The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Secret Sell-Out of ‘Pro-Sex Feminism’

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.
— RSM

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).

 

Comments

  • Dana

    Feminism has always had that internal conundrum: to be “sex positive” means that women must have the same sexual rights as men, but sex impacts women differently than it does men, and always will. They can influence man and bitch about the Republican Party, but their real complaint is with God . . . and he doesn’t seem to be inclined to change his creation for them.

    Thus, abortion: if women are to have the same sexual rights as men, then the natural result of sex has to be just as inconsequential for women as they see it for men.

    Trouble is, for heterosexual women, there is still the problem of the reaction of men to them. The women compete relentlessly against each other, but wind up doing so in ways which actually burden them more and harm other women. The Sexual Revolution is over, and, with the help of the feminists, men won.

    You’ve noted previously that heterosexual men and homosexual women are more likely to be overweight than their opposites, and it makes sense. Lesbians aren’t competing with men for other lesbians, so they can let their pit hair and their bellies grow without being cut out of sex altogether, while their normal sisters still have to attract men, and compete with other women to do so.

  • robertstacymccain

    Feminism is just distaff Marxism — women replacing the “proletariat” as the historically oppressed group, and the “patriarchy” replacing capitalists as their oppressors. The celebration of victimhood, the irrational demonization of their antagonists — it’s all very familiar.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Creatures like Dworkin and McKinnon carried their branch of Leftism to it’s logical ends in the realm of the sterile laboratories of their own minds.

    The Pro-Sex Feminists carried their Leftism to it’s logical ends in the realm of the fantasy life they constructed within the Real World.

    In other words, the conclusions both reached are quite logical, Captain.

  • RS

    I wonder what it’s like inhabiting a reality where it’s possible to ignore both factual and philosophical inconsistencies, or remain blind to their existence. I suppose, psychologists would call it a “coping mechanism,” one which is absolutely necessary in order to allow those that suffer from such a malady to function in the world without going insane.

  • herddog505

    The libertarian in me agrees with the idea that women ought to have the right to do pretty much whatever they want with their own bodies*, ranging from celibacy to filming themselves taking on the entire Sixth Fleet. Whether they OUGHT to do these things, however, is another question. In that regard, I agree with the anti-porn feminists: it does a woman – women generally, really – no good to objectify herself as an adult entertainer, and the woman who thinks that she’s “empowering herself” by doing that really, really needs to reexamine her ideas about self-worth.

    ===

    (*) Abortion is right out as it involves another person’s body.

    Further, the libertarian view raises interesting questions about society’s responsibility to stop people (female or otherwise) harming themselves. Should we stop a depressed eighteen year-old girl “cutting” herself? Smoking crack? Posing nude on a website? Smoking? Drinking a Big Gulp? Where do we draw the line between “it’s a free country” and “um… we really can’t let you do that sort of thing to yourself”?

  • G Joubert

    It’s all conflict theory sociology, which seeks to level society by constantly dividing society by group, and agitating for “equality” for each. This is the revolution of the proletariat Marx envisioned. Google “conflict theory sociology”.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    This is good question. There’s too much silly maligning of feminism as a whole in this crowd, but I’ll just skip that issue, and go directly to the question.

    What happened to these earlier anti-porn feminists?

    I think the question that remains to be asked is: why is American culture (and obviously American society, the people themselves) so perverted and harmful in terms of sexuality?

    The anti-porn feminists were criticizing how millions of people thought and acted concerning sexuality, that is, a good bulk of American society.

    They didn’t make a lot of inroads, because, just thinking off the cuff: the number of “teachers” to teach a wholesome view of sexuality was minimal, so mainly the scope of the impact was very limited. This was not done in schools, and it wasn’t much done in the homes either. A good chunk of society went on living as if these feminists had never existed. And in terms of long-term impact, the number of anti-porn voices got drowned by all the voices hammering a perverted and harmful model of sexuality (porn, normalization of homosexuality, promiscuity, etc) as normal and acceptable, in informal actions (upbringing/peer pressure,etc), and in formal actions as Stacy points out (outright lobbying and power plays). A man (or parents) who are liberal are going to bring up their kids to be liberal pigs – and to consider themselves all good and normal. So it continues from generation to generation.

