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Porn free; feminists rally around the First Amendment.

BECAUSE ANTI-PORNOGRAPHY STATutes championed by feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have enjoyed a high profile during the last few years, the media often characterize feminists in toto as favoring the censorship of offensive materials. But the National Coalition Against Censorship's recent campaign to change anti-porn language in the Violence Against Women Act (S. 11/H.R. 1133) indicates, in fact, that women's groups are becoming more vocal in their condemnations of censorship.

The NCAC is made up of 43 different artistic, cultural, political, and educational groups that share a disdain for censorship. While not specifically a feminist organization, the coalition moved against the proposed legislation on feminist grounds. Last fall, the NCAC's Group on Women, Censorship, and "Pornography" sent letters to more than 15 members of the House, urging them to excise the bill's section providing training for judges and court personnel "on current information on the impact of pornography on crimes against women, or data on other activities that tend to degrade women." A number of feminist groups, such as Feminists For Free Expression and the East End Gay Organization for Human Rights, as well as six Rutgers University law professors, joined the NCAC effort.

"The implying of a causal link between exposure to sexually explicit material and behavior will not help women," says NCAC Executive Director Leanne Katz, who is afraid that vaguely defined anti-pornography measures will be used to curtail women's rights to free expression. In a December 4, 1993, New York Times oped, she noted that the Canadian Supreme Court's 1992 ruling in Butler v. Her Majesty the Queen, which was inspired by MacKinnon and Dworkin's views, had resulted in "an explosion of censorship," much of it directed against materials written by and for women. Soon after the ruling, which outlawed words and images that "degrade" women or are otherwise "harmful" to them, a bookstore owner was fined for selling a lesbian magazine. Canadian officials have also seized works by well-known feminist authors Kathy Acker, bell hooks, and Dworkin herself. Given the Canadian experience, wrote Katz, "it's no wonder that many feminists are organizing to dispel the myth that women can benefit from censorship."

While the House cut the disputed language from the bill, it remained in the Senate version and was passed as part of the comprehensive crime bill voted on last November. NCAC spokesperson Roz Udow is optimistic that the final version of the bill, to be worked out in conference, will follow the House's lead.
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Title Annotation:Trends
Author:Gillespie, Nick
Publication:Reason
Date:Apr 1, 1994
Words:415
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