Feminism and porn’s golden age

Second wave: Feminism and porn’s golden age

Glass, Loren

THE OPENING OF GERALD DAMIANOiS hard-core film Deep Throat at New York’s World Theater in June of 1972 marked a turning point in American cultural history. Over six thousand people went to see the film in the first week. Mainstream reviewers praised it. Its New York success sparked a nationwide run, giving Middle America a strong dose of coastal cosmopolitan culture. The film, which originally cost only $25,000 to make, eventually grossed over 25 million dollars, making it one of the most profitable films of all time, and it remains one of the top-selling hard-core video rentals. The unexpected success of Deep Throat seemed to signal the apogee of America’s sexual revolution, heralding a new age of frank and uninhibited public engagement with intimate issues previously suppressed by Puritanism and prudery. And its focus on one woman’s quest for sexual satisfaction additionally seemed to indicate that the dou-ble standard was finally being overturned, that female pleasure was finally being acknowledged in the public sphere.

Within six months, however, the film was banned in New York, and indeed in many other localities across the country. Later that year the Supreme Court, now headed by Nixon appointee Warren Burger, had ruled on the case of Miller v. California, altering the legal definition of obscenity, which had been narrowed down to almost nil by the famously liberal Warren Court. The ruling in Miller v. California determined that local, as opposed to national, community standards could be used to define obscenity, and it replaced the “utterly without redeeming social value” clause with “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”1 The brief Golden Age of Pornography was over, but the century-long battle over the definition and regulation of porn in America was not. In fact, the battle lines had received new energy and emphasis from feminism’s equally brief second wave, which took the sex industry as one of its foes in the fight for social, and sexual, equality. In this paper, I will interrogate the complex coincidence of porn’s golden age and feminism’s second wave. Both emerged at the end of the sixties, enjoyed a brief period in the media spotlight, and essentially ended by the mid-seventies. The consequences of and relationship between both phenomena remain the subject of debate.2

The engagement between pornography and feminism generated some peculiar political allegiances: radical feminism partnered with right-wing fundamentalism in the effort to suppress porn, while academic feminists allied with porn industry profiteers in the effort to protect it. Deep Throat, as one of the most well-known hard-core films of the era, figured prominently in this battle, and its female lead, Linda Lovelace, played something of a starring role, particularly after she went public with accounts of her abuse and mistreatment by her manager/husband before, during, and after the making of the film. Having started out as the mouthpiece for the libertarian, hedonistic ethos at the extreme end of the anticensorship camp, she ended up being the exemplary victim for the antipornography activists.

Linda Lovelace, as the woman who once bore her name readily admits, was a fictitious person, a placeholder for the powerful fantasies and anxieties at work in the debate over pornography. As such, she can be analyzed as a public subject, embodying and condensing the contradictory attitudes about gender and sexuality that emerged in the wake of feminism and the sexual revolution.3 Her invention and transformation in the public sphere provides an illuminating dialectical link between feminism and pornography in the seventies and eighties. That link, I hope to argue, is the culture of celebrity, the process whereby a public subjectivity is generated through the sheer process of circulating as a commodity in the mass-mediated public sphere.

Scholars of fame in America agree that the post-World War II era witnessed a dramatic expansion of celebrity discourses and practices into political realms that previously, at least in theory, bracketed personal concerns. President John F. Kennedy is usually positioned as the central figure in this regard; his telegenic good looks and sexual allure brought movie star power to the White House. His glamorous wife, storybook family, and high-society social life were tightly integrated into his political image. Later, the tabloid exposure of his many affairs only enhanced his celebrity image and affirmed the interpenetration of public and private life such images embody.

Both the sexual revolution and feminism were implicated in this expansion of the culture of celebrity, insofar as both emphasized bringing private issues into public discussion. During the sixties, cen-sorship in both literature and film was relaxed almost to the point of nonexistence, enabling the enormous popularity of unprecedentedly explicit works such as Portnoy’s Complaint and Midnight Cowboy. Correlatively, feminism’s insistence that “the personal is political” related these explicit representations to its critique of American gender relations. Celebrities like Linda Lovelace, I will argue, begin to emerge as symptoms of this collapsing divide between public and private realms.

