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Dworkin - Should Pornography be Banned as a Threat to Women

Dworkin - Should Pornography be Banned as a Threat to Women...

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Unformatted text preview: ISSUE 15 Should Pornography Be Banned as a Threat to Women? YES: Andrea Dworkin, from Letters from a War Zone: Writings, 1976—1987 (Secker & Warburg, 1988) NO: Nadine Strossen, from ”The Perils of Pornophobia,” The Humanist (May/June 1995) ISSUE SUMMARY YES: Feminist author Andrea Dworkin describes the numerous ways in which pornography is used by men in American culture to degrade women and to violate their civil rights. NO: Professor of law Nadine Strossen argues that "political correctness” movements on college campuses and misguided feminist assaults on pomog— raphy have resulted in the naive belief that pornography is a major weapon used by men to degrade and dominate women. Although the First Amendment of the US. Constitution protects freedom of speech, Americans have always had restraints on what they can say and write in public. Over 70 years ago US. Supreme Court chief justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that the First Amendment does not give someone the right to shout ”Fire!” in a crowded theater because of the harm such an act could cause. This court ruling, although frequently ignored in current debates, supports antipornography feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who contend that the violence and degrading descrip- tions of women found in pornography can be physically harmful and should therefore be illegal. Dworkin calls for banning not only ”traditional” pornog- raphy but also publications, acts, and verbalizations that can be construed as offensive or demeaning to women. In the following selection, Dworkin presents pornography as a major weapon in a cultural war between females and males that permeates every aspect of our lives and society. At the root of the pornography debate is how we define pornography. Lesbian feminist Pat Califia argues that Dworkin, MacKinnon, and Women Against Violence in Pornography and the Media (WAVPM) have adopted a very broad definition. According to their definition, Califia has said, ”Pornog- raphy can include a picture of a woman whose body is smeared with honey, a woman stabbing a man in the back, or a woman dressed in leather towering over two men as well as films showing various sex acts. This vague definition 216 allowed them to support their contention that pornography objectifies and demeans women, since any image that is objectifying or demeaning is called pornographic.” This definition also allows Dworkin and others to claim that they are fighting against sexist stereotypes of women, not trying to censor sexually explicit material. In their View, misogyny (the hatred of women) is more prevalent and pernicious in pornography than in any other type of media. Nadine Strossen counters in the second selection that the focus and efforts of Dworkin and WAVPM to censor all pornography is actually damaging the women’s rights movement more than it is helping. Instead of trying to determine what is pornographic, Strossen wants to focus on gaining greater political and economic equality for women. As you read the two selections, try to develop a classification of different types of pornography. How do you View the new feminist-produced soft~core pornography that portrays women as people who enjoy sexual pleasure as much as men do? How about pornography produced by gays and lesbians for gay and lesbian readers? Or the widely popular erotic romance novels that are enthusiastically embraced by women of all classes? Decide which types (if any) you would want to make illegal. For instance, should soft- core pornography, involving nudity and depictions of genitalia, be treated the same as hard-core productions, which contain graphic presentations of sexual play, intercourse, and oral sex? What about pornography that depicts anal sex, light or heavy bondage, bestiality, or some other fetishistic behavior? What about topless dancers at bars, strippers on stage or at parties, and live sex acts on stage? How should suggestive advertisements, telephone sex, and ”alt.sex” talk groups on the Internet be handled? As you think through your position on this issue, you will need to de— fine the terms violence, exploitation, objectification, and degrading. You might also want to think about what role pornography plays in our society. Why does much pornography depict violent sex or the degradation and Victim- ization of women? Is author Susan Brownmiller on target when she contends that ”pornography promotes a climate of opinion in which hostility against women is not only tolerated but ideologically encouraged”? Is pornography a symptom of a sick society, or is it a healthy safety valve in a society that is basically uncomfortable with sexuality? If people had a more positive view of sex and allowed it a natural place in daily life, would hard—core pornography continue to sell as well as it does today? 