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Pornography: Men Possessing Women

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This volume presents a study of the damaging effect of pornography and its ramifications on society.


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This volume presents a study of the damaging effect of pornography and its ramifications on society.

30 review for Pornography: Men Possessing Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Warwick

    Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1989 Wendy McElroy, XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, 1995 It's difficult to talk about porn. It's hard not to speculate on the hidden motives of the people involved in any discussion, I find. Those arguing against it tend to come across as though they merely find it distasteful on a personal level. Those arguing for it are presumed to be avid consumers. Then again, you often see people defend it on free-speech grounds while, as it we Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1989 Wendy McElroy, XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, 1995 It's difficult to talk about porn. It's hard not to speculate on the hidden motives of the people involved in any discussion, I find. Those arguing against it tend to come across as though they merely find it distasteful on a personal level. Those arguing for it are presumed to be avid consumers. Then again, you often see people defend it on free-speech grounds while, as it were, holding their own nose: ‘Censorship is bad – though of course I would never look at that stuff.’ I find these arguments unsatisfactory, so if I begin now by saying that I really like porn, it's not to make everyone uncomfortable but to connect cards with table and also to establish my own set of dubious credentials in this area. I like it, but I've never viewed it uncritically. I find a lot of things about it problematic – though, admittedly, not usually at the time. In fact I've spent a ludicrous, quite unjustifiable amount of time analysing how exactly I feel about porn. Perhaps, I suppose, this is because I'm looking for some kind of intellectual absolution, but also I think it's because it concerns so many areas – free expression, gender relations, sexual psychology – that I have always found utterly fascinating. In some cases the argument about porn is framed in terms of raw legality. Just last month, British MPs banned a whole load of ‘extreme’ pornography (including – bizarrely – depictions of face-sitting, an amendment which led to protesters' gathering in front of parliament for a joint singalong of Monty Python's ‘Sit on my Face and Tell Me that You Love Me’). Andrea Dworkin herself famously drafted a set of anti-porn laws with Catharine MacKinnon, ordinance that was enacted in certain US jurisdictions and also written in part into Canadian law; though it's usually considered to have been a disaster for women and minority groups. Anyway, this debate is still live in many places, but for me it's tangential. I consider it too easy to argue that porn should not be against the law. What interests me far more is whether it can be considered moral and ethical in feminist terms, and I'm open to the idea that the answer might be ‘no’. In fact that's exactly the line taken by some famous porn fans like David Baddiel, who said (I'm quoting from memory here), ‘I know porn is revolting and misogynistic. The point is, so am I.’ Which is disarming, but I'm not sure I'm prepared to surrender that much ground. Criticism of porn generally takes two forms: the argument that it is fundamentally abusive in its production (a manipulative industry run by men, coercing women with damaged backgrounds into humiliating sex acts); and the argument that, no matter how ‘free-range’ its production, it is damaging in its effects on society (promoting a grossly unhealthy image of women, sexualising violence, distorting young people's sexual education). One of the things I wanted from Andrea Dworkin's Pornography (as opposed to Andrea Dworkin's pornography, which is something else entirely) was an elaboration of these anti-porn arguments. So I was disappointed to see that she spends really very little time on either of those lines, instead using the bulk of the book to describe what she sees as the male psychological context from which pornography arises. For Dworkin, ‘[m]en are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it’, and therefore – in all cases – ‘male sexuality is expressed as force or violence’. ‘The penis must embody the violence of the male in order for him to be male. Violence is male; the male is the penis; violence is the penis’ – on such simple (or facile) equations she builds her argument. Rape, on this view, is not an anomaly but ‘the defining paradigm of sexuality’, and Sade (whose excesses of cruelty I consider to be different in kind, not just degree, from modern pornography) is taken to embody ‘the common values and desires of men’. Indeed Sade's central evil is that he is ‘utterly and unredeemably male’. I suppose it makes sense, if you subscribe to this outlook, that you would spend little time examining the actual circumstances of making porn, or the people involved in it. Dworkin dismisses the women on screen in a couple of lines; she considers them to be rape victims and certainly doesn't bother talking to any. Wendy McElroy, in XXX, is more hands-on: one of the most interesting parts of her book (which is less well-written than Dworkin's but just as heartfelt) is a chapter consisting of extended interviews with several actresses in the adult industry. McElroy wanted to know primarily whether any had been coerced into anything, or seen evidence of coercion in the industry (all said they hadn't, though some spoke about seeing on-set ‘peer pressure’ on certain low-budget productions). She was also interested in what they got out of it personally, and here the responses varied widely from financial to sexual reasons. Nina Hartley (something of a legend, she's still involved in the industry twenty years after this book was written) observed that – as with many careers – those who enjoy their work tend to do better than those who are driven solely by the paycheck. Her own philosophy: ‘Sex isn't something men do to you. It isn't something men get out of you. Sex is something you dive into with gusto and like it every bit as much as he does.’ This is one aspect of the porn industry that has changed a lot even since McElroy was writing in 1995. As porn has become more mainstream, especially in the US, the route into the business has shifted; in the past, actresses mainly drifted into it from other kinds of sex work like dancing or modelling. Though this still happens, they've been supplemented by a growing number of women who set their sights on the business from the beginning. I think perhaps Jennas Jameson and Haze were a turning-point (though I'm no expert); certainly more modern stars like Asia Carrera and later Sasha Grey or Stoya have been very vocal about how much they enjoyed, and wanted to work in, the industry. Now…I feel very cautious when I make this argument, because part of Dworkin's case is that men believe that all women ‘want it really’. In no way am I arguing – nor would it ever occur to me to think – that working in porn is something most women would want to do or enjoy doing. I am simply making the banal observation that some do, and they do not consider themselves victims of rape or anything else. Dworkin can't accept that anyone could take part in porn of their own free will – or if they do, it must be a free will corrupted by male-supremacist society to the point where it can no longer be taken as their own. That means she's forced into what seems to me to be the absurd and antifeminist position of denying their agency completely: less sophisticated women may think they know what they want, but Andrea Dworkin knows better. Stoya or Sasha Grey might see themselves as intelligent and articulate businesswomen with a lot of sexual curiosity; Andrea Dworkin sees only ‘the dummy forced by the pimp-ventriloquist’. Who's objectifying who now? As for porn's effect on society and all of us, for Dworkin it couldn't be worse. She links it directly to rape, violence, incest, murder, and an assortment of related evils. Indeed to make her point, no comparison is too outrageous: The Jews didn’t do it to themselves and they didn’t orgasm. In contemporary American pornography, of course, the Jews do do it to themselves—they, usually female, seek out the Nazis, go voluntarily to concentration camps, beg a domineering Nazi to hurt them, cut them, burn them—and they do climax, stupendously, to both sadism and death. But in life, the Jews didn’t orgasm. Of course, neither do women; not in life. But no one, not even Goebbels, said the Jews liked it. No, that's true…it's almost as though porn isn't quite the same thing as the fucking Holocaust. So a certain amount of bluster has to be picked through in order to reach the actual arguments. Her book opens by describing in detail several horrific cases of rape and sexual abuse, whose perpetrators Dworkin characterises as ‘acting out pornography’; the victims therefore are – follow the sleight-of-hand! – ‘women who have been hurt by pornography’. I thought this was an astonishing way to describe victims of sexual abuse. Not only does this argument ignore the obvious fact that, even if a correlation could be shown between sexual abuse and porn consumption (unproven after several studies), that would in no way establish any causality – but also, as McElroy points out, it only serves to diminish the responsibility of the abusers themselves. (Indeed there have already been cases where defence lawyers have asked for a convicted rapist's exposure to pornography to be taken into account as mitigation.) One of the things I liked about McElroy's book was that, unlike many defences of porn, she doesn't just defend against anti-porn arguments, she actually makes a case for its positive benefits. Porn and feminism are, she claims, natural bedfellows that share a common interest in exploding traditionalist views of women as wives and mothers with rigidly controlled sexual freedom. Pleasure – entirely absent from Dworkin's account – becomes a key concept. Far from corrupting women's idea of sex, porn can be, McElroy argues, a way for women to explore and expand sexuality in a safe and controlled environment: Pornography presents women with their wildest fantasies – from voyeurism to wearing Bo Peep costumes to mock rape. This cornucopia is served up in the privacy of a woman's own bedroom, on a television set that can be turned off whenever she has had enough. She does not have to defend herself against persistent advances, or "give in" rather than be hurt by a man who will not take no. She is in absolute control of the timing, the content, the duration, the climax. What remains in question here is the nature of pornographic depictions of women (and men), and what animates them. Dworkin is explicit: porn is ‘the elucidation of what men insist is the secret, hidden, true carnality of women, free women’. Perhaps more accurate, I'd suggest, is that it expresses a fantasy of women's ‘carnality’, rather than a secret belief – but implicit in both those descriptions is the problematic