Censorship, pornography, feminism

Issue 

Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures: The Challenge to Reclaim Feminism
Edited by Alison Assiter and Avedon Carol
Pluto Press, 1993. $32.95
Reviewed by Patricia Brien

Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures is a collection of essays by women about pornography. The essays range from a philosophical analysis of desire to one woman's account of her own sexual history and just about everything in between.

The concern with "reclaiming feminism", as the title suggests, is very much the issue, with lots of "mud-slinging" at feminist writers whose opinions are regarded by contributors as sexually repressive and patronising towards women generally. It seems the motivation behind the book is to reclaim freedom of sexual expression for all women.

Assiter and Carol (both active participants in the Feminists Against Censorship campaign in Britain) suggest that much feminist writing about sexuality and pornography veers too close to right-wing fundamentalist views.

"Feminists should not be fooled into thinking that a happy accident has brought right-wing interests into line with our own. Instead, the very fact that they appear to be supporting feminist goals should give every woman pause to ask herself whether we have been conned into mistaking their goals for ours."

They write that women should be supporting other women involved in the sex industry rather than perpetuating bad press. It is the stigma surrounding working in the sex industry that enforces unsafe and bad working conditions.

In one essay, "Snuff: Believing the worst", the author discusses what she describes as the myth of snuff films. She suggests that the release of the 1976 film Snuff, which depicted the fictional murder of a "script girl" by a co-worker, was responsible for the hype surrounding snuff films. She claims that there is no evidence that snuff films exist, and if they did there would have been proof by now.

Carol argues that with the standards of special effects in films as high as they are, why would pornographers bother with actually murdering anyone? Who knows?

The editors conclude that women need to be free from repressive attitudes towards sexuality stemming from both conservative and feminist sources if women are to be "liberated". Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures is a good read for the anti side of the censorship debate. It makes the point loud and clear that feminism is a diverse and contrasting movement and resilient enough to handle differences within the ranks.

It also illustrates the issue made within the book, that women (not men) should be the experts of their own experiences as women and supportive of other women's lifestyle choices.