Clinton/Dworkin 2016: Andrea Dworkin And Sex Workers In An Era of Hillary Clinton Feminism

by Giulia Abrami (drone abrami) on March 8, 2016 · 24 comments

in Politics, Prostitution

andreahillaryWhy is pornography legal in the United States, if it is illegal to have sex for money? Why is selling sex so that only your client witnesses it illegal, but when you ensure that the entire world could potentially view you on film, this act legitimizes the prostitution? If pornography never affects real life, then why do pro-porn advocates cite empirical evidence for its impact on reducing rates of male sexual assault of women?

Today, such impossible questions characterize mainstream discourse on rape and sex work in the United States. A recent account of Hillary Clinton’s handling of a 1975 sexual abuse case emphasizes the need to clarify our views about radical feminism and sex work into focus. In 1975, Clinton was a defense attorney. A client of hers was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Clinton deployed the Lolita archetype in his defense to imply the child victim was mentally unstable, and possibly seeking out sex with a middle-aged man. Statutory rape law be damned, mainstream Democrats insist Clinton’s behavior is acceptable or even commendable. The story is a ploy, they say, to divide and conquer the left. What does this liberal defensiveness mean?

Defense attorneys must zealously defend their clients, giving them the best possible chance of winning their case. Do we endorse intellectually dishonest and unethical legal defenses, because they might be effective?

“I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing.” Clinton wrote in the affidavit. “I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”

Lawyers commenting on the topic suggest her ability to argue as she did is essential to enshrining our Constitutional rights. For some, there appears to be no contradiction between questioning a rape survivor’s sexual history out of professional duty, and campaigning for women’s rights as a politician. For survivors, this is precisely the problem. If this is considered acceptable, then we ask for reconsideration of what is acceptable.

American police officers are, at times, paid to “legally” rape sex workers as part of sting operations with the goal of putting sex workers in a cage. As this article from PolicyMic points out, “The homicide rate for female prostitutes is estimated to be 204 per 100,000, according to a longitudinal study published in 2004… a higher occupational mortality rate than any other group of women ever studied.”

In Against Innocence, writer and activist Jackie Wang explains, “In southern California during the 1980s and 1990s, police officers would close all reports of rape and violence made by sex workers, gang members, and addicts by placing them in a file stamped ‘NHI’: No Human Involved. This police practice draws attention to the way that rapability is also simultaneously unrapability in that the rape of someone who is not considered human does not register as rape.”

In this world, personages like Andrea Dworkin deserve reconsideration. Feminists today dismiss Dworkin and others like her as too radical. Admittedly, much is questionable about the anti-porn activism of the late 80s and 90s. In 1986, seeking to censor pornography, Dworkin testified for the Meese Report, commissioned by Ronald Reagan. In the 1990s, she continued informally allying with conservatives, attempting to abolish the sex trade.

Dworkin’s positions clearly came from a place of extreme pain as a rape survivor which we must not discount. It may be better for us that her measures of prohibitive censorship failed, but we must retain the lesson of her experience. Sex positive feminists failed to do this. Many have distorted Dworkin’s legacy by sloganizing her. Many insist she proclaimed that “all sex is rape.” Yet she never said this, just as Clinton’s client’s victim never asked to be raped. In reality, Dworkin said:

If you believe that what people call normal sex is an act of dominance, where a man desires a woman so much that he will use force against her to express his desire, if you believe that’s romantic, that’s the truth about sexual desire, then if someone denounces force in sex it sounds like they’re denouncing sex. If conquest is your mode of understanding sexuality, and the man is supposed to be a predator, and then feminists come along and say, no, sorry, that’s using force, that’s rape—a lot of male writers have drawn the conclusion that I’m saying all sex is rape.


The Clintons at their wedding. (Photo via Britannica)

Women who refuse to consent to heterosexual sex lose, in some ways, access to a livable life. If men have special access to economic, social, and political privilege—if women cannot access many of these without performing domestic, sexual, and reproductive labor for men—then women cannot freely choose whether or not to have sex. Choice will never be a matter of pure desire. Hillary Clinton would not, for example, be in her current position of power had she decided not to marry or stay married to Bill Clinton. Are we to think it was love?

We need not advocate for abolishing the sex trade in order ask these questions. Considering this, we find that implicit assumptions about sex work inform an excessively optimistic understanding of women’s consent generally. Today, most people only recognize consent as compromised where rape occurs by means of violent force. This is true for laypeople and sex workers alike.