idea that women don't in fact have a hidden carnality that society has done its best to suppress, and many women have been trying to say exactly the reverse. What I see at work underneath the contrasting porn theories of Dworkin and McElroy is a vast, raging argument over the nature of libido, an argument that's still just as fierce now. Do men simply want sex more than women? Some studies reckon they do, on average, and various dubious biological reasons have been suggested. Still, in my opinion it's a stupid question, because there is no ‘men’ and no ‘women’, only individuals, and averages tell you very little about a given man and a given woman. McElroy wants to argue that many women have an interest in sex just as pressing and valid as that of men, though patriarchal society has worked to suppress it, and porn for her is both a symbol and a tool of this interest. Dworkin – though she doesn't exactly challenge this directly – has a more adversarial view of sex in general, and so she prefers instead to defend women's right to a so-called low libido: For centuries, female reluctance to “have sex,” female dislike of “sex,” female frigidity, female avoidance of “sex,” have been legendary. This has been the silent rebellion of women against the force of the penis, generations of women as one with their bodies, chanting in a secret language, unintelligible even to themselves, a contemporary song of freedom: I will not be moved. The aversion of women to the penis and to sex as men define it, overcome only when survival and/or ideology demand it, must be seen not as puritanism (which is a male strategy to keep the penis hidden, taboo, and sacred), but as women’s refusal to pay homage to the primary purveyor of male aggression, one on one, against women. In this way, women have defied men and subverted male power. I consider this paragraph to be, essentially, bollocks – but nevertheless I kind of agree with both of them, to the extent that I think every person has the right to whatever high or low drive they like. The reason I favour McElroy's argument is not just that I'd prefer her to be right (which, if I'm honest, I would) but also that she does not consider all women to be a monolithic class with unified desires in the way that Dworkin tends to, and I am at heart an individualist. Libido aside, then, isn't porn just fundamentally degrading? For McElroy, degradation is in the eye of the beholder: Usually, the term sex objects means that women are shown as "body parts"; they are reduced to being physical objects. What is wrong with this? Women are as much their bodies as they are their minds or souls. No one gets upset if you present a women as a brain or as a spiritual being. Yet those portrayals ignore women as physical beings. To get upset by an image that focuses on the human body is merely to demonstrate a bad attitude toward what is physical. If I concentrated on a woman's sense of humor to the exclusion of her other characteristics, would this be degrading? Why is it degrading to focus on her sexuality? Underlying this attitude is the view that sex must be somehow ennobled to be proper. And, for that matter, why is a naked female body more of an "object" than a clothed one? All reasonable points, though a little disingenuous – I think it's unarguable that at least some porn is deliberately intended to be degrading, and sought out for that reason. This is something that's become both more marked and, conversely, more balanced over the last decade or so: while one part of the industry has become increasingly gonzo and extreme, at the same time there has been a rise in big-budget, high-production-value ‘couples porn’ like the wildly successful X-Art. Nor is it easy in practice to make out a gender divide in consumers for each type; women have become actively engaged with all areas of the porn industry in a way that mirrors, perhaps, the explosion of written genres like erotic romance which are overwhelmingly written and read by women. For Dworkin, though, it is not enough to have a greater representation of female sexuality. Male sexuality needs to be excised entirely. Male sexuality is poison; it is violence, it is rape. And porn is just one means by which male society teaches men how to abuse and tyrannise women. I find it hard to believe I'm the only man that does not relate to her idea of how men watch porn. My main feeling when I'm watching it, apart from the obvious arousal (assuming it's any good), is some kind of diffuse astonished gratitude, like I'm being given some disproportionate gift from a stranger. And I think even if you stopped me in the middle of watching the most degrading porn imaginable, I wouldn't see the slightest link between what was on the screen and the idea that women shouldn't also be high court judges and CEOs. But for Dworkin, it is axiomatic that men take what they are seeing absolutely seriously: ‘Women do not believe that men believe what pornography says about women. But they do. From the worst to the best of them, they do.’ And I know she must be right sometimes, because I see the way some men talk about women and I have to accept that a lot of porn reinforces their ideas. For instance. When I was trying to work out what I was going to say about all this I watched a video where Sasha Grey talks about how she got into the business (this is a YouTube link, totally safe for work). I found it vaguely cheering in the sense that she's obviously a smart and balanced and articulate person; but then I saw one of the highest-rated comments underneath it was: ‘How did she get into porn? She sucked some dick. Because that's what whores do.’ And I have to reassess every time I read chilling things like this. I like to think that there's a distortion effect from the internet, and that people like this are in a minority, but I would be insane to pretend they're not out there. For me it comes down to a distinction between how male and female sexuality is seen in theory and in practice. In theory, female sexuality is great and male sexuality is revolting: so erotica good, porn bad; a woman with a sextoy is strong and independent, a man with a sextoy – ew. But in practice, things are reversed. Men who actually have a lot of sex are celebrated, whereas we all know what happens when it's the other way around. Sucks to be all of us! I wondered if my own attitude to porn would change when I had a daughter. It didn't, really (except obviously for the fact that the amount of free time anyone had to look at porn, or anything else, disappeared). What has become more acutely obvious to me is how the exercise of female sexuality is derided from some quarters. After we watched the documentary After Porn, Hannah and I had a conversation about what we'd do if our daughter ever went into porn. I can't say I'd be enthusiastic about it, but I know for sure I wouldn't think any less of her, and I would be furious about the way some people talk about these women. In this regard Dworkin's arguments don't help at all, because ultimately she still considers everything to do with (male) sexuality disgusting and corrupting. Perhaps it's true, in the end, that you can't consider porn to be exactly a boon for feminism. To me, McElroy is straining a touch too hard to make her case. Still, I think her instincts cut to the heart of the division in feminism to this day: As a teenager, I struggled with who I was sexually. (This, despite the fact that my sexual preferences fall well within statistical norms.) I turned to feminism for encouragement and enlightenment. I was lucky. Back then, feminism still offered a vision of sexual liberation, not of sexual oppression and bitterness. Feminism still had a sense of rollick and raunch, which was invigorating. I met women who were as confused as I was by sex, men, and their responses to both. We had late-night sessions over wine during which we hashed it out. I worry about the younger generation of women who have to go through the same sexual angst that confronts us all. If they turn to feminism, will they find a sense of joy and adventure? Or will they find only anger and a theory of victimization? Will antiporn feminists call their deepest desires "degrading"? Will their fantasies of rape or being dominated be labeled in political terms as "the eroticization of oppression"? How much of themselves will they have to disown in order to be sexually correct? And there's the essential problem. Porn is fantasy enacted: if much of it is sexist or politically incorrect, that's because it comes from your subconscious, which, as I've said before, could not care less about your social or political convictions. This goes for men and women equally. Indeed people often fantasise about things precisely because they're socially unacceptable. If you start by objecting to the expression, you end up by objecting to the thought-crime – and it's hard to see a way to square that circle.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    "The most cynical use of women has been on the Left—cynical because the word freedom is used to capture the loyalties of women who want, more than anything, to be free and who are then valued and used as left-wing whores: collectivized cunts"- Andrea Dworkin. Yeah, Andrea Dworkin is the shit. See, for proof, the chapter in which she exposes the ludicrous treatment of deSade by intellectuals, the countless attempts to exonerate not the writer but the man of his crimes, while ignoring his "The most cynical use of women has been on the Left—cynical because the word freedom is used to capture the loyalties of women who want, more than anything, to be free and who are then valued and used as left-wing whores: collectivized cunts"- Andrea Dworkin. Yeah, Andrea Dworkin is the shit. See, for proof, the chapter in which she exposes the ludicrous treatment of deSade by intellectuals, the countless attempts to exonerate not the writer but the man of his crimes, while ignoring his victims entirely. See, for proof, the way Dworkin reveals what an utter joke it is that Hugh Hefner is anything but another exploitative pimp. ***** I'm writing this on a Saturday night. It's 9:44 PM as I write these words. As a not-hideous male in his twenties who lives right by the veritable meat market known as Vancouver's Granville Strip, I am expected to be getting ready to go out on the prowl, looking to deposit my seed in some not-hideous female in her twenties. The not-hideous female will have shopped specifically for club wear, will have spent hours on her makeup and on ensuring her legs are free of any hair and that her pussy looks sufficiently prepubescent and that the hair on her head is sufficiently alluring. I am expected to go out there and buy her alcohol (aka the world's favourite date-rape drug), and play mental games with her (aka seduction), and this is meant to lead to us both getting laid (aka having utterly meaningless sex that somehow exceeds the emptiest masturbation in sheer loneliness). And most of the above would take place against the background of the processed-into-oblivion voice of a young woman whose stage shows are identical to stripteases, except in that they are without even the burlesque or radical tendencies of some striptease. A woman, now a commodity, whose lyrics consist of various mantras of sexual "freedom" probably written by male professional songwriters. Alternatively, the background music is the swaggering bragging of a young male who really, truly seems to believe that he exists to find as many "free" women to drug and fuck and dump as possible. Welcome to porn culture. This is what counts as freedom. ***** "Freedom is the mass-marketing of woman as whore. Free sexuality for the woman is in being massively consumed, denied an individual nature, denied any sexual sensibility other than that which serves the male. Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the commodity is the whore; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a female piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question...sell cunt; racism is not wicked or cruel when the black cunt or yellow cunt or red cunt or Hispanic cunt or Jewish cunt has her legs splayed for any man’s pleasure... The new pornography is left-wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too"- Andrea Dworkin. ***** But wait a minute; the not-hideous female I'm meant to "hook up" with does not regard herself as a piece of meat. She believes, on some level, that she's like the hot pop star, twerking her way into an embrace of femininity and her own sexuality. She would laugh at what Dworkin has to say. She wants to strut her stuff, drive the cute boys wild, have a wild night out. Wait a minute; the not-hideous male, despite his feelings on all this, kind of wants to go out and stick his dick in the not-hideous female, who makes herself so available to him. He wonders what he's doing at home on a Saturday night, having recently experienced the end of a not-quite-relationship. He, or at least what William T. Vollmann calls "Mr. Penis," wants to get his dick wet. Mr. Penis says to the better part of him: "hey, when you went out to grab smokes earlier, did you see all those fucking whores? You know at least one of them would suck your dick tonight." And Mr. Penis is right. Except he's not morally right. And here's where we find out that Mr. Penis' counterpart is Mr. Self-Righteous. This guy says: "goddamnit, fuck people who think morality shouldn't matter. Fuck people who think we shouldn't judge Mr. Penis for his desires and his frequent taking advantage of not-hideous women's sexual and emotional insecurities. Fuck people who think that's just how things are and we shouldn't strive to be better than that. I'm better than that." And so Mr. Penis and Mr. Self-Righteous have a little internal battle within the non-self of the not-hideous male. The not-hideous female dances away, makes out with guys she's never going to go home with, doesn't make out with the one guy she will go home with. The not-hideous male realizes that, after a while, he loses track of what the not-hideous female's thinking inside her head. And he realizes that maybe he had no idea what she was thinking to begin with, but just figured that it kinda made sense because of a few facts about her appearance. And then he realizes that it's not unfathomable to think that she also has no idea what's going on in his head, that she's also constructed bullshit fantasies about his thoughts. That every girl he's fucked for the sole purpose of fucking has had this whole thing play out in her head about his wants and his desires and his ideals and what it means to him or doesn't mean to him that he fucked her. That they are both probably on some weird auto-pilot ritual. And that what they've played out is, to a frightening extent, conditioned by a culture and by systems that see him as what's there to fuck and her as what's there to get fucked and that have told them that this is what sexual freedom is: to embrace the fucking and to ignore any of the seriousness of it and to roll their eyes at the few people who think it's serious. To roll their eyes at the epidemics of STIs, at the emotional malaise, at people who believe love can exist. And that neither of them experienced, even for a second, anything resembling what freedom felt like the few times they've experienced something like real freedom. That they've both, but especially the male, been exposed to pornography that sends these messages over and over and over and over again for cumulative hours. That there is no way to be certain that they're actually smart or strong or free-willed enough to be able to state with anything resembling certainty that they haven't been influenced by the pornographic culture they live in. And this is what the not-hideous male knows: that he really likes that he has so many options, so many liberated women to fuck, so many whores who comply with what corporations sell to them in the guise of freedom; that Mr. Self-Righteous is the merely the other side of the dick, the flaccid side, that Mr. Penis always wins out when he's hard. And that he doesn't just like actually fucking women who conveniently buy into the notion that freedom means being the perfect male fantasy; he also likes jerking off to them in porn. And that, to some extent, Mr. Penis is always going to be pro-pornography. That Mr. Penis is welcome in most circles, even those on the Left, the supposedly enlightened Left that embraces people's right to do whatever they want with their own bodies and that anything between two consenting adults is perfectly fine. And that "two consenting adults" are in fact consenting while they're playing out this weird drugged ritual of desperate sad fucking. I'm young; I must fuck. If I'm single, I get horny, I watch porn, I jerk off, I see the woman on the street, I want to fuck her. Mr. Penis is so goddamn happy that she complies with my wish to fuck and then ignore her because I don't want to deal with the difficult shit, because commodity culture has taught me that not only are my laptops and iPhones and pizza boxes there for easy consumption and to be disposed of later but also people are there to use and then dispose of. And what's really insidious about this last thing is that unlike the phones and other bullshit, I'm not even made to feel guilty about fucking somebody then ignoring them. This is supposed to be liberated. Hey, man, she also used you, they say. And that's supposed to make it alright. Hey, you're not bound by ideas of monogamy or any sort of intimacy anymore, you're not expected to actually give a shit about anyone, you're being free, just like you're free to consume everything else. Because you don't have time for intimacy; you have to get up and go to work so you can buy shit and you're too tired to care about people when you get home at night. So they're entertainment now, like your TV and your internet. Freedom. This is what sexual freedom as we've painted it seems to be: the "freedom" to be as uncaring, as callous, as stupid about sex as you are about everything else. The "freedom" to make sex as meaningless as everything else. And if someone points out that it's meaningless, what you're doing, you can say: "get in touch with your body. Embrace your sexuality." And what Dworkin gets at is that this is all very, very convenient for men. Most dudes are perfectly fine with all this. ***** "The boys are betting on our compliance, our ignorance, our fear. We have always refused to face the worst that men have done to us. The boys count on it. The boys are betting that we cannot face the horror of their sexual system and survive. The boys are betting that their depictions of us as whores will beat us down and stop our hearts. The boys are betting that their penises and fists and knives and fucks and rapes will turn us into what they say we are—the compliant women of sex, the voracious cunts of pornography, the masochistic sluts who resist because we really want more. The boys are betting. The boys are wrong"- Andrea Dworkin. ***** You know what? I think Dworkin's arguments are often not arguments at all. I think she knowingly stretches the limits of truth on a frequent basis. I think she misrepresents things frequently. I think she's way in the wrong that male sexuality=violence, rape. I think she's way in the wrong in equating de Sade with the purest essence of male sexuality. In fact, I don't think she gets men at all, or understands what our deal is. But why should she bother caring? Why shouldn't she write something this rhetorically brilliant? Fuck the questions. It's good that this book exists. It's good that Dworkin isn't writing some deeply intellectual argument about the psychology of pornography. It's good that this is as emotionally honest and as brutal and as visceral as it is. If I hadn't written so much already I might try to analyze this book's rhetoric and get at why it's so goddamn perfect as a piece of writing and as an appeal for real justice. Because no matter how many cases and how many things counter Dworkin's arguments, she is absolutely right in the deepest sense about everything she says here about porn and about what it means. And she's morally in the right, too. Who reads this and thinks: hey, but *insert-not-molested/addicted-porn-girl-here* seems to be having fun? The book's not an attack on any one porn performer or director or producer. It's an expose of pornography. It's one of few grand attempts to cut through all the bullshit. And there's so much bullshit. And while no part of my conscious self enjoys women being ignorant or fearful, while no part of my conscious self is betting on "fists and knives and fucks and rapes" winning out over calls for freedom, while no part of my conscious self wants to "beat [women] down and stop [their] hearts," Mr. Penis is perfectly happy with how much he encounters "the compliant women of sex, the voracious cunts of pornography, the masochistic sluts." And from my male perspective, which is the only perspective I can write from or claim to speak for on any level, Dworkin got at something in me that is neither Mr. Self-Righteous nor Mr. Penis, but something that neither makes over-the-top empty moralizing gestures nor something that just wants to fuck "voracious cunts." Dworkin got at something deeply empathetic, an aspect of my male self that acknowledges with deep horror that Dworkin isn't some screaming hysterical banshee but just one of the few people who had the guts to point out all the delusional shit and sexual-impulse-justifying crap we love to revel in. I don't know that "the boys are betting," at least maybe not consciously for most of us. But shit, I sure hope "the boys are wrong." And if I haven't lost a bunch of friends already I might now lose some; what's valuable on, I guess, a sort of literary level about Dworkin is that she gets somewhat profoundly at the combat between the sexes. She deals with that scary, scary thing that none of us male or female seem to want to confront. And here's what might lose me some friends: a lot of Dworkin's writing here is the female counter to the way Hemingway wrote about relationships with women. I don't think Hemingway hated women, by the way. And I don't think he was endorsing the way his male characters thought about them. I think he was being fucking honest about the way things tend to be, which is really sad and also really hard to reduce to biology or social conditioning or whatever the fuck. And I think Dworkin's being honest in the same really, really fucking rare way. And given the history of patriarchy, it matters way more to listen to the female side of that honesty.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cher