217 Andrea Dworkin YES AGAINST THE MALE FLOOD: CENSORSHIP, PORNOGRAPHY, AND EQUALITY In the amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance of the City of Minneapolis written by Catharine A. MacKinnon and myself, pornography is defined as the graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women whether in pictures or in words that also includes one or more of the following: women are pre- sented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; or women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation; or women are presented as sexual objects who experience sexual pleasure in being raped; or women are presented as sexual objects tied up or cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or women are presented in postures of sexual sub- misswn; or women’s body parts are exhibited, such that women are reduced to those parts; or women are presented being penetrated by objects or ani- mals; or women are presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, abasement, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual. This statutory definition is an objectively accurate definition of what por- nography is, based on an analysis of the material produced by the $8-billion-a— year industry, and also on extensive study of the whole range of pornography extant from other eras and other cultures. Given the fact that women’s op- pression has an ahistorical character—a sameness across time and cultures expressed in rape, battery, incest, and prostitution—it is no surprise that pornography, a central phenomenon in that oppression, has precisely that quality of sameness. It does not significantly change in what it is, what it does, what is in it, or how it works, whether it is, for instance, classical or feudal or modern, Western or Asian; whether the method of manufacture is words, photographs, or video. What has changed is the public availability of pornography and the numbers of live women used in it because of new tech- nologies: not its nature. Many people note what seems to them a qualitative change in pornography—that it has gotten more violent, even grotesquely Violent, over the last two decades. The change is only in what is publicly From Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone: Writings, 1976—1987 (Becker 8: Warburg, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by Andrea Dworkin. Reprinted by permission of The Elaine Markson Literary Agency. 218 __.m. «.4 visible: not in the range or preponderance of violent pornography (e.g., the place of rape in pornography stays constant and central, no matter where, when, or how the pornography is produced); not in the character, quality, or content of what the pomographers actually produce; not in the harm caused; not in the valuation of women in it, or the metaphysical definition of what women are; not in the sexual abuse promoted, including rape, battery, and incest; not in the centrality of its role in subordinating women. Until recently, pornography operated in private, where most abuse of women takes place. The oppression of women occurs through sexual subordination. It is the use of sex as the medium of oppres- sion that makes the subordination of women so distinct from racism or prej- udice against a group based on religion or national origin. Social inequality is cre- ated in many different ways. In my view, the radical responsibility is to isolate the material means of creating the inequality so that material remedies can be found for it. This is particularly difficult with re- spect to women’s inequality because that inequality is achieved through sex. Sex as desired by the class that dominates women is held by that class to be ele- mental, urgent, necessary, even if or even though it appears to require the repudia— tion of any claim women might have to full human standing. In the subordina- tion of women, inequality itself is sexu— alized: made into the experience of sex— ual pleasure, essential to sexual desire. Pornography is the material means of sexualizing inequality; and that is why pornography is a central practice in the subordination of women. YES Andrea Dworkin/ 219 Subordination itself is a broad, deep, systematic dynamic discernible in any persecution based on race or sex. Social subordination has four main parts. First, there is hierarchy, a group on top and a group on bottom. For women, this hierarchy is experienced both socially and sexually, publicly and privately. Women are physically integrated into the society in which we are held to be inferior, and our low status is both put in place and maintained by the sexual usage of us by men; and so women’s experience of hierarchy is incredibly intimate and wounding. Second, subordination is objectification. Objectification occurs when a human being, through social means, is made less than human, turned into a thing or commodity, bought and sold. When objectification occurs, a person is de- personalized, so that no individuality or integrity is available socially or in what is an extremely circumscribed privacy (because those who