By Angela Jones
Women especially need more sexual imagery, not more repression. Only through freedom from the guilt that we as women feel about our bodies can we become desirable to ourselves, not feeling as though we are “sluts”… for being sensual. And let’s remember that women’s liberation is about opening possibilities for women. Pornography represents one of those possibilities – we should never participate in trying to shut it down.
- Cherie Matrix
I stood in the desolate parking lot, adjacent to the video store with its red awning with bold white lettering. Green neon lights illuminated the far left window pane: “VIDEOS, NOVELTIES.” I watched the gay pride flag hanging from the front door billow in the wind. Just before I made my entrance, a black Mercedes Benz pulled up behind me. Double parked in front of a hydrant, the car’s hazard lights came on, and a short, balding, middle-aged man climbed out. As he came to share the sidewalk with me, I realized I would be sharing my adventure behind the “closed door.”
I allowed the man to enter the store first. I wanted to get a good look at the front without worrying that the patriarchal figure with glasses was looming behind me. I waited for just a minute outside, took a deep breath, and entered. The front of the video store was sparsely lined with metal wire shelving. There were about four free-standing rows of videos, and the walls were also lined with videos. Two things first struck me as curious: (1) why in this age of heightened digital media were there so many VHS videos – the dinosaurs of media/film? and (2) how did this store stay in business with a Blockbuster and a Hollywood Video store so close by?
I looked up towards the back of the room and got my answers. Red lettering on an enormous white sign read, “ADULT ROOM,” and the sign underneath warned that you must be at least 21 years of age to enter its door. I met the age requirement, I had that down, but was I ready for what lay behind the “closed door”?
The man from the Mercedes quickly shuffled his feet to the ADULT ROOM with his eyes attentively studying the carpet. I followed him through the white door. There were two young clerks at the register. I would later find out that only one of them worked there. It seemed surreal; as the clerk, Charlie, waved and welcomed me, I felt like I was in Kevin Smith’s Clerks. Nonetheless, I entered the porn-filled space.
There was a short corridor, its walls lined with novelty products for bachelor and bachelorette parties. I glanced at the products; they had everything a person getting ready to “take the plunge” would need for their night of debauchery, from small plastic penis favors to ice tray molds in the shape of breasts. In front of me was a shelf of classic VHS pornography, Debbie Does Dallas and that sort of thing. I turned left as the path dictated and saw that the entire left wall was covered in sex toys. The wall and the shelves to my right were filled with vibrators, costumes, dildos, anal beads, anal plugs, an array of condoms, feathers, strap-ons, small leathers whips, a few paddles, replica vaginas, and, well, you get the point. The rest of the room was filled with pornographic film. Apparently there really is something out there for everyone.
The back wall contained racks with the following headings: BI-GAY, FETISH, and SHE-MALE. The right wall contained: AMATEURS, CLASSICS, and NEW RELEASES. Throughout the store there were films containing all blonde women, all black women, black women with “big butts,” “hefty” white women, anal sex, “cum shots,” college girls, and even films featuring geriatrics. To top it all off, most of the films were on sale.
As I walked around the store, the other patron and I never seemed to cross paths. At one point, while I was glancing at the four-disc box set Pure Anal #4 (the fluorescent green box having caught my eye), I turned to see where my fellow consumer was. He was looking at videos on the back wall, with a video jacket in hand. I tried to make eye contact, but would only succeed later, when I was leaving.
I decided that I should buy something. I retrieved the shiny box set I had been admiring, and proceeded to the back counter, where I followed the directions to ring the bell and wait for the clerk. The clerk’s friend, Rob, met me at the counter and asked if I was ready to check out. I replied that I was, and Rob instructed me to return through the big white door and pay in front. The films on the shelves were only film jackets. Rob found the DVD from a wall filled with the actual DVD’s and placed it into the jacket. He told me that I would have to wait for Charlie. Rob didn’t work there, he just came in to “hang out,” as he put it. “I wouldn’t even know how to begin to work that new ridiculous computer anyway,” Rob said. He slurped his super-sized fast food beverage and sat down on one of two stools behind the counter. Charlie emerged from the bathroom, as my fellow patron emerged from the back room. As Charlie rang up my purchase on the “new ridiculous computer,” I engaged him the following dialogue:
Angela: “So, I have to ask, do people actually come here for the videos in the front of the store?”
