Questions and Answers

Q: What is the difference between hard-core and soft-core pornography?

A: Before pornography became an above-ground industry, the distinction was pretty simple. "Hard-core" was pornography in which an erect penis was shown. The penis could belong to a man or to an animal. For this reason, the pornography of bestiality, which usually showed a male animal penetrating a woman, was considered to be "hard-core." There was a real taboo against showing the erect penis on the screen or in magazines. Police were more likely to make arrests and to confiscate material if the erect penis was graphically shown.

As pornography became more mainstream, with more legal protection, people inside and outside the pornography industry began to obfuscate the meaning of "hard-core." People outside the pornography industry, many of whom were not consumers of pornography but felt that they knew what was in it, began to use "hard-core" to refer to explicitly debasing or violent material and "soft-core" to refer to material they thought was purely sexual. "Hard-core" came to mean the worst pornography, "soft-core" the most benign.

Because Playboy and Penthouse, for instance, were the most available and most legitimate pornography, they became the standard for "soft-core," material that was supposedly purely sexual, not misogynist or violent. Currently in popular usage, "soft-core" is virtually a synonym for Playboy and Penthouse. In one sense, both magazines are "soft-core": neither shows the erect penis; in fact, with rare exception, neither shows nude men. But in a more important sense, "soft-core" is a misnomer, because both magazines show violent and violating uses of women's bodies; both magazines include overtly violent material; both magazines have material that promotes rape and child sexual abuse.

As used by most people, the two terms are fairly meaningless. Most often, "soft-core" means pornography that someone thinks is okay; "hard-core" is pornography that someone thinks is the real stuff, dirty, mean, and at least a little abusive and repulsive. "Hard-core" has the aura of breaking taboos around it and pornographers use it in advertising as a point of pride.

The terms tell us nothing about how women are used in pornography and nothing about how the pornography itself is then used on women or children.


Q: How can you object to Playboy?

A: Playboy is a bona fide part of the trade in women.

The format of Playboy was developed to protect the magazine from prosecution under obscenity law. Writing from recognized writers was published to meet a standard of worth that would get the magazine First Amendment protection. The First Amendment was then used by Playboy to protect its sexual exploitation of women. Playboy sells women.

The use of women as objects in Playboy is part of how Playboy helps to create second-class status for women. Women in Playboy are dehumanized by being used as sexual objects and commodities, their bodies fetishized and sold. The term "bunny" is used to characterize the woman as less than human-little animals that want sex all the time, animals that are kept in hutches.

The women in Playboy are presented in postures of submission and sexual servility. Constant access to the throat, the anus, and the vagina is the purpose of the ways in which the women are posed.

Playboy has made a specialty of targeting women for sexual harassment: working women, including nurses, police, and military personnel; and presumptively educated women, including university students and lawyers.

Underlying all of Playboy's pictorials is the basic theme of all pornography: that all women are whores by nature, born wanting to be sexually accessible to all men at all times. Playboy particularly centers on sexual display as what women naturally do to demonstrate this nature.

Playboy, in both text and pictures, promotes rape.

Playboy, especially in its cartoons, promotes both rape and child sexual abuse.

There is also some amount of overtly violent material in Playboy. The text often enthusiastically promotes various acts of violence against women, including gang-rape. The pictures usually include some pictures that show sadomasochism: women are hurt in them or are in some physical danger. (For example, a woman is naked with acupuncture needles all over her body, including in her breasts; or a woman is chained to a pole and surrounded by laser beams.)

Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953. An early issue used an employee as a centerfold; as her employer, Hefner had sex with her too. This has remained the pattern, the women who work for Playboy, especially the centerfolds, being Hefner's own primary preserve of women. As the Playboy empire has increased in power and wealth, Hefner's personal use of the women in the magazine has continued and expanded. He uses them and he sells them. Now the women are brought to him by lesser pimps; he need not do the recruiting himself. For instance, Linda Marchiano, known as Linda Lovelace in the pornographic film "Deep Throat," was pimped to Hefner by her then-husband, Chuck Traynor. Hefner sodomized her and tried to have her have intercourse with a dog. Dorothy Stratten, a Playboy centerfold who was sodomized, tortured, murdered, then raped after she was dead by her pimp-husband, Paul Snider, was tricked and intimidated into photo sessions by Snider, who then sold the photos and access to Dorothy herself to Hefner. Ms. Stratten said she was sexually molested by Hefner. After her death, Hefner was made aware that Ms. Stratten had hated the pornography made of her and had hated posing for it. He responded by issuing more videotapes of Ms. Stratten posing. Dorothy Stratten's estate entered a brief in her behalf in support of the Indianapolis Ordinance. The brief outlined how Ms. Stratten had been pressured into pornography. The hope of her estate was that the Ordinance could be used to recover and destroy videotapes and photographs (primarily in back issues of Playboy) that are still being trafficked in.

