Deep Throat Rape and Radical Feminism

Catherine MacKinnon, an influential radical feminist law professor, sparked an uproar during a panel discussion of the documentary Inside Deep Throat:

[The panel's moderator] looked on helplessly as McKinnon did her thing, claiming that the film we had just watched was promoting the acceptance of rape. At one point, however, her righteous zeal became unhinged when she claimed that it was not possible to do deep throat safely, that it was a dangerous act that could only be done under hypnosis. "What's so funny?" she snapped as the audience rippled with mirth. Todd Graff's hand shot up - "I can do it," he said, and the room echoed with a chorus of gay men going "me too!" (Gigi Grazer - wife of Brian [the director of the film] - later told Graff to stop bragging and that she could do it better than him and had the rocks on her fingers to prove it. Touché). But La McKinnon was not to be discouraged; she claimed that emergency rooms were filled with women victims of throat rape, not to mention the ones who hadnt even made it that far and had died in the act.

I cannot speak to the accuracy of her claims regarding the number of women injured by this sex act, but I remain skeptical. Andrea Nemerson, a sex educator and advice columnist, dismisses a reader's concern:

Remember, once again, that we are discussing consensual sex, where the owner of the throat being penetrated has the power of refusal should things get unpleasant. Having something plunged repeatedly into your throat with sufficient force to cause some sort of ripping or bruising of the larynx (well beyond the reach of any penis I've ever seen, by the way) would be wildly unpleasant. So unacceptably, brutally unpleasant, in fact, that the recipient of such treatment would have expressed her unwillingness to continue long before any such damage could have occurred. And I don't want to hear, "But she couldn't talk! Her mouth was full!" There are many nonverbal methods of communication available to a woman whose teeth and hands are within range of the offending organ.

However, even if we accept Nemerson's health claims, that still leaves open the moral claim that this sex act is abusive and degrading. And Nemerson is clearly no fan or expert when it comes to Andrea Dworkin, another radical feminist who, along with her co-author Mackinnon, have led a campaign to convince lawmakers to recognize pornography as a violation of civil rights. Nemerson repeats the oft-cited conservative myth that Dworkin once claimed "there isn't any difference between heterosexual intercourse and rape." Charles Johnson debunks this slanderous accusation in "Andrea Dworkin does not believe that all heterosexual sex is rape."

So what exactly does Dworkin claim? Johnson summarizes her argument nicely, but encourages us to read Intercourse to get the complete picture. According to Johnson, Dworkin's major theses are:

  1. that patriarchal culture makes heterosexual intercourse the paradigm activity for all sexuality; other forms of sexuality are typically treated as “not real sex” or as mere precursors to intercourse and always discussed in terms that analogize them to it;
  2. that heterosexual intercourse is typically depicted in ways that are systematically male-centric and which portray the activity as iniated by and for the man (as “penetration” of the woman by the man, rather than “engulfing” of the man by the woman, or as the man and woman “joining” together—the last is represented in the term “copulation” but that’s rarely used in ordinary speech about human men and women);
  3. that the cultural attitudes are reflective of, and reinforce, material realities such as the prevalence of violence against women and the vulnerability of many women to extreme poverty, that substantially constrain women’s choices with regard to sexuality and with regard to heterosexual intercourse in particular;
  4. that (1)-(3) constitute a serious obstacle to women’s control over their own lives and identities that is both very intimate and very difficult to escape;
  5. that intercourse as it’s actually practiced occurs in the social context of (1)-(3), and so intercourse as a real social institution and a real experience in individual women’s lives is shaped and constrained by political-cultural forces and not merely by individual choices;
  6. that, therefore, drawing the ethical lines in regards to sexuality solely on the basis of individual formal consent rather than considering the cultural and material conditions under which sexuality and formal consent occur makes it hard for liberals and some feminists writing on sexuality to see the truth of (4);
  7. that they therefore end up collaborating, either through neglect or endorsement, with the sustanence of (1)-(3), to the detriment of women’s liberation;
  8. and feminist politics require challenging both these writings and (1)-(3), that is, challenging intercourse as it is habitually practiced in our society.

If this scares conservatives, it should, for it is a call to examine and uproot oppressive cultural attitudes. Insofar as conservatives defend and try to justify the status quo, they are enemies of radical feminism.

But this need not scare libertarians, who by nature are accustomed to examining and advocating the uprooting of oppressive cultural attitudes, albeit in a slightly different context. As radical feminist libertarians Charles Johnson and Roderick Long write in their masterful "Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?",

The parallels between libertarian and feminist insights are striking. “The state is male in the feminist sense,” MacKinnon argues, in that “the law sees and treats women the way men see and treat women” (MacKinnon 1989, pp. 161-2). The libertarian completion of this thought is that the state sees and treats everybody—though not in equal degree—the way men see and treat women. The ideal of a woman’s willing surrender to a benevolent male protector both feeds and is fed by the ideal of the citizenry’s willing surrender to a benevolent governmental protector. “We are not among wild beasts; from whom, then, does woman need protection? From her protectors,” Ezra Heywood remarked (McElroy 1991, p. 227); in the same way, libertarians have often described the state as an entity that protects people primarily from harms caused or exacerbated by the state in the first place. Just as, under patriarchy, forced sex is not recognized as real or fully serious rape unless the perpetrator is a stranger rather than one’s husband or boyfriend, so, under statism, governmental coercion is not recognized as real or fully serious tyranny unless it happens under a non-democratic government, a “dictatorship.” The marriage vow, as a rape license, has its parallel in the electoral ballot, as a tyranny license. Those who seek to withhold consent from their country’s governmental apparatus altogether get asked the same question that battered women get asked: “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” — the man’s rightful jurisdiction over the home, and the state’s over the country, being taken for granted. It’s always the woman, not the abusive man, who needs to vacate the home (to go where?); it’s likewise the citizen, not the abusive state, that needs to vacate the territory (to go where?)...

Libertarians are often unimpressed by feminist worries about social norms that disable anything a woman says from counting as declining consent to sexual access, but they are indignant at theories of tacit or hypothetical consent that disable anything a citizen says from counting as declining consent to governmental authority.[1] Libertarians often conclude that gender roles must not be oppressive since many women accept them; but they do not analogously treat the fact that most citizens accept the legitimacy of governmental compulsion as a reason to question its oppressive character; on the contrary, they see their task as one of consciousness-raising and demystification, or, in the Marxian phrase, plucking the flowers from the chains to expose their character as chains.

