Editor’s note: Earlier this month, NRB contributor Megan Fox wrote a fiery post attributing the pornification of our culture to Second Wave feminists. Phyllis Chesler, a veritable Second Wave icon, countered with a passionate defense of the Second Wave’s successes, reminding us of the ideological diversity in her generation of feminism. Far from being apologists for pornography and prostitution, Dr. Chesler and many of her feminist compatriots formed an “abolitionist” alliance with Christian and conservative activists to challenge those who defended “sex work” and pornography on First Amendment grounds. The following piece begins to explore some of that common ground.
Pornography has invaded the world’s imagination. It is everywhere: On the Internet, in films, in movies, in rap music videos. Five-year-old girls dress and are taught to behave like pornography stars in order to win beauty contests. Ten- to twelve-year-old girls both dress and behave like the pornographic images that surround them—and they provide sexual services to young boys. Opera—high culture—has also been increasingly “sexed up.” I have seen productions of “Carmen” and “Lulu” in which the lead diva was half-naked and in which she, too, sang the role as if they, too, were contemporary pornography stars and prostitutes.
No, I do not like any of this.
Yes, I take it all very seriously—as many Second Wave feminists and our Christian and conservative allies once did.
No, I do not think that hiding women beneath burqas is, therefore, any kind of solution. In fact, both pornography and prostitution are booming businesses in most Muslim countries.
Before we go any further, let’s play twenty questions. I really want your answers.
1. Is pornography “work” or is it a violent crime?
2. Is pornography “free speech” in action or is it a violent, often murderous crime?
3. Is pornography really a “victimless” crime?
4. Are pimps, johns, traffickers, and landlords being victimized? If so, why are they not complaining?
5. Are the people, mainly men, who buy and watch pornography being victimized? If so, why are they not complaining? Is anyone forcing them to consume pornography?
6. Are the seductive, taunting, smiling, naked girls and women who are being paid “good” money–victims? If so, why don’t they complain, leave, find some other job?
7. Isn’t working in pornography a job just like any other job–like any other acting job?
8. Aren’t pornography actors there their of their own free will—for the easy money, the attention, the “stardom?”
9. Isn’t our right to see and read whatever interests us essential to our fundamental liberty?
10. Doesn’t the First Amendment guarantee us this right? If we criminalize one kind of “free speech,” where will it end? Who will decide what information or images we are allowed to see? Won’t state or religious censorship chill our rights?
11. On behalf of “free speech,” and privacy rights, didn’t Second Wave feminists avidly collaborate with pornographers to ensure that pornography remained a civil right?
12. Didn’t Second Wave feminists launch the battle against violence against women, which included sexual harassment, rape, incest, domestic battering—as well as the most serious battle against pornography and prostitution? Weren’t they vilified for collaborating with Christians and conservatives on the issue of pornography and prostitution?
I lived through the great feminist Sex Wars. I was both a participant and an eye-witness, as well as a confidante to feminists who were on both sides of this War. But before I share memories and analysis, I want people to send me their answers to these questions. Your answers will help me answer these questions further.