We don’t have a problem with pornography, unless, of course, it doesn’t turn us on. With X-rated movies available for rent at every local video store and Hooters considred a family restaurant, we realize that American porn culture is here to stay. So, rather than trying to rid the world of sexual images we think are negative, as some of our sisters have done, we’re far more interested in encouraging women to explore porn, to find out whether it gets them hot or merely bothered. This is not to say that we don’t see most of the currently available porn as ruthlessly sexist…. the fact is, the current crop of available porn has very little in it to appeal to women… While the female market for fuck films is still far less than that of men, it’s a central tenet of our version of feminism to acknowledge that it exists at all.
Marcelle Karp & Debbie Stoller, Bust Guide to the New Girl Order
I find pornography disturbing, chilling – even sometimes physically disgusting. Must I then be a killjoy, a frustrated prude, secretly longing to write articles on porn so that I can sneak a look while publicly tutting? I have been, and am still, confused by the distance between my reactions to pornography and the debates carried out in the press about it. Mary Whitehouse and the Festival of Light seem as opposed to what I want for the word as do pornographers… I don’t want to choose between Mary Whitehouse and the producers of High Society, between two equally unacceptable alternatives – between censoring all mention of sex through vaguely-worded laws that will be applied by men, and allowing pornography to invade my life at an ever-increasing rate, on Radio One and in packets of bubblegum, and even in the radical press.
Ruth Wallsgrove, in Spare Rib 1977, Spare Rib Reader (1982)
Pornography has been so thickly glossed over with the patina of chic these days in the name of verbal freedom and sophisication… Part of the problem is that those who traditionally have been the most vigorous opponents of porn are often those same people who shudder at the explicit mention of any sexual subject… There can be no equality in porn, no female equivalent, no turning of the tables in the name of bawdy fun. Pornography, like rape, is a male invention, desgined to dehumanize women… Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propoganda.
Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will (1975)
Pornography is the theory, and rape the practice.
Robin Morgan, Theory and Practice: Pornography and Rape, 1974, The Word of a Woman (1993)
I think a lot of leading free-speech feminists who are against the censorship of pornography because they believe in the First Amendement are actually reluctant to admit that they like X-rated movies and dirty magazines themselves: it’s not that they don’t want to live in a world that bans pornography, but rather that they don’t want to live without pornography, period. Even right-thinking chicks have dirty minds full of impure thoughts.
Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bitch (1998)
Anti pornography activists see the issue not as a matter of speech but as a matter of harm and believe that pornogrphy is a kind of ‘collective defamation’. They are often called censors, but what they primarily seek are financial damages for women who can prove in court that they have been harmed by pornography. Their opponents, the anti-censorshipo activists, see then pornography issue as a diversion from women’s material problenms, and a potential threat to women’s own freedom of speech and secual expression. But feminists divided on the issue are rarely able to listen to each other. Says [Patricia] Ireland, they ‘cannot even agree to diagree’…
My own sense…is that consuming for one’s own pleasure a product made out of a stanger’s need to exchange his or her sexuality for money – as opposed to enjoying a sexual image made out of someone’s free desire to express herself and create communication out of her erotic life – causes an indefinable but palpable abrasion of the soul. If we consume material whose conditions of manufacture are unknown to us, but that might be unsafe or painful for those involved in it, we hurt ourselves; we throw off our ethical equilibrium in some unquantifiable way.
Naomi Wolf, Fire with Fire (1994)
In the United States, pornography has become the central issue that feminists do battle on. But it is more important to make sure that realabuse and violence and coercion do not go unpunished. Pornography hurts because we feel powerless to prevent real abuse; if we could consume it in an equal environment, would it frighten us in the same way? In many ways, women need pornogrpahy; they need a society that is frank and free in words and images and in which they can talk about their bodies and experiences without becoming social outcasts. It is telling that societies in which pornography is not at all acceptable also fail to accept free movement or rational dress for women…one survey found a strong correlation between the consumption and availability of pornography, and women’s equality, measured by 24 indicators of economic, political and legal equality. So pornography and equality may go hand in hand in more tolerant, open societies…Even when society is more equal, pornography will not just wither away.
Natasha Walter, The New Feminism (1998)
When pornography is… normal, a whole population of men is primed to dehumanise women and to enjoy inflicting assault sexually… Pornography is the perfect preparation – motivator and instruction manual in one – for… sexual atrocities.
Catharine MacKinnon, Ms., July/Aug 1993, p.28
…there is a difference between feeling and action that MacKinnon fails to see: namely, the difference betwen getting turned on by images of domination, and getting turned on by such images and then raping people…. although I may have similar sexual responses, I am not going to rape or brutalise anyone.
Donna Minkowitz, Giving it Up, in To Be Real (1995)
Don’t even get me started on [Catharine] MacKinnon….Now I’d just look at her and shake my head and go, “tsk tsk tsk,” and say, “You know what, I’m really sorry you are that bitter and angry,” cuz that’s what it is. It’s her fuel. It’s what drives her. It’s not that she is not smart, but I do believe she is deluded, and I do believe anger and fear and jealousy and resentment and frustration and out-and-out prudery are what drive her, are her motivating forces…MacKinnon really does feel like she is helping women, while at the same time, she and Dworkin and their ilk silence women. They won’t listen to our stories, our truths.
Nina Hartley (porn star) interviewed in Bust Guide to the New Girl Order (1999)
I can’t tell you how surrealistic it is to find myself and others called “puritanical,” “the new Victorians,” or “anti-sex” for the same views that got us condemned as “sexual libertarians” and “immoral women” until a few years ago. Women and men who oppose pornography for its normalisation of violence will have to fight hard if we’re going to avoid the suffragists’ fate of being recorded in history as boring, asexual bluestockings…Depictions of mutual pleasure and the sexualisation of equality are so rare that pornographers seem to have the franchise on sex. They can get away with claiming that to oppose pornography is to oppose sex… The answer to pornography lies not only in exposing it as an institution, but making sure that individuals who are drawn to it, but who are not hurting others, don’t feel condemned. It’s partly the feeling of being personally accused that has caused some women, including some feminists, to defend pornography.
Gloria Steinem, preface to Outrageous Acts and Everday Rebellions (2nd edn, 1995)
Years ago, few women were upset about pornography. Sadistic porn was rare. Only educated men read the Marquis de Sade or “The Story of O…” Those were days of innocence… after the male “sexual revolution,” pornography changed, growing far more widespread and moving from books to film to videos… it began to portray children as well as women… In the late 1960s, pornography reached staggering depths of violence, hatred, and cruelty. Films featured lynching, mainly of Asian women; it is belieived that the actresses in some “snuff” films were actually killed to make the film: mutilation and murder tilted men into orgasm.
Marilyn French, The War Against Women (1992)
Sex in advertising is pornographic because it dehumanizes and objectifies people, especially women, and because it fetishizes products, imbues them with an erotic charge – which dooms us to disappointment since products never can fulfill our sexual desires or meet our emotional needs. The poses and postures of advertising are often borrowed from pornography, as are many of the themes, such as bondage, sadomasochiam, and the sexual exploitation of children… Pornography is more dangerously mainstream when its glorification of rape and violence shows uo in mass media, in films and television shows, in comedy and music videos, and in advertising.