Censoring the Symptom | Letters | Chicago Reader

Censoring the Symptom 

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To the editors:

Many years ago U.S. feminists, rightfully angry at the abuse and neglect of women and children taking place as a result of male alcoholism, embraced the temperance movement as a women's cause. History has shown that the temperance movement was only marginally concerned with alcohol; it was driven by ethnic, religious, and class prejudices against the predominantly Catholic (and also Jewish) European immigrants who were coming into U.S. cities at the time. By associating themselves with this, early feminists did themselves a great disservice, and ended up hurting their own cause.

Current antipornography initiatives, in my opinion, are largely driven by similar prejudices. Allow me to quote critic Maureen Mullarkey in The Nation, May 30, 1987: "The eye for smut is sharper than the eye for our own subterranean biases and fears. Behind the catchphrases of the porn squad . . . crouches the tattered old fear of masturbation. Lurking, too, is the ancient repugnance of the Better Sort for the desolate and down-and-out who inhabit port districts. The sexuality of 'that element' is a menacing netherworld, condemned as obscene because it reminds us of the fragility of our well-being. Antiporn crusades are a symbolic barrier between us and them, illusory buffers against all wayward, darkling encroachments on our slender margins of safety. Such movements are cruel in that they fail to address the conditions that help create and sustain 'offensive' populations of the economically or emotionally disenfranchised."

Mullarkey remembers that all true liberation movements are born of compassion. Her acknowledgement that many who seek solace in the empty, vicarious pleasures of pornography are victims of the same alienation and sexual repression feminists fight is heroic in its courageous willingness to be gentle and caring toward those "lumpen" whom the Left so often lionizes in its analyses, but seems to shun and seldom attempts to understand or bond with in any but the most distant, theoretical way.

Pornography is, indeed, a scourge, but like so many others it's merely a symptom of what Maxwell Bodenheim called a "malady of the soul" that affects the entire society. If writers like Andrea Dworkin ["Reading: The Feminist Mistake," October 9] want to use their heterophobia as a literary tool to imagine a liberated new world in which homosexual love is a key to a new, elevated consciousness and a nonoppressive civilization, well and good--William Burroughs has been doing just that for years, and it's about time more women got in on the act (although, unlike Dworkin, Burroughs also remembers to be funny). But to suggest that censorship of the symptom is a cure for the disease--censorship which might very well outlaw Dworkin's own "fuck"-infested prose--can only bring harm to the very ones who want to create an alternative to today's sexist, homophobic entertainment. As a daughter of Sappho, Dworkin need only look at her own rich literary and cultural heritage, and the way it's been censored through the ages, to see that.

David G. Whiteis

N. Leavitt

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