But sex workers are a deviant category in every case, and degraded regardless of the status of consent. Sex workers are usually only viewed as redeemable if their circumstances resulted from violent coercion. The violence of an individual rape is less crucial for a sex worker’s so-called “moral redeemability” than whether she was forced at gunpoint to be a whore in the first place. Sex work is viewed as inherently degrading. So, if a woman “consented” to it, her psyche itself is now the problem.

By projecting deviance onto sex work, we avoid asking similar questions about housewives who marry for money, or waitresses who flirt with customers at diners. Using sex work as the scapegoat, we conceal deeper, systemic ambiguities in economic inequality and consent. In reality, sex work is degraded because it is primarily the work of women. Women are not degraded any more in sex work than they are in any other function in society. By assigning false consciousness solely to the essentially degraded sex worker, we defer a more uncomfortable conversation about whether “consent” can be meaningful for women in general.

It is instructive to remember that Dworkin is opposing a world where “some sex is rape.” “All sex is rape” is a caricature of her rejoinder to the idea that “no sex is rape.” The latter is an arguably real misogynist belief. It is the type of moral maxim which permitted Clinton to argue as she did in her 1975 case and have her handling of it considered normal. If it is remotely possible to spin a woman or girl as having “wanted” to be raped, we do it. We need to understand that rape victims’ rights demand overturning our simple definition of rape as violent force.

The definition of rape cannot be widened beyond violent sex without destabilizing male power to a degree which will create backlash. If rape is only violent force, men may do basically whatever they like with women, sexually, so long as they stop short of this. These rules generate equality about as effectively as rules against animal cruelty institute equal rights between farmers and their cattle. The differential of male power is generated and preserved through this broad domain of sexual access. Rape is simply the most overt incidence of sex. “Sex” distributes power between men and women with a violence that is inexorable.


If we grant women the right to name more subtle violations of their consent, we will eventually have to wonder whether to indict sex as a whole. To function, we keep things simpler.

Thus, let’s make things simple: Clinton does not support the rights of women. She supports the rights of “good” women. These are the rights of heterosexual, upper-middle class, wage-earning women. These women don’t complicate domestic life by demanding wages for housework. Clinton cannot question the basis of the divine right of access which men have to women’s bodies without compromising the special privileges she has been granted by perpetuating them. She operates as a “feminist” on the basis of a conditional surrender to the male-supremacist network as a whole. She is feminist in the context of a power derived from men. She is powerful on men’s terms, for the sake of men’s goals, and only insofar as she allies with them. These are reasons to question Clinton as the appropriate nominee. If she does get nominated, it will be doubly crucial to hold her accountable and bring her record to light.

Sex workers live in a world where they are considered to be universal rape victims, due to the supposedly exploitative nature of the sex trade itself. Yet when a sex worker says she is raped, the police, who are supposed to protect her, will only harm her more when they inevitably arrest her for doing her job. She will be categorically denied the possibility of having been raped. Women who “choose” at one time to engage in sex work are considered permanently degraded. They are imagined to have thereby consented to all sex, everywhere, and for all time. Quoting Jackie Wang once more: “our appeals to innocence demarcate who is killable and rapable, even if we are trying to strategically use such appeals to protest violence.” (Against Innocence, p. 11)

The world defines whores as women who “choose” to be exploited. They want it. Whores are at once universal victims deserving of pity, but also un-rapeable, non-human subjects. They are not thought to exercise real rights in society. For this reason, our culture contains a long list of uninvestigated homicides in which the victim was a sex worker. We are not a priority. Serial killers assert, unsolicited, that they choose to target sex workers, both out of misogynist hatred and out of an even more sinister strategic consideration which indicts society as a whole. The serial killer did not think anyone would care about or miss his victim. He did not expect that police would value the life of a sex worker. The sex worker is theorist Giorgio Agamben’s homo sacer: she may be killed by anybody, so long as the loss of her life is not considered a sacrifice.

Dworkin’s radical posture is not the only route to confronting these problems. But it is one example, and it is a strong countermeasure in this era of sex-positive feminism. Hers is, at least, the kind of rejoinder we must provide to the mythos enshrining women’s mandatory enjoyment of the world as it is.

