Feminist Utopia

Opinion Place: Pornography

Pornography and Feminism

By Colleen McEneany

por-nog-ra-phy: Pictures, writing, or other material that is sexually explicit and intended to arouse sexual passion. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 1996

On this page: Introduction, Attacking Andrea Dworkin, Other Feminists Attack Dworkin, Meese Commission Hoax, Sources/Recommended Reading

Introduction:

I fear not the people who watch pornographic movies, nor the people who read pornographic literature. I do not even fear the people who partake in what I would consider bizarre sexual acts. I do however, fear those people who are overly concerned with others participating in consensual sexual acts in the privacy of their own homes. I am scared of the censors who consume massive amounts of hardcore pornography that depicts lewd and illegal acts, yet conclude that something as mild as Madonna's Erotica music video are detrimental to the rest of society. I fear those who fear an open mind toward human sexuality.

I want my pornography, CDs with adult lyrics, books that reflect human nature no matter how ugly or beautiful that may be, and I want my freedom to decide for myself what is and what is not appropriate or distasteful for me.

I want the freedom to decide for myself what books are appropriate for my children to read in school, the freedom to walk into an adult bookstore and purchase anything my sensual side desires. I yearn for the freedom to walk into a public library and check out erotic literature, just because I can. So long as these freedoms are at stake I will speak loudly about them and continue to fight for them.

I do not condone consumption or distribution of pornography that depicts illegal acts such as rape or pedophilia. I do however, support the production, distribution and consumption of pornography that portrays legal acts between consenting adults no matter how lewd you may perceive such acts to be. I am opposed to all efforts of censoring such materials. I resent anyone attempting to pass a law that stipulates what I, as an adult, am allowed to read, watch, or hear.

Pornography does not cause men to rape women and molest children, nor does it make men view women as whores. What pornography does is stir our already existing primal instincts, instincts and desires placed in us by Nature that no censor - despite adamant attempts - can eradicate.

Pornography has been in existence since the beginning of time for the mere reason that humans, like all animals, are sexual beings. Censors try to suppress the production, distribution and consumption of pornography. In doing so, they try to suppress that which is innately human.

Attacking Andrea Dworkin:

As a feminist, I resent the extremists and conservative feminists who assume that pornography is detrimental to women and causes violence against them. Such radical ideas are usually based on the 1986 Final Report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, which was a hoax. Or such ideas are based on assumptions, skewed personal experiences, or flawed logic.

Andrea Dworkin is probably the loudest self-proclaimed feminist to vocalize the harms pornography brings to women. She is adamantly opposed to porn. In her book, Woman Hating, she uses extreme examples of the most explicit pornography ever written to support her views. The pornography she illustrates to support her negative opinion toward porn depicts illegal acts such as rape, mutilation, murder and violence - all sexual and violent acts that are already illegal.

Promoting censorship of pornography on the foundation that illegal sexual acts repulse you is hardly a sturdy platform to stand on and does not justify the censoring of all pornography. Porn that depicts illegal acts is far fetching from legal porn or porn consisting of consenting adults participating in sexual acts.

In Woman Hating, Dworkin also criticizes porn literature for exploiting women and depicting scenes that abuse women physically and sexually. She criticizes the themes in specific pornographic literature that she feels leave the reader believing a woman needs and longs for the male penis and to be dominated by men.

Dworkin bashes men and society for these themes, which she believes men think are true. Dworkin states, "Men have always known, in that existential-according-to-Mailer way, that women not only need IT [sex with a man] but want IT, rape-brand-whip orchestrated."

In taking this position, one completely underestimates the male species and assumes female superiority in the area of analyzing media, writing and imagery. To assume gender superiority on any issue is to disregard equality, something that as a feminist I do not tolerate.

If one states men believe all women need to be dominated and long for a penis after consuming pornography in which a woman displays these needs, then we are bashing men to the extreme. We are assuming that men cannot differentiate between what is fact and fiction, between what is fantasy and reality, between one person's desires as an individual and the individuality that exists within an entire class of gender. One might as well say that a grown man is then equal to a 3 year-old child who cannot tell the difference between comical violent acts in a cartoon and violent acts in reality.

I need to also point out the extreme hypocrisy in taking the position that Dworkin does. People who take this position completely fail to acknowledge the reverse. They do not mention pornography depicting a man being dominated by a woman and needing a vagina, let alone the repercussions that could arise should a woman consume such pornographic material.

Do these people really think that a woman viewing such material is capable of reasoning that one man's desires played out in pornography does not apply to all men? Yet, men are not capable of such logic and reasoning?

There is also the fact that some women do want to be dominated both in and out of the bedroom, and do feel the need for a penis. To deny that some women are sexually aroused when dominated is to turn a blind eye to the diverse sexual desires people have. Likewise, some men also want to be dominated sexually as well as in areas of their life not pertaining to sexual arousal. These adults may enjoy consuming pornography that plays out their desires and no one should have the right to deny them that pleasure.

