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Teaching about Pornography

The following discussion concerning whether/how to teach about pornography
in a Women's Studies class took place on WMST-L in September 1993.  Earlier
that year, there was a related discussion on the list about
Dealing with Sensitive Subjects in Class.   For additional WMST-L files now
available on the Web, see the WMST-L File List.
Date: Wed, 01 Sep 1993 19:20:08 -0400 (EDT)
From: Deborah Stearns <stearns @ CATTELL.PSYCH.UPENN.EDU>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
I have spent the last month or so planning my fall term course, and
during this process I started wondering about the ethics of teaching
touchy topics.  Then I thought, where better to get responses to this
quandry than WMST-L?  I would be interested in how other people approach
this kind of problem:  is it appropriate (or in what ways is it
appropriate) to introduce potentially offensive materials to a class,
so that students can be knowledgeable about the actual content of
controversial materials?
In a more specific example, I am planning to teach a section on
pornography, and whether it is harmful to women or not, examining
both theory and empirical work (it's a psych class, just in case
that interests you).  One of the difficulties I have often found about
the pornography debates, however, (at least in casual debates) is a
lack of knowledge of the actual content of pornography--and I don't
except myself from this criticism.  Rather than have classroom
debate become fuzzy with assumptions and nebulous impressions, I
have been thinking that I might bring in some pornographic magazines:
that is, I would go to the 7-11 and pick up what can be bought in
the average convenience store, and maybe add to that some more
"mainstream" magazines that have sexualized images of women for
comparison, and perhaps some lesbian and gay erotica/porn as well.
In other words, I am not suggesting that I go out and get really
hard core versions of pornography, just so we're clear on this.
Then, students could look through these materials and use them as
the basis for the debate, if they want to.  That was my original
Then it occurred to me that this might be a fairly controversial
idea, from several perspectives.  For example, if some of my students
find pornography offensive to women, they are pretty likely to
feel offended by the materials.  In addition, it might serve to
create a "fraternity" atmosphere, in which the men feel free to
discuss the materials, but the women are silenced by them.  From
a conservative point of view, one might argue that I have no business
distributing sexually explicit materials in a classroom setting.
So then I thought maybe this wasn't such a good idea.  But it also
occurred to me that I wouldn't be nearly so reticent about presenting
films or articles which espouse views that are offensive to some
people (even those that are offensive to me), for the purposes of
discussion and illuminating both sides, or illustrating some kind
of prejudice, etc.  So why am I balking at the explicit sexuality?
Is it because it is controversial, or because it is sexual?
I was also trying to figure out ways to avoid some of the potential
problems--trying to keep students free to speak and not uncomfortable.
One way is to tell the students about it in advance and urge them
to let me know if they would feel uncomfortable--and then cancel
the materials if students feel uncomfortable.  Another way is to
let anyone who feels uncomfortable leave the class, and not penalize
them for it.  And yet a third way is simply to frame the materials
very carefully (which I was planning to do anyway)--to say
that these may be offensive, but they are the subjects of the discussion,
and it is important to examine the data and not to make assumptions
about it--in other words, keep the tone very academic and distant,
although not precluding the inclusion of personal feelings.
So, what do you think?  Do you use materials that might be offensive,
and if so, how?  What have student reactions been?
Thank you for reading a rather lengthy message of my confused
and perplexed thoughts!
Deborah Stearns
Psychology Department
University of Pennsylvania
stearns  @  cattell.psych.upenn.edu
Date: Wed, 01 Sep 1993 21:10:54 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Hilve A. Firek" <hfirek @ VDOE386.VAK12ED.EDU>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
Hi Deborah...
Your pornography and women class sounds fascinating.
Congratulations on a topic deserving of debate and discussion.
I say you should bring in the materials.  If people find them
offensive, so much the better.  Maybe it will motivate them to
get involved.
Furthermore, I don't think you should shy away from the
hard-core stuff... it is this area that really exploits women.
And if the men create a fraternity-like atmosphere then that
should be examined too.
Keep us posted on what you decide to do.
Hilve Firek
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 09:28:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
I found the issue of whether or not to use actual pornographic materials in
class an interesting one.  It seems to me that if we are to mount any critique
of pornography we can't do it in ignorance of the content.  I had a student
last year in my senior seminar who wanted to work on pornography for a topic
and was in fact doing a senior thesis on pornography in the psych department.
She absolutely refused to look at any pornography.  Said she didn't need to to
know it was offensive.  This struck me as an extremely problematic position.
Another student was thinking about it and really agonized with whether she
wanted to support the pornography industry by buying their products even to
write a critical paper.  This struck me at least as a reasonable doubt.
It also raises the interesting question of context.  If one places a piece of
pornography in a different context--the context of study or feminist
critique--does it function differently?
One way of framing the issue for your students is to pair pornographic images
up with images from more mainstream culture.   I once had a student do a term
paper in which she paired up images from fashion magazines with images from
Penthouse.  It was  tour de force paper, because the images she paired up
showed models in exactly the same poses.  She got her images from the library
by the way. Apparently our library kept penthouse on microfilm!
