Anti-Pornography Feminism: A Very Short Introduction
Radical feminist opponents of pornography—such as Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Robin Morgan, Diana Russell, Alice Schwarzer, and Robert Jensen—argue that pornography is harmful to women, and constitutes strong causality or facilitation of violence against women.
Anti-pornography feminists, notably Catherine MacKinnon, charge that the production of pornography entails physical, psychological, and/or economic coercion of the women who perform and model in it. This is said to be true even when the women are being presented as enjoying themselves. It is also argued that much of what is shown in pornography is abusive by its very nature. Gail Dines holds that pornography, exemplified by gonzo pornography, is becoming increasingly violent and that women who perform in pornography are brutalized in the process of its production.
Anti-pornography feminists point to the testimony of well known participants in pornography, such as Traci Lords and Linda Boreman, and argue that most female performers are coerced into pornography, either by somebody else, or by an unfortunate set of circumstances. The feminist anti-pornography movement was galvanized by the publication of Ordeal, in which Linda Boreman (who under the name of "Linda Lovelace" had starred in Deep Throat) stated that she had been beaten, raped, and pimped by her husband Chuck Traynor, and that Traynor had forced her at gunpoint to make scenes in Deep Throat, as well as forcing her, by use of both physical violence against Boreman as well as emotional abuse and outright threats of violence, to make other pornographic films. Dworkin, MacKinnon, and Women Against Pornography issued public statements of support for Boreman, and worked with her in public appearances and speeches.
Anti-pornography feminists hold the view that pornography contributes to sexism, arguing that in pornographic performances, the actresses are reduced to mere receptacles—objects—for sexual use and abuse by men. They argue that the narrative is usually formed around men's pleasure as the only goal of sexual activity, and that the women are shown in a subordinate role. Some opponents believe pornographic films tend to show women as being extremely passive, or that the acts which are performed on the women are typically abusive and solely for the pleasure of their sex partner. On-face ejaculation and anal rape are increasingly popular among men, following trends in porn. MacKinnon and Dworkin defined pornography as "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words.”
Anti-pornography feminists say that consumption of pornography is a cause of rape and other forms of violence against women. Robin Morgan summarizes this idea with her often-quoted statement, "Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice."
Anti-pornography feminists charge that pornography eroticizes the domination, humiliation, and coercion of women, and reinforces sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment. MacKinnon argued that pornography leads to an increase in sexual violence against women through fostering rape myths. Such rape myths include the belief that women really want to be raped and that they mean yes when they say no. Additionally, according to MacKinnon, pornography desensitizes viewers to violence against women, and this leads to a progressive need to see more violence in order to become sexually aroused, an effect she claims is well-documented.
German radical feminist Alice Schwarzer is one proponent of this point of view, in particular in the feminist magazine Emma. Many opponents of pornography believe that pornography gives a distorted view of men and women's bodies, as well as the actual sexual act, often showing the performers with synthetic implants or exaggerated expressions of pleasure.
Gail Dines said, "'[p]ornography is the perfect propaganda piece for patriarchy. In nothing else is their hatred of us quite as clear.'"
Beginning in the late 1970s, anti-pornography radical feminists formed organizations such as Women Against Pornography, Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, Women Against Violence Against Women, Feminists Fighting Pornography, and like groups that provided educational events, including slide-shows, speeches, guided tours of the sex shops in areas like New York's Times Square and San Francisco's Tenderloin District, petitioning, and publishing newsletters, in order to raise awareness of the content of pornography and the sexual subculture in pornography shops and live sex shows.
Similar groups also emerged in the United Kingdom, including legislatively focused groups such as Campaign Against Pornography and Campaign Against Pornography and Censorship, as well as groups associated with Revolutionary Feminism such as Women Against Violence Against Women and its direct action offshoot Angry Women.
Some anti-pornography feminists, such as Nikki Craft, Ann Simonton, and Melissa Farley, have advocated and carried out civil disobedience and direct action against pornography and been arrested for public nudity. They campaign against corporations through destruction of single copies of magazines that contained violent pornography that they argue condones and legitimizes rape as sexual entertainment. They advocate rejecting the representations of sexual objectification as exemplified in publications like Hustler and Penthouse.
Summary: This article stresses the importance of
continuing research on pornography and conducting it in “sensitive and
responsive ways.” This article outlines
the strengths and weaknesses of anti-pornography feminism, but highly
encourages the evaluation of both standpoints. This article specifically
focuses on literature about pornography and other means of sexual expression
that are considered controversial. Also highlighted in this article are the
psychosocial effects of pornography and the repression that follows. The
biggest strength of this article is that it encourages research and evaluative
thought on the pornography debate.
