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

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The newest attacks on the First Amendment and on free expression have come from a vocal and influential segment of the feminist movement that has launched a successful - and puritanical - crusade against "pornography" as the root of discrimination and violence against women. But, as Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, forcefully argues, this view of sexuality as inherently dangerous does profound damage to human rights in general, and to women's rights in particular. In Defending ...
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New York 1995 Hard Cover First Edition New in New jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. FIRST PRINTING of the First Edition. A spirited, scholarly defense of pornography within the ... context of American civil liberties and freedom of speech, the author arguing that the view of sexuality as being somehow socially or morally 'dangerous' harms human rights in general and women's rights in partricular, as well as offers a feminist perspective on the history of obscenity laws. Hardcover with dust jacket, contains illustrations, notes, indexed, 320pp., remainders mark. A very nice copy. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The newest attacks on the First Amendment and on free expression have come from a vocal and influential segment of the feminist movement that has launched a successful - and puritanical - crusade against "pornography" as the root of discrimination and violence against women. But, as Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, forcefully argues, this view of sexuality as inherently dangerous does profound damage to human rights in general, and to women's rights in particular. In Defending Pornography, Strossen shows that, since the late 1970s, a new and startling alliance has been fused between "procensorship" feminists, most notably Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, and conservatives, many of whom oppose women's rights causes. Together they are campaigning against a wide range of sexually oriented expression, including not only art and literature, but also materials concerning abortion, contraception, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, sexism, and sexual orientation. One of America's most visible and articulate advocates of both feminism and free speech, Strossen is in the vanguard of an increasingly vocal group of feminist women who adamantly oppose any effort to censor sexual expression. Women's rights, Strossen demonstrates, are far more endangered by censorship than by sexual words or images. Strossen eloquently argues that women do not have to choose between speech and equality, between dignity and sexuality, between safety and "our freedoms to read, think, speak, sing, write, paint, dance, dream, photograph, film, and fantasize as we wish." Offering a feminist's unique perspective on the history of obscenity laws, she shows that censorship has long been - and continues to be - used as a tool to repress information vital to women's equality, health, and reproductive autonomy. As Defending Pornography makes devastatingly clear, those who would restrict freedom of expression ultimately restrict women's rights.

One of America's most visible and articulate advocates of both feminism and free speech, Strossen reveals censorship, not pornography, as the real enemy of women's equality and offers constructive approaches to reducing violence and discrimination against women. Photos.

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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
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."
Booknews
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 (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684197494
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 9/15/1994
  • Pages: 320

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 7
Introduction 11
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
Notes 281
Index 309
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