1978 November 17

Women Against Pornography Conference Poses Challenge to First Amendment


The Conference on Women Against Pornography and Violence, held in San Francisco on this day, was an early event in the emerging feminist anti-pornography movement. See also the Women Against Pornography protest march on Times Square, New York City, a center for porn shops and movie theaters, on October 20, 1979.

The feminist anti-pornography movement provoked a national debate over whether the First Amendment protected all sexually explicit materials and violent pornography in particular. Feminist author Andrea Dworkin argued that violent pornography was a form of discrimination against women. Nadine Strossen, lawyer, feminist, and later president of the ACLU, argued that that the First Amendment not only protected all sexually related forms of expression but also that it had been an important protector of women’s rights.

The most important result of the women’s anti-pornography movement was an Indianapolis, Indiana, anti-pornography ordinance, sponsored by Dworkin and law professor Catharine MacKinnon, which allowed women claiming to be the victims of pornography to sue the manufacturers and distributors of pornography for civil damages. The Indianapolis law was declared an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut, on August 27, 1985.

Read the civil liberties perspective: Nadine Strossen, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (1995)

Read the other side: Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981)

Learn more about the myths and facts about pornography: Marcia Pally, Sense and Censorship: The Vanity of the Bonfires (1991), http://mediacoalition.org/files/Sense-and-Censorship.pdf

Learn more about the feminist anti-pornography movement: Leigh Ann Wheeler, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2013)

Watch former ACLU President Nadine Strossen discuss pornography and violence against womenhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU7r_NZZUsw

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