Rob: (he snickers)…laughs a bit and goes back to his oversized soft drink.
Rob: “Come on…for the most part they’re here for the back.”
Charlie: “Yeah, most people come here for the adult room.”
Angela: “So, do women ever go back there?”
Charlie: “Yup…more than people think…more men…but women, more than people would think.”
I thanked the guys behind the counter and turned to leave, finally making eye contact with the gentleman patiently waiting behind me. I left the store with my x-rated purchase, which Charlie had discreetly placed in a black, non-transparent, plastic bag. I suppose if someone were to see me, they would not know what nefarious deeds I just engaged in, or, for that matter, might in engage in later. I got into my car, placed my black bag on the passenger seat, and wondered: Why was sex being kept behind this door? Why was the other patron not able to make eye contact with me or Rob or Charlie, except when he had to? Why was my purchase put in a black bag? Was still sex such a private matter? Why do we still, in this day and age, associate shame, embarrassment, and deviancy with “aberrant” sexual cultural forms? Was our society really still that sexually repressed?
Despite the influential work of the prominent philosopher Michel Foucault who rejects the notion of society being sexually repressed, it is my contention that our society must really be still, if not more so than ever, sexually repressed. Foucault argues in his “repressive hypothesis,” and rightfully so, that the discourses on sexuality have widened. With the rise of biopower, sexual repression does not function as traditional structuralist theorists, with their binary construction of power, understand (Foucault: 1978). In modern society we are not silent about sex. However, what we must pay close attention to is the following question: if the porn industry is a multi-billion dollar business and we incessantly talk about sex as Foucault suggests, then why are we are still hiding pornography behind closed doors?
The birth of the Internet has only magnified this state of repression, further pushing porn into the private realm, as people no longer even need to leave their homes to consume pornography. Two things continually help to perpetuate and maintain the sexually repressed society: (1) the laws instituted by government, and (2) the institutionalization of the hegemonic discourses and norms pertaining to sexuality. Despite the efforts of many, including the late feminist scholar Andrea Dworkin and the former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani, to link the selling of sexual commodities to crime, violence, and deviancy, etc., there is no compelling evidence to get this author to believe that restricting the selling of sex will do anything more then send society into a further state of sexual repression.
The Government’s War on Sex: The Case of New York
New York City is often characterized as libidinous and lascivious. There exists copious legislation that seeks to rid the city of this label. Some might argue that the crusade, led in part by Rudolph Giuliani, the city’s mayor from 1994-2001, to rid the city of sex shops, was indicative of the administration’s policies that found pseudo-solutions in aesthetics. The administration’s solutions for many of the city’s toughest quagmires, like homelessness, became to get them out of sight. “Cleaning up 42nd street” was more about making room for big business. Tourism is an important part of New York City’s economy and the more we present the image of the city as a clean and wholesome place, the more tourists will want to spend their hard earned dollars here. If you clean, it they will come. As sex shops were forced out of 42nd street and down to Chelsea, Disney was now free to move into 42nd street.
While I unequivocally agree with much of this political line, I think that merely seeing the city’s governmental policies as driven by economic forces is problematic. To a large extent much of this push to make sex disappear is driven by cultural norms. Sex, in modern society, has been seen as a private matter. It is unsurprising that as sexuality has made its way into the public sphere, it has been met with resistance. In recent history New York has proven itself as one of the greatest examples of the attempts to keep sex out of the public sphere, because of the belief that sex tears at the fibers of our cultural sensibilities.
Sex can no longer be kept a secret; it is not a private matter. The more sex emerges within the public sphere, the more it challenges the notion of sex in all its forms as noxious. Moreover, laws are inextricably fettered to social norms. Just as sodomy laws inform social norms regarding homosexuality (Goodman: 2001), anti-pornography and anti-sex shop laws inform the social norms regarding sex and the selling of sexual imagery.
In New York, the crusade against pornography was taken up in 1980’s. Lawmakers, politicians, and city advocates decided that the best way to rid the city of this odious cultural form was through zoning. However, the pesky First Amendment would make it hard for the Anti-Porn Movement to thwart its enemy. In an effort to ostensibly protect the city’s children, lessen crime and violence, to promote “decency,” and to help rid New York of its dirty label, the fight was brought was to the courts.
