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MacKinnon argues for new approach in addressing violence against women

Halie Johnson

When men are violent to other men it is called war; when men are violent to women, it is called culture, according to attorney Catherine MacKinnon.

“There is a war on terror and a non-war on violence against women,” she began before launching into the reasons the international community should act with the same outrage toward both.

Her lecture on Nov. 3 at University of San Francisco, “Women’s September 11th: Rethinking the International Law of Conflict,” was a legal analysis of the parallels between the war on terror and violence against women worldwide.

“Thank you for thinking of us, Catherine MacKinnon,” said USF undergraduate philosophy student Katherine Knapp, when introducing the feminist legal scholar and activist. In thanking MacKinnon, Knapp referred to the battles she fought in court to eradicate sexual harassment in the work place and her efforts to change the definition of pornography to a civil rights violation against women.

The lecture lasted almost two hours and questioned why the international community’s reaction to terrorism shouldn’t be as fervent as their reaction to violence against women in “wartime” and “peacetime.”

“The acts of Sept. 11 were called terrorism, a contestable term used in Security Council resolutions without protest or definition,” she said. “Terrorism is widely understood to be the premeditated, ideological or political, rather than criminal, attack on civilian, innocent targets by agents of an international group.”

“How do these definitions not apply to violence against women?” she asked.

She criticized the powers that be for acting quickly against the threat of terrorism and not addressing the violence that women and other oppressed groups live with everyday. She explained that their reaction to Sept. 11 was based on a personal threat and feeling singled out.

“The connection was not moral … nor opportunistic … Suddenly, the danger was real to them because certain men were afraid, they were targeted for who they are – welcome to our world,” she said.

“[The war on terror] shows what they can do when they want to,” she said.

She emphasized the belief that little distinguishes an act of terror from an act of violence against women; in the end it is all male violence, she said.

MacKinnon argued for an international approach to combating violence against women. To win this war would mean restructuring the international legal system and creating a force, preferably composed of women soldiers, to lessen the potential for prostitution where troops are stationed.

MacKinnon is best known for her anti-pornography work with Andrea Dworkin and for representing Linda Susan Boreman, better known as Linda Lovelace, who fought to stop the distribution of Deep Throat, a porn film she said depicted her being raped.

In the early ’80s, MacKinnon, Dworkin, Boreman and Gloria Steinem represented the backbone of the feminist anti-pornography movement. In ’86 Boreman published Out of Bondage, an autobiography about her experiences with the porn industry.

She testified that before the ’86 Meese commission on pornograpy, the final report of the Attorney General’s Commission on pornography as part of an investigation order by Ronald Reagan, and stated “It is a crime that [Deep Throat] is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time.” She lectured on the exploitative practices of the pornography industry until her death in 2002.

MacKinnon is also noted for representing Bosnian and Croatian women against Serbs accused of genocide. She was co-counsel for the lawsuit Kadic v. Karadzic, which won a $745 million jury verdict in New York City. The success of the lawsuit established forced impregnation and forced prostitution as acts of genocide.

Her latest book, Women’s Lives Men’s Laws (2005), is a collection of her work from 1980 to the present, framing her approach to redefining the laws by men based on the lives of women.