A Review of Andrea Dworkin, “Pornography, prostitution, and a beautiful and tragic recent story”

NPN’s Jendi Reiter reviews an essay by Andrea Dworkin, “Pornography, prostitution, and a beautiful and tragic recent story”. This essay is published in Christine Stark & Rebecca Whisnant, eds., Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography (North Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex Press, 2004, pp. 137-145).

This is the third in a series of reviews of the essays in this book. For earlier reviews, please see our Anti-Pornographers Bookshelf.

Dworkin, a well-known radical feminist, argues that the porn industry has taken over our sexual imaginations, such that what we perceive as sexual liberation is just a new form of the old equation of women=property. American individualism makes it difficult for women to recognize their common political interest in fighting inequality. “Girl power” has been co-opted to mean a purely personal focus on sexual attractiveness and self-indulgence, which continues to keep women from being taken seriously. (p.140) Now that women have won some measure of legal and religious equality, porn has rushed into the gap, teaching women to internalize the sexist values that were once enforced by external authorities. (p.141)

Feminist critics of porn are often silenced by the accusation that they’re anti-sex. But why should we allow the porn industry to define what sex is about? The cruelty and impersonality of porn scenarios are antithetical to a real sensuality that integrates mind and body, sexuality and humanity. (p.144)

What is happening before your very eyes is that the pornography industry has managed to legitimize pornographized sexuality and to make it the duty of every woman to perform sexually as a prostitute. Partly, the voyeurism of the pornography industry changes the way in which women are seen. This includes how we see ourselves. Partly, there is an increasing cruelty of touch. ‘Sensual’ is a word that has virtually fallen out of usage when people talk about sex and few people know what it means anymore. Women have been chattel property for a long time; but now prostitution becomes the clearest expression of what it means to be a woman, to be sexual, and to be owned, but to think one is free.

A prostituted woman can be owned by a dozen men a night but she cannot be herself. Sex becomes depraved because she is the lowest object or commodity. She has sex over and over again with men she does not know or like; her body and mind have to tolerate that kind of punishment. The mind tries to help; it leaves, watches, induces numbness but does not stay integrated with the body. (p.141)

All this talk about choice and rights obscures the fact that no one has the right “to buy another human being and through one’s consumption make that human being do something repugnant, from being an object to having violence used against the body.” (p.144) The exchange of money doesn’t entitle you to disregard another person’s feelings and dignity.

Coming tomorrow: Our review of D.A. Clarke, “Prostitution for everyone: Feminism, globalisation, and the sex industry”.

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