The battle in New York was influenced by an earlier Supreme Court case, Young vs. American Mini Theatres (1976). The high court upheld a zoning ordinance that sought to relocate “adult use” businesses. In the City of Renton v. Playtime Theaters (1986), the courts were forced to decide on whether re-zoning sex shops to less conspicuous areas was a violation of the First Amendment. The highest court in the land laid out a four part test that could be used to see whether the zoning implicated by many cities like New York was unconstitutional. The court declared the following must be considered: (1) was the zoning being enacted to quell the content or the speech found in these pornographic materials or to thwart the “secondary effects” of these materials (crime, violence etc.)? (2) does the relocation of these businesses benefit some government/private interest? (3) has the proposed zoning been “narrowly tailored,” like a witch hunt, to intentionally affect a specific business? and (4) does the zoning leave other options available as far as location is concerned for these businesses once the zoning is implemented?
The New York State Constitution reads, “Every citizen may speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of the right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press (Article 1, Section 8).” To my mind these zoning laws are unconstitutional. The job of lawmakers is not to regulate taste. No matter how offensive or obscene an individual might find any of the materials distributed by these sex shops, said businesses are protected by the Constitution. “Constitutional law scholars have criticized…[these landmark cases] arguing that the restrictions are actually content-based and that the relaxed scrutiny they receive is therefore at odds with first amendment jurisprudence in other areas (Smith: 1991).”
In 1989, the Supreme Court’s standard was used in Town of Islip v. Caviglia. The court of appeals favored the town of Islip because its zoning ordinances did not directly attack the materials being sold for their sexual content, hence violating the first condition of the standard. The authors found a loophole, writing that they defined “adult uses” as establishments “which exclude minors from the premises by reason of age,” and therefore they technically had not violated the standard. Thus far city governments have not been able to blatantly close down unwanted sex shops, movie houses and strip clubs, but they use these zoning ordinances, buttressed by reports carefully constructed by urban planners, in order to demonstrate the noxious “secondary effects” of the businesses.
In 1993, the New York City Division of Planning conducted one of these aforementioned reports. The “Adult Entertainment Study” posited that businesses that specialized in sexual commodities, when centralized in one locale like Times Square, brought with them a host of unwanted secondary effects, such as dilated rates of crime and deviancy, and a decrease in aesthetics (which leads to low levels of “desirable” inhabitants – consumers and property owners). In October 1995, the New York City Council took this report into consideration and quickly tailored its zoning laws. In an effort to break up these deleterious sex clusters, again like Times Square, the council circumscribed sex businesses in their size and position. Under these new zoning laws, sex businesses or “adult use” businesses were confined to secluded commercial areas usually only inhabited by factories. The following restrictions were implemented: all “adult use” businesses must be 500 feet from schools, churches, synagogues and mosques, and other sex stores; and businesses must not be larger than 10,000 square feet. Stores, theatres, and strip clubs had one year to either move or shut down. Many of the businesses in New York’s Times Square were either forced to go out of business or to move to another locale. Many moved to neighborhoods like Chelsea and Greenwich Village. However, even in their new neighborhoods, store owners were forced to comply with rigid repressive laws like the commonly known 60-40 law: only 40% of merchandise can be sexual in nature. How this is not a direct violation of the First Amendment, I do not understand. Many lawsuits were brought against the city to tackle this very question.
In the famous Stringfellow’s of New York v. The City of New York (1998), the New York State Court of Appeals in a unanimous vote upheld this injustice. The court provided yet another test to be used for evaluating the constitutionality of these zoning laws. As long as the zoning laws were concerned with the secondary effects that these commodities supposedly caused, were not overly aggressive, and allowed for space for these businesses to relocate, the zoning laws were acceptable. According to a legal memorandum furnished by New York’s Department of State, “The zoning amendments enforcement will lead to the forced relocation of some 84% of the City’s 177 adult businesses (NYS LU03: 4).”
This legal crusade was backed in the mid 1990’s by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani seemed to believe that stores selling pornographic movies, bookstores containing sexual materials, porn theaters, and strip clubs, posed a moral threat to our great city. Tom Burr, in his article, “Sleazy City: 42nd Street Structures and Some Qualities of Life,” quotes the mayor:
[B]y adopting the same laws that apply to drug dealers and zoning regulations, we have cut the number of sex shops drastically. We made sure that no sex shop could operate within a set number of feet from schools, churches and community centers. Basically, with the tight new regulations, it will be nearly impossible for a sex shop to open in this city. In my personal opinion, one is too many.
