Monday, February 21, 2011

The U.S. Male and Queer Obsession with "Censorship" of Pornography will not end, no matter how much pornography there is!

photograph of Catharine A. MacKinnon is from here
This post is about a review I recently read of a book by an author whose name is spelled (emphasis added by me) CathArine A. MacKinnon. The excellent book on law and women's liberation is titled Women's Lives, Men's Laws.

In this volume, C. A. MacKinnon has collected some brilliant discussions about law and liberalism; the notion of equal rights and what equality for women in a male supremacist state really means; on racism; on a very wacky version of postmodernism; on the male supremacy and male domination embedded in the practices and systems of sexual harassment, prostitution, pornography, and sexual assault; and she also discusses the history of psychotherapy and sexuality. I find chapter 19 especially thought-provoking and in need of greater discussion within society.

Here's the table of contents [source website is *here*]:


Section A. Changing the World for Women
1. To Change the World for Women

2. Unthinking ERA Thinking

3. From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway?

4. Law in the Everyday Life of Women

5. Toward a New Theory of Equality

6. Law’s Stories as Reality and Politics

7. "Freedom from Unreal Loyalties": On Fidelity in Constitutional Interpretation

8. What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said

9. Keeping It Real: On Anti-"Essentialism"

10. Of Mice and Men: A Fragment on Animal Rights

11. The Power to Change

Section B. Sexual Abuse as Sex Discrimination
12. Sexual Harassment: The First Five Years

13. Reflections on Sex Equality Under Law

14. Prostitution and Civil Rights

15. The Logic of Experience: The Development of Sexual Harassment Law

16. On Accountability for Sexual Harassment

17. Beyond Moralism: Directions in Sexual Harassment Law

18. Disputing Male Sovereignty: On United States v. Morrison

19. A Sex Equality Approach to Sexual Assault

Section A. Theory and Practice
20. Sex, Lies, and Psychotherapy

21. Liberalism and the Death of Feminism

22. Does Sexuality Have a History?

23. Speaking Truth to Power

24. Mediating Reality

Section B. Pornography as Sex Discrimination
25. Civil Rights Against Pornography

26. Pornography as Defamation and Discrimination

27. From Silence to Silence: Violence Against Women in America

28. Pornography Left and Right

29. Vindication and Resistance

30. The Roar on the Other Side of Silence



I'll note that here's a kind of HISteria common among men who adore control and domination of women more than respect and liberation for women, that results in the most ludicrous accusations and falsehoods presented by misogynist men as a kind of secular gospel truth. Needless to say, men lie a lot not just to GET what they want, but to KEEP what they already have. What men already have is a well-established position over and against women, structurally, economically, socially, sexually, and in every institution in the this country--and most other countries as well.

In most places that have free computer access, pornography is something men, certainly, already have access to in abundance. It is estimated that at least one third to one half of all traffic on the Internet is men searching, viewing, and downloading industry pornography which is pimp-produced material selling society the idea that all women are wh*res by nature, desire to be raped as forcefully as possible, and want to be humiliated and degraded. One can see why this industry must be challenged by feminists, and hopefully also by het men and queer people who care give a damn about women's liberation.

Read on, and you'll see what I mean about the reviewer not being able to get right the part about pornography and what MacKinnon has to say on the subject. (Do you suppose the reviewer actually read those chapters at all?)
Women's Lives, Men's Laws
As an activist and legal scholar, MacKinnon has been a prominent force in feminism since the mid-1970s, when she pioneered the legal claim for sexual harassment. Her latest volume brings together 29 essays that show how the juridical legal system empowers men at the expense of women. In tortuous academic prose, MacKinnon offers thought-provoking commentary on a wide range of subjects, including the ERA, abortion, Brown v. Board of Education, the history of sexual harassment law and the intersections of sexism with racial inequality and animal rights. ""Interrogating how animals are treated like women, and women like animals, and both like things, can shed reciprocal light,"" she writes in her essay ""Of Mice and Men."" Elsewhere, she wonders whether the law should ""rationally reflect society or change it? From whose point of view?"" MacKinnon's cause celebre-her arguments for the censorship of pornography-runs throughout the volume, but this controversial thread may weaken the book as a whole. ""Pornography,"" in her view, consists solely of visual images illustrating the subordination of women. And she appears to be unduly dismissive of women who watch or make pornography or who oppose its censorship. MacKinnon also seems to believe that there is little difference between actual violence and violence that is modeled, staged or faked. Readers who vehemently disagree with these interpretations may be annoyed to find them cropping up repeatedly but, for others, this book serves as a provocative, startling window on the battles currently being fought in some of the most contested areas of American law. [source: here]

What we see is that the reviewer is rather determined to make a truth claim that has no relationship to reality at all in the U.S., which is where the author lives and where the laws are that she discusses in the book. What's the obsession about? "CENSORSHIP"!! Why? Because it functions as a useful distraction from the actual issue, which is how industry pornography undermines women's quest for liberation in liberal-to-conservative societies. That is what Catharine MacKinnon discusses, but she never once talks about "CENSORSHIP" as a proposed or attempted feminist practice. So why, then, does the reviewer make it seem like when she brings up the subject that's fundamentally what she's concerned about?

