An Analysis of Ronald Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon’s
Perspectives on Modern (Obscene) Pornography
March 7, 2005
In the coming paragraphs, I will prove that Ronald Dworkin’s criticisms and critiques of Catherine Mackinnon’s views towards pornography and society are largely unfounded and immaterial, and that government intervention via legislation is required in the protection of women’s interests. I will begin by explaining Catherine Mackinnon’s opinion and support for the Butler decision and thereafter, I will discuss Ronald Dworkin’s critique of it. After outlining their positions, I will proceed to highlight the areas of incommensurability between their arguments. My perspective of Dworkin’s comments about the harm pornography causes and the flawed pretenses upon which he reaches his conclusion will be provided, particularly his failure to recognize the true nature of the inequality as described by Mackinnon. Ultimately, I will conclude that Dworkin’s comments towards pornography and a negative approach towards state-granted freedoms is invalid and unsubstantiated. Catharine Mackinnon
Catherine Mackinnon, in her piece called “Only Words” articulates why government intervention is required in order to prohibit the continued subordination of women as witnessed in the American Booksellers v Hudnut and the R v Butler cases. Mackinnon makes explicit reference to the R v Butler case, wherein the Canadian courts recognized that the undue exploitation of sex and pornography inflicts harm towards women. (Appendix A). Commenting primarily on the second test identified in R v Butler , the “Degradation and Dehumanization test”, she articulates that obscene pornographic material, particularly pornographic material lacking artistic merit (i.e. Pornographic material which depicts the subordination of women), causes great harm to the female in society.
Mackinnon finds that American law fails to recognize the harm inflicted by pornographic material on women. This is extremely surprising, particularly because laws protecting children from sexual exploitation recognize the harm these actions inflict. She comments that unlike obscene pornographic material of women, which is considered the “speech of a sexually dissident minority”, a different standard is applied when it comes to children. Mackinnon concludes that the court’s inability to protect the subordination of women is rooted in its failure to understand the inequality of power that exists between men and women. While a small battle was won with the instantiation of the Indianapolis Ordinates, a document designed to prohibit hard core pornography in the Unites Sates, the war was soon lost when the Court of Appeals found the Indianapolis Ordinates unconstitutional when challenged in the case American Booksellers v Hudnut. The court recognized the harm obscene pornographic material inflicted on women, stating subordination is “something pornography does, not something it says” and that “depictions of subordination tend to perpetuate subordination”. Nonetheless, in what some would consider flawed logic, Judge Easterbrook determined that due to the animated debate on pornographic material, it is considered an extremely valuable form of expression and therefore, should not be prohibited. In other words, the more damage the speech inflicts, the more value it has to society and any effort to suppress this form of expression must meet a higher burden of proof. Judge Easterbrook concluded that finding the IO constitutional would be advocating a specific point of view and “restricting the marketplace of ideas”. While Easterbrook’s case may have had merit within the framework of American jurisprudence, he failed to note as Mackinnon states quite eloquently, that “women were being transformed into ideas; [and] sexual traffic … was protected as if it were discussion”. Mackinnon continues by contrasting the...