These new celebrities tend to indicate the contradictions in, and the limits of, the political transformations envisioned during the height of feminism and the sexual revolution. In particular, I hope to show how the celebrity discourses that emerged in the wake of feminism and the sexual revolution reveal how the interpenetration of public and private, rather than mitigating or eliminating gender difference, tended to exaggerate it by enhancing the public focus on genital sexual difference. Although one might argue that celebrities prove the performative nature of gender identity, there is a strong counter-current in which celebrities essentialize such identities by collapsing gender into sex.

The figure of Linda Lovelace illustrates this process whereby the imaginary fantasy of public performance and the empirical reality of private experience become crucially confused. Indeed, the evidentiary function of her body and her words reveals how both pornography and celebrity foreground the link between public and private as, ultimately, epistemological. For those who defend porn, she is proof of female pleasure; for those who condemn it, she is proof of female victimization. This evidentiary function indicates how porn focalizes our desire for sexual knowledge. It is the epistemological ground of American fantasies about sexuality and gender relations, proving the ultimate reality of both the pleasure and the pain that these fantasies provoke.5 That Linda Lovelace could prove both things indicates that contemporary celebrity and mainstream pornography operate within congruent fields, where the individual body in the public sphere validates our deepest desires and anxieties about the nature of sex under late capitalism. The shift in her evidentiary function from female pleasure in the early seventies to female victimization in the late seventies and early eighties provides a convenient emplotment for the complex engagement between feminism and pornography in the wake of the sixties sexual revolution.

1. Legitimating Linda

This emplotment can best be unpacked through a reading of the series of autobiographical books that appeared in Lovelace’s name in the decade after the opening of Deep Throat. The first was Inside Linda Lovelace, a combination intimate expose and sex manual published in 1973 to capitalize on the unexpected popularity of Deep Throat. On the flyleaf appears a signed prefatorial remark that reads (in part): “This is My Story. I lived it. I wrote it….I’m doing exactly what I want to do, how I want to do it, when I want to do it, and with whom I want to do it.”6 Furthermore, she avers: “If I put something in writing it has to be the truth, and I mean the full truth.”7 The narrative that follows plots its subject’s autobiography around the development of a hyperbolic hedonism. As a girl she was “an incorrigible masturbator”;8 she got so good that she can now think herself “to orgasm.”9 She claims, “My God is now sex. Without sex, I’d die. Sex is everything.”10 She feels that “what goes on between kids is great. The same for adults, and it makes no difference to me personally if adults make it with kids, boys with boys, grandpas with granddaughters or whatever.”11 She also bills herself as a new-age sex expert, advising techniques of meditation and self-hypnosis to im-prove performance and enjoyment. Inside Linda Lovelace, then, provides its subject with both agency and expertise, but only in the service of legitimating the “truth” of her sexual pleasure.

Inside Linda Lovelace is dedicated to her manager/husband “Chuck Traynor-the creator,” who Lovelace would later claim wrote the text for her, after which she dictated it into a tape recorder for Pinnacle Books, to whom it is copyrighted, with special thanks to “Mr. Douglas Warran for his editorial assistance.” Pinnacle would also publish Lovelace’s next book, The Intimate Diary of Linda Lovelace, in which she would declare her independence from the abusive Traynor, thereby giving her story a further feminist flavor. Having finally escaped from the man who beat and imprisoned her, Lovelace proclaims, “nobody will put ideas in my head or words in my mouth again. What I say and what I do is strictly me. I am nobody’s piece of property. I am my own person.”12 And again she affirms: “What I do is only the truth.”13 The Intimate Diary attempts to ballast the hedonistic ethos of the earlier book by providing a broader public-and quasi-feminist-frame for its subject’s agency and independence. In this book, Linda Lovelace goes out into the world, hobnobbing with celebrities and struggling with the law. Nevertheless, this text is also copyrighted to Pinnacle and appears “as told to” a man named Carl Wallin.

