In Catherine Mackinnon’s book “Only Words” she describes U. S law as a very strong indictment of a law system in conflict with itself. The book is divided and is a collection of three essays. The first one is a heavy and emotional criticism of pornography. The other two essays evaluate and compare pornography and sexual harassment with racial discrimination and abuse. She defines pornography as “explicit sexual material that subordinates women” (page 13).
She argues that ‘pornography is sex’, as viewed by the American law, that only views it as a possible cause of injury, instead of an act of sexual discrimination that promotes sexual inequality. She holds that like other kinds of racial and hate speeches, it should be totally banned because it contributes heavily in the degradation, subordination and abuse of women in general. Mackinnon says even if pornography is a form of speech, this does not mean that it cannot be controlled and regulated by the government.
She lashes out at the people who believe pornography and other acts of harassment and hate propaganda should be protected by law. Mackinnon argues that that pornography, harassment messages and racial speeches eventually do the same thing, which is ‘enact the abuse’. Porn, she says, lowers the dignity and self esteem of women and fuels the acts by “sexual harassers, wife beaters, child molesters, rapists and clients of prostitutes” (page 17). The first amendment promotes the problems the fourteenth amendment was supposed to fix.
Mackinnon shows a society that is extremely hypocritical. Her words in the book have encompassed real abuse, directed at her as a woman; she has really tried to prove her point. Mackinnon believes that we need to change the first amendment in order to balance it out with the fourteenth amendment on issues concerning free speech and protection of equality. She is campaigning for the “new model in which free speech does not most readily protect the activities of Nazis, Klansmen and pornographers, while doing nothing for their victims” (page 32).
She commended two Canadian court decisions which promoted the rights of people negatively affected by pornography and hate speeches and propaganda. Word that involve issues such as bribes, fixing of prices and segregation of facilities are treated as acts of law, but words or pictures target issues involving race and sex are not treated as acts of law, and that is why the courts end up permitting pornography in our societies. She shows how lawyers and judges have used the first amendment to justify the heinous acts of pornographers and racist individuals into political speech.
She says that if words have ever been recognized as actions it is in situations concerning sexual harassment. She laments that the courts have reduced their effectiveness by overturning universities’ restraints of discriminatory and sexual speeches on campus by throwing out a complaint brought forward by a female shipyard worker who was harassed by having been shown pornography, which is a form of speech that is protected in the first amendment. In fact these words and pictures are protected by law explained as ‘the free and open exchange of ideas’, even reproduced for viewing.
Mackinnon says that what the law is concerned with is not what the word does but what the consequences of the word is, the harassment, racism and hate speeches is showing the differences between the different social groups, the power one group has over another. Mackinnon through studies in workplaces, pornographers, on college campuses and others she shows these very discriminatory acts are protected by law as free speech; equality will only be seen and treated as a word.
Mackinnon brings to the open many of the contradictions she has been saying in the previous essays, she says that “the law of equality and the law of freedom of speech are on a collision course in this country” (page 47). Mackinnon does a good job in showing the ignorance and shallow thinking of many defenders of pornography. The book is a passionate and eloquent plea to Americans to be able to see beyond the doctrines made normal by society, in particular concerning pornography and racial and hate speeches. She says that Americans suffer from obsession of expressive freedom to the trauma of the McCarthy era.
Her arguments show that in some levels, pornography may be restricted, but it has not yet shown reason to be restricted. She later confuses by emphasizing that some of them are made from “actual child abuse and actual rape and tortures” (page 56). Certain weaknesses are evident in the book. First of all, she should have devoted more space for the definition of pornography so that it would have been applicable in law. Another weakness is the vague separation of debating and expressing intolerable ideas. These prevent from having clearly defined boundaries.
What she fails to bring out in her book is the other side of free speech, the importance of free speech in an independent society like political accountability, self determination among others. Catherine Mackinnon’s views do have pros and cons. Her view that pornography should be controlled by the government I believe is a good thing. Pornography has really led to degradation of the society and this will reduce if it is controlled. To some extent it does lead to subordination of women leading to more cases of aggression towards women, it eventually ‘enacts the abuse’.
Her suggestion that amendments should be made to the constitution to be able to defend those affected by pornography I believe is also a good thing. Campaigning for the new model that free speech does not protect the activities of those using the right of free speech to justify their actions is also a good idea. Some of the abuses of sexual inequality are regarded as free speech hence not seen as acts of sexual abuse. Lawyers and judges have used this to justify some of the issues affecting the society such as hate speeches, pornography and racial discrimination.
Some of the cons is that she uses very few words to explain the definition of pornography, she should have taken more time define her view of pornography. I believe that pornography should be regulated and have to agree with Catherine Mackinnon. Pornography has caused serious consequences to the society in general and therefore should be controlled. The pornographers have the freedom to do a lot and they are protected by the constitution. To some extent it does lead to subordination of women, hence pornography should be controlled.
Courtney from Study Moose
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