Egalitarian Liberal Feminism and Justification for Restrictions on Non-Violent Pornography

Feminist arguments regarding pornography have run the gamut from full-fledged support for individuals’ rights to decide and act on their own moral convictions regarding pornography to all-out condemnation for pornography due to its claimed propensity to reinforce the subjection and domination of women. Egalitarian liberal ideologies, as formulated by John Rawls and based on Immanuel Kant’s moral and political theories, assert each autonomous individual is due the same scheme of equal basic liberties as every other individual. These theories focus on autonomous individuals’ reserving the right to choose for themselves the means to their own happiness. Traditionally egalitarian liberal feminists have opposed restrictions on pornography, except perhaps in cases of violent pornography, by arguing such restrictions infringe upon the autonomy of individuals.

The central issue this paper seeks to explore is if liberal and egalitarian liberal theories can support restrictions on non-violent pornography.[1] In order to explore this issue, I first explicate the working definition of pornography for this argument. Secondly, I detail relevant aspects of two prominent classical liberal theories and a modern egalitarian liberal theory, namely John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant’s moral and political theories followed by John Rawls’s Theory of Justice. Next, I offer two feminist viewpoints regarding pornography, namely the feminist theory of Catherine MacKinnon, with additional support from Rae Langton, as well as the egalitarian liberal feminist theory of Martha Nussbaum. Next, I argue yes, liberal and egalitarian liberal theories can be used to support restrictions on pornography if certain necessary conditions apply. If women, within liberal societies, cannot make autonomous choices because they have been denied equal basic liberties, then egalitarian liberal theory can support intervening through restrictions on pornography in order to promote equality. I grant the complicated nature of such a conditional claim and raise questions which need to be addressed in order to support such a claim. Therefore, I ultimately argue the most important question remaining to be addressed for proponents of liberalism is if pornography does, and if so to what extent it does, produce the harms to women MacKinnon and Langton claim.

One’s convictions regarding pornography are typically connected with one’s definition of pornography, so it is crucial to begin by explicating the working definition of pornography so far as this paper is concerned.[2] Pornography, for the sake of this paper, is not to be considered any written, photographed, spoken or visually performed material that is sexually explicit.[3] If pornography is simply considered sexually explicit material, then anatomy textbooks and recordings of childbirth would be pornographic.[4] Pornography has previously been defined as any such material that is sexually explicit and designed to incite sexual arousal.[5] However, such a definition confuses the debate regarding pornography because it fails to account for different types of sexually explicit materials which incite sexual arousal; for example, there are widely accepted distinctions between violent and non-violent, as well as degrading and non-degrading, sexually explicit material. In other instances pornography’s defining characteristic has been posited as its being obscene or offensive.[6] Defining pornography as being obscene or offensive also causes confusion because what is obscene or offensive to one person may not be to another. The fact that individuals have such varied sensibilities regarding what is deemed obscene or offensive is one prominent reason why liberal theories argue for autonomous moral freedom.

Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin define pornography more specifically as:

“the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words that also includes women dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities, enjoying pain or humiliation or rape, being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised or physically hurt, in postures of sexual submission or servility or display, reduced to body parts, penetrated by objects or animals, or presented in scenarios or degradation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual”[7]

Pornography, under MacKinnon and Dworkin’s definition, is considered one or more of many specific acts demonstrated in sexually explicit written, photographed, spoken or visually performed material that is designed to incite sexual arousal in observers, which is harmful to women.[8] Pornography, then, excludes all sexually explicit material designed to incite sexual arousal which is not harmful to women.[9] Liberals certainly, as will be discussed later, view rights and liberties extending only so far as they do not harm others. However, MacKinnon and Dworkin’s definition, some might argue, assumes each and every one of these specific circumstances does in fact harm individuals to the extent that warrants restriction; some circumstances may be harmful enough to warrant restrictions, but others may not.[10] In order to overcome ambiguities, propensities toward succumbing to individual moral sensibilities, and any assumptions, pornography for the sake of this paper is understood as being sexually explicit written, photographed, spoken or visually performed material designed to incite sexual arousal in observers and which harms women.[11] Such a definition leaves out the specific details of what acts one might consider harmful. As such, this definition asks one to consider what constitutes harm and thus what acts are harmful.[12]

