Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography

By Rebecca Whisnant; Christine Stark | Go to book overview

John Stoltenberg


Pornography and
international human rights*

The country I come from has been profoundly and uniquely affected by its civil-rights movement. I am an activist in the radical-feminist antipornography movement there, but I also speak as one who came of age in the United States during a time of intense social upheaval and struggle, a time of radical change in human consciousness, as regards interpersonal ethics and racial identity. The US civil-rights movement occurred when descendants of slaves confronted those whose social status and very identity as 'whites' was dependent upon prejudice, discrimination, and political persecution—all backed up by entrenched economic policy and the law of the land that bound states together. Racial identity for 'whites' had necessarily meant oppression of 'blacks', and US law was written by eighteenth-century slaveholders in part to secure white rights.

From this historical perspective, the concept of civil rights, or human rights, cannot be abstracted away from identity politics—the domination done to have a dominant identity. Human rights are what identity politics must always deny. There can be no dominant identity apart from domination.

This legacy of the US civil rights movement has been inherited by the radical-feminist anti-pornography movement to which I proudly belong. This legacy is a keen, scalpel-like insight into the roots of identity politics—in this case oppression done to construct gender identity. The legacy of the US civil rights movement has prompted a comprehensive and liberatory political analysis that could potentially inspire real human freedom globally—freedom from being in any oppressed class, and freedom from belonging to any oppressor class. There is no greater freedom imaginable. There is no more important freedom to be fought for.

* Out of concern for the influx of pornography into Britain that seemed likely as Western
Europe became a unified economy, the Gracewell Institute—a registered charity for the
study and treatment of sex offenders—sponsored an international conference in
Birmingham, England, on November 12, 1992, entitled 'Pornography … and Sexual
Crime (Implications for an Integrated Europe)'. The profeminist writer and activist John
Stoltenberg—cofounder of Men Against Pornography in New York and author of
Refusing to Be a Man—was among the invited speakers. This essay is based on his
conference address.

-400-

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