Much of the argument surrounding the censorship of pornography is hindered by the parties concerned being seemingly unable to agree on a definition of the term itself. For example, a common definition is "any expressions, words or images that are sexually arousing". In contrast, British law under the Obscene Publications Act places pornography under the heading of obscene material, which is then defined, in amusingly archaic manner, as material which has a 'tendency to deprave and corrupt'.
Both definitions present problems. The definition of 'images that are sexually arousing' requires determination of who these things are sexually arousing to: one person may be sexually aroused by a pretty picture of a nude man with a hard-on, and another may be aroused by pictures of little girls and sheep, or someone being brutally tortured. Adverts for bestiality and pre-teen sex are very common on the Net, and the pro-censorship lobby, with some justification, uses these to plead the case for censorship: it would be incredibly difficult to argue that images or videos or this kind can be produced without pain or coercion.
And yet the partial censorship which most governments employ is both hypocritical and inefficient at stopping such images from being produced. Naked and semi-naked women on British TV screens are very common, and yet images of naked men are rare, and it is illegal to show images of naked men with erections. (see dizzy's watching porn in the UK). How an erection can come under the heading of something that might 'deprave and corrupt' is baffling. The effect of this type of censure is to stop most legal production of porn in this country, which forces those that want porn to wade through the morass of illegally imported material from other countries, much of which does contain images that are really too unpleasant for general consumption(not least from sheer tackiness!..).
The word 'pornography' itself is derived from the Greek 'porne' - prostitute - and 'graphos' - images - i.e. pictures of prostitutes. Of course not all workers in the sex industry are prostitutes, and not all prostitutes are forced into prostitution, but there is no denying that the sex industry as a whole has a history of violent coercion and exploitation of desperate women with no other way of earning money. Anti-porn feminists work to end the violence within the pornography industry and the violence condoned by the myths portrayed in pornography, which, they argue, eroticises the power inequalities between men and women, reinforces the myths that women want abuse and domination, and sexualises(see: sexualisation) racism, anti-semitism and violence(a typical image being the December 1984 Penthouse photo essay of Asian women, bound and tied onto the branches of trees, looking dead.) Famous anti-porn theorists include the redoubtable Andrea Dworkin, whose book Pornography caused a stir on publication in the Seventies, with its detailed horror stories of women in the sex industry and women who suffered rape and torture at the hands of men acting out pornographic fantasies.
The 'deprave and corrupt' argument is reiterated in this theory. Dworkin argues that as pornography is produced by men and for men, women can only ever be passive subjects of it: it creates a society where men sell their brains and talent and ideas, and women sell their bodies, and men begin to think that it is their right to use those bodies in any way they please. Therefore when they rape, or abuse women, they are only acting out what they see in pornography: if the reality of sex with real women differs from what they see in porn, they become dissatisfied, and seek to obtain what they want by force and coercion.
The stories in Pornography are undoubtedly true, and make painful reading. However, the highly emotional scare tactics involved seem to preclude the possibility of any other answer than censorship and banning, and fall neatly into the hands of right-wing groups who see the pornography issue as a way to further repress all sexually explicit material, especially lesbian and gay, and to solidify male control of women through a more stringent code of sexual behavior for women. There are many such anti-porn groups on the Web, run by religious groups: pornography portrays unrestrained sexual acts outside the context of the family and marriage, which attacks their moral code. On the Web, at least, they seem to form the bulk of the anti-porn lobby, conjuring a frightening vision of a world where, if they had their way, single women would not be allowed to have sex, or even see it.
Censorship ultimately results in this kind of scenario, at its most extreme. Even mediated censorship, as we have in this country, fails to achieve what it seeks to achieve, and cannot make a clear or sensible decision on what should be censored.
Censorship also fails on a State level in the same way that parents' censorship of children fails: it cannot be watching everywhere, all the time. Images of violence or abuse should not be hidden, but explained, to remove the secret thrill factor and put them in proper perspective, as bad things. Censorship also tries to deny the fact that most people are actually not averse to seeing sexually oriented images: most people like sex, thank god, or none of us would be here. The issue for women here is that the sexually oriented content that is being produced is undeniably controlled by men. A logical answer, then, would be to take control of the means of production...