Not a Love Story
The film and the debate

by Lisa DiCaprio

followed by a review of Powers of Desire:
the Politics of Sexuality

from Jump Cut, no. 30, March 1985, pp. 39-42
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1985, 2005

Eight years ago, concerned with the proliferation of pornography and its effect on her daughter, Bonnie Klein began production on NOT A LOVE STORY: A MOTION PICTURE ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY The film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and has accomplished Klein's goal of extending a discussion about pornography from the women's movement into the mainstream of Canadian politics, where state censorship of pornography is extensively enforced. However, NOT A LOVE STORY has also had the unexpected effect of generating tremendous controversy on issues of sexuality within the U.S, feminist movement. While the New York-based Women Against Pornography (WAP) lauded the film, Village Voice critic Ruby Rich denounced it as a "religious parable" which merges with right-wing views on sexual repression.[1] In turn, a group of feminists from New York, including Robin Morgan (who appears in the film), wrote an angry response to Ruby Rich which questioned her basic commitment to feminism.[2] Why all the furor?

NOT A LOVE STORY focuses on ex-stripper Linda Lee Tracey, Early in the film, we see Tracey performing her "Red Riding Hood" act, which she claims is not to be taken seriously. While Tracey has some reservations about stripping, she does not yet see pornography as harmful. NOT A LOVE STORY is essentially a description of Tracey's conversion. With Tracey and Klein, we journey through the world of pornography in all its forms: porn shops, sex booths, live sex shows, hard-core" magazines, photographs of women in bondage. We hear directly from the workers in the porn industry; social scientists such as Edward Donnerstein who discusses the connection between violent pornography and violence against women; an owner of a chain of pornographic magazines who describes the proliferation of hard-core pornography as a response to the women's movement; and U.S. and Canadian feminists who analyze the phenomenon of pornography.

As we tour the pornography district of New York's Times Square, Klein relates in voice-over statistics on pornography:

 — Pornography is an eight billion dollar business, now larger than the music and film industries combined.

 — There are four times more pornography outlets than McDonalds restaurants in the U.S.

Tracey carefully considers the arguments against pornography, measures them against her own experience, and finally emerges as a convert to the anti-pornography crusade. How could such a film be so objectionable to some feminists? The present debate on NOT A LOVE STORY has an intensity that derives from more than the film's content. In fact, debates on pornography and sexuality within the U.S. women's movement began long before the film's release here. NOT A LOVE STORY has been caught in the crossfire of this controversy, the evolution of which is described in an article, "A Report on the Sex Crisis," in Ms. Magazine, March 1982.[3] In the article, Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs contend that

"the women's movement — and the culture at large — is going through a 'sex crisis' … By the mid-seventies, pornography came to be the focus for a feminist discussion of sexuality."[4]

As described in Report on the Sex Crisis, this discussion has many aspects, not the least of which is an attempt to define and create a new "feminist sexuality."[5] Here I will focus on how the radical feminist interpretation of male/ female sexual relations informs NOT A LOVE STORY's perspective on pornography. Significantly, most of the experts on whom Bonnie Klein relies for a theoretical explanation of pornography are radical feminists: Robin Morgan, Kate Millet, Kathleen Barry, and Susan Griffin.[6] While the feminists who appear in the film differ, the totality of their presentations puts forth a view of pornography which collapses a number of important distinctions, such as these:

  1. Fantasy as represented in pornography and actual male behavior.
  2. Psychological and physical violence against women.
  3. Men as potential rapists and men as rapists.
  4. Power wielded over women by men in different social strata and classes.

Also, the film fails to explore the connection between objectification of women in pornography and the exploitation of women's bodies generally in advertising, television and film.