Evaluation: Purcell is in the Department of Sociology at the University of
California, Santa Cruz, therefore making her a credible source of information for
this article. She also has included a compete biography and cites frequently
throughout the article. The only area lacking in this article is that has not
been updated in the last year, but two years ago, so its information is still
considered current. This article is a good resource for unbiased, original
thought on both sides of the feminism and pornography debate.
Summary: This Wikipedia article focuses on the
different aspects of the Anti-Pornography Civil Rights Ordinance that allowed
women harmed by pornography the ability to seek damages through a lawsuit in
civil court. The article is separated into different sections pertaining to the
Ordinance, including the history, the Butler decision in Canada, the definition
of pornography, Causes for Action, and a section recommending further reading. This
article explains one of the many ways anti-pornography feminists have taken
action in their mission. This site is a great resource to not only receive information
on the Anti-Pornography Civil Rights Ordinance, but it also includes links to
other sites on related topics, such as radical feminism, Anti-Pornography
Movement, and Andrea Dworkin, among others.
Evaluation: Though the author is not specifically listed,
there is a contact link provided at the bottom of the article. This article
also includes a detailed bibliography and offers further reading. The
information may be considered current because it has been updated within the
last year, therefore all of the sources are also considered current.
Summary: Sponsored by Focus on the Family and the
National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, this article
highlights the five symptoms and subsequent dangers linked to pornography.
Though this article does not directly address feminism, the dangers outlined
are ones feminists frequently utilize to support their position. An important
point made in the article is that frequent exposure to pornography leads to
decreased satisfaction with one’s partner, one’s partner’s sexuality, with
one’s partner’s sexual curiosity, a decrease in the value of faithfulness, and
an increase in the emphasis of sex without attachment. In continuance, this
article also emphasizes that pornography condones irresponsible sex and makes it
appear to have no negative consequences.
Evaluation: Though the specific author of this article is
unnamed, the source of most of the
author’s information is psychologist Gary R. Brooks, Ph.D. Because the author
has based the entire article on Brooks’
and other psychologists’ information, it may be seen as credible. This article was last updated in 2009, so it
may be considered current and a contact link is provided. Citations are
frequently used and an About Us link is also included to provide information
about the sponsoring organization. Through citing experts and providing
resources for further information, this article may be considered an excellent
credible and easy-to-use source.
Summary: This site provides information on a
particular anti-pornography feminist group, Women Against Pornography. Upon
reading information about this group, one can really get a sense of what the
anti-pornography feminist perspective really means. Within this site, the
article is separated into several different links, making browsing easy and
efficient. The different topics discussed concerning Women Against Pornography
include: the Formation, Membership and Support, the March on Times Square, the
Later History, Campaigns, Opposition and Controversy, Similar Groups, a
bibliography, and references. Within the Campaigns section, there are also
links for slideshows, Times Square tours, and demonstrations, among many
others. Through the use of factual information, videos, and pictures, this site
gives an excellent representation of anti-pornography feminism in action.
Evaluation: This site lacks the author being listed, but is compensated for by
providing a contact link. This source is credible because it provided an
extensive bibliography and listed many references. The information in the
article may be considered current because it was updated as recently as
February 22nd, 2011. The
information is clearly cited and creates a clear view on not just
anti-pornography feminism in theory, but as a genuine movement.
Summary: Sponsored by Guardian News and Media Limited,
this article references Gail Dines, a renowned anti-pornography activist.
Dines’ perspective is discussed more in detail; her perspective is best
summarized when she says, “the prevalence of porn means that men are becoming
more desensitized to it, and are therefore seeking out ever harsher, more
violent and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much
violence the fans want.” The article continues on to describe that anti-porn
campaigns must be much the same as anti-smoking campaigns have been in the
Evaluation: Though not much is known about the author,
Julie Bindel, except that she is a journalist, she frequently references Gail
Dines, a well-known expert on the topic of anti-porn feminism; she is the
world’s leading activist. The article was written less than a year ago, so the
information may be considered current. The author continually cites her sources
and her purpose seems to be mostly to support scholarly research by conveying
information on this topic. There were quite a few pop-up menus on the web page,
but all of the information seems to be well researched, so the web site may
still be considered credible and useful on the topic of anti-pornography
Summary: Sponsored by the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, this site features primary and secondary sources on the topic of
anti-pornography feminism. The article is separated by an outline of links that
make accessing the different sections entitled: Pornography, Prostitution, and
New Directions. The article also makes accessible a Bibliography, other Internet
sources, and related entries as links to make the different sections easy to
browse. This article is helpful because not only does it outline the core
anti-pornography views, past and present, but it also includes the ways in
which the movement is looking toward the future.
