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Pornography: Women, Violence, and Civil Liberties: A Radical View
     

Pornography: Women, Violence, and Civil Liberties: A Radical View

by Catherine Itzin
 

Does freedom of speech always play a more important role in society than the civil rights of certain members of that society? Is pornography an excuse to publish acts of violence? Many respected writers, both men and women, have contributed to this definitive collection of essays concerning pornography. Each has their own view, but they all hold two beliefs in

Overview

Does freedom of speech always play a more important role in society than the civil rights of certain members of that society? Is pornography an excuse to publish acts of violence? Many respected writers, both men and women, have contributed to this definitive collection of essays concerning pornography. Each has their own view, but they all hold two beliefs in common—a passionate opposition to censorship and a vehement conviction that until pornography is eradicated, women's status can never be equal to men's. Thoroughly researched and passionately argued, these essays examine the possible causal links between pornography and rape, child abuse, and sexual inequality. Material from soft-porn to snuff movies is analyzed. This work includes interviews with alleged victims of pornography and professionals who have treated the alleged perpetrators of pornography-related violence. Contributors include Andrea Dworkin, Michael Moorcock, and Catherine MacKinnon. The Case Against Pornography is an important contribution to anti-pornography debate.

Editorial Reviews

Julie Novkov
In recent years, the subject of regulating pornography has become a central site for feminists to debate the meaning of feminism. Scholars committed heavily both to feminism and their strong pro- or anti-regulation stances have marshalled their best evidence and rhetoric to show that their position is the superior feminist understanding of whether and how pornography should be regulated. Unfortunately, in an atmosphere where feminism itself is often under attack from non-feminists, the arguments among feminists over pornography have often become rancorous. Those on the extreme ends of the debate -- those who believe that pornography ought to be regulated strictly and through the criminal law, and those who believe that any but the most minimal limitations on pornography interfere impermissibly with freedom of speech -- have long since ceased attempting to persuade each other and instead focus on trying to convince the uncommitted people in the middle that their position is correct. While this volume is an edited collection of essays about pornography, taken as a whole it provides a sustained argument that pornography is harmful, that it should be regulated, and that regulation of pornography is consistent with sensitivity to concerns about civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech. PORNOGRAPHY: WOMEN, VIOLENCE AND CIVIL LIBERTIES attempts to build an unassailable case for regulation based on empirical, philosophical, and legal grounds. It thus presents in a comprehensive fashion one side of the debate over the regulation of pornography. The editor of the book, Catherine Itzin, establishes her critical stance explicitly in the introduction. She explains that feminists should take pornography as a core area for activism because "pornography plays an important part in contributing to sexual violence against women and to sex discrimination and sexual inequality." (p. 1) For the authors in this volume, pornography is a key site for feminist struggle because it is more than merely a manifestation of sexism and gender-based subordination: it is a crucial means through which sexism is articulated and perpetuated. As such, it should be strictly regulated and should not be permitted to hide behind protection of free speech. The book is divided into five parts that make a sustained argument for regulation. The first part discusses the pornographic product directly. Itzin's chapter summarizes her extensive content analyses of mainstream and not-so-mainstream porn, showing a continuum that extends from makeup ads in women's magazines to snuff films. Itzin's unifying theme is that these disparate representations all portray women in false and negative ways. The second part of the book links pornography to several different facets of power. Pornography incorporates the power of representation through its control of social perceptions of women (Kappeler), a power that extends to the production and reinforcement of racism (Forna). It reinforces the power that adults have over children and legitimates abuses of that power (Kelly). It has the power to affect detrimentally the way men think by reinforcing heterosexual conditioning to deny emotion and empathy (Baker), by maintaining lesbian and gay oppression (Raymond and Stoltenberg), and by creating in men a need for it that can then be used to justify the wrongful acts they commit under its influence (Cameron and Frazer and Sweet). Finally, pornography has substantial economic power and influence (Kappeler). The third part of the book presents evidence that pornography causes harm. The data presented is diverse and extensive, ranging from experimental psychological evidence (Einsiedel, Weaver, and Russell), to sociological evidence (Tate), to clinical evidence (Wyre), to legal evidence (MacKinnon). Two chapters in the section address the harm done by child pornography specifically, and several of the chapters explicitly link pornography to violence. The three chapters of part four address Page 37 follows: legislative attempts to control pornography. Itzin develops in the first two chapters an historical account of regulation through obscenity law principally in the United Kingdom and an argument for regulating pornography rather than obscenity. MacKinnon discusses the history of the anti-pornography statute she developed with Andrea Dworkin and explains why she sees it as a positive solution to the