                                    (o o)
|        Laurie Finke, Women's and Gender Studies, Kenyon College            |
|                  Gambier, OH 43022       phone: 614-427-5276               |
|        home: 614-427-3428, P.O. Box 731     mail: FinkeL  @  Kenyon.Edu        |
                                   ()   ()
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 10:09:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: Susan Snelling <YFPY0024 @ VM1.YORKU.CA>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
Regarding the purchasing of pornography for research purposes,
it is possible to buy used pornography from many used
bookstores.  In this way, your money doesn't go to the pornographers,
(although they already got their money from the original
On the issue of exposing students to pornography in class, I
think it is wise to have the initial discussions of the material
segregated by gender.  This allows women to speak more freely on
a subject that men tend to dominate in open class discussions.
Class discussion could follow the gender-segregated discussions,
and might serve to highlight the different ways in which men and
women see and feel about viewing pornography.  I think it is
also wise to allow students to opt out of viewing the material
if they really are uncomfortable with the idea.
Susan Snelling  YFPY0024  @  VM1.YorkU.CA
York University
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 10:04:17 -0500
From: d000wgsp @ LEO.BSUVC.BSU.EDU
Subject: Teaching about pornography
This is in response to the issue of teaching using explicit pornography.
All the issues raised are excellent and difficult ones.  I agree that we
must teach about it, and that it is unwise and unfair to do so without
examining the evidence.  Nevertheless, there are a variety of risks to
the teacher who chooses to do so.  Do you have a Department Chair, Dean,
and/or affirmative action director who will support you if there are
problems in the classroom?  Might you want to inform them in advance that
you are doing this?  I do think you need to allow the students the option
of another project should they choose not to see the material because it
is offensive or painful to a survivor of abuse.
Good luck--and I, too, want to hear what happens.
Irene Goldman  00icgoldman  @  bsuvc.bsu.edu
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 10:10:30 -0600 (CST)
From: Dennis Longmire <ICC_DRL @ SHSU.BITNET>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
The question of whether or how to get students exposed to pornography as
part of a class assignment is indeed a tough issue.  I like Susan Snelling's
suggestion that the issue be first discussed in "gender segregated" groups.
That may provide students with a bit more security as y'all discuss the
parameters of the assignments.  It's important that there be real clear
discussion about "why" the assignment is important and "what" you expect
to achieve through the assignment.
As a "recovering academic administrator" (just rejoined the faculty after
five years as Associate Dean of the college), I'd also recommend that you
discuss the assignment with your Dept. Chair or some other administrative
type . . . just to keep them informed of what you're doing.  Long ago, prior
to my arrival here, a member of our faculty was fired for showing an "X"
rated video as part of a class assignment in a deviance class.  The prof.
was careful to explain that viewing the video was not required; he cautioned
folks about language as well as nudity and sex prior to showing the film,
the film was not shown during the regular class session but special
arrangements were made for a viewing during one afternoon, the prof. had
a discussion group immediately following the film to talk about the feelings
of those who viewed the film, etc.  Apparently, a couple of the students
were offended by the film and immediately went to the President with
their concerns.  The President contacted the Dean of the College who was told
to dismiss the prof. immediately.  The prof. was immediately releived of
all his teaching responsibilities, given a terminal contact for the remainder
of the year (this happened early in the Spring semester) and was not
allowed to continue in any teaching responsibilities (committee work, etc.).
Indeed, this all took place in the 1970s in an east Texas community . . .
probably wouldn't result in the same administrative actions today . . . but
I'd want to talk with someone at my univ. who "knows" the administration's
experience with similar situations before I included something like this
in my classes!  I also remember a case in California (Cal. State Long Beach
I think) where a prof. was fired for something like this . . . seems to me
it was within the last two years . . . the Chronicle of Higher Education
carried a story on the firing for those who want to do a bit more research
on the case.
Good luck!
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 11:34:20 -0400
From: Lila Hanft <lxh16 @ PO.CWRU.EDU>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics (porn)
Debbie Stearns wrote:
>In a more specific example, I am planning to teach a section on
>pornography, and whether it is harmful to women or not, examining
>both theory and empirical work (it's a psych class, just in case
>that interests you).  One of the difficulties I have often found about
>the pornography debates, however, (at least in casual debates) is a
>lack of knowledge of the actual content of pornography--and I don't
>except myself from this criticism.  Rather than have classroom
>debate become fuzzy with assumptions and nebulous impressions, I
>have been thinking that I might bring in some pornographic magazines:
>that is, I would go to the 7-11 and pick up what can be bought in
>the average convenience store, and maybe add to that some more
>"mainstream" magazines that have sexualized images of women for
>comparison, and perhaps some lesbian and gay erotica/porn as well.
I have taught this issue in my intro to gender studies course,
concentrating on the debate in feminism between prosex and antiporn
feminists. I used the usuals for the antiporn debate (McKinnon, Dworkin,
Stoltenberg), and used pieces from the anthologies _Powers of Desire: The
Politics of Sexuality (ed. Snitow, Stnasell and Thomposon) and _Pleasure
and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality_ (ed Carol Vance) as examples of
pro-sex feminism (as a position  distinct from that of first amendment
For primary material I did two things. First, I invited them to look at
mainstream porn on their own (I didn't bring Hustler etc into class).
Second, I xeroxed several pages of the Good Vibrations store catalog
(literature and sex toys for women, women-centered) to show them the
variety of alternative so-called pornography that exists. I also brought in
a copy of the lesbian skin mage _On our Backs_, and passed out a copy of
one of Fanny Fatale's columns from OOB, one on the g-spot and female
ejaculation (in order to talk about the changes in notions of female sexual
pleasure -- I didn't endorse this approach). For mainstream pseudo-porn , I
used an excellent film on MTV videos call _Dreamworlds_ by Sut Jhally at
the Unive. of Mass.-Amherst. It also serves as an introduction to MacKinnon
and Dworkin's definition of pornography vis-a-vis violence against women
(at one point Jhally cross cuts bits of MTV violence against women with the
rape scene from the move _The Accused_).
