Pornography and the Sex Censors
A review of 'Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights,' by Nadine Strossen
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/07/1996
Year Published: 1996
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX11247
The pornography debacle has driven deep wedges among feminists, and has weakened the women's movement by alienating many women who cannot relate to a perceived ethos of anti-sexuality, gender antagonism, and victimhood. To the extent that it has convinced women to conceive of themselves as victims, to live in constant dread of male violence and aggression, rather than thinking of ourselves as the agents of our own liberation, it has been profoundly disempowering.
The current tempest over pornography mirrors a similar schism in the "first wave" of feminism. The "Redstockings" included such trailblazing pro-sex feminists as Victoria Woodhull, the early Margaret Sanger, and Emma Goldman, who defied, resisted, and on a good day aspired to overthrow the state. The "Bluestockings," in contrast, variously sought succor from a state they presumed to be beneficient, and in a bolder mood, aspired to become its agents. Their politics were elitist and centered on the right to vote, for which they often appealed on anti-immigrant grounds.
The reforms they sought through the existing state predominantly took the form of protective morals legislation. "Bluestockings" campaigned for essentially repressive anti-vice measure regarding prostitution, alcohol, and the like, helping to create a climate of opinion that facilitated passage of the Comstock laws, criminalizing both "obscenity" and the distribution of contraceptives and information about abortion -- laws which were then used to haul Redstocking sisters Sanger and Goldman off to jail.
Precisely as MacDworkinism sees pornography as a central institution of women's oppression, the Bluestockings seized on this "male vice" of alcoholism. Just why was it that working class men drank, after twelve-hour days in the mines and factories? Such questions were too threatening, so insted the elite reformers blamed the oppressed.
Rather than asking the hard questions, and challenging the structural causes of sexism in the gender division of labor and profoundly hierarchal social relations, the MacDworkinites again locate women's oppression in a noxious male vice, and offer us the panacea of repression. Once pornography is defined as "the problem," the solution is easy: repression through the authority of the state. Of course, that solution is most convivial to those who would preserve the existing social order.