Prof Condemns Pornography

“The belief that pornography inhabits its own separate world is an illusion,” a visiting Harvard Law School professor told the 50-odd audience members gathered yesterday in the Thompson Room in the Barker Center.

In a speech titled “X-Underrated—Pornography and Popular Culture,” Pound Visiting Professor of Law Catherine A. MacKinnon criticized the encroachment of pornography into everyday life.

The belief that pornography operates underground, she said, causes people to ignore obscene material that is right under their noses.

“No matter how real and harmful pornography gets, it seems to live in this parallel universe where everything that happens is rendered harmless and unreal,” said MacKinnon, who was invited by the Committee on Women, Gender, and Sexuality and by the College’s Women’s Center.

MacKinnon said that though the American public was horrified by photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the material was actually mild by pornographic standards.

She argued that the same images, framed in a pornographic context, would never have inspired the same horror.

“The notion that everything that happens in pornography is consensual is just that: an assumption,” she said.

Contrary to that assumption, MacKinnon said, pornography and sexual exploitation go hand in hand. She added that the vast majority of women in pornography are poor and have been previously sexually abused.

MacKinnon said that an undercurrent of subordination runs through most pornography.

“Through pornography, women are constructed as members of an inferior, sex-based caste,” she said, causing users of pornography, both male and female, to become desensitized to coerced sex.

But audience member Cameron Leader-Picone, who is a fifth-year student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said he found MacKinnon’s condemnation of pornography to be “somewhat simplistic.” He believes that MacKinnon’s presentation could have benefited from acknowledging that pornography was created to fulfill an impulse that humans already had.

“She doesn’t take into account the reciprocal relationship between theconsumers and creators of pornography,” he said.

—Staff writer Diane J. Choi can be reached at dchoi@fas.harvard.edu.