FROM THE FLOOR: You don't speak for all women.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: We will make that a part of the record. Do Commissioners have questions of Ms Dworkin? Ms Levine.
[The commissioners present were: Henry Hudson, chair; Judith Becker; Park Dietz; James Dobson; Ellen Levine; Tex Lezar; The Rev. Bruce Ritter; Frederick Schauer; Deanne Tilton.]
MRS LEVINE: Ms Dworkin, do you make any distinction in your definition between erotica and pornography?
MS DWORKIN: There is a recently emerged definition within the feminist movement articulated, for instance, by Gloria Steinem, that says that erotica is sexually explicit material that shows mutuality and reciprocity and equality. I am prepared to accept that definition as something that is not pornography. In the law that I am suggesting, in what I hope will be a federal civil rights law, certainly the law that Catharine MacKinnon and I developed, applies only to sexually explicit material that subordinates women in a way that is detrimental to our civil status, and not to any sexually explicit material.
MRS LEVINE: I am not a lawyer, and I made an attempt to understand the ordinance. Do you think it is possible that one person's vision of subordination is not another's, and by that instance there would be material that Gloria or other people deem erotica that would be attackable under your ordinance, as it is currently drafted?
MS DWORKIN: No, I think that the definition is very specific and very concrete. It's narrowly constructed, an itemized definition, rather than a general definition, so that it would not be subject to that kind of interpretation. And as I think you know, Gloria Steinem has been an active supporter of this law, from the beginning, precisely because from her point of view, it does make that distinction in a way that is clear and concrete.
MRS LEVINE: Do I understand you, then, to think that material that would not be seen -- that would be sexually explicit, but mutually agreeable, would not then be considered obscene?
MS DWORKIN: Sexually explicit, sexual equality, sexual reciprocity, and not containing any of the concrete scenarios that are named in the definition of the ordinance which are all scenarios of inequality and degradation, mostly violence.
MRS LEVINE: Do you think that for some of the material that is now -- could be prosecuted now as obscene, could not be prosecuted as obscene under your definition?
MS DWORKIN: Well, under our definition, there are two corrections I need to make. First of all, obscenity doesn't function in this definition at all.
MRS LEVINE: I understand that. That is the only thing we have now, so I am looking at the distinctions.
MS DWORKIN: Secondly, nothing can be prosecuted; a person brings a civil suit.
MRS LEVINE: I understand that, but to bring people into court for which they would be fined, are there materials now that can be prosecuted as obscene that could not be brought into court in a civil suit?
MS DWORKIN: Yes, I think that there are many, many such materials that right now, it seems to me, that virtually anything can be prosecuted under obscenity law, and about the only thing that isn't, with all respect to the gentleman from North Carolina, whose accomplishments I am not denying, but pornography is precisely what obscenity law has not been used against. Obscenity laws have traditionally been used against works of literature and so on. They are rife for use against sex education programs, because they are so vague, because community standards can be construed in so many ways.
MRS LEVINE: Would there be sexually explicit pictures of intercourse that was mutually agreeable that would therefore not be a civil rights suit, according to your definition?
MS DWORKIN: Yes, there would be.
MRS LEVINE: So in some ways it would be broader?
MS DWORKIN: In some ways it would be broader and in some ways it would be narrower.
MRS LEVINE: Let me ask you this -- and I know that you are very concerned about violence against women, as are most women -- in your opinion, should all pornography be removed, particularly the violent pornography, do you think you would see a direct drop in violent crimes against women?
MS DWORKIN: Of course, I don't know what we would see. My personal answer is I believe that we would see a drop.
MRS LEVINE: Even though so many of these crimes are committed while under the influence of alcohol and other substance abuse?
MS DWORKIN: Yes. I think there is nothing that has the role that pornography does in engendering sexual abuse. I think that's been the case for all the period of time that pornography was used in private, in private sexual abuse, and it's only with the saturation of the public forum that women have in any way found a receptive social structure to listen about the realities of abuse through pornography that have been occurring.
MRS LEVINE: You also think that the rape rates in prisons would drop if the pornography were not in the prisons?
MS DWORKIN: I truly do.
MRS LEVINE: Are there prisons, by the way, where there is no pornography permissible?
MS DWORKIN: As far as I know right now, pornography is absolutely unrestricted in federal and state prisons. There was an injunction recently gotten by a group of women prison guards in the State of California, because Hustler did a layout.
MRS LEVINE: I remember that case.
MS DWORKIN: A gang rape of a woman prison guard in a prison that very much resembled the pool table rape that they had done right before the New Bedford gang rape, and those women under their professional association went into court and got an injunction against the distribution of that particular issue, but it didn't apply to any other issue and it didn't happen in every state.
MRS LEVINE: Thank you very much.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: Dr Dobson, do you have questions?
DR DOBSON: Yes, I do, Mr Chairman. Ms Dworkin, several witnesses have spoken in favor of the civil rights approach, and several have opposed it on the grounds that we already have the laws on the books to accomplish that. Would you speak to those individuals and to that perspective?
