Title: Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights
Author: Nadine Strossen
Publisher: New York University Press
Arguments and ideas continue to be relevant today
Refutes arguments used today by religious conservatives, though they started with feminists
A bit out of date by this point, but not terribly so
Defense of pornography being constitutionally protected against free speech
Offers legal, social, and practical arguments
Focuses primarily on feminist attacks on pornography
Because anti-porn feminists arguments and ideas live on in new forms, even if they are being used by religious conservatives who dont accept these arguments in any other context, its still worth understanding them, their flaws, and how to counter them. Nadine Strossens Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Womens Rights is invaluable in this context. Written in 1995, it might seem outdated in some ways, but its disturbing how relevant some of the material continues to be.
Its clear from Strossens book that the positions and arguments that constitute anti-pornography feminism are without basis or merit, so why are they still being used? I think its because religious conservatives have been realizing that their traditional rhetoric against the equality of women no longer has the same credibility as it once did. Their beliefs may not have changed very much, but their language can change and the anti-pornography feminists handed them an unbelievable opportunity to continue fighting porn while pretending to defend the equality of women.
Thus its become a standard part of the anti-pornography arsenal to argue that graphic sexual imagery contributes to the repression of women in society and encourages men to treat women as sexual objects. The religious conservatives saying these things, though, dont invest any effort to fight other means by which women are definitely repressed, like differences in pay, or other ways they are treated like sexual objects, such as the idea that women belong in the home either pregnant or raising children.
Strossens arguments can be divided into three groups. The first, naturally, is legal: censorship of pornography is ultimately unconstitutional. There may be valid reasons for restricting the time, manner, and place of distributing pornography, but not for eliminating pornography entirely. Strossen argues that pornography isnt merely prurient, but also political because (in part) it forcefully promotes a vision of sex and sexuality that is contrary to traditional religious and social ideals.
Second, Strossen argues that censorship of pornography is counterproductive especially from the perspective of the feminists in question. These anti-pornography feminists argue or just assume that society is patriarchal and anti-women, but then they want to give this same society the power to decide what qualifies as pornography and what sorts of material will be censored. This makes no sense whatsoever; it does, however, offer an enticing suggestion as to why religious conservatives ended up adopting these ideas.
Finally, Strossen argues that pornography and sexual expression are positive goods which need to be supported, not necessary evils that need to be protected lest we slide down a slippery slope of censorship. She insists that women cannot be treated as victims of pornography because they are just as active in the production and consumption of porn as men and for good reason, too. Pornography provides a safe outlet to explore sex and sexuality which doesnt typically exist when traditional sexual norms are enforced by society or the state.
There are certainly newer books dealing with pornography and censorship, books that address more recent events and arguments. Strossens thus isnt the first book that can be recommended for the subject anymore, but it still deals with important issues and ideas which continue to be recycled, and this means that it continues to be a useful resource thats worth reading.