Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism

Feminist to Pose in Playboy

There is much division among women and feminists alike concerning the issue of pornography. However, if one believes in the freedom of women, then one would have to agree, if only in principle, that posing for Playboy or participating in the adult cinema genre, is as feminist as burning a bra.

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Wendy McElroy opens her book, “XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography,” with “Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically” (McElroy pp). She claims she arrived at this position after years of interviewing hundreds of sex workers, leading to a defense of pornography that makes many feminists uncomfortable (McElroy pp). According to McElroy, feminist positions on pornography generally break down into three categories (McElroy pp). The most common one, especially in academia, is that pornography is an expression of male culture through which women are commodified and exploited (McElroy pp). The second view is the liberal position, which combines a respect for free speech with the principle, “a woman’s body, a woman’s right” and thereby produces a defense of pornography, such as, “I don’t approve, but everyone has the right to consume or produce words and images” (McElroy pp). The third view, which McElroy claims is a true defense of pornography, arises from feminists who have been labeled “pro-sex” and who argue that porn has benefits for women (McElroy pp). She says that there is little dialogue that occurs between the three positions, because anti-pornography feminists tend to treat women who disagree as either “brainwashed dupes of patriarchy or as apologists for pornographers” (McElroy pp).

In the 1990 anthology “Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism,” editor Dorchen Leidholdt claims that feminists who believe women make their own choices about pornography are spreading “a felicitous lie,” and Shelia Jeffreys argues in the same work that “pro-sex” feminists are “eroticizing dominance and subordination” (McElroy pp). Wendy Stock accuses free speech feminists of identifying with their oppressors, “like concentration camp prisoners with their jailers,” and Andrea Dworkin accuses them of running a “sex protection racket” and maintains that no one who defends pornography can be a feminist (McElroy pp). Then there are the liberal feminists who are personally uncomfortable with pornography and thus, are intimidated into silence, and those who do speak out, like American Civil Liberties Union President, Nadine Strossen, are simply ignored (McElroy pp). Catharine MacKinnon, for example, has repeatedly refused to share a stage with Strossen or any woman who defends porn, leading many “pro-sex” feminists, some of whom are current or former sex-workers, to respond with anger, rather than arguments (McElroy pp).

Jenna Jameson has transformed the porn industry, she is a woman on top (Valby pp). Says Jameson, “When I was 17, I knew that I was going to be star and I was going to become a star one way or another. It wasn’t about the money. I wanted fame” (Valby pp). At 18, she ditched the costumes and feathers of being a show girl, and started stripping for three to five grand a night at the Crazy Horse, saying, “I decided hey, the minute you take your clothes off you’re a porn star…I might as well take it to the next level. Go all the way” (Valby pp). And she did, Jameson is the queen of a booming industry that pulls in at least $10 billion a year (Valby pp). She has her won production company and subscription Web site, she’s been in ad campaigns for companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Pony and Jackson Guitars (Valby pp). is an Online empire that includes exclusive footage, a plastic surgery center that broadcasts live operations, stock quotes, news updates, and a shop that has Jenna wine openers, and Jenna Santa action figures, raking in about $15 million a year (Valby pp). Unlike Traci Lords, Jenna embraces her “blue roots,” and as a result she has become a phenomenal success (Valby pp). Her publisher, Judith Regan, says, “The culture has become much more prono-ized…If you look at advertising, if you look at music, if you look at the new show on Fox, Skin” (Valby pp).

Susan Faludi says that as a journalist, she in not in favor of banning pornography or anything that “smells of censorship,” and believes that it is not very productive, nor does it make things go away (Conniff pp). She claims it is one thing to expand the definition of political refugee and another thing to start slapping restriction on what can be in printed material or on the air, and that it disturbs her whenever anyone states that certain material is unsuitable for publication because that can easily be turned against society (Connitt pp).

Faludi says that the fact that she is uncomfortable about banning pornography, “doesn’t mean I don’t think women should be screaming bloody murder about it…The best way to get rid of pornography is to change people’s way of thinking to the point where it doesn’t sell anymore” (Connitt pp).

In “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood,” Naomi Wolf claims that although the sexual revolution shattered established social mores, parents were too busy “discovering themselves” to offer guidance to daughters who were striking out on an individual odyssey during which she will lose her virginity and become a woman (Wesley pp). The book contains true stories by women who were those girls, in the first-person sexual voice, “a voice Wolf argues women today are being denied” (Wesley pp). The result is that females are saddled with male-defined assumptions about sexual desire and pleasure, and how much control they should have over it (Wesley pp). Wolf’s previous book, “The Beauty Myth” helped to change the way women see themselves when they look in the mirror, this book goes a step further, and offers thought-provoking challenges to accepted ideas that promote such things as the dichotomy between the “good girl” and the “slut,” the stigmatization of rape victims and other forms of sexual violence, and objectification of women by the sex industry (Wesley pp).

Wolf contends that because women have been sexually silence, men have defined sex in most modern culture, ranging from the “liberated” American culture with the subtle sexual controls it places on women, to others that employ brutal controls such as female circumcision (Wesley pp). Wolf offers illuminating looks into other cultures that throughout history have treated female sexuality as sacred, and contrasts Western pornography with literature from ancient cultures that believed women to be the more passionate gender and placed a high value on men pleasing them (Wesley pp). Wolf explores the unwritten sexual rules that females must live by in order to avoid being called sluts, a label, she claims, leads to social ostracization and is often used as a legal justification for rape and even murder (Wesley pp). Wolf writes, “The right to ‘do it’ came from the sexual revolution; the right to ‘tell it my way’ came from the feminist one…Only when the second is fully incorporated into the first… will a lasting revolution have been achieved” (Wesley pp).

Camille Paglia claims to be a long defender of strip clubs, and sees erotic dancing as a symbol of liberation, not a form of servitude to men, like many of the old-guard feminists maintain (Paglia pp). However, she is concerned about the “moves” created by strippers that have been adopted by pop singers like Britney Spears and marketed to prepubescent girls (Paglia pp). As a result, very young girls have learned to present themselves in public in a highly sexual manner, yet they do not know that it is sexual, “they’re simply imitating their pop star models…Hence they’re sending messages that are misinterpreted by boys or men on the street” (Paglia pp).

So, is it feminist to pose in Playboy? The answer is yes. However, there must be guidance to young females regarding their sexuality.

Works Cited

Conniff, Ruth. “Susan Faludi. (feminist author) (Interview).”

The Progressive. 6/1/1993.

McElroy, Wendy. “A Feminist Defense of Pornography.” Free Inquiry Magazine.

Volume 17, Number 4.

Paglia, Camille. “Where’s mae west when we need her? camille paglia on why we must restore the “H” factor — the humor and the humanness.”

Interview. 7/1/2003.

Valby, Karen. “Woman on Top: JENNA JAMESON is the reigning queen of the porn industry. With a book deal in hand and network TV on her tail, will she seduce the mainstream?” Entertainment Weekly. 10/24/2003.



The News & Record (Piedmont Triad, NC); 7/27/1997.

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