    A lot of the “women’s movement” really prioritized the needs and concerns of privileged white women ( more education, more political power, more corporate/professional power). Given that typically these privileged women are sheltered in their own little circles from being affected by the harm that such a destructive culture of sexuality does, either because they are pigs themselves, so all they want is impunity to do harm, or because their husbands and friends are respectful to them, they NEVER took on issues related to sexual degradation and porn head on. They simply looked the other way and complained about “discrimination against women.”
    The media and the entertainment industry, also being ruled by liberals who had no interest in promoting such anti-porn feminist voices also silenced them.

    In the end, such anti-porn voices became older and rarer, and were relegated to Women’s Studies departments here and there, but were not assimilated by the larger liberal society.

    Even one of the greatest contributions of feminism, which was to define and name what “sexual objectification” is and how it operates, while it gained cultural currency and became understood outside academia, continued to be enormously practiced anyways.

  • RS

    There’s too much silly maligning of feminism as a whole in this crowd . . .

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. There seems to be no question that Feminism as a movement is Leftist in both its philosophical and linguistic bases. This goes far beyond the idea that Humans each have an inherent dignity by virtue of having an immortal soul, which dignity needs to be respected at all times. To that end, it matters not to me what a woman chooses to do with her life, whether rearing children or running a Fortune 500 corporation. The silly “make me a sandwich” meme does nothing to advance the narrative of innate human dignity, and frankly, as parody its become rather tired.

    That said, Feminism is most definitely not about respecting choices. It is about respecting only a certain set of choices. Thus, the dignity and fulfillment of being a spouse and mother is disparaged in favor of the illusory “you can have it all” promise. As you point out, this philosophy actually harms the bulk of women, as well as families in general. Those who acknowledge this fact and choose not to participate in pursuing the Feminist-approved agenda, are marginalized and labeled Quislings. I’m married to a woman who’s career has suffered immensely, because she chose to rear children of pursuing a career goal of being a tenured professor at a top twenty university. In no uncertain terms, she’s been informed that that decision was a no-no and she’s consigned herself to professional oblivion. So be it. She wouldn’t change a thing.

    You are also correct, that modern Feminism has risen upward on the backs of women who do the backbreaking work of maintaining a household and family, so that the “stars” can pursue their dreams of being a credit to their sex. See, e.g. this from the New Republic. Absent brown skinned women who clean house and nanny children, life would be much different and, dare I say, more typical for most of the Fortune 500 types.

    As for the concept of “objectification,” there’s much merit to your arguments. I would note only, that such objectification is not limited to women only, but extends to all humans. The moment sexual pleasure was divorced from marital fidelity and child rearing, is the moment we stepped unto the road to where we are today. And anyone with half the sense God gave a beagle pup, knows that that road leads to unhappiness, heartache and an aching loneliness of soul and spirit. The fact that modern feminists (and “masculinists” for that matter) are not manning the barricades to eradicate it, is astounding.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    I meant that I see a lot of this here: “feminists are all crazy,” “feminism is all bad,” “feminism never made any contribution,” just rant rant rant. It reminds me of people who are on the other side of the coin, who go on and on about how bad “religion” is: “religious people are all crazy,” “religious people are all bad,” “all religion ever did was bad,” etc. The Inquisition and Martin Luther King are one and the same because they are both “religious.”

    The fact is that you have commenters here who cannot even discern that there were feminists who diametrically opposed each other on many issues, like porn. But here they all get talked about as if they were all the same – and thought the same- when they most certainly did not; this only displays a very shabby and false generalization of “feminism.”

  • La Pucelle

    The Sexual Revolution is over, and, with the help of the feminists, men won.

    This precisely. It’s amazing how many feminists have deluded themselves into thinking they’ve won, when it’s men of poor character who have truly won.

  • michaelj68

    The claim that the porn industry would support groups they share a common cause with as something nefarious is like the Left today claims any group being funded by the Koch brothers is nefarious.
    Maybe the reason the anti-porn feminists appear to have lost is that besides being anti-porn feminists like Dworkin and McKinnon claimed that most martial sex is akin to rape, that marriage itself is akin to slavery, etc.
    The whole anti-porn movement was as quixotic as now the movement to stop same sex marriage. It went against the whole grain of where society was moving which is towards individualization. Walter Mead on his blow Vie Meadia has talked about this.