Evaluation: Even though one of the primary purposes of this website is to gain
donations for the SEP, it specifically provides the reader with information to
help understand anti-pornography feminism. While this website is very useful for gaining
a more extensive knowledge of anti-pornography feminism, it fails to mention
very much about its opposition, or those that favor pornography. The specific
credentials of the author is not stated on the website, but if researched, it
is shown that the author has written four other articles on feminism; this
website is also maintained by Stanford University, therefore increasing its credibility.
Sponsored by The Boston College Magazine, Hudson illustrates the way that
anti-pornography feminists focus on the harmful effects of pornography on three
levels: production, the product, and the consumers of the product. With a bit
of a critical tone, Hudson evaluates both feminist perspectives on pornography.
Hudson also highlights that anti-pornography feminists believe that “despite
progress in women’s rights, inequalities will exist as long as the sexual
subordination of women does.” Overall, this article is a useful resource in
evaluating not just anti-pornography feminism, but also sex-positive feminism.
Credentials are missing and contact information is incomplete, however, I
credit this to the article being published in a college magazine, where
including such information is unnecessary. A detailed bibliography is included
and the article sponsored by The Boston College Magazine. This article was also
created more than three years ago (2006), however, the information seems to
match up with current information. All around, this article seems to fit the
intent of supporting scholarly thought and research in comparison to personal
benefit, and therefore is credible and useful for research.
Stop Porn Culture! is an extremely active organization in promoting anti-
pornography feminism. Stop Porn Culture! is “dedicated to challenging the
pornography industry and increasingly pornographic pop culture…” This
organization is founded on feminist views in ending the sexual exploitation of
women through pornography. This site provides an extensive history of the
anti-pornography movement and is surprisingly, relatively unbiased. This site
also includes links to Events, Local Chapters, Slideshows, and Resources. I
found this site extremely helpful in getting an overview of an anti-pornography
feminist organization in action.
Though the author’s credentials are missing, her contact information is
provided. Also, the information has not been updated in the last year, but two
years ago, so it is still relatively current information. This site offers
reliable factual information with very little bias, which was surprising for an
organization supporting a specific view. All around, I found this source to be
useful in researching the history and also current happenings of the
anti-pornography feminist movement.
This article highlights Gail Dines’ book, Pornland:
How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. The topics discussed in this article
are the three stances within the pornography debate: the anti-pornography
feminists, the anti-censorship feminists who are critical of pornography, yet
reject the legal approach the anti-pornography feminists take, and the pro-pornography
feminists. Further in the article, the Anti-Pornography Ordinance is discussed,
and also the contemporary debates concerning pornography. Questions posed by
both sides of the debate include: “Are women in porn and prostitutes just sex
workers?”; and “Are they workers just like in any other business?” Another
section highlighted in this article is the issue of child pornography; both
sides agree child pornography is exploitation of children, yet while pro-pornography
feminists draw distinct lines between adult and child porn, anti-pornography
feminists find connections.
This article directly cites Gail Dines’ book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality and though the
unnamed author may or may not be an expert, Gail Dines may be considered one.
Gail Dines received her Ph.D from the University of Salford, Uk and has been
teaching Sociology and Women’s Studies at Wheelock College in the United States
since 1986; Dines is a credible source because of her extensive experience. An extensive bibliography, and countless
citations are included which also contribute to the credibility of this source.
As a product of The Atlantic, this article includes information on the a
feminist perspective of pornography as sex discrimination, thereby failing to
be protected by the first amendment. The article also produces details about
the Anti-Pornography Civil Rights Ordinance, also known as the Dworkin-
Mackinnon Law. This article also includes information on the repeal of the
Dworkin-Mackinnon Law, and the journey of anti-pornography feminism out of
legislation and onto college campuses. Finally, this article recognizes that
pornography is degrading to women yet it does not support the use of
legislation to regulate it, because it would “open the door to censorship.”
While this article was written more than three years ago, it has been
maintained all the way through 2011.
This article is still valuable, however, because it was written in 1992,
therefore illustrating the views of the debate soon after the prime of the
argument in the 1980’s. This article may be seen as illustrating the after
effects of the influence of both sides of the pornography and feminism debate.