As the morality of pornography as a form of free speech is as questionable as it is popular, the question that I would like to raise is whether the correct response to the harm associated with pornography is censorship. MacKinnon argues that pornography represents everything that women have struggled to overcome through feminist suffrage including battery, sexual harassment, and prostitution. Nadine Strossen, although she does not deny MacKinnon’s claims, argues that pornography represents an opportunity for women to use a novel form of free speech to change how society views female sexuality. I argue that Strossen’s argument is more convincing than MacKinnon’s. MacKinnon misinterprets the problem with pornography as being men’s depiction of women’s sexuality, when the real issue is the lack of response by women to this depiction. Strossen is correct in saying that hate speech, or sexual discrimination, requires counter-speech over censorship. I believe that if women participated in the pornography industry, the perception of women’s sexual identity could be improved.
MacKinnon states that we do not live in such a perfect world, that discrimination against women does occur without reason, and that realization is the basis of feminism. Feminism strives against the silent abuse that happens within families, work places, and on the streets and works to make it publicly known. However, the majority of society refuses to believe that the huge amount of unaccounted abuse occurs behind the scenes. MacKinnon attributes this denial to pornography. Pornography, to MacKinnon, represents everything that feminists have struggled against; harassment, prostitution, and sexual subjugation. However, to the general populous all these crimes fall under the blanket term of ‘sex’. People who consume pornography do not take an issue to the obvious abuse is because pornography constructs an image of woman that is desires and relishes all these different forms of abuse. Women are portrayed as objects that want and need to be subjugated and used rather than being independent individuals, sexually or otherwise. Subjugation of women, MacKinnon argues, is part of what makes pornography arousing, and therefore inequality between men and women is necessary. The effect of this industry however is more sinister than its purpose. Pornography constructs an image of the female nature, and those for those who consume it, pornography becomes their sexual reality. MacKinnon argues that is why the majority of the population accepts the social inequality between the sexes. The solution, according to MacKinnon, is to ban pornography and take away this formidable weapon that men use against women.
Strossen does not dispute MacKinnon’s claims of how pornography depicts women. Strossen argues that it is a form of hate speech, or free speech used to discriminate. However, to her it is a huge opportunity for feminists and women in general to change the stereotypes concerning female sexuality. In order to explain her proposal, Strossen explains why the solution that most feminists including MacKinnon favor, censorship of pornography, would adversely affect women’s social standing instead of repairing it. Firstly, free speech is an important tool for people who suffer from discrimination to rebel against it. Just as protesters during the Civil Rights movement were protected by the right to free speech, Strossen states that women’s rights have also depended on free speech, and that it could continue to be a tool in repairing the damage by pornography to women’s status. Secondly, censorship has traditionally been used as a tool to prevent a minority from having equal rights. From the British Race Relations Act in 1965 to anti-hate speech laws in universities worldwide, enforced censorship of hate speech has almost always resulted in an increase of discrimination against the minority. The enforcement of anti-hate speech laws could be used to persecute women in and outside of the pornography industry. Finally, and concerning to sexual discrimination, laws against sexually explicit content have traditionally been used to suppress important information for women’s rights. From the beginning of the century until recently, anti-obscenity laws against degrading sexual content concerning women has resulted in the banning of information on everything from reproductive rights to feminist literature in general. In general, Strossen concludes that criminalizing free speech concerning a minority results in the infringement on the rights of that minority, which is exactly what feminists like MacKinnon do not want. Instead, free speech must be defended at all costs, and the only solution to discrimination through free speech is free speech itself.
MacKinnon argues that pornography is the source of the social inequality that women suffer from. Strossen argues that although pornography is a form of discrimination, it must be protected as a form of free speech. Although these two arguments seem unrelated, they are connected through a solution that MacKinnon refuses to accept and Strossen fails to effectively describe. I argue that trying to destroy pornography altogether by censoring or banning it is the wrong method entirely. As Strossen says, banning pornography would not stop the pornography industry, and it would enforce the stereotype that women are not comfortable with their sexuality. Pornography is an accumulation of all the ways that MacKinnon describes in which men subjugate women because women have allowed men to take over the pornography industry. MacKinnon is wrong to attribute this solely to men’s propensity to subjugate women; women and feminists alike have fallen into the stereotype that they cannot independently express themselves sexually. Women permitted men to dominate pornography and pervert it into an exclusively male expression of sex. MacKinnon is correct in saying that men actually have sex with their image of what a woman is, as that image is a collective expression by men of a woman’s nature without any response from women themselves. The problem therefore is not that pornography is a male-dominated form of sexual expression, but rather that there is a lack of female expression of sexuality. The solution, therefore, is to do what Strossen suggests and fight fire with fire.
Strossen states that the solution to hate speech is counter speech and not censorship. I agree with Strossen, and I would propose a solution to sexual discrimination through pornography. I argue that the counter-speech needed to equilibrate women’s sexual and social identities to men’s is female interest in the industry of pornography. If women challenge the male pornographic perspective with their own, the entire pornography industry as well as society’s perception of female sexuality would change for the better. MacKinnon argues that inequality is part of the nature of pornography. I argue that this problem is due to an inequality of purpose in pornography, as the industry is, for the most part, meant exclusively for men’s entertainment. By removing this exclusiveness, women would prove that the stereotype that women are not comfortable with their sexuality or are not sexually independent is wrong.
Different generations of feminists have different opinions of the nature of pornography. Second wave feminists such as MacKinnon believe it to be the accumulation of everything that feminism stands against, and it is the source of social inequality between men and women in modern society. Third wave feminists such as Strossen believe pornography is an opportunity, a form of free speech that, if it is not censored, could counter sexual discrimination against women. I argue that Strossen’s argument is more convincing than MacKinnon’s; the problem with pornography lies in women’s lack of sexual expression, and censorship is would adversely affect women’s social status. Women’s participation in the industry of pornography could change society’s perception of female sexuality for the better, and bring women much closer to the complete social equality with men that they deserve.