The threat to our civil liberties posed by years of a right-wing regime in Washington is real, all right - no doubt. These men, not all of whom have departed with the Bush administration, definitely intend to reverse abortion rights decisions, persecute queers, bar the press from future military engagements, divert public funding to the military-industrialists and away from social services, the arts, and the schools. They are out to defend their corporate interests and the interests of their corporate friends. If they have lost this election, they will try hard to win the next one. I do worry about these guys; but there's more to this story.
People often talk about the abuses endured by women and children in the sex trade and pornography as the price of a free society, implying that the lives of these people are a tragic but necessary sacrifice if we are to avoid totalitarianism, censorship and so on. My first reaction is always one of stunned outrage - it is so very evident that the people making the sad preachments about necessary sacrifices are never the ones who are being sacrificed, and the freedom about which they have such tender and righteous feelings does not extend to those who are enslaved to ensure it. Then comes a second reaction: What free society? For if the conditions under which the vast majority of prostitutes, and many unpaid sexual servants, live is not fascism, then what is?
Further, I do not see that even the excesses of censorship and State control confidently predicted by diehard First Amendmentarians could make the lives of exploited women and children any worse than they are now. The supposed artistic and literary sufferings of a nation of consumers deprived of sexual content in their daily media do not impress me as half so severe as those of the women being coerced on a daily basis in the sex entertainment industry. If I had to make a choice between a highly censorious government which reduced the traffic in women and children, and a liberal and tolerant government which encouraged that traffic, I believe I might choose the former. Basically, the health and happiness of women and children matter more to me than my freedom or right to read a dirty book. (Of course, this leads us immediately to the problem of defining what is pornographic; see next section.)
It seems to me that what wins public regard as a crisis or an Essential Issue, even among progressives, is largely determined by male self-interest. Well, that's obvious; but take a slightly closer look. Everyone should recall the pompous pronouncements of sixties and seventies leftist leaders (male) who required that women working for social change not cause division and waste effort by selfishly focussing on the woman question when national and economic liberation (for men) was at stake. Many women around the world saw a point to this reasoning, and many of them have now found that in their post-revolutionary societies not much has changed; it was good of you to bear arms and risk your lives in overthrowing the capitalists, thank you, and now back to the kitchen. (In the US meanwhile, early feminists were getting fed up with the radical boys who preached world revolution while expecting the chicks to keep the coffee coming and run the mimeo machine.)
The popular progressive issues, the challenges to the regime which get money and press time, are going to be the ones that serve male interests. Abortion rights are definitely in the interests of men who want easier sexual access to more women. They don't have to feel any responsibility or take any, knowing that she can always just get an abortion. Fear of pregnancy is one of the few arguments women can advance against sexual activity when men demand it; ready availability of abortion and the Pill (though women would be worse off without them) don't challenge men's sexual privileges. Only the Right, with its need to create ever-larger markets and its paranoia about being outbred by the coloured races, has a particular stake in forcing pregnancy on (middle-class, white) women. Thus, the widespread co-ed support for Planned Parenthood.
Obviously a great deal of the energy behind the First Amendment, freedom-of-expression rhetoric, the ACLU and other related forces, comes from men who deeply fear and resent the possibility of being deprived of their sexual entertainment, and from men who are in the business of selling such materials and are afraid of a setback in the trade. In much the same way, as I've mentioned, those industrialists whose profits are most closely tied to wasteful and toxic resource use and/or abusive labour practices are the most passionately dedicated to free-market economics, and the most certain that government intervention in business practice will spell economic ruin for us all.
AIDS movement rhetoric in the US is relevant to my concerns about lesbians, gays and pornography; one of the newer arguments advanced by the pro-porn activists is that pornography is safe sex - and that opposing it is implicitly condemning people to die of AIDS by depriving them of this non-physical outlet for their (presumably) raging hormonal urges. Typical of this stance is the statement made by Earl Jackson, Jr. (gay male professor at UCSC and pro-porn advocate): While I completely agree that certain pornographic materials and the industry behind them constitute violence against women . . . to restrict access to explicit sexual information, images, and forms of fantasy concretization is tantamount to manslaughter, if not homocide [sic].
In short, stripped of the fashionable rhetoric of academia and the liberal ambience of Gay Rights and Free Speech: women's lives are worth less than men's. Yes, we are free to consider pornography a menace to women's lives and freedom, a form of violence against women - but we dare not oppose or restrict it in case we might reduce the odds of survival for men. Men's lives are worth more than women's. But we knew that. In fact, as the existence of snuff films and forced prostitution demonstrate, some men's sexual entertainment is worth more than many women's lives. Free Speech is therefore a noble political cause of overriding urgency, whereas public action to defend women's lives, dignity, and safety is a low, low priority.