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Women Against Pornography

Women Against Pornography (WAP) was a radical feminist activist group based out of New York City and an influential force in the anti-pornography movement of the late 1970s and 1980s.

WAP was the best known of a number of feminist anti-pornography groups that were active throughout the United States and the anglophone world, mainly from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. After previous failed attempts to start a broad feminist anti-pornography group in New York City, WAP was started 1978. WAP quickly drew widespread support for its anti-pornography campaign, and in late 1979 held a March on Times Square that included over 5000 supporters. Their anti-pornography activism around Times Square also brought in unexpected financial support from the Mayor's office, theater owners, and other parties with an interest in the gentrification of Times Square.

WAP became known through their anti-pornography informational tours of sex shops and pornographic theaters in Times Square. In the 1980s, WAP began to focus more on lobbying and legislative efforts against pornography, particularly in support of civil-rights-oriented antipornography legislation. They were also active in testifying before the Meese Commission and some of their advocacy of a civil-rights based anti-pornography model found its way into the final recommendations of the commission. In the late 1980s, the leadership of WAP began to focus more on the issue of international sex trafficking, and were instrumental in the founding of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. WAP became less active in the 1990s and faded out of existence in the mid-1990s.

The positions of the group were controversial. Civil libertarians opposed WAP and similar groups, holding that the legislative approaches WAP advocated amounted to censorship. Sex-positive feminists held that feminist campaigns against pornography were misdirected and ultimately threatened sexual freedoms and free speech rights in a way that would be ultimately detrimental toward women, gay people, and sexual minorities. WAP became involved in some particularly heated debates and skirmishes with sex-positive feminists, particularly in the events surrounding the 1982 Barnard Conference. These events were battles in what became known as the Feminist Sex Wars of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Contents

Formation

The group that eventually became Women Against Pornography emerged out of the efforts of New York radical activists in fall 1976, after the public controversy and pickets organized by Andrea Dworkin and other radical feminists over the public debut of Snuff. It was part of a larger wave of radical feminist organization around the issue of pornography, which included protests by the Los Angeles group Women Against Violence Against Women against The Rolling Stones' sadomasochistic advertisements for their album Black and Blue (see below). Founding members of the New York group included Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Gloria Steinem, Shere Hite, Lois Gould, Barbara Deming, Karla Jay, Andrea Dworkin, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Robin Morgan. These initial efforts stalled after a year of meeting and resolutions over a position paper, which they hoped to place as a paid advertisement in the New York Times, expressing feminist objections to pornography, and distinguishing them from conservative complaints against "obscenity".[1]

In November 1978, a group of New York feminists participated in a national feminist antipornography conference, organized by Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPM) in San Francisco. After the conference, Susan Brownmiller approached WAVPM organizers Laura Lederer and Lynn Campbell, and encouraged them to come to New York City to help with anti-pornography organizing there. Lederer decided to stay in San Francisco to edit an anthology based on the conference presentations,[2] but Campbell took up the offer. She arrived in New York on April 1979, with Brownmiller, Adrienne Rich, and Frances Whyatt contributing money to help her cover her living expenses while the organizing work progressed. Dolores Alexander was soon recruited as a fundraiser, and Barbara Mehrhof was hired as an organizer soon thereafter with the money that Alexander was able to raise. Brownmiller soon took an unpaid position as the fourth organizer.[3]

Membership and Support

The original organizers of Women Against Pornography came primarily from the New York radical feminist groups that had developed during the 1970s, but once their organization began they found unexpected sources of membership and support from across New York. According to Susan Brownmiller,

The group that became Women Against Pornography was livelier and more diverse than any I'd ever worked with in the movement. Maggie Smith's bar, with "I Will Survive" blaring on the jukebox, was a pit stop for the neighborhood prostitutes she was trying to keep off junk. Amina Abdur Rahman, education director for the New York Urban League, had been with Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom on the night he was murdered. Dianne Levitt was the student organizer of an anti-Playboy protest at Barnard, Dorchen Leidholdt had founded New York WAVAW, Frances Patai was a former actress and model, Marilyn Kaskel was a TV production assistant, Angela Bonavoglia did freelance magazine writing, Jessica James was starring off Broadway, Janet Lawson was a jazz singer, Alexandra Matusinka's family ran a nearby plumbing supply store, Sheila Roher was a playwright, Ann Jones was writing Women Who Kill, Anne Bowen had played guitar with The Deadly Nightshade, and Myra Terry was an interior decorator and a NOW chapter president in New Jersey.[4]

