MY GRANDMOTHER, may she rest in peace, never rested in peace. She would sit by her radio, the volume cranked as high as could be, and she would listen to the news, moaning and groaning about the only thing that mattered to her - what the world was doing to the State of Israel. She saw the world in just those terms, there being things that were good for Israel and things that were bad for Israel, but there being nothing good in anything that was bad for Israel. In her own way, she was the precusor of the woman's movement.
There were, of course, certain things you would have to make allowances for - namely, the way she waited on my grandfather. But if you took the way she looked at the world, if you noticed that she defined almost everything by a single standard, you would understand what I mean. I offer, for example, the women's movement and pornography.
That happens to be the subject of an essay by Gloria Steinem that starts on the cover of the august issue of MS. Magazine, giving you an idea right off that this is considered a very serious issue. The thesis of the article is that pornography, especially the new, more violent pornography and child pornography, is not about sex, but about man's need to dominate women. There is plenty to argue with here. Everything from Steinhem's generalizations on the thoughts of men who buy porn to her contention that the men who produce porn do it for reasons having to do with "subservience" and "surrender," while women do it for the money. But there could be something to what she says, and there is certainly plenty to howl about when it comes to porn.
Anyway, the Steinem piece was preceded by a meeting in New York of recognized leaders of the women's movement who gathered to discuss porn and came away declaring a war on it. They have launched what you might call an antismut campaign. It would have been better for my purposes if the women involved had taken on the First Amendment head-on, but they are not that sort, and they did not go that far. You would not expect them to.
But they seem tempted. They wrung their hands and worried about what they could do and there was some very heavy talk about the First Amendment, the Supreme Court, the old standard of "redeeming social value" and whether women boycott newstands that sell certain magazines.There was talk of forming an organization and there was even talk, it said in the report I read of forming alliances with more conservative groups. The issue apparently has not been resolved.
The point is not that porn is not a problem, or that the new and more violent porn is not a new and possibly more serious problem. The point, is the implication that when an issue becomes defined as a women's issue, all things must give way before it - even serious group questions concerning the First Amendment, boycotts, and where all this might lead. You have to ask, too, where these women have been all this time. Although most of them have been critical of porn for some time, you have not seen the issue raised to this level of seriousness over, say, the objections of housewives to having their children pass porn parlors on the way to and from school.
Porn is a problem for lots of people. It is not by any means exclusively a women's issue. It is an issue for homeowners who see their property values threatened by porn shops and it is an issue for shopkeepers for somewhat the same reason and it is an issue for people who find porn objectionable on religious or moral grounds. Finally, it is an issue for those among us who are genuinely offended by what is sold nowadays in stores. There is enough here to go around.
But the courts have more or less told these people to buzz off. There is something more important at stake here and that is the First Amendment. But now you get the feeling that because porn has been defined as a women's issue, all hang-ups about civil liberties are not valid anymore - that you can play with the notion of boycotts, maybe a modest amount of censorship, and alliances with organizations that don't have the foggiest notion about the meaning of the First Amendment.
The thing that bothers me is that all this is coming from people who should be more zealous in protecting everyone's First Amendment rights - including the right of all printed material to find a market. There is more here at stake than simply the women's movement.
All this, you might think, comes down to the old story about how it all depends on whose ox is being gored. I suppose that is the case, but it also comes down to something else, and that is how people tend to see the world through the prism of their own particular issues. I have singled out the women's movement here, but you could also say some things about people who measure everything by how it helps or hinders israel, as my Grandmother did, or environmentalists who sometimes care more about their cause than, say, the employment prospects of people. Sometimes the world seems to be one big Democratic National Convention - everybody caucusing on a particular issue and making demands, that are, of course, non-negotiable.
There is something to be said for looking at the bigger picture, and I thought of that recently when someone told me about a question that had been asked of Henry Steele Commager, the historian. What, he had been asked, was the greatest threat to the homosexual movement. He thought for a while and reportedly said, "atomic warfare."
No one asked him about the women's movement.