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Pornography bill defended

analysis

Second in a series on proposed

Cambridge pornography legislation.

Supporters of the Cambridge anti-pornography referendum used last week's MIT/Harvard symposium on women and pornography as a forum to justify the referendum. The feminists concentrated on the socio-economic effects of pornography and the correlation between sexually explicit materials and violence toward women.

Catherine MacKinnon, author of the referendum, claimed "the political question is of primary importance ... it is not a question of good or bad -- rather, of power and powerlessness."

Pornography, which "sexualizes women's inequality," is a symbol of male supremacy, MacKinnon continued. It is a crucial part of the "institutionalized, victimized second-class status for women" in this country, she added.

Norma Ramos, member of the National Organization of Women's subcommittee on pornography, spoke of the social injustices that resulted from pornography. She cited the "fundamental elements of inequality inherent in the word pornography" saying that this inequality is responsible for maintaining the second-class status of women, she continued.

Pornography "eroticizes social, political and economic inequality," Ramos said, and is "the best insurance that cruelty will continue and increase." Opponents of the legislation "deny the class stratification that pornography produces and requires," she added.

Women and sexual assault

Psychological studies performed on "non-predisposed normal males," or those selected without any indication of hostility toward women, indicate that exposure to pornography "increases attitudes of aggression and discrimination toward women," MacKinnon explained.

Sexually explicit material need not be violent to qualify as pornography, MacKinnon said. Items portraying subjection of women can cause attitudinal changes in the consumers of these materials, she said; the type of pornography made only a slight difference in the consumer's reaction. "It [viewer reaction] varies according to type of pornography only to a matter of degree."

"No one thinks that pornography is the cause of sexual abuse," said Barbara Findlen, a founder of Women's Alliance Against Pornography (WAAP). "It is used in acts of sexual assault, and women in the pictures are abused -- these are facts we know."

Findlen cited two instances in which pornography was used in actual assaults:

O+ A December 1984 issue of Penthouse featured a pictorial that contained photographs of Asian women bound and hung from trees. A month later, according to Findlen, North Carolina authorities discovered the body of a female Asian child hanging from a tree.

O+ A feature entitled "Dirty Pool" appeared in Hustler shortly before the New Bedford rape incident. A woman is attacked by a group of males on a pool table in the pictorial, according to Findlen. At first she resists, but soon begins to enjoy the situation.

Ramos reported that a woman is assaulted every 18 seconds and a rape is committed every four minutes. Sponsors of the referendum would not guarantee that these statistics will decrease if the measure becomes law, Findlen said.

"If nobody is helped, then we will start again," she said, adding that WAAP will call for repeal the referendum referendum's repeal if it does not accomplish the hoped for goals.

Abuse of women in "sex industry"

Evelina Kane, coordinator of Women Against Pornography (WAP), focused upon the conditions of the women appearing in pornographic magazines. "Women are killed, beaten, sodomized and raped on screen," she said. These acts of violence are identical to real acts, she said, "except there is a permanent record in pornography.

"I am tired of hearing that it is just another job ... models are bound, gagged and hung from trees," Kane claimed.

"Snuff" pornography, first produced in South America, is a genre of sexually explicit films in which the sexual climax of the material is the mutilation and/or murder of women. In 1983, Findlen said, two California teenagers were killed in murders recorded by pornographers.

Many women are held captive and used for the most demanding and degrading work, Kane said. This referendum will help women harmed for the production of pornography to get redress, she said. Others, who work in the production of pornography voluntarily, will not be affected, she added.

Ramos, reacting to accusations from members of the audience that the referendum could put many women who are involved in the production of pornography out of work, told the audience that "freedom comes at a cost." She compared the workers from the sex industry who opposed the legislation to slaves after Emancipation who worried, "what will we do for jobs?"

Backers discount danger of abuse

Findlen denied that outside organizers or members of the right wing have played a major role in the initiative. "The initiative came from the citizens of Cambridge, not from outside," she said.

Opponents of the measure claim that the referendum could be used in ways unintended by the feminists who support it. Ramos answered this accusation by claiming that all abuses which could be brought on by the Cambridge bill have a basis in existing obscenity laws.

The difference between Massachusetts' obscenity laws and the proposed legislation, Ramos said, is that "this [referendum] puts power in the hands of the people injured."

There are many different opinions concerning the difference between erotica and pornography, Findlen said. "It's a dangerous area to legislate," she added. The referendum applys to "graphic and sexually explicit subordination," she emphasized.

Several exceptions to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of spech have been recognized, MacKinnon claimed. Legislation outlawing the expression of racism and anti-semitism are constitutional, she said. In addition, criminal laws against the production of child pornography have been upheld by the courts.

The harm done by pornographic material, MacKinnon continued, is "much more important than the speech value."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the anti-child pornography legislation in New York, is against passage of the referendum, Ramos claimed. "Too many liberals see injustices as [free] speech -- denying our injuries, victimization and despair.

Pornography, Findlen said, is the "antithesis of equality. You can't be a feminist and be in favor of pornography." Kane gave a word of warning to opponents of the referendum: "Get on our side or get out of our way."

(Next week: feminists opposed to the referendum present case.)