    While I don't agree with Dworkin's position that the state should censor all pornographic images that depict violence or non-consensuality against women, I do agree that the issue needs to be brought up that pornography is often the pschological training camp for male sexuality. It's what boys can get their hands on before they get a chance to actually learn how to do physical intimacy. Somewhere in there lies the responsibility of male elders to teach that fantasy is okay but must not be confus While I don't agree with Dworkin's position that the state should censor all pornographic images that depict violence or non-consensuality against women, I do agree that the issue needs to be brought up that pornography is often the pschological training camp for male sexuality. It's what boys can get their hands on before they get a chance to actually learn how to do physical intimacy. Somewhere in there lies the responsibility of male elders to teach that fantasy is okay but must not be confused with reality. And the fact that so much violent porn against women is consumed in disproportionate amount to other types does need to be examined. It signals a sickness in the culture that needs to be addressed. I don't agree with the people who are so upset with Dworkin for going legal that they refuse to even listen to her points. I don't agree with going legal about everything, but I do think she makes compelling arguments that address serious and seriously ignored issues.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Everything in life is part of it. Nothing is off in its own corner, isolated from the rest. While on the surface this may seem self-evident, the favorite conceit of male culture is that experience can be fractured, literally its bones split, and that one can examine the splinters as if they were not part of the bone, or the bone as if it were not part of the body. This conceit replicates in its values and methodology the sexual reductionism of the male and is derived from it. Everything is split Everything in life is part of it. Nothing is off in its own corner, isolated from the rest. While on the surface this may seem self-evident, the favorite conceit of male culture is that experience can be fractured, literally its bones split, and that one can examine the splinters as if they were not part of the bone, or the bone as if it were not part of the body. This conceit replicates in its values and methodology the sexual reductionism of the male and is derived from it. Everything is split apart: intellect from feeling and/or body. Some part substitutes for the whole and the whole is sacrificed to the part. So the scientist can work on bomb or virus, the artist on poem, the photographer on picture, with no appreciation of its meaning outside itself; and even reduce each of these things to an abstract element that is part of its composition and focus on that abstract element and nothing else -- literally attribute meaning to or discover meaning in nothing else. In the mid-twentieth century, the post-Holocaust world, it is common for men to find meaning in nothing: nothing has meaning; Nothing is meaning. In prerevolutionary Russia, men strained to be nihilists; it took enormous effort. In this world, here and now, after Auschwitz, after Hiroshima, after Vietnam, after Jonestown, men need not strain. Nihilism, like gravity, is a law of nature, male nature. The men, of course, are tired. It has been an exhausting perioed of extermination and devastation, on a scale genuinely new, with new methods, new possibilities. Even when faced with the probable extinction of themselves at their own hand, men refuse to look at the whole, take all the causes and all the effects into account, perceive the intricate connections between the world they make and themselves. They are alienated, they say, from this world of pain and torment; they make romance out of this alienation so as to avoid taking responsibility for what they do and what they are. Male dissociation from life is not new or particularly modern, but the scale and intensity of this disaffection are new. And in the midst of this Brave New World, how comforting and familiar it is to exercise passionate cruelty on women. The old-fashioned values still obtain. The world may end tomorrow, but tonight there is a rape -- a kiss, a fuck, a pat on the ass, a fist in the face. In the intimate world of men and women, there is no mid-twentieth century distinct from any other century. There are only the old values, women there for the taking, the means of taking determined by the male. It is ancient and it is modern; it is feudal, capitalist, socialist; it is caveman and astronaut, agricultural and industrial, urban and rural. For men, the right to abuse women is elemental, the first principle, with no beginning unless one is willing to trace origins back to God and with no end plausibly in sight. For men, their right to control and abuse the bodies of women is the one comforting constant in a world rigged to blow up but they do not know when.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rus Funk

