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Marginalizing feminism: debating extreme pornography laws in public and policy discourse

McGlynn, C



Karen Boyle


The regulation of pornography is a topic which has long divided feminists; but it is also a subject which demonstrates the richness and pluralism of feminism. This diversity should not be interpreted as constituting a lack of common ground or purpose for feminists. Indeed, in this chapter, I hope to outline what unites us in this field. Unfortunately, however, this story of shared experiences is not a positive one. It is, in fact, a lesson in shared marginalisation. My argument is that feminist arguments, from all perspectives, were marginalised in public and policy discourses which led to the introduction of a new law in England and Wales criminalising the possession of what is called ‘extreme pornography’. At its most basic, my argument is that we must not assume that just since pornography regulation is on the policy table, that this represents a feminist victory. While it could be argued that the extreme pornography laws started out as inspired by some feminist activism, such a feminist perspective was soon forgotten as the arch-liberals and moral-conservatives took up their usual positions, dominated debate and parliamentary discussion and the voices of feminists faded into the background. Indeed, in the debates over these new measures the old, familiar battle lines were redrawn. Thirty years on from the Williams Commission report (Williams 1979), debate continues to focus on futile causal effects debates (Boyle 2000) and supposed state control of morality, with feminist arguments and interventions fall on deaf ears. The end result is legislation which does not meet feminist demands –from any feminist perspective. What feminists may share, therefore, is arguably a sense of déjà vu; of having witnessed a debate in which feminist and women’s voices should have played a significant role - but they did not. While in scholarly debates, we may take as axiomatic the advances and developments in our understandings of pornography and culture, this richness of thinking and debate has had almost no impact on the nature of politico-legal debates in this area. What we have seen is a policy process in which the classic terms of debate about the regulation of pornography have been reinforced, as if feminist debates on pornography regulation did not exist.


McGlynn, C. (2010). Marginalizing feminism: debating extreme pornography laws in public and policy discourse. In K. Boyle (Ed.), Everyday pornography (190-202). Routledge

Publication Date Jul 1, 2010
Deposit Date Mar 23, 2011
Publisher Routledge
Pages 190-202
Book Title Everyday pornography
Chapter Number 13
Publisher URL