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Pornography: Free Speech or Stylized Abuse?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Amy Fried, Ph.D.     Permalink
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Carol J. Adams, in her books The Sexual Politics of Meat, and The Pornography of Meat, argues that women and animals share a similar type of oppression, in a culture that sexualizes dominance.

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Feminist legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon, along with her late colleague Andrea Dworkin, has long argued that pornography is a form of trafficking and prostitution.

Two recent stories involving pornography have brought into question these two feminist theses.

First, the recent Supreme Court

case on the legality of the depiction of animal cruelty - including a bizarre form of pornography - pits the issues of free speech against demonstrated harm.

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The second story is the recent dust up at the Maryland system of universities, over the screening of pornographic movies on campus.

In both stories, the reaction seems to weigh heavily on the defense of First Amendment rights. In the animal cruelty case, the Justices were skeptical of a law against depicting animal cruelty (with exceptions for journalistic and educational uses), arguing that it is too broad. In the case of pornography on campus, the Washington Post coverage features numerous expressions of protest; The New Republic's Michelle Cottle's dismissal of the issue as a waste of time by legislators, takes a similar stance.

MacKinnon eloquently argues against the free speech frame for the use of women in pornography:

"Often we see pornography and prostitution defended ... using standard liberal abstractions such as freedom of expression or freedom of choice, as if one can be free while still being unequal."

She contends that pornography - what she calls "mediated prostitution" - obscures the real life harm that is done to women. In a recent speech at Washington & Lee University, MacKinnon decried the "sexualization of power," taking on both liberals and conservatives:

"the right's position ... is to repress any sexuality of equality and the left's position ... is to liberate any sexuality of inequality.

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Sadly,MacKinnon and Dworkinwere inspired, in part, by the story of Linda Boreman, who reported that she was forced at gunpoint into performing, as "Linda Lovelace," in the pornographic movie Deep Throat, as well as abused during the filming . In her book, Are Women Human?, MacKinnon argues against the twisted logic that protects pornography as free speech, in which the harm done to women is actually used to buttress the argument! According to the Seventh Circuit:

"In the language of the legislature, 'pornography is central in creating and maintaining sex as a basis of discrimination. Pornography is a systematic practice of exploitation and

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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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