So what are we to make of Mackinnon's claim that "deep throat" sex is a form of rape? Alas, a Blog thinks it is all a big misunderstanding, but one for which Mackinnon is partly responsible:

She likes to use strong statements as a rhetorical device, and they do work to draw attention to what she is saying. But they tend to do this only in a superficial sense and seldom lead to an extended discussion of what her actual arguments are... Though using careful phrazing is not as exciting to begin with, it tends to turn fewer listeners off and ultimately results in a more fruitful discussion... McKinnon writes theory and to understand her arguments one must understand the way she defines the concepts. Not that this excuses her use of the terms in public debates without proper definitions.

Still, even granting this interpretative charity, it is difficult to see how the act itself necessarily entails oppression when gay men proudly shout their enthusiasm for it. While homosexuals certainly face social discrimination, one would need to do impressive philosophical gymnastics to show how one gay man's submission to his partner is really just submission to the overarching social system. Both gay and lesbian relationships, as well as gay and lesbian pornography, present a difficulty for much of the feminist critique, or at least a persuasive counterexample for those who wish to defend pornography from its critics. While this may demonstate that not all forms of pornography and seemingly degrading sex acts are actually so, we should not forgot the powerful cultural influences these acts and images can have. Jonathan Blumen, writing in the online journal The Ethical Spectacle, in an issue focused on the ethical and political implications of pornography, offers this eloquent critique of Mackinnon's methods, while at the same time defending and agreeing with her goals:

If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; Mackinnon is a lawyer, so the law looks like the best way, or the only way, to solve the problem of pornography. If you divorce Mackinnon's conclusions from her prescriptions, you would have a valuable feminist scholar, calling attention to contexts and subtexts in our society previously ignored. But, as an attorney and law professor, Mackinnon must, to accomplish her goals, place herself squarely in confrontation with free speech.

This is doubly sad, because the idea she presents us with is so valuable. Mackinnon's central idea is that pornography is the oppression of women; it is not simply talk about or advocacy of oppression. Thus, she argues, contrary to most Constitutional scholars, that pornography is not speech, but action...

While Mackinnon's world view, thus summarized, may sound extreme, a thought experiment-- one I have advocated before-- is all that is really necessary to see the validity of her ideas. Assume that there is a public market place for sadistic torture videos set in concentration camps, and that drug-addicted, psychologically unstable Jews could be found to act in them. Virtually none of us would have any problem recognizing this as an extremely unhealthy form of entertainment, nor would we hesitate to believe that the consumers of such videos would be confirmed in their racist and sadistic views and more likely to act on them as a result.

There is no moral difference between really degrading pornography and the concentration camp videos I described. As Mackinnon points out, there is a sub-genre of S&M videos which are, in fact, set in concentration camps where the inmates are seen to assist in their own degradation. ...

I suppose we are lucky that law professors do not run the world. Mackinnon's bitter and veristic world view concentrates on truths most women must ignore to survive: that the male world in an important sense is hostile to them, that male sexuality mixed with violence is a potent force that holds them back, that we still fall far short of a world in which men and women will work and love as equals. Her prescriptions, however, like most Utopias, collapse of their own weight: in a patriarchic world, why does she think she can petition the patriarchy to pass laws that will silence evil speech and promote equality? A patriarchy has never truly promoted equality of any kind before, though many have claimed to. As Nadine Strossen points out, Mackinnon's views of pornography, accepted by the liberal Canadian Supreme Court, resulted only in action being taken against lesbian and feminist pornography in Canada, while mainstream porno went on unchecked. The people in power will use whatever means are available to preserve their position, not change it.

The only hope lies with free speech. Without free speech, there cannot be equality. With free speech, equality is not guaranteed, but we have the opportunity to pursue it. It gives us the tools we need to begin the work.

And as Roderick Long and Charles Johnson argue, feminists and others should extend this idea to its libertarian conclusion: the only hope lies not just with freedom of the vocal cords and what can be produced with those vocal cords, but freedom of the whole body and what can be produced with that body. Without freedom from the state, there cannot be equality. With freedom from the state, equality is not guaranteed, but we have the opportunity to pursue it.


Update: Follow-up here. Share this

Little Oral Anarchist Little

Little Oral Anarchist
Little Oral Anarchist - Interesting consideration of the relationships among radical feminism, libertarianism and pornography by Micha Ghertner. I don't...

Well that much is true-

Well that much is true- after all, contra my argument of the Roman matrons, the level of liberation (per se) of British women in the 19th century seems inverse; the poorer and middle classes had progressively more freedom to do this, that, and the other thing than culture-bound high society women.

I'd say that the economics is usually necessary, given self interest and the imbalance of physical power (men's self interest + ability to physically dominate women = traditional gender role maintenance), though the presence of a counterintuitive cultural aspect from the get-go might prevent an outcome. But those cultural attitudes would have to be fairly widespread in the population to hold back self interest & opportunity absent high opportunity costs to female domination.

Actually, I should reword my

Actually, I should reword my response to Brian, for it sounds too much like Long and Johnson are crediting these economic factors as both necessary and sufficient, whereas what they are really saying is that these factors, while perhaps necessary, are not alone sufficient. Cultural changes are needed as well.

Brian, Long and Johnson make

Brian,

Long and Johnson make precisely the same argument in their article: that only as a result of industrial advance, the expansion of specialization and the division of labor, and an overall increase in wealth and trade, did women’s status in society improve. They also quote Herbert Spencer who says the same thing.

That'll teach me to not do the reading before class. :dunce:

Frank, As far as I know, and

Frank,

As far as I know, and I admit I'm no expert on this matter, not all porn pays very well. Some does and some doesn't. And this is increasingly true as video making equipment, publishing, and other forms of media production become cheaper and widely available. Smaller-run amateurish operations do not pay as well as the larger, more professional outlets.

Second, please note that I do not argue that all porn is misogynistic. If you read my first comment in this thread, you will see that not even MacKinnon and Dworkin believe this; they distinguish between pornography (by which they seem to mean misogynistic pornography) and erotica (by which they seem to mean non-misogynistic pornography).