The women used by Hefner personally and in the magazine are rarely much over eighteen. Ms. Stratten was underage when she was initially pimped to Hefner.

The sexual exploitation of women is what the magazine is, what it does, what it sells, and how it is produced.


Q: Pornography is the fault of the women who pose for it. Why don't they just stop posing?

A: The women in pornography are most often victims of child sexual abuse. Some studies show that 65 to 75 percent of the current population of women in prostitution and pornography (overlapping experiences for the same pool of women) have been abused as children, usually in the home. People who work with women who are in pornography and prostitution to provide social services or counseling, some of whom have been in pornography or prostitution themselves, believe the percentage is much, much higher. Children run away from home, from the sexual abuse, to cities where they are picked up by pimps, raped, beaten, drugged, and forced into prostitution or pornography.

Women in pornography are poor women, usually uneducated. Pornography exists in a society in which women are economically disadvantaged. The only professions in which women make more money than men are modeling and prostitution-and in prostitution, the pimps keep most if not all of it. Women's economic value is determined largely by sexual value: how much the woman's body is worth in the marketplace as a commodity.

Many women are forced into pornography as children by fathers who sexually abuse them; pornography is made of them as part of the sexual abuse they experience as children. Many women are forced into pornography by husbands, many of whom are violent (battery of married women being the most commonly committed violent crime in the country). Many women are photographed by lovers and find the photographs published as pornography in revenge or retaliation. Aspiring actresses and models are photographed nude, almost a trade practice, and find the photographs published against their will and without their knowledge in pornography.

When a woman has been forced into pornography, the pornography itself is used to keep her in a life of sexual exploitation and abuse. Think of what happens when a battered wife asks for help. She is doing what society says women should do: she is married, and the sustained battery is proof that she has been loyal to her husband, she has stayed with him, the way women are supposed to. She may be badly hurt over a period of years. When she leaves home, she is often treated as a pariah, told the brutality is her own fault. Now think of the woman forced into prostitution. She is without the so-called protections of a respectable life. She has been abandoned, if not injured in the first place, by her family. Society has no place for her and despises her for what she has been doing. The photographs of her engaging in violating sex acts-violating of her-usually show her smiling, as if she enjoyed being used or hurt. Where can she turn? Where can she run? Who will believe her? Who will help her? Will you? (If you won't, don't assume anyone else will.)

The pimp or pornographer will come after her. If he is her husband or her father, he will have a legal right to her. He will be violent toward her and toward anyone who tries to help her. She will be terribly hurt from the life she has been leading: she will be injured from the pornography and prostitution; she may be addicted to many drugs; she will be filled with anger and self-hate and despair.

Battered women's shelters, of which there are not enough, many of which are understaffed, will probably not offer her shelter. They are afraid of the pimps and they are afraid of the host of antisocial behaviors that the woman herself may demonstrate. Rape crisis centers do not have resources to offer shelter at all but they are also not prepared to counsel prostitutes, even though most have been raped many times and suffer the trauma of multiple rape.

The women in pornography are the first victims of pornography. The pornographers, not the women they hurt, are responsible for pornography. The men who buy and use the pornography are responsible for pornography, not the women who are violated to make the product they so enjoy. And the society that protects the pornography is responsible for pornography: the courts that value the so-called rights of the pornographers over the humanity, the dignity, the civil equality of women; the publishers and writers who keep protecting the trafficking in women as if the commercial violation of women were a basic right of publishing; the lawyers, the politicians, the media, who congregate to chant self-righteous litanies in worship of the Constitution while women are raped for fun and profit under its protection.


Q: Isn't pornography just a symptom, not a cause, of misogyny? Pornography didn't cause patriarchy, did it? It's not really important, is it?

A: An incredible double standard is always applied to thinking about or doing anything about pornography.

If pornography hurts women now, doesn't something need to be done about it? If women are hurt in making pornography, doesn't something need to be done? If pornography is used to choreograph and execute rape, incest, battery, and forcing women into prostitution, doesn't something need to be done? If pornography actually creates attitudes and behaviors of bigotry and aggression against women, as many laboratory studies demonstrate, doesn't something need to be done? If pornography causes rape, or sexualized torture, or increases sadism against women, or plays a role in serial murders, or contributes substantially to legitimizing violence against women, isn't it important to do something about pornography? If pornography spreads woman hating and rape as mass entertainment, how can feminists ignore or be indifferent to it as a political issue of equality? Think about the maxim "Equal pay for equal work." We understand that women are hurt by being paid less than men for doing the same work. Lower pay keeps us poorer, which debases the quality of our lives, and keeps us dependent, which does the same. Pay discrimination did not cause patriarchy. Pay discrimination is a symptom of women's lower status. It is a result of misogyny, not a cause. At the same time, pay discrimination perpetuates women's lower status (by keeping us poor) and confirms men in their misogyny (the conviction that women are worth less than men). No one would suggest that feminists abandon the fight, including the legal fight, for equal pay because it is "only a symptom,"not a cause, of patriarchy itself.