The diversity in perspectives within the group was the source of considerable debate and some acrimony. WAP originally did not take a stance on the issue of prostitution, for example, since there was division between members who opposed prostitution as a form of male domination and those who wanted to bring prostitutes into the movement. (WAP later came to strongly oppose prostitution as a form of exploitation of women, and critiqued pornography as a "system of prostitution".)[5] There was also considerable tension between heterosexual feminists and lesbian separatists.[6][7]

WAP's decision to focus attention on pornography and prostitution in Times Square drew unexpected support from Broadway theater owners and city development agencies despairing at the increasing crime and urban blight in the neighborhood of Times Square. Carl Weisbrod, the head of the Mayor's Midtown Enforcement Project, helped them secure rent-free office space from the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corporation, in an empty bar and restaurant storefront that they were able to use until a buyer could be found (they occupied the storefront for more than two years, until two adjacent buildings collapsed during a renovation). St. Malachy's, a Midtown actors' chapel, contributed surplus desks. When Bob Guccione tried to buy the storefront space (in order to open an establishment to be named the Meat Rack), WAP alerted neighborhood residents, who protested and defeated the proposed deal.[6][7]

However, the wider involvement sometimes created conflicts with supporters who did not realize that the group's goals extended beyond Times Square:

The League of New York Theater Owners wrote us a check for ten thousand dollars, although Gerry Schoenfeld of the Shubert Organization, the czar behind the generous gift, threw a fit when he saw that our mission was somewhat broader than "clean up Times Square." "Playboy?" he yelled one day, barging into the office. "You're against Playboy? Where's Gloria Steinem? Does she know what you're doing?[6]

March on Times Square

Women Against Pornography also organized a March on Times Square, held October 20, 1979. The march drew between five and seven thousand demonstrators, who marched behind a huge stitched banner reading "Women Against Pornography / Stop Violence Against Women," including Brownmiller, Alexander, Campbell, Mehrhof, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Andrea Dworkin, Charlotte Bunch, and Amina Abdur-Rahman. The march drew extensive coverage of the CBS evening news and in the morning papers.[8]

Later history

After the March on Times Square, Lynn Campbell resigned her position as an organizer (due to her failing health) and Brownmiller resigned to finish work on her book Femininity, while Dorchen Leidholdt took on a new leadership role in the organization.

In 1988, WAP organized a conference titled "Trafficking in Women", co-sponsored with the feminist anti-prostitution group WHISPER. The conference explored the alleged role of sex trafficking in bringing women into the sex industry. As a result of this conference, Leidholdt felt it would be more productive to focus on combatting the international sex industry, and founded the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) for that purpose. She also soon stepped down as leader of Women Against Pornography in order to focus her efforts on this new campaign.[9]

After the departure of Leidholdt, WAP became much less active. The group was led by Norma Ramos, who continued to make appearances in the name of WAP through the early 1990s.[5] WAP faded out of existence during the mid-1990s, though Leidholt and Ramos both continued to be active in CATW into the 2000s.

Campaigns

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Women Against Pornography focused on educational campaigns to raise awareness of what they viewed as the harms caused by pornography and the sex industry. Their activism took on many forms, including expose slide-shows, tours of sex industry outlets in Times Square, conferences, and public demonstrations.

Slide shows

The group's earliest educational efforts were a series of slide shows of hardcore and softcore pornography, which were shown with critical commentary by a WAP presenter. The format of a slide show with critical commentary had been used earlier by Julia London of the Los Angeles group Women Against Violence Against Women to illustrate soft-core pornographic themes in rock album covers;[10] WAP adapted the format to discuss pornography in general, including hardcore pornography. Slide shows were generally organized by local feminist groups, and held in women's homes as part of consciousness-raising meetings. The anti-pornography movement has continued to use slide shows as an educational tactic for feminist group meetings and public events.

Opponents of anti-pornography feminism have criticized the slide shows of WAP and similar groups, claiming that they disproportionately emphasized violent and sadomasochistic materials and presented these themes as being typical of all pornography.[11]

Times Square tours

Women Against Pornography's best-known tactic was a guided tour of the pornography and prostitution outlets in Times Square, which they led twice a week for a suggested contribution of $5.00. (In San Francisco, WAVPM had conducted similar tours in the red-light districts of that city.) Lynn Campbell suggested that people who did not consume pornography knew very little about the content of the pornography or the atmosphere in sex shops and live sex shows, and that actual guided tours of the sex industry in Times Square would provide an excellent educational tool. Susan Brownmiller planned an itinerary for the tour and wrote a script for the guides (with the help of information supplied by Carl Weisbrod, a police officer tasked with finding and closing down underground brothels in Midtown, and Maggie Smith, the owner of a neighborhood bar). The tours often involved unplanned encounters—being physically thrown out by enraged store managers, watching businessmen try to hide from the tourists, or talking briefly with nude performers while they took their breaks. After a reporter for the New York Times took one of the first tours and wrote a feature article for the Style section, WAP received coverage in People, Time, The Philadelphia Inquirer, European newspapers, local TV news programs and talk shows in New York City, and The Phil Donahue Show in Chicago.