Indeed, it is impossible to determine how much of these two texts was written by the woman who bore the name in the title. In her two later confessional texts-Ordeal (1980) and Out of Bondage (1986)-Lovelace completely disavows the identity and agency claimed by the first two. Ordeal opens with “My name is not Linda Lovelace. Not these days….Linda Lovelace disappeared from sight several years ago.”14 The flyleaf of Out of Bondage similarly reads, “Linda Lovelace is nothing. The woman who used to be Linda Lovelace is here to tell you that. She doesn’t exist anymore.”15

The woman who replaces her is a deeply conservative, even Victorian, character, who claims that all she ever wanted from life was “to get married to a good man, to have children, and to someday have a home of my own.”16 She’s a woman who, in order to regain her self esteem, would look in the mirror and proclaim: “Hold your head up high and remember you’re a lady.”17 She’s a born-again Christian who proclaims: “I’m a human being now so I was born again and I do believe in God.”18 And she’s a prudish heterosexual, claiming she “couldn’t imagine being with another woman.”19

Both Ordeal and Out of Bondage assert that Inside Linda Lovelace was really written by Chuck Traynor; indeed, they confirm that Linda Lovelace herself was his creation, thus positioning themselves to erase the identity he created. Lovelace also discredits The Intimate Linda Lovelace, claiming that “the whole book was make-believe, no better than the first one.”20 On the other hand, these two exposes, unlike the earlier book, are actually copyrighted to Linda Lovelace, alongside a man named Mike McGrady, a New York journalist who agreed to help her tell her tale. McGrady had earlier achieved fame by masterminding the group-written soft-porn sensation Naked Came the Stranger (1969), and he had contracted the same publisher, Lyle Stuart, to publish Lovelace’s memoirs.

2. Making Mike

The story of Naked Came the Stranger casts a revealing light on Lovelace’s ambiguous authorship. As McGrady narrates in Stranger than Naked, Or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun and Profit (1970), he and a group of male colleagues at Newsday conceived of the soft-core novel as a “Big Money” book in the tradition of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.21 The book would follow the sexual exploits of a modern woman, “married, not too young, frustrated, wronged, and finally happy”;22 each chapter would focus on one of her lovers, and would be written by a different man.

After drafts of the chapters had been written, McGrady, not surprisingly, found that his heroine, a radio personality named Gillian Blake, who narrates a marriage advice show with her husband, appeared differently in each chapter. His solution was ingenious. In the opening chapter, he inserted a paragraph describing her:

The major quality was something reactive, a chameleon quality that somehow enabled her to transform herself in the eyes of any man….She could become any man’s dream woman, and somehow accomplish it without relinquishing her own identity.23

Gillian Blake, who embarks on a series of extramarital affairs upon discovering her husband’s infidelity, is a somewhat paradoxical protagonist. Insofar as she is “reactive,” she becomes simply the projection of male fantasies. But, through a syntactical turn (“she could become…”) granting her agency in the process, she manages to maintain a fixed identity apart from these fantasies.

Like the early Linda Lovelace, Gillian Blake represents the male fantasy of the “liberated woman” at a crucial historical juncture when the sexual revolution is about to collide with second-wave feminism. As such, it figures the institution of marriage as constraint and the practice of adultery as liberation. Gillian and her husband, William, have “an ideal marriage placed on display every morning for eight years.”24 However, the public show of their marriage masks private discontent, and Gillian’s affairs are meant, very much like Deep Throat, to represent her search for sexual fulfillment outside the conven-tional constraints of heterosexual monogamy. She is the fantasy of the woman who can never be satisfied by one man. And the men around whom each chapter is organized-who include a rabbi, an ex-boxer, a beatnik, a mobster, an abortionist, and a homosexual-present a veritable kaleidoscope of abject masculinity, of men trapped in regimes of marriage and work and suburban respectability that leave them fundamentally unable to satisfy Gillian’s lust.

The most revealing chapters, however, focus on authors. Chapter eleven profiles Ansel Varth, “a professional pornographer” who writes dirty books and sells them by mail order. Varth explains that he is unable to perform for Gillian, since “all I do is write books and make phone calls. I can’t get it up any other way.”25 But Gillian manages to arouse him by suggesting that they “act out a story” in which she is a “lady chimpanzee” and he’s “a big horny camel.”26 Their successful coupling leads him to conclude that “he was a real man. This time he would surely write the great American dirty novel.”27 It takes the woman’s agency to enable the man to translate his fantasy of masculinity into reality. Without Gillian’s inspiration, Ansel Varth would have remained impotent. And the sexual potency she enables translates as well into literary inspiration. The implication is clear: “The great American dirty novel” will be an American male fantasy of the sexually liberated American woman.

