MacKinnon emphasizes the far-reaching impact of the accumulation of small actions, using the #MeToo movement as an example.
Renowned feminist scholar and legal practitioner Catharine MacKinnon visited the University of Pennsylvania on October 2 to deliver the Provost’s Lecture on Diversity. Professor MacKinnon drew upon her own experiences of donning many hats as an activist, legal practitioner, and academic to offer an insightful commentary on the current landscape of events and her new book Butterfly Politics.
The discussion was moderated by Adjunct Professor of Law Lubna Mian, who dived right into the heart of the matter by asking Professor MacKinnon her opinion about the controversy surrounding then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Though Professor MacKinnon strongly expressed her views against Brett Kavanaugh, she emphasized the need to view this event as embedded in an ongoing process to challenge unequal structures that allows for sexual harassment to be perpetuated. By comparing his potential nomination to a fork in the road, albeit an important one, MacKinnon stressed the relentless nature of women’s movements and noted how Kavanaugh’s nomination will not signal the end of movements across the country, but will instead lead it in a different direction.
MacKinnon’s new book Butterfly Politics builds on the above point. When asked to trace the journey behind her book, MacKinnon explained how it had been born out of forty-five years of activism. Drawing from chaos theory, Butterfly Politics revolves around the idea that small interventions undertaken against unequal systems can result in widespread cataclysmic results. She then highlighted how the #MeToo movement is a striking example of how small actions taken collectively can have far-reaching effects. MacKinnon’s ideas lay the foundation for us to explore how the #MeToo movement continues to unfold in diverse arenas.
Throughout the discussion, MacKinnon’s optimism mixed with a dose of witty humor shone through. When asked by Professor Mian about what individuals can do to end gender equality, MacKinnon noted that, “helping one woman is equal to helping all women.” Though MacKinnon did not elaborate on what counted as “help,” her statement reinforced the need to abandon apathy and adopt active roles in whichever capacity possible. Audience members asked questions at the end of the discussion, with the last question asking MacKinnon what she does to remain hopeful during difficult times, her response — “I don’t ‘do hope,’ I do ‘over my dead body’.” Overall, the discussion gave all of us a much-needed sense of direction, enabling us to take a reflective, and hopefully reactive, stance on what we can do as students while keeping an eye on the horizon.
Written by Sanjna Yechareddy
(Illustration: Sophie Lee)