Feminism and Pornography

Feminists have been somewhat split when it comes to the issue of pornography. While there are many perspectives, there isn’t a major consensus from feminists on pornography. Feminist positions on pornography currently break down into three rough categories. There are feminists who insist that pornography degrades women and turns them into nothing more than sexual objects. Liberal feminists claim that a woman owns her body and has the right to do what she wishes with it. There is yet another position that says that pornography doesn’t degrade women at all and, in fact, that it empowers women and is sexually liberating. A true defense of pornography arises from feminists who have been labeled ‘pro-sex,’ and who argue that porn has benefits for women.

The anti-pornography position is that pornography is an expression of male culture through which women are exploited. Anti-pornography feminists claim that pornography is a degrading portrayal of women and that pornography often shows women being mistreated or abused and gives men the false impression that they enjoy being treated this way. Some anti-pornography feminists treat women who disagree as either brainwashed dupes of patriarchy or as apologists for pornographers. In the anthology Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, editor Dorchen Leidholdt claims that feminists who believe women make their own choices about pornography are spreading "a felicitous lie.” In the same work, Sheila Jeffreys argues that "pro-sex" feminists are "eroticizing dominance and subordination."

Blogs and other media sites have posts that describe the desperation that can come along with the pornography. The leads women to feeling trapped into the pornography industry. Many women, in desperate need of money turn to pornography as a “last resort” and then their reputations are destroyed because of the stigma surrounding women in pornography. The anti-pornography position insists that pornography isn’t really a choice or may be at first, but then women are trapped into doing it for years, even when they want to quit.

The more liberal feminist view on pornography, while still against pornography, says that a woman has the right to choose to do pornography. Many also feel that censorship of pornography is a free speech issue. These feminists agree with the anti-pornography position that pornography does objectify women but argue that a woman should have the right to do what she wishes with her own body. Some also claim that the issue goes beyond women and into free speech. The idea is that speech, even if it is offensive, obscene or immoral, is and should be protected by the first amendment.

The third position is part of the pro-sex feminist movement. This movement draws much of its strength from the riot grrrl movement that started in the early 90’s. The riot grrrl movement was about empowering women through freedom of expression, including sexual expression. Pro-sex arguments sometimes seem to overlap with liberal feminist ones. For example, both express concern over who will act as censor because subjective words, such as "degrading," will be interpreted to mean whatever the censor wants. Wendy McElory, author of XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, writes, "Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically." She argues that censorship of pornography means effective censorship of women. This movement argues that traditionally women have been expected to be sexually reserved and those who do show an interest in sex are called “sluts” and she seeks to change that.

McElory also points out the personal benefits for women in pornography. She writes, “Pornography allows women to enjoy scenes and situations that would be anathema to them in real life.” Another example is in Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape by Lee Jacobs Riggs. Riggs writes about pornography's benefits with women dealing with sexual trauma. He writes “Pornography can be a less risky way for survivors to reintroduce sexuality into their lives before they are ready to do so with another person.” For these reasons, pro-sex feminists defend pornography as being helpful rather than destructive to the feminist movement.

Pornography continues to be controversial both within and outside the feminist movement. While a somewhat mainstream feminist idea has been the pornography is harmful to women, the pro-sex feminist movement has been increasing in size and support sense the early 90’s. The pro-sex movement is often seen as the more progressive view point while the anti-pornography has been called outdated. Very little dialogue occurs between the different views and it seems unlikely that there will be any consensus.

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