Lucinda Marshall: Pornography: Objectification or Free Speech? Print E-mail
As some of you may be aware, the issue of pornography has once again erupted on the ZMag blogs.  It really is an education (albeit a depressing one) to follow this discussion.  My first reaction was no way was I going to get involved after the ruckus that followed my comments about porn a few months ago.  But after several extensive conversations with Nikki Craft, I felt it was truly necessary to do a little ol' fashioned feminist analysis.  This is also up on Reclaiming Medusa and will go up on Nikki's site as well. 
Lucinda
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It is truly astounding to listen to otherwise progressive, left-leaning men bend over backwards to vociferously defend their right to view pornography as a matter of free speech while viciously attacking anti-pornography feminists who dare to suggest that pornography is a tool to objectify women.

Noam Chomsky recently posted a short piece on his ZMag blog discussing his interview with Hustler Magazine (which will be in the September, 2005 issue), re-igniting the firestorm that took place on my blog over at ZMag several months ago. The gist of Chomsky's piece was that he had no idea who he was interviewing with or what kind of magazine Hustler is, which is a bit hard to believe, but all he was saying was that he felt taken advantage of. The responses to this post were quick to once again equate the male right to objectify women with free speech, and most are of the same ilk to those posted earlier to my blog.

Activist Nikki Craft has had an extensive email conversation with Chomsky about his experience and she joined in the discussion on ZMag about Chomsky's misadventure. She invited readers to check out Hustling The Left and read her rather extensive correspondence with Chomsky. For the most part her comments were ignored by other posters in the Comments section and when she pointed that they weren't bothering to educate themselves about what they were spouting off about, they ignored her again. Hardly surprising when earlier this year a woman who spoke out against pornography on my blog was referred to as being, "filled to the brim with estrogen on a men-hating rampage".

The zinger came when another ZMag blogger decided to write a blog entry stating that Craft's comments should not be censored, never mind that no one had even remotely suggested such a thing. His rationale was that she had posted a link to a site that had pornography on it. Unfathomably, the implication was that a site that critiques porn is no different than a site that offers porn. Worse, because her work is dedicated to exposing the damaging impact of pornography it is offensive because that in some way restricts free speech. It seems unlikely that the participants in this discussion are aware that Craft's activism about this issue goes back decades, although even if they were, they would likely be dismissive of any evidence that does not jive with their perception of what a good feminist is supposed to think.

What I find most interesting is that Chomsky's blog entry was not actually about porn, but it didn't take much for the comments to turn to that topic. This is exactly what happened on my blog at Zmag a few months ago when I racked up over 800 comments on one entry (Chomsky's only at 100 as I am writing this, but perhaps he'll catch up). No other topic gets this kind of response in those blogs. As Loretta Kemsley, publisher of Moondance points out, "Porn is another element where men get to define the terms of our sexuality."

In an article entitled, Sexuality, Masculinity and Men's Choices, Robert Jensen offers the following insight as to why the discussion on porn gets so heated,

"...at some level everyone knows that the feminist critique of pornography is about more than pornography. It encompasses a critique of the way "normal" men in this culture have learned to experience sexual pleasure - and the ways in which women and children learn to accommodate that and/or suffer its consequences."

This is not a free speech issue, it is a control issue, and speaks to the heart of male privilege. In point of fact, if one actually reads what Chomsky told Craft, it is clear that he feels pornography is degrading and that being interviewed by Hustler is totally inappropriate:

(Nikki Craft) "I'll try to rephrase my question: I'm not attempting to misrepresent you, but I believe I can conclude from this exchange that you do employ a standard against publishing in pornographic publications that degrade women.


Chomsky Replies: Certainly. That's why I insisted that they withdraw the interview when I learned what the journal was, and how they had misrepresented themselves.

(Nikki Craft) If that is the case, thank you. In your opinion what is the effect of leftists who are publishing in and cooperating with such publications. Do you think this is a political mistake? Do you see it damaging to our political movement in any way? Any other potential for harm that you could point out?

Sincerely, Nikki Craft
Chomsky Replies: I think it's a mistake. That's why I refuse to do it."