Fantasy as represented in pornography
and actual male behavior

In her Village Voice review, Ruby Rich writes,

"If an analysis of porn were to confront its basic origin in the power relations between men and women, then it would have to drop the whole eroticism-versus-pornography debate and take on a far more complex and threatening target: the institution of heterosexuality … Is it, perhaps more tolerable for the women who might attend NOT A LOVE STORY to come to terms with how her male lover's pornographic fantasy is oppressing her in bed than to confront, yet again, how his actual behavior is oppressing her in the living room … or out in the world?"[7]

In fact, the WAP position often derives from a radical feminist conviction that pornography represents the essence of heterosexual relations in our society. Sexuality as expressed in pornography is regarded not as symbolic or as fantasy, but as an accurate portrayal of sexual reality.[8]

If pornography, indeed, constitutes an unvarnished depiction of the heterosexual experience, why do a multitude of cultural institutions exist solely to shape and mold women into the fantasy roles imagined by men? The very existence of these institutions indicates that an alternate social practice is reality. The fact that many men desire the dominant/submissive fantasy of pornography may show that women have long resisted such a masochistic practice in their daily lives — a point to be considered in more detail later in this review.

As Bonnie Klein has herself stated, pornography is only a symptom of a deeper social problem. However, reflecting the limitations of the anti-pornography movement, NOT A LOVE STORY does not actually probe pornography's social causes.

Pornographic images provide an easy target, but they only express the externalization of male fantasy. The film does not answer the prior question, "What shapes male/female relations as they presently exist?" The film's ambivalence on this issue is best represented by Robin Morgan, who states with obvious anguish, "I love men and I hate them." While the film regards pornography as reflecting the heterosexual experience, it also limits any "solution" to a heterosexual framework. From this perspective, Rich's point is well-taken: NOT A LOVE STORY does not examine heterosexuality as an institution bolstered by social, political, and economic forces, but only in terms of individual sexual relations between men and women.

Psychological and physical violence against women

By erasing the boundary between degrading depictions within violent images and actual acts of physical violence, the "pornography-is-violence-against-women" line tends to diminish real rape and battery. Initially, this perspective made us take pornography more seriously as a form of psychological violence. However, intended or not, this way of framing the issue now has resulted in many women's shifting their activism to a campaign against images rather than against actual abusive male behavior. To focus primarily on pornography as violence reduces the attention paid to actual physical acts of violence committed by men against women in the form of battering or rape.

Men as potential rapists and men as rapists

In large part, the radical feminist equation, pornography is violence against women," rests on the assumption that a direct causal link exists between pornography's proliferation and rape: the male consumer of pornography automatically becomes the rapist as he merely "acts out" the relations of submission and domination portrayed on the screen. To agree with this analysis requires a leap of faith. As Susan Schechter points out in her book, Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women's Movement, all men are socialized to dominate women, but only some men will choose to exert this dominance by committing acts of physical violence against women. Schechter asks,

"What are the conditions that create violence against women? Women abuse here is an historical expression of male domination manifested within the family and currently reinforced by the institutions, economic arrangements, and sexist division of labor within capitalist society … Only by studying social and historical relationships within the family can we reveal the meaning and purpose behind battering."[9]

For its part, NOT A LOVE STORY does not really explore the multitude of factors responsible for male violence. Instead, it merely asserts that a connection exists between pornography and male violence. To this end, Edward Donnerstein appears in the film to explain that eight out of ten factors that increase aggressive male behavior are present in violent pornography.[10] No further scientific evidence is brought to bear on the subject. The argument assumes a deterministic correlation between stimuli from the environment and human behavior.[11]

Pornography is not neutral. It does influence male behavior, but is part of a whole array of cultural institutions which create a climate in which the physical degradation of women is seen as a social norm. Pornography is only one of a number of social props which support the ideology of male domination.

Power wielded by men over women
in different social strata and classes

Klein, a Canadian, filmed NOT A LOVE STORY primarily in New York City. And there, she focuses in a limited way on the highly visible 42nd Street area. While the owner of a sex shop may state on screen that his clientele consists of "all types and classes of men," wealth provides for some men a more discreet means of access to women's bodies than 42nd Street or the "combat zone." While most are limited to purchasing a quick glimpse in a sex booth for a quarter or a prostitute for fifteen minutes to an hour, other more privileged men can afford highly privatized sexual experiences for an entire evening.

