Issue 4: The Sex Wars: Erotic vs. Pornographic?

There are all sorts of ways to discuss pornography as a contentious issue.

• Is pornography harmful to women? How?
• Should it be free speech? Is it a question of censorship?
• How should we regulate pornography? Who gets to decide what counts as pornography and how it should be regulated?
• Does pornography encourage/foster/promote violence? Is it violence--if so, what kind?
• What is pornography? What distinguishes the pornographic from the erotic?

For class on Tuesday (4/13), we are looking at pornography in relation to the erotic and the sex wars within feminism in the late 70s and early 80s. How is the debate framed? What is at stake in focusing exclusively on the pornographic and ignoring the erotic?

Some more questions: Is it possible to have a radical theory of sexuality that isn't reduced to the binary--erotic or pornographic? What are the implications for thinking about sex exclusively in terms of the exploitation/oppression of women? Are there other models for sexuality that envision sex/sexual expression/erotic as empowering or affirming as opposed to purely exploitative and violent?

What is at stake in reducing the debate to porn as something one is either for or against? As something that is either good or bad? As exploitative or empowering? How does sex/sexuality get left out of the discussion? How does this erotic as an expansive term get ignored? Where does pleasure fit into all of this?

Liberty versus Equality: again, coming into conflict...remember Dorothy Roberts and her discussion of liberty and equality in Killing the Black Body? This division produces a binary that mires us in an unwinnable debate.

Liberty: Freedom to choose/control over own life
Equality: Guarantee of certain rights/dismantling of oppressive systems and structures.

Even more questions for discussion: Who gets to decide what is good and bad sex? What is consensual and what is not? Who frames the debate? How does the framing of the debate exclude certain perspectives/important questions? Are women purely victims? Can they be agents--do they exist only as sexual objects? Can they be sexual subjects? How are we encouraged to deny the "yes" within ourselves (a la Lorde, "The uses of the erotic")? How is women's sexuality represented within pop culture? Where does morality fit into all of this? What sorts of values are we encouraging or discouraging in how we frame the debate as one between the erotic vs. pornographic?

Check out the following brief introduction to Audre Lorde ("The Uses of the Erotic") and her work as it is concerned with linking together communities who are fighting in the same war, but in different ways and from different locations. What is at stake in the "sex wars"? Are there ways to rethink how to understand sex/sexuality that enable feminists to envision themselves as connected and at the "edge of each other's battles" instead of as on opposite sides of struggle, pitted against each other?

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This page contains a single entry by sara published on April 12, 2010 10:41 AM.

Direct Engagement 10 was the previous entry in this blog.

This is a feminist issue...selling/marketing "freedom" is the next entry in this blog.

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