Pornography: men possessing women. A reassessment

For a few years in the 1980s, Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women appeared to have changed the intellectual landscape – as well as some people’s lives. Pornography, she argued, not only constitutes violence against women; it constitutes also the main conduit for such violence, of which rape is at once the prime example and the central image. In short, it is patriarchy’s most powerful weapon. Given that, feminists’ single most important task is to deal with pornography. By the early 1990s, however, the consensus had become that her project was a diversion, both politically and intellectually. Today, who would argue that pornography is a crucial political issue? I shall argue that Dworkin has in fact a great deal to teach us – perhaps even more today, as we are going through the neo-liberal revolution, than thirty years ago. Her argument is not a causal one, despite in places reading as if it were. The legal route she chose as the ground on which to fight may well be a dead end, but that does nothing to undermine the force of her analysis. Nor does the fact that she makes arguments that might not be recognized as professionally philosophical or social scientific undermine their substantive force. It may even be that pornography itself is not the sole key she thought it was to understanding and dealing with political realities; but even if that were so, the form of her analysis, far from rhetorical and/or fallacious, is exactly what is needed to counter the depredations of neo-liberal “common sense”. That she herself found it difficult to find a language beyond that of liberalism to express her argument is no reason either for ignoring or misinterpreting it.
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