Pornography and Harm to Women: "No Empirical Evidence"?
In this book, we have been addressing a number of forces that render transformative legal thought so halting and slow. Chapter 1 examined the history of popular depiction of four ethnic groups of color, showing that racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that it is for all practical purposes invisible. Chapter 2 examined limitations on the judicial imagination. Inscribed in the master narrative, racial stereotypes function as organizing principles by which we understand and construct the social world. As such, they are highly resistant to reform, even at the hands of highly competent and ostensibly fair-minded judges.
This chapter employs a different example, pornography, which many people believe is connected to another social ill, female subjugation. Even more than media racism, pornography has begun to be named and attacked by a number of vocal reformers, including many feminists. The attack on pornography thus brings into play late-stage dynamics; exploring it reveals mechanisms the general culture deploys to slow the advance of a reform movement that is well under way.
We begin by giving a brief history of media depiction of women, including pornography. As we shall show, popular depiction of women takes on different forms at different periods. But running through the various images is a constant thread: functionality. The pictures we coin and circulate adjust women and their images to serve the needs of groups with the power to insist on that adjustment. This process is true of pornography as well. Most members of society's elite groups today profess to find pornography distasteful; they only disagree on whether it should be regulated. One of our findings, however, is that pornography is a tacitly recognized good that the dominant group depends on to achieve certain ends and is naturally reluctant to relinquish.
But we cannot allow ourselves to see this. Accordingly, we deploy various strategies, including refusal to see pornography as a serious harm. Some opponents translate feminists' claims into versions unlikely to suc-