MacKinnon's Objection to the Theory and Practice of Human Rights


Only rights that protect men have been extended to women.  Important rights that affect women only have been invisible.  "Atrocities committed against women are either too human to fit the notion of female or too female to fit the notion of human."(p. 528)  What does this mean[WJT1] ?


MacKinnon thinks that there are many kinds of invisible human rights violations against women:


(1) domestic violence[WJT2] ;

(2) rape (for more on the history, see Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will[WJT3] );

(3) prostitution[WJT4] ;

(4) pornography[WJT5] .













        The Bosnia-Herzogovina example:  "[T]he rapes are an instrument of war."(531)  Ethnic cleansing:  Rape as genocide.  At the time, there was no precedent for trying sexual atrocities in international law[WJT6] .


Even the U.N. troops committed rape[WJT7] .


Prosecutions in Bosnia-Herzogovina were the result of women from outside the country taking a role in interviewing victims.  Human rights develop when a group that has previously been silenced finds a voice.


THE CRUCIAL ANALOGY:  The analogy between violence in a civil war and violence in the private sphere:  state sovereignty and family sovereignty.  ("A man's home is his castle[WJT8] .")


Conclusion:  "[V]iolence against women violates human rights."(540)









1.  The "two spheres" theory makes a sharp distinction between public (outside the family) and private (within the family) spheres[WJT9] . 


2.  The limitation of rights to the public sphere.  (For more, see Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family[WJT10] .) 


3.  The problem of invisible human rights violations in the private sphere. 

        Need to reconceptualize the private realm "as a legitimate area of human rights concern at the highest level"(507[WJT11] )



Issue:  Is the problem a conceptual problem in the content of human rights theory or is it a problem in the application of the theory (what Rao calls a “strategic inadequacy”)?








        1.  Rao's argument concerning torture[WJT12] .  Here Rao echoes MacKinnon's argument that torture is "too human to fit the notion of female".   Is her problem with the AI definition or with its application?


        2.  Rao's ambivalence about the individualism of human rights theory[WJT13] .  Where does she stand on the disagreement between Scales, Olsen, and Pateman?


        3.  Rao's argument against the abstractness of human rights theory, constructed around the "denatured, dehistoricized, disembodied, disembedded, individual self"(p. 516[WJT14] )

        The example of Rawls's Original Position behind the 'veil of ignorance'.  Consider a further generalization of Rawls’s idea:  The Intergalactic Original Position.  Explain why it makes sense to think of the self in the intergalactic original position as a "denatured, dehistoricized, disembodied, disembedded, individual self".  Is this a problem, from a moral point of view? 




        4.  The Two Spheres:  Public and Private[WJT15] .  Rao's argument on the status of the family in human rights documents:  There is a large category of rights missing from the UNUDHR[WJT16] . 


        5.  Does Rao think the problem is better understood as a "conceptual contradiction" or "strategic inadequacy[WJT17] " (523)?  What do you think?

 [WJT1]See 527


 [WJT3]the main topic of this article


 [WJT5]537; with Andrea Dworkin:  Indianapolis and Minneapolis ordinances; Canadian Supreme Court upheld def. in Regina v. Butler.


 [WJT7]529 (letter from Natalie Nenardic) and 537; the current example from Iraq

 [WJT8]All rape is a human rights violation:  the example of Muktaran Bibi in Pakistan;

Violence against women by intimate partners is the larger human rights violation.

 [WJT9]507; also discussed on pp. 514-516 and 518.

 [WJT10]Published 1989:  criticism of Rawls:  basic institutions, but assumed households 1971; 1993 he acknowledged that theory applies to family, but said nothing about it; finally in 2001 he addressed the family in "Justice as Fairness".

 [WJT11]Talbott 93-94 on violence against women;

1997:  1/3 of ER visits by women;

Joyner v. Joyner;

Mehrangiz Kar in Iran and others listed in Talbott 112;  Muktaran Bibi in Pakistan;

referee for my manuscript.

 [WJT12]compare Convention 511 with AI def. 512.;

echoes MacKinnon argument

 [WJT13]Ann Scales 509 and "nomads".  Response: Frances Olsen:  509; Pateman on the logical alliance between liberalism and feminism 515.

 [WJT14]Explain each term.


 [WJT16]Read from 518-519.  marital rape, domestic violence, contraception, rights against husband, etc.; 7/6/2006 Sec-Gen declaration that violence against women is a human rights violation.