My class was mainly women, and I was mainly interested in not having them
completely condemn all pornography without understanding the
alternative forms of pleasure possible for women, esp. in lesbian porn. The
tone of the class was open and accepting, although students did not agree
on the porn issue anymore than we scholars/activists do. It WAS a little
embarrassing, but since part of my goal was to get women to talk about sex
freely (rather than enact the feminine stereotype that women don't like
sex), I persevered, with excellent results.
It WAS amazing how many women in the class had been the victims of rape,
abuse, incest or other forms of sexual violence, and  my main concern was
to spare those people further trauma. I gave all students carte blanche to
leave the room at any time.
Hope this is helpful.
--Lila Hanft lxh16  @  po.cwru.edu
Lila Hanft                               Internet: lxh16  @  po.cwru.edu
Assistant Professor of English                 Phone: (216)-368-2372
Case Western Reserve University                Fax:   (216)-368-2216
Cleveland, OH 44106-7117            Bitnet: lxh16%po.cwru.edu  @  cunyvm
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 11:58:27 -0400 (EDT)
From: Sherry Linkon <FR122601 @ YSUB.YSU.EDU>
Subject: Teaching about porn
I think the suggestions so far about how to handle class discussions and use of
porn have been quite good.  A couple of additional points:  I've usually found
that I am much more touchy about this stuff than my students are.  When I did a
similar project in a Women and Pop Culture course a few years ago, my students
thought I was a prude because I expressed concern that some of theym might be
offended.  In other cases, students have been receptive as long as we spent
time discussing why and how we would use such materials, and I've tried to
raise the question Laurie Finke mentions--does the meaning of porn change based
on how it's being used?--in class discussions.  Another source for porn, you
may not be comforted to know, is your college library.  I did a research
project in grad school on Playboy, and I was surprised to discover that not
only did the Minnesota library have it on microfilm, but I could choose between
color and black-and-white versions!  Public libraries may also have some in
available.  --Sherry
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 12:23:49 -0400 (EDT)
From: Allan Hunter <AHUNTER @ CCVM.SUNYSB.EDU>
Subject: Teaching about pornography
This is an interesting discussion--whether or not to directly introduce
controversially touchy material such as pornography into a discussion of
the same.
So much so that it strikes me, why not bring up the issue in exactly
this fashion WITH YOUR STUDENTS?  After such a discussion, it is less
likely that anyone will be quite so offended about your "insensitivity"
of lack of "political correctness" if and when you do decide to bring
it in; they will have heard and debated the complex issue and come to
realize that there are woman-based reasons for bringing in porn, for
For a more theoretical discussion of similar issues, see Jacqueline
Rose, SEXUALITY IN THE FIELD OF VISION, London: Verso 1986 and
Berkeley: U of Cal Press  1990
- Allan Hunter
 <ahunter  @  sbccvm>
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 13:15:52 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Diana H. Scully" <dscully @ CABELL.VCU.EDU>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
All of the suggestions on this topic have been quite useful.  I
wanted to mention two resouces that haven't been discussed, both of
which I use in my Intro to Women's Studies to discuss images of women
in popular culture and pornography:  Dreamworlds, a documentary on
rock music videos and Not A Love Story, a Film Board of Canada
documentary on pornography that includes explicit sex scenes,
interviews with pornography makers and with prominent feminists and
researchers in the field.  Using these resources does not contribute
to the profit of the porn industry.
Diana Scully dscully  @  cabell.vcu.edu
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 14:17:30 -0500 (EST)
From: Jennifer <J.Manlowe @ PUPRESS.PRINCETON.EDU>
Subject: Porn
20/20 did a 20 minute spot on young men at Duke (?) this past spring.
These men discuss their feelings of how pornography has distorted how
they see and relate to women.  I was impressed with their candor and
glad to know that gender studies is making a difference at their
school.  Showing this clip might be a way to get students
thinking/talking.  I bet it could be ordered through the broadcasting
station (CBS?).
Good luck.
        PRINCETON NJ 08540
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 16:47:04 -0400
From: Jessica Phyllis Weinberg <jessicap @ WAM.UMD.EDU>
Subject: teaching pornography, etc.
In a class at the University of Maryland called Women in Cultures of
Resistance (WMST), we did group projects.  My roommate's group did their
project on women's performance art as resistance.  They focused on artists
such as Annie Sprinkle and Susie Bright (Susie Sexpert), and they also
brought in a copy of On Our Backs for the class to look at.  We also
discussed Madonna.  The discussion centered around the question: Are these
women resisting oppression and/or the dominant culture?  It was a fascinating
discussion which didn't even begin to answer that question, and we all wished
it could have gone on longer, but unfortunately that was the last class
session.  We didn't even scratch the surface of important discussion around
issues of pornography/erotica, and neither did any of my other classes,
although several of them mentioned it almost as an aside.  I know it is a
difficult subject to talk about, but for those students like myself who
didn't get to talk about it in their Women's Studies classes, the ONE place
where it would have been safe to discuss it, PLEASE try to find a way to
include it in your classes.  There is a lot of confusion and anger around
issues of pornography, sex, etc., and if we can't deal with it in Women's
Studies, where will we be able to deal with it?
