A Liberal Anti-Porn Feminism?

Social Theory and Practice 44 (1):21-48 (2018)
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In the 1980s and 1990s, a series of attempts were made to put into U.S. law a civil rights ordinance that would make it possible to sue the makers and distributors of pornography for doing so (under certain conditions). One defence of such legislation has come to be called "the free speech argument against pornography." Philosophers Rae Langton, Jennifer Hornsby and Caroline West have supposed that this defence of the legislation can function as a liberal defence of the legislation: in particular, a defence of the legislation based on the value of women's liberty. This would be somewhat unexpected given MacKinnon's own antipathy toward liberalism. In this paper, I argue that the free speech argument against pornography cannot be used as a liberal defence of the ordinances. The legislation is, to some extent, self-defeating insofar as it understood in terms acceptable to a fairly standard kind of liberal. This becomes apparent when we consider the value pornography can have for women, which we can see if we consider what female makers, distributors and consumers of pornography have to say about why they make, distribute and consume it.

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Alex Davies
University of Tartu


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