    One of the first books that I read of Andrea and a book that mobilized me on my path from pornography consumer to anti-pornography activist and leader. One of the many brilliant and truly life-changing books I've read from Andrea!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I started writing down favorite lines from this and eventually realized I'd be copying damn near the whole book. But how can one resist with lines like this: "A bible piling up its code for centuries, a secret corpus gone public, a private corpus gone political, pornography is the male's sacred stronghold, a monastic retreat for manhood on the verge of its own destruction." and "We will know we are free when pornography no longer exists. As long as it does exist, we must understand th I started writing down favorite lines from this and eventually realized I'd be copying damn near the whole book. But how can one resist with lines like this: "A bible piling up its code for centuries, a secret corpus gone public, a private corpus gone political, pornography is the male's sacred stronghold, a monastic retreat for manhood on the verge of its own destruction." and "We will know we are free when pornography no longer exists. As long as it does exist, we must understand that we are the women in it: used by the same power, subject to the same valuation, as the vile whores who beg for more." She describes pornography in here that's positively pedestrian by today's standards. If she were writing this today, she'd be describing our average fashion print ad or soda pop commercial. 4 stars because of the slow parts, which are made slow because she often repeats the same descriptors and/or ideas in multiple sentences in a row, like her brilliant, magnificent brain got stuck for a minute.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lost_Clown

