A critical evaluation of articles written by MacKinnon, Tisdale, and Nussbaum on the subject of pornography.

Authors Avatar
Adam Kagan


Sexual Ethics

2 December, 2002

T.A. Maureen


The articles written by MacKinnon and Tisdale offer opposing views on the subject of pornography, while Nussbaum's article attempts to mediate the two views. In this essay, I will reconstruct and give a critical evaluation of each of the three articles, after which I will give my own opinion on the subject: that Tisdale's view on pornography is correct and that MacKinnon's idea of pornography objectifying women is not effectively derived.

MacKinnon believes that pornography is the embodiment of our societies social structure, which is focused around male dominance. She defines pornography by saying that "in sexuality, life and art are each other, and therefore in this society of male dominance, pornography is reality; it is male dominance (409)", a definition which she adopts from Andrea Dworkin. Pornography is therefore not a moral issue, it is a political one; it is not about good and evil, it is about power and powerlessness. "In pornography", she says, "women are there to be violated and possessed, men are there to violate and possess them, either on screen or by pen, on behalf of the viewer (408)." It is this definition of pornography that demonstrates precisely how it affects women: it turns them into objects.

The social implications of this effect, MacKinnon argues, are very negative and incredibly hard to change because, in a way, the law that governs pornography is in agreement with the ideology of pornography. She states that this law, called the Obscenity Law, is disguised as a gender-neutral law based on good and evil, when in actuality, it acts in the interest of male power (409). She believes that this is because it focuses on suppressing male arousal, which is in fact the very reason men are aroused by pornography.

According to MacKinnon, another problem with the Obscenity Law is the fact that one of the norms in our society involves that we "revolve around a set of parallel distinctions" (409). These parallel distinctions, MacKinnon argues, can be traced through the Obscenity law which, under male supremacy, implies that female is opposed to male in the following manner: "female is private, moral, valued, subjective; male is public, ethical, factual, objective". She sees this as a large problem, because if a law that claims to be central to liberal morality imposes these gender concepts, then liberal morality actually expresses male supremacy (409).
Join now!

Another issue that MacKinnon relates to pornography is freedom of speech. Because the First Amendment declares that everyone has the right to freely say what they want, MacKinnon argues that in our male dominated society, freedom of speech for men invisibly implies suppression of speech for women.

There is no room for change within the world of pornography for MacKinnon, because, as she says, it already is reality. Therefore, the only way the effects of pornography can be eliminated is to change the power structure that surrounds it; in other words, we must shift our society away ...

This is a preview of the whole essay