Demonstrations

Women Against Pornography also organized a number of large demonstrations against pornography, most notably, the March on Times Square (see above).

Later campaigns

During the era of Dorchen Leidholdt's leadership, the group continued the Times Square tours and slide shows, organized smaller-scale protest demonstrations, sent out speakers and held public panel discussions on pornography, and announced "WAP zaps," a series of publicly announced awards and condemnations focused on the advertising industry, and expressed public support for Linda Boreman after she publicly stated that Chuck Traynor had violently coerced her into making Deep Throat and other pornographic films as "Linda Lovelace".[12] WAP also became more active in political lobbying during this time.

Lobbying

WAP also focused on lobbying for anti-pornography legislation, particularly legislation such as the Dworkin-MacKinnon Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance that adhered to the feminist "civil rights" approach rather than the older "obscenity" approach. In accordance with this, in 1984 WAP lobbied to change a proposed Suffolk County, New York anti-pornography ordinance to reflect their approach; when these changes were not forthcoming, WAP, along with several anti-censorship groups, successfully lobbied against passage of the measure.[13]

In 1986, the group played an important role in the Meese Commission hearings, helping the commission locate witnesses and having Dorchen Leidholdt testify during the commission hearings. In spite of this, WAP sought to distance itself from the commission, which took a conservative anti-obscenity approach to pornography, even holding a demonstration against the commission immediately before Leidholdt's appearance as a friendly witness. Much of their language of pornography as a civil rights violation against women found its way into the final report of the Meese Commission.[14]

Advertising awards

WAP held an annual awards ceremony in which plastic pigs were handed out for advertising campaigns that WAP considered "demeaning to women and girls" and "Ms. Liberty awards" were awarded for "prowoman ads". Many advertisers disagreed with WAP's interpretation of their ad campaigns, though at least one recipient of a "pig" award, the shoemaker Famolare, responded by changing its ads, and was rewarded with a "Ms. Liberty" award the next year.[15]

Conferences

In 1987, WAP organized a conference titled "The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism", a forum in which various notable radical feminist writers stated their opposition to the newly emerged school of sex-positive feminism.[16] In 1988, WAP (along with WHISPER), organized a conference titled "Trafficking in Women" (see above), addressing the question of the role of trafficking in the international sex industry.[9]

Opposition and controversies

Many of Women Against Pornography's campaigns for legal remedies against pornography brought them into direct confrontation with civil libertarians such as the ACLU, who argued that laws such as the Dworkin/Mackinnon Ordinance were simply another form of censorship.[17] WAP was particularly criticized for what was seen by many as its friendly stance toward the Meese Commission, which was viewed by many as a government attack on civil liberties.[14] For its part, WAP held that civil libertarians held to an absolutist free speech doctrine that compromised the civil rights of women. WAP also charged that monetary contributions from pornographers to groups like the ACLU had compromised the ability of such civil libertarians to view legal tactics against pornography objectively.[5]

From its beginnings, the group was controversial in feminist circles, many of whom felt that feminist campaigns against pornography were misdirected and ultimately threatened sexual freedoms and free speech rights in a way that would be ultimately detrimental toward women, gay people, and sexual minorities.[18] Ellen Willis was particularly outspoken in her criticism of WAP and other feminist anti-pornography campaigns.[7][19] Opposition to the kind of feminist anti-pornography politics espoused by WAP led to the rise of an opposing movement within feminism known as "pro-sex feminism" (a term coined by Willis).[20] For its part, WAP viewed sex positive feminists as "sexual liberals" and "sexual liberationists" who were not real feminists and were blind to (or possibly even in collusion with) male sexual oppression of women and the central role of such oppression in the upholding male dominance.[16][21]

These controversies came to a head in an event known as the Barnard Conference, a 1982 academic conference on feminist perspectives on sexuality. The conference was organized by "pro-sex" and other feminists who felt that their perspectives were excluded by the dominance of the anti-pornography radical feminist position in feminist circles. The latter were in turn excluded from participation in the Barnard Conference. WAP responded by picketing the conference. It is also alleged that WAP engaged in a campaign of harassment against several of the conference organizers (among them author Dorothy Allison), publishing their home addresses and phone numbers on leaflets that were distributed publicly, engaging in telephone harassment, and calling the employers of these individuals in an attempt to get them fired from their jobs.[22][23] In 1984, feminists opposed to Women Against Pornography and feminist anti-pornography politics coalesced in the group, Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce (FACT).[24]

