SEX WAR

Pornography debate

Toward the end of the 1970s, much of the discourse in the feminist movement shifted from the discussion of lesbian feminism to focus on the new topic of sexuality. One of the primary concerns with sexuality was the issue of pornography, which caused a great divide among feminists. The two recognized sides of the debate were anti-pornography feminism and "pro-sex" feminism. One of the major influences of anti-pornography feminism was its predecessor, lesbian feminism. Anti-pornography movements developed from fundamental arguments displayed by lesbianism, such as the notion of patriarchal sexual relations.Ellen Willis described these relations as being "based on male power backed by force." From this perspective, pornography is created exclusively for men by men and is a direct reflection of the man-dominant paradigm surrounding sexual relations. Another idea taken from lesbian feminism by anti-pornography groups was that sexuality is about creating a compassionate bond and a lasting relation with another person, contrary to the belief of the purely physical nature of sex.

In her book, Pornography: Men Possessing WomenAndrea Dworkin argued that the theme of pornography is male dominance and as a result it is intrinsically harmful to women and their well-being. Dworkin believed that pornography is not only damaging in its production but also in its consumption, since the viewer will mentally internalize pornography'smisogynistic portrayal of women. Robin Morgan summarized the view of anti-pornography feminists that pornography and violence against women are linked in her statement, "pornography is the theory, rape is the practice".

The anti-pornography movement has been criticised by sex-positive feminists as a repression of sexuality and a move towards censorship. In her article,Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of SexualityGayle Rubin characterizes sex liberation as a feminist goal and denounces the idea that anti-pornography feminists speak collectively for all of feminism. She offers the notion that what is needed is a theory of sexuality separate from feminism. In XXX: A Woman's Right to PornographyWendy McElroy summarizes the sex-positive perspective as "the benefits pornography provides to women far outweigh any of its disadvantages".

The pornography debate among radical and libertarian feminists has focused on the depictions of female sexuality in relation to male sexuality in this type of media. Radical feminists emphasize that pornography illustrates objectification and normalization of sexual violence through presentation of specific acts. In contrast, libertarian feminists are concerned with the stigmatization of sexual minorities and the limited right to practice sexual choice that would be hindered without pornography.

Sadomasochism debate

The main locus of the sex wars' debate on sadomasochism and other BDSM practices was San Francisco. Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media was founded there in 1977. Its first political action was to picket a live show at a strip club featuring women performing sadomasochistic acts on each other, in line with its stated aim to end all portrayals of women being "bound, raped, tortured, killed or degraded for sexual stimulation or pleasure". As well as campaigning against pornography, WAVPM were also strongly opposed to BDSM, seeing it as ritualized violence against women and opposed its practice within the lesbian community. In 1978 SAMOIS was formed, an organization for women in the BDSM community who saw their sexual practices as consistent with feminist principles.

© Georgina Rowlands, all rights reserved