Defending Pornography (for real this time)
by Laura Antoniou
If pornography is part of your sexuality, then you have no right to your sexuality. - Catharine MacKinnon
Lesbian written pornography ... is an expression of self hatred. - Andrea Dworkin
WITH statements like these descending from their lips, it almost seems unnecessary to dispute Dworkin and MacKinnon: they obviously have the wherewithal to shoot themselves in various appendages and make enemies by the score. And that's before we start gathering other mots, such as their implied and stated contention that sex is what heterosexual men do to heterosexual women, and that all other forms of sexuality are mere representations or substitutions for the same; that essentially all men are born rapists and all women their victims; that women cannot be trusted to enter into a voluntary contract that involves any form of sexual expression; and on and on. These women are obsessed with sex, specifically of the violent and nonconsensual variety as enacted by men against women.
When Dworkin stood to testify before Congress and its Meese Commission in 1986, she claimed that 65 to 70% of all women involved in the sex industries--such as prostitutes, film stars, models, and presumably writers of a certain kind--had been victims of incest or child abuse, though she supplied no evidence to substantiate this assertion. She suggested that so-called snuff films were so commonplace, it began to sound as if you could pick one up at your local Blockbuster. When MacKinnon wrote an impassioned story about the horrible atrocities being committed in prison camps in Bosnia, her lurid tales of sexual abuse and torture were almost lyrical in their attention to detail.
The writings of MacKinnon and Dworkin could be dismissed were it not for the fact that much of the world--including whole governments, such as that of Canada--have taken their arguments seriously and even codified them into law. This opens up a curious mystery. Usually, when a woman with some academic credentials behind her stands up and rails against the heterosexist, patriarchal, violence-loving, oppressive, angry-white-male culture, she is left alone with her women's studies classes, published in under-distributed journals, abandoned by the mainstream to wait for tenure and retirement. But these two get their faces on every roundtable discussion, testify
before every commission, get discussed in state legislatures, and find their words written into Canadian law (and make it necessary for me to become an international smuggler to sell my wares)!
What made MacKinnon and Dworkin such a uniquely successful feminist force to be reckoned with? Was it MacKinnon's sparkling prose? Dworkin's high media-Q factor and star quality?
Of course not: it was the smut. It was their focus on pornography, the writings of whores, the land of the solitary vice, that made the terrible twosome famous and feared. What they discovered, after years of putting in their time on various feminist fronts, was that the pornography war was the only one which the aforementioned hetero-patriarchal government and culture responded to. It was their big chance to get something done. No amount of writing and talking on their part could actually raise working women's salaries, create childcare opportunities, or make abortion safe and available to poor women. Congress wasn't holding hearings on the question of domestic partnership laws or the rights of lesbians to qualify for health care or the rights of young queers to safe sex information. People were looking for a scapegoat for every perceived moral and ethical failing in our culture, and pornography fit the bill. And MacDworkin--to borrow Nadine Strossen's name for them in Defending Pornography (Scribner, 1995)--was ready to fall into step. Here, at last, was a battle they could win.
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