Pornography: An imminent threat to women or not?

Catharine MacKinnon constructs her arguments against men based on a frame of patriarchy; based on violent pornography, she believes that sex–any sex, even lesbian sex–supports patriarchy. And she explicitly refuses to excuse “soft” pornography, often utterly non-violent images, often of women solo or in consensual acts with no overtones of violence except those that radical feminists read into them. For MacKinnon, sex simply is violence.

An article posted on Alternet repeats a portion of this mistake, failing to distinguish between violent and non-violent images, in an assessment debated by two psychologists, a man who sees violent and degrading images as catharsis for men who need women to desire them as strong and masculine, and a woman who understands that, “Perversity — by which I mean getting aroused by degrading or dehumanizing another person — exists. Sadism — sexual sadism — exists. People make tragic and terrible sexual mistakes. (Read On Chesil Beach if you have any doubts.)”

At core, this article fails to advance the argument. The argument–and we see this with violence as well as with pornography–has always been between those who see content as cathartic–supporting a fantasy that relieves a need to act out in reality–or as material for imitation. While considerably less extreme than MacKinnon, this article fails to settle the question. Because even when “people make tragic and terrible sexual mistakes,” we still don’t know what role pornography played in those mistakes; many people of multiple genders enjoy pornography but only a few turn violent.

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