The full interview can be found at http://www.hustlingtheleft.com/chomsky/index.html.

.There are several excellent articles regarding Hustler and pornography which you may want to read as well. The first is Aura Bogado's Hustling the Left on the Znet site (as well as the responses from Susie Bright and Nion, see the links below Bogado's article). As Nikki Craft points out, it is unfortunate that this article has been relegated to the Gender section on the Znet site, the article is about a great deal more than gender. Secondly, Ms. Craft asked that I also mention Jennifer McLure's excellent article, When White Males Attack:Larry Flynt, Racism and The Left.

Lastly, while it is not specifically about Hustler, Aviva Ariel's excellent article, Rappers Delight gives a very perceptive critique of the damaging impact of pornographic language in rap lyrics, namely that it gives legitimacy to degrading descriptions of women and gives men the impression that it is acceptable to describe women in this way and further that the language involved also impacts women's sense of what they must accept in relationships. As Jensen goes on to point out in the article mentioned earlier,

"And because heterosexual women (LM: actually I would say this applies to all women) live with men and men's sexual desire, those women can't escape the question - either in terms of the desire of their boyfriends, partners, and husbands, or the way they have come to experience sexuality. That takes us way beyond magazines, movies, and computer screens, to the heart of who we are and how we live sexually and emotionally. That scares people."

The final point that we need to come to grips with is that pornography and misogynist portrayals of women are no longer confined to magazines in brown paper wrappers at the back of the store. It is in the pop up ads that evade all manner of blocking software on your kids' computer. It is when Senator Hillary Clinton needs to champion the cause of labeling the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" as adults-only entertainment. It is on television where a friend who recently took a day off from work was astounded at the number of instances of violence against women being portrayed as entertainment on network tv. It is the word 'bitch' being used in everyday discussion by everyone from pre-pubescent teens to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

With the advent of cable television and the internet, pornography (and all its damaging implications) has gone well beyond the realm of personal immorality. It has become an inescapable part of the cultural fabric our everyday lives, and that will not change so long as men refuse to examine and take responsibility for the consequences of their usurpation of sexual entitlement.


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There are several excellent articles regarding Hustler and pornography which you may want to read as well. The first is Aura Bogado's Hustling the Left on the Znet site (as well as the responses from Susie Bright and Nion, see the links below Bogado's article). As Nikki Craft points out, it is unfortunate that this article has been relegated to the Gender section on the Znet site, the article is about a great deal more than gender. Secondly, Ms. Craft asked that I also mention Jennifer McLure's excellent article, .Lastly, while it is not specifically about Hustler, Aviva Ariel's excellent article, gives a very perceptive critique of the damaging impact of pornographic language in rap lyrics, namely that it gives legitimacy to degrading descriptions of women and gives men the impression that it is acceptable to describe women in this way and further that the language involved also impacts women's sense of what they must accept in relationships. As Jensen goes on to point out in the article mentioned earlier, "And because heterosexual women (LM: actually I would say this applies to all women) live with men and men's sexual desire, those women can't escape the question?either in terms of the desire of their boyfriends, partners, and husbands, or the way they have come to experience sexuality. That takes us way beyond magazines, movies, and computer screens, to the heart of who we are and how we live sexually and emotionally. That scares people."The final point that we need to come to grips with is that pornography and misogynist portrayals of women are no longer confined to magazines in brown paper wrappers at the back of the store. It is in the pop up ads that evade all manner of blocking software on your kids' computer. It is when Senator Hillary Clinton needs to champion the cause of labeling the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" as adults-only entertainment. It is on television where a friend who recently took a day off from work was astounded at the number of instances of violence against women being portrayed as entertainment on network tv. It is the word 'bitch' being used in everyday discussion by everyone from pre-pubescent teens to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. With the advent of cable television and the internet, pornography (and all its damaging implications) has gone well beyond the realm of personal immorality. It has become an inescapable part of the cultural fabric our everyday lives, and that will not change so long as men refuse to examine and take responsibility for the consequences of their usurpation of sexual entitlement.
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Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org which publishes Atrocities, a bulletin documenting violence against women throughout the world. Her work has been published in numerous publications including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z Magazine , Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse.
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