The pornographic film Deep Throat, released in 1972, was a cultural sensation whose star, “Linda Lovelace,” was said to put a girl-next-door face on the sexual revolution. But the actual life of Linda Boreman, as depicted in the new biopic Lovelace, was one of beatings, rape, and terror. Feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon, author of such works as Toward a Feminist Theory of the State and Only Words, represented Boreman after she came forward with her story, and later, with Andrea Dworkin, pursued civil rights litigation as a means to fight pornography. We asked MacKinnon about Boreman, Lovelace, and the potential impact of the film.
Q. You’ve noted that prior to the 1980 publication of Linda Lovelace’s Ordeal, you had no view of pornography one way or the other. For those unfamiliar with her story, who was Linda Lovelace?
“Linda Lovelace” was the fictional name of Linda Boreman, later Linda Marchiano, who was forced into captivity and made to perform fellatio and other sex acts by pimps, including organized crime, so that pornography, notably the notorious film Deep Throat, could be made of her. The film was instrumental in establishing pornography as culturally legitimate in the 1970s. After her escape, Linda’s valiant opposition to the sex industry included chronicling her abuse in Ordeal and extensive public testimony. Her revelations enabled a change in the way pornography was debated legally and socially, shifting the focus from morality to harm.
Q. This film comes decades after the landmark pornography civil rights hearings at which Marchiano testified, as documented in In Harm’s Way. Can you remind us what was at stake in those hearings?
The anti-pornography civil rights hearings collected in In Harm’s Way created a space for people victimized by pornography to speak about what had been done to them in its making or through its use. Up to that point, the legal argument over pornography had essentially only considered the freedom of speech issues.
The hearings documented the inequality that is foundational to the industry: that the “speech” of the pornographers is the use and abuse of the bodies of mainly women, who were far from free and were not speaking for themselves. The consequences of the distribution and use of the materials was shown to be equally silencing and endangering to legions of women and children who are abused by its consumers. Thus the sexual exploitation of women and children in making pornography is mass-produced through its consumers to become violation of other women and children.
The civil rights ordinances the hearings debated were passed several times, then found to violate the First Amendment on the theory that the more harm the materials do, the more protected as speech they are–an incorrect, indeed reversed, view of First Amendment law. The ordinances could still be passed and found constitutional today.