Posted on | September 26, 2013 | 47 Comments
Yesterday’s mention of pornography’s influence (“The Vagina as Commodity: What Does the Pubic Depilation Phenomenon Mean?“) stirred the memory of one reader, who e-mailed:
That got me to thinking about the relation between feminism and porn. Back around the 1980s or so, there was an important strand of feminism which was vocally and unashamedly anti-porn. However, as far as I know this population went extinct during the past 15-20 years. And that begs the question: what happened?
To which I replied:
Yes, there were anti-porn feminists in the 1970s and ’80s. What happened — and you could look this up — is that the porn industry (including Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Foundation) sponsored pro-porn feminist groups to counter them. Anti-porn feminist Andrea Dworkin, among others, have discussed this. In the 1980s, there was a de facto alliance between radical feminists and Christian conservatives against pornography and, indeed, conservative Phyllis Schlafly cited feminist critiques of pornography. But the anti-porn feminists were shouted down by so-called “pro-sex feminists” who were in many cases subsidized by the porn industry.
A quick Google search turns up little on this subject. The leaders of the feminist anti-pornography movement tended to be radicals like Dworkin and Catharine McKinnon, who saw porn as a violation of women’s rights. Among those who continued that radicalism was Nikki Craft, whose work exposing child pornography advocate Lawrence Stanley was helpful to me in my 2002 coverage of Stanley’s arrest (see “Porn lawyer charged in Brazil girls case“).
If you talk to radicals like Craft — who carried out civil-disobedience protests against Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler — they will tell you bluntly that so-called “pro-sex feminists” sold out. Women Against Pornography co-founder Dorchen Leidholdt demonstrated that the Playboy Foundation helped fund the ACLU as well as various front groups, such as the National Coalition Against Censorship, that fought to keep pornography legal. This is a chapter of history that contemporary feminists are eager to suppress, the way Stalin had Trotsky airbrushed out of photos of the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Left must constantly re-write its own history to create the appearance of consistency in its advocacy of progress, but the Left’s definition of progress is itself constantly changing, and feminism’s embrace of pornography — celebrating objectification as “empowerment” — is but one example of this re-definition project.
UPDATE: Linked by Ann Althouse, who remembers anti-porn feminism, and cites a 1990 book by Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice Raymond, Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, which I’m sure is omitted from “Women’s Studies” curricula nowadays.
The institutionalization of feminism within academia is a subject that ought to get more scrutiny than it does, and we should acknowledge the difference between feminism as an anti-institutional protest movement (as it was in the late 1960s and ’70s) and feminism as a powerful force within institutions (as it is now).