And no, there is no important difference between an X-rated misogynistic film and an R-rated misogynistic film. The element being criticized here is the misogyny, and not the nudity or sexuality per se, although sexually explicit material may have the potential to cause more of a detrimental effect on cultural views of women than non-sexually explicit material, for it more directly links women's sexuality with their degradation.

This argument would have more validity if it wasn’t the case that porn tends to be watched privately and not publicly - as Scott points out, people seek out porn. It doesn’t appear on the billboards at Times Square or on primetime TV.

Again, I think you are misunderstanding what radical feminists mean when they criticize pornography. They are not only criticizing hard-core, sexually explicit material, but also the "softer," more mainstream misogynistic material one can easily find in general movie theaters, on billboards, and on primetime TV. And even in cases where the material is watched privately, it is simply not the case that everyone who watches it seeks it out, knowing beforehand what they are getting themselves into. When even "mainstream" pornography portrays women as subserviant and secondary to men, this is viewed and internalized by both men and women who were not initially interested in viewing misogynistic material, and may not even recognize it after the fact, especially when they see it all around them.

Also, you have a real slippery slope problem on your hands if you do accept this “effect on overall culture” as some sort of standard. It may well be the case that the dividing line between porn and not porn (let’s say it is that people don’t actually have sex in the latter) doesn’t accurately track the line between products which do and don’t corrupt overall culture. For instance, Catherine Breillat’s film Romance could be categorised as technically porn while Britney Spears’ video for “Slave for you” is technically not. There is a reasonable argument that, given their likely respective audiences, the latter has a more coarsening effect on the “overall culture” than the former.

Sure, I completely agree with this. As I said before, the feminist concern is not so much the degree of sexual explicitness, but the degree of power-inequality between men and women.

Finally, I must again recommend Long's and Johnson's article which I referenced earlier. They address many of your concerns, particularly what they call the "authoritarian theory of politics." A short excerpt:

All this makes it seem, at times, that libertarians—including libertarian feminists—are suffering from a sort of willful conceptual blindness; perhaps because they are afraid to grant the existence of serious and systematic forms of political oppression that are not connected solely or mainly with the state. It’s as though, if they granted any political critique of the outcomes of voluntary association, they would thereby be granting that voluntary association as such is oppressive, and that government regulation is the solution. But such a phobic reaction only makes sense if you first accept (either tacitly or explicitly) the premise that all politics is exclusively the domain of the government, and as such (given Mises’s insights into the nature of government) all political action is essentially violent action. This is, as it were, a problem that has no name; but we might call it “the authoritarian theory of politics,” since it amounts to the premise that any political question is a question resolved by violence; many 20th century libertarians simply grant the premise and then, because they hold that no question is worth resolving by (initiatory) violence, they call for the death of politics in human affairs…

But this should not lead us

But this should not lead us to ignore the large number of women who “choose” to do this only because of economic constraints

That's not going to fly. It might be useful as an argument for (low paid) prostitution but porn pays very well - you can earn $2,000 in an afternoon. The kicker is that there is a small window of opportunity in which to earn that money. Nobody (chooses or even "chooses") to do porn because of "economic constraints". There may be factors which constrain the choice to do porn but outside of specific acts or threatened acts of coercion by sleazy boyfriends if you are going to refuse to recognise choices as free because of such constraints you are going to find this extends way past porn.

Also, you are really begging the question that porn is misogynistic and degrading to women in some sort of objective, intrinsic sense and further that this differs in some important way to, say, an R-rated slasher movie. It's probably not the case that you can just point to porno X, say "this is misogynistic and degrading to women" and find some sort of consensus on this. You will undoubtedly find plenty of people who will agree with you, but you will also find people who don't accept this to be true and it would be wrong to just assume that this is because they have been in some way desensitised or brainwashed.

The other half is the effect this kind of pornography has on the audience and the overall culture. When degradation, subjection, and objectification are portrayed as normal and desirable on screen or in print, this has profound influence on how men view and treat women in their own lives, and how women view themselves.

This argument would have more validity if it wasn't the case that porn tends to be watched privately and not publicly - as Scott points out, people seek out porn. It doesn't appear on the billboards at Times Square or on primetime TV. Also, you have a real slippery slope problem on your hands if you do accept this "effect on overall culture" as some sort of standard. It may well be the case that the dividing line between porn and not porn (let's say it is that people don't actually have sex in the latter) doesn't accurately track the line between products which do and don't corrupt overall culture. For instance, Catherine Breillat's film Romance could be categorised as technically porn while Britney Spears' video for "Slave for you" is technically not. There is a reasonable argument that, given their likely respective audiences, the latter has a more coarsening effect on the "overall culture" than the former.

"But at the same time,

"But at the same time, unless we are willing to posit that cultural norms have no effect on individidual choices, and in turn, that the portrayal of women in the media has no effect on cultural norms, it seems pretty difficult to deny some level of causality."

I believe what I'm positing is the possibility that media portrayals of women are the result of individual choices, and not the other way around. That is to say, degrading pornography is a reflection of our culture, not the cause of it.

You may argue that the two may very well be mutually causative, feeding each other. But I find that rather hard to buy--people are not being strapped down, eyelids clamped open, and forced to watch degrading images of women. They rather, seek it out, which presumably shows something about their innate desires.

At any rate, even if mutually causative; that requires some further investigation to discover which variable is mostly symptom, and which one is mostly cause.

Correlation is a part of it.

Correlation is a part of it. Those who, for whatever reason, are already predisposed to objectify and degrade women may also be more likely to seek out images and media that reinforce their preferences. But at the same time, unless we are willing to posit that cultural norms have no effect on individidual choices, and in turn, that the portrayal of women in the media has no effect on cultural norms, it seems pretty difficult to deny some level of causality.

"But that’s only half the

"But that’s only half the equation. The other half is the effect this kind of pornography has on the audience and the overall culture. When degradation, subjection, and objectification are portrayed as normal and desirable on screen or in print, this has profound influence on how men view and treat women in their own lives, and how women view themselves."

Might you be confusing correlation with causation?

Frank, True, it is possible

Frank,

True, it is possible for women to voluntarily choose to engage in mysoginistic pornography - and by choose I mean a choice that everyone would agree is taken voluntarily, without economic or social constraint. (But this should not lead us to ignore the large number of women who "choose" to do this only because of economic constraints).