Today, sex workers’ rights do not advance, due to stigma. Most “normal” white liberals—who are otherwise embarrassed not to insist they support gay marriage, for example—appear to possess no opinion at all on this topic. Men fear acting as vocal supporters of sex workers’ rights, because to do so might invite scrutiny into their motives. “Why do you care—are you their client?” Women fear providing vocal support because to do so might invite scrutiny  into their character. “Why do you care—are you a whore?” If even indirect association with the concept of “whore” is so contaminating, how much worse must it be to actually be one?

Andrea Dworkin.

Andrea Dworkin

Changing such an atmosphere requires a multi-pronged approach. We need policy change, we need deep cultural transformation, too. At the same time, our policy goals needn’t be identical to Dworkin’s in order for us to benefit from her incisive analysis. Her theory need not imply her legislative direction. This is proven by the relative success of her legacy as a writer.

Dworkin claims in Intercourse that “equality in the realm of sex is anti-sexual if sex requires dominance in order to function.” Her claim is not a generalization, but a testable hypothesis. If we were to abolish all grounds for male socioeconomic dominance, then the only women remaining in a subordinated position to men would be those who truly “wanted” to be. On this topic, the burden of proof is on contemporary men. If we remove all these grounds, and the same number of women are complicit to the same degree with male heterosexuality, then views such as Dworkin’s must be considered archaic, and incorrect as a characterization of the condition of women as a whole.

Decriminalizing sex work, respecting the rights of sex workers to be protected from rape, reforming deep abuse in the pornography industry, combating its effect on the cultural imaginary—these things will help. But it is more important than any of these things for people to learn to view all women as human beings in need of equal access to resources—not only some, not only those who are “good.” We must change culture by speaking out and sharing our stories. We must institute real economic measures protecting equality. Only if sex work (or marriage) is never a woman’s only option, can anyone truly “consent.”

Typical insults to the sex industry rest on the premise that if women had other options, no one would choose to do sex work. Thus, if a woman says she chooses to do sex work, she must be either ignorant or depraved. Such an accusation has one virtue: to address it, we only need to protect the economic rights of women on the whole. The true legacy of Andrea Dworkin is not found in carceral feminism, or in betraying sex workers as bearers of basic human rights. Putting anti-sex work rhetoric to the test demands our awareness of the more pervasive, everyday complicity of all women, and men, with those men who abuse, assault, and rape. Thankfully, cultivating such awareness happens to require granting to sex workers their basic human rights.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kagehi March 8, 2016 at 1:28 pm

“It is the type of moral maxim which permitted Clinton to argue as she did in her 1975 case and have her handling of it considered normal.”

Yeah.. This stuff needs to stop. However, to partially play devils advocate, it is possible for someone to “want” something they are not allowed to have, and have the result be illegal, even when the subject in question “believes” based on their own desires that they are giving consent. To me this is a seriously iffy problem. Yes, someone underage may, from their own perspective, consent, but **legally** we do not recognize this as consent, because of the perceived difference in power held by the people involved. To use this as a legal defense of the acts of the adult, who cannot legally **accept** such consent, is not acceptable. If you want to make some sort of argument about how, somehow, in specific cases, this doesn’t count, fine. The vast majority of society will consider such an argument BS, whether there is a legitimate case by case basis for it or not. But, it cannot be used as an excuse, or argument, in defending what is, and should remain, illegal, sans the means to make such case by case judgements (and, I see no practical means that you could even gauge the relative factors, and balances of power involve, to determine if any specific case would be allowable).

And, I think that is the whole problem. Because when these things get brought up, the “defense” is almost always in whether or not consent was given, not, “Whether or not the other person should have accepted it, in the first place.” Somehow, that part of the equation doesn’t seem to come up. But, even in cases with adults, such as when drugs, alcohol, etc. are involved, imo the question shouldn’t be, “Did they give it.”, but, “Was is ethically, morally, or criminally responsible for it to be accepted.” Seems to me, there is a serious flaw in the law, if it only addresses the former, and never the latter.


Giulia Abrami March 31, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for your comment Kagehi—I agree. Whether an underage person consents to sex from their own point of view must be significant. However, morally, we must nonetheless hold accountable an adult who chooses to have sex with someone who legally cannot consent. Between two adults it may be tricky to establish violation of consent if both parties were intoxicated at the time. And if two underage parties believe themselves to have mutually consented to sex, it can also be difficult to justify treating it as “rape.” But any sexually active adult needs to understand that the age gap and concomitant legal boundary predetermines the power relationship between an adult and a child far too coercively for them to be able to use any alleged “consent” on the part of the child victim to justify their own behavior. Even if a child did “consent” to sex with an adult, and arguably did not suffer significant harm from the encounter itself, there may still be other harms down the road which the child could not have predicted or understood enough to have given truly informed consent. For example, children may not understand the functioning of social mores regarding sexual “innocence,” “purity,” and “stigma” in mainstream society well enough to understand how sex with an adult might affect their self-perception or the attitudes of others towards them in the future. It can be very oppressive to be treated as if one is a “victim,” even if those expressing this act out of a well-meaning pity.

