Monday, March 19, 2018
Sexual harassment “was not considered anything you could do something about — that the law could help you do something about — until a book was written by a then-young woman named Kitty MacKinnon,” the Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said at the Sundance Film Festival in January. She was there to attend the premiere of the documentary “RBG,” which will be released this spring. And the book, “Sexual Harassment of Working Women,” published in 1979, argued that sexual harassment in the workplace is sex discrimination and prohibited by equal protection laws.
“It was a revelation,” Justice Ginsburg said. “And it was the beginning of a field that didn’t exist until then.”
The Supreme Court agreed with Catharine A. MacKinnon. In its first case involving sexual harassment in 1986, with Ms. MacKinnon as co-counsel, the court ruled unanimously that sexual harassment is sex discrimination.
For over 40 years, Ms. MacKinnon, 71, has been a pioneer and lightning rod for sex equality. Along with her work on sexual harassment, she has argued, more controversially, that pornography and prostitution constitute sexual abuse of women in the context of social inequality.
Ms. MacKinnon now teaches law at the University of Michigan and Harvard. (In 1990, I studied with her, in a class called “Sex Equality,” when she was a visiting professor at Yale Law School.) Her most recent book, “Butterfly Politics,” surveys her four decades of activism.
Last month, she met Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who, more recently, became a public face of sexual harassment. In July 2016, Ms. Carlson sued Roger Ailes, then chairman and chief executive of Fox News, claiming sexual harassment. After dozens of women came forward with their own accounts of harassment by Mr. Ailes, he was forced to resign.
Two months later, 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, settled Ms. Carlson’s harassment claim for $20 million and issued a rare public apology for her mistreatment. (Mr. Ailes died in May.)
Ms. Carlson, 51, is the author of the best-selling book “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.” A former Miss America, she was named chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors in January.
The article includes an in-depth interview with both women.