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5 Yale J.L. & Feminism 217 (1992-1993)
Whiteness and Women, in Practice and Theory: A Reply to Catharine MacKinnon

handle is hein.journals/yjfem5 and id is 223 raw text is: Whiteness and Women, In Practice and Theory:
A Reply To Catharine MacKinnon
Martha R. Mahoneyt
As a white woman, I want to respond to Catharine MacKinnon's recent
essay subtitled What is a White Woman Anyway?' I am troubled both by
the essay's defensive tone and by its substantive arguments.2 MacKinnon's
contribution to feminism has emphasized the ways in which gender is
constructed through male domination and sexual exploitation, and the profound
structuring effect of male power on women's lives. This emphasis on what is
done to women creates conceptual problems in understanding race and
particularly in understanding whiteness. Defining gender by what is done to
women makes it hard to see the many ways in which women act in our own
lives and in the world. Dominance and privilege tend to seem normal and
neutral to the privileged. To overcome this tendency, white people need to see
aspects of our actions in the world that are particularly difficult for us to see.
The difficulty in seeing women as social actors interacts with the difficulty that
white people have in seeing whiteness and its privileges.
Other feminists have criticized MacKinnon's work for the extent to which
her emphasis on sexual oppression displaces attention to racism,3 and for
treating race as additive or incremental to the essential oppression of
women.4 Her emphasis on the ways in which women are constructed as the
t Associate Professor, University of Miami School of Law. I am particularly grateful to Lisa Iglesias
for talking through the inception of this essay with me. Blanca Silvestrini helped me start thinking about
race as a cultural construct. Thanks also to Jeanne Adleman, Fran Ansley, Ken Casebeer, Mary Coombs,
Adrienne Davis, Rachel Godsil, Lynne Henderson, Val Jonas, Sharon Keller, Jayne Lee, Chris Littleton,
Bill Mahoney, Joan Mahoney, Judith Mahoney Pasternak, Sharon Oxborough, Rob Rosen, Steve Schnably,
Jonathan Simon, Susan Stefan, and Stephanie Wildman, none of whom are responsible for my conclusions
or any errors that remain.
1. Catharine A. MacKinnon, From Practice to Theory, or What is a White Woman Anyway?, 4 YALE
J.L. & FEMINISM 13 (1991) [hereinafter MacKinnon, Practice to Theory].
2. MacKinnon has a distinguished stature in American feminism. In part, this reflects the strength of
her work on sexual harassment, rape, and pornography, and her achievements as a teacher and activist,
and, in part, the particular attention she has received in the media. See, e.g., Fred Strebeigh, Defining Law
on the Feminist Frontier, NY TIMES MAG., Oct. 6, 1991, at 29. This focus on MacKinnon's work creates
the possibility that, unless responded to, her position will be seen as the position of white feminists. Cf.
CATHARINE A. MACKINNON, Desire and Power, in FEMINISM UNMODIFIED 46, 49 (1987) [hereinafter
MACKINNON, Desire and Power] (you will notice that I equate 'in my view' with 'feminism'. ...);
CATHARINE A. MACKINNON, On Collaboration, in FEMINISM UNMODIFIED, supra, 198-205 (asserting that
women who disagreed with her proposed anti-pornography ordinance were not feminists).
3. Marlee Kline, Race, Racism and Feminist Legal Theory, 12 HARV. WOMEN'S L.J. 115 (1989).
4. Angela Harris, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, 42 STAN. L. REV. 581 (1990).
Copyright 0 1993 by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism

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