The concept of harm plays a prominent role in liberal conceptions of liberty. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill questions under what circumstances the government could legitimately restrict liberty. Mill offers his famous Harm Principle, which asserts “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is harm to others.”[13] Mill’s assertion is anti-paternalistic; individual liberty cannot be infringed upon for the sake of the individual’s own good.[14] Mill argues a robust scheme of liberties, including freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, is a “necessity to the mental well-being of mankind.”[15] Mill asserts individuals are free to act in accordance with their own judgments concerning a good life so long as it does not harm others.[16] The reason, Mill asserts, is because “He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation,” whereas, “He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties.”[17] For Mill, individual liberty must be protected in society because it allows individuals to use their human capacities, capacities which are necessary for the advancement of humanity as a whole.[18]

Another prominent classical liberal, Immanuel Kant, doesn’t focus on harm in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, but he does discuss liberty as autonomy. For Kant, human rationality gives humans intrinsic value which leads Kant to the maxim “act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.”[19] Humans exist as rational beings, which gives them dignity and autonomy; dignity and autonomy that needs to be respected for itself and no other reason. Kant’s maxim proscribes, via the Categorical Imperative, reciprocal duties between the individual and the whole. The Categorical Imperative asserts “act in accordance with a maxim that can at the same time make itself a universal law.”[20] If an act can be universalized, meaning if everyone could perform the act without it contradicting treating humans and humanity as ends in themselves, then the act is permissible. The individual must treat every other individual, and humanity as a whole, in such a way which respects the intrinsic value of human autonomy.

In A Theory of Justice, modern egalitarian liberal John Rawls bases his Theory of Justice, in part, on Kant’s moral theory. Rawls argues for two Principles of Justice which any rational, self-interested, individual behind a “veil of ignorance” would choose from an “original position” of equality.[21] Rawls asks people to image themselves in a position where they would create the political structure of their society from scratch. He is confident that if people are all equal and don’t know anything about their physical, social or psychological attributes nor knew what their society was like, then people would all voluntary and rationally agree to the Two Principles of Justice. The first principle, the Equal Basic Liberties Principle, asserts “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.”[22] In other words, everyone equally shares the same scheme of basic liberties.

The second principle, the Distributive Justice Principle, has two parts and asserts “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all…”[23] The first part of the Distributive Justice Principle, the Difference Principle, asserts if there are social or economic inequalities, then these inequalities must be to the greatest advantage to the worst off in society. The second part of the Distributive Justice Principle, the Fair Equality of Opportunity Principle, asserts if there are inequalities attached to positions and offices, then these offices and positions must be obtainable by any person equally capable of performing the job, regardless of their social position.[24]

The two Principles of Justice “primarily apply […] to the basic structure of society and govern the assignment of rights and duties and regulate the distribution of social and economic advantages.”[25] The scheme of basic liberties includes, but is not limited to, “political liberty,” “freedom of speech and assembly,” “liberty of conscience and freedom of thought,” and “freedom of the person, which includes freedom from psychological oppression […].”[26] It is important to note, the Equal Basic Liberties Principle takes priority over the Distributive Justice Principle.[27] As such, each individual sharing an equal scheme of liberties comparable to others is paramount.

So far, several prominent themes have emerged, namely, the concepts of harm, liberty, equality and the interconnectedness between the individual and the society. Feminist theories specifically focus on these prominent themes. In Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech, Catharine MacKinnon argues pornography portrays women as unequal, thus harms their liberties.[28] MacKinnon argues women live in “a world of inequality.”[29] She argues, women are “socially defined” as being able to be treated by men, at any moment, as inferior; by being treated sexually as an object for use or being treated in society as not worth as much as men.[30] MacKinnon sees pornography as being a force for the social conditioning of men and women. She argues “It makes hierarchy sexy and calls that ‘the truth about sex’ or just a mirror of reality. Through this process, pornography constructs what a woman is as what men want from sex.”[31] The appropriate relations between men and women become defined by pornography, and each woman’s identity is measured by a comparison to pornography.[32] The women who exemplify the roles in pornography are seen as “most men’s equals” and “the most liberated” while at the same time being subjugated, “violated and possessed.”[33] MacKinnon argues “What pornography does goes beyond its content: it eroticizes hierarchy, it sexualizes inequality. It makes dominance and submission sex. Inequality is its central dynamic; the illusion of freedom coming together with the reality of force is central to its working […] The victim must look free, appear to be freely acting. Choice is how she got there. Willing is what she is when she is being equal.”[34] In other words, pornography makes the subjection and inequality of women sexual, then asserts that the women who agree to the subjection are the most free and equal.