                         Jessica P. Weinberg
                        weinberg  @  info.umd.edu
                         jessicap  @  wam.umd.edu
                   inforM, University of Maryland
                       College Park, Maryland
              Women should learn to take up more space!!
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 16:43:00 -0700
From: Wendy Burton <burton @ FVC.BC.CA>
Subject: Not a Love Story
        I saw Not a Love Story in a very safe environment, where we were all
warned about the content, and the discussion (after the shock began to die
down) was very good and helpful.  However, a colleague in Toronto, was fined
heavily by the TOronto Metro Police for organising a discussion night at her
College, and the film was seized for being pornographic.  Further, another
colleague had one of the discussions Hunter advocates (ASK THE STUDENTS),
and the young men in the class lead a horrible charge against the instructor
and the studnts who said they might have trouble with the content and
proceeded in the next class to have Penthouse pages plastered to their
backs.  They laughed, snickered and generally made the atmosphere very
unsafe for a discussion about the discussion of pornography.  Two women
filed personal harassment charges against the instructor for the tone in
the classroom, and the subject was not even discussed.  So much depends
on whose in the class (obviously) and how safe the environment is.  It is
one thing for a man to decided whether or how or if he will enter into a
discussion of pornography which subject is almost alwayds women (yes, I
know, there are magazines and films directed against men, but it is not
the same phenomenon at all), it is another thing for a woman, particularly
a woman who might be just finding her way into postsecondary education (
mature learners and very young women) to have to combat not only her own
sense of violation over pornographic images directed at her but also the
gleeful disruption of *some* men.  Sorry about that long sentence.
   It is the issue of informed consent, and consensus, and what the
objective of the class is.  I agree that not using any porn at all would
be dangerous ... but even a good film like Not a Love Story is so unsettling
(what a wimpy word!).
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 20:45:39 -0500
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
I want to second Diana's comments:
>All of the suggestions on this topic have been quite useful.  I
>wanted to mention two resouces that haven't been discussed, both of
>which I use in my Intro to Women's Studies to discuss images of women
>in popular culture and pornography:  Dreamworlds, a documentary on
>rock music videos and Not A Love Story, a Film Board of Canada
>documentary on pornography that includes explicit sex scenes,
>interviews with pornography makers and with prominent feminists and
>researchers in the field.  Using these resources does not contribute
>to the profit of the porn industry.
>Diana Scully dscully  @  cabell.vcu.edu
We used NOT A LOVE STORY in Intro to WS and found it very powerful.  I
think students were shocked by the explicitness of the material, but
enlightened as well.  We used DREAMWORLDS in Psych of Women to similar
effect, although this is *much* less explicit.
I think we sometimes have the feeling that people who have been
wounded--raped, for example--can't handle such material.  I think we
forget how strong people are.  We are all wounded--you can't be human
and not be, and we are all surviving.  The problem with showing this
kind of material comes not, in my experience, from the victims, but
from the right wing fringe.  They are the one's who'll be offended and
who'll complain.
Arnie Kahn   fac_askahn  @  vax1.acs.jmu.edu
             fac_askahn  @  jmuvax
Date: Thu, 02 Sep 1993 23:22:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: Kathryn Cirksena <ENCIRKSE @ ECUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: Teaching about porn-some alternative AV materials
In response to the query about buying and bringing porn in to show in
the classromm, there is another alternative, which is to use AV materials
that show some of these images in the context of criticism of them.
Some very widely available ones would include:
"Still Killing Us Softly" video on images of women in ads that connects
those images to porn/violence against women images
"Dreamgirls" by Sut Jhally (this may be more difficult to get-he ran into
a copyright fight with MTV)  connects the sexist/porn images of music
videos with violence against women
"Not a Love Story" film by the National Film Board of Canada about
the pornography industry.
None of these is terribly new, but they have worked well in classes on
media images of women.  I don't have ordering info here at home, but
would be happy to find it if you email me privately.
I concur that it is especially important to provide a safe environment
for women and to have clear and specific pedagogical goals for their use.
Kathryn Cirksena
Assistant Professor of Communication
East Carolina University
encirkse  @  ecuvm.cis.ecu.edu
Date: Fri, 03 Sep 1993 09:16:17 +0300
From: naomy graetz <graetz @ BGUMAIL.BGU.AC.IL>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics (porn)
An excellent movie to have students see is by Bonnie Sher Klein.  It is
Canadian--done in the late 80's.  Worthwhile trying to get ahold of it, if
you are teaching pornography.
Date: Fri, 03 Sep 1993 09:25:13 +0300
From: naomy graetz <graetz @ BGUMAIL.BGU.AC.IL>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
Sorry to write twice.  But Not a Love Story is the film I was referring to
by Bonni Sher Klein.
Date: Fri, 03 Sep 1993 13:03:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Diana H. Scully" <dscully @ CABELL.VCU.EDU>
Subject: Not a Love Story
I agree with Wendy Burton that certain care must be taken when
showing Not A Love Story.  I have used this film in a number of
contexts for a number of years and have never had a problem.  When I
show it in a class, I wait till well into the semester so that an
appropriate environment has had time to develop.  I talk about the
film from time to time before it is shown so that students are
prepared for what they are going to see.  I also make viewing the
film optional and also tell students they may leave at any time
during the film.  I talk individually with students that I think may
be particularly upset with the film before I show it.  for example,
students from an Open High School take some courses at my university
and I always have several in my Intro to Women's Studies course where
I show the film.  Before launching a discussion of the issues raised
by the film, I ask students to express their emotions in a couple of
words.  I find that women and men have different reactions.  Women
feel angry, hurt, dirty, sad--some men, not all, feel amused, other
embarrassed.  Since women are the majority in the Intro classes,
their perspective prevails.  All in all, I find Not a Love Story to
be a powerful learning experience.
