Pornography and feminism have had quite an odd relationship. Feminist writers such as Gloria Steinem have denounced the sex industry while it has continued to expand exponentially. Due to technological advances such as the internet and cell phones, pornography is easier to access then ever before. Some publications even estimate that gross annual sales for pornographic videos would exceed four billion dollars (Rich 2011: 1). With this much money being invested into an industry that operates in a capitalistic society, it would be ignorant to hope that it would cease to exist. The truth is that pornography is not going anywhere. The issue that feminists from many different strains are debating is if porn is detrimental to women. And if so, how truly immoral is it? In this paper there will be an examination of how the two different radical-feminist theories have dealt with pornography while also discussing why the issue of pornography can be seen as such a confusing topic for feminists as a whole.
For the purpose of clarification there must be an examination of what pornography actually constitutes. As stated by Leanne Katz in her essay entitled “Women, Censorship, and Pornography” she says,
“‘Pornography’ is frequently — and incorrectly — used as if there were widely agreed upon legal and/or common definitions. In fact, neither is true: the term is not used in American law, and it is considered by most legal scholars and critics even more vague than the legal concept “obscenity,” long infamous for its lack of clarity.” (Katz 1993: 9)
This quote provides the essential issue with defining what pornography is. The Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) contained a concurrence in which Justice Potter Stewart stated that “I know it when I see it” in regards to obscene images such as pornography. This confusion around what pornography is exists to this day. For example, in some places within the United States some photograph could be regarded as pornographic in nature whereas if that same photograph was in another part of the country, it would be looked at as art. For the purpose of this paper, pornography will refer to videos and images depicting explicit sexual acts with the sole purpose of sexual gratification for the viewer. Art that depicts sex but does not have the intention of arousing the spectator will not be discussed.
Since there has been a definition established there can now be an analysis of why the topic of pornography is such a confusing issue for feminists. For some, the answer lies in the realization that the only way to combat vulgar images would be through the use of censorship. As Katz herself writes, “The illusion that supporting feminism means advocating the censorship of sexual materials is a dangerous one. […] [Feminists] realize that women’s rights and sexual free speech are indivisible” (Katz 1993: 9). Her stance is one of a radical-libertarian viewpoint. For a radical-libertarian feminist there is no...