Having just taught Catharine MacKinnon's _Feminism Unmodified_ in a Law in
Literature course, I took special interest in Professor Jenkins' remarks
about MacKinnon's efforts to confront pornography in the courts. Prof.
Jenkins says that he is against "using legal restraint as a strategy within
what is essentially an ideological debate." Of course, one wants to know
what he means by ideology (certainly a slippery term), and whether he
actually believes that the law and ideology are two independent realms.
MacKinnon believes that the general view of women in North America needs to
change, and that using the legal system is one way to accomplish that end.
Her concern is not so much with the First Amendment as with the Fourteenth,
because she hopes to use the liberal acceptance of equality as a means to
combat pornography. Expressions that tend to maintain or further the unequal
positions of another group (e.g. women) are questionable in light of the
Fourteenth amendment, in MacKinnon's view. Her appeal to the law brings all
sorts of things, including pornography, into this debate, and extends the
debate to many areas of culture, including advertising, "hate speech," soap
operas, and popular fiction, to name a few. Prof. Jenkins' "interventions,"
taking place in university classes, pale in comparison. I trust Prof.
Jenkins isn't suggesting only an elite approach, one restricted to a small
portion of the academic community, and one that grants special status to
"aesthetic works," as he calls them. Talk of "intervention" does not have
the tone of protest that MacKinnon's works do.
Ronald Dworkin's recent review (_The New York Review of Books_, Oct. 21) of
MacKinnon's _Only Words_ also wants to make a a special case for works of
"artistic value," such as "classic pornography" (e.g. D.H. Lawrence's
novels). While Dworkin's arguments against MacKinnon are trenchant and
mostly convincing, he does say at the outset that he feels that one of the
great barriers to sexual equality (a phrase MacKinnon would not accept, given
that she sees women as a class not a gender) is popular culture. He says,
"No doubt mass culture is in various ways an obstacle to sexual equality, but
the most popular forms of that culture -- the view of women presented in soap
operas and commercials, for example -- are much greater obstacles to that
equality than the dirty films watched by a small minority." This is a charge
that should strike home to the encomiasts of popular culture who have written
eloquently to this list. I look forward to the defense.
Department of English and Film Studies
Sudbury, Ontario P3E 2C6
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