- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The president of the American Civil Liberties Union explains why censoring pornography undermines women's rights. Strossen claims that free speech and women's rights are not at odds--if we protect the law from the forces that would limit our constitutional right to free expression.
Pornography, in the feminist view, is a form of forced sex, ...an institution of gender inequality... [P]ornography, with the rape and prostitution in which it participates, institutionalizes the sexuality of male supremacy. --CATHARINE MACKINNON
Feminist women are especially keen to the harms of censorship. Historically, information about sex, sexual orientation, reproduction and birth control has been banned under the guise of the protection of women. Such restrictions have never reduced violence. Instead, they have led to the jailing of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and the suppression of important works, from Our Bodies, Ourselves to the feminist plays of Karen Finley and Holly Hughes. Women do not require "protection" from explicit sexual materials. Women are as varied as any citizens of a democracy; there is no agreement or feminist code as to what images are distasteful or even sexist. It is the right and responsibility of each woman to read, view or produce the sexual material she chooses without the intervention of the state "for her own good." This is the great benefit of being feminists in a free society.
The strain of anti-pornologism is hardly what's distinctive about feminism; whereas anti-anti-pornology--the critique of the anti-porn movement on grounds other than constitutional formalism or First Amendment pietism--is a distinctive feminist contribution.
--HENRY LOUIS GATES W. E. B. Du Bois Professor Harvard University
In the past decade, some feminists have dramatically altered the long-standing debate in this country about sex and sexually oriented expression.Liberals--including those who advocated women's rights--had long sought increased individual freedom, and decreased government control, in the realm of sexuality. Accordingly, liberals had urged the repeal both of laws restricting consensual private sexual conduct between adults, and laws restricting the production of or access to sexually oriented materials, including books, photographs, and films.
Conversely, conservatives--including those who opposed women's rights causes--had consistently advocated strict government controls over both sexual conduct and sexual expression. With the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and the growing mobilization of the so-called Religious Right, what had become a conservative clamor gained enormous political clout. It led to the 1986 Report of the Meese Pornography Commission, which in turn led to sweeping new law enforcement crackdowns on all manner of sexual materials, including popular, constitutionally protected works such as The Joy of Sex and Playboy magazine.
The startling new development is that, since the late 1970s, the traditional conservative and fundamentalist advocates of tighter legal restrictions on sexual expression have been joined by an increasingly vocal and influential segment of the feminist movement. Both groups target the sexual material they would like to curb with the pejorative label "pornography." Led by University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon and writer Andrea Dworkin, this faction of feminists--which I call "MacDworkinites"--argues that pornography should be suppressed because it leads to discrimination and violence against women. Indeed, MacKinnon and Dworkin have maintained that somehow pornography itself is discrimination and violence against women; that its mere existence hurts women, even if it cannot be shown to cause some tangible harm.
I share the fears, frustration, and fury about the ongoing problems of violence and discrimination against women, which no doubt have driven many to embrace the "quick fix" that censoring pornography is claimed to offer. Who wouldn't welcome an end to the threat of violence that so many women feel every time they venture out alone in the dark? But censoring pornography would not reduce misogynistic violence or discrimination; worse yet, as this book shows, it would likely aggravate those grave problems. In the words of feminist attorney Cathy Crosson, while the procensorship strategy may be superficially appealing, at bottom it reflects "the defeated, defeatist politics of those who have given up on really altering the basic institutions of women's oppression and instead have decided to slay the messenger."
The pornophobic feminists have forged frighteningly effective alliances with traditional political and religious conservatives who staunchly oppose women's rights, but who also seek to suppress pornography. As noted by feminist anthropologist Carole Vance, "Every right-winger agrees that porn leads to women's inequality--an inequality that doesn't bother him in any other way."
Under their joint anti-pornography banner, the allies in this feminist-fundamentalist axis have mounted increasing--and increasingly successful--campaigns against a wide range of sexually oriented expression, including not only art and literature, but also materials concerning such pressing public issues as AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, contraception, sexism, and sexual orientation.
So influential have the MacDworkinites become that all too many citizens and government officials believe that the suppression of sexually oriented materials is a high priority for all feminists, or even for all women. But nothing could be further from the truth.
An increasingly vocal cadre of feminist women who are dedicated to securing equal rights for women and to combating women's continuing second-class citizenship in our society strongly opposes any effort to censor sexual expression. We are as committed as any other feminists to eradicating violence and discrimination against women; indeed, many of us work directly for these goals every day of our lives. But we believe that suppressing sexual words and images will not advance these crucial causes. To the contrary, we are convinced that censoring sexual expression actually would do more harm than good to women's rights and safety. We adamantly oppose any effort to restrict sexual speech not only because it would violate our cherished First Amendment freedoms--our freedoms to read, think, speak, sing, write, paint, dance, dream, photograph, film, and fantasize as we wish--but also because it would undermine our equality, our status, our dignity, and our autonomy.
Women should not have to choose between freedom and safety, between speech and equality, between dignity and sexuality. Women can be sexual beings without forsaking other aspects of our identities. We are entitled to enjoy the thrills of sex and sexual expression without giving up our personal security. We can exercise our free speech and our equal rights to denounce any sexist expressions of any sort--including sexist expressions that are also sexual--rather than seek to suppress anyone else's rights.
Women's rights are far more endangered by censoring sexual images than they are by the sexual images themselves. Women do not need the government's protection from words and pictures. We do need, rather, to protect ourselves from any governmental infringement upon our freedom and autonomy, even--indeed, especially--when it is allegedly "for our own good." As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis cautioned: Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when
the government's purposes are beneficent...The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." Or women of zeal.
The feminist procensorship movement is a far greater threat to women's rights than is the sexual expression it condemns with the epithet "pornography." For women who cherish liberty and equality, Big Sister is as unwelcome in our lives as Big Brother. Defending the sexual expression that some feminists condemn with the dread P word is thus a critical element in our support of free speech, sexual and reproductive autonomy, and women's equality.
Traditional explanations of why pornography must be defended from would-be censors have concentrated on censorship's adverse impacts on free speech and sexual autonomy. This book supports the anticensorship position from an important different perspective, which is not as widely understood. In light of the increasingly influential women's rights-centered rationale for censoring pornography, this book focuses on the women's rights-centered rationale for defending pornography. It explains why the procensorship faction of feminism poses a serious threat not only to human rights in general but also to women's rights in particular.
|1||The Sex Panic and the Feminist Split||17|
|2||Sexual Speech and the Law||37|
|3||The Fatally Flawed Feminist Antipornography Laws||59|
|4||The Growing Suppression of "Sexpression"||83|
|5||Revealing Views of Women, Men, and Sex||107|
|6||Defining Sexual Harassment: Sexuality Does Not Equal Sexism||119|
|7||"Different Strokes for Different Folks": The Panoply of Pornographic Imagination||141|
|8||Positive Aspects of Pornographic Imagery||161|
|9||Posing for Pornography: Coercion or Consent?||179|
|10||Would-Be Censors Subordinate Valuable Works to Their Agenda||199|
|11||Lessons from Enforcement: When the Powerful Get More Power||217|
|12||Why Censoring Pornography Would Not Reduce Discrimination or Violence against Women||247|
|13||Toward Constructive Approaches to Reducing Discrimination and Violence against Women||265|