dominate determine its boundaries). Objectification is an injury right at the heart of discrimination: those who can be used as if they are not fully human are no longer fully human in social terms; their humanity is hurt by being diminished. Third, subordination is submission. A person is at the bottom of a hierarchy because of a condition of birth; a per- son on the bottom is dehumanized, an object or commodity; inevitably, the sit- uation of that person requires obedience and compliance. That diminished person is expected to be submissive; there is no longer any right to self—determination, because there is no basis in equality for any such right to exist. In a condition of inferiority and objectification, submis- sion is usually essential for survival. Op- pressed groups are known for their abil— 220/ 15. SHOULD PORNOGRAPHY BE BANNED AS A THREAT TO WOMEN? ities to anticipate the orders and desires of those who have power over them, to comply with an obsequiousness that is then used by the dominant group to jus- tify its own dominance: the master, not able to imagine a human like himself in such degrading servility, thinks the ser- vility is proof that the hierarchy is natural and that objectification simply amounts to seeing these lesser creatures for what they are. The submission forced on infe— rior, objectified groups precisely by hier- archy and objectification is taken to be the proof of inherent inferiority and subhu- man capacities. Fourth, the subordination is violence. The violence is systematic, endemic enough to be unremarkable and norma- tive, usually taken as an implicit right of the one committing the violence. In my view, hierarchy, objectification, and sub- mission are the preconditions for system- atic social Violence against any group tar- geted because of a condition of birth. If violence against a group is both socially pervasive and socially normal, then hier- archy, objectification, and submission are already solidly in place. The role of violence in subordinating women has one special characteristic con- gruent with sex as the instrumentality of subordination: the violence is sup- posed to be sex for the woman too— what women want and like as part of our sexual nature; it is supposed to give women pleasure (as in rape); it is sup- posed to mean love to a woman from her point of view (as in battery). The Violence against women is seen to be done not just in accord with something compliant in women, but in response to something ac- tive in and basic to women’s nature. Pornography uses each component of social subordination. Its particular medium is sex. Hierarchy, objectification, submission, and violence all become alive with sexual energy and sexual meaning. A hierarchy, for instance, can have a static quality; but pornography, by sexualizing it, makes it dynamic, almost carnivorous, so that men keep imposing it for the sake of their own sexual pleasure—for the sex- ual pleasure it gives them to impose it. In pornography, each element of subor- dination is conveyed through the sexu- ally explicit usage of women: pomegra- phy in fact is what women are and what women are for and how women are used in a society premised on the inferiority of women. It is a metaphysics of women’s subjugation: our existence delineated in a definition of our nature; our status in so- ciety predetermined by the uses to which we are put. The woman’s body is what is materially subordinated. Sex is the mate- rial means through which the subordina- tion is accomplished. Pornography is the institution of male dominance that sex- ualizes hierarchy, objectification, submis- sion, and violence. As such, pornography creates inequality, not as artifact but as a system of social reality; it creates the ne- cessity for and the actual behaviors that constitute sex inequality. Subordination can be so deep that those who are hurt by it are utterly silent. Subordination can create a silence quieter than death. The women flattened out on the page are deathly still, except for hurt me. Hurt me is not women’s speech. It is the speech imposed on women by pimps to cover the awful, condemning silence. The Three Marias of Portugal went to jail for writing this: ”Let no one tell me that silence gives consent, because whoever is silent dissents.”1 The women say the pimp’s words: the language is another element of the rape; the language is part of the humiliation; the language is part of the forced sex. Real silence .. M.-_c.__.._..,..__.c a..m_..nc-_.c. .. W‘s...