The effect of pornography is to socially construct society’s views of “normal” interactions between men and women (sexually, personally, professionally and socially), as being the hierarchical domination and subjugation portrayed in pornography.[35] Men take on the role of domination, while women take on the role of subjugation and call such roles “normal” or “natural.” Pornography constructs the society in its own image, and thus, conceals itself.[36] The harm of pornography socially conditioning men and women to fulfill gender roles of domination and subjection is social and political inequality for women.[37] MacKinnon states “The harm of pornography, broadly speaking, is the harm of the civil inequality of the sexes made invisible as harm because it has become accepted as the sex difference.”[38] The roles of subjection and domination affect all areas of society; in personal, academic, professional and political relations women are judged as being generally inferior to men and judged individually based on how they fit into the role of subjection defined by pornography.[39] MacKinnon argues pornography “systematically silences” women.[40]

Pornography silences women in three ways. The social conditioning of pornography creates a social environment where: (1) women are “reluctant to speak at all,” out of fear of the consequences or not being certain as to if it is even appropriate for them to speak, (2) if women do speak, they are not taken seriously, “especially where what women say contradicts the picture of women contained in pornography,” and (3) if women do speak, what they say is not understood or is misunderstood.[41] The systematic silencing of women violates women’s equal rights to free speech.[42]

Rae Langton elaborates on and supports MacKinnon’s theory against liberal Ronald Dworkin.[43] Langton, in agreement with MacKinnon, asserts the issue is between pornographer’s rights to speech and women’s rights to speech.[44] Regarding equality, Langton notes two relevant quotes from Dworkin: (1) “[I]f we must make the choice between liberty and equality that MacKinnon envisages-if the two constitutional values really are on a collision course-we should have to choose liberty” and (2) “First Amendment liberty is not equality’s enemy, but the other side of equality’s coin.”[45] Regarding liberty, Langton asserts Dworkin’s liberal arguments against MacKinnon distinguish between negative liberty and positive liberty.[46] Negative liberty is the liberal concept of non-interference; it is not being obstructed from acting.[47] Positive liberty is having the ability to influence or participate in public decisions; it is “self mastery.”[48] Dworkin asserts negative liberties trump positive liberties and pornographer’s rights to freedom of speech are negative liberties, whereas MacKinnon’s argument seeks to gain positive liberties for women.[49] Langton argues MacKinnon conceives of speech as acts and pornography, by obstructing women from speaking at all or by obstructing their ability to convey what they seek to convey, is obstructing women from acting; their negative liberties are being infringed upon.[50] Therefore, the issue is one group’s negative liberties directly infringing upon another group’s negative liberties. In other words, women may be seeking self mastery, but they seek self mastery through illocution, and when their illocutionary acts are obstructed, their negative liberties are infringed upon. If pornographer’s negative liberties need to not be infringed upon based on the assertion that their illocutionary acts should not be obstructed, then if women’s negative liberties are being infringed upon because their illocutionary acts are being obstructed, then women’s negative liberties should not be infringed upon either. So, the question then becomes whose negative liberties win out and why?

Egalitarian liberal feminists approach the issue by emphasizing personal autonomy; women, above all, should reserve the right to choose their own conceptions of a good life.[51] As such, egalitarian liberal feminists traditionally have been strong proponents of pornographer’s rights to free speech.[52] Martha Nussbaum is an egalitarian liberal feminist following in the tradition of John Rawls. In “The Future of Feminist Liberalism,” Nussbaum doesn’t address pornography, but her arguments can be applied to the discussion regarding pornography. She argues human nature is comprised of a rational aspect and an animalistic aspect, and as such, both aspects need to be in a balanced relation to each other.[53] Nussbaum argues, in line with Marx, that humans are “in need of a rich plurality of life-activities.”[54] Any single human life has different stages with corresponding attributes. Further, Nussbaum argues, humanity’s plurality of life-activities should be nurtured by capabilities.[55] Therefore, instead of Rawls’s basic primary liberties, the political and social promotion of Aristotelian-like capabilities which are determined by taking into consideration humans as having a plurality of life-activities would bring the two aspects of humanity (rationalistic and animalistic) into a balanced relation.[56] Social and political institutions, per Nussbaum, should be created based on considerations to human nature, stages in human life and capabilities.[57] Nussbaum argues the Aristotelian/Marxian concepts can form a liberal political theory which preserves autonomous choice regarding conceptions of the good life by “insisting the appropriate political goal is capability only.”[58] Nussbaum asserts “citizens should be given the option, in each area, of functioning in accordance with a given capability or not so functioning.”[59] Further, Nussbaum states, “To secure a capability to a citizen it is not enough to create a sphere of non-interference: the public conception must design the material and institutional environment so that it provides the requisite affirmative support for all the relevant capabilities.”[60] In other words, one can choose whether or not to partake of a given capability, but the social and political environment must support all capabilities which are required for nurturing the plurality of life-activities.