problem of pornography. Finally, part five attempts to untangle the relationship among pornography, censorship, and civil liberties. The section includes Andrea Dworkin's noted article, "Against the Male Flood," which looks historically at censorship and argues that limitations on pornography would increase civil liberties by improving the circumstances of women's lives. Michael Moorcock argues for legislating against pornography rather than obscenity, claiming that such legislation would give writers greater freedom to write sexually explicit texts. Itzin blasts civil liberties organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom in the final chapter, claiming that limiting pornography will increase freedom, particularly for women. The book also includes three appendices detailing recent developments in the legal arena, an extensive bibliography, and a list of organizations concerned about or active against pornography. Taken as a whole, the book presents a comprehensive and compelling, but not completely convincing, argument for regulation of pornography. The various authors do well at documenting the harms related to pornography, and several generate solid empirical arguments that pornography itself causes damage. None, however, grapples seriously enough with the dangers associated with regulation. Further, the authors have not shown that regulation of pornography will lead to largescale changes in negative social views of women. Having said this, I should emphasize that the book has convinced me that some forms of pornography ought to be regulated. Liz Kelly, Tim Tate, and Michele Elliott discuss the damage done by child pornography and by sexualized images of children in the media. Taken together, these chapters provide devastating arguments against the few people who believe that child pornography ought to be considered protected speech. The link between child pornography and the sexual abuse of children is direct and obvious: children must be sexually abused to make the pornography. Further, the presence of such pornography in the marketplace goes some distance toward legitimizing adults' use of children for their own sexual pleasure. Parallel arguments can be made about pornography that is extremely violent. The problem is perhaps one of definition. Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin offer one definition of pornography as women "presented as sexual objects experiencing sexual pleasure in rape, incest or other sexual assault" (p. 435), a fairly narrow definition that encompasses some awful materials. An alternative definition in MacKinnon's model statute, however, defines pornography as women "presented in postures or positions of sexual submission, servility, or display." (p. 435) This definition could be used by a hostile power structure to censor materials that most feminists would want to keep in the marketplace of ideas (as only one example, some passages from Amy Tan's recent novel THE KITCHEN GOD'S WIFE would certainly qualify under this definition). Not all of the authors in the volume would agree with MacKinnon's troubling definition, but most have not provided their own definitions. The book, while quite comprehensive, does not grapple with every issue arising on the pro-regulation side. Another question about regulation is whether it is to be accomplished through the civil or criminal law. This question receives some attention in the volume, but more discussion would have been helpful. Reliance on the criminal justice system to control pornography is troublesome on several counts. If one accepts a radical feminist argument that the state is infused with patriarchal norms and values, counting on the state to eradicate these values through policing pornography seems futile at best. Even if the state is presumed to be indifferent to feminist concerns rather than openly hostile, reversing the damaging effects of pornography may not be high on the Page 38 follows: state's ranking of priorities. Reliance on the state through criminalization of pornography places control over pornography in the hands of the state, rather than in the hands of the people injured by it. Finally, the criminal law generally presents higher procedural barriers to achieving the desired result of a favorable ruling. On the positive side, though, criminalizing more pornography than we currently do would send a strong social message that the consumption of pornography is not in accordance with national values. It would also ensure that the victims of pornography need not bear the additional burden of having to resort to the civil law to correct the wrongs done to them. In the course of establishing their own arguments about why pornography ought to be regulated, some of the authors engage with feminists on the other side of the controversy. While most appear to take the arguments against regulation seriously (particularly in the middle section regarding social science research on pornography), "anti-censorship" feminists receive harsh treatment at some points. (In fairness, I should note that there has been plentiful vitriol on both sides of the debate over pornography.) If this book is meant to convince people who have not yet decided where they stand on pornography, this strategy is not particularly effective. Schisms among feminists are not a new phenomenon, and are likely to persist over this, and other issues. They should not, however, prevent us from being able to talk to each other, even when we disagree vehemently. PORNOGRAPHY: WOMEN, VIOLENCE AND CIVIL LIBERTIES does not end the feminist debate about regulation of pornography, but it does provide a useful intervention. Those who are most strongly in favor of non-regulation owe it to themselves and their followers to engage seriously with the essays in this volume.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780198252917
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
12/01/1992
Pages:
656
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.75(h) x 1.72(d)

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