In Defense of Pornography: Free Speech and the Fight for Women's Rights

In Defense of Pornography: Free Speech and the Fight for Women's Rights

by Nadine Strossen

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
University of Michigan law professor and anti-pornography crusader Catharine MacKinnon has avoided debating Strossen, a New York University law professor who heads the American Civil Liberties Union. As this book shows, Strossen has a broad arsenal of vital arguments. Free speech has long been a strong weapon to fight misogyny, she notes, and she catalogues the fuzzy legal theories behind censorship. She ascribes feminist panic over sexual expression to a surge in ``cultural feminism,'' which was a response to 1970s setbacks to more tangible feminist projects like the ERA. The ``MacDworkin'' (MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin) proposed law to fight ``subordinating'' porn, Strossen argues, misreads evidence of its effects on men and ignores more influential media images like advertising as well as the complexity of female sexuality. In practice, as recent Canadian cases show ominously, such censorship laws have been used to seize lesbian, gay and feminist material. Strossen writes in professorial prose, with numerous quotes from better writers, and eschews the opportunity to explore murkier issues like the sexism inherent in much pornography. But she forcefully makes her point that scapegoating porn diverts activists from more important fights for women's rights. Author tour. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In this antithesis to law professor Catherine MacKinnon's Only Words (LJ 9/15/93), Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, attempts a public debate with MacKinnon, who has refused arranged debates with feminists in the anticensorship/pro-pornography camp. Mac-Kinnon's view is that pornography, in the guise of free speech, rails against women's equality guarantee. Strossen sees censoring pornography as effectively rendering the right wing's agenda to control the media and an attack on the First Amendment. Tackling the toughest question, she traces the recent history of censorship in relation to sexual speech. Although Strossen complains that MacKinnon's name-calling tactics is divisive, she herself chomps greedily at her free-speech bit and does the same. Strongly recommended as an important work for academic and large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/94.]-Paula N. Arnold, Vermont Coll. Lib., Norwich Univ., Montpelier
Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, devotes most of the book to arguing that antiporn feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin are puritanical and antisexual, noting that their pursuit of censorship has ironically allied them with conservatives. Women's rights are more endangered by censorship than by sexual words or images, she asserts, and censorship would not reduce sexism or violence. However, she blithely glosses over crucially connected economic and social issues and, moreover, some may find themselves unconvinced by her portrait of pornography as liberating for those involved in it. (Why are only well-educated, financially thriving sex industry workers interviewed?) Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Aaron Cohen
Ever since Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin began to call for censoring pornography under the guise of feminism, their debaters have focused on how the model antiporn ordinances they propose would undermine the First Amendment. Although ACLU president Strossen also uses constitutional doctrine to attack the MacDworkinites, her arguments go beyond her colleagues' legal advocacy. Her incisive new book convincingly argues that state control of obscene publications would subvert women's rights. According to Strossen, the claim that women are weakened when viewing images and words of sexual expression is in and of itself an "infantilizing stereotype." She shows that recent Canadian antiporn legislation has been used to seize gay, lesbian, and feminist literature--indeed, to ban Dworkin's novels!--and she criticizes civil codes that would make publishers of graphic sexual material compensate rape victims because such laws diminish the guilt of actual rapists. Throughout, Strossen shows why she is one of the nation's preeminent defenders of free expression. She consistently backs her arguments with thoroughly researched precedents; better, her lucid style is informed by a sharp, ironic wit that she supplements with citations of other feminist authors. One of these, from Anna Quindlen, succinctly states the thrust of Strossen's argument: "Silence is what kept us in our place for too long. If we now silence others, our liberty is false. No more gag rules--that should be our goal."

Read More

Product Details

Publication date:

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >