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Anti-Pornography Values Are Patriarchal

Andrea Dworkin was one of the greatest feminist minds of the 20th century, and a huge influence on second wave feminism, the dominant feminist ideology of the 1960s and 70s.  Second wave feminism held that sex work and sexual entertainment were harmful and degrading to women, and should be abolished. In her book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Dworkin argues: “Male power is the raison d’etre of pornography; the degradation of the female is the means of achieving this power.” Dworkin endorses the narrative about women’s sexualities put forth by the patriarchal society she opposes. For example, in her book she says of women’s sexualities, “that women are inhibited or have a low sex drive or do not want or need sex…is a recognition, however perverse, that no one could possibly like or want what men do to women.” Despite her claimed disapproval for the idea that women do not like sex, Dworkin believes that women ought to not like sex. This black-and-white second wave narrative espoused by Dworkin ignores women’s agency and asks all women to conform to a very specific idea of female behavior.  

While in Dworkin’s day there was some question as to whether or not women could even be voluntary and enthusiastic sex partners with men, we live in a world where The Fifty Shades of Grey books were the top three bestselling novels of 2012, and they were much more popular with women than with men. Taking this into account, we can no longer labor under the delusion that men are the only ones who enjoy pornography. Women have sex drives, which is something that has traditionally threatened patriarchal society. Anti-porn feminists, like Dworkin, like to pretend that pornography is purely about men degrading women; this is not the reality though. There’s an entire genre of porn dedicated to women humiliating men, and there’s plenty of pornography in which, arguably, no one is degraded at all. Furthermore, Fifty Shades of Grey’s astounding success is proof that some women enjoy pornography that shows men exercising power over women. Dworkin, however, sticks to the familiar patriarchal narrative that women are forced by men to do things that are inherently degrading to women. This narrative is not only wrong, it’s also harmful.  

The story of Miriam Weeks shows the real life effects of Dworkin’s ideology. When Weeks, a Women’s Studies major at Duke University, was outed as porn star Belle Knox, she made headlines. Her story was told in the Huffington Post and in a multitude of tabloids. She was even interviewed by Playboy. When she told her story on XOJane, an online magazine, she condemned those who harassed her and talked about the hypocrisy of a society that shames women for making porn while simultaneously consuming and enjoying it. She ends the piece poignantly with the line, “My name is Belle Knox, and I wear my Scarlet Letter with pride.” Predictably, Weeks wound up on the receiving end of a deluge of sexual harassment and slut-shaming criticism. Surprisingly, some voices in the mob claimed to be feminists. Utilizing Dworkin’s ideology, one TIME article used feminist terminology to criticize Weeks for making sexual choices of which society doesn’t approve. The author questioned her judgment, and used her young age to accuse her of immaturity.

Weeks made it clear that she chose, of her own free will, to enter the pornography business. She considered the consequences, and it is paternalistic to say that she was too young to make that decision. While the TIME article says, “…slut shaming her for her choices is wrong. It’s her body, she can do what she wants with it,” the author is full of recommendations as to what Weeks should do with her body. The author admits that slut shaming is wrong, but then turns around and quotes a commenter who said, “‘I’m sure Daddy’s proud.’”  Why is her father’s opinion being brought up? It’s her body, right? The article uses the old second wave feminist argument that Dworkin made, that you can do what you want, just not that.  It is absurd that in our modern world women are still being harassed for their sexual choices, but it’s even more absurd that women’s choices are policed under the guise of feminism.

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Fifty Shades of Grey Books
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The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. The trilogy consists of Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed (2012)  (Vintage Books).

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How to cite this page

Eigerman, Elisabeth. "Anti-Pornography Values Are Patriarchal." 18 November 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/anti-pornography-values-are-patriarchal>.

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