Diana Scully
Date: Fri, 03 Sep 1993 15:37:46 -0600
From: Deirdre Bonnycastle <bonnycastle%capone.dnet @ DOC.SIAST.SK.CA>
Subject: videos
"Dreamworlds,Killing us softly, Still killing us softly, Funny ladies,
Elizabeth Smart-Still on the side of the angels, Daughters of de Beauvoir,
One hit leads to another and Finding Out -Incest" are all available
through Kinetic Inc.
Canada            US
408 Dundas St.E        255 Delaware Ave.
Toronto, ONT.        Suite 340
M5A 2A5            Buffalo, NY 14202
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 10:50:19 -0400
Subject: Teaching about porn
Mention has been made of the fact that porn changes with the times and
culture. This dicussion has raised a question in my mind for those
language experts out there. When did 'pornography' become the all
inclusive, usual, descriptive word for sexually explicit materials? The way
it is currently used on the list, pornography may not be obscene. Have I
been misusing the word all these years? Or is it only feminists who use
pornography in  this manner? Playboy, for example, is not obscene under
the legal definition, but is assumed to be pornography here. Is 'Fanny
Hill" included as pornography?
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 11:40:39 -0400 (EDT)
From: Allan Hunter <AHUNTER @ CCVM.SUNYSB.EDU>
Subject: Teaching about porn
The word PORNOGRAPHY means the graphic depiction (graphos) of prosti-
tutes (pornos), as in "the means by which they are advertised".  Porno-
graphy was originally, then, the depiction of women for the purpose of
arousing men in a context where the women were objects owned and mani-
pulated by someone else who could profit from the exploitative arrange-
The extension of "pornography" to include all sexually explicit mater-
ials is a product of the more prudish elements of the population, who
tended to have the attitude that sexual appetite is always dirty and
against public decency and morality.  [Insofar as patriarchy depends
on constraining and controlling sexuality, which has the stubborn
tendency to lead to connections and shared identity and subverting
social ideologies, that's true--since they mean patriarchal "decency
and morality"--but prudery is not the only avenue open to patriarchy]
The extension of "pornography" to include all eroticized depictions
of women as "things" in such a way as to reinforce men's proprietary
and hostile and contemptuous attitudes towards women, especially  while
eroticizing those very attitudes FOR men (and, to a lesser extent,
even eroticizing humiliation and degradation for women--see MacKinnon
in FEMINISM UNMODIFIED, or Sheila Jeffries in ANTICLIMAX)...this ex-
tension of the original meaning of "pornography" is the feminist one.
Some feminists seem to feel and believe that a non-degrading depic-
tion of women (and/or men or couples, etc., for that matter) could be
erotically tantalizing without reducing women to sex objects and re-
inforcing patriarchal ideologies about "that's what a woman is for".
Other feminists are more inclined to say "Not in this context; all of
those ugly ideas and notions automatically get transplanted onto all
images of women's bodies, and the more deliberate the intent to make
it erotic, the more this is so."  A few even consider the whole idea
of visually viewing a person's body (or an image thereof) and exper-
iencing it as erotic is so fully a male phenomenon, and automatically
objectifying at that, as to make the idea of a feminist erotica as
valid as feminists opposing legal abortion or feminists being pro-
rape or something.
In modern political parlance, both feminist and right-wing prude types
are "against pornography" and more often than not would agree about
which materials fall into that category.  But the right-wingers would
ban anything nude, even for sex education purposes, (even breast exam
pamphlets could be removed from public high schools as "porn"), and
feminists are more likely to take issue with things such as a recent
back cover of a telephone directory showing a prepubescent girl
standing on a phone book with the camera looking up her skirt--not
graphic, since she is wearing clothes, but objectifying in a way that
many feminists felt was encouraging child sexual abuse.  Since both
movements use the term, they both have a political intererest in
seeing the term defined most often as they do.
-Allan Hunter
<ahunter  @  ccvm.sunysb.edu>
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 18:26:12 +0200
From: naomy graetz <graetz @ BGUMAIL.BGU.AC.IL>
Subject: Teaching about porn
I'd like to add a question to your question:  Is the Story Of O pornography?
naomi graetz
On Sun, 5 Sep 1993, Jane Elza wrote:
> Mention has been made of the fact that porn changes with the times and
> culture. This dicussion has raised a question in my mind for those
> language experts out there. When did 'pornography' become the all
> inclusive, usual, descriptive word for sexually explicit materials? The way
> it is currently used on the list, pornography may not be obscene. Have I
> been misusing the word all these years? Or is it only feminists who use
> pornography in  this manner? Playboy, for example, is not obscene under
> the legal definition, but is assumed to be pornography here. Is 'Fanny
> Hill" included as pornography?
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 12:49:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: Gerald Phillips <GMP3 @ PSUVM.BITNET>
Subject: Teaching about porn
>I'd like to add a question to your question:  Is the Story Of O pornography?
>naomi graetz
Gee, Naomi, you call it "porn."  I call it a badly written book.
