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Copy of The Sex Wars

  • Why did/ does this issue provoke such intense disagreement among feminists?
  • Why might feminists have ended up allying with the right on the question of pornography?
  • Can pornography be feminist?
  • Can the ‘sex wars’ be blamed for the demise of the WLM as a political force?

Preparatory Activity

Watch Vanessa Engel Lefties 3 of 3 Angry Wimmin – 32 mins in on debates on pornography. Finish at about 39 minutes.For a little bit of context on the newspaper, written by one of the founders see: opens in a new window

Read Laura's lecture on Feminism, Pornography and Censorship Lecture Slides

Seminar Activity

Debate: 'This house believes that the censorship of pornography will make the world a better place for women'.
Anti-porn group: Charlie , Ateeqa
Anti-censorship group: Megan, Harprit, Tamyla, Emily

Core Reading

S. Ardill & S. O’Sullivan, ‘Upsetting an Apple Cart: Desire, Difference, and Lesbian Sadomasochism’, Feminist Review 23 (July 1986), 31-57

Jeska Rees. ‘A Look Back in Anger: The Women’s Liberation Movement in 1978’, Women’s History Review 19:3 (2010), 337-356

Further Reading

In the thick of the debate

Anti-Porn position:

A. Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981)

Julia Long, Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism

C. Mackinnon, Towards a Feminist Theory of the State (1989)

Anti-Censorship position:

Feminists Against Censorship, Pornography and Feminism: The Case Against Censorship (1991)

* Lynn Segal, Is the Future Female: Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism (1987) [chapter 3. a useful overview of the sex wars from a partial perspective] digitised

L. Segal & M. McIntosh, Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the Pornography Debate (1992)

W. Brown, ‘The Mirror of Pornography’ in States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (1995) [for a reply to Mackinnon]

The Rebel Dykes History Project [have a look at the whole website for very interesting lesbian current in 1980s]

Valerie Mason-John and Adowa Okorrowa, 'A minefield in the garden : Black lesbian sexuality', in Valerie Mason-John (ed.) Talking black : lesbians of African and Asian descent speak out (1995)



More ‘distanced’ from the debate / historical reflections on the debate

Cornell (ed.), Feminism and Pornography (2000)

Jeska Rees, ‘“Taking Your Politics Seriously”: Lesbian History and the Women’s Liberation Movement in England’, in S. Tiernan & M. McAuliffe (eds.) Sapphists and Sexologists (2009)