ONLY WORDS by Catharine A. MacKinnon


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 Three passionate, intellectually fascinating essays, each arguing an aspect of the case that sexual words and pictures may by their nature be bannable, even though they may also be Constitutionally protected speech--by University of Michigan law professor and noted feminist legal scholar MacKinnon (Feminism Unmodified, 1987, etc). In ``Defamation and Discrimination,'' MacKinnon argues that ``pornography is sex'' and that American law irrationally treats it as a possible cause of individual injury--that is, purely as a matter of true or false content--rather than as a sui generis act of ``sex discrimination based on conditions of sexual inequality''; and she holds that, like other kinds of action speech (saying ``You're fired,'' advertising ``for whites only''), pornography should be banned. In ``Racial and Sexual Harassment,'' MacKinnon declares that ``if ever words have been understood as acts, it has been when they are sexual harassment'' in the workplace, but she regrets that, recently, courts have weakened this confluence by overturning universities' restraints of racial and sexual speech on campus and by dismissing a sexual-harassment complaint made by a female shipyard worker because the harassment consisted in having been shown pornography, which is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. In ``Equality and Speech,'' MacKinnon makes explicit many of the contradictions she's been suggesting in the earlier essays; she argues that ``the law of equality and the law of freedom of speech are on a collision course in this country'' and must be meshed--for example, by considering ``group defamation'' as ``the verbal form inequality [or group discrimination] takes.'' Although MacKinnon's passionate conviction sometimes causes her ideas to elide and her logic to blur, the ideas are original and gripping, her references are wide-ranging, her legal logic is provocative--and her latest is must reading for anyone interested in either fairness or free speech.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-674-63933-2
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993


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by Keith E. Whittington