||Pornography (Greek, â€˜depiction of whoresâ€™), in its narrowest sense, is writing or visual images designed to provide sexual stimulation. Debate rages about whether or not this is a morally â€˜goodâ€™ thing to do, and also precisely which artefacts could be termed pornographic. For example, are Indian temple carvings, the Kama Sutra, or Persian or Japanese pictures of intercourse pornography? Would it include novels such as Lady Chatterley\'s Lover? Films like In the Realm of the Senses? â€˜Top-shelfâ€™ magazines in newsagents? Naked bottoms in television plays? Each person has his or her own definition and national, religious or cultural attitudes also affect the issue: images of women\'s bare legs are regarded as pornographic by some Muslims, depictions of kissing are pornographic to some Hindus, any depictions of the sexual act at all are pornographic to some Christians. Some feminists (see below) take the view that all heterosexual pornography is an expression of male violence against females; there are, at the other end of this argument, flourishing markets for pornography produced by women for women, or showing homosexual sex.
There is a wider argument, which states that we live in a pornographic society, in which we are bombarded with images not just of carnality but of violence. The assault of such work on the beholder is seen as a kind of rape. Strangely, this is still a minority view, and most campaigners against pornography restrict their opposition to the depiction of nudity and sex (and sometimes to explicit language). It would seem that images of aggression and violence provoke far less systematic rage.
In feminist circles, fierce debate has raged, in both the UK and the US, about the very definition of pornography. There are two distinct issues in feminist analysis of pornography: first, the exploitation of women in the process of making pornography and, second, the way in which different pornographies construct and represent women\'s sexuality.
Andrea Dworkin has argued in her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women that pornographic texts reveals men\'s inherent belief in the right to sexual access to women\'s bodies. For Dworkin the definition of pornography is all sexual material that shows sexual degradation. Her argument involves the testimony of many women who have been coerced into participation in pornography. Dworkin and Catherin MacKinnon have worked and campaigned to gain stringent laws against all types of pornography in the US. In 1984 an ordinance was drafted by them to enable women to take civil action against anyone involved in the production, distribution or sale of pornography. Although the ordinance was vetoed by the mayor a revised version was passed by Indianopolis City Council which, two years later, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court with the help of the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce. Many contemporary feminists groups, such as Feminists Against Censorship in the UK, would not, as Dworkin does, see pornography as the central agent of women\'s oppression, but rather as a symptom of oppression. Many anti-censorship feminists argue that the censorship of pornographic images would drive the industry further underground, alienating women who are sex-workers, and also prevent women from creating their own images of sexuality.
Some feminists have further argued that the solution to the problems of pornography is not censorship, and many feminist theorists and artists have engaged different strategies for addressing and defining the problem. Lynne Segal notes that there is much disagreement over the definition and significance of pornography and argues that the disagreements arise from the contrasting political positions from which pornography is seen. In her book Hard Core Linda Williams takes a detailed look at heterosexual hardcore pornography on celluloid or video and identifies pornography as a genre with its own formal structure. Susan Sontag\'s analysis of the â€˜pornographic imaginationâ€™ (in her article with that title, republished in A Susan Sontag Reader), argues for a reassessment of some written pornographic texts, for example, the works of the Marquis de Sade, to take into account pornography as a subversion of dominant norms.
Many feminists and lesbian independent film-makers have chosen to engage with issues surrounding the representation of women\'s sexuality and, instead of calling for censorship, have engaged with the task of building a new pornography that does not coerce or exploit women. These film-makers, such as Carolee Schneeman, Barbara Hammer, Monika Treuk, Cleo Ublemann, to name but a few, have sought to build a cinematic space for women\'s sexuality and pleasure. Feminist and lesbian writers have also taken up this challenge. Kathy Archer and Pat Califa point out that censorship will always foreground a specific world-view and are concerned that prejudice will dictate what can and cannot be seenâ€”asking questions such as: under what criteria can a heterosexual male decide what a lesbian can see? Feminists who do not advocate censorship want sexual speech for women along with free discussion about sexuality so that women can take control of their own sexualities and their representation. TK KMcL
See also eroticism; gender.Further reading Lynne Segal and , Mary Maclntosh (eds.), Sex Exposed; Sexuality and the Pornography Debate.