Nussbaum’s list of capabilities includes but is not limited to “Senses, Imagination, and Thought,” “Practical Reason,” and “Control over one’s Environment.”[61] Among the freedoms under “Senses, Imagination and Thought,” Nussbaum includes “Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech […].”[62] Under “Practical Reason,” Nussbaum states one must be “able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about planning one’s life.”[63] Finally, to have “Control over one’s Environment,” is “Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association.”[64]

Nussbaum, as Mill, Kant, Rawls and other liberals, conceive of the protection of liberty as the guiding principle restricting or legitimizing the role of the government in any social situation. Nussbaum argues the capability of autonomy must be nurtured by political and social institutions. Autonomy is being able to decide for oneself what a good life is, it is having the ability to have a say in political decisions which affect one’s life, and to not be obstructed from expressing oneself. Mill argues an individual’s liberty can only be restricted if it is used to harm others. Liberty, for Mill, is only protected until it infringes upon another’s liberty. Kant argues the maxim by which all must abide is to respect individual autonomy, and to deny an individual their ability to make autonomous choices is to treat them as a means to an end. Rawls makes liberty the foundation of the political structure with the Equal Basic Liberties Principle which overrides any other consideration. For Rawls, the Equal Basic Liberties Principle requires every individual has the same scheme of liberties, including the freedom to speech, freedom to decide for themselves what a good life is, and freedom against “psychological oppression.” In the first quote offered by Langton, Dworkin places liberty ahead of equality. Liberal theories make individual liberty, as autonomy, paramount.

Equality is also a key principle in liberal theory. Kant argues every individual, equally, must be treated as an end in themselves; no one individual is more an end than others. Rawls argues all liberties must be equal; no one has a more extensive scheme of liberties than others. Further, Rawls argues, if there is an unequal distribution of liberties, the inequality must be to the advantage to the worst off in society, in order to promote equality. Nussbaum’s capabilities would not prioritize one group over another. Dworkin claimed, perhaps inconsistently, in the second quote offered by Langton, liberty and equality are necessarily conjoined.

Mill recognizes the interconnectedness of the individual and society; the individual human to the rest of humanity. He recognizes how the human and humanity exist in a relation where one can harm the other. Kant also recognizes the interconnectedness of the individual human to the rest of humanity by asserting individuals exist in reciprocal relations where one person’s autonomy can be hindered or promoted depending on being treated as a means or an end by another person. His moral maxim proclaims every individual has a duty to promote the autonomy of themselves, others and humanity as a whole. Rawls’s Two Principles of Justice offer a vision of a society where equality and liberty can exist together harmoniously because both are integral to the very structure of the society.[65] For Rawls the liberty of the individual human exists in an interconnected relation based on equality with the human society as a whole. To justify the Distributive Justice Principle, Rawls recognizes individuals exist in social relations where advantages or disadvantages due to birth or nature can be perpetuated generation after generation. Nussbaum utilizes Aristotelian and Marxian conceptions of human nature to justify her list of capabilities; concepts which inherently imply individuals are deeply interconnected with other members of the society.