Such experiences can include purchasing expensive videotapes or hiring prostitutes for the night. More than 12 years ago, the world of call girls was the subject of the film, KLUTE. Although KLUTE preceded the contemporary feminist discussion of sexuality, the perspective it adopts on prostitution is actually more advanced than that of NOT A LOVE STORY on pornography. KLUTE explores the complexities of what motivates women to enter and/or remain in the sex industry, while NOT A LOVE STORY serves to shut down debate on this question.

The narrative in KLUTE, generally described as a psychological suspense thriller, centers around the prostitute Bree Daniels/Jane Fonda, There is a search for the murderer of a businessman who had frequented prostitutes, including a friend of Daniels, This search sets into effect a chain of events which requires Daniels to examine her own sexuality. The film shows the economic as well as the deeply personal factors which have kept her in prostitution. Daniels is the victim of a social order which does not value her, and she is also her own agent.

Numerous articles have been written on KLUTE. They consider how it treats sexuality, the woman's assertion of an independent identity, and romantic involvement. Bree Daniels ambiguously chooses to leave New York to live with Klute, but does not have a conversion like Linda Lee Tracey in NOT A LOVE STORY.[12]

For our purpose, we should note that NOT A LOVE STORY presents all men, irrespective of class, as wielding equal power over women. That analysis dismisses seriously examining class issues as they relate to pornography's production and consumption. The film focuses on the most repulsive aspects of the industry, while it exempts from inquiry and condemnation that industry's more hidden but equally exploitative forms.

The objectification of women in pornography and the media

NOT A LOVE STORY focuses on pornography and thus leaves us without a means of understanding more general and perhaps more insidious depictions of women. The film ignores media's role in shaping female desires and behavior to conform to male fantasies. And it never satisfactorily answers the prior question: What is pornography?

To concentrate on pornography to the exclusion of other images places an obstacle in the way of fully understanding sexual objectification in our culture. For example, what are we to make of a movie such as FRANCES? Here we have a conventionally beautiful, extremely vulnerable woman who is shown experiencing unmitigated suffering for the duration of the film. The film portrays Frances Farmer as the ultimate victim, the damsel in distress who is never rescued but is finally destroyed by Hollywood, the medical establishment, and conservative politicians. While the story is based on real life, when women see such a film, in which there appears to be no way out, they often identify with the helplessness and resignation. This is not pornography in the narrow sense of the term, but one can begin to feel voyeuristic in being shown Frances' ever-downward spiral.

If one of the central themes of pornography is domination and submission, FRANCES exploits this theme even more artistically and profoundly than pornography. By focusing on images whose specific purpose is sexual arousal, the WAP position and NOT A LOVE STORY ignore such subtle and perhaps more insidious imagery of women.

While a film such as FRANCES provides an example of female victimization, there are other ways in which the media shapes female sexuality in our culture. For example, unexplained in NOT A LOVE STORY is the relation between such magazines as Cosmopolitan and Playboy. What is the specific function of each? How do these magazines differ in how they exploit women? According to Bonnie Klein, NOT A LOVE STORY did not deal at any length with how advertising exploits women's bodies because most women already know that. However, in explaining pornography, we must also demonstrate how the media shape female desire to conform to male fantasy and prescribe a norm of submission and dominance. As a further contradiction, standards of the "ideal" woman vary according to different historical periods and may even conflict within the same decade. Sometimes this reflects opposing political trends. For example, contemporary media use portrayals of the independent, "liberated" woman as well as more traditional/ reactionary ones. These reactionary images show women as mere extensions of men without any autonomous existence or desire for an autonomous existence. Such appeals to an older concept of the "desirable woman" testify to the current rightwing backlash, and an example of that regression can be seen in the promotional statement for the remake of Godard's film, BREATHLESS. The ad has a photograph of Richard Gere, a woman, a rose, a gun, and the words, "He's the last man on earth any woman need … and every woman wants."

