Susan Brownmiller Comes to Times Square Not to Peep but to Bleep in Her Anti-Porn Crusade
Out of a small storefront office on the edge of Manhattan's erogenous zone, Brownmiller's organization, Women Against Pornography, runs two tours a week, hoping to raise consciousness and a little money (the $5 "donations" charged for the tour bring in $800 monthly) for the cause. "The basic content of pornography is male violence against women," says Brownmiller, author of the 1975 best-seller on rape, Against Our Will. "It makes men feel that it is normal and rational to be sexually hostile to women, and makes women define themselves by sexually masochistic images. We're all for sex, but we're for healthy, equal sex."
The anti-pornography clean-up brigade is anathema to many civil libertarians—among them Isabel Pinzler, director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We are a feminist organization, but we oppose any kind of censorship," says Pinzler. "Pornography turns my stomach too. But if you start taking away freedom of expression, I don't know where you draw the line." Brownmiller concedes that "this is an issue that can get some good liberals upset. But the First Amendment was never intended to cover commercial obscenity."
In making her case, Brownmiller cites new research that links pornography to aggression against women. "This is how young men are initiated into sexuality," she says. "They're taught that it's easy and that women like it. You can see them getting into gang-rape situations." To underline the connection between pornography and violence, the feminist group presents a 40-minute slide show before each tour. Along with hard-core photos of naked women bound, gagged and bleeding, the show includes softer variations on that theme: a Vogue fashion spread for jumpsuits in which a man is slapping a woman's face; an LP cover photograph of a woman's buttocks stamped "Choice Cuts." Grim-faced after the show, the tour is led through a series of porn shops—Peepland, Show World Center, the Roxy Burlesk—under the anxious eyes of proprietors, customers and nude "models."
Afterward, tour-goers express revulsion. "Maybe it was my imagination, but I felt I was in physical danger—that if the others left and I was all alone, I would definitely not have got out without being assaulted," recalls accountant Mary Addams, 34. "The tour makes me think that I don't want to have anything to do with men. It makes me think of them as weapons." Brownmiller sympathizes. "I once had a date with a guy after we did the tour," she confesses, "and I couldn't look at him."
When she helped to start Women Against Pornography last March, Brownmiller didn't expect to be involved full-time. But she has interrupted work on a second book ("It's about women, but it has nothing to do with pornography") to pitch in a six-day week. She has also contributed $3,500.
Women Against Pornography is organizing a conference on the subject next month and a march on Times Square in October. "We're getting suburban housewives who have never thought of themselves as feminists," says Brownmiller enthusiastically. For some, though, it's an unsettling sensation to be regarded as a bluenose. "It's odd the looks you get when you say you're against pornography," says illustrator Katherine Hinz, 27. "People think, 'This woman must be a real prude or a real creep.' It's a difficult thing to get vocal about." Brownmiller agrees, but adds with a confident smile: "It'll get easier."