Adults need to protect children for these reasons, and we must move away from the idea that the intention of the child victim is relevant to questions about culpability in pedophilic rape.


Kagehi April 2, 2016 at 6:06 pm

“For example, children may not understand the functioning of social mores regarding sexual “innocence,” “purity,” and “stigma” in mainstream society well enough to understand how sex with an adult might affect their self-perception or the attitudes of others towards them in the future.”

Yeah, well, this aspect is simple – they are all bullshit. Seriously though, you are correct. A child may have no idea what the consequences will be of how much of an asshole adults can/will be about such things, because of “beliefs”. These things bug the hell out of me. They are no different than slut shaming. They don’t even exist in all cultures. Don’t remember the one, but there is one which is rare in at a) its post-agricultural, and b) has a clear concept of marriage and fidelity, but where 13 year old girls a built a hut, to which they can, outside any supervision, let any suitors they want visit them, and yeah, that includes “sex” with many of them, since there are cases where the parents object to the relationship and problems arise, if she should accidentally get pregnant.

Some of this stuff has nothing at all to do with real harm, and everything to do with, “We very clearly plan to harm the person involved, but since we can’t really punish a child for it physically, we will enforce are hate, anger, fear, jealousy, etc. by harming the adult, and merely mentally abusing the child. The adults, to be entirely honest, who get this crap handed to them for their choices *only* have one thing that the kid doesn’t – the expectation that some idiot out there will in fact try to hurt them, and, hopefully, but not always, the maturity to tell them to go F themselves and their opinions.

But, what you are, sadly, basically saying, is, “One huge reason we don’t allow it is so we can protect them from all the bullies, who we either sort of agree with, or, at the least, refuse to slap down for mentally abusing people they disagree with.” Personally, what ever my views on *any* other aspect of this may be, the idea that we treat people who would abuse a child for “having had” such a relationship, like there was nothing wrong with such abuse, instead of with just as must disgust and anger as an adult that does use, themselves, mental abuse through trickery, lies, and possibly even fear, to seek non-consentual sex with a minor pisses me off. There is imho no difference between the person that bullies/tricks a kid into such an act, and the one that then abuses them, for the rest of their lives, for having been the victim of it. And, when they are not a victim at all, such bullying is even more horrible.

Having your life ruined because someone else objects to your choices ***should not be*** a logical consequence, an expected consequence, or an acceptable consequence, for those choices, unless they somehow cause harm to more than some idiot, or group of idiots’ sensibilities and prejudices. And, it should never garner praise for those bullies, never mind **only** cost the victim, and never those who deal it out.

Yet, this seems to be how it works. Sad.. that being, “no longer a child, but an adult”, really means, “Knowing that what I chose to do, and saw nothing wrong with, can lead to thousand of people treating me like dirt, and hating me for having done it.” Why the F should anyone have to take that sort of BS into account when deciding something, never mind be deemed “innocent” purely based on not knowing this is possible? Its sick, if you ask me.


Katherine March 8, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Thanks for writing this! I agree with everything you said about cultural and structural injustices that cast sex workers as “unrapeable.” I also that Clinton does not support the rights of the average woman, certainly not sex worker rights. And I have serious issues around the way that she handled clinton’s infidelities and reacted to them — she has a very very very bad track re. victim-blaming and dismissal, not only when the people she is slut-shaming and dismissing had sex with her husband. [in a nutshell –> — And thank you for bringing attention to this: because she IS awful, she is not a defender of women who are victims of sexual violence or harassment, even when Bill is not involved — GO VOTE if your primaries haven’t happened already!!!]

I also don’t find anything problematic about the way in which *she* defended her client as a defense attorney. (disclaimer — my dad has been a public defender for 30 years) I certainly find it problematic that…
–>at that time, our legal system did not have rape shield laws and did not prevent criminal defense attorneys from attacking the character of victims. (She would not have been able to do that now, which I think is GREAT!!)
–>this character defamation worked on the jury and judge.