More interesting to analyze, however, are portrayals of the "liberated" woman of the 1980s. In her film review, "A Subject for the Seventies," Charlotte Brunsdon examines the construct of the "independent" heroine as exemplified in such "new" women's films as ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE THE TURNING POINT, JULIA, and AN UNMARRIED WOMAN.[13] Brunsdon says that the creation on screen of the heroine of the 80s followed the growth of a new female "target" audience. A number of socio-economic factors contribute to shaping such an audience: the role of women in the economy, changing patterns of marriage and divorce, the increasing availability of birth control, and the impact of the women's movement. Brunsdon calls the new audience the "Cosmo Girl" of the 80s:

"… white, youngish, heterosexual, and an aspirant professional, Cosmo Girl aspires to the sexual satisfaction that was connotatively denied to the 'career girl' of the 60s. Moving into the 80s, Cosmo Girl has options and makes choices. However, her new subject position is potentially contradictory, retaining femininity, while moving into traditionally masculine modes (alert, aggressive, ambitious). There is thus a constant tension in the way that she must always be desirable (feminine), as well as desiring."[14]

Brunsdon goes on to deal in depth with AN UNMARRIED WOMAN's contradictions. The film considers being single as an acceptable status for women and confronts the social stigma attached to women's having sex outside marriage. However, the film keeps certain options from the heroine. In particular, she remains heterosexual and attached to a man, thus dismissing the possibilities of not relating to men at all or of relating sexually to women, The film's ending is ambiguous. Saul (Alan Bates), a painter, decides to leave for a summer in Vermont while Erica (Jill Clayburgh) chooses to remain behind. As a last gesture, Saul hands Erica a huge painting and drives off. She is last seen stumbling through the streets of New York with it, a scene which Brunsdon interprets as symbolic of Erica's new state of "semi-paralysis." Brunsdon concludes,

"Although the film has produced a marginalization of marriage which makes it impossible for Erica to go with Saul, to be his, the construction of Erica makes it difficult for her to do anything else. In the same way that the film is supremely ambiguous in its sexual politics — criticizing the institution of marriage and taking the 'impossibility' of romance seriously, yet constructing an unmarried woman who signally fails to do anything but find another man — so the image seems to represent Erica choosing independence, but at the same time shows her made impotent by a male gift."[15]

Pornography does not merely entail the most blatant and unvarnished form of exploiting women's bodies. It is also a medium which influences as well as is influenced by larger cultural institutions (television, film, fashion magazines, etc.) in establishing society's sexual norms. As Barbara Ehrenreich shows in her new book, The Hearts of Men,[16] the "liberated" Playboy male necessarily requires his female counterpart in the form of the "liberated" woman. An analysis of how the so-called "sexual revolution" has affected women's social position is beyond the scope of this review.[17] However, my main point here is that pornography primarily affects male and not female behavior. More insidious mechanisms for actually controlling female sexuality come from media institutions specifically aimed at a female audience, for these more directly affect how women's sexual desires are shaped and internalized. Any campaign which specifically focuses on pornography is, in a sense, striking at a displaced political target. It has the built-in limitation of calling on men to change — either in the form of publishers' exerting self-censorship, laws on sexually explicit material being strengthened,[18] or men's refusing to purchase pornographic literature. A more expedient media-related strategy would be to analyze popular images of women that serve to define and channel women's sexuality within a male-defined framework.

A discussion of how the media objectifies women leads automatically to the question: What is pornography? Can it be defined? Or does pornography exist merely in the eye of the beholder? Unfortunately, NOT A LOVE STORY presents pornography as a static phenomenon, one that can be defined irrespective of any particular context. The film defines pornography by its Greek root, "depiction of sexual slaves" as contrasted to eros, "sexual love." When we examine concrete examples of pornography, these definitions seem inadequate and misleading.

Three basic criteria come into play when we attempt to define literature or film as pornographic: intent, context, and viewer. A variation in any one of these three variables will significantly alter the impact of the material at hand. Here are some examples.

INTENT: Playboy is a good example of literature the specific purpose of which is men's entertainment and sexual arousal. Most of the photographs specifically depict women in submissive positions. However, some photographs have a more neutral character and can assume for women an erotic quality if seen in a context other than a magazine intended for men.

CONTEXT: On the other hand, when taken out of context, the lovemaking scenes in the recent films about lesbians, PERSONAL BEST and LIANNA could very well assume a pornographic character, especially if they were part of an ordinary heterosexual pornographic film as the obligatory "lesbian scene."