  • tlk244182

    Sociopaths would call it a powerful advantage, allowing them to function in the world w/o guilt, and to embrace an “ethics” in which the end justifies the means. It seems right to such people that one man should die for the nation. But as GKC , Frank Sheed, and others (yourself) have noted, any protracted attempt to devise a rigorous moral schema without the correct set of first principles, will, if persisted in, lead to psychological disintegration. “With one long sustained tug, we have tried to pull the mitre off pontifical Man, and his head has come off with it.” GKC (Orthodoxy) This connection between religious orthodoxy and mental health is the foundational rock of my conservatism.

  • M. Thompson

    Engage, Mr. Belvedere!

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    This is exactly one of the most important points that is not being underscored in the media. However, only if by “feminists” you mean liberal women; the majority of liberal women do not call themselves “feminists.”

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    “allowing them to function in the world w/o guilt,”

    And this is also at the core of the homosexuality agenda. They want no boundaries, no limits, and certainly no guilt.

    This is why they rage and are ready to carry out a pogrom towards anyone who questions how deformed LGBT are regarding sexuality. But this demand for no accountability from LGBTs is exactly the same thing that liberals are always clamoring for.

  • herddog505

    I also suggest that “anti-porn” was associated with Ed Meese, and as he was an eeeeeevil Republican, it was ipso facto stodgy, fascist, anti-women, etc., etc. At the very least, it seems to me a bit of a paradox that feminists / the left could preach for years that women shacking up was liberating, empowering, etc. and that traditional morality was “Victorian hypocrisy” and “patriarchical”, but then turn right ’round and claim that porn was bad.

  • Fareedi al Laayla al Qakhaul

    I never realised there really was any distinction – I just assumed that, disregarding any differences in certain issues, all self-proclaimed “feminists” were simply socialists exploiting some illusory victimhood…

    Is someone like Phyllis Schafly a “feminist”? Camille Paglia? Ann Coulter, etc.?

  • Quartermaster

    Among this bunch “Feminism” means the radical types. I realize that there are shades within that branch as well, but they are all crazy. Sorry if that doesn’t float your boat, but that’s the way it is.
    We don’t include another type of feminism which is pretty much foreign to the west these days, “Family Feminism.” That is traditional feminism that has existed since time immemorial and does not see men as the enemy, but as a provider for that family. It requires something of women that too many think is irrelevant – choosing wisely.
    Traditional feminism is also a stabilizing influence in society. The fact it ahs vanished in the west goes a long way towards explaining what we see in the US these days – rampant divorce, easy sex, and the epidemic of STDs.

  • RS

    The problem is on of definition. “Feminism,” with a capital “F,” was never about liberating women to do what they want. It has always been a movement designed to destroy marriage and the traditional family and as such, is solidly in the Leftist/Marxist camp. I concede, they camouflaged their purpose initially by invoking words like “respect” and “dignity,” which no sane person was against. This was never about letting women do what they want or making sure little girls could play soccer, too. If it were, people like Phyllis Schafly would have never risen to the prominence they did, prior to the rise of Feminism.

    I think that’s what drives the shorthand “crazy” comments which I infer offend you. Nonetheless, the indoctrination has been quite successful to the point where countless female useful idiots are inhabiting “Womyn’s Studies” departments around the Western World, in their crew cuts, hemp sweaters and sensible shoes, wondering why they’re not happy, such that they manufacture all manner of Patriarchal monsters in their minds with which to do battle .

    You are correct. I can see no benefit to flow from “Feminism,” that wasn’t already discussed in the First Century, post Pentecost, 33 AD. All I see are unhappy people and destroyed marriages and families. I do not blame women alone for this, but Feminism provided substantial grease to the skids.

