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Misquotation in Media: Catharine MacKinnon never, ever, ever, ever said “All heterosexual intercourse is rape.” Ever. Ever.

This just in…

Quotations to that effect have been incorrectly attributed to both Dworkin or MacKinnon, who never said those words and denied that they believed it when asked. Interpretations of their extensive and nuanced work on intercourse, rape, patriarchy, consent, coercion, men, women, and sexual ethics (which you can find elaborated in detail in, among other places, Dworkin’s book Intercourse and Chapter 9 of MacKinnon’s Toward a Feminist Theory of the State) that claim to find the view written between the lines have repeatedly been made on the basis of selective quotation, wilful misreading, and downright gossip. These facts have been repeatedly pointed out, not least by the authors themselves, but also by a lot of other people, over and over again. And yet the charade goes on.

Today, Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors (2006-02-19) took notice of the New York Times Book Review’s uncritical publication of a fabricated quotation from Catharine MacKinnon, repeated by Kate O’Beirne in her anti-feminist tract, Women Who Make the World Worse, and reported as if the quotation were fact by Ana Marie Cox in her review of O’Beirne’s book. The book review, in spite of having itself published a letter by Dworkin and MacKinnon in 1995 on the topic, and in spite of printed treatments of this in the media in the pages of the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere throughout the print media over Cal Thomas’s misquotation of MacKinnon in March 1999, went ahead and published Cox’s review without so much as noting that it contained a plain error of fact that any idiot with access to Google could have discovered in the few seconds it took to type out the obvious search request. Three days later, Elizabeth Anderson (2006-01-18): Bashing Feminists pointed out the error. The Times just got around to publishing an Editor’s Note correcting the error on February 6, which went into print on February 12, nearly a month after the review was published.

Readers may remember that back in January, Salon also ran an interview with O’Beirne by Rebecca Traister back in January, where Traister casually reported the fabricated “quote” not only as fact, but in fact as old news. As it happens, two different people wrote them back within a day of when the story was published — Anonymous 2006-01-16 and Mike Connell 2006-01-17. I posted about it here at GT 2006-01-31: Memo to Rebecca Traister a couple of weeks later. As of 6:39pm on February 19, 2006, they have not even so much as published a correction. I just sent them a third letter about the topic; we’ll see whether this produces any effect or not.

Update (2006-03-01): Rebecca Traister filed a correction on the interview as of 23 February 2006. See GT 2006-03-01: Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon for details.

Why does this continue to happen? I’m not worried so much about Rebecca Traister or Ana Marie Cox — the lie is widespread, the challenges to it are evidently not widely known (in spite of being repeatedly made in public forums), and their primary job was to discuss O’Beirne’s book, not to fact-check every claim and citation made in it. Or even about O’Beirne herself — like most professional antifeminists, she makes her living on dishonest hatchet pieces, and while that needs to be exposed, it’s not much of a surprise. What I do want to know, though, is why professional publications that claim a reputation for accuracy and honesty so easily allow blatant, known falsehoods like these into print. Who fact-checked these articles? Who let them through without even minimal research on the quotations in it, and why has it taken a month to get even one correction?

Anderson puts it this way:

Here’s a measure of how much a group is despised: how much malicious absurdity can one ascribe to its members and still be taken as a credible source on what they say and do? With respect to feminists, the answer is quite a lot. Christina Hoff Sommers, former philosopher and professional feminist basher, has been widely and credulously cited for her critique of the American Association of University Women‘s report, How Schools Shortchange Girls, although my fact-checking finds her critique riddled with errors, inconsistencies, and misleading claims. Many academic critics of feminist philosophers are just as bad, often to the point of ascribing claims to feminists that are exactly the opposite of what they say. Feminists, it seems, are not entitled to a minimally charitable or even literate reading of what they say.