VIEWER: Finally, how are we to analyze the promotional material used for, and pornographic images depicted in NOT A LOVE STORY itself? That material would be seen very differently by an all-female audience as opposed to a mixed male-female one. NOT A LOVE STORY attracted men drawn to the film as voyeurs.

In her review, "NOT A LOVE STORY: Feminism and Pornography," Jill McGreal writes,

"NOT A LOVE STORY is a film about pornography which is itself pornographic … Having leading feminists talk about pornography was not strong enough to offset the interspersal between these interviews and progressively more offensive pornographic material."[19]

The main promotional photography for NOT A LOVE STORY reflects how weak the film's feminist analysis was about its own explicit display of pornography. In the ad, we see Linda Lee Tracey thinly clad in a revealing slip and turned toward pornography photographer Suze Randall. The two appear to be immersed in a conversation. In the film, Tracey volunteered to be photographed by Randall so as to experience objectification. In the photo, director Bonnie Klein stands to the left and observes with detachment other women's interaction. The real protagonists are Randall and Tracey, the two participants in the pornographic industry. Klein represents the theoretical overview and voice of authority, but here she seems the outsider.

This quality of expert as outsider pervades the film. A question worth asking is why the film did not give Tracey responsibility for the voice-over and basic narrative. Rather, it makes her the object, the raw material for the experts to convert. As has been noted, Tracey assumes all the "risks" in the film. She must reveal herself both emotionally and physically, not like the expert feminists who, although they may speak with passion on the subject, nonetheless, retain an air of reserved authority.

For many women, NOT A LOVE STORY undoubtedly provides new insights. Although the material presented in the film is no more revealing than material available in various slide shows used in the women's movement, the film has succeeded in reaching a wider audience. To what extent, however, does the films perspective serve to confuse as well as to clarify? While NOT A LOVE STORY presents valuable information, it also reduces the issue of pornography to its lowest common denominator and eliminates areas of justifiable dispute. The film has a one-dimensional analysis, one which only discusses pornography within the confines of sexual politics and fails to consider the question within a social/historical context. While there is educational value in showing the violent imagery in contemporary pornography, the net effect of NOT A LOVE STORY is to present a view of women as essentially victims of male, heterosexual culture.


An alternative to NOT A LOVE STORY's approach to the sex industry is the surprisingly entertaining and non-judgmental, 90-minute documentary CHICKEN RANCH. Produced in 1982, it focuses on the women prostitutes at a legal brothel in Nevada, the only state in the U.S. to have legalized prostitution. Located 50 miles from Las Vegas and open 24-hours-a-day, Chicken Ranch draws its clientele from throughout the world.

On arriving at Chicken Ranch, customers see a "line-up" of at least 15 women. Once the men select a prostitute, they choose from an array of possible sexual services, each with a price tag. Special equipment and rooms are also available, such as the V.I.P. Room ($1,000) with the Passion Chair, which allows for no less than 37 positions. Business at Chicken Ranch is conducted in a very perfunctory manner. At one point, Connie complains about "cheap men who want everything." She explains,

"They say, 'I want everything, the whole works.' I say, 'You can't have the whole works for $50."[20]

Co-directors Sandi Sissel and Nick Broomfield spent over twelve weeks filming at Chicken Ranch. During this time, they witnessed and recorded a number of emotionally revealing scenes, which provide some insight into the complexities of prostitution. While NOT A LOVE STORY seems to lack spontaneity (the script centers on Tracey's predictable conversion), CHICKEN RANCH allows the women to present the diversity of their experiences at the brothel. In fact, the documentary fascinatingly depicts the various relationships which exist between the customers, prostitutes, owner, and the Madame.

Fran Kotecki, the Madame, must enforce the owner's rules but at the same time acts as a surrogate mother, sometimes stepping in to shield the "girls" from abusive men. Fran states firmly to a customer,

"Our girls do nothing for $20. You know we're considered one of the best houses. Look at her. Isn't she worth more than that?"