  • MariaP

    Alessandra is the only person on this string who appears to have any historical knowledge of the post-1960s feminist movement. I was in the thick of debates over porn/anti-porn as they happened, in Berkeley, no less. It was a minefield of the first order. First – Aside from socialist feminists at the fringe of the debate, nobody was a “Marxist” nor even identified with “socialism” in any form. Second – The anti-porn women were as much focused on men as the enemy as they were on pornography per se. Their equation: Sex = violence = pornography. Any kind of sex, except perhaps lesbian sex. Though that had its problems as well because it was infected with heterosexual models for sexuality. In short, the strong voices in the anti-porn movement were anti-sexuality in all its forms. No wonder it lost! Third – the pro-sexuality voices were extremely diverse, ranging from libertine to seeking to establish women’s right to sexual pleasure in relationships of equality. That is, a re-casting of women’s sexuality as distinct from (and in opposition to) objectified sexuality. This dimension – which I view now and viewed at the time as essential to any kind of true women’s (and human) “liberation” (whether expressed in Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, secular, or other terms) – got drowned out in the debates of the 1970s and in the “culture wars” since then. There were, and i expect still are, people who sought and seek forms of sexual expression that conform to Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship. Pro-sexuality feminists, of whatever tendency, could not make common cause with the anti-porn feminists who viewed men as the enemy. And finally – Despising pornography does not contradict a commitment to free expression, no matter how repugnant the expression. I would put a lot of responsibility for the failure of the more profound and humane dimensions of the feminist movement on our commercial economy, that necessarily seeks the fast buck. I loathe pornography and wouldn’t pay a penny to consume it. But it’s one of the most lucrative of industries and “soft porn” is pervasive in all our commercial media. Go figure.

  • La Pucelle

    There’s a bit of unfortunate “brand taint” with feminism. If I state that I believe that men and women should be treated with equal respect, that technically makes me a feminist. But thanks to the Leftist corruption, it’s widely assumed I’m a pro-choice leftist when I accept the label. New Wave Feminists have been doing a lot to change the “brand image” so to speak, but the “angry lesbian” is still stuck in the public’s mind. (I like to call them “fauxminists” as NWF does, but sadly the term hasn’t taken off yet)

  • RS

    I don’t think anyone questioned Alessandra’s comments on the Feminist internal battle with the issue of pornography. I took issue with the idea that there is some sort of “good Feminism” in the dark past which needs to be celebrated. With that assertion I disagree for reasons expressed above.

    I’m sure that back at Berkeley, no one was yelling for the proletariat to unite and cast off the capitalist chains. I don’t think anyone has argued that Feminism is/was a specifically workers’ movement. Rather, the argument is that it is a Leftist/Progressive movement designed to push society toward an Omnipotent Social Collective. To get there, everything which competes with the collective must be destroyed from memory. Those things are God, the individual (both with respect to his property and autonomy to do what he wishes), and marriage/family. Once society has no memory or knowledge of those three things, there remains only the Collective to provide for the needs of the members at whatever level the Collective deems proper.

    Where Marxism focused on the economic destruction to advance the collective, Feminism focused on Marriage and the Family. That is The (nefarious) Patriarchy took the role of Capitalism. The examples are legion from easy divorce through abortion. Feminism has been quite successful in this regard, and the results include destruction of traditional marriage, children cast adrift without parental guidance, and true objectification of women (and men) when their Humanity was reduced to what went on between their legs. And those who realize and announce that they were sold a bill of goods are labeled heretics in short order.

    As for the Feminist treatment of the Pornography issue, you point out it’s philosophical problems. That is, if all sex is rape and men are at fault, then pornography is slavery. Of course, that conflicts with the “Sex is power” narrative. Alas, to quote my mother, “it takes two to tango.” Thus there was doomed to be a philosophical parting of the ways. That tension is still quite visible at the various “slutwalks,” about which our host has reported, where various participants dress to bring attention to their sexuality and then criticize those who pay attention.

    And you are correct. “Soft” pornography is indeed big business. People make lots of money from it. Most of them are men. How this empowers women who participate is not clear to me. What this tells us, is that both messages of the pro and anti-pornography wings of Feminism were wrong in a sense, not because pornography is a good thing, but because the vision of the radical “anti” types denying sexuality and the “pro” types claiming some nebulous empowerment from unrestrained reproductive behavior, both enslave women and men to an essence outside their nature which only leads to despair.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    It’s very complicated because the label has been used by people with such different positions and views – and that in reference to people who chose to label themselves “feminists.” Then you have the problem that anyone can label anyone else a feminist, even if the target doesn’t think they’re one. And then you have people who have all kinds of basic “feminist” positions, but who don’t want to be called a “feminist”! There is no clear cut definition of what feminism is, or who is a feminist. I think rather, there are some major types of feminism/feminists, and all kinds of variations. And different “waves” of feminism, as well. So “feminisms” change as the time goes by.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    “angry lesbian” –

    Indeed, this is one of the worst devolutions of feminism.