MS DWORKIN: Yes. We have laws that deal with a kind of cosmetic social reality. That is to say, who gets to see the pornography that exists, how publicly accessible will it be, will it be hidden under opaque covers, will it be hidden in back rooms, which primarily means: will it be available to men in a segregated all-male world.
How they use it on women remains constant; and only civil rights legislation speaks to the real human injuries, to the people who are being harmed, both in the production of the material, and in its subsequent social effects, on individuals and on women as a class. Obscenity laws don't do that; they were never constructed for that purpose. With the best intentions in the world, they couldn't be used that way.
And the flaws in them now have reached the point where I believe that they are just simply going to implode. The standards that the Supreme Court has constructed are virtually -- I understand that many people here have said they understand them. I understand them from moment to moment, but I don't understand them when I am looking at a picture of Asian women being hung from a tree, and the issue is, is the jury aroused or not aroused?
The issue is that the Asian woman is being hung from the tree because somebody thinks that that is sexual somewhere, and it doesn't have to be the people on the jury. It can be the person who took the pictures or the pornographer who prints them.
So obscenity law is in no way responsive to the reality of the pornography industry now.
DR DOBSON: Do you think it could be? Is it possible to write obscenity laws in such a way to redress that problem?
MS DWORKIN: I don't believe that it can be, because I believe that first of all, enforcement by police and prosecutors will always be essentially directed towards the control, not the evisceration, the control of organized crime; and that, therefore, if the production of pornography is not by organized crime -- for instance, is not for profit -- the abuses to women will not be in any way a top priority for law-enforcement officials. We fight a constant problem in having law-enforcement officials take seriously, as you know, claims of rape, claims of assault, claims of battery.
Once there is a picture that shows the woman smiling while these things are being done to her, that picture, to many men, sadly, is proof of her complicity and proof of her consent.
DR DOBSON: Clarify one final point for me. I thought I saw a contradiction at one point when you recommended that laws against pornographers be enforced, and yet you are opposed to those laws; did I misunderstand you?
MS DWORKIN: I haven't recommended that obscenity laws be enforced. I specifically recommended that laws against pandering be enforced against pornographers and that RICO be used to destroy the pornography industry, which exists through what is defined in RICO as racketeering, that is, acts or threats of murder, extortion, et cetera, kidnapping and so on, and also a trafficking in women -- and I think that the use of those criminal laws will be very, very effective.
DR DOBSON: One final question. You have spoken very, very eloquently, to your point. Why do you not have that same fire with regard to children and the abuse of children?
MS DWORKIN: I do. Children have many spokespeople. As I know, when I have done TV shows in behalf of children's rights and against the exploitation of children in pornography, I am stopped on the street by, for instance, many policemen who are happy to talk to me and want to thank me for what I have done, and all kinds of people.
I think that the reality is that the condition of women and children are very tied together; that is a political reality. We both share similar kinds of exploitation and abuse through sex; and unfortunately, the reality is that people at least proclaim to be willing to do something about the abuses of children but remain impervious to the abuses of adult women, and that is why I am here to speak on behalf of adult women.
DR DOBSON: If you equate them in that way, are you opposed to laws against child pornography and the use of children through pornography?
MS DWORKIN: No, what I would have done, had you asked me about laws about child pornography, before the Ferber decision, was to explain to you why I thought obscenity laws could not work in dealing with child pornography, and why there had to be laws against the actual abuse, and that the pornography was proof of the abuse, and, therefore, there had to be laws against the pornography. The Supreme Court has relieved me of that obligation by recognizing that much child pornography, for instance, does not arouse prurient interest, that you can't get a jury to say that it arouses prurient interest, but that that does not mean that the pornography is not violative of human rights; and I believe that the same situation is true with women, that the pornography violates our rights, but we are not asking for a criminal ban.
We are asking for something that is so much less than a criminal ban, it is basically such a modest request for a social remedy, such a modest request for access to the courts to be able to prove our cases; and, therefore, it's very strange to me that we meet with much skepticism and what is the commonplace belief, frequently, that if women are hurt, it is the fault of the women who are hurt, both the women in the pornography and the women who are raped or abused.
DR DOBSON: Thank you.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: Professor Schauer.
DR SCHAUER: Yes, Ms Dworkin, in your list of items that you concluded your presentation with, I noted the absence of any discussion of economic pressure, boycotts, whether individual or organized or anything of that sort. Was that omitted only in terms of your view of what our Commission should do, or do you have -- would you discuss the question generally of boycotts, individual, organized, economic pressure and the like.
MS DWORKIN: I certainly am in favor of the pornography industry being boycotted, but it seems to me that that doesn't speak to the reality of the issue. I grew up in an era when people were prepared not to eat lettuce, not to eat grapes, not to eat tuna fish under certain circumstances when the tunas weren't being caught the right way. And the reality is that that constituency who went so long without lettuce, who went so long without grapes, consumes pornography and defends pornography and has been responsible for some of the most important social defenses, the construction of the most important social defenses of pornography.
