Mulieris Dignitatem: Pornography and the Dignity of the Soul - an Exploration of Dignity in a Protected Speech Paradigm

By Leary, Mary G. | Ave Maria Law Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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Mulieris Dignitatem: Pornography and the Dignity of the Soul - an Exploration of Dignity in a Protected Speech Paradigm

Leary, Mary G., Ave Maria Law Review


Pornography. It is a word that has as many different connotations as there are people. For some the word is loaded, signifying a body of material that objectifies at the least and victimizes at its worst. For others, it is more innocuous and implies mere sexual explicitness. While agreement on the term evades us, what is clear is that for many the basis for the meaning they give pornography is outdated and ill informed, referencing magazines of days gone by with pictures of unclothed women. The reality of today's pornography is indeed unrecognizable from that produced in the latter part of the twentieth century in both the type of material and the quantity.

The numbers alone can be astounding, with some reports that every second $3,075.64 is being spent by the 28,258 Internet users who are viewing pornography on one of the 4.2 million pornographic web sites available to them. (1) While some might argue that such an expansion of pornography poses no social problem, research suggests that today's pornography increasingly depicts actual violent sex acts involving men dominating and abusing women in a variety of forms, and the proliferation of such material has a social harm. (2)

Questions, however, remain: How does a society as a "culture" respond? Indeed, does society want to limit this proliferation, or more importantly, can we as a society withstand its existence? This social phenomenon has been examined in many disciplines, including social science, philosophy, law--all of which have their place. Mulieris Dignitatem's principles regarding the dignity of women and the harm caused by a failure to realize fully that dignity offer a new lens through which to view contemporary social problems affecting women. Chief among these problems is the prevalence and increasing violence of pornography and its implications for the sexualization, objectification, and commoditization of women; the development of healthy sexual maturity, the healthy growth of adolescents, particularly girls; and the strengthening of familial relationships. This inflicts a toll not only on women, but also on men and their perceptions of women, girls, and themselves, as well as on children and society's perception of females as sexualized and objectified beings. Mulieris Dignitatem reminds readers that the fundamental basis of the analysis of this problem is not the law, or expression, or politics, but dignity. By calling on society to examine the inherent dignity of women, Mulieris Dignitatem offers a path out of this morass of harmful images, which can cost a society more than can be measured: its own dignity.

This Article uses Mulieris Dignitatem to examine the social problem of pornography through what the Article labels the "lens of dignity." Part I of the Article explores Mulieris Dignitatem's statements regarding the inherent dignity of women and its implications on pornography. Part II examines the question of whether John Paul II's concerns have been borne out by examining the social effects of pornography that have arisen under the "free expression" paradigm dominant in the American dialogue, concluding that the majority of the recent research on the current form of pornography does support the social harm concern. Part III contrasts the dignity approach with this "free expression" lens. In so doing, the Article examines whether in American jurisprudence there is a history of a dignity-based analysis. Part W examines whether there is room in the free expression paradigm for the dignity of women to be considered. Part V concludes that true social change cannot occur through a shift in legal framework, but through a social paradigm shift.

As a threshold matter, one must define the material being discussed. Not surprisingly, the definition of "pornography" remains elusive. Indeed, the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography Final Report recognizes the lack of a clear definition. (3) At a minimum, pornography refers to "predominantly sexually explicit material intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal.

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Mulieris Dignitatem: Pornography and the Dignity of the Soul - an Exploration of Dignity in a Protected Speech Paradigm


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