THREE APPARENTLY LEGITIMATE USES OF CLASSROOM SEX QUOTES

SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL IN LEGAL STUDIES
GENDER AND THE LAW is a required, team-taught course in the prelaw and law school curricula. A female, feminist legal theorist, co-teaching the 'sexual harassment law' portion of the course seeks to make the issues as vivid as possible by bringing to class samples of the pornographic or obscene material used in harassment.

STUDY OF SEXUALITY AND ITS REPRESENTATIONS
A faculty film theorist offers a course focusing on Linda Williams's long, intricate argument, beginning in her 1989 book Hard Core, that pornography constitutes an evolving film genre worthy of academic study. Williams cites particular pornographic films as key to the genre's definition, including Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and Insatiable. Williams continued her argument in a 1992 paper
[1] in which she argued that pornography depicting 'perversions' (e.g., butch/femme lesbian sex, BD and SM, and bisexuality) should not be censored since viewing it may help to raise important and useful questions about the characterization of sexual normality and the standard categories of sexual practice that are used to discuss these questions. The course includes a fair sample of the latter, as well as study of sexually explicit feminist anti-pornography films, including erotica, if any, produced by anti-pornography activists.

SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC AND MEDICAL STUDIES
Faculty in anthropology, philosophy, psychiatry, psychology, sociology and statistics offer a course on methodological issues, concerning links among viewing, attitudes and action, that arise in doing studies of the effects of viewing sexually explicit material. Altogether, the published studies specify, say, fifty sexually explicit movies that have been used in various experiments. But the studies come to significantly different conclusions (e.g., "It's not the sex, it's the violence," "It is the sex," "There is a reliable distinction between erotica and pornography," "There's no reliable distinction between erotica and pornography,"... ). These differences might very well be caused in part by the studies' varied uses of different types of films, and verbal descriptions of the films do not provide sufficient relevant detail, so some of them must be viewed in class.

See "Can Obscene or Pornographic Material Have Serious Educational Value?" for expanded versions of these examples.

SEXUAL QUOTATION WITHOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

(P1)-(P4) are informative mistakes that motivate (P5), which in turn raises (some of) the right questions, without, however, answering them.

(P1) Sexual quotation in the classroom is not sexual harassment if and only if a purpose of the course is to study the quoted material.

(P2) Sexual quotation in the classroom is not sexual harassment if and only if it is reasonable to believe that the quoting causes no offense.

(P3) Sexual quotation in the classroom is not sexual harassment if and only if it is reasonable to believe that the quoting causes no harm.

(P4) Sexual quotation in the classroom is not sexual harassment if and only if it is reasonable to believe that the quoting causes no unnecessary harm; informed consent is obtained; and substitute work or no-penalty withdrawal is permissible to prevent unnecessary harm.

Important questions raised by (P4):

(a) What is informed consent? How is it to be secured? (and how well informed can the consent be when the main purpose of sexual quotation is to go beyond mere description, with difficult-to-predict effects?)

(b) How in general are necessary and unnecessary harms to be distinguished? (and how should we weigh risks to the more vulnerable?)

(c) Since actual psychological damage need not occur for (a legal finding of) sexual harassment (to be made), is (P4) strong enough?

To help with (a): Survey students at the course's beginning to discover student attitudes and ignorance on topics that the course covers; responses can be anonymous, and a statistical summary can be a topic for class discussion. Give students "fair notice" in the syllabus, in individual pre-enrollment discussions (before the first class meeting), and during the first class meeting; team-teach the course, with at least one female instructor, and be alert to issues of both pleasure and danger, assisted in part by analysis of the initial survey of students' attitudes; and make provisions for substitute work or for withdrawal in cases where students are so pained that their learning cannot continue.

On (b): Implicit in any assessment of harm is some notion of (bounds on) normal function, a normative, as opposed to merely statistical, notion, which is very complex, relational and context- and subject-dependent. In the correlative sense of "harm," sometimes harm must be done now to bring about later normal function. Since in education, the psychological functioning is far more complex than the physical functioning at issue for most kinds of surgery, the "pedagogical malpractice" cases are typically much more difficult than the medical ones.

Help with (c)?: Social psychologist Susan T. Fiske has argued that a workplace environment that promotes sex-role stereotyping is more likely to be hostile, where four factors contribute to stereotyping: extreme minority status,[2] priming,[3] hierarchical power structure and tolerance for unprofessional conduct.[4] Augment (P4) accordingly:

(P5) Sexual quotation in the classroom is not sexual harassment if and only if it is reasonable to believe that the quoting causes no unnecessary harm and promotes no significant misuse of sex-role stereotyping; informed consent is obtained; and substitute work or no-penalty withdrawal is permissible to prevent unnecessary harm.

For a fuller discussion, including an explanation of why (P5) is inadequate, see

David F. Austin, "(Sexual) Quotation without (Sexual) Harassment? Educational Use of Pornography in the University Classroom" in James Elias et al, eds., Porn 101: Eroticism, Pornography and the First Amendment (Prometheus Books, 1999) 301-331.

For a rough draft of a sample syllabus, see Sexuality: Regulation and Choice

david_austin@ncsu.edu


[1]"Pornographies on/scene, or diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks," in Lynn Segal and Mary McIntosh, eds., Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the Pornography Debate (London: Virago Press, 1992), 233-265.
[2]or, rarity: "solo or near solo status, which exists when the individual's group comprises 15% or less of the environment's population."
[3]or, category accessibility, is a "process in which specific stimuli in the ... environment prime certain categories for the application of stereotypical thinking, e.g., availability of photographs of nude or partially nude women, sexual joking and sexual slurs."
[4]e.g., "tolerance of profanity and sexual joking."

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This page last updated on Fri, Oct 20, 2000