I think that everyone has a right to a defense attorney who, regardless of their personal feelings about their client/whether or not they believe their client, will defend them using whatever and the most effective legal tools available; which is what Hills did, and it sucks that those tools were available (ie, rape shield laws were not in existence then) and that it worked (ie, that slut/whore stigma was so prevalent that attacking the character of a 13 year old was effective).

I think attacking Hills for doing her job is akin to attacking a sex worker for causing someone’s spouse to cheat or destroying a marriage–For me, there’s a ton of things to criticize Hills about, and many things relating to classism and character attacks on poorer or younger or less powerful women…but I don’t think this is one of them. And I also think advocating for criminal defense attorneys to not do Whatever. They. Can. in trial — even if they don’t believe the argument [ie, she was selling time, not sex; the money was optional–it says donation; it was a spiritual thing; my client was forced to do this and will stop with adequate support – I’m asking for dismissal] would not do a service to sex workers.

Again, I think there is a ton of victim-blaming, minimizing sexual harassment clames, other classist, belittling and degrading of women without power in Hillary’s record, but for me, her work as a criminal defense attorney is not a part of that. Had she advocated against rape shield laws, for me, that would be a wholly different story.

But, yeah, back to your second subject of how to prevent victim-blaming of sex workers and other marginalized women. I think you are 100% dead-on in needing to change what lawyers CAN do; and changing what WORKS culturally. When I think about the Holtzclaw trial, two things jump out at me– the fact that rape shield laws offered minimal protection to his victims–this is a textbook example of how rape shield laws fail drug users, sex workers, and people with criminal history–rape shield statutes need to be amended state by state. Second, the fact that Holtzclaw’s defense utterly backfired–by focusing on the victims as criminal, drug-using outsiders, he emphasized their vulnerability, which the prosecution [as well as OKC and the media] was able to use to make Holtzclaw’s crimes even more agregious. For me, this means that the more cases that like Holtzclaws’ get mainstream audiences, the more times prosecutors are able to use the defense’s victim-blaming against their case… eventually, engaging in sex work or using drugs or drinking or having multiple sexual partners will stop being a liability in prosecuting perpetrators; and defense attorneys will just stop tearing apart the victim’s character and relying on stereotypes, because they’ll know it won’t work at all.


Giulia Abrami March 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Katherine—thanks for this! There would certainly be something amiss in writing about sex workers’ rights while suggesting that HRC should never do something she wouldn’t otherwise do for the sake of money. It’s true that when a problem has such a diffuse cultural origin, it may not be effective or fair to single out people like her to hold uniquely responsible for the status quo. But we needn’t pass over such events without comment either. Shifting a cultural trend is an intensive and multi-pronged process, even if scapegoating is too simplistic.


Ryan March 8, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Katherine, you write in defense of Clinton’s actions saying “I think attacking Hills for doing her job is akin to attacking a sex worker for causing someone’s spouse to cheat or destroying a marriage” and offer validity with the explanation that your father had been a public defender for 30 years.

Based on what’s presented in the article, that’s a fine assumption.

Unfortunately the truth is far uglier.

Hillary Clinton took that rapist on as a paying client voluntarily, and what more, was personally convinced of his guilt as shown by her comments in a later interview available here and yet still kept him as a client.

Hillary Clinton willingly defended a rapist she knew to be guilty for money she was not needing for.


Katherine March 10, 2016 at 2:44 am

Sorry, this was off-topic and I feel sorry to have opened this up; I agree with all of the conclusions of this article and I am all for smearing Hills for a myriad of things. And for smearing what that victim went through in a myriad of ways.

I am just…ugh…I feel like there is something ethically problematic about wanting attorneys to not represent their clients as effectively as possible, and if the defense attorney were anyone but Clinton, I would be upset about the prosecution’s utter incompetence, the cultural backdrop that made character attacks worthwhile, the lack of rape shield laws–but not the public defender doing their job…and think opportunistically viewing a similar thing as a character blemish on Hillary just because I dislike her is unfair…

I mean, don’t we want everyone charged with a crime (including people who are on trial for rape and murder who are slimy and whom everyone thinks is guilty) to have access to competent, aggressive legal counsel? I feel like a major major problem for indigent defendants (which contributes to race and class disparities in sentencing) is the lack of that competent, aggressive free legal counsel. So is it just a problem when it’s Hillary who is that free legal counsel? Are the dozens of thousands of criminal defense attorneys who represent people on trial for violent crimes likewise morally questionable/corrupt?