Andrea Dworkin wrote something similar in the editorial notes of Letters from a War Zone, on her essay Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea (p. 110):

… One problem is that this piece, like others in this book, has no cultural presence: no one hs to know about it or take it into account to appear less than ignorant; no one will be held accountable for ignoring it. Usually critics and political adversaries have to reckon with the published work of male authors whom they wish to malign. No such rules protect girls. One pro-pornography “feminist” published an article in which she claimed I was anti-abortion, this in the face of decades of work for abortion rights and membership in many pro-choice groups. No one even checked her allegation; the periodical would not publish a retraction. One’s published work counts as nothing, and so do years of one’s political life.

Whether or not you agree with Catharine MacKinnon’s or Andrea Dworkin’s views, and whether or not you are even interested in discussing them or finding out precisely what they are, you do have a responsibility to make sure that articles published under your authority and with the imprimatur of your reputation don’t repeat exposed fabrications about them or about what they said. The pages of the Grey Lady or even of Salon shouldn’t read like the Horror File page of a Men’s Rights bully-boy. Professional journalists are paid to do a lot better than that, and it’s long past time that we hold them accountable for it.

You can write a public letter to the editor of Salon in response to Traister’s interview, or write privately, to let them know that they are printing documented falsehoods and that you expect better of them.

Update (2006-03-01): There’s no more need to write letters for a correction. Rebecca Traister filed a correction on the interview as of 23 February 2006. See GT 2006-03-01: Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon for details. If you’ve got an itch to write Salon, you can always write them a letter thanking them for doing the right thing and urging them to fact-check specific quotations from named authors more carefully in the future.

Further reading:

Memo to Rebecca Traister

There’s lots to say about Rebecca Traister’s recent unsuccessful attempt at a conversation with anti-feminist lawyer Kate O’Beirne, but Hopelessly Midwestern already covered it better than I could. I add only a reminder, and a kind of memo to Rebecca Traister, re: Catharine MacKinnon.

Here’s Traister trying to distance the feminist views she likes from the ones she thinks that O’Beirne unfairly dwells on:

R.T.: I was surprised that so much of your book was about Gloria Feldt, Ellie Smeal, Catharine MacKinnon. Only at the very end do you mention someone like Rebecca Walker.

K.O’B.: Are you asking about [why I didn’t discuss] twenty- or thirty-something feminism?

R.T.: Yes. The MacKinnon quote about how all heterosexual intercourse is rape is old news. There has been a whole other wave of sex-positive feminism in part in response to ideas like that. …

— Rebecca Traister (2006-01-17): My lunch with an antifeminist pundit

The quote described here as old news does not exist. Catharine MacKinnon never said this. (As O’Beirne might put it: never, ever, ever, ever, said it. Ever. Ever.) Not surprisingly: she doesn’t believe it. It is a gross misinterpretation of her views on sex, rape, patriarchy, consent, and coercion (which are spelled out in detail in, for example, chapter 9 of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State), and the one notorious example in which she was quoted as saying this, the quote was actually authored by critics trying to describe MacKinnon’s views, but misattributed to MacKinnon herself by an antifeminist columnist too lazy to pick up the book again to get his citations straight. (See also comments at Blind Mind’s Eye, for related issues.)

And no, in case you were wondering, Andrea Dworkin didn’t say it either.

I’m just sayin’.

Update (2006-03-01): Rebecca Traister has filed a correction on the interview as of 23 February 2006. See GT 2006-03-01: Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon for details.

Over my shoulder #8: Susan Brownmiller’s In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Susan Brownmiller’s In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, which I’ve been re-reading in parts recently, as a source for WikiPedia contributions on Andrea Dworkin and a new entry on Women Against Pornography. I mention, off to one side, that things are often more complicated than they seem, and that this is relevant to one of the most frequent questions that Roderick and I most frequently get on our qualified defense of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, and our passing comments about anti-pornography radical feminism, in our paper on libertarian feminism.