I'd say to perpetuate one of several lies about radical feminists--which is that they want to take all the men's and all the queer people's pornography away. As if that were even possible! As if the market isn't flooded with both. As if there isn't something called "the Internet" which is most traveled by people looking at pornography!

The discussion in the U.S. about feminists wanting to BAN pornography, or have the federal government remove it is completely absurd and silly, and downright delusional: there is no means in the U.S. by which such a thing could occur: there are no legal mechanisms, and no possibly strategies employable to stop the proliferation of online pornography. This reminds me of Men's Rights activists claiming that they are in jeopardy of losing all their children. As if men don't control women and children, generally. As if men's laws don't serve men, generally. As if men aren't obtaining custody even of children they abuse. As if men aren't getting full custody of children from women they've been battering, in front of the children. And it's like white men worrying about American Indians taking away all "their" land, as if such a thing were legally possible, or even doable by any means at all.

Let's review the comments in the review above:
MacKinnon's cause celebre-her arguments for the censorship of pornography-runs throughout the volume, but this controversial thread may weaken the book as a whole.

And on which pages are those arguments "for the censorship of pornography"?? The reviewer can't say, because they aren't in there.

And so the discussions that are in the book don't "weaken" it, if you understand the book to be an incisive analysis and challenge to all the many ways men determine and undermine women's status and human existence in law and in life.
"Pornography," in her view, consists solely of visual images illustrating the subordination of women. And she appears to be unduly dismissive of women who watch or make pornography or who oppose its censorship.
She has legally defined the term as graphic material which is male supremacist and in which men sexually subordinate women in pictures and/or words. The definition isn't "in her view" so much as it rises out of what industry pornography actually is in society. Go look. See if this a "a viewpoint" MacKinnon is fabricating out of thin air. She's referring to what exists, materially. She's not willing to indulge in liberal fantasies that "pornography is in the eye of the beholder" when, frequently enough, semen is in the eyes of the women exploited and raped in pornography as a way to demonstrate men's social-sexual subordination, degradation, and humiliation of women and girls as a distinct political class of human beings.

She's noting that what women do that they call pornography doesn't have much to do with the industry as a whole, which is run by men, by male supremacist/misogynist and racist pimps, and always has been.
MacKinnon also seems to believe that there is little difference between actual violence and violence that is modeled, staged or faked.
She "seems to believe" this, or DOES she believe this? Again, one wonders if the reviewer bothered to read the book at all. MacKinnon is not vague or evasive on these subjects. You don't get to be a constitutional law professor with an accomplished record of fighting for women's human rights by indulging in abstractions and imprecise language. "MacKinnon also seems to believe" is abstract and imprecise, however.

So the next time you hear any U.S. man or queer person talk about U.S. feminists wanting to ban pornography, please remind them of something called "reality".


smithy said...

Does MacKinnon still support the principles behind the anti pornography civil rights ordinances that she supported in the 1980's?
Here's the relevant Wikipedia page:

Such laws would apparently allow women to sue producers and viewers of pornography for a variety of causes. They would impose financial penalties on both viewers and producers of pornography, perhaps severe penalties depending upon the burdens of proof courts would require to demonstrate harm. If such statutes were vigorously enforced, they might amount to censorship insomuch as the government would be preventing people from producing or viewing pornography by imposing heavy fines.

Julian Real said...

Hi smithy,

As C. A. MacKinnon is still alive, unlike Dworkin, I first of all recommend that you ask her. But, I won't evade your thoughtful question.

My understanding from reading most of her written work and from hearing her speak, is that the ordinance, as written by Dworkin and MacKinnon in the 1980s, was not ever capable of functioning as a censorship law, regardless of what someone who is speculating about the law on Wikipedia. As you may know, most of what has been written about the D-M ordinance is completely wrong.

Let's get to the day when "such statutes [are] vigorously enforced". Because, as you probably know, that day isn't coming any time soon. But, if it should, let's then see if the ordinance "might" amount to censorship. Because until that time, it's a moot point and is one too many people raise to distract from the actual human rights violations committed by corporate pimps and the consumers of their products.

Lots of things "might" do other things, right? But even the writer of that passage doesn't conclude the ordinance has the legal means with which to accomplish "censorship". So no one is making that charge with any legal weight behind it, with any authoritative knowledge of how the ordinance, as written by Dworkin and MacKinnon, would work if passed and used by harmed people in the U.S.

I welcome you to educate yourself further by reading the following two pieces of writing. The first is a chapter: "Against the Male Flood: Censorship, Pornography, and Equality" in Andrea Dworkin's book, Letters From a War Zone--the British edition if you can get hold of it. I also strongly recommend you read a very short book, Only Words by Catharine A. MacKinnon.

And please get back to me with any other questions.