About a decade ago I did a funded study on "pornography." What I looked at
were the "business people" (some female, as a matter of fact) who produced
the stuff called "pornographic."  To them, it was a product and they did
careful market research on what their customers were buying. A modest share
of the porn publishing market is directed at female coin.  I was offered
a more than modest consulting fee by a female publisher once to design
a questionnaire for her subscribers so she could find out what their
fetishes were.
Christians notwithstanding, the contemporary porn market is made up of
stuff designed to titillate and arouse.  It has no other purpose, although
one of the "publishers" I encountered hired a dissolute alcholic sociologist
to write "socially redeeming" material, which was dutifully included in
case of a federal rap.
Pornography publishing (and film-making) is a very cynical and profitable
business.  It thrives and one company is even listed on the big board at
the stock exchange.  Many of the people who drive it with capital investment
are otherwise respectable people you might find at the opening of an art
gallery or meet when the opera comes to town.
I have noted a lot of young feminists get very upset at pornography, but
that is because they are still young and have not considered its banality.
In a Hannah Ahrendt conceptualization it would be "banal" and that's what
makes it all the more horrifying.
Anyway, cutting to the chase, pornography will not be eliminated by legal
action.  Good journalism, however, might identify some of the stockholders
and their public mention might pull their money out of the market.
One law the porn publishers are not exempt from is the law of economics.
Withdrawing money kills the enterprise.  (That happened, by the way, with
a couple of film companies when John Holmes died.  Apparently the consumers
believed they could get AIDS from watching porn films.)
Gerald M. Phillips (Professor Emeritus), Speech Communication
Trade and Applied Books Editor, Hampton Press
Editor, IPCT: An Electronic Journal for the 21st Century
ISSN 1064-4326
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802
Manuscripts are being accepted for the October, 1993 issue
Send submissions via BITNET to GMP3 at PSUVM
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 17:57:00 -0300 (BST)
From: Karen Olsen <specpress @ GENIE.GEIS.COM>
Subject: Teaching about porn
Concerning "teaching about porn", I submit there can be no rational approach
without discussion of lesbian "pornography". The clarifying aspect of
authentic lesbian porn is that it is made by women for women, and so the
male element is absent. Can the pejorative judgments made about general porn
be applied to lesbian porn? Does lesbian porn damage women? I think not. The
various negative aspects of male-oriented porn (and some lesbian porn!) are
a result of attitudes not the cause of them. It does the social science
community no damn good to be soft-headed about cause and effect
relationships. A correlative association is not evidence of anything except
itself, Catherine MacKinnon notwithstanding. When the attitudes are changed,
the porn will change.
Karen Olsen
 specpress  @  genie.geis.com
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 18:52:57 -0400
From: Sarah Elizabeth Chinn <sec8 @ COLUMBIA.EDU>
Subject: Teaching touchy topics
        I think that one issue you haven't mentioned but that is part and
parcel of a classroom discussion of pornography is not only saying "some
people might find this offensive" etc. but also acknowledging that others
might find it extremely arousing.  In her introduction to _Herotica_ Susie
Bright describes her days as a women's studies major reading Millett's
_Sexual Politics_ and simultaneously agreeing with the theory of the book
and being turned on by the texts she was "supposed" to find offensive.
Feminist theory, as you know, is not monologic about explicit depictions
of sexuality, and our lived experience shows that.  Even some of your most
feminist-oriented students might find themselves in the difficult
situation of feeling like they should condemn the material you've brought
in, particularly since you, the teacher and the feminist role model in
this case, have implicitly caategorized it as offensive to women, and at
the same time being turned on by it -- so they have to deny these
feelings, since they're not an acceptable part of class discussions, and
berate themselves.
        Of course, this doesn't mitigate the other problems you brought
up: male students treating the material cavalierly and so insulting women
in the class, other students being alienated from the learning experience
etc.  But as someone for whom pornography is problematic, yes, but also a
source of pleasure, I can't just address your (equally valid) fears of
offending people without raising another part of the issue.
sarah chinn
sec8  @  columbia.edu
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 22:19:31 -0400
From: Sharon Gordon <GORDONSE @ UNCG.BITNET>
Subject: A good new book to use in teaching about pornography
Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography which is edited by
Diana E. H. Russell (1993, New York: Teachers College Press) has lots
of useful information on how pornography sells sexism and violence against
women.  They distinguish between erotica and pornography.
Included are first person accounts by survivors of pornography, information
on the current states of pornography research aspects, information on
racism in pornography, pornography as a civil rights issue, and feminist
strategies and actions against pornography.
Most of the book is written at a level such that undergraduates would be able
to get a lot out of it.  The research section has some subtleties that
could be better appreciated by people with some research experience.
There is also plenty to enlighten the teacher or researcher as well.
Sharon Gordon
gordonse  @  uncg.bitnet
gordonse  @  iris.uncg.edu
would be better appreciated by those with research training.
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1993 14:59:40 -0500
Subject: Teaching about porn
Some may find the following anthropological approach to pornography
interesting:    Bernard Arcand. Le Jaguar et le tamanoir. Boreal. 1991.
(For those who read French. I don't think it has been translated). Arcand
is an anthropologist at Laval University in Quebec City.
Ann Golubowski
goluban  @  vax2.concordia.ca
Concordia University
Montreal, Canada
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1993 14:20:11 -0500
From: Mindy Fiala <MFIALA @ UMKCVAX1.BITNET>
Subject: A good new book to use in teaching about pornography
Please excuse a stupid question here, but what exactly is meant by the
term "survivors of pornography?"
