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Catharine MacKinnon

Pioneering Legal Scholar

More From Catharine

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's Biography

Growing up: Grew up on a farm in Minnesota, more or less in the middle of nowhere.
First Job: Babysitter.
Describing Herself: "I teach. I litigate. I write, and I agitate for women. I work practically to change things."
Reflecting On Her Life: "I didn't anticipate any particular early death, but I never thought I would live to be this age. I feel triumphant."

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.

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