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Women and British Porn Laws

by Cherie Matrix

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 17, Number 4.

Pornography was always accessible to me, and I took it for granted that it would be available wherever my family lived, although sometimes it did take a bit of searching. But because I had always had access to pornography, I used to feel that campaigning against censorship in general was more important than focusing just on the right to obtain pornography.

My views changed after I moved from California to England. At a humanist meeting in London I heard the views of the organization Feminists Against Censorship (FAC), and I learned about the campaign to extend Britain's already severe legal restrictions on pornography. I realized that an important part of my life was threatened by government legislation. As a result, I joined FAC and became active in the fight against the influence of anti-porn campaigners in Britain.

Britain has some of the most restrictive porn laws in the western world. It is even a crime to show an erect penis in any publication or video. The political campaigning by anti-porn feminists has also made it harder for women to produce their own sexual materials. It provides an excuse for the police to raid any shop, or seize any publication that doesn't appear to offer conventional, mainstream porn. This can leave British buyers with no legal choice but the uninspiring (and sometimes sexist) pornographic materials that are made for and usually by men. Images of intercourse, erections, genital contact, and anything imaginative or mutually enjoyable go by the boards when women are reduced to little more than one dimensional pin-ups and strippers.

Hard-core - that is, explicit material - is not legal in Britain's porn industry. Hard-core porn shows a variety of physical types, and, since it tends to show people together, emphasizes that women can be assertive and in control, and not just young, passive, blue-eyed blondes. Depictions of all types of women having all types of sex help to clear away the mysteries surrounding female sexuality.

Oddly, many anti-porn women in the United Kingdom do not realize that it is the law and the cops that make British pornography so one-sided. They think it is something inherent in pornography or in men's tastes that makes porn sexist. They "don't like pornography" because there is nothing there to like - anything that is likely to appeal to women is likely to invite police raids or boycotts by the major distributors.

In a sexist society, much media, including pornography, is bound to contain sexism. But this makes it all the more important for women to gain access to, and control of, more sexual imagery. We need more freedom, not more repression.

The British experience has important lessons for feminists in America and elsewhere. It shows that women and sexual minorities are the first victims of anti-porn laws. Let's remember that women's liberation is about opening possibilities for women. Pornography represents one of those possibilities - we should never participate in trying to shut it down.

Cherie Matrix co-founded the Central London Humanists. An active member of Feminists Against Censorship (FAC), she is the editor of the FAC book Tales from the Clit: A Female Experience of Pornography (AK Press 1996, see review on p. 63).

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This page was last updated 02/13/2004

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