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Literal Rape

By Edward F. Mulkerin iii

. Feminist scholar believes that words equal deeds.

Walk through the Harvard University Press Shop and you'll see a rape victim. Maybe. You'll have to search hard; look at the author photo on a copy of Catherine A. MacKinnon's Only Words, an anti-pornography text which argues that in the case of sex acts, "To say it is to do it and to do it is to say it," In other words, looking at pictures and reading about violent sex acts are tantamount to actually committing the crime of rape. And MacKinnon now believes she has been raped.

But first things first. MacKinnon's supposition is that pornography is a dangerous specter that is abusing women and must be censored. In the United States the idea has yet to defeat the First Amendment in head-to-head competition, but MacKinnon Assisted in writing the brief which led to the Canadian Supreme Court decision that pornographic material can be banned because of its "negative impact on the individual's sense of self-worth."

Enter Carlin Romano, book critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Writing for the leftist weekly The Nation, Romano started off his review of Only Words on a decidedly personal note, "Suppose I decided to rape Catharine MacKinnon before reviewing her book." Not exactly objective journalism. But by writing about deeds he did not do, Romano is trying to expose the absurdity of MacKinnon's argument that words and pictures equal deeds.

He imagines describing the rape in the Nation, and then being arrested with fictional man who actually raped MacKinnon. He argues that since he simply wrote about the crime without committing it, he is not guilty like the a man who physically violated her.

Romano posits that theoretically, MacKinnon would disagree with his assertion of innocence on the grounds that since he described her rape in print, he is actually guilty of rape itself. Romano argues it is in this absurd perversion of logic and the law that Only Words breaks down, because the real breathing MacKinnon does not believe that she was raped be Romano simply because he wrote about it.

That was Roamno's first mistake; overestimating the firmness of MacKinnon's grasp on reality Romano believed that since there was no way she would actually accuse him of rape without his ever having physically touched MacKinnon, she would be forced to concede a flaw in her theory.

Unfortunately, MacKinnon had been reading too many of her own manuscripts and actually believed she had been raped. "Please disavow this rape of me" she asked a columnist. And concessions weren't exactly on MacKinnon's mind when she said in Time, "He wants me as a violated woman with her legs spread. He needed me there before he could address my work."

She said in The Washington Post, "Carlin Romano should be accountable for what he did. There are a lot of people out there, and a lot of ways it can be done." Making threats against another human being is not attractive behavior for someone who thinks that Miss February is an evil worthy of censorship.

MacKinnon's lover, the much maligned psychologist Jeffrey Masson wrote to Romano, "I am not threatening you... [but] I want you to know, if there is ever anything I can do to hurt your career, I will do it."

Which begs the question; with all of the threats that MacKinnon has made and her belief that malignant speech is a crime, why hasn't she turned herself in yet?

Edward F. Mulkerin III's column appears alternate Mondays.

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