Mindy Fiala
mfiala  @  vax1.umkc.edu
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1993 17:39:00 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Donna M. Hughes" <H82 @ PSUVM.BITNET>
Subject: Survivors of Pornography
Survivors of pornography are those people who have been harmed
in some way by pornography. They include: children abused as a
result of the perpetrator acting out what he had seen in pornography;
children being shown age inappropriate sexually explicit material;
children used in the making of pornography; women used and exploited
in the making of pornography; women forced to act out scenes from
pornography, women being harassed with descriptions of pornography
or being shown pornography when they were in situations where they
could not comfortably leave (i.e. business meetings). This probably
isn't exhaustive, but it gives you an idea.  (Oh, women in live
sex shows, etc)
Recently, I attended a meeting of 20 women who all described
themselves as survivors of pornography and their experiences
included one or several of the above experiences. They all
described them as traumatic and abusive. One of the biggest
frustrations they expressed was the inability (or refusal)
of many of their liberal friends to see the harm in pornography.
Donna M. Hughes PhD                   Bitnet:   h82  @  psuvm
13 Sparks Building                    Internet: h82  @  psuvm.psu.edu
The Pennsylvania State University     Phone:    814-865-7093
University Park, PA 16802
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1993 18:26:54 -0500
From: Jackie Wilkie <wilkieja @ MARTIN.LUTHER.EDU>
Subject: Teaching about pornography
Deborah and all
You might want to look at the recent controversy that occured at the U of Iowa
concerning the showing of a gay porno film  in an art class by a visiting
lecturer.  The uproar was such that the university has no created a policy
on the use of sexually explicit materials (or so the pulp press says).
The issues in the case--visiting lecturer,  [Dno option for students to leave,
questioning of the relevance of the materials for the class--would not
necessarily apply in your case but I would echo Irene Goldman's suggestion
that you check the politics out internally first.
Jackie Wilkie
Wilkieja  @  martin.luther.edu
Date: Tue, 07 Sep 1993 00:50:00 -0300 (BST)
From: Karen Olsen <specpress @ GENIE.GEIS.COM>
Subject: Survivors of Pornography
What the crusaders at PSU need to do is examine how the people who say they
were "harmed" by pornography differ from those who say they were not harmed
by pornography. My guess is they will find that people who are
psychologically unhealthy may be harmed, depending on the individual case,
by pornography, or by religion, or by MTV, or by sports mania, or by
watching Saturday Night Live, etc., etc. Let's ban everything and we'll all
be safe forever in a glorious universal convent. The irony is that the
people who rant about the evils of pornography are usually silent when it
comes to the evils of things like handguns. Can anyone on the list provide
us with data on the number of women and female children killed last year by
handguns? Automatic weapons? Drive-by shootings in underclass neighborhoods?
What about poor medical care, nonexistent prenatal care, inadequate
postpartum nutrition, etc., etc.? There are so many immense problems of
direct interest to women, who has the time to listen to people who mistake
their own sexual problems for social reality? These days the main purpose of
pornography is to facilitate masturbation. What the anti-porn people are
really against is masturbation. Brigid Brophy wrote it somewhere in a
marvelous essay that I've lost. Enough of this Pennsylvania State University
Project Against Masturbation.
Karen Olsen
 specpress  @  genie.geis.com
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1993 21:51:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: Allan Hunter <AHUNTER @ CCVM.SUNYSB.EDU>
Subject: Survivors of Pornography
Sorry, but I don't think pornography is nothing but masturbation.  If I
knew that a bunch of people were having orgasms that were directly tied
to images of ME being hurt, or even humiliated, I'd be CONCERNED.  I do
not have any problems with masturbation, by the way.
And this non-sequitur thingie about handguns and other problems is like
a classical example of logical fallacies:  "But what about all the
starving children in China?"  "How can you expect us to take women's lib
seriously when Bangladesh is oppressed?"  "Officer, to the people living
in a far-off planet in the next galaxy, the fact that I was speeding is
completely irrelevant", etc = has nothing to do with the validity of the
concerns at hand.
I'm opposed to censorship in the sense of using the weight of patriar-
chal authority, backed by the capacity to use force and punish people,
to coamp down on pornography.  But that's because more harm than good is
done by those means of addressing the problem, not because the problem is
not entirely real.  Although I'm no consumer of porn, I've been affected
by a barrage of more clothed images of women posed to be provocative, and
it has caused enough of a mess in my real-life interactions with real-life
women for me to understand how perniciously dangerous pornography can be
to male-female interactions.  I know that it is somehow not "hip" or
appropriately "postmodern" to admit to an appreciation of Andrea Dworkin
and other anti-pornography feminists, but although I disagree with many
of them on many things, I don't think they can be so easily dismissed as
bluestockinged prudes who hate the erotic.
--Allan Hunter
 <ahunter  @  sbccvm>
Date: Tue, 07 Sep 1993 01:43:34 -0400 (EDT)
From: Deborah Stearns <stearns @ CATTELL.PSYCH.UPENN.EDU>
Subject: Teaching about pornography
First of all, thanks to everyone who has provided such thoughtful
and interesting replies to my query.  I am glad that it is proving
to be a stimulating discussion.  I just wanted to take a moment to
briefly summarize the themes that I have seen in the messages,
and to pose another question or two.
