unmodified
Catharine MacKinnon, in her book Feminism Unmodified, takes a unique approach to the problem of gender inequality in America. She claims that pornography defines the way in which America’s patriarchal society perpetuates male dominance, and attacks traditional liberal methods that defend pornography on the basis of the first amendment’s right to free speech. According to MacKinnon, pornography is not an example of speech but rather an act. She proposes that this act discriminates against women as a class, and therefore violates their civil rights and should be outlawed. MacKinnon’s critics may think her argument is excessively radical, and contemporary society may not embrace the changes she suggests. However, even if she is deliberately provocative Catharine MacKinnon’s message is worthwhile: The American male power structure dominates women and must be changed. Establishing sexual equity in this power structure would be a major step in the struggle for gender equality within American communities.
For a long time traditional liberal legal theory has struggled to win gender equality through the courts, but has not made the necessary gains. This theory advises women to change their relationship to the male power structure, and offers two ways in which women can do this to attain equity: the “sameness” approach and the “difference” approach. The first approach, “sameness,” suggests that women should stress male-female similarities. Traditional theory justifies this approach by saying, “to the extent that women are no different from men they deserve what (men) have” (33). Traditional theory advises women who feel different to from men use the second approach, and stress their differences. This “difference” approach is employed by seeking special protection under the system. Both practices work within the system, but neither practice has made substantial progress because they do not change private practice.
MacKinnon opposes both approaches because they abide by male dominance. MacKinnon feels “There is a politics to (this dominant approach). Concealed is the substantive way in which man has become the measure for all things” (34). “Under the sameness (approach) women are measured according to their correspondence with man,” while “under the difference approach women are judged according to their distance to man.” She feels that male power perpetuates male dominance, because “women and men are equally different, but not equally powerful” (51).
MacKinnon argues that pornography defines male treatment of women, and is the clearest demonstration of male dominance. Her perspective is radical, but valuable because it forces one to reexamine his or her view of pornography. She says that, “male power makes authoritative a way of seeing and treating women that when a man looks at a pornographic picture... the viewing is an act of male supremacy” (130). This form of expression...