Doing it Wrong


Stoya in The Smart Set:

In How to Do Things with Pornography, feminist philosopher Nancy Bauer refers to a specific idea of pornography: the inherently harmful boogey creature that anti-pornography feminists have railed against since the 70s. A significant portion of her book is spent discussing the flaws in the anti-porn rhetoric of both Catharine MacKinnon and Rae Langton. All of which is in the service of what seems to be the true focus of the book: arguing against philosophers’ interpretations of J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words.

Austin’s philosophical work centered on language, specifically focusing on illocutions, perlocutions, and speech acts — uses of language where saying something is also doing. In the 55 years since Austin’s death, a number of anti-pornography feminists have referenced Austin’s work in their attempts to undermine the protection that the First Amendment provides adult films and the people who make them by framing it as something other than speech. Speech has First Amendment protection, but if pornography is other, that issue becomes less clear. Bauer disagrees with some of these finer points.

Declaring that the idea of pornography as a form of speech is overly simplistic, Bauer asks a number of questions:

“Who is doing the speaking? The subjects of the photographs? (And are they subjects or objects—or both?) The pornographers? And what exactly is being said? And to whom?”

Instead of attempting to answer the questions, she expresses surprise that “none of the people on either side of the pornography debates appears to be interested in doing [this work].” Bauer suggests the reason that these questions are not explored is due to the amount of pornography one would need to view and the amount of introspection one would need to have regarding that pornography, as well as awareness of one’s feelings on it. This would be an understandably distasteful task for people who believe pornography is inherently abusive towards women as a gender.

More here.