Martha Nussbaum Reviews “Are Women Human?” by Catharine MacKinnon

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Her review is available at The Nation. Below is an excerpt:

MacKinnon’s central theme, repeatedly and convincingly mined, is the hypocrisy of the international system when it faces up to some crimes against humanity but fails to confront similar harms when they happen to women, often on a daily basis. There is a category of torture, and we think we know how to define it. We think we know what it does: It uses violence to control and intimidate. And yet when violence is used to control and intimidate women “in homes in Nebraska…rather than prison cells in Chile,” we don’t call it torture, and we somehow think it is not the same thing. Torture in Chile is not explained away as the work of isolated sick individuals. We know it is political, and we can see how systemic it often is. When violence happens to women in Nebraska, we say, Oh well, that was only some sicko, and men really aren’t like that. Well, given the numbers, shouldn’t we ask more questions about that?

Again, we have a concept of war, and we think we know what war is: People get maimed and killed fighting over land and power. And yet when women get raped and beaten up by men who want to control them, we pay little heed. “It is hard to avoid the impression that what is called war is what men make against each other, and what they do to women is called everyday life.”

As in her prior work, MacKinnon is caustic about the damage done by the traditional liberal distinction between a “public sphere” and a “private sphere,” a distinction that insulates marital rape and domestic violence from public view and makes people think it isn’t political. “Why isn’t this political?… The fact that you may know your assailant does not mean that your membership in a group chosen for violation is irrelevant to your abuse. It is still systematic and group-based. It…is defined by the distribution of power in society.”

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