The often-acerbic confrontations between sex-positive and anti-porn feminists (in which WAP played a central role) during the 1980s became known as the Feminist Sex Wars.[21][25]

Similar groups

A number of feminist anti-pornography groups sprang up throughout the United States, as well as internationally, particularly during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Some histories of the anti-pornography movement mistakenly refer to the activities of these groups as those of "Women Against Pornography", which was by far the best-known of these groups.

Among the first such groups was Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW), which was founded in Los Angeles in 1976 and was led by Marcia Womongold. This group was best known for holding a demonstration in 1977 in response to a BDSM-themed billboard for the Rolling Stones album Black and Blue, which showed a bound and bruised woman with the caption "I'm 'Black and Blue' from the Rolling Stones — and I love it!". The billboard was removed in response to the WAVAW's protests.[26] WAVAW went on to start a number of chapters in several cities throughout North America and the United Kingdom, with a particularly active chapter in Boston.[27] (A New York City chapter headed by Dorchen Leidholdt also existed prior to the founding of WAP.)[4] The group was active until 1984.[27]

Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPM) was a San Francisco group that played a very important role in the founding of WAP and pioneered many of its tactics (such as slide shows, porn shop tours, and mass demonstrations in red light districts). It was active from 1976–1983 and led by Lynn Campbell (who went on to become first head of WAP) and Laura Lederer.[3][28]

Feminists Fighting Pornography, led by Page Mellish, was another New York City-based group. They are best known for their 1989 arrest for openly displaying pornography as part of an anti-pornography information table in Grand Central Station. The New York Civil Liberties Union (the state affiliate of the ACLU) successfully contested the arrest and established their legal right to display such material.[29] Feminists Against Pornography was a different group, active in Washington, D.C. during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Pornography Resource Center, a Minneapolis group, was founded in 1984 to support Catharine MacKinnon's campaign to pass the Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance in Minneapolis. The group changed its name to Organizing Against Pornography in 1985 and was active until 1990.[30]

In the United Kingdom, the feminist Campaign Against Pornography (CAP) was launched by British MP Clare Short in 1986 and was best known for its "Off the Shelf" campaign against "Page Three girls" in British tabloids.[31][32] A breakaway group, Campaign Against Pornography and Censorship (CPC), started by Catherine Itzin in 1989, adhered more closely to the civil rights anti-pornography approach favored by Women Against Pornography. CPC was active in Ireland as well as the UK.[33] Both groups were active until the mid-1990s.

In New Zealand, a group calling itself "Women Against Pornography" was active during the 1983-1995,[34] though it had no formal connection to the American group. They are best known for their 1984 attempt to force the resignation of New Zealand Chief Censor Arthur Everard after he allowed the horror film I Spit on Your Grave to be shown in that country.[35] The group Scottish Women Against Pornography (SWAP) was started in 1999 and was still active as of 2007. It also has no formal connection with the American group and was started well after its demise.

In 2002, anti-pornography feminist Diana Russell and several cohorts informally used the name "Women Against Pornography" for a demonstration against the opening of the Hustler Club, a San Francisco strip club.[36]