"The Girls," as they are referred to by Fran, average 21 years of age. They sometimes earn up to $2,000 a week, which is split in half with the management and out of which $140 must be paid in room and board. There are adverse affects on the women from working at the brothel. For example J.J., who originally worked as a cosmetologist but was unable to earn an adequate income, finds that the employment at Chicken Ranch exacts too high an emotional price. She confides,

"I really need to get out of here. I need to get out of the business, period, because it's messing me up emotionally. I'm getting a very callous heart from it … the tension. I don't know, it's become oppressive tension … after three solid weeks of work, being locked up 24 hours … you feel like a machine."

Walter Plankinton, the owner of Chicken Ranch, has become a millionaire and is firmly committed to the business. Walter regards himself as a moral man providing a vital service.

To French journalists, he remarks, "This place is a matter of public necessity and public conscience." At Thanksgiving dinner, Walter says grace: "This may be a brothel, but I don't think there's anybody here who doesn't believe in God." Walter is a stern disciplinarian who often calls the women to task for not having sufficient enthusiasm: "Remember, the customer is King." At one point, Walter lectures Connie privately, pointing out that men pass her over at the Line Up.

"It must be your attitude that's changed. Maybe we can put our heads together so you can truly radiate confidence in yourself."

CHICKEN RANCH has comic relief, but it is grim humor. One of the most memorable scenes is when customers arrive early in the morning following the Thanksgiving night celebration. Two of the women are rudely awakened by the Madam and in their bedraggled state stand in the Line Up. Still only half-awake, they proceed with the business at hand. This scene illustrates in a forceful way how prostitutes must sever mind from body to serve as a receptacle for male pleasure.

NOT A LOVE STORY implies that the "solution" to pornography would be women's exodus from the pornographic industry with conversions like Linda Lee's. CHICKEN RANCH adopts no such note of finality. Instead it makes visible the women's ambivalence about their vocation and/or decision to seek an alternative. Consequently, CHICKEN RANCH is more effective than NOT A LOVE STORY in exposing the consequences for both men and women living in a society in which men are the buyers and women the sellers of sexual gratification.

Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality
by Lisa DiCaprio

Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, edited by Ann Snitow, Christine Stanswell, and Sharon Thompson (New York: New Feminist Library, Monthly Review Press, 1983) 483 pages.

A relatively recent contribution to the current debate on sexuality is the anthology Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. Powers of Desire is not an especially balanced collection; most of the articles fall within the "anti-WAP" (Women Against Pornography) camp, to the extent that any such clearly defined camp exists. The articles combine history, anthropology and contemporary feminist theory to emphasize the point that sexuality is a social construct, not an immutable phenomenon.

In the introduction, the editors pose the question,

"Why write about sex? Sex is everywhere. Why add to the tawdry glut?"

To this they answer,

"To skirt sexual issues now, given current political conditions, is to cede this crucial territory to those who have organized precisely toward the end of silencing feminism and the lesbian and gay movements."

A number of the contributors to Powers of Desire openly warn that a narrowly conceived campaign against pornography can turn into a sexually repressive movement. For example, in "Male Vice and Female Virtue: Feminism and the Politics of Prostitution in 19th Century Britain," Judith Walkowitz draws a parallel between contemporary anti-pornography groups and the 19th century social purity movement against prostitution in Britain. Walkowitz describes the initial radical impulse behind calls to repeal state regulation of prostitution. Women who protested against the 1864 Contagious Diseases Act understood that prostitution resulted from women's oppressed social and economic position. Later, conservative elements condemned prostitution outright as immoral and called on men "to protect their women and to repress brothels and streetwalkers."

The effects of this retrograde position became dramatically apparent in the autumn of 1888 when public attention in London was riveted on the macabre "Jack the Ripper" murders of prostitutes. Male patrols and vigilance committees, ostensibly organized to shield women from falling prey to "the Ripper," rapidly became a mechanism for intimidating women on the street and increasing female dependence on men.

"Although some feminists still maintained a national presence in the purity crusade, all in all, by the late 1880's feminists had lost considerable authority in the public discussion over sex to a coalition of male professional experts, conservative churchmen and social purity advocates … Begun as a libertarian struggle against the state sanction of male vice, the repeal campaign helped to spawn a hydra-headed assault on non-marital, non-reproductive sexuality. The struggle against state regulation evolved into a movement that used the instrument of the state for repressive purposes."

