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Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues Catharine A. MacKinnon The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press/$35 If you would be intrigued by the prospect of signing up for Professor Catharine MacKinnon’s class, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll sink your teeth, intellectually if not pleasurably, into her latest book. But if feminist theory and legal theory don’t already light your candle, “Are Women Human?” probably won’t light your fire. That’s not to suggest that you couldn’t glean insight, or at least some tinder for a spirited debate, from these essays and speeches. But it sometimes takes some slogging, and for that reason MacKinnon hobbles herself in any effort to win over a non-academic audience. MacKinnon, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and currently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences near Stanford, doesn’t lack for credentials. She’s dedicated decades of energy to studying sex equality (or lack thereof), promoting her theories, and attempting to put them into practice. One of her prominent successes came in federal court in the 1990s, when she brought a case against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, to hold him liable for sexual atrocities committed by Serbian forces. Though a district court initially dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals allowed it to go forward, stating Karadzic “clearly” would have violated laws against genocide if he had, as the plaintiffs alleged, ordered a campaign of murder, rape, forced impregnation and other torture based on victims’ religion and ethnicity. Billed as a companion volume to last year’s U.S.-focused compilation, “Women’s Lives, Men’s Laws,” here MacKinnon assumes an international perspective. The material in this collection, which covers a 21-year span, will seem familiar if you’re aware of some of the positions MacKinnon has staked out over the years on issues like rape, sex trafficking, battery and economic inequality. She continues to advocate, for example, for more legal remedies that would allow women victims to act directly against human rights violations. She and the late feminist writer Andrea Dworkin famously tried that approach to fight pornography, taking the position that it feeds violence and discrimination. They wrote a law, first attempted in Minneapolis in 1983, to allow women to sue for civil damages if they had been coerced into making pornography or forced to view it. This book includes a 1990 speech MacKinnon gave in Sweden to encourage the government there to adopt that approach. And in another article, originally published in 2004, MacKinnon gets behind another kind of direct remedy, expressing hope that women victims would take advantage of what was then a relatively new complaint procedure, to enforce the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. MacKinnon starts off on poor footing in this volume, though, by penning a torturously convoluted introduction. It seems purposefully lofty, with some passages so difficult to discern that by the time you mine any meaning from the rubble, you may no longer care what MacKinnon has to say. “Women’s world � both status and struggle to change it � is the globe, in inherent tension with subsumption of women and their rights to states.” If she was trying to convince me of something, I wasn’t always clear what it was. This is not a woman incapable of communication. But her message, at times perfectly clear, can get bogged down with obtuse writing in some of her essays. That’s a shame. Because when you can decipher them, her arguments usually provoke something, whether it’s adamant agreement, a pause for consideration, or abject dismissal. And while that might not satisfy an activist, it surely would be an accomplishment for an academic.

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