However, if Gillian enables smut, she destroys great literature. Her final lover, a hermetic author named Zoltan Caradoc, who “had already strung together enough words to more than equal the lifetime output of Proust,” suffers the opposite fate of his lowbrow counterpart.28 Caradoc is described as

always surrounded by the tape recorders and stereo sets and color television consoles and electric typewriters. He lived three-fourths of his life in an ultra-modern electronic womb. Cable umbilicals carried him regular progress reports from the outside world; sensitive microphones were always handy to transmit and preserve his thoughts and memories for posterity.29

In the entranceway to this “electronic womb” he has a wire sculpture of himself with an erection. When Gillian arrives in his house, he warns her that “everything you say from now on will be recorded.”30 A high-tech cross between Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger, Caradoc takes the literary ambition of turning life into art to its postmodern limits; thus, “even his harshest critics agreed that he wrote from life, that this was the literature of experience.”31 If Varth, author of dirty books, spins fantasies that divorce him from the reality of his life, Caradoc, the author of classic novels, weaves the reality of his life into fantasies.

But Gillian refuses to cooperate. He tries, violently, to seduce her, but she resists his overtures, thereby destroying his literary career. After leaving his house, she receives a letter that will “become a treasure beyond price for literary historians.”32 In it, Caradoc laments that “graduate students and scholars were going to pore over my works in the twenty-first century and write endless theses, complete with footnotes, on the identity of Zoltan Caradoc’s golden goddess.”33 But in refusing to cooperate she’s turned the tables, and “in the end it was I who was your greatest triumph-your masterpiece of creative destruction.”34 He concludes: “I had no mate, Gilly, so you separated me from myself.”35 Caradoc’s chapter concludes Naked Came the Stranger, indicating that the male narcissism that undergirds great American literature has been irreversibly shattered by the sexually liberated American woman.

Thus it is not at all surprising that McGrady insisted on a female author for his literary hoax. As he affirms, “it did not matter that the bulk of the book had been written by men. Penelope Ashe would be female, the more female the better.”36 Correlatively, the real male authors would represent the characters they created; in the promotional campaign for the book, each chapter was advertised with a photo of the author identified as the character. McGrady took this tack in order to ballast the authenticity of the book since, as he attests, “it is widely understood that one fairly good reason why a person would write a BM book is to make money; yet this is never admitted publicly. The stated reason is nobler-because this is a story that could not not be told; because the truth must out.”37 The final fantasy behind Naked Came the Stranger, then, is that it is not a male fantasy at all, but a female reality. The “authenticity” of Gillian Blake as a sexually liberated woman-as well as of her lovers as pathetic men-required the legitimacy of female authorship.

The entire Naked hoax would seem to cast a dubious light on McGrady’s collaboration with Linda Lovelace, but he had one crucial experience between the two projects that complicates their relationship considerably. In the early seventies, during the heyday of second-wave feminism, McGrady decided to quit his job at Newsday in order to enable his wife to pursue her independent business career. On the opening page of his memoir about the experience, titled The Kitchen Sink Papers: My Life as a Househusband (1975), McGrady writes: “One day, late in 1973, with all my affairs in order, I quit my job and became a housewife.”38 In the narrative that follows, McGrady shows himself becoming “invisible, the non-essential person.”39 He laments that “somewhere in the process I had lost track of myself and my life and my plans for a more meaningful existence.”40 He intones, “A house is not a home; it’s a prison.”41 The Kitchen Sink Papers, then, becomes a sort of masculine addendum to The Feminine Mystique, in which McGrady confirms the empty mean-inglessness of a homemaker’s life. In the end, his family decides to undermine conventional divisions of labor by signing on to a “private marriage contract” that distributes housework responsibilities fairly amongst all family members.42 Flashing his new feminist credentials, McGrady concludes: “Roles are reversible.”43

However, McGrady’s feminist conclusions receive one crucial qualification. At a certain point in the narrative, his wife suggests that they go see a pornographic film. Initially reluctant, McGrady agrees, but the experience is a failure. In a theater full of men, his wife starts to giggle uncontrollably, and they have to leave right when he’s getting interested. He then realizes, “not all roles can be reversed, not all experiences are interchangeable.”44 Pornography emerges as the limit case for liberal feminism’s critique of the feminine mystique; it seems to prove that, when it comes to sexuality, men and women are, somehow, different. The stage is now set for McGrady’s collaboration with Linda Lovelace.

