Notes on Pornography
Origin of the Word
The word ‘pornography’ has an interesting history.
(You guessed it:
more Greek words!)
It comes from
two Greek words:
, meaning anything written (not just words, but also pictures), and
common feminine noun referring to what we might call now a (female) whore or, more specifically, a
prostitute (a woman paid by a man for the sexual use of her body).
Therefore, the word literally refers to
any written or inscribed material relating to the business of a prostitute, i.e., the sexual use of her body by
men in exchange for money.
MacKinnon would probably agree that the history of the word is indicative of what pornography is today.
To understand what she is getting at, it might be useful (if you have time) to re-read the piece by Warren
on ecological feminism, in particular the discussion (on p. 120) of the ‘logic of domination’ that she says
has traditionally been used to subordinate women.
MacKinnon is a feminist who thinks that the logic of
domination is very real, and that pornography is a very clear expression of it.
MacKinnon ascribes to a view of personal and political identity that has been popular since the 1960s in
both philosophy and the social sciences:
this is the idea that our very identity, and the identity of groups,
Through language, art, the media, political discourse, and many other social
norms and practices, we construct conceptions of ourselves using ideas that are themselves socially
For example, we use the concepts of gender, religion, race, politics, sexuality, and many
others, to construct conceptions of others and ourselves.
(Think of all the neatly defined social categories
to choose from on Facebook, Myspace, on an application for admission to a university, or a job
And since how we think of ourselves and each other depend almost entirely on the shared
social practices in our culture, those practices should be the primary objects of evaluation and study for a
philosopher or social critic.