Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights.

Author:Oliver, Charles
 
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By some estimates, Americans rented almost 800 million pornographic videotapes last year. Women, either singly or as part of couples, took home about half of them. Since porn seems to be very much a "guy" thing, one may reasonably wonder whether watching a skin flick is the first choice of the women included as "part of couples." But from my observations of couples renting x-rated movies on a Friday night at my local video store, most women take a very active part in choosing the tapes. They appeared to have very definite likes (Rocco Siffredi), very definite dislikes (Ron Jeremy), and one common complaint (you can't tell anything about the movie from the box cover).

Obviously, not all women enjoy pornography. But a substantial number certainly do. For most of the past 20 years, however, a certain segment of the feminist movement has tried to marginalize these women, either by denying that they exist or by telling them that they suffer from false consciousness. Only women brainwashed by the patriarchy could be deluded enough to think they really enjoyed porno, goes this line of thing. Widespread media attention to such anti-sex zealots as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon makes it seem as if their beliefs are universally shared by feminists.

In fact, there are many feminists who disagree with the Dworkin-MacKinnon line. Porn star Nina Hartley, activist Susie Bright, and journalist Lisa Palac, among others, have stepped forward to defend pornography and women's rights to enjoy and to participate in it. Of course, you will never see them counter Dworkin or MacKinnon face to face, since those two refuse to debate other women on the subject.

The latest feminist case for porn is Defending Pornography, by ACLU President Nadine Strossen. Strossen makes an important, if ultimately flawed, contribution to the ongoing feminist debate on the matter. Pay careful attention to the title of her book: Strossen does not merely defend free speech - she makes a positive case for pornography itself. Porn, says Strossen, does not play an especially strong role in engendering sexism in society. In fact, for many women, it has a positive impact, helping them get in touch with their sexuality. Indeed, even the Meese Commission agreed that sexually explicit images can have such therapeutic effects.

This line of reasoning stands in stark contrast to the Dworkin-MacKinnon position, which holds that pornography fosters sexism, upholds patriarchy, and causes rape...

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