References

  1. ^ Brownmiller, Susan (1999). In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. New York: The Dial Press. p 298-299. ISBN 0-385-31486-8
  2. ^ Lederer, Laura. (1982). Take Back the Night. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-14907-5
  3. ^ a b Brownmiller (1999), p 302-305
  4. ^ a b Brownmiller (1999), p 303
  5. ^ a b c "A Conversation About Pornography" with Norma Ramos and Nadine Strossen, Charlie Rose, January 19, 1995. (page contains streaming Flash video)
  6. ^ a b c Brownmiller (1999), p 306
  7. ^ a b c Brooke. (1979). Feminist conference: porn again. off our backs 9(10): 24 (November 30, 1979).
  8. ^ Brownmiller (1999), p 311
  9. ^ a b Leidholdt, Dorchen. (2004). Demand and the Debate. Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (website).
  10. ^ Brownmiller (1999), p 298
  11. ^ English, Deirdre, Amber L. Hollibaugh, and Gayle Rubin. (1981). Talking sex: A conversation on sexuality and feminism. Socialist Review #58: 43–62. (reprinted (1982), Feminist Review #11:40–52 doi:10.2307/1394826; (2000) In: Hollibaugh, Amber L. My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home, p 118-137. ISBN 0822326191)
  12. ^ Brownmiller (1999), p 312-313
  13. ^ Douglas, Carol Anne. (1985). Long Island anti-porn bill defeated. off our backs 15(2):2 (February 28, 1985).
  14. ^ a b Califia, Pat. (1986). The Obscene, Disgusting, and Vile Meese Commission Report. Reprinted in: Califia, Pat. (1994) Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. San Francisco: Cleis Press. ISBN 1573440965
  15. ^ Gaiter, Dorothy J. (1984). Ads and women: Winners And losers. New York Times, February 29, 1984: p C9.
  16. ^ a b Leidholdt, Dorchen and Raymond, Janice (1990). The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism (Pergammon Press) ISBN 0-08-037457-3
  17. ^ Strossen, Nadine. (1993). A feminist critique of "the" feminist critique of pornography. Virginia Law Review 79:1099–1190. p 1135–1136. doi:10.2307/1073402
  18. ^ For examples, see: English, Deirdre. (1980). The politics of porn: Can feminists walk the line? Mother Jones 5:20–23,43–50; English, Deirdre, Amber L. Hollibaugh, and Gayle Rubin. (1981). Talking sex: A conversation on sexuality and feminism. Socialist Review #58: 43–62. (reprinted (1982), Feminist Review #11:40-52 doi:10.2307/1394826; (2000) In: Hollibaugh, Amber L. My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home, p 118–137. ISBN 0822326191); Vance, Carol S. (ed). (1984). Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. ISBN 0-7102-0248-2; Alderfer, Hannah, Nan D. Hunter, and Pat Califia. (1987). Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornography and Censorship. ISBN 0961788402 (1st ed) ISBN 0942986121 (3rd ed, 1992).
  19. ^ Willis, Ellen. (1979). Feminism, Moralism, and Pornography. In: Willis, Ellen. (1982). Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade. Wideview. ISBN 0-394-51137-9 (original edition) ISBN 0-8195-6255-6 (1992 reissue)
  20. ^ Willis, Ellen. (1981). Lust Horizons: Is the Women's Movement Pro-Sex? In: Willis, Ellen. (1992). No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-6284-X (paperback), ISBN 0-8195-5250-X (hardcover)
  21. ^ a b Levine, Art. (1987). Whip me, beat me and while you're at it cancel my N.O.W. membership. Washington Monthly, June 1, 1987.
  22. ^ Dejanikus, Tacie. (1982). Charges of exclusion & McCarthyism at Barnard conference. off our backs 12(6): 23 (June 30, 1982).
  23. ^ "An Interview with Dorothy Allison", Zale-In-Write Residence Pages (website), Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Tulane University, 1995.
  24. ^ Russo, Ann Marie. (1990). The feminist pornography debates: Civil rights v. civil liberties (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). ProQuest Digital Dissertations, publication number AAT 9114395. Available from: http://www.proquest.com/ . Accessed August 17, 2007.
  25. ^ Duggan, Lisa, and Nan D. Hunter. (1995). Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-91037-4 (paperback) ISBN 0-415-91036-6 (hardbound)
  26. ^ Child, Lee. (1977). "Really Socking It to Women". Time (February 7, 1977).
  27. ^ a b "Women Against Violence Against Women records", Northeastern University Library, Archives and Special Collections (website).
  28. ^ "Political Curriculum Vitae", DianaRussel.com.
  29. ^ Strossen (1993), p 1135–1136. doi:10.2307/1073402
  30. ^ "Organizing Against Pornography: An Inventory of Its Organizational Records at the Minnesota Historical Society", Minnesota Historical Society (website).
  31. ^ Norden, Barbara. (1990). Campaign Against Pornography. Feminist Review 35:1–8. doi:10.2307/1395396
  32. ^ "Women's Library: Records of the Campaign Against Pornography", AIM25 (website), 2002.
  33. ^ Smith, Anna Marie. (1993). "What Is Pornography?": An Analysis of the Policy Statement of the Campaign Against Pornography and Censorship. Feminist Review 43:71–87. doi:10.2307/1395070
  34. ^ National Library of New Zealand. (2005). Annual Report.
  35. ^ Women Against Pornography. (1984). Slam the Door on Pornography: Sack Everard (pamphlet). Wellington, NZ: Women Against Pornography.
  36. ^ "Diana E. H. Russell: radio broadcasts, tv appearances, and newspaper interviews (selected) since 1990", DianaRussel.com.

External links

Categories: Anti-pornography activists | Feminist organizations | Women's political advocacy groups in the United States

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