LETTERS FROM A WAR ZONE
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It took a year to get this published in eviscerated form in Newsday, a Long Island, New York, daily newspaper. Nearly four months later, The Los Angeles Times published this version, closer to what I wrote. The manuscript is lost, so this is the most complete version existing. In Ohio, Sisters of Justice destroy adult bookstores in lightning attacks. In Minnesota, a few hundred women savage an adult bookstore and destroy the stock. In California, in dozens of supermarkets, Hustler is saturated with India ink month after month. In Canada, feminists are jailed for bombing an outlet of a chain that sells video-pornography. In Massachusetts, a woman shoots a bullet through the window of a closed bookstore that sells pornography. A model of nonviolent civil disobedience is the National Rampage Against Penthouse, organized by the brilliant activists, Nikki Craft and Melissa Farley. Women invade bookstores, especially B. Dalton, the largest distributor of Penthouse in the United States, and tear up magazines until arrested. They tear up Playboy and Hustler too where they find them. They claim this as protected political speech. They have been arrested in Des Moines, Dubuque, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, and Coralville, Iowa; Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska; Santa Cruz, Davis, and San Jose, California; Madison and Beloit, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; St. Joseph, Missouri; Provincetown, Massachusetts; Durham, North Carolina; Rock Island and Chicago, Illinois. One leaflet says: "Next action is pending. We will not be Rehabilitated by jail."Last February three women--Linda Hand, Jane Quinn and Shell Wildwomoon--entered a store in Hartford, Conn., and poured human blood on books and films that depicted the sexual abuse of women and children, as well as on an arsenal of metal-studded dildos and whips.
The store, "The Bare Facts," nominally sells lingerie. A "fantasy room" in the back houses the above-mentioned stock. Several times a year, on holidays, there is an open house in the fantasy room. As the men drink champagne provided by the management, female models strut and pose amidst the sexual paraphernalia in lingerie that the male audience selects from the store's stock.
Hand, Quinn and Wildwomoon picketed the Christmas celebration. They tried to stop the Valentine's Day party by spilling blood. They were charged with criminal mischief, a felony that carries a possible five-year sentence and $5000 fine, and criminal trespass, a misdemeanor with a possible one-year sentence.
The three conducted their own defense. They claimed that they had acted to prevent a greater crime--the sexual abuse of women and children; that the materials in question contributed materially to sexual violence against women and children; that society had a greater obligation to protect women's lives than dildos. In the great tradition of civil disobedience, they placed the rights of people above the rights of property. This was the first time ever that such a defense was put forth in behalf of women, against pornography, in a court of law. They were acquitted.
I testified for the defense as an expert witness on pornography. For the first time, I was under oath when asked whether, in my opinion, pornography is a cause of violence against women.
I hate that question, because pornography is violence against women: the women used in pornography. Not only is there a precise symmetry of values and behaviors in pornography and in acts of forced sex and battery, but in a sex-polarized society men also learn about women and sex from pornography. The message is conveyed to men that women enjoy being abused. Increasingly, research is proving that sex and violence--and the perception that females take pleasure in being abused, which is the heart of pornography--teach men both ambition and strategy.
But beyond the empirical research, there is the evidence of testimony: women coming forth, at least in the safety of feminist circles, to testify to the role that pornography played in their own experiences of sexual abuse. One nineteen-year-old woman testified at the Hartford trial that her father consistently used pornographic material as he raped and tortured her over a period of years. She also told of a network of her father's friends, including doctors and lawyers, who abused her and other children. One of these doctors treated the children to avoid being exposed.
Stories such as these are not merely bizarre and sensational; they are beginning to appear in feminist literature with increasing frequency. To dismiss them is to dismiss the lives of the victims.
The refusal, especially among liberals, to believe that pornography has any real relationship to sexual violence is astonishing. Liberals have always believed in the value and importance of education. But when it comes to pornography, we are asked to believe that nothing pornographic, whether written or visual, has an educative effect on anyone. A recognition that pornography must teach something does not imply any inevitable conclusion: it does not per se countenance censorship. It does, however, demand that we pay some attention to the quality of life, to the content of pornography.
And it especially demands that when sexual violence against women is epidemic, serious questions be asked about the function and value of material that advocates such violence and makes it synonymous with pleasure.
Is it "prudish," "repressive," "censorious" or "fascistic" to demand that "human rights" include the rights of women, or to insist that women who are being raped, beaten or forced into prostitution are being denied fundamental human rights? Are the advocates of freedom really concerned only for the freedom of the abusers?
We in the United States are so proud of our freedom, but women in the United States have lost ground, not gained it, even in controlling sexual access to our own bodies. This is the system of power in which rape within marriage is considered a crime in only three states (New Jersey, Nebraska and Oregon). This is the same system of power that condones the pornography that exalts rape and gang rape, bondage, whipping and forced sex of all kinds. In this same system of power, there are an estimated twenty-eight million battered wives. Where, after all, do those drunken men go when they leave the porn shop's fantasy room? They go home to women and children.
The women who poured human blood over the material in that Hartford shop faced the true "bare facts": Pornography is dangerous and effective propaganda that incites violence against easy targets--women and children.
"Pornography's Part in Sexual Violence," first published in abridged form under the title, "The Real Obscenity of Pornography: It Causes Violence," in Newsday, Vol. 41, No. 151, February 3, 1981; then published in full under the current title in The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1981. Copyright © 1981 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.
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