Two additional articles in Powers of Desire which deal with the prejudices of middle-class reformers toward the sexuality of working-class women are "'Charity Girls' and City Pleasures: Historical Notes on Working-Class Sexuality, 1880-1920" by Kathy Peiss, and "Feminism, Sexual Morality, and Popular Movements in Turn-of-the Century America" by Barbara Epstein.

For a more detailed analysis of the anthology, see Wendy McKenna's "The Construction of Desire," The Women's Review of Books Vol. 1, No. 6 (March 1984; Marilyn Coffey, "Sexual Freedom vs. Feminism," New Women's Times Feminist Review, July/Aug 1984.


1. Ruby Rich, "Anti-Porn: Soft Issue, Hard World," Village Voice, July 20, 1982.

2. Letter published in the July 18, 1982, issue of Village Voice.

3. Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs, "A Report on the Sex Crisis," Ms. Magazine, March 1982, P. 64.

4. Various anti-pornography groups were founded during this period, such as Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) in Los Angeles, Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPAM) in San Francisco, and Women Against Pornography (WAP) in New York.

5. As the authors write, this attempt originally had a liberating impulse, but soon became restrictive on what constituted a feminist sexuality:

"… at the extreme, feminists attributed to female sexuality an ethereal, disembodied quality that the most straitlaced Victorian would have approved." Ms., March 1982, p. 87.

6. Radical feminists are to be credited for initiating discussion in the women's movement analyzing violence against women as an important aspect of women's oppression. Yet their explanations for the social causes of this violence are flawed in several important respects. Most notably, the radical feminist analysis often assumes an ahistorical and supra-class perspective, depicting the nature of male/female relations as essentially immutable. For a detailed dissection of the various ideological tenets of the women's movement, see (Feminist Politics and Human Nature by Alison Jagger (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983).

7. "Anti-Porn: Soft Issue, Hard World," Village Voice, July 20, 1982.

8. For a fairly recent discussion of the radical feminist position, especially as it relates to attempts to utilize the existing legal system to repress pornography, see "Interview with Catherine MacKinnon in Defining Pornography," off our backs, June 1984. MacKinnon explains the theoretical basis for the MacKinnon/Dworkin Ordinance passed on December 30, 1983, by the Minneapolis City Council. The ordinance, which includes pornography as a form of discrimination in the Minneapolis civil rights code, was vetoed by Minneapolis Mayor Donald Frazer. In response, the City Council has established a committee to investigate the issue. (On May 1, 1984, an ordinance of a similar nature was passed in Indianapolis. The ACLU, among other groups, filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming the ordinance is unconstitutional.) For additional information on the MacKinnon-Dworkin Ordinance, see New Directions for Women, May/ June 1984. A copy of the proposed law is obtainable from Women Against Pornography, 358 West 47th Street, New York, NY 10036. See Gay Community News, May 19, 1984, p. 1, for a discussion of the harassment of gay bookstores following the enactment of the Indianapolis law.

9. Susan Schechter, Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women's Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1982).

10. Donnerstein has conducted experiments on "normal" men, which indicate that continuous/ repeated exposure to violent pornography results in a desensitization to the degradation of women.

11. The criticism that the pornography movement assumes a determinist approach toward male behavior, is underscored by Susan Barrowclough in "NOT A LOVE STORY," published in the November 1982 issue of Screen Magazine (England). Barrowdough writes,

"The pornographer does not necessarily give the viewer what he wants: hence the ceaseless proliferation of pornographies and the competitive search by the consumer for images which approximate to his private fantasy and stimulate it. The customer may find what he wants, but he may not. The question remains: how much does the viewer therefore own and retain his fantasies when confronted by these images? How much do they correspond to his own or differ from them? Do they confirm, change, question or bleach out his own private dream-world? To assume his fantasies are completely colonised is to assume that all spectators, not just porn viewers, are wholly susceptible to any representation."