Andrea Dworkin teamed up with Catherine A. MacKinnon and stated that "pornography is sex discrimination . . . a practice of civil inequality on the basis of gender posing the threats to its target population" They insist that all types of pornography harm women and prevent them from exercising their full citizenship and participation in the public life of this nation.

Dworkin and MacKinnon have attacked Playboy as "a bona fide part of the trade in women." "Underlying all of Playboy's pictorials is the basic theme of all pornography: that all women are whores by nature, born wanting to be sexually accessible to all men at all times . . . Playboy in both text and pictures promotes both rape and child sexual abuse."

When I first read the above statements of Dworkin, I thought to myself, "This woman must go through life wearing blinders." One word, Playgirl. Does Playgirl not depict completely naked men? What about strip clubs that women horde to by the thousands to witness naked men gyrate on stage? Or the porn movies men are naked in? If we conclude that Playboy endorses that all women are whores, we must also be fair and conclude that Playgirl endorses that all men are whores, exhibitionists, and the like.

In addition, some censors of porn conclude pornography instills in men that all women must be thin and big breasted, and therefore porn is detrimental to how men perceive women and how women perceive themselves. Such censors are ignorant for not being aware of the fact that not all porn depicts "Barbie-like" females. Indeed, there is a quite a market for the opposite.

Additionally, they are hypocrites because they fail to see that men depicted in porn are often physically fit, bulking with muscles and hung like elephants. Does this not make men feel inferior? Could this image make men have unrealistic ideals about their own bodies, or unrealistic ideas of what women look for in a man? Could such images of males with huge penises be an underlying theme for why so many men are seeking penis enlargement surgery? Could women who view such imagery be creating false ideals of the average man?

I do not know these answers, nor will I pretend to. But I do know that feminists who ignore such questions and only focus on the females in porn, and how porn may be harmful to women, are hypocrites. It is hypocrisy that too many self-proclaimed feminists fall into, such as Dworkin.

Sadly, Dworkin proclaims loudly that she is a feminist. But she is not. She is a male bashing, close-minded woman who is so deeply affected by her own personal tragedies that she cannot see beyond her own life experiences. That is not feminism. Feminism is about equality, it is about recognizing the same exact things perceived to affect women (in this case porn) can also affect men.

Other Feminists Attacking Dworkin:

Many women, including prominent feminists, disagree with Dworkin's opinions on sex, men and pornography. Punk-folk singer, Lois Maffeo, says, "The feminist scholarship of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon is so dull, so Alan Alda. A lot of us just want to go spray-paint and make out with our boyfriends and not worry about oppression."

Thirty-year-old Lida Palac, editor of Future Sex magazine says, "When I was at the University of Minnesota in 1982 to 1983, where Catherine MacKinnon taught in the law school, I was a devoted follower of hers and a real antiporn feminist, but all along I felt something wasn't right... I really liked sex - with my politics. One day at my boyfriend's house I opened his closet...and hundreds of hardcore-porn magazines came tumbling out. I was disgusted, livid... But a couple of days later he said, 'Just watch one video, and if you still feel the same way, I'll get rid of them all.' We watched Sleepless Nights, and it sparked some honest dialogue - I told him my 'sick' sexual fantasies, and we rented more movies. The watershed event was when I was able to watch a movie - Aerobisex Girls - by myself and get so turned on I had to masturbate right away. Then I wanted to tell everyone how to use pornography - the grassroots, Sally Field approach."

Feminist, Katie Roiphe says, regarding Dworkin's views on sex, "Precisely the danger in this kind of feminism is that it creates a dwindling space for men. It makes men into objectifiers - sleazy, brutish creatures only interested in sex."

Even Pat Califia, writer of lesbian erotica, adds, "Men are placed in a really awkward position. The problem isn't men and it isn't pornography; pornography doesn't lead to rape, it leads to masturbation. The problem is the shame cast by feminists on sex."

Author Camille Paglia says of Dworkin, "[She] has turned a garish history of mental instability into feminist grand opera. She publicly boasts of her bizarre multiple rapes, assaults, beatings, breakdowns, and tacky traumas as if her inability to cope with life were the patriarchy's fault rather than her own."

Meese Commission Hoax

There is absolutely no evidence that pornography of any type promotes rape or sexual abuse. If this were the case, the millions of men and women who have consumed pornography would all be rapists and abuse children sexually. We can thank the Meese Commission for spreading such rumors that pornography is so detrimental to society and causes people to commit illegal acts.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Attorney General Ed Meese to head the Meese Commission. This commission was to study the effects of pornography on society. Keep in mind, Meese once backed a bill to make selling minors a magazine with a naked female breast in it a federal crime.