3. Creating Kitty

That stage had been set by feminism itself, which, in the late seventies, increasingly took on pornography as not only a symptom but also a cause of violence against women. Women Against Violence in Pornography (WAVAM) formed in San Francisco in 1976; Woman Against Pornography (WAP) formed in New York in 1979.

In 1980, Laura Lederer released Take Back the Night, an influential anthology of antipornography feminist writings that summarized and codified this developing focus within American feminism. The philosophical underpinnings of this focus were succinctly stated by Robin Morgan: “Pornography is the theory, and rape the practice.”45 Two women-Catherine “Kitty” McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin-emerged from this consolidation of radical femi-nism to become the principal mouthpieces for the attack on pornography.

MacKinnon and Dworkin’s writings confirm McGrady’s contention that pornography functions as a limit structure in the liberal equivalence between the sexes. In her collection of essays (mostly transcripts of conference papers delivered over the preceding decade), Feminism Unmodified (1987), MacKinnon explains the philosophical turn whereby pornography becomes the crucial issue for feminists:

Obscenity law is concerned with morality, specifically morals from the male point of view, meaning the standpoint of male dominance. The feminist critique of pornography is a politics, specifically politics from women’s point of view, meaning the standpoint of the subordination of women to men. Morality here means good and evil; politics means power and powerlessness. Obscenity is a moral idea; pornography is a political practice. Obscenity is abstract; pornography is concrete.46

In shifting the issue from an abstract, liberal concern with free speech to a concrete, radical concern with sex discrimination, MacKinnon and Dworkin continuously recur to the central substantive difference between the sexes: anatomy. Thus in her 1979 diatribe, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Dworkin intones that the penis is “the hidden symbol of terror.”47 She affirms, “in the male system, sex is the penis, the penis is sexual power, its use in fucking is manhood.”48 Unlike the liberal feminism that had worked to affirm and achieve a basic equivalence between the sexes, Dworkin and MacKinnon continuously assert their radical difference, and that difference is continuously, almost obsessively, signified by the penis.

For MacKinnon, by far the more philosophically sophisticated of the two, the penis stands at the center of a performative theory of pornography. In her high-profile manifesto, Only Words (1993), she argues that the issue is not what pornography says, but what it does. And what it does is give men erections. MacKinnon concludes that pornography “is addressed directly to the penis, delivered through an erection, and taken out on women in the real world.”49 Indeed, for MacKinnon, in the “real world” addressed by pornography all women become victims and all men become penises.

The tour of the talk-show circuit that promoted Ordeal introduced Linda Lovelace to Catherine MacKinnon, who rallied to her cause, particularly after she passed a battery of lie-detector tests to prove that the brutality detailed in her book was true. Gradually, Linda Lovelace, porn queen and sexual libertarian, became Linda Marchiano, housewife and victim. Her story now became a central reference point for the antipornography feminists. In the eighties, she appeared at conferences with both MacKinnon and Dworkin, and they used her testimony in their efforts to pass antipornography ordinances in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles. The consequences of their collaboration confirmed the degree to which pornography in essence was coming to function as a litmus test for gender identity; as Lovelace confirmed in her last memoir, which recounts and defends her collaboration with feminists in the wake of the publicity around Ordeal: “Women tended to believe me and most men thought I was lying.”50

Nevertheless, the relatively easy oppositions of Lovelace’s conversion-from pleasure to pain, from free agent to trapped victim, from male fantasy to feminist reality-are complicated by the very event on which they turn: the enormous popularity of Deep Throat and the subsequent superstardom of Linda Lovelace. The success of Deep Throat cata-pulted Lovelace into the media limelight, surrounding her with social opportunities that threatened Traynor’s authority over her. As she concedes in the later confessional texts, the confidence and connections she gained from her fame finally enabled her to escape from his clutches.

In this sense, the most revealing, and dialectically complex, of her autobiographies is The Intimate Diary, which opens with an extended meditation on celebrity. Thus, she affirms: “The most marketable thing in this country is a well-known name. My name can sell shoes or help publicize someone’s porno crackdown” (4). And she astutely notes that the two primary cultural functions of this name are indicated by the subpoena and the autograph. Indeed, a key moment in the text occurs when the man serving her a subpoena asks for her autograph for his niece. She concludes: “I signed my name with a little heart over the ‘i’ like I always do and watched him walk away. I had the subpoena and he had his autograph. I didn’t come out too well on that exchange, I thought, but at least he went away happy” (5).

