Chapter Ten of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Catharine MacKinnon’s 1989 book, is now available to read here:
The chapter opens with these words:
Most women who seek abortions became pregnant while having sexual intercourse with men. Most did not mean or wish to conceive. In women’s experience, sexuality and reproduction are inseparable from each other and from gender. The abortion debate, by contrast, has centered on separating control over sexuality from control over reproduction, and on separating both from gender. Liberals have supported the availability of the abortion choice as if the woman just happened on the fetus, usually on the implicit view that reproductive control is essential to sexual freedom and economic independence. The political right imagines that the intercourse that precedes conception is usually voluntary, only to urge abstinence, as if sex were up to women. At the same time, the right defends male authority, specifically including a wife’s duty to submit to sex. Continuing this logic, many opponents of state funding of abortions would permit funding of abortions when pregnancy results from rape of incest. They make exceptions for those special occasions on which they presume women did not control sex. Abortion’s proponents and opponents share a tacit assumption that women significantly control sex.
Feminist investigations suggest otherwise. Sexual intercourse, still the most common cause of pregnancy, cannot simply be presumed coequally determined. Women feel compelled to preserve the appearance – which, acted upon, becomes the reality – of male direction of sexual expression, as if it were male initiative itself that women want, as if it were that which women find arousing. Men enforce this. It is much of what men want in a woman, what pornography eroticizes and prostitutes provide. Rape – that is, intercourse with force that is recognized as force – is adjudicated not according to the power or force that the man wields, but according to indices of intimacy between the parties. The more intimate one is with one’s accused rapist, the less likely a court is to find that what happened was rape. Often indices of intimacy include intercourse itself. If “no” can be taken as “yes,” how free can “yes” be? (pp. 184-5)