Charged with sexuality : feminism, liberalism, and pornography, 1970-1982 / Elizabeth Alison Smith.

Smith, Elizabeth Alison.
x, 421 leaves ; 29 cm.
Local subjects:
Penn dissertations -- History.
History -- Penn dissertations.
Pornography has become a central issue to feminism in the last ten years. This dissertation examines the terms of liberal, conservative and feminist discussions of pornography and concludes that they are very similar to one another. Feminists need a new way to approach the problem of pornography.
The President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, provides a microcosm of liberal ideology on pornography. The Commission assumed that the problem of pornography depended on how it affected its male audience. They concluded that pornography was educational, not harmful. Conservatives, both on and off of the Commission, disputed the positive value of pornography, but, like liberals, assumed it was influential. Liberals believed that pornography documented heterosexuality, conservatives believed it documented perversion. Pornographers used this assumption, and asserted that their product's educational value redeemed it from a status of criminal obscenity. All focused on the image rather than the labor involved in its creation.
Pornographic movies enjoyed a surge in respectability and popularity in the mid-1970s. A structural analysis reveals that pornographic financial successes shared a plot with Shaw's Pygmalion. Their theme was educating women to participate enthusiastically in a male-defined sexuality. Their producers claimed that photographic realism documented actual female pleasure.
The feminist antipornography movement began in the mid-1970s, in the context of liberal acceptance of the newly-popular, male-oriented, sexist pornography. Pornography was a unifying issue, joining three kinds of activism: Liberal feminists, inclined toward legal solution, radical feminists disillusioned with their putative comrades in the male left, and new feminists, appalled by Snuff. Feminists argued that pornography documented rape. But feminists, like the liberals, conservative, and pornographers before them, focused on pornography as an educating image, and thus lost the chance to establish a new, radical political position.
Feminists need to radicalize their position by integrating their critiques of pornography and sexuality with their own lives. They need to escape the naive and literal belief in pornography's documentary qualities. They also need to join sex workers working on pornography as a labor issue. Only then can they escape the liberal ideological legacy.
Supervisors: Carroll Smith-Rosenberg; Janice A. Radway.
Thesis (Ph.D. in History) -- Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, 1990.
Includes bibliography and index.
Local notes:
University Microfilms order no.: 90-26647.
Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll, advisor.
Radway, Janice A., advisor.
University of Pennsylvania.
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