Brownmiller has been discussing the fights over municipal anti-pornography civil rights ordinances authored by Dworkin and MacKinnon in 1983-1984.

Andrea mailed me a copy of the ordinance on December 29, the day before it passed by one vote in the city council. I hadn’t even known that she and MacKinnon were in Minneapolis and working on legislation, but on reading the bill I quickly concluded that it was unworkable–full of overblown rhetoric, overly broad and vague intentions, tricky and convoluted legal locutions. Any court in the land, I believed, would find it unconstitutional, an observation I offered in my usual blunt manner when Andrea called a few days later to get my endorsement.

I assured her I would not go public with my negative opinion. I still cared tremendously about the issue, and for all its flaws, I figured the ordinance might be a valuable consciousness-raiser and organizing tool. In a bad lapse of political judgment, I failed to perceive how it would polarize an already divided feminist community by providing an even better organizing tool for the opposition. Not that what I thought mattered at that point. I had ceded leadership in antipornography work to those willing to carry it forward when I’d retreated to finish my book on femininity, just then reaching bookstores after a very long haul.

Few people noticed my absence from the national list of ordinance supporters. Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Phyllis Chesler, and the new leadership of Women Against Pornography had already sent Dworkin and MacKinnon their glowing commendations. I thought it was fucking brilliant, Robin Morgan remembers, just brilliant the way they circumvented the criminal statutes and obscenity codes identified with the right wing, and took a new path through the concept of harm and civil rights discrimination. Robin, coiner of the slogan Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice, did not se any constitutional problem. If I had, she concedes, I doubt that it would have affected my position.

The ordinance was vetoed within days of its passage by Mayor Donald Fraser, who maintained that the city did not have the financial resources to defend the law’s constitutionality in court. Seven months later it came up before the council again, with minor modifications. This time around, pornography was defined only as a contributory factor, not central to the subordination of women. Dorchen Leidholdt flew to Minneapolis to help with a petition drive. Upon her return, she persuaded Women Against Pornography to contribute a few thousand dollars from its dwindling treasury to the effort.

The switch from a plucky, inventive campaign to educate the public about pornography’s dangers to the promotion of new legislation was a huge change in direction for WAP, although given the times, it was probably inevitable. Mehrhof and Alexander, the last of WAP’s original full-time organizers, had already resigned, needing a more reliable weekly paycheck than antipornography work could offer. Increasingly frustrated, the remaining activists had lost their faith in the powers of hand-cranked slide shows and hastily organized protest demonstrations to curb a phenomenal growth industry which was taking advantage of the latest technologies (pre-Internet) to create a multibillion dollar X-rated home video market, Dial-a-Porn, and public-access television channels.

Although WAP backed the ordinance, other antiporn groups were not so sanguine about it. In Washington, political scientist Janet Gornick recalls, the ordinance split her group, Feminists Against Pornography, right down the middle, and ultimately she resigned. We were black and white, lesbian and straight, and almost every one of us had been a victim of sexual violence, says Gornick, whose own activism had started six years earlier, after she was stabbed on the street, dragged twenty feet, and raped a block away from the Harvard campus in a crime that was never solved. FAP was doing very daring direct-action things in addition to the usual slide shows and Take Back the Nights, she relates. We were waging a small war against the Fourteenth Street porn strip north of the White House. But the minute I heard about Minneapolis, I knew it was a strategic catastrophe. It broke my heart. Before then we’d always maintained that we wern’t for new legislation, that we weren’t trying to ban anything. Some of our younger members just couldn’t comprehend that very committed feminists–our elders, our leaders, who were pulling us along by their rhetoric–could make such a big mistake that would lead the movement astray.