I also… Hillary Clinton did not take this on as a paying client. She was a new lawyer, running a legal aid clinic for individuals who could not afford a lawyer. The client was indigent and assigned a public defender. The judge reassigned the case to Hillary. And then, whether she had a choice or did not have a choice….conflicting accounts….

From here:
““She got appointed to represent this guy,” [Gibson the prosecutor] told CNN when asked about the controversy. According to Gibson, Maupin Cummings, the judge in the case, kept a list of attorneys who would represent poor clients. Clinton was on that list and helped run a legal aid clinic at the time. Gibson said Clinton called him shortly after the judge assigned her to the case and said, ‘I don’t want to represent this guy. I just can’t stand this. I don’t want to get involved. Can you get me off?’ ‘I told her, ‘Well contact the judge and see what he says about it,’ but I also said don’t jump on him and make him mad,’ Gibson said. ‘She contacted the judge and the judge didn’t remove her and she stayed on the case. Once Clinton was assigned, Gibson said, she had a legal obligation to represent Taylor to the fullest, and she did.'”


Katherine March 12, 2016 at 11:14 am

And again, I am in no way defending the actions [revictmization of a rape victim during trial], I am questioning Hillary’s culpability in those actions in the same way I would question the culpability of any public defender…

This is a really common smear tactic that is also currently being used by conservatives against Supreme Court hopeful, rape survivor and career public defender Jane Kelly. It could be used against literally ANYONE who has ever done criminal defense work.


LoriAdorable March 8, 2016 at 10:03 pm

I don’t know how rhetorical the opening salvo is here, but for the benefit of other readers, at least: the idea that what makes sex-for-pay legal is filming is a misconception– and a potentially dangerous one for sex workers. You can’t just turn on a camera while with a client, post it on the internet, and voila. Pornography is legal on free speech grounds and regulated accordingly. In most states this means you need ‘intent to distribute’, which means you need an LLC as well as all of the proper documentation of government IDs and STI testing.

The sex-pos claim that porn– or any form of sex work– reduces rates of gendered violence is as dubious and difficult to prove empirically as the sex-negative claim to the contrary. Sex negativism and sex positivism are both strains of radical-cultural feminism, which is ultimately liberal in its reliance on legal remedies to cultural issues. So, yeah, Dworkin was a carceral feminist, and while I think some of her theoretical work is worth a second look, her legacy as an activist is undoubtedly one of increased state control of women in the sex trades, which means increased policing. Dworkin and Mackinnon’s censorship advocacy did not fail in Canada, where the speech laws are quite different, and their strain of pro-policing, anti-sex worker activism is still the reigning one in academia and NGOs.

The ‘radical’ of radical-cultural feminism is a cooptation of the actual radical anti-statist work of socialist, anarchist, and Marxist feminists, many of whom were poor women of color doing grassroots activism outside the establishment of academia, NGOs, *and* electoral politics. Dworkin can stay in the trash with fellow carceral feminist Hilary Clinton as far as I’m concerned. There are much better theorists, writers, advocates and human beings in recent feminist history to draw from.


Giulia Abrami March 31, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Lori: the media generated by the production of pornography may itself be a form of speech, but the actual sex acts depicted therein are not. That is why there is an ethically salient distinction between a pornography which depicts the simulation of a murder, and a pornography which simply records an actual murder taking place. The sex acts involved in the production of pornography are not fundamentally different from the sex acts involved in “prostitution,” whether or not pornographic media is a form of protected speech.

The cultural contradiction I see is as follows: if I pay two people to have sex in front of me for my enjoyment, that is prostitution. If I go to the trouble of filming it and licensing it, that does not change the ethical status of the sex act itself. Porn actors have sex because money is offered to them, just as all sex workers do. The resultant media is a separate issue.

You write, “Sex negativism and sex positivism are both strains of radical-cultural feminism, which is ultimately liberal in its reliance on legal remedies to cultural issues.” I don’t understand this sentence. A tacit goal of my article is to make it clear that we need not seek out legal remedies which risk censorship in order to see the value of some of the objections of “sex-negative” feminists. I think here your claim is too sweeping and simplistic.

There are many great activists in the world, and nearly anyone can be made to seem immoral in comparison to anyone else. But the world is not always black and white, and the value of one person need not negate the value of another. I try not to throw anyone “in the trash.”


