XXX, With Love and Passion
A book review by Louis James
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Wendy McElroy's new book, XXX: A Woman's Right To Pornography, is an amazing book in many different ways. It debunks myths, challenges preconceptions, provides intellectual ammunition, amuses, and shines bright light on issues that have languished in a darkness few dare enter. But -- more important than any other contribution it makes -- the book gives voice to a way of seeing things that has been trying for years and years to cry out around a filthy intellectual gag.
I guess I liked it.
Let me put it this way.
I once watched a man skewered on CNN's Crossfire while attempting to defend the conclusion that greed is good for America (this was after the movie "Wallstreet" came out). He "lost" the debate -- came across poorly -- because his opponents got hold of the word "greed" and were able to show how bad it is *by definition*. I remember groaning and saying to the TV, "I know you meant well, but couldn't you have picked a more defensible term, like 'rational self-interest?'"
Ms. McElroy's book is all about not letting the other side define the terms of the debate for us. XXX is a refusal to loose the debate because ideologues on the left and right are defining the terms in such a way as to almost predetermine the outcome.
And what is the debate? Well, it's not just censorship. Nadine Strossen's book covered a lot of ground there. It about personal freedom. For, if a "free" people are denied the right to define their own sexuality -- enjoy their own sensuality -- personal freedom is meaningless.
XXX jumps into the midst of the fray in the most sensible way. The book goes straight to the core of the arguments made by the loudest opponents of pornography, persons Ms. McElroy terms "gender feminists." In a debate awash in highly charged rhetoric, gender feminists -- and others -- make two empirical allegations; they claim that women are coerced into pornography, and that pornography is violent.
Ms. McElroy simply set out to substantiate or disprove these claims, and did something no one else seems to have done. She interviewed people in the industry and asked them about coercion and violence. I will let you read for yourself what she found, but the upshot is that the allegations seem -- to put it mildly -- unfounded, at least in pornography in America.
All of this, and much, much more is accomplished with a charm and sincerity that makes the book a true rarity: a monograph on a public policy issue that is fun to read. Not only that, but Ms. McElroy avoids the usual pitfalls of "cute" or angry name-calling and other ad-homenims.
This reasonable and well reasoned argument cries out for a serious response. I won't hold my breath.
As reasonable as I think the arguments in the book are, I must also say that it is a passionate and loving work as well. Ms. McElroy's passion for individual liberty is quite evident, and needs no elaboration. What I see between the lines is an equally intense passion for individual fulfillment.
In light of the incredible contortions people go to in order to live within systems that are so at odds with what is healthy for human beings ... I think XXX is nothing short of heroic -- a loving attempt to help people find ways to live healthy and happy lives.
Louis James September 20, 1995
XXX: A Woman's Right To Pornography, By Wendy McElroy
Published by St. Martin's Press. Copyright: 1995
First Printing: September 1995
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