… The decision to ally herself with FACT and against the ordinance had come only after some tortured soul-searching by [Adrienne] Rich, whose previous expressions of faith in Andrea Dworkin had attributed to her leadership the greatest depth and grasp. In a special statement for off our backs, optimistically titled We Don’t Have to Come Apart over Pornography, the activist poet wrote, I am less sure than Dworkin and MacKinnon that this is a time when further powers of suppression should be turned over to the State. The lawyer and writer Wendy Kaminer, another early WAP member, went public with her opposition to the ordinance a year or so later.

–Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1999). 319-322.

Remember. Mourn. Act.

On 6 December 1989, sixteen years ago today, Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. He killed them because they were women; he went into an engineering class with a gun, ordered the men to leave, screamed I hate feminists, and then opened fire on the women. He kept shooting, always at women, as he moved through the building, killing 14 women and injuring 8 before he ended the terror by killing himself.

6 December is a day of remembrance for the women who were killed. They were:

  • Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21
  • Hélène Colgan, 23
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21
  • Maud Haviernick, 29
  • Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31
  • Maryse Leclair, 23
  • Annie St.-Arneault, 23
  • Michèle Richard, 21
  • Maryse Laganière, 25
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28; and
  • Annie Turcotte, aged 21

I don’t have much to add today, except to repeat what I said last year:

The Montreal Massacre was horrifying and shocking. But we also have to remember that it’s less unusual than we all think. Yes, it’s a terrible freak event that some madman massacred women he had never even met because of his sociopathic hatred. But every day women are raped, beaten, and killed by men–and it’s usually not by strangers, but by men they know and thought they could trust. They are attacked just because they are women–because the men who assault them believe that they have the right to control women’s lives and their sexual choices, and to hurt them or force them if they don’t agree. By conservative estimates, one out of every four women is raped or beaten by an intimate partner sometime in her life. Take a moment to think about that. How much it is. What it means for the women who are attacked. What it means for all women who live in the shadow of that threat.

On what seems like an unrelated topic, I’ve been asked before, and I’m sure I’ll be asked again, what it is that makes me so sympathetic to, and inspires me in, radical feminism, and Andrea Dworkin’s version of radical feminism specifically. That’s a question that gets tossed at anyone who expresses sympathy for or interest in Dworkin’s work, but I guess it’s supposed to be especially puzzling in my case, as someone who’s (1) male and (2) pretty stridently libertarian in my politics. There are a lot of things to say in response, but the one that means the most is to say that Andrea Dworkin takes violence against women seriously. What it means for violence, and the threat of violence, to be so pervasive, systematic, intense, and socially invisible or culturally excused. The demands that places on all of us. The urgency and seriousness of the struggle that it calls for. The fact that I’m male (and that I’ve had to make the painful realization of how often what I’ve said and what I’ve done hurt women, how much it was shaped by, and participated in, the same system of male supremacy that has hurt some of my dearest friends and family so badly) harldy overrides the fact that, well, what she says is true. (I know it’s true, because it’s happened to my friends.) And the fact that my politics are centrally concerned with a radical and comprehensive commitment to human freedom makes the insights offered by Andrea Dworkin (and Catharine MacKinnon and Susan Brownmiller and Robin Morgan and…) more, not less urgently needed. As I’ve written elsewhere (with my friend Roderick Long):

Brownmiller’s and other feminists’ insights into the pervasiveness of battery, incest, and other forms of male violence against women, present both a crisis and an opportunity for libertarians. Libertarianism professes to be a comprehensive theory of human freedom; what is supposed to be distinctive about the libertarian theory of justice is that we concern ourselves with violent coercion no matter who is practicing it—even if he has a government uniform on. But what feminists have forced into the public eye in the last 30 years is that, in a society where one out of every four women faces rape or battery by an intimate partner,2 and where women are threatened or attacked by men who profess to love them, because the men who attack them believe that being a man means you have the authority to control women, male violence against women is nominally illegal but nevertheless systematic, motivated by the desire for control, culturally excused, and hideously ordinary. For libertarians, this should sound eerily familiar; confronting the full reality of male violence means nothing less than recognizing the existence of a violent political order working alongside, and independently of, the violent political order of statism. As radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon writes, “Unlike the ways in which men systematically enslave, violate, dehumanize, and exterminate other men, expressing political inequalities among men, men’s forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of the law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life” (1989, p. 161). Male supremacy has its own ideological rationalizations, its own propaganda, its own expropriation, and its own violent enforcement; although it is often in league with the male-dominated state, male violence is older, more invasive, closer to home, and harder to escape than most forms of statism. This means that libertarians who are serious about ending all forms of political violence need to fight, at least, a two-front war, against both statism and male supremacy …

