Women Fight Vicious Battle over Pornography

Article excerpt

AMY LYNN BAXTER isn't a typical working mom. With a little luck, she can make about $500,000 a year. When she works, it's six days a week. When she travels, which is fairly often, she takes along both baby and nanny. Like any single parent, the 26-year-old topless dancer spends as much time with her child as she can, even when they're on the road.

"It's pretty rigorous," says Baxter, a Penthouse centerfold whose backstage dressing table is littered with bottles, baby oil and other infant paraphernalia.

"Especially being a mommy and jumping around all day at Discovery Zone before I come to work."

She's on the trampolines by day, the stage by night.

Baxter, whose picture appears on the back of Howard Stern's best-selling book, is just one of hundreds of women working in the $10 billion sex industry.

While she skips and slinks downstage to fatten her purse and feed her child, the battle over pornography once again heats up.

This time, the controversy doesn't pit men against women. On the edge of the 21st century, with feminism an established force, it's women warring against women. Basically, there are three camps.

Women who work in the industry think pornography is a fine way to make money.

"It's gotten me financially equal with doctors and lawyers," says Baxter.

Other women are adamantly against pornography.

"I'm a feminist . . . and I think illegal pornography should be removed," says Dee Jepsen, president of the anti-pornography group Enough is Enough! "I think it eroticizes inequality and encourages an attitude that fosters sexual harassment."

Still other women are pro-choice, believing pornography is an expression of human sexuality.

Sally Tisdale, who calls herself a "natural feminist" who enjoys pornography, argued her case in a 1992 Harper's article.

"(Anti-pornography) feminism tells me my very thoughts are bad," she wrote. "Pornography tells me the opposite: that none of my thoughts are bad, that anything goes. Both are extremes, of course, but the difference is profound. The message of pornography, by its very existence, is that our sexual selves are real."

Historically, women have had a conflicted relationship with their sexuality, says Susie Bright, author of "Susie Bright's Sexual Reality: A Virtual Sex World Reader."

"The most powerful reason women feel ambivalent or fearful or angry about pornography is that sexuality is not a place they've been able to express and know," she says. "It seems bizarre to them. It's like the classic old boy's club. Pornography is like Wall Street . . . It's always ignored female sexual pleasure even though women are chief among its employees."

The disagreement over pornography is so heated that Marcia Gillespie, editor of Ms., decided to devote most of a recent issue to the topic.

"I know it causes great division within the movement," she says. "It's not going to go away, and we can't pretend it's not there. . . . The only way change occurs is to air our differences and keep talking."

Says Leanne Katz, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship: "It's very divisive and has caused a lot of bitterness. There's a lot of name-calling going on." Anti-porn feminists, she says, "are calling us pimps for pornographers, the Uncle Toms of the patriarchy. Those don't seem like very feminist tactics."

At the forefront of the anti-pornography battle are Andrea Dworin and Catharine MacKinnon. Dworkin is a radical feminist who's written such books as "Pornography: Men Possessing Women. …