Michigan Law Professor Catherine MacKinnon is named 'Woman of Vision' by National Organization of Women


By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

Renowned legal scholar and Michigan Law Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon, who has been called “one of the most significant figures in feminism” by the National Organization of Women (NOW)—has received the organization’s Woman of Vision Award for her work in advancing women's rights. She was presented the award at the 2019 NOW Conference in Minneapolis on July 20.

According to NOW, “the Woman of Vision Award is reserved for an individual who has made a distinctive contribution to further the cause of women's equal rights. Such an individual pushes boundaries, breaks down barriers, and lifts expectations as to what the women's movement can accomplish through law-making, academic research, writing, distinguished leadership, or litigation.”

“Catharine A. MacKinnon is truly a woman of vision,” said Toni Van Pelt, president of NOW. “It was her vision of sexual abuse as sex inequality that transformed legal theory and the public debate over issues such as sexual harassment, rape, pornography, and prostitution. It was her vision that led to the Supreme Court of Canada to largely accept her approaches to equality, pornography, and hate speech, and it was her vision that helped her win with co-counsel a damage award of millions for women survivors of Serbian genocidal sexual atrocities. NOW is proud to honor her with our Woman of Vision Award.”

“This recognition is immensely appreciated,” MacKinnon said, “but I’m sure NOW activists will agree that the real honor to a vision is when others see what you see. The Me Too global movement, the first mass movement against sexual abuse in the history of the world, bestows that accolade.”

MacKinnon, the Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at Michigan Law and the long-term James Barr Ames Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, specializes in sex equality issues under international and domestic law. She created the legal claim for sexual harassment as it was recognized in law as sex discrimination, and was co-counsel in the case that established it in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.

With Andrea Dworkin, MacKinnon created ordinances recognizing pornography as a civil rights violation and the Swedish model for abolishing prostitution. The Supreme Court of Canada has largely accepted her approaches to equality, pornography, and hate speech, which have been influential internationally as well. Representing Bosnian women survivors of Serbian genocidal sexual atrocities, she won with co-counsel a damage award of $745 million in August 2000 in Kadic v. Karadzic under the Alien Tort Act, the first recognition of rape as an act of genocide.

A graduate of Smith College and Yale University, MacKinnon has written numerous books, including Sexual Harassment of Working Women (1979); Only Words (1993); Women's Lives, Men's Laws (2005); and, most recently, Butterfly Politics (2017). Widely published in journals and the popular press, MacKinnon practices and consults nationally and internationally, including with the United Nations, and works regularly with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and ERA Coalition. From 2008 to 2012, she served as the first special gender adviser to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, where she implemented her concept of “gender crime.”In 2014, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of American Law Schools Women's Division.

Photo credit: Gal Hermoni
Lady Globes 2017