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Pornography speakers debate ballot proposal

[mk1]By Harold A. Stern

First in series examining pornography legislation in Cambridge

A two-day symposium on women and pornography held at MIT and Harvard University last weekend developed into a debate over the merits of an anti-pornography referendum which will appear on the November ballot in Cambridge (see sidebar).

Turn to Page 7 for complete text of amendments to the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance.

The program, sponsored jointly by the MIT Women's Studies Program and Harvard's Committee on Women's Studies, featured noted feminists both in favor of and opposed to the referendum. Friday's forum held at Harvard focused on pornography as an art form, while Saturday's program concentrated on the merits of anti-pornography activism as a part of the women's movement.

Barbara Findlen of Women's Alliance Against Pornography (WAAP) opened Saturday's proceedings with a slide show at Harvard. She was originally scheduled to make the presentation in 10-250, but one of the program organizers decided that due to the sexually explicit nature of the pictures, they could not be shown without approval of the Ad Hoc Committee on Pornography.

The MIT policy on pornography requires that the committee be given six weeks advance notice before showing explicit materials, Findlen explained.

The slide show portrayed how pornography sexualizes violence, objectifies women, and displays bondage and battery. Findlen proffered several examples of pornographic materials being used as "blueprints" for crimes against women. Misogynysts fantasize about the images present in the photographs and then try to emulate them.

Proponents of the referendum supported their case with studies performed by social scientists Ed Donnerstein and Neil Malamuth. The studies revealed that repeated exposure to violent and sexually explicit photographs resulted in a trivialization of rape, increased objectification of women, and desensitivity toward sexual harassment, according to Catherine MacKinnon, author of the measure.

In addition, supporters of the measure attacked treatment of actresses in the "sex industry." Two similar situations exist: women forced into appearing in films and photographs, and violence committed for the sake of the pornography, Findlen said.

Snuff films, in which the sexual climax of the movie is the death of the actress, were mentioned by several speakers. Several murders have been committed by pornographers and then recorded, said Evalina Kane of Women Against Pornography.

Some speakers oppose measure

Other panelists opposed the referendum. Several were concerned that pornography was the symptom -- not the cause -- of violence and discrimination against women. Marsha Pally, a freelance writer, explained that sexual harassment have existed for thousands of years before the development of pornography. As a result, banning pornography would not reduce sexual assualt and rape statistics.

If anything, the measure would worsen the situation, said Carol Vance, a social scientist from Columbia University.

Feminists have limited influence and money, Pally argued. This should not be "frittered away" on the anti-pornography issue, because more important programs, such as centers for battered women, are being neglected. They should concentrate more on prosecuting rape suspects and improving conviction of sexual harassment cases, she continued.

Many speakers claimed that the referendum was a form of censorship. Kate Millet, a feminist writer, said that consensus of the population should be used to eliminate pornography, rather than coercion by law. She called the measure censorship, an accusation echoed by several opponents of the proposed legislation.

The referendum is ambiguous, Vance claimed. The measure could result in lawsuits against material, which, although offensive to the tastes of women, does not violate civil rights, she said.

(To come: in-depth analyses of the two stances on the referendum)

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