But that's only half the equation. The other half is the effect this kind of pornography has on the audience and the overall culture. When degradation, subjection, and objectification are portrayed as normal and desirable on screen or in print, this has profound influence on how men view and treat women in their own lives, and how women view themselves.

Mock, That is not my claim.

Mock,

That is not my claim. There may very well be a large number of people who are unaffected by some of the images they see, or can at least train themselves to ignore the implicit cultural messages. But at the same time, there are a great many people who are influenced by these messages.

Here's an analogy. We know that crime rates are fairly stable from year to year. So if the murder rate per 100,000 people is 10 one year, we know that the murder rate will be close to 10 the next year. Does this mean that those 10 people were destined to murder, and had no choice in the matter? Of course not. The murder rate is merely a description of large group, and not an unchangeable destiny for particular individuals. We can recognize that individuals have the freedom to choose their actions while at the same time recognize the effect certain phenomena can have on our culture.

Brian, Long and Johnson make

Brian,

Long and Johnson make precisely the same argument in their article: that only as a result of industrial advance, the expansion of specialization and the division of labor, and an overall increase in wealth and trade, did women's status in society improve. They also quote Herbert Spencer who says the same thing.

Femiphobia

Wow, this was a really neat

Wow, this was a really neat post.

Blumen's point about the inadequacy of the law to deal with such problems is well argued.

I don't much like the concentration camp analogy, though. Yes, such a thing would of course be horrible. But this has nothing to do with pornography. The author says:

There is no moral difference between really degrading pornography and the concentration camp videos I described. As Mackinnon points out, there is a sub-genre of S&M videos which are, in fact, set in concentration camps where the inmates are seen to assist in their own degradation.

This is simply not sufficient to indict the practice of pornography. Is it really so hard for MacKinnon and Blumen to say "Some kinds of pornography are morally offensive; some are not"?? We do that with all other areas of life. Some kinds of business practices are wrong, some aren't, etc. To condemn pornography in toto simply because there are some sickos out there making some sick stuff is not rational.

MacKinnon and others might reply that it's all on a continuum; that "regular" porn is just a mild version of the S & M concentration camp stuff. But then they've got some arguing to do. All the characteristics that make the concentration camp video morally offensive -- degradation, etc. -- are absent in a great deal of mainstream pornography. Unless you're going to argue that filming women having sex is inherently degrading, but then you're just begging the question.

So the analogy falls to pieces.

If I were a woman, I'd be a little bit insulted by MacKinnon & co. If I decide I want to make money -- and often you can make quite a bit -- by participating in pornographic movies, that should be viewed as a legitimate choice -- and most importantly, as the woman's choice, not the state's. MacKinnon might reply that such a woman is too "psychologically weak" to make the decision for herself -- but this is precisely the kind of paternalism that would insult some women. The implication is that they're too weak or stupid to think for themselves.

Now I am going to use one of those cool smily graphics, just because I can.

:behead:

This is a good analogy for

This is a good analogy for helping male libertarians be more sympathetic to feminists.

I personally have been calling myself a libertarian for a few years now, but have been having more and more doubts from the perspective of being a woman.

The main issue is, if we get rid of the laws, men still have more power than women from a variety of aspects.

Women's power has increased dramatically with the increase in laws, although I don't think that either side has good evidence as to how much of this is due to the increase v.s. societal progression.

What we do have evidence of is that lesser laws does not equate freedom or equality for women. In the libertarian glory days after the American revolution when there was little legal protection, women were not allowed to vote, attend many schools, etc. Not to mention the existence of slavery and things of that nature.

I'd much rather live in a society where some freedoms of all are limited in order to give over 50% of the population (the half that I'm in ;) more. Although when calculating in the freedom of protection that would be lost by women, I'm not sure how much overall freedom would be gained or lost by libertarianism.

I do agree with the libertarian principle that smaller government than we currently have would be much better.

And I also think that the same protections that women get from a large state could be gotten from smaller communities.

But the libertarian focus I almost always hear preached (at least by preachy libertarians ;) is on abolishing laws, not establishing good systems for protection at smaller levels.

It would also be a lot of effort invested for every community to establish such rules, and it seems likely to me that many wouldn't.

I also have concerns about supply and demand regression (perhaps an "increase in utility" in the economist sense but a decrease in happiness for women) in regard to sexual practices at currently non-sexually demanding jobs.

Dadahead, I largely agree

Dadahead,

I largely agree with your criticisms. I think the problem here is terminology. When MacKinnon, Dworkin and other radical feminists use the word pornography, they are describing the kind of material that objectifies and degrades women, which is why they view it as a form of psychological rape. But they do not object to what they call erotica, which you and I and others unfamiliar with their arguments might refer to simply as pornography.

Blumen goes to a great deal of trouble trying to define what counts as pornography and what counts as erotica, and he doesn't come to a satisfying conclusion. The distinction between the two seems fuzzy, so making strict categorical definitions is all the more difficult.

But, apart from these difficulties, one valuable insight of radical feminists is that even mainstream pornography (and media in general) is rife with implicit degradation and subserviance -- the focus is on the man's pleasure, not the woman's; the woman "deserves" to be treated like an object; men are expected to excercise power over women and women are expected to accept this excercise of power without complaint.

While MacKinnon and others are wrong to call for state coercion in response to this cultural gender oppression -- for all of the reasons Long, Johnson, and Blumen offer, MacKinnon is right to expose this type of behavior and the harmful sorts of images that all of us take for granted, and call for it to end through a radical change in cultural attitudes and behavior.

Smileycynic, I sympathize

Smileycynic,

I sympathize with your concerns. It is true that if we get rid of the state protections, men will still have more power than women, at least if existing cultural norms are held constant. What is not clear, as you said, is to what extent the state protections actually accomplish what their proponents hoped to accomplish, and to what extent these laws may have unintentionally hurt the women they were intented to help.