Giuliani boasts as if his efforts have helped the city. His efforts along with the city council and New York State Courts have only helped to further the current state of sexual repression. His statements are symptomatic of the type of internalized sexual repression that plagues society. Giuliani and so many others have been trained for so long to fear sex. As if sex was something to fear. If we were free from this society’s panoptical system of sexual repression, and there were no consequences for engaging in whatever sexual behavior turned us on and consuming whatever sexual commodities we wanted, it is likely that the “secondary effects” individuals like Giuliani are so worried about would decrease.
First suggested in the work of Jeremy Bentham, and later in the work of Foucault, discipline in society is often distributed through the use of the panopticon. Why doesn’t the prisoner usually misbehave when incarcerated? Because the panoptic prison has been constructed so that the prisoner never knows when the guard stationed at the top of the watch tower is watching. The prisoner could be caught at any moment. Modern society functions much like this prison. We all engage in the work of the prison guard, using surveillance to watch the behavior of others in society, so that we might categorize them, label them, judge them, and finally punish them (Foucault: 1971). We also internalize this behavior. We curtail and suppress our own wants, needs and desires out of fear that someone is watching and, moreover, that there will be a price to pay for that behavior. This is exactly why so many people feel more comfortable purchasing sexual commodities over the Internet. This is exactly why privacy, when it comes to sex, is still so important to most people. Hiding sex behind closed doors has become the trend in modern society. However, hiding it does not mean that it does not exist and that it isn’t “natural.” What’s “unnatural” is hiding it! It’s the unequally determined and unequally distributed penalties for sexuality that need to go.
Women & Pornography: Institutionalized Norms Gone Amok
Sexual repression affects women in a unique and noteworthy way. Women have traditionally been seen within the context of marriage and motherhood. Sex for its own sake was out of the question. It has been suggested that many members of society cannot cope with, cannot even fathom, the notion of women as sexual aggressors. This plays out in sex work. Woman are seen as being forced into sex work because of financial hardship, drug addiction, legacy of abuse, etc. It is unthinkable for most that many women might enjoy laboring in the business of sex.
I do believe that we have progressed in many Western cultures. Many women now freely initiate sex, are more comfortable with their bodies, and partake in as many sexual activities as men, and in many cases I’m sure it’s more. However, the repercussions and punishment women face for their sexual indiscretions are still harsher than that of their male counterparts. Many women still have to endure labeling (“slut,” “whore,” “hoochie,” etc.) and often risk being ostracized for being sexually liberated. My concern is that many women either do not know that they have an option or are still operate under the mechanisms of repression that make exercising this option virtually if not impossible.
I wondered about women and pornography. Why do women not participate in the consumption of pornography the way men do? Is it that women find the images offensive? Or have they just been socialized to believe that porn is for men? I am inclined to believe that in most cases it is the latter and that the majority of women do not consume sex in the often public manner that men do. While both sexes have been socialized to see sex as private matter, the more that the discourses on sexuality widen and become a ubiquitous force in society, and the more that sex has become a popular forum in the public sphere, the more this public sphere is still male dominated. I find it detrimental to women’s empowerment that women do not partake freely and frequently in the market of sex.
To investigate, I surveyed and interviewed random women about the issue of pornography. I sat down for an interview with two young women: Veronica, a 21-year-old student, and Tina, a 29-year-old events manager, in order to uncover the extremely important attitudes of individual women on pornography.
Angela: “Have you ever watched porn?”
Tina: “I guess…I’ve flicked through the channels…late night movies…I never went and got a movie.”
Angela: “So, neither of you have ever purchased porn?”
Veronica: “I never bought it because whatever situation I was in to watch it, it wasn’t my choice.”
Angela: “Whose choice was it?”
Veronica: “Other people I was with.”
Angela: “Porn doesn’t interest you then?”
Tina: “Not interested.”
Veronica: “…it didn’t interest me…I don’t watch it when I wanna have sex…it’s more like I make fun of it or we watch it to laugh.”
Angela: “When you did watch porn, it was purchased by a male?”