Liberals seek liberty through the individual being able to make meaningful autonomous choices. Meaningful autonomous choices are choices free from any obstruction; choices which promote the psychological autonomy of the individual and humanity. If MacKinnon and Langton are correct about the harm to women, then pornography denies women liberty, as autonomy, and equality due to the interconnectedness between individuals and society. If pornography socially conditions women to think their proper role is subjection and men’s proper role is to dominate them, then this automatically infringes upon women’s autonomy. How could any woman decide for herself what her conception of a good life is when she has been socially conditioned to think the good life entails the role pornography defines for her? How could any woman ever participate effectively in pursuing her conception of a good life if her illocutionary acts are obstructed by being either reflections of or interpreted by others as being reflections of the role pornography has assigned her?

Even if a woman could break free of the social conditioning of pornography, and chooses a conception of the good life which entails the role defined by pornography, if society itself cannot break out of the roles socially conditioned by pornography, then the woman’s choice only serves to perpetuate the subjection of other women by justifying, and thus continuing, the social conditioning. Her choice would be harming other women; it would not be promoting the autonomy of other women. Her choice might be autonomous, but it would reinforce a dominant perception of women as defined by pornography and justify and perpetuate the socially conditioned roles precisely due to the interconnectedness of human society. Liberty truncated by inequality cannot give rise to meaningful autonomous choices, not for the individual and not for the group. Once individuals as a group are confined within a position of inferiority, their autonomous choices will always be restricted by that confinement, either by the social conditioning determining their choice or by the social conditioning determining others’ interpretations of their choice. Either way, due the interconnectedness of the individual to society, once inequality truncates autonomous choice, autonomous choice can only be made meaningful by ridding society of the social conditioning which gave rise to the inequality.

There are two ways women can be obstructed from making meaningful autonomous choices. First, women’s autonomy can be obstructed by being socially conditioned to believe a certain role is natural, which then prevents them from being able to autonomously conceive of, choose and act on their own conception of the good. Second, women’s autonomy can be obstructed by the choices individual women make (within a society dominated by sexism) being interpreted by others in society as justifying and perpetuating the roles assigned by social conditioning.[66] The concepts of harm, liberty, equality and the interconnectedness between the individual and the society are all significant aspects of liberal theory.  These concepts can be used to justify restrictions on non-violent pornography, if MacKinnon and Langton are correct about the harm caused to women by pornography.[67]

Liberal theories assert liberty is paramount. Liberty is achieved through autonomy. Equality is required for liberty. If women do not have equality, then they cannot have liberty. Pornography socially conditions the inequality of women and systematically silences women which restricts their autonomy and infringes upon their liberty.[68] Therefore, women do not have liberty or autonomy. Individuals have liberty only until that liberty harms others’ liberty. The government can interfere by restricting the liberty of a dominant group in order to promote the liberty of the worst off group; in order to achieve equality. Pornography socially conditions gender roles of domination and subjection, placing women in an unequal, inferior position to men.[69] The liberty of pornographers is the liberty of a dominant group and perpetuates the unequal social and political status of a dominant group.[70] Therefore, the government can interfere by restricting the liberty of pornographers in order to promote the equality of women. If liberty is paramount and women’s liberty is being infringed upon by non-violent pornography, then egalitarian liberal feminist theory requires the government restrict non-violent pornography.

The argument I am presenting rests on a conditional claim: If MacKinnon and Langton are correct about the harm done to women by pornography, then egalitarian liberal feminist theory can be used to justify restrictions on non-violent pornography. I grant this is a very complicated claim because it rests on empirical verifiability.[71]  Further, this claim is complicated by the fact that it rests on historical, psychological and sociological empirical verifiability. Several studies have been conducted on whether violent pornography can contribute to higher incidents of violence toward women, but none have been conclusive because many findings from single studies contradict other studies and because causation is generally not a straightforward, clearly established, concept.[72] Empirical verifiability is a difficult requirement to meet even when what is being studied has physical manifestations reducible to single individuals within a well-defined period of history.[73] MacKinnon and Langton’s claims make empirical verifiability even more elusive because the manifestations being sought are psychological and dispersed society wide throughout history. I have been unable to find any studies on whether the social conditioning MacKinnon and Langton describe really has the harmful effects they claim it does.[74] However, if liberal theory does truly value liberty and equality, then it should be willing to do whatever possible to ensure every individual has liberty and equality. Kant argued we have a moral obligation to pursue what we have deemed morally worthy of value and respect and we have no justification for not pursuing these values.[75]

Therefore, for egalitarian feminist liberals, it seems the most important questions to research require an examination of the historical, psychological and sociological phenomenon of pornography and its effects on social conditioning. The questions are: Does pornography socially condition individuals to fulfill gender roles as portrayed in pornography? If so, has the social conditioning of women throughout history, due to pornography, created a psychological predisposition for women to fulfill the role of subjection and for men to fulfill the role of domination? Do the roles of subjection and domination portrayed in pornography carry over to other aspects of society leading to social and political inequality for women?

