A DOZEN years ago, Warner Communications attempted to market the Rolling Stones' Black and Blue record album with images of a woman saying "I'm black and blue ? and I like it" while holding pictures of Mick Jagger and the rest of the band. Warner's efforts prompted the formation of Women Against Violence Against Women in Los Angeles, and a three?year U.S. boycott was organized ending with the withdrawal of the offending album cover and a statement of good intentions from the record company. Since these first actions of the women's movement against pornography, the porn industry has been thriving and the hollowness of good intentions can be seen in any rock video.
The response to the growth of this big business (estimated by some to be worth $8 billion a year) has been varied: governments have studied it (Ronald Reagan's attorneygeneral, Ed Meese, had his Committee on Pornography, and Brian Mulroney's Conservatives produced the two?volume Fraser Commission on Pornography and Prostitution after two years of cross?country tours); demonstrations and vigils have prevented the sale of pornography in some neighbourhoods; civil libertarians have defended it as a form of free speech; anarchists have bombed it (three Red Hot Video stores in B.C.); customs have seized it; judges have banned it.
Women and church groups from coast to coast have got involved. Traditional alliances have broken down in conflicts over what strategies are best used to deal with the porn industry, and demonstrations against it have seen odd combinations of fundamentalist Christians arm in arm with radical lesbians.
In particular, the issue of pornography and what to do about it has polarized the feminist community into one camp that fears censorship more than pornography and another camp wanting decisive laws to control or eluminate the cancer. Up to now, the anti?censorship forces have not only been successful in defeating two attempts by the Mulroney government to bring in restrictive legislation, they have also been able to get their views published (Women Against Censorship, Douglas and McIntyre, 1985, edited by Varda Burstyn). At long last, and unfortunately after the public debate died with Bill C?54, Susan Cole has managed to present the other side of the debatel in book form.
Like the anti?censorship feminists, Cole begins with the understanding that we are living in a male?dominated society that requires the active intervention of progressive women to end the oppression. There is much in her book for any of the various factions to agree with. It is hard to read her book and not feel rage at the descriptions of the lengths to which pornographers have gone to satisfy their male consumers (the majority said to be between 12 and 17 years old), or the insidious uses of sexual mythology in every medium. The anti?censorship feminists argue that the laws of a maledominated society work against women, but Cole believes that anti?pornography laws designed and initiated by women will help.
Cole didn't like gill C?54. For her, pornography is not the Criminal Code's "undue exploitation of sex" (for what could. "due" exploitation of sex possibly be? she asks), but rather the practice of subordinating women for the purpose of sexual gratification. Pornography is more than the images, more than the words, and she takes great pains in Pornography and the Sex Crisis to detail the language she thinks will work in the laws she has in mind.
Lawyers and others within the anti?censorship camp remain skeptical, but the debate has not died with the government's omnibus pornography and prostitution bill. Something is bound to happen in a country where one week a Manitoba judge refuses to ban an explicit, presentation of incest because he couldn't see anything cruel or violent about it, and the next week a B.C. premier prevents the distribution of an AIDS safe?sex video because to him it was just an ad for condoms.