The Pornography Debate

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Suppose one accepts MacKinnon and Dworkin's suggested statutory definition of pornography. How does one who generally accepts MacKinnon and Dworkin's views on the pervasively harmful effect of pornography, and who accepts a need for legal redress of the harms perpetrated by pornography, deal with pornographic material? The ordinance proposed by MacKinnon and Dworkin would deal with such material by enacting legislation which gives people adversely affected by the works, which clearly fit their definition of pornography, a cause of action against the producers, vendors, exhibitors or distributors for "trafficking", or for an assault "directly caused by the specific work. I do not think liberals, or others for that matter, should have much problem with the clause dealing with assault, since a causal connection to specific works is demanded by it. However, s. 3.2(iii) which deals with trafficking would be very problematic for liberals and legal conservatives because it creates a cause of action for a person contrary to the traditional conception of a rights holder's cause of action. This subsection reads: Any woman has a claim hereunder as a woman acting against the subordination of women. Any man, child or transsexual who alleges injury by pornography in the way women are injured by it also has a claim. [emphasis added] My goal in this paper is to suggest that a slight modification to this subsection of the ordinance would make it very difficult for liberals and legal conservatives to object to it. This modification would restrict the cause of action to the same persons as the other sections of the ordinance, namely, the particular victim of the specified injury. I shall argue that such a modification would largely cohere with the conception of harm already at work in Ontario law, would afford only a minor reduction in the potential efficacy of such legislation in curbing the harm of pornography, and would offer to empower the feminist camp which is behind such an ordinance with a mechanism for social and political change if a sufficiently organized
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