Room for the Lambs

Elizabeth Spelman

  • Women’s Lives, Men’s Laws by Catharine MacKinnon
    Harvard, 558 pp, £25.95, March 2005, ISBN 0 674 01540 1

The official US publication date of this portfolio of Catharine MacKinnon’s articles and speeches over the past twenty-five years coincided with the release of Inside Deep Throat, a documentary about the making of the notorious and hugely profitable pornographic exploration of the lady with the lively larynx. MacKinnon has spent a good portion of her career as a scholar and litigator trying to develop legal and other sanctions against pornography – including having helped Deep Throat star Linda Boreman (Linda Lovelace was a nom de porn) reveal the often coercive and violent underside of the industry. Indeed, so prominent is MacKinnon as an anti-pornography activist and sometime adviser to Linda Lovelace that organisers of a panel addressing the documentary’s opening-night audience at the Paris Theater in New York made certain to include her. Many of the reviews of the film included accounts of the panel discussion, and if they are any indication, those who once reviled MacKinnon for being a pimp for the puritanical, a shill for the sexually censorious, now seem eager to portray her simply as ridiculous. One reporter recalled with evident glee that the gay men in the audience, at least, laughed uproariously in response to MacKinnon’s claim that the eponymous act of the original film was dangerous. Tina Brown, former editor of the New Yorker, described her, with a ‘tight white face and 19th-century hairdo’ making ‘her look like Carry Nation on the South Beach diet’, launching into ‘a tirade about how Inside Deep Throat had failed to point out that Linda Lovelace had been a victim of “throat rape”’.

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[*] The US Supreme Court had ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that provision of separate public facilities for ‘Negroes’ and whites was constitutional so long as such facilities were essentially equal. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Court overturned this decision, holding that racially segregated schools were not allowable under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.