Here is the speech that Andrea Dworkin gave at the University of Montreal, a year and a day after the massacre:

Feminists should remember that while we often don’t take ourselves very seriously, the men around us often do. I think that the way we can honor these women who were executed, for crimes that they may or may not have committed–which is to say, for political crimes–is to commit every crime for which they were executed, crimes against male supremacy, crimes against the right to rape, crimes against the male ownership of women, crimes against the male monopoly of public space and public discourse. We have to stop men from hurting women in everyday life, in ordinary life, in the home, in the bed, in the street, and in the engineering school. We have to take public power away from men whether they like it or not and no matter what they do. If we have to fight back with arms, then we have to fight back with arms. One way or another we have to disarm men. We have to be the women who stand between men and the women they want to hurt. We have to end the impunity of men, which is what they have, for hurting women in all the ways they systematically do hurt us.

–Andrea Dworkin (1990): Mass Murder in Montreal, Life and Death, 105-114.

And, as I said last year:

To be serious about creating a free and just society, we have to be serious about ending violence against women. As Andrea Dworkin puts it (speaking about sexual assault), I want to see this men’s movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don’t make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can’t be self-indulgent. And the same is true of every form of everyday gender terrorism–stalking, battery, rape, murder. How could we face Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Maryse Leclair, Annie St.-Arneault, Michèle Richard, Maryse Laganière, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Annie Turcotte, and tell them we did anything less?

Take some time to keep the 14 women who were killed in the Montreal massacre in your thoughts. If you have the money to give, make a contribution to your local battered women’s shelter. As Jennifer Barrigar writes:

Every year I make a point of explaining that I’m pointing the finger at a sexist patriarchal misogynist society rather than individual men. This year I choose not to do that. The time for assigning blame is so far in the past (if indeed there ever was such a time), and that conversation takes us nowhere. This is the time for action, for change. Remember Parliament’s 1991 enactment of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women — the glorious moment when every single womyn in the House stood together and claimed this Day of Remembrance. Remember what we can and do accomplish — all of us — when we work together. It is time to demand change, and to act on that demand. Let’s break the cycle of violence, and let’s do it now.

Remember. Mourn. Act.


News from the front, or: Andrea Dworkin Was Right #4

(Link via Amazonfemme 2005-01-06.)

FORT WORTH, Texas – A man sentenced to just four months in prison for killing his wife, after a jury concluded he acted in a blind fury, drew a 15-year term for wounding her boyfriend.

The jury at his 1999 trial found Watkins guilty of murdering his wife but decided he acted with “sudden passion” when he discovered her with Fontenot.

In a decision that provoked an outcry, the jury recommended 10 years’ probation. Because of the jury’s recommendation, the most the judge could have given Watkins was six months behind bars. He sentenced Watkins to four months.

Watkins had admitted the attack but claimed temporary insanity. Texas defines “sudden passion” as being so overcome by rage, resentment or fear that the defendant is “incapable of cool reflection.” Jurors said they recommended probation because they didn’t think Watkins could be rehabilitated in prison.

— The Miami Herald (2005-01-06): Man Sentenced in Attack on Wife’s Lover

(Links and commentary from Pinko Feminist Hellcat 2005-04-21: As long as we’ve got our priorities straight, Mr. Altman, Pinko Feminist Hellcat 2005-04-21: You broads have no sense of humor, feministing 2005-04-21, Pseudo-Adrienne at Alas, A Blog 2005-04-21, and Hopelessly Midwestern 2005-04-22, inter alia. I read most of these through Feminist Blogs, of course.)