I can think of a number of examples, but one that comes immediately to mind, from an article I wrote for TCS a few months back, is the unintended consequences of mandatory arrest and prosecution in domestic violence cases. An excerpt:

Just as economists recognized how paternalism can lead to unintended and undesirable consequences, so too, lawyers, therapists, and social workers are beginning to recognize some of the unintended consequences of mandatory arrest and prosecution in domestic violence cases. As Linda G. Mills, a professor of law and social work at New York University, argues in her recent book, Insult to Injury: Rethinking our Responses to Intimate Abuse, these policies disempower women by depriving them of any say in the handling of their cases, further degrading them as weak, ineffectual pawns in the maintenance of their own lives. Even more disturbing, policies of mandatory arrest and prosecution can discourage women from coming forward. Mills estimates that "as many as half of women in abusive relationships stay in them for strong cultural, economic, religious, or emotional reasons." Women are less likely to come forward and get help for their abuse if they know that doing so will lead to the arrest and prosecution of someone they still care deeply about. Instead of helping people who presumably can't help themselves, paternalistic laws aimed at domestic abuse can add insult to injury by hurting the very people they were intended to help.

Mills offers a number of alternative approaches for dealing with domestic violence that are designed to avoid these pitfalls. The point, though, is that, as Blumen put it, the government is a particularly unweildy and blunt instrument for dealing with these sorts of problems. It reminds me of that game in video arcades where you are supposed to bash the head of a toy crocodile with a rubber mallet, but as soon as you do, another head pops up.

I enthusiastically agree with your statement that "What we do have evidence of is that lesser laws does not equate freedom or equality for women." This is something that far too many libertarians forget: namely, the absence of state violence does not imply the absence of non-state violence -- even systematic, widespread non-state violence. One cannot simply eliminate the state and expect that all will be peachy in its absence. There must be cultural bulwarks against other evils: racism, sexism, xenophobia, and so forth.

This point is dealt with extensively in the article I cited by Roderick Long and Charles Johnson. Though it is long, I strongly encourage you and anyone else interested in this topic to read it. Here are just a few choice bits relating to your statement:

Brownmiller's and other feminists' insights into the pervasiveness of battery, incest, and other forms of male violence against women, present both a crisis and an opportunity for libertarians. Libertarianism professes to be a comprehensive theory of human freedom; what is supposed to be distinctive about the libertarian theory of justice is that we concern ourselves with violent coercion no matter who is practicing it—even if he has a government uniform on. But what feminists have forced into the public eye in the last 30 years is that, in a society where one out of every four women faces rape or battery by an intimate partner, and where women are threatened or attacked by men who profess to love them, because the men who attack them believe that being a man means you have the authority to control women, male violence against women is nominally illegal but nevertheless systematic, motivated by the desire for control, culturally excused, and hideously ordinary. For libertarians, this should sound eerily familiar; confronting the full reality of male violence means nothing less than recognizing the existence of a violent political order working alongside, and independently of, the violent political order of statism. As radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon writes, "Unlike the ways in which men systematically enslave, violate, dehumanize, and exterminate other men, expressing political inequalities among men, men’s forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of the law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life" (1989, p. 161). Male supremacy has its own ideological rationalizations, its own propaganda, its own expropriation, and its own violent enforcement; although it is often in league with the male-dominated state, male violence is older, more invasive, closer to home, and harder to escape than most forms of statism. This means that libertarians who are serious about ending all forms of political violence need to fight, at least, a two-front war, against both statism and male supremacy...

Some of libertarians’ sharpest jabs at feminism have been directed against feminist criticisms of sexual harassment, misogynist pornography, or sadomasochism. Feminists in particular are targeted as the leading crusaders for “political correctness”, and characterized as killjoys, censors, or man-haters for criticising speech or consensual sex acts in which women are denigrated or dominated; it is apparently claimed that since the harassment or the portrayal doesn’t (directly) involve violence, there aren’t any grounds for taking political exception to it...

An uncharitable reading that the situation unfortunately suggests is that libertarians can recognize non-governmental oppression in principle, but in practice seem unable to grasp any form of oppression other than the ones that well-educated white men may have experienced for themselves.

A more charitable reading of libertarian attitudes might be... that libertarians—including libertarian feminists—are suffering from a sort of willful conceptual blindness; perhaps because they are afraid to grant the existence of serious and systematic forms of political oppression that are not connected solely or mainly with the state. It's as though, if they granted any political critique of the outcomes of voluntary association, they would thereby be granting that voluntary association as such is oppressive, and that government regulation is the solution. But such a phobic reaction only makes sense if you first accept (either tacitly or explicitly) the premise that all politics is exclusively the domain of the government, and as such (given Mises’s insights into the nature of government) all political action is essentially violent action. This is, as it were, a problem that has no name; but we might call it "the authoritarian theory of politics," since it amounts to the premise that any political question is a question resolved by violence; many 20th century libertarians simply grant the premise and then, because they hold that no question is worth resolving by (initiatory) violence, they call for the death of politics in human affairs...

Libertarian temptations to the contrary notwithstanding, it makes no sense to regard the state as the root of all social evil, for there is at least one social evil that cannot be blamed on the state — and that is the state itself. If no social evil can arise or be sustained except by the state, how does the state arise, and how is it sustained? As libertarians from La Boétie to Rothbard have rightly insisted, since rulers are generally outnumbered by those they rule, the state itself cannot survive except through popular acceptance which the state lacks the power to compel; hence state power is always part of an interlocking system of mutually reinforcing social practices and structures, not all of which are violations of the nonaggression axiom. There is nothing un-libertarian, then, in recognizing the existence of economic and/or cultural forms of oppression which, while they may draw sustenance from the state (and vice versa), are not reducible to state power. One can see statism and patriarchy as mutually reinforcing systems (thus ruling out both the option of fighting statism while leaving patriarchy intact, and the option of fighting patriarchy by means of statism) without being thereby committed to seeing either as a mere epiphenomenon of the other (thus ruling out the option of fighting patriarchy solely indirectly by fighting statism).

I imagine that the greatest

I imagine that the greatest strides in women's rights and liberation have had less to do with politics than with the rising opportunity cost of oppression that is concomitant with economic development, especially industrial modes of production which radically increased wealth across the board. In medieval times it didn't cost much to enforce an oppressive order and you gained much; absent other production, villages engaged in cottage industry and that was women's work- very valuable in the absence of outside production and trade.

When steam powered looms put the cottage industries out of business and eliminated the productive gains to keeping women barefoot, pregnant, and at the spindle (or other household jobs), it becomes progressively less and less advantageous to keep women down.

In Roman times, aristocratic Roman women had a great deal of political rights, due in part to their station but also because of the economic power an aristocrat had to wield. Managing aristocratic households (and the estates attached) was big business and it was women's business... and thus perhaps uncoincidentally they could inherit property, divorce, had legal standing before Roman judges, etc.