Egalitarian liberal feminist theory values liberty, autonomy and equality. Liberty is achieved through autonomy and equality is necessary for liberty. If pornography socially conditions women to fulfill a role of subjection and men to fulfill a role of domination, then women’s liberty is infringed upon. If women are socially conditioned to view their proper role as subjection and men’s proper role as domination, then they are treated as unequal and cannot make meaningful autonomous choices. Liberal theory asserts an individual’s liberty can be restricted if it infringes upon another’s liberty and if inequalities exist they must be to the advantage of the worst off in society. If pornography perpetuates the inequality and domination of women, then allowing pornography would not be the advantage of the worst off in society. Therefore, egalitarian liberal feminist theory can justify restrictions on non-violent pornography. However, no evidence exists that suggests pornography does cause such harms to women because, that I am aware of, no research has been conducted toward the historical, psychological and sociological manifestations of the harms. Therefore, if liberty is truly valued, then the most urgent questions are those which require a historical, psychological and sociological investigation of pornography and its effects. These questions seek to determine whether pornography is socially conditioning and whether the social conditioning harms women socially and politically by obstructing their liberty.

[1] I am making an assumption regarding sexuality in exploring this issue which is unable to be addressed within the scope of this paper. I am assuming there is something inherently different about sex that separates it from other human activities; there is something fundamentally different about serving someone food and serving someone sex. As it currently stands, an individual is not socially defined by being a waiter/waitress to the extent that they are socially defined by being a man/woman.

[2] Caroline West, “Pornography and Censorship,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ed. Edward N. Zalta

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Catharine A. MacKinnon, “From Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech,” in Doing Ethics, Ed. Lewis Vaughn, pg. 303

[8] West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. West

[11] Although the focus of this paper is specifically women, the definition is rightly extended to include any women, child, man, transgender person, or any other individual.

[12] West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[13] John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty,” in Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, Ed. Steven M. Cahn, pg. 635

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. pg. 656

[16] Ibid. pg. 658

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid. 659

[19] Immanuel Kant, “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” in Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, Ed. Steven M. Cahn, pg. 504

[20] Ibid. pg. 507

[21] John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice,” in Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, Ed. Steven M. Cahn, pg. 694-698

[22] Ibid. pg. 699

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid. pg. 700

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] For the summary of MacKinnon’s argument, I am using the term “pornography” to mean MacKinnon and A. Dworkin’s definition of it. For the remainder of the paper I will be using the term “pornography” as I defined it.

[29] MacKinnon, pg. 300

[30] Ibid. pg. 300-301

[31] Ibid. pg. 301

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. pg. 302

[36] Ibid. pg. 302-303

[37] One could argue men are harmed by the social conditioning of pornography. MacKinnon addresses similar arguments to this by agreeing it does, but by adding “whatever the damage of sexism is to men, the condition of being a man is not defined as subordinate to women by force,” pg. 300. Further, “as a social group, men are not hurt by pornography the way women as a social group are. Their social status is not defined as less by it,” pg. 304. Pornography harms women to a social and political degree beyond the issues of harm to the moral and personal development of men. Even if pornography did harm men to the degree it harms women, this still doesn’t provide justification for pornography-quite the contrary actually. Such arguments claiming men are harmed just as much as women seem to be red herrings.

[38] Ibid. pg. 304

[39] Ibid. pg. 305

[40] Ibid. pg. 310

[41] West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[42] MacKinnon, pg. 308-310

[43] Rae Langton, “Pornography: A Liberal’s Unfinished Business,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, (1999). Langton responds to Dworkin regarding MacKinnon’s theory. Dworkin argues for a liberal theory that supports “rights as trumps,” which per Dworkin would support the freedom of speech of pornographer’s because rights trump utilitarian goals. Per Dworkin, equality of pornographers to speech is a right whereas equality for women by censoring pornography is a goal. Langton utilizes Dworkin’s theories to show, if his theories are applied consistently, then his theories actually support MacKinnon’s arguments and the censorship of pornography.