Katherine March 9, 2016 at 8:07 am
Katherine March 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

Also – for everyone, regardless of who you intend to vote for, as few as 10% of people vote in primary elections, so in this case, your vote actually does matter. In some states, you have to register as a democrat or republican *well before* the actual election date.

Here are links to all the state voting websites:

And here are the remaining states’ primary dates as well as registration deadlines:

Florida – March 15 (Registration Date Passed)
Illinois – March 15 – No deadline; you can also vote early.
Missouri – March 15 (Registration Date Passed)
Ohio – March 15 (Registration Date Passed)
North Carolina – March 15 (Registration Date Passed)
Idaho – March 22 (Same day registration availabile)
Utah – March 22 (Same day registration available)
Arizona – March 22 (Registration deadline passed)
Hawaii – March 26 (Same day registration available)
Alaska – March 26 (Same day registration available)
Washington – March 26 (Same day registration available)
Wisconsin – April 5 [Pre-registration Deadline – March 16 BUT SAME DAY REGISTRATION also available]
Washington – March 26
Wyoming – April 9 (Fri, March 25 = Registration Deadline)
New York – Apr 19 (Fri, March 25 = Registration Deadline)
Rhode Island – Apr 26 (Sunday, March 27 = Registration Deadline)
Pennsylvania – Apr 26 (Mon, March 28 = Registration Deadline)
Delaware – Apr 26 (Sat, April 2 = Registration Deadline)
Maryland – Apr 26 (Tue, April 5 = Registration Deadline)
Connecticut – Apr 26 (Same day Registration – Online deadline = Apr 21)
Indiana – May 3 (Mon, April 4 = Registration Deadline)
West Virginia – May 10th (Tue, April 19 = Registration Deadline)
Kentucky – May 17 (Mon, April 18 = registration deadline)
Oregon – May 17 (Tue, April 26 = registration deadline)
New Mexico – June 7 (Register by Tue, May 10)
California – June 7 (May 23 = registration deadline)
South Dakota – June 7 (May 23 = registration deadline)
Montana – June 7 (same day registration available)
New Jersey – (May 13 = register to change affiliation; May 17 = registration deadline)
North Dakota – Tue, June 7 (no registration required)
D.C. – June 14 (Registration deadline – May 23 | May 16 if changing affiliation)


joe March 10, 2016 at 11:01 pm
Giulia Abrami March 31, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Joe, agreed! I hope that my writing expresses my wish that we protect the civil rights of women through generating equal access to economic self-sufficiency, not through encouraging censorship. Women need to be allowed to rebuild their lives after experiencing abuse within the pornography industry or elsewhere. But there is no inherent reason I can see that protecting women from abuse should require the censorship of pornography as such. People who try to make it seem that way are part of the problem.


Milagra March 11, 2016 at 1:21 am

It’s not very persuasive to cite Andrea Dworkin to make a case against Hillary Clinton’s feminist bona fides. Dworkin aided and abetted the utterly repellent Ed Meese and the regressive authoritarianism of the Reagan administration. Along with the movement conservatives (with whom Dworkin subsequently allied) the Reaganites promoted and enacted policies that harmed and opressed women on a global scale.

She did this for her own professional gain, knowing full well the damage her conservative “allies” were inflicting –overwhelmingly on poor women of color in places like South Africa, Central America and the Phillipines. As a woman of color who survived the conservative backlash of the Reagan years, Dworkin makes me think of two words: White Privilege.

Fun Fact: Meese opposed reading of Miranda Rights, infamously arguing, “Suspects who are innocent of a crime should [be read their rights]. But the thing is, you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.”


Giulia Abrami March 31, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Milagra, thank you for your comment. That last quote from Meese is an especially disturbing form of circular reasoning. I think you are correct that Dworkin’s alliances with conservatives should prevent us from understanding her as a beacon of moral purity. Both Dworkin and HRC are claiming to “use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house,” so I think you’re right to point out that my article neglects the dimension of race. Of course, we are all human and we all have our limits. This is why it’s important never to deify anyone or assume they are ethically infallible, while still respecting the achievements of others within the appropriate context.


Sheldon March 12, 2016 at 7:02 am

“All sex is rape” was never offered up as a direct Dworkin quote by sex-positive feminists. It is just an accurate paraphrase of one of Dworkin’s core beliefs. Ditto with MacKinnon.

The problem with Dworkin’s concept of “sex-as-defined-by-dominance” is that her concept of dominance is all-encompassing and includes sex that you or I think of as consensual. In the Dworkin/MacKinnon view, sex under patriarchy can never be consensual.

