Porn foes are dispatched with a dull sword `Skirmishes of Venus' demolishes an argument with pseudo-legalisms.
The Skirmishes of Venus*
WILLIAMS Contributing Reviewer
Mammismo , a term that comes to us from the Italian, means, roughly, "mommieism," (mommie knows best) and The Skirmishes of Venus: Defending Pornography is, in many ways, a debate of the principles of mammismo , pro and con.
In one corner, weighing in as the current president of the American Civil Liberties Union, is its author, Nadine Strossen, feminist, defender of the First Amendment, and diligent researcher.
In the other corner, wearing the dark trunks, are Catherine MacKinnon, professor of law at the University of Michigan, and Andrea Dworkin, feminist writer and creator of a canon of hate literature almost without parallel in the 20th century. Dworkin's hatred of males is so legendary that she has been on record as hating male homosexuals because they are so "phallocentric."
The question before us is, "Mother, may I speak or read or review materials about sex, in something other than a clinical and politically correct manner?" Dworkin and MacKinnon open with a roundhouse right, missing America but connecting with the Canadian chin.
The two drafted a model anti-pornography law that was passed in Indianapolis in 1984 and subsequently was overturned on First Amendment grounds. In Strossen's words, "They define as pornography, and seek to suppress, sexually explicit expression that `subordinates' or `degrades' women, on the theory that this expression causes discrimination and violence against women."
Chillingly, Canada - through its Supreme Court in 1992 - lives with the "MacDworkinite" dictum as the law of the land. The MacDworkin point of view - as Strossen characterizes it - also has been at the heart of much politically correct censorship in the United States, often used against other feminists.
Strossen has done her homework, and she methodically, moderately, systematically and all but irrefutably demolishes the MacDworkin position, beginning with a short course in First Amendment law and the reminder that in the 75th anniversary of the ACLU's founding, the First Amendment remains as controversial (and fragile) as ever.
Strossen touches all the bases, intersperses her defense with delightful quotes ranging from Justice Learned Hand to Susan Sontag and Emma Goldman, and patiently lands right crosses, left hooks and body blows to the opposition throughout.
But Strossen is, first and foremost a lawyer, and she writes like one. Pseudo-legalisms abound: "in integral element," "theviewpoint-neutrality principle" and so on until pornography seems a very dull subject indeed.
Were this a boxing match, it would go the distance, be decided on a unanimous decision and cause most viewers to tune out after the third or fourth round. But in all of this, one wonders: Isn't there something odd in a debate over the male mind in which males are all but invisible?
Hart Williams is a free-lance writer who lives in Eugene, Ore.
© 1996 Hart Williams