One of the scholars who has written most forcefully and articulately against pornography is Catherine MacKinnon (1985, 1987, 1993). MacKinnon argues that pornography cannot be understood separately from the long history of male domination of women
and that it is in fact an integral part and a reinforcing element of women’s second-class status. According to MacKinnon, pornography is less about sex than power. She argues that pornography is a discriminatory social practice that institutionalizes the inferiority and subordination of one group by another, the way segregation institutionalized the subordination of blacks by whites.
MacKinnon suggests that defending pornography on First Amendment terms as protected free speech is to misunderstand the influence of pornography on the everyday life of women in society. She suggests thinking of pornography itself as a violation of a woman’s right not to be discriminated against, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Imagine, she suggests, if the thousands of movies and books produced each year by the pornographic industry were not showing women, but rather Jews, African Americans, the handicapped, or some other minority splayed naked, often chained or tied up, urinated and defecated on, with foreign objects inserted into their orifices, while at the same time physical assaults and sexual assaults against that group were epidemic in society (as they are against women). Would people still appeal to the First Amendment to prevent some kind of action?
Other feminists take this argument a step further and claim that male sexuality is by its nature subordinating; Andrea Dworkin (1981, 1987), for example, is uncompromising about men and their sexuality. Dworkin, like MacKinnon, sees pornography as a central aspect of male power, which she sees as a long-term strategy to elevate men to a superior position in society by forcing even strong women to feign weakness and dependency. Even sexuality reflects male power: Dworkin sees every act of intercourse as an assault, because men are the penetrators and women are penetrated.
Because pornography is harmful in and of itself, such authors claim, it should be controlled or banned. Although they have not had much success passing such laws in the United States, their strong arguments have set the agenda for the public debate over pornography.