I'm the WRO at the University of Auckland and I have just spent huge amount of time and energy dealing with this issue on campus. The recent Craccum at Auckland Uni which was full of pornographic content has been heavily penalised by the Students Association. Following this battle, I was extremely dismayed to find this pro-porn post on THM. The editors of Craccum didn't even bother to raise a pro-porn argument when defending their publication - I thought post-"Female Chauvinist Pigs", sex-positive 'liberating' 'stripping-is-empowering type feminism had been pretty clearly debunked - pornography has not 'benefited' women, and is no triumph of feminism (as Hugh Hefner argues). How is it that this argument is still continuing among feminists? It leaves us open to being viewed as an incoherent, vitriolic movement, undeserving of respect.
When we look at the issue of pornography, why not accept the distinction made by Dworkin and MacKinnon between porn and erotica. In this distinction, porn is defined as:
“the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and words, that also includes women presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; or women presented as sexual objects who enjoy humiliation or pain; or women presented as sexual objects experiencing sexual pleasure in rape, incest or other sexual assault; or women are presented as sexual objects tied up, cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or women presented in postures or positions of sexual submission, servility, or display; or women's body parts — including but not limited to vaginas, breasts, or buttocks — exhibited such that women are reduced to those parts; or women presented being penetrated by objects or animals; or women presented in scenarios of degradation, humiliation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual.” (Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 176.)This is distinct from erotica (and this is more than the 'semantic' difference which Enid writes it off as), which they define as "sexually explicit material premised on equality, which depicts women as genuinely equal and consenting participants in sexual encounters." If we then accept the reality that most mainstream sexually explicit material falls within the category of pornography, and not erotica, then its hard to see how a feminist who believes in the moral equality of men and women can write a post which, in general, does not recognise the reality of an oppressive and degrading industry ("being anti-porn is much like being anti-television").
I'd like to quote part of my submission to the Media Complaints Tribunal, which is the body responsible for penalising Craccum:
"Some people argue that pornography directly contributes to the scourge of violence against women, an unspoken national shame in New Zealand. Even if such a causal link cannot be irrefutably established, it is difficult to deny that pornography cultivates and perpetuates the view of women as sexually submissive and morally inferior citizens. In this way, pornography can be understood as violating the rights of women to equal status within the University. The seriousness of Craccum’s failures in publishing Issue 12 is rendered even more acute by the fact that Craccum is ultimately published and funded by AUSA. An important part of AUSA’s mandate is to promote an environment in which all students can educate themselves without fear of discrimination or harassment. For AUSA to be party to the publication and distribution of pornography on campus is oppressive, degrading and a serious betrayal of the student body it represents.Sexual objectification is not the fundamental issue. Sexuality does not need to be premised on female submission, as the mainstream would have us believe. If mainstream pornography did not depict women as inferior the vast majority of situations, I would not have felt the need to respond to Ms Enid, but given the reality that I perceive, Ms Enid's pro-porn position is actually very insidious and damaging.
It has been argued that the frightening spectre of wholesale censorship outweighs the harm done to women by pornography. However, on closer analysis, it is revealed that the above view prefigures its own conclusion by denying that women have the right to free speech in the same measure as men do; pornography is censorship insofar as it fosters the public perception of women as somehow politically and morally deficient citizens. Thus, pornography violates women’s right to freedom of expression. If women are to participate in student affairs, including student media, in a meaningful way, it is important that AUSA matches its formal policies with clear directives and clear action designed to ensure that the dehumanising perception of women as merely sexual objects is overturned."
To quote Ariel Levy:
"the proposition that having the most simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality constantly reiterated throughout our culture somehow proves that we are sexually liberated and personally empowered has been offered to us, and we have accepted it. But if we stop to think about it, we know this just doesn't make any sense. Its time to stop nodding and smiling uncomfortably as we ignore the crazy feeling in our heads and admit that the emperor has no clothes."