Angela: “If you were in a relationship and it turned your partner on, would you watch it then?”
Veronica: “Of course.”
Tina: “I would but find it a little insulting…like why can’t I turn you on…does that sound stupid? But I would watch it with him.”
Angela: “Would you be willing to buy it?”
Tina: “Yes…with his money.” We all laugh.
Angela: “If you were to buy it where would you buy it?”
Tina: “I’d go somewhere like the village…I guess maybe online, guess that’s better, you don’t have to face anyone.”
The conversation continued. Why is it that in Tina’s case and the case of many of the women that I spoke with, they would only buy porn if their boyfriends wanted them to? I wondered what many of these women thought would happen if they consumed porn for their own self-gratifications and on their own terms? Towards the end of my discussion with Veronica and Tina, Tina expressed an attitude about the consumption of porn that is extremely relevant. I was talking to the women about how they would feel purchasing porn in the public marketplace.
Tina: “I would feel awkward…nervous…if people asked me questions…like what are looking for – hardcore…it would be awkward.”
Women are made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for being interested in sex in any way that is not seen as conventional. Our further conversations led to discussions of sex and privacy. All of the women I interviewed and surveyed expressed the same idea that sex was a private matter. One of my respondents told me that she would only discuss her sex life with close friends and even with them she wouldn’t disclose everything.
Many of the answers I received in conducting these interviews and surveys sounded alike and made painfully clear that women bear the brunt of sexual repression. Many of them do not even know it.
Karen: Yes, I have [purchased pornography]. It’s strange that for some reason pornography is considered taboo, when millions of people purchase it everyday. I purchased it via the Internet because if it’s not done in the open there is nothing “wrong.”
Even in Karen’s case, she seems to questions why porn is taboo, but then admits she buys porn online because, “if it’s not done in the open there is nothing wrong.” We have been trained to hide our sexuality and sexual desires.
I asked many of the women, “Have you ever watched pornography? Why or why not?” Here are typical replies:
Bianca: No, I felt “dirty” if I would watch it.
Megan: I was embarrassed and felt ashamed because I thought it was morally wrong.
Very often when women told me they watch porn, it was because they were watching it for someone else-their “men.”
Barbara: Yes, I have watched pornography, but not for my own entertainment. My guy friends would always watch it, so I watched it with them.
I asked Bianca and others about purchasing pornography and how they would feel purchasing porn in a public sex shop:
Bianca: [it’s] against my morals…I would feel like people would judge me by what I watched and bought; their opinion would matter because everyone’s opinions matter.
I asked Lisa the same question:
Lisa: No, it’s just embarrassing for a girl to purchase it. Males should be easy on purchasing it. People would look at you differently if you purchase it. That’s not what a girl should do. Maybe females could buy it with their boyfriends or husbands. So, other people would think that the males are interested at that…I would never go into the shop. If I do, I’ll catch everybody’s attention. I will think of people look at me. I wouldn’t put myself in such an embarrassing situation.
Jasmine: I’d be extremely embarrassed since I am a 19-year-old female and porn is something a 40-year-old male would buy.
Leslie: The stores look gross, and [I’m] shy to be seen in such a place.
Carmen: I would feel stupid, embarrassed, and like I violated all my principles.
Danielle: I would feel really uncomfortable.
Some women, unlike Lisa, did not express extreme disgust, but ambivalence. Several of the women’s responses sounded like Cindy’s. I asked Cindy if she had ever purchased pornography.
Cindy: Nope, I am just not interested, as much as others…
Monica: No, it’s not exactly on my “to-do-list”…I wouldn’t mind watching it, just to say that I did, but I don’t see myself renting or buying.
Mary: No, I never think to buy one.
Carol: …I’m not interested.
Many women did not understand why anyone, women in particular, would want to watch or buy porn. I asked Kim if she had ever watched pornography.
Kim: No, I haven’t. This is because I don’t see why people watch other people having sex, when they can just go and find someone to have sex with them and do the exact same thing that is on the film. Quite frankly, I don’t think that watching other people have sex will “turn me on.”
I am interested in why Kim is so sure (and her tone is one of annoyance) that porn would not turn her on without having viewed any porn. Another recurring theme in the responses was that when women did watch porn it was for comic relief and they could not take porn “seriously.”
Andrea: Yes, I saw it with a friend because we thought it was funny. Some of the things they were doing were just ridiculous and so we didn’t take it very seriously.
