A question I received from another academic:
"You argue that pornography is bad and should be abolished. Surely, then, you support censorship?"
"I do not support censorship as governments have a bad track record of censoring the wrong things. Moreover, censorship will never change anyone's thinking; it just makes whatever is censored more difficult to get. Having said this, I did, some years ago, support the efforts of people like the late Andrea Dworkin, and others, to make illegal certain sorts of violent pornography (rape porn, torture porn, etc.). I still believe that the world would be *way* better off without that garbage.
My present view is that we need to educate men about why they should not consume pornography. My argument is straightforward and analogous to my position about animal exploitation: If we regard animals as having moral value (as most of us claim we do), then we cannot justify consuming them. Period. Similarly, if we think, as many of us claim to think, that women really are equal to men and that patriarchy is both unjust and unjustifiable, then we cannot justify consuming pornography. Period. Pornography is a primary propaganda tool used by patriarchy to perpetuate the objectification of women and reinforce their second-class citizenship. So if we mean what we say about equality and justice for women, pornography is no longer something we *can* choose to consume. It is no longer a morally defensible option.
Two further points:
First, I anticipate that you will reply and say that I am focused only on pornography depicting women and I am, therefore, using a double standard. That would be wrong. Although I think that all pornography is problematic in that commodifies others, I regard porn depicting women as more problematic and qualitatively so. In a patriarchal society, porn depicting men simply *cannot*, as a matter of social structure, have the same meaning or effect. This situation is similar (although not identical) to racism. In a racist society, racist views held by a minority are not the same as racist views held by the majority in terms of meaning or effect.
Second, I get a great deal of mail--often hostile and angry--from people who claim that participation in the "sex industry," including the production of pornography, can "empower" women. Frankly, I don't think that the "sex industry" does anything to "empower" anyone and I think we need to focus on how patriarchy harms and destroys women, and not on how patriarchy can "benefit" them. I also think that we must recognize that in a patriarchal society, *all* women are commodified to a greater or lesser degree and are offered choices that require that they self-commodify. That is a very great tragedy and a serious injustice."
Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Ervin Phillips: I would suggest that in a patriarchal society, particularly one that is also racist and classist, the notion of "consent" is far from the simple idea that you seem to think it is. Let me ask you: do you think a poor woman of color in Newark or Detroit who engages in prostitution is "consenting" in any meaningful sense? I sure as hell don't.
Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Linda McKenzie: My view is that is somewhat similar to asking about where I draw the line on sentience. There may be unclear cases but let's worry about the cases where there is no doubt about sentience. In the porn context, in discussing these issues with men, I have never had a man ask, "well, does this mean that I shouldn't read D.H. Lawrence?" There's soooooooooooooooo much that is clearly porn, let's worry about where porn ends and where literature begins later, especially since we are *not* talking about government censorship but only about voluntary behavior. I am not sure what you mean by "erotica," but one of my concerns is that in a patriarchal society, almost everything we find arousing is linked to hierarchy and that concerns me.
Sarah K. Woodcock Gary, I agree with your views on pornography. After all, if we reject the commodification of sentient beings, we can't directly participate in their blatant objectification and say we are being morally consistent. Being vegan and being a feminist both necessitate rejecting the products of exploitive systems neither of which deserve our funding.
Nicole Monaghan I agree with your views on pornography. I am friends with a "sex worker" who does not comprehend the reality of internalized sexism and coercion. It's very sad that self-proclaimed feminists uphold to the belief that selling oneself for sex is empowering. I think a lot this confusion stems from current Women's Studies programs in universities, which have entire courses on "sex work" and how we should make the practices safer, etc, rather than abolishing the industries. I think more campaigns need to exist to help young women and men understand how they've internalized sexism, and how it harms them. It's unbelievable how we can get through our entire lives without realizing harmful social forces.