“ might signify dissent, for those reared to understand its sad discourse. The pimps cannot tolerate literal silence—it is too eloquent as testimony—so they force the words out of the woman’s mouth. The women say pirnp’s words: which is worse than silence. The silence of the women not in the picture, outside the pages, hurt but silent, used but silent, is staggering in how deep and wide it goes. It is a silence over centuries: an exile into speechlessness. One is shut up by the inferiority and the abuse. One is shut up by the threat and the injury. In her memoir of the Stalin period, Hope Against Hope, Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote that screaming ”is a man’s way of leaving a trace, of telling people how he lived and died. By his screams he asserts his right to live, sends a message to the outside world demanding help and calling for resistance. If nothing else is left, one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”2 Screaming is a man’s way of leaving a trace. The scream of a man is never misunderstood as a scream of pleasure by passers—by or politicians or historians, nor by the tormentor. A man’s scream is a call for resistance. A man’s scream asserts his right to live, sends a message; he leaves a trace. A woman’s scream is the sound of her female will and her female pleasure in doing what the pornographers say she is for. Her scream is a sound of celebration to those who overhear. Women’s way of leaving a trace is the silence, centuries' worth: the entirely inhuman silence that surely one day will be noticed, someone will say that something is wrong, some sound is missing, some voice is lost; the entirely inhuman silence that will be a clue to human hope denied, a shard of evidence that a crime has occurred, the crime that created the silence; the entirely inhuman YES Andrea Dworkin / 221 silence that is a cold, cold condemnation of what those who speak have done to those who do not. But there is more than the hurt me forced out of us, and the silence in which it lies. The pomographers actually use our bodies as their language. We are their speech. Our bodies are the building blocks of their sentences. What they do to us, called speech, is not unlike what Kafka’s Harrow machine—”The needles are set in like the teeth of a harrow and the whole thing works something like a harrow, although its action is limited to one place and contrived with much more artistic skill”3—did to the condemned in ”In the Penal Colony”: ”Our sentence does not sound severe. Whatever commandment the prisoner has disobeyed is written upon his body by the Harrow. This prisoner, for instance”—the officer indicated the man— "will have written on his body: HONOR THY SUPERIORS!”4 ... The Harrow is beginning to write; when it finishes the first draft of the inscription on the man’s back, the layer of cotton wool begins to roll and slowly turns the body over, to give the Harrow fresh space for writing. . . . So it keeps on writing deeper and deeper. . .5 Asked if the prisoner knows his sentence, the officer replies: ”’There would be no point in telling him. He’ll learn it on his body.’ ”6 This is the so-called speech of the pornographers, protected now by law. Protecting what they ”say” means protecting what they do to us, how they do it. It means protecting their sadism on our bodies, because that is how they write: not like a writer at all; like a torturer. Protecting what they ”say” means protecting sexual 222 / 15. SHOULD PORNOGRAPHY BE BANNED AS A THREAT TO WOMEN? exploitation, because they cannot ”say” anything without diminishing, hurting, or destroying us. Their rights of speech express their rights over us. Their rights of speech require our inferiority: and that we be powerless in relation to them. Their rights of speech mean that hurt me is accepted as the real speech of women, not speech forced on us as part of the sex forced on us but originating with us because we are what the pomographers ”say” we are. If what we want to say is not hurt me, we have the real social power only to use silence as eloquent dissent. Silence is what women have instead of speech. Silence is our dissent during rape unless the rapist, like the pornographer, prefers hurt me, in which case we have no dissent. Silence is our moving, persuasive dissent during battery unless the batterer, like the pornographer, prefers hurt me. Silence is a fine dissent during incest and for all the long years after. Silence is not speech. We have silence, not speech. We fight rape, battery, incest, and prostitution with it. We lose. But someday someone will notice: that people called women were buried in a long silence that meant dissent and that the pomographers—with needles set in like the teeth of a harrow—chattered on. NOTES 1. Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta, and Maria Velho da Costa, The Three Marius: New Portuguese letters, trans. Helen R. Lane (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), p. 291. 2. Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope, trans. Max Hayward (New York: Atheneum, 1978), pp. 42—43. 3. Franz Kafka, "In the Penal Colony,” pp. 191— 227, The Penal Colony, trans. “Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), p. 194. 4. Kafka, ”In the Penal Colony," p. 197. 5. Kafka, "In the Penal Colony," p. 203. 6. Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” p. 197. Nadine Strossen NO THE PERILS OF PORNOPHOBIA In 1992, in response to a complaint, officials at Pennsylvania State University unceremoniously removed Francisco de Goya’s masterpiece, The Nude Maja, from a classroom wall. The co...
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