Hitting the Hard Core Of the Big Apple

The passengers on the Cambridge bus to the Women Against Pornography (WAP) march on Times Square a week ago got a pretty good idea of what they were up against the minute they boarded. A day-glo poster above the driver's seat read, "Don't ask me to think--I was hired for my looks." Tall, blond, and paunchy, wearing his name (Dick) on a big pewter belt buckle, the man beneath the sign greeted the "ladies" as the coach pulled onto the Mass Pike. "A couple of you look familiar back there," he said. "I didn't see you in a strip joint on 42nd Street, did I?"

And there was still New York to face.

The WAP demonstration on October 20, the first large-scale feminist protest on the issue of pornography in ten years, took a lot of people by surprise. Conceived of two months ago by an organization which has only existed three times that long, the demonstration brought to the foreground an area of women's rights which has seldom been confronted by the women's movement and often swept under the rug by other progressive groups. Pornography--a multibillion dollar underground industry with organized crime and international connections, which WAP claims eroticizes male humiliation of and violence towards women in the name of entertainment and sexual liberation.

The idea of an anti-porn march met opposition from various sources. Many people who call themselves politically progressive refused to support WAP because they fear the organization's stand against pornography is tantamount to censorship. A host of civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which recently showed pornographic films at a fundraiser in San Diego, lambasted WAP for its apparent opposition to First Amendment rights for publishers and dealers in the business. And feminists of both sexes, believing that the movement's energy could be better spend elsewhere, chose not to get involved in the issue.

WAP faces the danger of being identified with the right wing--a sector of society which only approves sex, according to feminist Theresa Hummel, for "married couples making babies in the missionary position." Many of the same groups that traditionally oppose pornography are also against such women's movement goals as abortion rights, lesbian and gay rights, and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

From its storefront office on 9th Avenue in New York, the organization tries to educate people about the hard-core pornographic culture many of them, especially women, never see: how its violent and misleading images of women filter down into popular culture like record and fashion advertising; how these images promote stereotypes about female sexuality; and how pornography encourages male violence toward women. WAP members quote studies which claim that more than half of all child rapes are committed by men who say they are "trying out" techniques they saw in hard-core magazines and books.

Representatives of the organization state its purpose carefully and often. During a slide show about pornography, at the Harvard Science Center three weeks ago, Wendy Kaminer of WAP said, "We're not against erotica. We're against violence against women masquerading as entertainment."

The movement against pornography is primarily concerned with "the image of women in society and the way we educate society about women," said Simone Reagor, director of the Radcliffe Forum, adding "Pornography is one way society is miseducated about women." The forum co-sponsored the Cambridge bus trip with the Boston chapter of Women Against Violence Against Women.

"People have said that I'm against freedom of speech," Reagor said. "I'm not...but what if there were a section in each town set aside to portray minorities in such degrading ways?"

Buses containing groups from several women's colleges showed up to participate. Approximately 10,000 people, including about 1,000 men and contingents from all over the East Coast and from as far away as Alaska, joined the demonstration. The crowd massed at Columbus Circle on the southwest corner of Central Park and marched down Broadway to 42nd Street, the pornography capital of New York, and maybe the world.

Not everyone who watched the procession pass by understood WAP's arguments or sympathized with them. A woman who claimed to oppose the death penalty on principle except for child pornographers said she decided not to join the march because, "This crowd is too colorful for me." She settled on a park bench nearby.

"As a man, I find (pornography) titillating," a male bystander said, "but it stains the moral fiber. In priinciple I'm for what you are doing," he added as he turned to walk down the street away from the march.

A young black couple stood together on the sidewalk, observing the demonstration with opposite expressions on their faces. "I think they're fighting for a good cause," the woman said. "If I weren't with him," she continued, pointing to her companion, "I'd join them."

"A woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do," her friend conceded.

"But why don't they do it eight blocks down?" an incensed Toyota dealer asked. "Why are they marching here? If you wanna stop it, protest in front of the (porn) stores. I think what they're doing is stupid. they're tying up the whole city!"