Meese put together a commission of biased, antiporn people. The group consisted of a Franciscan priest; the founder of Focus on the Family; a law professor who firmly believed the First Amendment did not protect one's right to pornography; a criminologist who specialized in sexually violent crimes; the head of the California Consortium of Child Abuse Councils; and anyone else who admitted prior to being chosen that there were firmly against pornography. They set out to discredit the previous findings of the 1970 Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.

The Meese Commission conducted no studies. They held trials in which each person on the commission supplied evidence to demonstrate their disapproval of porn. Sex crime victims gave testimonies in which they blamed porn for their sexual abuse. One of the people who presented his case to the Meese Commission was FBI special agent, Kenneth Lanning. He presented a slide show consisting of bare breasted native women in National Geographic, pictures of people who had pierced nipples and genitals, various pictures involving children and sex, and even a Sears Roebuck ad featuring children in their underwear. In addition, he showed slides of sex crime victims who had been mutilated and murdered.

The next part of the investigation featured sex crime victims. One 17 year-old boy told his story of how he was molested as a child by his uncle who used to read Playboy and Penthouse magazines. The boy believed that because of such porn, his uncle molested him, and in turn the boy also became a molester.

Antiporn scientists were also brought in to testify the ill effects of porn on society. New findings had just been released which showed that sex crimes decreased in Denmark and West Germany, where hard-core porn was readily available, Dr. John Court stood before the commission to state otherwise. He insisted that the statistics of the study were wrong and that lowered taboos against explicit sex caused a change in attitude and desensitization toward women that inevitably leads to rape and molestation. Dr. Court, like the other doctors and scientists who spoke, had no evidence to prove their statements.

After a year of hearings the Meese Commission released its final report on pornography in 1986. The majority ended up right where they started, believing pornography was a sin. All but two people on the commission signed the final report. One of them, Ellen Levine, stated, "No self-respecting investigator would accept conclusions based on such a study, and unfortunately, the document produced reflects these inadequacies."

The Meese Commission failed to accomplish what they had set out to do. Realistically, they had no empirical evidence to support their claims that porn was bad for society. Their final report was laden with terms pertaining to religion and morals in society, not the ill effects of porn. In one part of the Meese Commission's final report it says:

"Finding a link between aggressive behavior towards women and sexual violence, whether lawful or unlawful, requires assumptions not found exclusively in the experimental evidence. We see no reason, however, not to make these assumptions... that are plainly justified by our own common sense."

Using the Meese Commission findings to support efforts to eradicate pornography is senseless. Their time spent was just a year wasted in order to formally organize their opinions into a report. Opinions that, mind you, have no empirical basis.

In contrast, the original 1970 Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (PCOP) had produced evidence which showed that the consumption of pornography was not detrimental to society. They used research procedures that included surveys, quasi-experimental studies, controlled experimental studies, and studies of rates and incidence of sex offenses at a national level. Their technical studies generated data on which they produced their opinions.

Their studies included the study of : Opinion concerning the effects of sexual materials, empirical evidence concerning effects, psychosexual stimulation, satiation, effects upon sexual behavior, attitudinal responses, emotional and judgmental responses, and criminal and delinquent behavior. Within each subject mentioned, every study showed that pornography was not harmful to society. They proved that obscenity and pornography were not a matter of national concern.

In one of the 1970 PCOP studies, people who were exposed to sexually explicit materials for the first time were no more likely to go out and try and experiment with sex than they would have been prior to viewing the sexually explicit materials. They did however, have a different attitude that was more open-minded toward other people and their sexual preferences prior to having been in the study.

Is such open-mindedness what sex censors really fear? Could it be that sex censors are scared to death of people with an open mind toward sexual practices? Imagine that. Fearing one's ability to look at one's sexual preferences with an open mind. What a horrid and repressive fear to live with.

Copyright Colleen McEneany 1997-1998, All Rights Reserved

Sources/Recommended Reading:

Debating Sexual Correctness : Pornography, Sexual Harassment, Date Rape, and the Politics of Sexual Equality by Adele M. Stan (Editor)

Dirty Looks : Women, Pornography, Power by Pamela Church Gibson, Roma Gibson (Editor), Carol J. Clover

The Invention of Pornography : Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800 by Lynn Avery Hunt (Editor)

Pornography : Private Right or Public Menace? by Robert M. Baird (Editor), Stuart E. Rosenbaum (Editor)

Defending Pornography : Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights by Nadine Strossen

Bookbanning in America : Who Bans Books?---And Why by William Noble

Purifying America : Women, Cultural Reform, and Pro-Censorship Activism, 1873-1933 by Alison M. Parker

Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace : Freedom and Censorship on the Frontiers of the Online Revolution by Jonathan Wallace, Mark Mangan