12. See, for example, "Feminism and KLUTE" by Christine Gledhill, published in Women in Film Noir, edited by E. Ann Kaplan, London: BFI 1978; Diane Giddis, "The Divided Woman: Bree Daniels in KLUTE," Women and the Cinema, edited by Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977); and "How Do You Get Pleasure? Another Look at KLUTE" by Terry Lovell and Simon Frith, Screen Education, No. 39 (Sumer, 1981, UK). This latter review is of interest for how it examines the construction in KLUTE of a certain type of romantic male hero. Klute played by Donald Sutherland is compared to Darcy in Jane Austin's novel Pride and Prejudice. The authors write,

"Klute's attraction for Bree, like Darcy's for Elizabeth (and both heroines fight against this attraction, begin their relationships prejudiced) is that his social power (as a man, a law giver, a protector) is at her command … Elizabeth's power over Darcy depends on her ability to please, and part of the comedy of Pride and Prejudice comes from the fact that she makes no effort to do so but, rather, always tries to provoke. But the lesson learned by girls like Elizabeth was that their lot was to please; they had to become the object of another's desire before they could be the subjects of their own. The same message, dressed up in psychological terms, comes across in KLUTE: woman's problem is to find the right sort of man to do the right sort of desiring. This lesson and the typical strategies adopted by women around their sexuality are obviously related to their lack of alternative sources of power: women's sexuality is an economic and a political resource." (p. 18)

13. Charlotte Brunsdon, "A Subject for the Seventies," Screen Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 3-4 (September-October 1982, UK)

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid. See also, Julia Lesage, "The Hegemonic Female Fantasy in AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and CRAIG'S WIFE," Film Reader, No. 5 (1982).

16. While Ehrenreich has made an important contribution by analyzing the impact of the Playboy philosophy on contemporary women's lives, The Hearts of Men also asserts the questionable thesis that the nuclear family is essential to women but not to men. As evidence, Ehrenreich points to the reduction in recent years of hours involved in household production by women and the "feminization of poverty" — the increasing impoverishment of single female heads pf households. Ehrenreich concludes that single men, unfettered by family responsibilities, can purchase those services provided by women within the traditional marriage arrangement. By so reducing the role of women as wives and mothers to a pure cash transaction, Ehrenreich is actually calling into question basic premises of the women's movement concerning the role of patriarchal institutions in maintaining the oppression of women.

17. For an analysis of how the studies of sexologists have been used to control female sexuality in earlier historical periods, see Surpassing the Love of Men by Lillian Faderman (especially Chapter 2, under the section, "The Reaction: The Contribution of the Sexologists," p. 239) (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981)

See also Margaret Jackson's "Sexual Liberation or Social Control: Some Aspects of the Relationship Between Feminism and the Social Construction of Sexual Knowledge in the Early Twentieth Century," Women's Studies International Forum, Vol. 6, No. 1 (UK), p. 1.

18. Jill McGreal addresses the issue of censorship in "NOT A LOVE STORY: Feminism and Pornography." Undercut (U.K.), no. 6.

"The specific contradiction, then, that manifests itself when the issue of pornography arises, is that the changes in the law that were welcomed by feminists a decade ago have been the very instruments through which pornography has exploded onto the screens and streets of our cities."

In her review, Ruby Rich observes,

"It has been an unsettling evolution, this switch from a movement of self-determination, that trashed billboards and attacked the legitimacy of soft-core advertising, to a movement of social determination that urges legal restrictions and social hygiene … When the anti-pornography movement traded in its guerilla actions for the more recent route of petitioning a higher authority to enact moral codes, the political trajectory went haywire."

Ironically, NOT A LOVE STORY itself is banned in the province of Ontario where strict moral codes on film are presently in force. Thus the critical context in which the film is received is quite different from the United States.

19. Ibid, p. 4. Since that article and as a response to internal criticism by the women's unit, the National Film Board of Canada has removed that still from circulation in advertising. However, it was the still most widely used when the film opened.

20. These lines from CHICKEN RANCH, as well as others to follow, are from a detailed description of the film published in the August 1983 Facets Features, a guide to Facets Multimedia film theater located in Chicago.

I wish to thank Mimi White, Sandra Bartky, Marilyn Carlander and Julia Lesage for criticisms and suggestions.