Pornography, unlike erotica, conditions people to view women as submissive and helpless. Pornography teaches us that women long to be humiliated and dominated. The industry desires this effect, and the government needs to curb their conditioning influence over otherwise innocent consumers.
Since the state cannot rightfully dictate personal morality, every person has the right to erotica. Erotica, according to Gloria Steinem, depicts sexual acts between fully consenting adults (“Erotica and Pornography: A Clear and Present Difference”). As Ronald Dworkin asserts, people have a right to moral independence that surpasses any utilitarian concern about the good of society (“Do We Have a Right to Pornography?”). In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill describes the evil of a so-called moral majority. If tradition commands the lives of individuals, then people lose their humanity; a person’s humanity depends on his or her ability to express him- or herself freely, without the force of a community. Utility, then, relies on the needs of people as progressive beings. Both Dworkin and Mill, therefore, denounce external preferences and extol personal preference. As long as erotica’s production and consumption do not infringe upon the rights of others, the state should allow for its private use.
Pornography, on the other hand, portrays domination and submission. The roles represented in pornography reflect and encourage those roles in real life. Subordination reflects the value patriarchy places on women. The motif of male power in pornography deeply threatens women by its implication: women’s lack of power can be eroticized (Andrea Dworkin, “Power”). Masturbation psychologically manipulates men into believing that the humiliation of women is sexual and desirable. The First Amendment protects hate speech even though racist propaganda, for example, could incite people into harming blacks. What separates hate speech from pornography is the conditioning involved in pornography. Just as Pavlov taught dogs to salivate at the sound of a tuning fork, pornographers teach men to salivate at the sight of women’s vulnerability. Men carry this lesson with them, looking for weak women to dominate. If they cannot find women willing to acquiesce to their advances, then they force the situation. The classical conditioning incurred by pornography seriously threatens women’s safety. Both the Indianapolis courts and Williams Committee agreed with feminists that some pornographic material can perpetuate women’s subordination and crimes against women (Rae Langton, “Whose Right? Ronald Dworkin, Women, and Pornographers”). Of course not all men are secretly rapists, but anyone who watches pornography learns the association between degradation and sexual excitement.
Pornographers willingly deceive consumers and work against the good of the public. In 1973, a commercial for “Husker Du,” a children’s game, utilized subliminal messaging. The Federal Communication Commission claimed that subliminal messaging may or may not succeed in changing people’s behavior. The FCC nevertheless outlawed this tactic, for it insinuates malicious intent on the part of the advertisers (Taylor, Sadana, and Bey, “Peripheral Perception via Subliminal Stimuli”). Similarly, even if pornography does not successfully condition men, pornographers intend that effect. The motivation behind this ill will is money. Their products intentionally condition men to find women’s subjection sexy, so that the men will return for more products. Mill argues that exploitation for profit necessarily promotes evil within society. Compared to “Husker Du,” pornography lies within a much less innocent context. Because of the nature of pornography, even more alarms need to sound: this is not an issue of consumers’ freedom to choose a game for their children—this is an issue of women’s equality and safety.
In Wooley v. Maynard, the Supreme Court decided that people must have freedom from the state’s ideology. The illocution of pornography makes this freedom impossible. Conditioning men to cheapen women inevitably replaces men’s values with patriarchy’s values. Society, therefore, cannot treat the sexes equally. The success of conditioning largely reflects the success of sexism within patriarchy. Men would not find pornography attractive if this condition did not exist. Personal preference might lead a man or woman to erotica, but only external preference would lead a man to pornography (Langton, “Whose Right?”)
– Laura Guidry-Grimes