Brief list of themes:
1.  If you are going to show sexually explicit materials, make
sure you have advocates in your university, as some instructors
have gotten in trouble around this issue.  Be warned!
2.  There have been some suggestions of films, slideshows,
articles, books, etc. to use for classroom materials.  Largely,
these suggested materials have been in the anti-pornography
camp, although there were some pro-sex suggestions (like Susie
Bright, Carol Vance, etc.)
3.  There have been some suggestions of how to deal with
pornographic materials in the classroom--such as dividing the
class by gender to discuss the materials, using mainstream
images as well as pornography, allowing students to leave
if they want to, etc.  Some people have commented on the
potential difference that context makes in viewing such
material--is it different to see it in a feminist classroom
than in another setting?  Some people have also mentioned
classes which handled the topic badly and created a
hostile atmosphere for female students--clearly, some difficulties
can arise around these issues.  On the other hand, some people
have also mentioned some very positive discussions of pornography.
4.  There has been some discussion about whether it is appropriate
to theorize about pornography without examining it directly.  Should
we make opinions about something we haven't seen, in other words?
People have given examples of students' attitudes toward this
dilemma, and mostly the comments seem to indicate that people feel it is
inappropriate to theorize without any contact with the subject
material--although I don't want to misrepresent the ambivalence
that some people discussed about the topic.
  There has also been some theoretical discussion of what
pornography is and what its effects are--I will not summarize
these, since they are not directly related to the teaching
aspects (I am trying to keep this on topic, Joan!).
I hope the summary proves helpful to the discussion.  In any case,
here are my additional questions:
By and large, the suggestions for visual aids in classroom
discussions of pornography have been films or slide-shows which
show pornography in order to further a certain theory of pornography
(usually an anti-porn position--Not a Love Story, etc.).  What about
showing pornography without a particular theory attached to it--or
to show a pro-sex view?  I am curious, since it seems to me that
it is less controversial to show pornography in the context of
disclaiming it, than it is to show pornography without such a context,
or even worse, in the context of promoting it.  It seems to me that
students could only complain about Not a Love Story from the point
of view that it was unpleasant to watch or too sexually explicit,
but not because it actually promoted poor values or something like
that.  Whereas, if one brought in pornography and simply opened
debate--some people find this offensive, others find it arousing,
some find it both, etc.--that would be much more challenging to
both conservative and feminist anti-porn groups.  What do you
think?  (Sort of bringing up that context issue again, in a
different form.)
The other question I have is:  how specific is this to pornography?
That is, how much is this a discussion of the politics of bringing
in sexually explicit materials to a class, and how much is it a
discussion of the politics of showing potentially offensive or
controversial materials in class?  I don't say this to challenge
anyone, simply out of curiosity.  I am not sure that I would be
nearly this uncertain about the appropriateness of showing
a clip of Rush Limbaugh or The Silent Scream or some neo-nazi
material in the context of a discussion of prejudice or
reproductive rights or racism.  I think I would set it up carefully
and say in advance what my purposes were in showing the film
or whatever, and then have a careful discussion, where people don't
feel squashed, but can use the materials to further their understanding
of whatever we are discussing.  I saw The Silent Scream in a WS
class as an undergrad, for example, and it was pretty horrible to
watch, but it never occurred to me that it wasn't appropriate for
the class.  So, how much of this is the atmosphere that surrounds
explicit depictions of sexuality, and how much of it is the
controversial nature of pornography?
Thanks again for all your energy and help!
Deborah Stearns
stearns  @  cattell.psych.upenn.edu
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1993 09:25:38 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Teaching about porn -Reply
Karen Olson wrote that, in her opinion, lesbian porn doesn't
damage women.  I'm not sure I can agree 100%.  I draw a
distinction between erotica and porn, erotica being material
which is sexually arousing but non-exploitive, and porn being
material which uses exploitation for sexual arousal.  I fear that
some lesbians are mimicking the violence and exploitation of
patriarchal, male-oriented pornography and culture, to the
detriment of lesbian culture.  An acquaintance of mine who is a
very bright lesbian undergraduate Women's Studies major came home
early from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival last month because
she was so disturbed by how much objectifying was going on among
the lesbian women.  She felt like it was a recapitulation of
patriarchy.  I feel similarly about the lesbian S&M movement and
porn associated with it.
Beth Cohen, Ph.D. Candidate in Counseling Psychology
University of Missouri-Columbia
bethc  @  fcm.missouri.edu
or bitnet:  c508371  @  mizzou1
Date: Tue, 07 Sep 1993 16:45:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: judy long <JLONG @ SUVM.BITNET>
I cannot let Karen Olsen's flippant dismissal of harms from pornography stand.
Evidently she is unaware of the sexual assaults "inspired" by pornography, and
the many accounts of women forced to enact scenarios contained in pornography.
Of course, it wouldn't hurt to specify --as the thoughtful discussion on this l
ist has recently done --what we mean by  pornography. Twenty years ago I, as a
sex researcher, testified in favor of availability of 'materials used for
volitional self arousal."  Believe me, those were different stimuli from what i
is widely available now. Ms. Olsen could get an eye-opener from reading the
compilation in Ms. mag or watching for Kathleen Barry's new book.
 --103 SIMS IV, SYRACUSE, NY 13244-1230, USA     (315)443-4580          --
 --Bitnet: JLONG  @  SUVM        Internet: JLONG  @  SUVM.ACS.SYR.EDU           --

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