Women are not in charge. Worldwide, it is men — not their gender counterparts — who have power over families, clans, villages, cities, and nations. That may not seem like a new message. But lawyer, feminist author, and international equal rights advocate Catharine A. MacKinnon gives it a new subtlety, adds legal context — and even includes a ray of hope. MacKinnon, who once taught at Harvard Law School, is a professor of law at the University of Michigan and one of the most widely cited legal scholars in the English language. She visited the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study last week (April 19) to deliver the annual Maurine and Robert Rothschild Lecture: “Women’s Status, Men’s States.”
MacKinnon — tall, regal, and with a gift for precise talk — has star power, and drew 250 people to a jammed Radcliffe Gymnasium. At Radcliffe, MacKinnon could just as well have called her lecture “Are Women Human?” In case you wondered, the answer to that question is no — perhaps to be expected in a book that includes an essay titled “Rape as Nationbuilding.” In legal terms, women are not human, according to MacKinnon, who discovered that fact while parsing the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 1948 United Nations document defines what a human is, and what people are universally entitled to — but fails to explicitly recognize women, and their “full human status in social reality,” said MacKinnon.
Being human first requires being “real to power,”