[44] Langton, pg. 109-112; see also West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[45] Langton, pg. 115

[46] Ibid. pg. 118-119

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid. pg. 120-122

[50] Ibid. pg. 122-227

[51] Amy R. Baehr, “Liberal Feminism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ed. Edward N. Zalta

[52] Ibid.; See also West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[53] Martha C. Nussbaum, “The Future of Feminist Liberalism,” Proceedings and the Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Nov. 2000). Pg. 50; 55

[54] Ibid. pg. 56

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid. pg. 54-55

[57] Ibid. pg. 56

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid. pg. 68

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Whether Rawls means harmoniously as in equilibrium or something else is up for debate. However, I don’t think either way it affects this argument because the argument I am offering via MacKinnon posits both women’s liberty and equality are not harmoniously achieved within liberal societies which allow pornographer’s liberties over women’s liberties.

[66] Along with R. Dworkin, it could be argued individual rights to autonomy, in this case the individual woman’s right to autonomy, trumps the goal of autonomy for the group of women because individual autonomy serves a greater purpose in that it is necessarily instrumental for a higher end (similar to Mill’s argument regarding free speech). The counter argument I am offering claims: (1) If social conditioning is true, then the woman may not be making an autonomous choice because her autonomy has been obstructed or (2) If social conditioning is true, then if the woman is making an autonomous choice, then her autonomous choice directly obstructs other women’s autonomous choices. If (2), and if there is interconnectedness within society, and if there is a higher end to be achieved through autonomy, then everyone’s autonomy needs to be promoted. This is the liberal’s conundrum. Charles Taylor points out something very similar, albeit not regarding pornography, as being liberalism’s contradiction in “Atomism,” in Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, Ed. Steven M. Cahn, pg. 729-742. To promote autonomy means to interfere with autonomy. The argument I am offering implicitly challenges liberals to answer questions regarding social conditioning and the interconnectedness of society in order to then proceed to address the issue of the liberal contradiction in regards to pornography, instead of just side stepping the issue as Dworkin seems to do.

[67] Cf. West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[68] Conditional Proof.

[69] Conditional Proof.

[70] Conditional Proof.

[71] West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[72] Ibid.; See also Larry Baron, Ph.D., “Pornography and Gender Equality: An Empirical Analysis,” The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 27, No. 3, Feminist Perspectives on Sexuality, Part 2, (Aug. 1990). Pg. 364-365. Dr. Baron’s study found in U.S. societies where there was a high consumption of “soft core porn” there was a correlation with higher gender equality. Despite such claims, the study really doesn’t examine the aspect of social conditioning MacKinnon is addressing. MacKinnon is concerned with the types of pornography in which women are portrayed in roles of subjection, whereas, this study examined “soft core porn.” It is highly debatable as to if the types of pornography Dr. Baron’s study examined are the types of pornography MacKinnon is concerned with. Further, MacKinnon’s concern is that the consumers of pornography will reproduce the roles of subjection and domination it portrays. It is unclear in Dr. Baron’s study as to if the consumers of such material are the one’s promoting gender equality or if the correlation is coincidental because Dr. Baron did not study the psychological aspects of the issue; Dr. Baron only conducted a statistical analysis between two factors then assumed the correlation.

[73] West, “Pornography and Censorship”

[74] I did locate a study which examined women’s viewpoints about pornography. While such a study could be helpful as an initial starting point, it doesn’t examine if there are psychological and sociological manifestations of social conditioning due to pornography nor does it conduct a historical analysis of the psychological and social effects of pornography on men and women. See Charlene Y. Senn, “Women’s Multiple Perspectives and Experiences with Pornography,” Psychology of Women Quarterly, Vol. 17 (1993).

[75] Immanuel Kant, “On the Common Saying: ‘This May Be True in Theory, but It Does Not Apply in Practice,’” in Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, Ed. Steven M. Cahn, pg. 523. Kant states: “I may thus be permitted to assume that, since the human race is constantly progressing in cultural matters (in keeping with its natural purpose), it is also engaged in progressive improvement in relation to the moral end of its existence. This progress may at times be interrupted but never broken off. […] I am a member of a series of human generations, and as such, I am not as good as I ought to be or could be according to the moral requirements of my nature.”


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