I think that with pornography we are dealing with a very peculiar issue, and that is to say men love to denounce it moralistically in public, but do consume it. When we deal with the reality of consumption, in terms of women's rights, it is not women who are consuming pornography; therefore women can't boycott pornography. Men are consuming it, sometimes in secret, sometimes not. Men are using it, and it's not the kind of issue -- it's like asking rapists to boycott rape, don't do it.
Well, I agree, they shouldn't do it. But the question is now what to do because they are doing it.
DR SCHAUER: I guess, I mean, we grew up in an era in which the message was "don't buy grapes" rather than "don't shop in the store that sells grapes." Do you think it could be effective to organize a -- would your particular problem that you have just referred to be substantially lessened if boycotts and economic pressure were directed against establishments rather than against the particular items?
MS DWORKIN: Well, perhaps you are aware of feminist activism that is directed, for instance -- there is a boycott, for instance, against those advertisers who advertise in Penthouse. I think that's appropriate; and hopefully that boycott will grow and grow and grow. People should not buy the products of those who support the torture of women. I think that that is appropriate.
As you perhaps know, there is much feminist activism that is involved in sitting in in supermarkets, demonstrating in different places. Certainly I didn't speak about all of the kinds of feminist activism because I didn't think that this Commission would be particularly interested in it.
But we try to make it a habit to exercise our rights of political speech at every opportunity, including during pornography movies, when men actually would prefer that we keep quiet, and through picket lines and through sit-ins; and the first feminist action against pornography was, in fact, an act of civil disobedience in 1970.
So that the history of activism of feminists against pornography is virtually as old as the women's movement.
DR SCHAUER: Thank you.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: Father Ritter, do you have a question of Ms Dworkin?
FATHER RITTER: Yes. Ms Dworkin, thank you for your extraordinary and very moving testimony. My question doesn't really imply any disagreement with what you said, although I think in some ways I would differ with you on certain issues.
My question is merely my effort to understand one of the central thrusts of your argument. Is the issue with you mostly the nonconsensual aspect of pornography as it relates to the degradation of women, or is it rather the degradation itself with regards to women? Let me illustrate.
If we could find a man and a woman who totally and freely agree to sadomasochistic activities, would you think that should be prohibited, even though in itself it is a very degrading thing to occur to a woman and to a man also?
MS DWORKIN: My answer to your question is I do object to the degradation intrinsic to the acts. That is why I think that a definition of pornography based on sex inequality is a definition that honors human dignity and sexuality.
I think that I certainly would want to see remedies against that pornography. But the reality for women isn't put in that hypothetical question. The forms of coercion -- including the reality of poverty, the vulnerability of child sexual abuse in a society where that is commonplace, as you well know -- is such that it's very hard to understand what this word consent means. If you look at the way the word consent is used in rape statutes, a woman could be dead and have met the standard for consent.
I mean, it's very hard to know, in a society in which women have been chattel, what consent is, and mostly it's passive acquiescence.
And feminists have to fight for a society in which we go way beyond consent as a standard for freedom, and we are talking about self-determination in a world with real choices; and right now for women, that world of real choices does not really exist.
So my answer to your question is, that material would be actionable under our law, under our civil rights law; in my view it should be, it is appropriate that it be. I think that it is intrinsically degrading, and I also think that it is demonstrable that the material itself in its social consequences causes the acting out on women of the same dimension of sadomasochistic activity. There is simply no reality to the notion that women consent to it, because women don't.
FR RITTER: Thank you.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: Mrs Levine, do you have another question?
MRS LEVINE: I know Park wanted to go first.
CHAIRMAN HUDSON: Dr Dietz.
DR DIETZ: I know that many people would be interested to hear some specifics about what kinds of depictions would constitute subordination of women, because this is often discussed with some bewilderment. I would like to pose some hypotheticals, some specific images and ask you whether there is enough information here to tell me if that is subordination; and if there is, is it or isn't it? Is it subordination of women to depict naked -- a woman on her knees, naked, a man standing, while the woman fellates the man, she on her knees, he standing.
MS DWORKIN: I need to explain something to you about our law, which deserves a little more credit than you are giving it, which is that the definition itself isn't actionable. All right. There is nothing actionable about something meeting the definition. It has to be trafficked in, somebody has to be forced into it, it has to be forced on somebody or it has to be used in a specific kind of assault; so that the hypothetical question about whether I think that is subordination or not depends a great deal -- has the women been forced into it? I want to know. What is the sociology around it, is it being used on people, are women being forced to watch it and then do it; and those are the kinds of issues, that is what is required to trigger this law.
DR DIETZ: So if the players truly were voluntary, and if those exposed to it voluntarily chose exposure, then it wouldn't be subordination no matter what was depicted?