Yasmin Curzi (17/12/2021). Pornography. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio. https://platformglossary.info/pornography/.
Author: Yasmin Curzi
This entry provides a brief literature review of ‘pornography’ through the lens of feminist legal theory. Chamallas (2012)1 segments the feminist movements in legal scholarship as (1) the generation of equality (1970s), which is often associated with liberal feminism (Chamallas, 2012, p. 19) because of the claims against formal inequality and toward individual rights such as access to male-dominated activities; and (2) the generation of difference (1980s), which was responsible for bringing substantive inequalities to the discussion, such as the feminization of poverty and the gender gap in politics. Feminist legal scholars and activists from the 1980s are classified into two other subcategories: dominance feminism and cultural feminism. The latter was the main actor responsible for advocating for legislation to protect women’s bodily integrity (Chamallas, 2012, p. 22) with campaigns against pornography.
For MacKinnon (1987)2, for instance, pornography and the culture that portrays women as sex objects are responsible for the maintenance of sexual violence and sex discrimination – briefly, according to MacKinnon sexuality is expropriated from women by the male-dominated State, in the same way, that, for the Marxists, labor is expropriated from workers by the capitalist State. Her work – which defines pornography as “graphic sexually explicit subordination of women” (MacKinnon, 1991)3 – has inspired legislation and ordinances against it worldwide. Feminists that are influenced by this view tend to see pornography as a promotion of dehumanization and objectification of women that are in a situation of inequality – since most of the women that work in this industry are from marginalized social groups (e.g., poor, black, and latina women).
Other feminists, however, fear that fighting pornography in these terms may engender a worse situation for women and for freedom of speech – also arguing that the male-dominated state could use these ordinances against minorities. In 1984, for example, a feminist ‘anti-censorship’ task force (the F.A.C.T.) was formed by women who were against the anti-pornography movement. This movement contemplated liberal concerns about individual rights and choices and inspired the ‘autonomy feminism movement’ that arose in the 1990s and focused on sex positivity and women’s own agency.
- Chamallas, M. E. (2012). Aspen Treatise for Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.
- MacKinnon, C. A. (1987). Feminism unmodified: Discourses on life and law. Harvard university press
- MacKinnon, C. A. (1991). Pornography as Defemation and Discrimination. BUL Rev., 71, 793.