This trivial yet symptomatic exchange of the subpoena for the autograph indicates how Lovelace’s celebrity enables her complex evidentiary role in the politicized battles over pornography. The currency of her fame heightened the value of her testimony during the antipornography backlash of the late seventies and early eighties. MacKinnon comments on the crucial role of such testimony in exposing the underlying politics of pornography:

Once abused women are heard and…become real, women’s silence can no longer be the context in which pornography and speech are analyzed….Instead of the forces of darkness seeking to suppress what the forces of light are struggling to free, her captivity itself is put in issue for the first time….Before, each woman who said she was abused looked incredible and exceptional; now, the abuse appears deadeningly commonplace. Before, what was done to her was sex; now, it is sexual abuse. Before, she was sex; now, she is a human being gendered female-if anyone can figure out what that is.51

Not only does such testimony shift the grounds of the debate from a moral issue over the nature of obscenity to a political issue over the nature of sexual subordination, it, in essence, generates gender difference as such; it creates the “human being gendered female,” who, for MacKinnon, is centrally signified by the victim of sexual abuse.

And, correlatively, pornography should reveal the nature of the abuser, the human being gendered male. A viewing of Deep Throat reveals the ambiguous accuracy of MacKinnon and Dworkin’s claims in this regard. As a narrative thematically focused on fellatio, it is-like most porn oriented toward male viewers-obsessed with the erect penis. However, the penis is, if anything, more disembodied and objectified than Lovelace’s own ambiguous sexuality. In the opening credits, the male roles are introduced by numbers, while Linda Lovelace is introduced “as Herself.” The film begins with Lovelace’s rotation through multiple partners in her search for sexual pleasure, and concludes with her becoming a “physiotherapist,” helping men with sexual dysfunctions. As in most pornography, the men are rigorously reduced to their sex organs and their ability to achieve and maintain erection. In essence, the men are penises and numbers, the woman is a face and a name. Indeed, summarizing Behind the Green Door, another exemplar of porn’s Golden Age, Williams notes “an abundance of interchangeable men-and their penises-in relation to a single woman.” As Williams affirms, this tends to be the plot structure of feature-length porn from this era.52

It is in this double reduction, I believe, that we can see how the contemporary culture of celebrity provides a link between pornography and feminism in the wake of their overlapping heydays, and indeed shows how MacKinnon herself has been able to leverage her own status as a celebrity feminist through her attack on pornography. On the one hand, men are posited as anonymous masturbators; on the other, women are posited as private victims whose stories must be made public. MacKinnon locates herself as the mouth through whom her victims speak and pornography becomes the male penis that is trying to shut her up for, as she claims, “who listens to a woman with a penis in her mouth?”53

As Jennifer Wicke has noted, with the decline of movement feminism in the late seventies, celebrity became “a new locus for feminist discourse, feminist politics, and feminist conflicts.”54 And Wicke affirms that “MacKinnon is set squarely in the celebrity zone and looks likely to stay there for the time being.”55 It is more than coincidental that this new celebrity feminism has taken on pornography as one of its key issues. For celebrity, like pornography, works on the assumption that the individual body on public display can metonymically channel the desires and needs of an anonymous audience. They both assume that we can only overcome our private impotence through witnessing the performance of public figures.

And, as the volatile reception of Only Words revealed, it is MacKinnon’s celebrity that underpins her fixation on gender difference. In his provocative review for The Nation, “Between the Motion and the Act,” Carlin Romano imagined raping MacKinnon as an exercise in testing the thesis of her book: are pornographic words the same as sexual acts? MacKinnon took the bait, arguing that Romano’s review amounted to “a public rape” by which “all women are hurt.”56 As Romano undoubtedly intended, her angry response exposed the philosophical absurdity of her ideas, but it also confirmed a reality about celebrity culture: for a star (and Romano affirms that “MacKinnon is on a star trip”57) public image is as real as private experience. If Romano “hurt” MacKinnon’s public self, he did, in a sense, hurt her.