(Columbia) April 20, 2005 – The State House took up two pieces of legislation this week aimed at protecting two different groups. Up for debate was cracking down on gamecock fighting and protecting victims of domestic violence.

A bill protecting cocks passed through the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. John Graham Altman (R-Dist. 119-Charleston) was in favor of the gamecock bill, “I was all for that. Cockfighting reminds me of the Roman circus, coliseum.”

A bill advocates say would protect victims against batterers was tabled, killing it for the year. Rep. Altman is on the committee that looked at the domestic violence bill, “I think this bill is probably drafted out of an abundance of ignorance.”

Both cockfighting and domestic violence are currently misdemeanor crimes, punishable by 30 days in jail. If the bill passes, cockfighting will become a felony, punishable by five years in jail. Domestic violence crimes will remain a misdemeanor.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Dist. 66-Orangeburg) says of the two bills, “What we have said by the actions of the Judiciary Committee is we aren’t going to create a felony if you beat your wife, partner. But now, if you’ve got some cockfighting going on, whoa! Wait a minute.”

Rep. Altman responds to the comparison, “People who compare the two > are not very smart and if you don’t understand the difference, Ms. Gormley, between trying to ban the savage practice of watching chickens trying to kill each other and protecting people rights in > CDV statutes, I’ll never be able to explain it to you in a 100 years ma’am.”

Rep. Cobb-Hunter says, “The reality is the law says domestic violence regardless, first, second or third offense is a misdemeanor, and what they passed yesterday says cockfighting is a felony.”

Rep. Altman spoke about domestic violence, “There ought not to be a second offense. The woman ought to not be around the man. I mean you women want it one way and not another. Women want to punish the men, and I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them. And I’ve asked women that and they all tell me the same answer, John Graham you don’t understand. And I say you’re right, I don’t understand.”

Gormley, “So it’s their fault for going back?”

Altman, “Now there you go, trying to twist that too. And I don’t mind you trying. It’s not the woman’s fault, it’s not blaming the victim, but tell me what self respecting person is going back around someone who beats them?”

— WISTV 10, Columbia, SC (2005-04-20): Judiciary Committee passes cockfighting bill, tables domestic violence bill

(More from Trish Wilson 2005-04-21)

The bill’s name is “Protect Our Women in Every Relationship (POWER)”. Mr. Altman had wondered why only women were mentioned, and not men. This isn’t about abused men. It about abused women because the vast majority of domestic violence victims are female.

One of the jokes committee members made had to do with the title of the bill. Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison wanted to change it from “Protect Our Women in Every Relationship (POWER)” to “Protecting Our People in Every Relationship” Act, or “POPER.” A voice on the tape can be heard pronouncing it “Pop her.” Another voice then says, “Pop her again,” followed by laughter. Harrison said the advocates for abused women were “overreacting” and the comments weren’t intended to diminish the gravity of domestic violence. “If you take it that way, you’re overly sensitive,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the writings of insane radical feminists who nobody listens to or has even heard of and are clearly hysterical and completely out of touch with reality and who don’t ever write about politics anyway:

The state is male in the feminist sense: the law sees and treats women the way men see and treat women.

–Catharine MacKinnon (1989), Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Chapter 8 ¶ 11


There is not a feminist alive who could possibly look to the male legal system for real protection from the systemized sadism of men. Women fight to reform male law, in the areas of rape and battery for instance, because something is better than nothing. In general, we fight to force the law to recognize us as the victims of the crimes committed against us, but the results so far have been paltry and pathetic.

–Andrea Dworkin (1979), For Men, Freedom of Speech; For Women, Silence Please, in Letters from a War Zone

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