Let’s Talk About Sex: When Feminism Goes Too Far

Catharine Mackinnon is an American radical feminist, scholar, lawyer, teacher, and activist.

It was on Tumblr that I first encountered the idea that all sexual activity is oppressive to women. It was phrased more like, “PIV (penis in vagina) IS RAPE!” but the main point seemed to be that women can’t be independent or free if they engage in sex with men. As I explored these blogs, I became acquainted with this seemingly popular concept, that came from people who called themselves “radical feminists.”  I was surprised, and a bit upset by this extreme wording, because to me, feminism means that the genders should be equal. So where does this concept about sex with men being oppressive to women fit in? Most men like sex. Most women like sex. So where is the injustice? Obviously, domestic violence and rape against women is unacceptable, but I can’t see how safe sex is detrimental to women. 

One of the earliest inklings of this rhetoric comes from Catherine MacKinnon, an activist and lawyer who has done wonderful work to stop workplace harassment and hate speech.  But MacKinnon also makes many arguments, from her platform as an influential feminist, that suggest that women are “submitting” to patriarchy when they have sex with men. First, she believes that the creation and distribution of pornography is inherently oppressive to women. Her argument is that women are degraded and raped in the creation of pornography, and then they are degraded again when it’s consumed.  The wanton use of the word “rape” in a lot of these essays and articles is dangerous because it implies violence that doesn’t really exist in these situations, and it diminishes the actual victims of rape. 

By calling the creation of pornography “rape,” MacKinnon is insinuating that consent is null because men are automatically out to abuse women. She does not take the angle that women involved in this industry are there often because it empowers them.  Almost no women in the legitimate pornography industry claim that they are forced there or abused there. When she says that women are being degraded by the consumption of pornography, she is not only suggesting that only men consume it (which is statistically completely false), but that all of those men are enjoying the mistreatment of women. She calls them sadists. It is this thinking, the philosophy that men are immoral and women cannot be sexually expressive without being stupid or ill-advised, that leads to the misguided idea that sex is automatically oppressive.

MacKinnon also talks a lot about the injustice of prostitution. She says that prostitution is entirely a construct that mistreats women, but claims that male prostitutes are a source of empowerment for women. Listening to an interview that she did, it seems that much of her evidence for cases of violence against women in these industries are anecdotal, and while they are symptoms of terrible injustice, it is a fact that not all women in prostitution were forced there by men. While it is certainly more dangerous than the pornography industry, there are many women and men living off of sex work who are doing alright there. Many others were forced into the situation by poverty or other circumstances. There are horror stories out there, but again, the generalization that sex workers cannot be strong or intelligent reinforces the misled viewpoint of those girls on Tumblr, afraid of men and afraid of sex.

MacKinnon is a successful feminist, and therefore I want to admire her. Also, even though we disagree on this particular issue, I want to connect with the feminist girls on Tumblr who are so passionate about the movement.  I just don’t feel like I can. When we start screaming about how men are raping us by watching porn, or about how PIV is never okay, we are creating an impossible situation. We’re slut-shaming porn stars and getting angry for all the wrong reasons about the prevalence of prostitution. We’re telling heterosexual girls that their attractions are wrong, and that their partners are violating them. I simply can’t agree with that. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Feminism
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How to cite this page

Kelly, Rachel Tess. "Let’s Talk About Sex: When Feminism Goes Too Far." 17 February 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/let-s-talk-about-sex-when-feminism-goes-too-far>.