And, in hurting her, he also affirmed her need to represent “all women” as victims of male violence. Romano asserts that her Cartesian creed can be translated as “I am raped, therefore I am.”58 As many of her critics agree, MacKinnon needs the very sexism she decries in order to leverage her role as public spokeswoman for all women. Thus Wendy Brown, in her excellent essay “The Mirror of Pornography,” affirms that

MacKinnon’s theory of gender transpires within a pornographic genre, suspending us in a complex of pornographic experience in which MacKinnon is both purveyor and object of desire and her analysis is proffered as substitute for the sex she abuses us for wanting.59

Brown effectively reveals the degree to which MacKinnon’s writing mirrors the pornographic imagination she vilifies. What Brown neglects to emphasize, in my opinion, is the degree to which MacKinnon’s celebrity is, in essence, the “mirror” that enables the symmetry between feminism and pornography. She can only be “purveyor and object of desire” in a public sphere that enables her to circulate as the figure not only for all women, but also for the very sign of sex as the ultimate reality of gender.

In this public sphere, MacKinnon’s engagement with Linda Lovelace figures as a reaction formation to the failure of both pornography and feminism to effectively represent, and liberate, women as a unified category of person. Both pornography and feminism in the early seventies effectively challenged traditional American protocols of represent-ing female power and pleasure by breaking down the boundaries between public and private, and both initially envisioned utopian liberatory consequences to the challenges they posed. Pornography did enable franker public discussion of sex, and feminism did transform the protocols of gender relations, but the different liberations each envisioned failed to ensue. Rather, new contradictions emerged between sexual pleasure and sexual power in the public sphere. Celebrity performances like the relationship between Catherine MacKinnon and Linda Lovelace-as a contained enactment of the interpenetration of public and private-function as symptoms of these new contradictions.


1. On Miller v. California and the censorship battles that led up to it, see de Grazia, 561-72. For the effect of Miller v. California on the hard-core film industry, see Lewis, 192-230.

2. For an excellent overview of this ongoing debate, see Cornell.

3. On the utility of the term “public subject” for an understanding of contemporary celebrity, see Marshall, 251.

4. See, in particular, ibid., 203-50.

5. For a Foucaultian take on the epistemological nature of porn as a component of the modern “knowledge-pleasure” regime, see Williams, 2-9.

6. Lovelace, 1973, flyleaf.

7. Ibid., 51.

8. Ibid., 19.

9. Ibid., 21.

10. Ibid., 32.

11. Ibid., 52.

12. Lovelace, 1974, 8.

13. Ibid., frontispiece.

14. Lovelace, 1980, 1.

15. Lovelace, 1986, flyleaf.

16. Lovelace, 1980, 72.

17. Lovelace, 1986, 36.

18. Ibid., 178.

19. Lovelace, 1980, 51.

20. Ibid., 249.

21. McGrady, 1970, 2.

22. Ibid., 16.

23. Ashe, 1969, 13.

24. Ibid., 12.

25. Ibid., 173.

26. Ibid., 173.

27. Ibid., 174.

28. Ibid., 208.

29. Ibid., 208.

30. Ibid., 211.

31. Ibid., 210.

32. Ibid., 214-5.

33. Ibid., 217.

34. Ibid., 215.

35. Ibid., 217.

36. McGrady, 1970, 62.

37. Ibid., 134.

38. McGrady, 1975, 1.

39. Ibid., 57.

40. Ibid., 60.

41. Ibid., 57.

42. Ibid., 181.

43. Ibid., 166.

44. Ibid., 132.

45. Lederer, 1980, 139.

46. MacKinnon, 1987, 147.

47. Dworkin, 1979, 15.

48. Ibid., 23.

49. MacKinnon, 2000, 104.

50. Lovelace and McGrady, 1986, 113.

51. MacKinnon, 2000, 97.

52. Williams, 1989, 159

53. MacKinnon, 1987, 193.

54. Wicke, 1994, 753.

55. Wicke, 1994, 774.

56. Quoted in Streitfeld, 1994, 7.

57. Romano, 1993, 564.

58. Ibid., 564.

59. Brown, 2000, 211.


Ashe, P. (1969), Naked Came the Stranger. New York: Dell.

Brown, B. (2000), “The Mirror of Pornography,” in Cornell (ed.), 198-217

Cornell, D (ed.) (2000), Feminism and Pornography. New York: Oxford University Press.

De Grazia, E (1993), Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius. New York: Vintage.

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