Vivian: I watched it as a means of entertainment.
Wendy: Yes…because for one I think it’s comical.
Only 5 women out of about 50 said they felt comfortable purchasing and watching pornography. They expressed that they consumed porn for their own pleasure and self-gratification.
When I spoke with men and asked them the same questions, all had watched some form of pornographic imagery and only two men I spoke with expressed that they felt embarrassed when consuming porn.
Feminism’s Crusade Against Porn
The crusade against porn would not be possible without those who labor in the creation, perpetuation, and discussion of discourses – scholars, namely radical feminists. I am inclined to start by making the following distinctions: (1) pornography is not inherently oppressive to women and (2) there are forms of pornography that are oppressive to women. How do we explain this distinction? Not all pornography is degrading to women and pornography does not necessarily lead to violence, specifically rape. Yes, there are pornographic films that depict rape and I would not proffer that this type of film has any social worth. I agree it is reprehensible. However, the answer is not to throw all porn away. Censorship must never be our answer if we truly respect democracy.
Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon have led the feminist battle against pornography for decades. MacKinnon has characterized pornography as “sexual terrorism,” “a form of forced sex,” “an institution of gender inequality,” and as characterizing the “subordination of women to men” (MacKinnon:1989). Andrea Dworkin writes in her famous book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, “The word pornography does not have any other meaning than the one cited here, the graphic depiction of the lowest whores. Whores exist to serve men sexually. Whores exist only within a framework of male domination (Dworkin: 1979:199).” Often relying upon questionable, curious, and conflicting data, crusaders have suggested that there is a direct causal link between pornography and violence, namely rape. For instance, Neil Malamuth, when observing penile sexual arousal, reported that, “About 10% of the population of male students are sexually aroused by ‘very extreme violence’…about 20 to 30% show substantial sexual arousal by depictions of rape in which the women … show … abhorrence … and about 50-60% show some degree of sexual arousal by rape depicted in which the victim is portrayed as becoming sexually aroused at the end (Russell: 1998).” If all pornography depicted rape then this data would be relevant and important. However, most porn does not depict rape. Further studies have tried, unconvincingly, to link watching pornography to causing violence in men (Donnerstein: 1984, Zillman & Bryant: 1984, Check & Malamouth: 1986, Donnerstein & Linz: 1987, Russell: 1988, McKenzie-Mohr & Zanna: 1992).
Both Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon helped launch battles to acquire legislation, mainly local ordinances, to cripple the porn industry. In In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearing, Dworkin and MacKinnon compiled the transcripts from hearings on the dangers of pornography in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Massachusetts. The following is an excerpt from the 1983 ordinance that was drafted after the Minneapolis hearings:
1) SPECIAL FINDINGS ON PORNOGRAPHY: The council finds that pornography is central in creating and maintaining the civil inequality of the sexes. Pornography is a systematic practice of exploitation and subordination based on sex, which differentially harms women. The bigotry and contempt it promotes, with the acts of aggression it fosters, harm women’s opportunities for equality of rights in employment, education, property rights, public accommodations and public services; create public harassment and private denigration such as rape, battery, and prostitution and inhibit just enforcement of laws against these acts; contribute significantly to restricting women from full exercise of citizenship and participation in public life, including in neighborhoods; damage relations between the sexes, and undermine women’s equal exercise of rights to speech and action guaranteed to all citizens under the constitutions and laws of the United States and the state of Minnesota (Dworkin & MacKinnon: 1997:427).
Wait, pornography does all this? I’ll be a believer the minute I see the proof. There is not one shred of evidence to get this author or many other scholars to believe that pornography is solely or in large part responsible for any of the atrocious conditions that unfortunately do exist in not just Minnesota, not just in the United States, but all over the world (National Research Council Panel: 1993, Tanenbaum: 1994, Pally:1994, Strossen:1995, McElroy:1995). Moreover, as Nadine Strossen says, “From the lack of actual evidence to substantiate the alleged causal link, the conclusion follows even more inescapably: Censoring pornography would do women more harm than good (Strossen: 1995).” As a feminist, I will gladly get behind any movement that truly seeks to eradicate the quagmire of sexism and all its current manifestations in society; however, ridding society of porn will not speak to eradicating these issues.