    These earlier academic or political women who were basically fighting for fundamental rights for women were taken over in their groups by all these deformed lesbians who basically co-opted feminism to be about normalizing their stupid homosexual problems.

    As more basic rights to education, health, or jobs for women were mainstreamed, it’s the stupid lesbians who remained in control of “feminist” groups. Today, it’s just ridiculous.

  • Quartermaster

    The assertion of your first sentence is absurd. Also, the 1st amendment does protect “expression” it protects speech. The 1st amendment has been twisted by the left to mean something the founders found repugnant.

  • Quartermaster

    A lot of women now make money off porn. The use of porn is also increasing quite rapidly among women. Some articles have stated that there are now more women using internet porn than men, but I have no idea how they were determining that.

  • tlk244182

    “…a movement …to destroy marriage and …family….[by] the leftist/Marxist camp.” Yes, all of it Satan’s attack on the domestic church. “Camouflaged by words like ‘respect’ and ‘dignity.'” Yes. Thanks for exposing it so clearly.

  • tlk244182

    Years ago, as a lib college student attending a Women Against Pornography event, I was confused by this apparent contradiction: Sexual license is bad, except when Ed Meese says it is, then it’s sort of OK. But those women all sounded so sure of themselves. After the seminar I thought of myself more as defying Ed Meese than as objectifying women. At least I wasn’t embracing a Christian morality, which was clearly the most socially unacceptable option.

  • tlk244182

    You nailed it again. “Everything which competes with the collective must be destroyed….” Marxists have learned to exploit whatever opportunities are available to them: feminism, environmentalism, liberalism generally, the sincere desire for justice, etc. can all be turned against those things which “compete with the collective.”

  • Fareedi al Laayla al Qakhaul

    I think I’m starting to see where you are going with this… And if this is the case, then I shall have to revisit my long-held and across-the-board largely negative opinions of feminists and feminism!

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    I took issue with the idea that there is some sort of “good Feminism” in the dark past which needs to be celebrated.

    ============
    Well, I certainly think that several feminists (including women in the women’s movement who might not apply the label to themselves, because as we have discussed, it’s a controversial label) have made excellent contributions to society, theoretical and practical, aside from many others, which maybe are not excellent but are also good. I had mentioned some of these issues before in another thread. For example, they brought about progress in issues regarding domestic violence, rape, health, child abuse, harmful discrimination and bias, economic dis-empowerment, sexual harassment, and sexual objectification, to mention a few.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    just someone college grad stringer trying to make a buck with made-up sensationalist news, if you ask me

  • Quartermaster

    As I recall, the author was a woman in her 50s with no interest in sensationalism.

    I didn’t ask you.

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    I had also pointed out this false Marxist-feminism-porn conflation a little while ago in another thread.

    “There are some old guard conservatives that informally label liberals as “Marxists/commies,” even when they are talking about culture wars families/relationships issues. Now that becomes untenable in today’s world. “Liberal,” yes, “left-winger,” yes, but in the US the majority of Americans who support and promote homosexuality, porn, and sex outside
    marriage are not even remotely Marxist – they are staunch, obnoxious capitalists, usually younger (but also their parents), materialistic
    types, who will support uncritically a deranged and out-of-control military-industrial complex, if that means they can get their hands on the latest iPhone. These are the younger emblem of capitalism today.”

    the issue was discussed here, towards the end: http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/homosexuality-page/

    Relatedly, and this is a very old joke, once I heard someone remark that the US is the only country where Left is right of Center.

  • RS

    Again, I think it’s a question of definition. There have certainly been strong, capable women throughout history who have had lasting positive impact upon the world. There’s no dispute about that. And, if by “feminism,” you mean promoting respect to which every human is entitled by virtue of their existence, then, of course it’s a great thing.

    By “Feminism,” however, I mean that philosophical movement which was and is at its heart nihilistic. That is, it seeks to destroy the old order for the sake of destruction, said destruction justified by an Oppressor-Victim narrative, under circumstances where the replacement offered is, at best, ill-defined.

    In truth, I agree with the vast, vast majority of what you write. I apologize for not commenting at your place, but I refuse to register for any more sites. Too old to remember new handles and passwords. Anyway, this quibble is minor as things go, and I hope you keep up the good work.