MAKERS Profile

Catharine MacKinnon

Pioneering Legal Scholar

In this video

MacKinnon on her long journey from defining sexual harassment, to the Supreme Court adopting her argument, and extending her counsel across the world.
Catharine MacKinnon is a legal scholar who pioneered the legal claim for sexual harassment. As an undergraduate at Smith College, MacKinnon was first introduced to the constitutional law and political theory that inspired her to pursue a career that could address the bigger philosophical questions about society. That hunger eventually led her to earn both a law degree and PhD in political science from Yale.  It was in New Haven among the ranks of a consciousness-raising group at the heart of the Women’s Movement where she became aware of the systematic sexual discrimination of women. MacKinnon recalls, “It wasn’t an issue. It was just life.” That would all change after the publication of her revolutionary 1979 legal argument that defined the term “sexual harassment.” By 1986, the Supreme Court adopted her argument into law without pause.   Along with teaching law at the University of Michigan, Yale, Chicago, Harvard and many more esteemed institutions, MacKinnon has become a powerful voice for international gender equality. She pushed to successfully implement her concept of “gender crimes” among international human rights violations, and since 2008 has been the Special Gender Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Due to her groundbreaking work and refusal to cave in, MacKinnon is among the most widely cited legal scholars in the English language.  

More From Catharine

Working with Andrea Dworkin
MacKinnon discusses how feminist activist, Andrea Dworkin, sparked her stance on pornography and where it stands within the law.

Turning Point
MacKinnon talks about the critical realization about sexual abuse that drove the rest of her work.

Pressure to "Succeed"
MacKinnon talks about the pressure to "succeed" that so often leads people away from their dreams.

The Pornography Phenomenon
MacKinnon talks about pornography as the most widespread form of sexual education and how it is ultimately harmful to women.

Women in Law
MacKinnon describes the atmosphere while attending law school as one of the few women in her class.

A Mother's Legacy
MacKinnon shares her disbelief at her mother's inability to reach her full potential due to barriers of the times. 

A Future in Law
MacKinnon recalls the constitutional law class at Smith College and the philosophical questions that piqued her interest.