If he doesn’t know already, Bernie Sanders needs to be informed that Clinton defended a child rapist. He might find it useful in a debate with her if she impugns his record as an advocate for women’s rights.


Giulia Abrami March 31, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Sheldon—I’m not sure who you’re addressing when you refer to sex that “you or I think of as consensual.” I do not believe that women under patriarchy can ever give perfect “consent.” The concept of consent itself may be inherently “partial” or “impure,” because almost all human decisions may be said to involve an element of transaction or exchange. However, I think it is generally wise to be cautious before making any “always/never” statements, or attributing those types of views to others. Things are typically more complex than that, and you actually benefit yourself as well when you understand a debate opponent charitably.


Sheldon March 31, 2016 at 10:09 pm

I believe I am addressing sex workers and their allies – at least those who read this website.

I have read and collected all of Dworkin’s and MacKinnon’s books, and there is nothing complex in their philosophy, their use of big words notwithstanding. I find it almost cartoonish in its simplicity, except that would be an insult to cartoons.

Can I extend charity to someone who morphs from a ‘debate opponent’ to a political demagogue bent on censorship and empowering the most retrograde patriarchal forces in our society/ Nah. This very website wouldn’t survive if they had their way.


Poorwhore April 17, 2016 at 1:20 pm

About what exactly Dworkin’s and MacKinnon’s philosophies do you disagree? Your critique charts a dangerous line along ad hominem attacks without addressing this.

I think it’s valuable that Dworkin and the author of this post invite us to think beyond the liberal humanist idea of the individual sovereign subject. I especially appreciate the author for approaching this subject so carefully and noting sex workers’ particular vulnerabilities within the legal system and how individualist sex positive feminism fails us (and non-sex working women of color). Doing so prompts us to imagine alternative political strategies that does not hinge upon violently oppressing people of color and the working class.


Sheldon April 17, 2016 at 8:37 pm

You sound like a troll. How could you post on this web site without knowing its concerns about Dworkin and Mackinnon?

Without individualist liberal feminism, Roe v Wade would not exist, nor would you even have the right to post here or anywhere else on matters of gender.

Poorwhore April 18, 2016 at 6:42 pm

And Sheldon, are you even a sex worker? I’m asking because I’ve actually read both Dworkin and MacKinnon (more of the latter than the former) and their philosophies are much more complex than you present. But perhaps expecting someone who thinks that we would not have Roe v. Wade without liberal individualist feminism (because women of color organizing around reproductive rights didn’t analyze their struggles with a vision of collective liberation, right?) and seems blatantly unaware of feminist of color concerns regarding the sovereign subject (read Hortense Spillers, maybe?) to understand feminist philosophy or legal theory was an endeavor set to disappoint.

Sheldon April 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm

The fact that you juxtapose liberal individualist feminism with the struggles of women of color speaks volumes about your own assumptions. Ever heard of intersectionality?

Andrea Dworkin’s husband, John Stoltenberg, lamented Roe v Wade’s individualist reasoning for establishing a woman’s right to choose because it has been used by sex workers to justify their own way of living – “My body – my choice”

I am currently not a sex worker, but I am a writer who has presented on Dworkin and MacKinnon at the Socialist Scholars Conference in the 1990s and most recently at the Left Forum in NYC. Nothing in their ‘complex’ philosophy contradicts their hate speech.


Kagehi April 21, 2016 at 9:02 pm

Sound a lot like Rethuglican logic when it comes to do, mostly with women, but.. almost anything – “If its something we approve of, then its defensible. If its something we don’t, then not only is the same, identical, defense unacceptable, but your body actually belongs to Go.. err, sorry, where was I? Ah right – the State!” But then, this can hardly be a surprise, since its the same logic by which, in modern times, a bank executive is exempt from the law for robbing a thousand people of millions, while an adult stealing a wallet *must* receive jail time. A much more ‘enlightened’ view than ancient times, in which sending an army to rob a thousand people of everything they owned made you a sultan, while stealing an apple meant having you hand cut off.

Of course someone who hates prostitution and thinks its fundamentally robbing someone of something, somehow, to sell sex, would see a vast, gigantic, irreconcilable gap between “My body, my choice”, as it applies to *everything* except for sex work. Nope, those people deserve to be the apple stealer, for some perfectly logical, not at all purely theological/ideological reason, which everyone else just can’t properly comprehend.


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