A copious portion of the hearings consisted of testimony from women whose lives had been adversely affected by pornography. In her heart-wrenching story, Linda Marchiano, formerly known as Linda Lovelace, depicts the violence she endured at the hands Charles Traynor, the man who literally forced her to make pornographic films. Marchiano discusses being beaten on the set of her most famous film, Deep Throat. Testimony from other women continues to try to link porn with violence. Women tell stories of boyfriends hitting them after having watched porn. A woman tells of being brutally raped on a camping trip in Wisconsin when she was 13, and points out that on the ground at the site of her heinous attack laid pornographic magazines. Former prostitutes testified to violence and the supposed nefarious nature of porn and the role it played in the violence perpetrated against them while working. The stories continued and all rang the same.
There is absolutely no reliable data from any reputable discipline, psychology, sociology, biology or otherwise, to suggest that there is a direct causal relationship between pornography and violence. Moreover, while I honestly feel for all these women and all the many women like them throughout the world who have been victims of violence, pornography cannot be made the scapegoat. In addition, stories/testimonies of women have been collected that celebrate and laude pornography. In Cherie Matrix’s Tales From the Clit, women share their stories about how pornography has enhanced their lives and given them joy. In 1989, women like Matrix formed a group called Feminists Against Censorship, helping many people understand that for one, the playing field an be leveled. There are women making porn. There are feminists making porn, in an effort to create sexual imagery that does not necessarily depict women as “whores” as Dworkin so eloquently puts it. There are individuals with varying sexual preferences creating film and magazines that depict sexual activities that stray from the traditional heteronormative and often sexist images of sex. Matrix writes of Dworkin and MacKinnon type feminists: “Women who call themselves feminists are trying to tell us that we all hate pornography, that no woman likes it, and that every woman wants to see it ‘off the shelf’ (Matrix:1996: v).”
Sexual repression continues to be one of the main driving forces of oppression in modern society. Legal mechanisms and institutionalized hegemonic discourses/norms on sexuality continue to operate as forces of oppression. Women bear the brunt of sexual oppression. While women have gained upward mobility in economic, political, and social realms, sexual liberation is the necessary key to open the door to full emancipation. Many women are not even aware of this insidious form of oppression. It is essential that women embrace their sexual identities. Women are entitled to enjoy sex and engage in any sexually activity that brings them pleasure without fear of punishment. This includes anything from thinking about sex to consuming pornography to engaging in sex acts that society still deems aberrant. If we find pornography, at large, to be degrading to women, then women must take charge of producing pornographic images that no longer cater to male desires through degrading depictions of women. Women, as consumers, have the power to transform the porn industry by creating a demand for porn that speaks to women’s interests. Women across the United States are engaged in this struggle, as they begin to create sexual imagery that speaks to the desires of women. For far too long, porn has been seen as a gendered commodity, a commodity for men. Women have been taught to hide and feel ashamed of “libidinous” behavior, which may include the consumption of sexual imagery. The time has come for women to claim their sexuality and to celebrate it publicly. It is time to bring female sexuality out of the shadows of the private realm and into the public sphere. Women can celebrate their sexuality through the consumption of sex.
Burr, Tom. “ ‘42nd Street Structures’ and Some Qualities of Life.” October, Vol. 85. Summer 1998, p. 90-105.
Check, James & Malamuth, Neil. “Pornography and Sexual Aggression: A Social Learning Theory Analysis.” Communication Yearbook, 9, p. 181-213, 1986.
Donnerstein, Edward. “Pornography: Its Effects on Violence Against Women.” In Neil Malamuth & Edward Donnerstein Eds, Pornography and Sexual Aggression. New York: Academic Press, 1994.
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Angela Jones is a Ph.D student in the Sociology Department of The New School for Social Research. She is currently an adjunct lecturer of sociology within the City University of New York, teaching undergraduate courses at both Baruch and York Colleges. Angela is also working on her dissertation, entitled “The Niagara Movement 1905-1910: Intellectual Networks, Social Change, & the Making of Black Publics.” Her research interests are expansive. While her dissertation speaks to the existing sociological literature on social change, intellectuals, African American historiography, and publics, she also conducts research in gender and queer studies. When Angela is not teaching, writing her dissertation, conducting ethnography, or reading, she also enjoys watching the game and drinking a Miller Lite.