    My first introduction to feminist opposition to pornography. The details and the passion of her work are inspiring and paints a realistic portrait of the harm that pornography does to women and our culture.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dna

    It would be awkward to star-rate anything by Andrea Dworkin, since I don't think of myself as having enjoyed the subject matters she deals with. BUT, everything I read by her was disturbing, new, mind-bending, powerful, and sometimes plain ridiculous. I didn't and don't agree with everything Dworkin, but her writing definitely had a huge impact on my early interest in mass media and pornography's impact on the mainstream.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

    Reading Pornography: Men Possessing Women was tricky. Its large-print title attracted unwanted attention on a Greyhound bus trip, and it made me slightly and entirely unjustifiably apprehensive of the friend I was on said bus trip to visit, simply because he happened to be male. Nonetheless, I was glad I read this treatise against pornography by one of the major thinkers of second-wave feminism. She's passionate, angry, and articulate against what she sees as the essence of patriarchal society and ho Reading Pornography: Men Possessing Women was tricky. Its large-print title attracted unwanted attention on a Greyhound bus trip, and it made me slightly and entirely unjustifiably apprehensive of the friend I was on said bus trip to visit, simply because he happened to be male. Nonetheless, I was glad I read this treatise against pornography by one of the major thinkers of second-wave feminism. She's passionate, angry, and articulate against what she sees as the essence of patriarchal society and how it harms women in fundamentally entrenched ways. However, reading Dworkin drives one into an us-against-them mentality which I don't find constructive or reflective of my daily life. Pornography is pornographic, as Dworkin graphically describes specific examples of pornography before dissecting what is wrong with it. Her analysis is very literal, taking images on at face value, against which third-wave feminists try to inject more subtlety and complexity. I thought the chapter on the Marquis de Sade and her criticism of left-wing men especially intriguing as these escape how Dworkin could be summarized in a nutshell. Ultimately, I am glad how reading this furthered my feminist self-education.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chelsey

    beautifully written and sorely needed to be read and re-read today. there's so much here: phallic economies, racism and "sex" read: sexualized violence and dehumanization, the valuation of women in pornography and outside of pornography. really dworkin presaged a lot of feminist 'debate' decades before they were even hotly-debated issues and it's sad that she is written of as a man-hater or sex-negative (it's clear in the work that she has a lot of hope for men and doesn't think that sex has to beautifully written and sorely needed to be read and re-read today. there's so much here: phallic economies, racism and "sex" read: sexualized violence and dehumanization, the valuation of women in pornography and outside of pornography. really dworkin presaged a lot of feminist 'debate' decades before they were even hotly-debated issues and it's sad that she is written of as a man-hater or sex-negative (it's clear in the work that she has a lot of hope for men and doesn't think that sex has to be destructive) because i know a lot of people who need to read this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pippa

    Thank heaven for this clear sighted woman who could see the impact of porn, although I think she makes the mistake of thinking it is only women who suffer as a result of it. (Perhaps that is because we are now more informed.) This was an important book, even if, to me, written in a slightly woolly style.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Stacy

    Originally published in 1981, Andrea Dworkin's nonfiction masterpiece, "Pornography: Men Possessing Women," is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. My local library doesn't own any of Dworkin's work, so in order to get my hands on her prose, I purchased a used copy of this book on Amazon. I am proud to say that this paperback edition of "Pornography" is going on my "own forever" shelf at home. After reading the first fifty pages, I immediately purchased copies of two more of Dworkin' Originally published in 1981, Andrea Dworkin's nonfiction masterpiece, "Pornography: Men Possessing Women," is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. My local library doesn't own any of Dworkin's work, so in order to get my hands on her prose, I purchased a used copy of this book on Amazon. I am proud to say that this paperback edition of "Pornography" is going on my "own forever" shelf at home. After reading the first fifty pages, I immediately purchased copies of two more of Dworkin's books. This woman is amazing. I want to read her entire oeuvre. My one great regret is that I came to this book so late in my life. I wish I'd had this book when I was in middle school. It would have helped me so much to have read this book when I was ten, eleven, or twelve. I'm incredibly grateful to have finally read it at all, at age 39. But it saddens me to know how much this book would have helped me as a child growing up. In July of 2019, when my copy came in the mail, I read this book in about three days. This book healed broken things inside of me. Every page of this book washed over me like healing water poured over my oldest, deepest wounds. Dworkin's insights, wisdom, moral rectitude, solidarity, and global acumen will certainly be utilized in my own work as an author of fiction. The clarity and strength I have already drawn from this book is profound. Andrea Dworkin died in 2005. I'm so very sad that she's gone. I'm so very grateful for her life, and the truth she left behind. All the stars. All the praise for this incredible gift of a book. Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Claire S