ONe could go so far as to say that suffrage and general liberation happened only when industrial societies were rich enough to afford it... though again it is simply a case where the effect of increasing concentration of capital and wealth meant that women were more productive as actual full citizens than as household productive adjuncts.

Micha, You seem to be

Micha,

You seem to be suggesting that it is not possible to view certain imaged scenarios without holding the cultural views implicit in them, which is a shaky proposition.

Blumen goes to a great deal

Blumen goes to a great deal of trouble trying to define what counts as pornography and what counts as erotica, and he doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion. The distinction between the two seems fuzzy, so making strict categorical definitions is all the more difficult.

But this is really a red herring - a distinction without a difference, I feel it is a cul de sac of enquiry. It is going to be nigh on impossible to find this dividing line between erotica and pornography and it won't really matter anyway because the problem is not with the product but the process. It is perfectly plausible that psychologically stable actress A happily performs in "degrading", "woman-objectifying" porno X for a nice big fat pay cheque while heavy-drug-using or low self-esteem actress B reluctantly submits to having sex with some stranger for nice fluffy "empowering" erotica Y because she needs a fix or is pressurised/coerced by her "suitcase pimp" boyfriend.

The flaw in the concentration camp porn analogy is that it assumes the salient point in referring to "drug-addicted, psychologically unstable Jews [who] could be found to act in them". The problem with McKinnon et al is that they beg the question - it doesn't occur to them that a woman would voluntarily choose to perform in porn for financial reward, they reason that if women appear in "degrading" porn it must be because they were coerced or incapable of offering proper consent.

As far as I know, and I

As far as I know, and I admit I’m no expert on this matter, not all porn pays very well. Some does and some doesn’t. And this is increasingly true as video making equipment, publishing, and other forms of media production become cheaper and widely available. Smaller-run amateurish operations do not pay as well as the larger, more professional outlets.

This is a widely held misconception. The "larger, more professional outlets" who produce "couple's porn" such as Vivid and Wicked pay less than the "gonzo style" outfits. They spend more on the production values and less on the girl. The guys with the cheap video equipment can afford to pay more for the girl. Also, I think you underestimate the extent to which porn is quasi-unionised. Pretty much every company hires the actresses through a small number of agencies. It's not like there is a decentralised industry with wildly varying rates of pay. The vast majority of all porn is produced out of LA's San Fernando valley, Prague or Budapest. The rates fall within a narrow range and are typically considerably more than what non-porn unskilled work would pay. The thing is: the economic necessity argument, while it might work for other forms of "undesirable" work, is not going to work for porn.

The element being criticized here is the misogyny, and not the nudity or sexuality per se

I don't think you appreciate the difficulty with this definition of misogyny and the implications of basing an argument around this. For starters, assume that one can simply identify misogny by looking at it. Now, as we agree, the line between misogyny and non-misogny isn't the same as the line between porn and non-porn. Yet this argument is being used as a justification only for a ban or at least some sort of non-government collective coercion against porn (of both misogynistic and non-misogynistic character) and not against all misogynistic material.

Secondly, misogny is not so easy to identify as you seem to think. Consider a "femdom" porno - degrading acts are carried out to a man by a woman. Now, do you consider this to be "misandrist"? You might argue that as it is produced for the purpose of male arousal it is not, or because there is already a male-female power inequality it is somehow sort of - two "wrongs" making a right - ok. But these are not really defensible arguments. Consider porno Y which features degrading acts carried out to a woman by a man. You probably have no problem identifying this as misogynistic. But what makes it so? Some sort of platonic essence of Misogyny sovereign from what people actually think of it? Let's say there's porno Ya which is made by a man interested in portraying his "misogynistic" fantasies and porno Yb which is made by a woman interested in portraying her submissive fantasies. Let's say that Ya is misogynistic but Yb isn't (if you don't accept this of Yb you're going to have to do a pretty thorough job in explaining how the maker of Yb has some sort of "false consciousness" - you can't just asume it to be so, a priori) but to the unschooled observer it is impossible to distinguish between Ya and Yb. The consensus that you imagine exists on what constitutes misogynistic degradation is a chimera - one person's disgusting, disturbing image is another's deepest fantasy and you will find men and women in both groups.

The problem I have with much anti-pornography rhetoric is not just the campaign for legal sanction of speech but also that it is based on a series of untenable assumptions and auxiliary hypotheses (all these efforts to define away free choice and consent) and it is often based on a very shallow understanding of the nature of this industry - Dworkin's meatgrinder image is the paradigm of the radical feminist understanding of pornography. Yet this one image - a cartoon in a 1970s Hustler magazine - doesn't capture anything truly significant about pornography and the focus on it has acted to divert most radical feminists away from any real insights about this issue. Further, I am genuinely worried about the slippery slope problems, particularly to do with defining away consent and free choice which opens up a justification for liberty-destroying paternalism in all sorts of areas. I prefer to keep it simple: an adult woman appearing in a "misogynistic" porn ought to be presumed competent enough to determine for herself whether the paycheque justifies the "degradation". "Overall society" doesn't have a "right" to prevent her exercising this choice in the pursuit of some chimerical marginal improvement.

Frank, As I said, I'm no

Frank,

As I said, I'm no expert on the porn industry, so I'll have to take your word for it.

Yet this argument is being used as a justification only for a ban or at least some sort of non-government collective coercion against porn (of both misogynistic and non-misogynistic character) and not against all misogynistic material.

Who is making this argument? As far as I know, the feminists I referenced are objecting to all forms of misogyny, not just the sexually explicit type.

Secondly, misogny is not so easy to identify as you seem to think. Consider a “femdom” porno - degrading acts are carried out to a man by a woman.

Agreed. There will certainly be people who would voluntarily choose this sort of thing even in the absence of a culture of patriarchy. But at the same time, there are those would not find this sort of thing titillating in the absense of patriarchy, but are presently attracted to it precisely because it reinforces their degrading views of women.

This is certainly a problem. I thought the movie "Secretary" was wonderful, but I can still see strong arguments that these sorts of relationships simply are not healthy for either participant. It may be a fuzzy distinction, but that doesn't mean we have to throw out our criticism of misogynistic expression entirely. We just need to keep in mind that some of it may be freely chosen and legitimate.

