SEX BOOK THROWDOWN #2: Porn Takes It on the Chin

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Today’s book battle pits Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women against Nadine Strossen’s Defending Pornography:

Once upon a time, in the early 90s, censorship of pornography was a hot topic, as was censorship of music thanks to Al Gore’s wife, Tippy. (If you don’t believe me, just google “Tippy Gore,” click on “did you mean Tipper Gore?” and see what comes up.) ACLU’s Nadine Strossen got fed up with that noise and wrote a book about why censorship sucks, but Andrea Dworkin saw that move coming in mutha-fuckin 1979, and so she wrote a book about why censorship is great. I know what you’re thinking: Censorship clearly IS great! And we don’t need written material to tell us that or anything else! But just hear Nadine out on this one.

Who Wants It More: Defending Pornography is dense with court cases, specific censorship incidents, and meticulously outlined arguments. In other words, it’s unfailingly logical. But when it comes to Pornography, lizard brain is king, and Dworkin is queen of emotional rhetoric. Nonstop, no-holds-barred, ballistic rhetoric: “Pornography is the orchestrated destruction of women’s bodies and souls; rape, battery, incest, and prostitution animate it; dehumanization and sadism characterize it; it is war on women, serial assaults on dignity, identity, and human worth.” Well, then. You have the floor, Ms. Strossen, you woman-hating, rape-loving sociopath!

Dworkin also analogizes porn production to slavery and the holocaust. Which makes me think I should start some sort of support group to coach people away from comparing anything to the holocaust that is not an actual, literal holocaust. (You’re invited, too, scary Planned Parenthood protesters.)

Uh-oh Moment: Strossen sometimes employs quotes from Jack Kammer, who identifies as a men’s right activist, and it’s not like I don’t think guys deserve rights, but I tend to think men already have rights, unless they’re men of a certain subset, like say illegal immigrant or gay or Gitmo detainee. Obviously men don’t have “the right “to abortion, or to childbirth, which is a big sticking point for some MRAs, but that’s sort-of like me trying to start a movement based on the fact that women don’t have “rights” to experience erections or the sensation of a scrotum sticking to our inner thighs on a hot day.

Anyway, Strossen follows this dude right down the path of “but women have all the power, because men want sex constantly and women only want sex sometimes!” line of reasoning, which is never going to do anyone any favors. And according to Jack, “An archetype of male erotica is the woman who participates enthusiastically in sex, who loves male sexuality, who need not be […] seduced. Erotica portraying such joyful, egalitarian sex—” woah, woah, woah, hold up, “egalitarian”?  I totally get why men would be into such a fantasy, and they’re entitled to it, but “egalitarian”? I mean, I have fantasies about Thom Yorke moving into my second bedroom and being my best friend and confessing he’s actually my biggest fan while we go to yoga class together, but I’m not under the delusion that getting whatever I want when I want it means equality.

Hottest Writing: Dworkin, hands down. She does her best to make every porn example ominous and horrific but bless her, sometime it’s just not possible. Some of what she describes is tame (two women masturbating together—!!!!!) or funny to the point of cuteness (“Rod says that George is more thrilling than the ‘shapely, desirable young cunts [that] thrilled my prick in the past.’”) or downright sexy if you’re of the right mind. Take for instance her rendering of a woman tied spread-eagle on a car hood as part of a pictorial called “Beaver Hunters.” According to Dworkin, “[the photograph will] evoke fear in the female observer unless she entirely dissociates herself from the photograph: refuses to see the bound person as a woman like herself.” Yeah, okay, except for women who are super into that sort-of thing and are therefore associating themselves with the photograph with all their mental might. Some kinky ladies would love to be beaver hunted. And those ladies might very well love this book.

Hidden Gem: Strossen tosses out this historical tidbit about Margaret Sanger’s 1912 article called “What Every Girl Should Know:” “Post officials were offended by […] her use of words such as ‘gonorrhea’ and ‘syphilis.’ Consequently, the newspaper’s next issue contained the following announcement: ‘What Every Girl Should Know: NOTHING!’ By order of the Post Office.” Bad. Ass. Man, I miss the days when the Post Office was all maverick and up in our faces like that. Now they just tell us to go fuck ourselves with the hour-long queues and broken stamp machines.

Good Point, Nadine: Although Dworkin relentlessly claims men primarily get off on causing women sexual suffering, Strossen cites a 1991 study that found the arousal level of men went down by 50% when they were under the impression that a woman was in pain, as opposed to their arousal during scenes where sex was pleasurable/consensual. And having been blessed to encounter many well-endowed men in my freewheeling past, I can say, that’s sometimes true! A lot of studs are paranoid about inflicting pain because their size has occasionally caused discomfort, and they’re consequently hypersensitive to any ambiguous noises. So sometimes, I’m like “[guttural sound]” and the guy is like, “ah! Am I hurting you?” and I’ll be like “just a little, it’s cool, that’s why big cocks are fun” but he’s getting a little soft like “my giant cock has a gentle soul!” and I’m like, “damn, my Monday night is ruined.” Why doesn’t that come up more often in First Amendment debates?!

Good Point, Andrea: “This is not a book about the First Amendment. By definition the First Amendment protects only those who can exercise the rights it protects. Pornography by definition—‘the graphic depiction of whores’—is trade in a class of persons who have been systematically denied the rights protected by the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.” Let me translate for you non-Dworkin scholars out there: Because the word “pornography,” in Greek, means “writing about whores,” and whores in ancient Greece were slaves, all women appearing in porn should be regarded as though they were enslaved, as they were in the ancient Greek system, and therefore have no free will and are incapable of “exercis[ing] their Constitutional rights.” Because contemporary jurisprudence has taught us to make laws based solely on etymology and not on practical circumstances. In other words, Ms. Dworkin, you’re hardcore crazy. Thanks for letting us know that right off the bat.

Winner: Tippy! She was and remains a party-pooper to pretty much everyone who loves pop music—really, TG? Madonna’s “Dress You Up” is “filthy”? Is it because of the line about satin sheets? That is kind-of skeezey.—but at least Nadine Strossen didn’t devote a whole book to dismantling her life’s work.

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Next edition of SEX BOOK THROWDOWN: Toni Bentley’s anal escapades try to out-sex the orgy-riffic Sexual Life of Catherine M.

Read “SEX BOOK THROWDOWN #1: Battle of the Blowjobs


Monica Shores is an editor for and regular contributor to $pread magazine. Her writing has appeared also appeared on Boinkology, Popmatters, Alternet, and Feminist Review. More from this author →