    This review isn't for this book necessarily, but her writings and her positions as of 1983-1984 when she co-taught a women's studies class I was in, here in Mpls, and co-led an effort to have Minneapolis put in place a process within which women could sue the makers/distributors of a piece of pornography if she felt it harmed her. Some points (since I see by the reviews that these things are being discussed): The outcome would be financial, and a 'chilling effect' on negative materials This review isn't for this book necessarily, but her writings and her positions as of 1983-1984 when she co-taught a women's studies class I was in, here in Mpls, and co-led an effort to have Minneapolis put in place a process within which women could sue the makers/distributors of a piece of pornography if she felt it harmed her. Some points (since I see by the reviews that these things are being discussed): The outcome would be financial, and a 'chilling effect' on negative materials, not ever censorship. Porn (very very different from erotica) is defined as sexually-explicit material that is destructive to women. Erotica is that material which isn't harmful. Another duality- porn is power over/ erotica is power with. I wish the discussion could ever reach that subject, erotica is good and should exist freely. Porn - very much not. Ok, now, what I wanted to say though was that some of Andrea's writings are very very brutal (not sure if this book is it, again, as I don't have any of her books anymore), and depressing. And a problem also is lack of clarity about 'the problem'.. was presented as male behavior, male attitudes, etc.. Over the years, I've come to think it's more simply the power of sex itself, and both men and women interact non-optimally with it to a huge extent. Anyway, those days sure were argumentative! Geesh.. Due to Andrea's writings and some others, I do have a reluctance to read any old thing, I try to filter somewhat.

  14. 4 out of 5

    April

    This is incredibly difficult to read. Not so much because of the deeply fascinating but dark topic; but more because of having to slog through so many descriptions OF pornographic materials before getting to each essay which then dissects the "works". It's pretty brutal and meant I eventually had to begin skimming large sections so I could read the author's arguments and not each 5-10 page synopsis of the porn film or pornographic image they were about to analyze.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jennn

    While I lean more towards a sex-positive position in feminism and pornography, there are definitely valid and interesting points that are made in this book. It's worth a read and points are still valid to this day. I disagree with homosexual men and heterosexual men being in cahoots against women (although, other authors agree like Stoltenberg and Kendall to a degree, I think). It's a complicated issue and this showcases more facets in the discussion about pornography, feminism, and male suprema While I lean more towards a sex-positive position in feminism and pornography, there are definitely valid and interesting points that are made in this book. It's worth a read and points are still valid to this day. I disagree with homosexual men and heterosexual men being in cahoots against women (although, other authors agree like Stoltenberg and Kendall to a degree, I think). It's a complicated issue and this showcases more facets in the discussion about pornography, feminism, and male supremacy. I will probably buy it at some point for balance and some insight............But, I get it already! "Vagina" means "sheath"!!! If any point is hammered out it's that vagina means sheath :S vagina = sheath. Thank you. Got it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    dara

    The introduction sucked me in! It sounded so promising. 50 pages in: this will not be the 1000th book I mark as read, after all. I give up! The author spends forever detailing the plot of bad porn books in icky details with "[sic]" being deployed in every other quotation. If it is to prove a point about the pervasiveness of certain ideas, either better known examples or a larger number of examples more concisely summarized might have worked better and not worn on my patience so. From the first 5 The introduction sucked me in! It sounded so promising. 50 pages in: this will not be the 1000th book I mark as read, after all. I give up! The author spends forever detailing the plot of bad porn books in icky details with "[sic]" being deployed in every other quotation. If it is to prove a point about the pervasiveness of certain ideas, either better known examples or a larger number of examples more concisely summarized might have worked better and not worn on my patience so. From the first 50 pages I surmise this book is not the epic call-to-arms suggested by its introduction. I am disappointed. I have mixed feelings regarding the subject matter so I suspect I could have benefited had the book lived up to those expectations.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    In this book Dworkin breaks down the social context of various pieces of erotica, deconstructing the patriarchal, racist and often fascistic values underlying much of the porn the average male (and sometimes females) may consume. She gets to the root of the word, porneia, meaning "whore", and correctly illuminates the purpose of porn: a form a propaganda used to subjugate women. Her criticism of Sade was particularly useful and cutting. A highly recommended read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristjhan

    4.5. This was incredible. Passionately written, trenchantly argued, thoroughly researched - agonisingly in fact, when you read the acknowledgements section, as well as the article on her experience of writing it and how it affected her. I do have my criticisms, the main one being somewhat speculative: the tautology male = penis = power which pervades the work and which I do agree with generally speaking leads me to wonder what her opinion of transgender people is, specifically amab transwomen, a 4.5. This was incredible. Passionately written, trenchantly argued, thoroughly researched - agonisingly in fact, when you read the acknowledgements section, as well as the article on her experience of writing it and how it affected her. I do have my criticisms, the main one being somewhat speculative: the tautology male = penis = power which pervades the work and which I do agree with generally speaking leads me to wonder what her opinion of transgender people is, specifically amab transwomen, and whether Dworkin would lead this to a form of biological essentialism. While the concept seems to hold great utility in her analyses I wonder how it could be reconciled to a framework which includes an analysis of the oppression of transwomen, which is to my memory completely absent here, that is, unless one considers the unfortunate mention of 'transvestites' (in the chapter on De Sade where she talks about the absurdity of praising as transgressive the female characters in his work who are supposedly empowered by occupying a position in the power dynamic that is basically an uncritical transposition of the male's, thus still the same in essence, focalised through the ultramisogynistic Sadeian gaze) and another still ("Male homosexual culture consistently uses the symbolic female-the male in drag, effeminacy as a style, the various accoutrements that denote female subjection...") which are quite dubious in this regard. Besides this, the central thesis about pornography being central to the legitimisation and perpetuation of male domination, subjugation, abuse and possession of women throughout history is still so inexorably and searingly fucking TRUE, and judging by some of the reviews on here people really don't understand this, thinking it is fantasy, separate from society, little to no correlation with the oppression of women, when in fact its sheer existence, extreme ever increasing proliferation and progressive normalisation make it one of the most illuminating expressions of systemic male power in general.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rurae