The consensus that you imagine exists on what constitutes misogynistic degradation is a chimera - one person’s disgusting, disturbing image is another’s deepest fantasy and you will find men and women in both groups.

I imagine no such consensus. I never claimed that these were easy, widely agreed upon issues. Just the opposite in fact. Our ability to recognize healthy bdsm relationships is important, but it should not lead us to ignore unhealthy power dynamics.

“Overall society” doesn’t have a “right” to prevent her exercising this choice in the pursuit of some chimerical marginal improvement.

What do you mean by this? Do we not have the "right" to harshly criticize and shame those who engage in what we consider to be unhealthy and harmful behavior? That is all that Long and Johnson are arguing for -- non-coercive means to achieve MacKinnon's and Dworkin's ends. If a Jew or a black person finds perverse pleasure in hanging out with neo-nazis only to be insulted, spit upon, and beaten, can we not say that there is probably something very wrong and unhealthy going on here, both on the part of the "victim" and on the part of the neo-nazi?

If a Jew or a black person

If a Jew or a black person finds perverse pleasure in hanging out with neo-nazis only to be insulted, spit upon, and beaten, can we not say that there is probably something very wrong and unhealthy going on here, both on the part of the “victim” and on the part of the neo-nazi?

For starters, there might well be something unhealthy about this just as there is for someone who scarfs down a couple of big macs and supersized fries every lunch time, but the "costs" of these "unhealthinesses" are generally borne by the individuals - if you're going to maintain that the costs are borne by "overall culture" you're going to have to a) demonstrate this to a high degree of proof and b) also demonstrate that these costs are so high as to override the general presumption of liberty for the individual. I don't mean to argue that there oughtn't be a societal taboo on performing in porn, just that I don't see any need for an extension to that already existing taboo and I am generally opposed to the notion that individual freedom need be restricted in favour of the good of overall society. Arguments on this basis litter political thought - they tend to be pretty much the first port of call, yet ought only apply as a means of last resort.

Secondly, the neo-nazi analogy rather begs the question. That the misogyny of porn might be usefully considered an analogue of racism and anti-semitism is what you're seeking to prove.

Here's another thought: such associations between jewish and black people and neo-nazis are rare (although there are apparently neo nazis in Israel!), yet thousands of women appear in porn every year. Porn consumers are overwhelmingly male, but the minority of female consumers still number in millions. Why is this so?

The easy simple answer is that the revealed preferences of those particular females is that particular "misogyny" is ok by them. The more tenuous and contorted answer involves some sort of claim of false consciousness inculcated by patriarchy. The problem is that, although the latter is an article of faith among anti-porn feminists, it is almost certainly impossible to prove - it's one of those unfalsifiable propositions - and there is a genuine problem if the principle is accepted that one is justified in dismissing not only the revealed preferences but also the expressed preferences of any individual in favour of some sort of intrinsic set of "real" preferences determined by a third party. "You say you are happy to perform in porn/consume it or you do perform/consume porn but these aren't your real preferences but the result of patriarchal brainwashing". This is the path towards totalitarianism. Surely you can see the extension of this line of thinking to areas other beyond porn? "You say you are happy to buy a house/work for a corporation/drive a car or you do buy a house/work for a corporation/drive a car but these aren't your real preferences but the result of capitalist brainwashing"

Deep throat impossible?

Deep throat impossible? Impossible! Even I figured it out
Doozy of an event at a panel discussion following the New York premier of "Inside Deep Throat." Depending on how things shake out people could still be talking about it a week from now. Here's what caused the commotion: [Panel moderator and film rev...

Deep throat impossible?

Deep throat impossible? Impossible! Even I figured it out
Doozy of an event at a panel discussion following the New York premier of "Inside Deep Throat." Depending on how things shake out people could still be talking about it a week from now. Here's what caused the commotion: [Panel moderator and film rev...

Frank, I'm still not clear

Frank,

I'm still not clear on why you think individual freedom conflicts with social taboos. If you are saying that people should not be coercively restricted from engaging in these unhealthy activies, I agree. But if you are saying that men and women should not be vocally criticized when they engage in unhealthy sorts of relationships, I don't see why that follows at all. And I am not arguing in favor of a social taboo on performing in porn. I think porn (or what some radical feminists call erotica) can be fine and unobjectionable. What I am arguing in favor of is a social taboo on performing in misgynist media, whether that media is sexually explicit or not.

If you don't think widespread forms of media have an effect on the overall culture, I'm not sure what I can give you that would change your mind. I just find this point plainly obvious, and although I'm sure I could dig up some empirical evidence if I looked, this would probably just be a waste of both of our time.

Secondly, the neo-nazi analogy rather begs the question. That the misogyny of porn might be usefully considered an analogue of racism and anti-semitism is what you’re seeking to prove.

Well, no, I think that's already been proven, just by the definition of the words. Misogyny is hatred of women. Racism, in this context, is hatred of blacks. Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews.

Now, unless you think that women form a different sort of category than blacks and Jews, I don't understand the objection. As I said, all porn is not necessarily misogynistic, just as all performances with black actors are not necessarily racist. But a minstrel show is racist, and a Max Hardcore video (NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR ANYWHERE, REALLY) is misogynist, to take an extreme example of both. I don't see how a person can defend either of these things as not extremely harmful to blacks and women, even if all of the participants claim that they enjoy this sort of thing.

“You say you are happy to perform in porn/consume it or you do perform/consume porn but these aren’t your real preferences but the result of patriarchal brainwashing". This is the path towards totalitarianism. Surely you can see the extension of this line of thinking to areas other beyond porn? “You say you are happy to buy a house/work for a corporation/drive a car or you do buy a house/work for a corporation/drive a car but these aren’t your real preferences but the result of capitalist brainwashing”

Sure, but maybe libertarians are a bit to quick rejecting these sorts of system-external criticisms solely on the basis of revealed preference. What I mean by that is that social systems, like many other things, cannot always be judged by their internal rules, for while they might be internally consistent, these rules bias us in favor of the legitimacy of the rules themselves. Long and Johnson wisely compare this to the problem libertarians have when criticising the lack of any real consent in democratic electoral politics. Just because a majority of people seem to accept being ruled by others, or at least don't vocally complain about it, does not mean that this sort of authority is justified. Unless we can bring ourselves to think outside the internal constraints of the existing system, it is nearly impossible to recognize the force of this radical libertarian criticism, just as it is similarly difficult to recognize the force of the radical feminist criticisms.

