Book Write-Up: Pornography’s Victims (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly, ed. Pornography’s Victims. Crossway, 1987.

In 1985-1986, Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese, conducted proceedings on the issue of pornography. This book is an edited volume of the testimony that was given at those proceedings. In sharing those testimonies, Schlafly disputes the idea that pornography is “victimless.”

Some items:

A. The overall tone of the book is that pornography should be banned. The back cover of the book quotes Supreme Court decisions from 1957 and 1973 that declare that obscenity lacks constitutional protection. Feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon offers an articulate defense of the idea that the State has the authority to limit pornography, for the State in the past has been allowed to regulate speech (i.e., sexual harassment). Andrea Dworkin, however, provides a slightly different perspective. She rejects the idea that anti-obscenity laws work. Anti-obscenity laws can be circumvented if the pornographer can attach some social value to the pornography, and the “prurient interest” standard for identifying pornography is subjective. Anti-obscenity laws imply that the woman’s body itself is dirty, and they only remove pornography from public view; meanwhile, pornography continues to damage men’s minds in private. Dworkin proposes another approach. Law enforcement offices need to record officially the usage of pornography in rapes, sexual assaults, incest and child abuse, murder, and suicide. Pornography must be removed from federal prisons to protect prisoners from rape. Makers of pornography should be prosecuted under pimping and pandering laws, since they pay people for the sex that is used in their pornography. And RICO’s ban on kidnapping, extortion, and trafficking should be enforced against the pornographers who kidnap the women they use in their pornography.

B. “Diann” on page 85 quotes from a book called Strange Loves. It states: “Perhaps love of sex, whatever form it assumes, is the true and only perversion. It is one thing that offends our nature as human beings, although it may not be against our biological nature. From this standpoint, what is considered normal sexual intercourse can be a perversion of our nature, if our partner is only a means of our own immediate physical gratification, or if sexual intercourse is forced on the basis of conjugal rights. This is legalized rape.” Diann agrees with this quotation. The passage is rather anti-sex. The reason that it stood out to me is that I feel uncomfortable when I see sex scenes in movies and TV. A therapist suggested that this could be because of my Asperger’s, which creates a revulsion against what is gooey. But ancient Christians, too, had an aversion to sexuality; Augustine treated concupiscence as the product of original sin. The quote, of course, stigmatizes sex that is purely physical and that lacks love, but even loving sex in TV and movies is difficult for me to watch. Is that jealousy on my part, or is it a sense that sex is an intimate act between two people and should not include me as a viewer? There is a reason that society treats sex as private.

C. Related to (B.), the book also contains testimonies by women whose husbands raped them. The women believed that pornography played a role in the rapes, for the pornography reduced women to sex objects and increased and distorted the men’s sexual appetites. The opposition to marital rape in this book is ironic because Schlafly herself said in a speech: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.” There, she appears to deny that marital rape is a possibility, treating all marital sex as consensual.

D. Jonathan Kozol in his book Savage Inequalities laments that low-income neighborhoods only have one movie theater: one that shows porn. That would be sad: the only theater in town showing, not family-friendly movies, but overt and explicit pornography. Kozol is usually placed on the ideological far-left, but some of the contributors to Pornography’s Victims express similar concerns to his.

E. Conventional sentiment is that there are different levels of pornography. You have magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, which simply show women without their clothes on. There is also harder-core pornography, which displays the rape and torture of women. Then there is child pornography, which is illegal (though the penalties may have become tougher since the 1980’s). Pornography’s Victims argues that the lines separating these different types of pornography are not always clear. Playboy and Penthouse sometimes border on child porn. Hustler glorifies the brutalization of women. Soft-core pornography advertises harder-core pornography and is often a gateway to it. “Soft-core” pornography objectifies women, increases men’s sexual obsession, and thereby makes men more likely to rape. “Soft-core” pornography is also used in child sexual abuse and incest; remember that Diff’rent Strokes episode about the bicycle store owner? That happens in real life, as molesters try to groom children by showing them pornography. Pornography and its producers also intersect with the worlds of prostitution and trafficking. One person in the book criticizes popular songs because they reduce sex to the physical. Bruce Springstein’s song “I’m on Fire” says: “Tell me now, baby, is [your father] good to you? And can he do to you the things that I do? Oh, no. I can take you higher. Oh-oh-oh, I’m on fire.” The conclusion, of course, is that her father does not have sex with her, but why bring that issue up?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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