    I don't agree with Dworkin. I think a lot of her analysis of sex and sexuality is plain wrong but she was an important figure and she was a passionate advocate. And she could damn well write. So whilst I might not agree with her analysis and her views on sexuality - and in particular her views on male sexuality - I still think her work is worth reading. She also had a tragic life and the fact she campaigned and taught and researched after so many horrors is a testament to an amazing character. A I don't agree with Dworkin. I think a lot of her analysis of sex and sexuality is plain wrong but she was an important figure and she was a passionate advocate. And she could damn well write. So whilst I might not agree with her analysis and her views on sexuality - and in particular her views on male sexuality - I still think her work is worth reading. She also had a tragic life and the fact she campaigned and taught and researched after so many horrors is a testament to an amazing character. And yet..I do not agree with her views. And I think much of radical feminism is extremely problematic. Not least in the way it simply cannot compute how varied sexuality is and how it tries to push LGBT sexuality into the same boxes it paints for het sexuality. But also for the way it often demonizes half the worlds population. Dworkin often said in later life that she was misrepresented and didn't call all sex rape. However she did say that seduction was when the rapist bothered to buy wine. She also said this: "Intercourse remains a means, or the means, of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her, cell by cell, her own inferior status ... pushing and thrusting until she gives in." So she may not believe all sex is rape but she clearly beleives all penetrative sex is abusive - *the means* - of making a woman inferior. An astonishing position to take. And this is where I think many radical feminists fall down. But I think she was an important voice, if a very flawed one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Josh Hornbeck

    Andrea Dworkin's "Pornography: Men Possessing Women" is a weighty piece of feminist literature exploring the links between pornography, male power and entitlement, and rape. It's a difficult book - confronting the abuse and intellectual foundation inherent in a patriarchal society. While there are times Dworkin seems to engage in some of the same generalizations of which she accuses men, this is an essential part of the conversation about the links between pornography, patriarchy, and sexual ass Andrea Dworkin's "Pornography: Men Possessing Women" is a weighty piece of feminist literature exploring the links between pornography, male power and entitlement, and rape. It's a difficult book - confronting the abuse and intellectual foundation inherent in a patriarchal society. While there are times Dworkin seems to engage in some of the same generalizations of which she accuses men, this is an essential part of the conversation about the links between pornography, patriarchy, and sexual assault.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daan Olthoff

    I give this three stars because this is an entertaining read, not because I particularly agree with Dworkin. She makes some interesting and valid points, but bizarre passages (especially the one about lasers) and uncompromising ideology keep me from actually taking her very seriously. Read Pornography if you are interested in radical feminism, not if you want a objective argument against pornography itself.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jax Gullible

    I highlighted a passage every 2 pages. She was so daring in telling the truth, "The most cynical use of women has been in the Left- cynical because the word freedom is used to capture the loyalties of women who want,more than anything, to be free and who are then valued and used as left-wing whores: collectivized whores."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy Layton

    As if I needed another reason to hate pornography!  When I saw that this was the next in Dworkin's bibliography, I was overjoyed.  Finally--a text that I could refer to when I see people defending pornography.  But that happiness at finally having something that accorded with me soon turned into disgust and horror.  If you thought pornography was bad--well, you have no idea.  From Marquis de Sade to Hugh Hefner, Dworkin analyzes how and why porn came to be as well as how it's become so easily de As if I needed another reason to hate pornography!  When I saw that this was the next in Dworkin's bibliography, I was overjoyed.  Finally--a text that I could refer to when I see people defending pornography.  But that happiness at finally having something that accorded with me soon turned into disgust and horror.  If you thought pornography was bad--well, you have no idea.  From Marquis de Sade to Hugh Hefner, Dworkin analyzes how and why porn came to be as well as how it's become so easily defended, how it keeps women from speaking out. With her usual tone and manner of writing, she analyzes various aspects of pornography, from gender, to race, to sex.  She takes a look at both written and print pornography (alas, it hadn't hit its video hey-day yet--I would have loved to see what she had to say on that and it's later proliferation into our everyday and socially acceptable society) and picks apart every possible meaning--from gun-toting men and animalized women to forced woman and the woman who forces.   All of it is about force.  Porn reflects what men believe to be true: that women want it--and if they say they don't, well, that's because they haven't unlocked their true whorish potential.  And if they do want it?  Well, it's in their nature.  There's no winning for women, for those pornographied, those who have been assaulted, those who have been in the industry.  This nonfiction is simultaneously informative and heartbreaking, but it's a text that reaffirms an important second-wave ideal for those who believe we are in the third or fourth (Ha!) waves of feminism.  Porn is not empowering, and it is not anything but absolutely harmful and detrimental. Review cross-listed here!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    This book was a very necessary look into the links between misogyny, gynophobia and violence towards women and pornography of all forms. Much of what Dworkin presents are explicit analysis and explainations of man's subjugation of woman. While a good portion of this seems so obviously related, without this text I doubt I would have made the express connections that I have instinctually felt. Occasionally, more towards the finale of the book, I felt that Dworkin over stretched her analysis and tr This book was a very necessary look into the links between misogyny, gynophobia and violence towards women and pornography of all forms. Much of what Dworkin presents are explicit analysis and explainations of man's subjugation of woman. While a good portion of this seems so obviously related, without this text I doubt I would have made the express connections that I have instinctually felt. Occasionally, more towards the finale of the book, I felt that Dworkin over stretched her analysis and tries too hard to make her theories be understood as universally encompasing. Despite this, I thoroughly appreciated her approach and direct style, unflinching and explicit in detail.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    As an anti-censorship feminist I don't agree with Dworkin's ideas, but I think she was a fascinating person who wrote beautifully. This is a powerful and challenging book, whether you believe pornography is harmful to women or not.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    The classic, but I detect an antipathy to gay male culture that is sour.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Siofra Dempsey

    Obviously extremely biased against porn, but recommended reading in any debate about porn and sex work

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hugo B. Hugo

    I used to think that pornography was a free speech issue. Now I know that it's a crime.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Book Wyrm

    There are legitimate concerns with the way some written (or filmed) pornography depicts women and men, but I sure as hell don't remember seeing many of them here, nor were they addressed coherently. Simply stating the entirity of a book's narrative, violently sexual scene by violently sexual scene is not a way to criticise pornographic texts. It's not even an argument about pornography, it's a cheap, often out of context trick of trying to disgust and bore the reader through sheer blunt force.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Fox

    Even after this, I'm a pragmatist caught between second- and third-wave feminism. I'm against slut shaming and all that, but I don't think that human nature allows for a world where sex work is ever going to be empowering for 99% of the women who do it (largely, out of financial desperation). As usual, Andrea Dworkin writes powerful arguments. Her section on the Marquis de Sade is worth reading, even if you skip the rest of the book.

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