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Feminist Perspectives on Pornography November 1978

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In November of 1978 Women Against Violence and Pornography in the Media  (WAVPM) sponsored a conference Feminist Perspectives on Pornography in San Francisco.  Many of the Los Angeles members of Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) and art activists associated with the Woman’s Building participated [1].  The conference sought to combine

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 creative, political and artistic elements, and so drew upon the talents and energies of pets, visual artists, and performing artists, as well as feminist organizers.  The integration of “art” and “politics,” usually kept distinct and separate in male-defined and male-controlled society, was an important dynamic [2]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Without using the phrase “women’s culture,” the reference to “male-defined and male-controlled society” and the remarks about the separation of art and politics reflects the art-activist discourse of women’s culture.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 A series of panels sought to highlight art activists strategies and share them with non-art world activists.  The first panel, Pornography and Art, offered “an interdisciplinary approach to feminist perspective on art, pornography and female eroticism,” and was followed by a workshop “to begin a dialogue between artists with an interest in violence against women and feminist activists who are organizing around the issue.  Such a dialogue should help us to integrate the work of feminist artists with that of political activists.”  In addition, Labowitz and Lacy shared their feminist media strategy that included information on producing “alternative feminist media (video, film, performance/media events). [3]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Lacy and Labowitz, under the auspices of Ariadne, an umbrella organization they created to spread their media strategy, organized the first Take Back the Night March as part of the conference. Conceived of as a public pageant or procession, such as those that take place with religious icons, Lacy and Labowitz worked with Lacy’s performance class in the Feminist Studio Workshop at the Woman’s Building to create a float based on the idea of the Madonna/whore dichotomy.[4]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Following the conference,  the Incest Awareness Project (IAP) became the last Ariadne venture involving violence against women.  Lacy’s work moved in other directions.  She organized only one more art piece around the topic, Making It Safe in Ocean Park, California 1979, and Labowtiz, burnt out, left art-activism all together after the end of the IAP.[5]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 While this conference has been dwarfed in historical accounts by the New York conference that occurred a few weeks later, it  became the unofficial start to the “women’s culture wars.”  Because art-activists involved in the movement to end violence against women participated in the conference, and because of the use of women’s culture rhetoric by some speakers, women’s culture and the anti-pornography movement have become conflated.   Katie King  points to a “zealous narrowing of cultural feminism to the movement arm of anti­pornography activisms.” (148)

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This is most clearly evident in Alice Echols’ 1983 article “Cultural Feminism: Feminist Capitalism and the Anti-Pornography Movement”,  which addressed only WAVPM and WAP, but quotes extensively from the anthology Take Back the Night, edited by Laura Lederer, one of the major organizers of the Feminist Perspectives on Pornography, and which includes articles by presenters at the conference.  Similarly, while initially Echols’ defines cultural feminism narrowly,her first footnote cites Adrienne Rich, Mary Daly, Janice Raymond,  and Kathleen Barry as “major theorists of cultural feminism, and points to  Chrysalis  as “a major outlet for cultural feminist work,”  her essay includes quotes from a far larger group of women.[7]   As such she slides between a critique of a theoretical position, cultural feminism, and a praxis, women’s culture.  King terms Echols’ discourse “a particular form of U.S. socialist feminism expensively writing a taxonomic history of the women’s movements” in which x”many alternative cultural institutions and cultural activisms in feminism became tarred with the brush of this narrowed, pejorative vision of “cultural feminism.” 148

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 [1] As Bronstein notes in Against Pornography, while WAVPM and WAVAW have some overlaps, WAVAW maintained a position far from censorship and instead focused on violence, hence the lack of reference to pornography in their name. While Duggan and Hunter in Sex Wars depict divergent camps in California in 1978, Gay activists fighting the Briggs Amendment and the anti-pornography movement, some member of  WAVAW were active in fight against Briggs, both lesbians and straight women. (Duggan and Hunter, Sex Wars, 20-1). Terry Wolverton for example spoke on the panel Pornography and Art about lesbian erotics, and frames her activism in the Lesbian Art Project as part of the anti-Briggs efforts (Insurgent Muse 64-65).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 [2] “Special Issue: Conference Report” Newspage (newsletter of WAVPM), February 1979, p. 2.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 [3]description of panels from Terry Wolverton Papers, UCLA Special Collections

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 [4]Bronstein makes much of the divergences between WAVAW and WAVPM at the conference, but it isn’t clear to me how that played out with Lacy, who I suspect was largely driven by her artistic vision to move into her larger community-driven projects

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 [5] As Joseph Slade notes in Pornography and representation, L and L published an account of the event in High Performance (Winter 1979/80), an art world periodical, indicating how strongly they thought of their work as art as well as activism 446.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 [6] Bronstein herself falls prey to this at points in her otherwise excellent analysis (39) eliding the differences between cultural feminism, women’s culture and separatism, although she doesn’t put WAVAW in the CF camp.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 [7]The following are all cited in some was as associated with cultural feminism in the piece: Robin Morgan, Kristen Grinstead, Susan Rennie, Jane Alpert, Judith Bat-Ada, Julia Penelope, Ethel Person, Sally Gearhart,   Among  FPP conference participants named: Kathleen Barry, Susan Brownmiller Andrea Dworkin, FLorence Rush, Diana Russell [although she notes Rush and Dworkin are uncomfortable with biological determinism, a hallmark of her CF].  Her major target, in addition to the anti-pornography movement  is the Feminist Economic Network (FEN) headed by Joanne Parrent who eventually came to work at the Woman’s Building following Grinstead and Rennie’s location of Chrysalis there.  Parrent herself had many problems at the Woman’s Building stemming not from ideology but from insider/outsider tensions,however her association is just one more linkage inthe confusion between cultural feminism and women’s culture

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 [8]

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