Now, in fact, feminists want equal pay for work of comparable worth. Because the job market is still highly sex- segregated and the jobs women do are economically devalued because women do them, feminists are proposing that men and women should be payed the same if their jobs, though different, have similar and economic and social value. We have gotten legislation passed in some places mandating equal pay for comparable work. We have claimed economic equity as a right and we want society to be reorganized so that we can realize that right. The economic disparity between men and women is a symptom of male supremacy, but, however symptomatic it is, it injures women, so we want to stop it. In getting rid of this symptom of male supremacy, we also know that we would make male supremacy a little less supreme.

Have you ever had a high fever -104 degrees or 105 degrees- just the symptom of a serious, underlying disease or infection? You had better believe that the first order of business is to reduce the fever because, even though it is a symptom, it may well jeopardize your life and on it's own can irreparably damage your health. And you will feel very sick with the fever and less sick without it.

Some symptoms are pretty terrible, and it is important to try to get rid of them.

With pornography, there is massive evidence that pornography is not only a symptom of misogyny but an active agent in generating woman-hating acts and second-class status for women. Pornography sexualizes inequality and the hatred of women so that men get sexual pleasure from hurting women and putting women down. It creates bigotry and aggression. It desensitizes men to rape and other forms of sexual violence against women so that they do not recognize the violence as violence, or they believe the woman provoked and enjoyed it. Pornography is used as a blueprint for sadism, rape, and torture. It is used to force women and children into prostitution. It is used to coerce children into sex. Sex offenders use it to plan their crimes and to prime themselves to commit their crimes. It is implicated in the biographies of serial murderers and in the commissions of the murders themselves. It is more than a very high fever. It does as much damage as low pay. How can we justify not doing something about it, whether it is a symptom or a cause?

Some people claim that pornography is irrelevant to violence against women. They say that pornography is new and contemporary and that rape, battery, and prostitution are old. They say that pornography cannot be a cause of violence against women because violence against women existed long before pornography.

This is not true, but suppose it were.

Even if pornography is a cause now, and never was before, we would have to do something about it now. Think about environmental pollution. It causes various kinds of cancer (though those who make the pollution don't think so). Cancer existed long before the kinds of environmental pollution that come from highly industrialized societies. But this does not mean that pollution in our society does not cause cancer in our society.

In fact, pornography has a long history in Western civilization (and in Asian and other civilizations too). Its history is as long as the documented history of rape and prostitution (the so-called oldest profession, the misogynist meaning being that as long as there have been women, women have prostituted themselves). We can trace pornography without any difficulty back as far as ancient Greece in the West. Pornography is a Greek word. It means the graphic depiction of women as the lowest, most vile whores. It refers to writing, etching, or drawing of women who, in real life, were kept in female sexual slavery in ancient Greece. Pornography has always, as far back as we can go, had to do with exploiting, debasing, and violating women in forced sex. Drawings, etchings, and writings were made of or about the female sex slaves performing forced sex acts. Women were used in brothels to create live pornography for men.

The invention of the camera changed the social reality of pornography. First, it created a bigger market for live women because live women were required to make the photographs. Someone could make a drawing out of his imagination or memory. A photograph turned a living woman into an exploited pornographic commodity. Pornography less and less existed in the realm of drawing, contiguous with art and imagination, and more and more it existed in the purposeful and exciting realm of documented sexual violation. Photographs acquired commercial primacy, and this meant that pornography required the sexual exploitation and violation of real women to exist in a world redefined by the camera. Second, mass means of producing the photographs democratized pornography. As writing, etching, or drawing, or as live shows in brothels, it had been the domain of rich men, aristocrats. Now the technology made it available to all men. Video has remarkably furthered this trend, bringing pornography into the home, both the product itself and the video camera that allows the man to make his own pornography of his wife or lover or child.

The role of written or drawn pornography in sexual abuse before the invention of the camera was not studied. The rights of women did not matter. The rights of women in brothels were not an issue. Violence against women did not matter. The use of women in live pornographic scenarios or as models for pornographic drawings did not matter to the men who used them or to the society that allowed these uses of women. If written or drawn pornography was used in the sexual abuse of women, prostitutes, or children, it did not matter. None of them had any legal rights of personhood.

The proliferation of pornography in our society, its use in sexual assault, its widespread legitimacy, its legal impunity, its accessibility, the need for real women to make the product in a market constantly expanding in size and sadism, have presented the contemporary women's movement with an emergency of staggering proportions: sexual sadism against women is mass entertainment; sexual exploitation of women is protected as and widely understood to be a civil liberty of men; the sexual violation of women in the pornography itself is protected by the courts as "speech."

It's a hell of a symptom, isn't it?