Ghertner: Actually, I should

Ghertner:

Actually, I should reword my response to Brian, for it sounds too much like Long and Johnson are crediting these economic factors as both necessary and sufficient, whereas what they are really saying is that these factors, while perhaps necessary, are not alone sufficient. Cultural changes are needed as well.

Well, the quotes from Spencer are mainly to demonstrate the feminist bona fides of 19th century radical libertarians, and to call attention to Spencer's analysis of the relationship between patriarchy at home and militarism abroad; it's not meant to endorse Spencer's broader sociological (or archaeological) views. I can't speak for Roderick, but speaking for myself, I think that Spencer's points about militarism and patriarchy are solid, but that his claims about the economic history of patriarchy are vulnerable to roughly the same objections that MacKinnon raises (in TOWARD A FEMINIST THEORY OF THE STATE) against a similar account by Friedrich Engels. Essentially, the account ends up explaining male dominance only by assuming that the social relations that obtain under male dominance (for example, the mother of a child serving as its primary caregiver) also obtained in the primitive state of society before (on Engels' or Spencer's account) patriarchy arose in it. Maybe those relations did obtain, but if so you haven't accounted for patriarchy in history; you've just shown that one sort of patriarchal society developed into another. I don't think that historical political economy is either sufficient or necessary to explain sexual politics (although of course historical trends, such as the economic and political dominance of intensely patriarchal societies in Europe and the Muslim world for hundreds of years, have no small influence on the matter). Of course, it's also questionable how far any desire to tie the rise and solidification of patriarchy to some over-arching world-historical principle--be it Spencer's Evolution or Engels' Dialectic--is supposed to help us in understanding the institutional structure of patriarchy today or the ethical questions concerning it.

Frank:

The easy simple answer is that the revealed preferences of those particular females is that particular "misogyny" is ok by them. The more tenuous and contorted answer involves some sort of claim of false consciousness inculcated by patriarchy. The problem is that, although the latter is an article of faith among anti-porn feminists,

Actually, it isn't. Certainly there are some anti-pornography feminists who have made use of the notion of "false consciousness," but Catharine MacKinnon isn't among them; she has explicitly attacked the notion in her published writings.

Of course, MacKinnon and Dworkin and nearly all other radical feminists do think that patriarchy distorts the incentives and therefore the preferences that women have, often in ways that make most of the choices that women face in some respect destructive to deeper interests that they have. But why shouldn't they think that? All cultural systems alter the incentives and therefore the preferences that people living under them have; that's what cultural systems do. And it would be frankly batty to hold that there couldn't be any such thing as a cultural system that, in at least some cases, prompts people to make choices that are destructive of some of their deep interests. Of course, that only militates against ruling out the theory on apriori grounds; it leaves open the empirical question of whether pornographic sexuality really is destructive of women's deep interests. But that's fine; that's a question better addressed by the foundational works from the feminist pornography debate than I could hope to address it in the space of a comment box.

(You might say that any theory on which someone can be said to have deeper preferences that are somehow or another betrayed by their actions from revealed preferences is a theory of "false consciousness." O.K., but then you are not using the phrase as Marxists or as radical feminists use it. You're also not using the phrase to mean anything that anyone in their right mind would find particularly objectionable.)

Frank again:

"You say you are happy to perform in porn/consume it or you do perform/consume porn but these aren't your real preferences but the result of patriarchal brainwashing". This is the path towards totalitarianism. Surely you can see the extension of this line of thinking to areas other beyond porn?

I think this is a misrepresentation of the argument that most antipornography feminists give (as I mention above; the notion that women are "brainwashed" by patriarchy is fundamentally alien to feminists like MacKinnon and Dworkin). But suppose that it were an accurate representation. Would it follow that it's the path towards totalitarianism? Only if you think that once "you may choose A under present circumstances but it is actually destructive to your deeper interests" is established, "there ought to be a law against choosing A" follows. But why should you think that? You can think that some people act in self-destructive ways without thinking that there ought to be a law to stop them from doing so; the whole institution of giving and taking advice rests on that assumption.

Dworkin and MacKinnon, for their part, don't think that either--there are many reasons to object to some of the legal measures that they've endorsed, but those measures were never aimed at coercing women into making more "liberated" choices and did not rest on any particular theory about women's real or illusory preferences. (Their antipornography ordinance, for example, had no provisions for ex ante bans on pornography, and the parts of it that are objectionable from a libertarian standpoint don't rest on some theory about women's "real" interests; they rest on imputing responsibility for violations of rights to pornographers in a broader way than libertarians ought to allow.)

Ghertner:

Now, unless you think that women form a different sort of category than blacks and Jews, I don’t understand the objection. As I said, all porn is not necessarily misogynistic, just as all performances with black actors are not necessarily racist. But a minstrel show is racist, and a Max Hardcore video (NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR ANYWHERE, REALLY) is misogynist, to take an extreme example of both. I don’t see how a person can defend either of these things as not extremely harmful to blacks and women, even if all of the participants claim that they enjoy this sort of thing.

Part of the problem that I have in pornography debates is that a substantial number (tho' certainly not all) of the people on the pro side seem to be arguing, at some point or another, in bad faith. They'll say things like "Oh, well, of course Hustler is misogynist; I'm just saying that there is good pornography out there" or "Yeah, I know that Max Hardcore videos are pretty vicious; I just don't think you should treat everything as if it were like those." But when push comes to shove these end up just sounding like feints. If everyone who said something like that backed it up by lending their support to protests of the transparent misogyny in Hustler (or, say, the farrago of lies in a film like "The People vs. Larry Flynt"), then anti-Hustler campaigns (say) would be a hell of a lot stronger than they actually are, whether or not the antipornography movement itself had much steam to it. But they don't, mostly; the talk amounts to little more than the talk from anti-abortion demagogues who object that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy should've been more careful about contraception--and then doing nothing to make contraception more accessible (say, by lobbying the FDA to make EC available over the counter). All too often this kind of tactic amounts not to an analytic distinction amongst kinds of pornography, but rather as a way of begging off any kind of criticism towards any kind of pornography.