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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/28/09

New Media Feminist Debate: Pornography

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Reading today I came across a blog post and series of reader comments that offer more examples of post-Backlash style woman-on-woman aggression, where feminism is divided into narrower and narrower camps until the movement itself is all but lost. This kind of rhetorical turf warfare takes place daily throughout the blogosphere.

The topic of today's post was sex-positive feminism and a reaction against it the blogger called "anti-sex-positive" feminism, which was further parsed as a subset of "radical feminism." You see where I'm going, right? (Here's the link: The blogger further stated that most arguments against sex-positive feminism are bound to patriarchal notions of female sexual helplessness and utilize "the master's tools."

This blog event enacts the stereotypes that work against feminism: 1) women can't sustain reasoned arguments and often fall into name calling (ad hominem) attacks against each other; 2) all women identifying as feminist freak out about porn (whether they are for or against); 3) and the feminist movement is all but dead and now so-called feminists just argue among themselves.

So much of the disagreements listed in this blog and within all the comments afterword would dissipate with some clarification and term defining.

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I want to dial down the ideological anger/passion/ alarm and make a few comments/suggestions.

First, no one ever wrote, in all seriousness, that "All sex is rape." Not Dworkin, not MacKinnon. This has become a hackneyed truism of the misogynist mainstream, and it simply is not true. It's a lie used against feminists objecting to sexual violence against women. That sentence was made up a long time ago and has continually been mis-identified as an accurate quotation or used as a dishonest "gloss" on feminism's positions regarding pornography. Let it go.

Second, let's define "pornography," so we know what we're arguing about. Both Dworkin and MacKinnon did years ago. The pornography statute MacKinnon wrote defines porn as: "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women, whether in pictures or in words, that also includes one or more of the following:

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(1) Women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation; or

(2) Women are presented as sexual objects who experience sexual pleasure in being raped; or

(3) Women are presented as sexual objects tied up or cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt, or as dismembered or truncated or fragmented or severed into body parts; or

(4) Women are presented as being penetrated by objects or animals; or

(5) 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; or

(6) Women are presented as sexual objects for domination, conquest, violation, exploitation, possession, or use, or through postures or positions of servility or submission or display."

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Additionally, the "statute provides that the "use of men, children, or transsexuals in the place of women in paragraphs (1) through (6) above shall also constitute pornography under this section."

Following the spirit of this definition, porn never means merely "sexually explicit material." Or "erotica." Or art documenting/depicting consensual mutually pleasurable sexual activity.

Also following the logic of this definition, sex-positive would have absolutely nothing to do with "pornography" and everything to do with consensual sexual activity; likewise, radical feminism is not concerned with limiting consensual sexual behavior and is concerned (quite reasonably) with eliminating "pornography."

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Kellie Bean has been a Professor of English at Marshall University, an Associate Dean of Liberal Arts, and most recently, Provost of a small New England College. Author of "Post-Backlash Feminism: Women and the Media Since Reagan/Bush" (McFarland (more...)

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