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That Pornography Thing

We touched a few nerves with our article on CD-ROM pornography. The most well-reasoned and rational letter came from Phil Ryan of Melbourne, Australia. Read Phil’s letter, and then we’ll offer additional thoughts on why we wrote the article and the overall subject.

Phil Ryan writes:

Before anyone mentions ‘censorship,’ I want to register my objection to pornography (it’s a free world). I am a part-time law student as well as a computer nutcase (i.e. Physics Ph.D.). In 1992 I enrolled in a course called ‘Feminist Legal Theory’ – partly because I wanted to find out about feminism, partly because it was the only class that I could get to while working full-time.

During the course we examined various things, including pornography. When we first brought it up, most students expressed the opinion that porn is ‘just a bit of fluff, and besides, women make money out of it.’ However, as we looked more closely into the issue, we saw how many women are (1) injured in the production of porn – like prostitutes they usually are not doing it out of ‘free choice,’ (2) offended by pornographic images – particularly violent ones, and (3) generally treated as ‘things,’ a ‘piece of meat,’ by the pornography industry. We began to realize that porn is more insidious than people realize.

I, and most of the modern, feminist anti-porn campaigners, do not criticize this industry from the point of view that it ‘corrupts the populace’ (which is, by the way, the way that most laws in Western countries are framed). Rather, we criticize the industry from the point of view that real women are injured and oppressed in real ways in order to produce this stuff. Other than Madonna, the vast majority of women used in the pornography industry are not the major beneficiaries of the money generated.

My main references on this are Catherine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin, American anti-porn campaigners. They started out being anti-rape campaigners and thought too that porn wasn’t a big problem. However, they became deluged with requests for assistance from refugees of the now $10 billion or more porn industry.

I object to pornography, and would rather not see it mentioned when criticism of the pornography industry’s methods is not also mentioned.

Some additional thoughts — Thanks, Phil. It is a free world, at least in some places, and thanks for pointing that out. Freedom cuts both ways.

This is obviously a sensitive issue and we apologize for any offense any of our readers may have taken. However, we do not apologize for publishing the article. Avoiding any arguments based on good or evil, we found the existence of so many pornographic CD-ROMs astonishing, and as such, fodder for TidBITS. I wrote in the context of the Macintosh and technology and provided contact information. Think about that. Sure, you could immediately use the phone numbers to order a CD-ROM and drool into your keyboard. But, that information also gives you the power to call and state your complaints. Maybe the vendors would learn something from you, or maybe you would learn something from them. Perhaps the most important tenet underlying TidBITS is that of communication. We firmly believe that only through communication can global problems be solved, and although we normally stick to our tiny niche, larger subjects occasionally impinge on our Macintosh-based tunnel vision.

Pornography is just such a topic, and we at TidBITS have devoted some serious thought to it in the past week, responding to your letters and trying to decide how we feel. Phil’s excellent letter prompted much of the thought, and we agree with his final statement about needing to balance the issue with criticisms of the pornography industry’s methods. I hope his letter achieves that for others as well.

We offer a few of our thoughts, merely as something for you to mull over, agree with, disagree with, or toss out as the words of crackpots. In reading Phil’s letter, I was struck by the possibility left open for "good" pornography that does not injure women. Apart from subjective evaluations of what is or is not offensive, and Mark has more on that subject, many objections could be met by union-style safeguards in terms of fair pay, working conditions, and so on. Such "good" pornography would then have a marketing advantage much like that enjoyed by the tuna fish companies that take pains not to harm dolphins. One hopes that market pressure would then force exploitative and injurious companies out of business. In terms of worker treatment, the pornography industry doesn’t differ significantly from any other. People can be mistreated in any field, including government, as recent sexual harassment cases show.

In relation to whether or not pornography is offensive, Mark Anbinder writes, "If we allow one person or group of people to impose his or her concept of morality or acceptability on another person or group of people, we begin to dismantle the very structure of our freedom. It is vitally important that we do not allow anyone, least of all ourselves, to quench that freedom." To expand that sentiment slightly, consider quickly the fact that what we feel is normal and healthy may seriously offend someone from another culture. Let each person be offended in his or her own way but never decree that others share that feeling.

This discussion alone could easily overwhelm our weekly space, so we’ll leave it in the future to other, more appropriate, forums. Feel free to keep thinking and sending us your comments; we’ll try to reply within the limits of our wrists. ‘Nuff said.

Information from:
Philip Ryan — [email protected]
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor — [email protected]

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