Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Pornography and Silence: Culture’s Revenge Against Nature is a provocative and poetic study of the chauvinist mind. Susan Griffin argues that “the other,” whether woman, black, or Jew, has been excluded from society by the split between nature and culture. Pornography is the mythology of this chauvinist mind, which sees in opposites. Through her focus on six lives damaged by pornographic culture, Griffin examines the results of misogyny and racism. The historical figures she spotlights are the American novelist Kate Chopin; Franz Marc, a German painter; the Marquis de Sade, a French pornographer; actress Marilyn Monroe; convicted rapist Laurence Singleton; and Holocaust victim and diarist Anne Frank.

Griffin uses each of these lives as an “emblem” to illustrate some aspect of the chauvinist mind. In “Sacred Images,” her first chapter, she examines the lives of Marc and Chopin—two artists who censored themselves because of society’s outraged reactions to their honest depictions of sensuality. She regards the female body and sensuality as victims in both pornography and religion, which demand a deadening of feeling. The necessity for exerting control over feeling is explained further in “The Death of the Heart,” in which Griffin examines ancient mythology, popular culture, and modern novels that focus on women’s death as the price paid for male vitality and freedom. Men’s fear that women will trap them, Griffin argues,...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Pornography and Silence Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Pornography and Silence is unusual in its treatment of a subject long debated by women’s rights advocates. Feminists disagree on the question of censoring pornography because of its negative effects on women and because of the idea of freedom of speech. Griffin puts these questions in a larger context, believing that if people work for a more egalitarian society, pornography will no longer be seen as a necessary evil by so many people.

The work’s unique style is one of its most important strengths. It is an early example of feminist criticism that links poetic writing and personal approach with academic research. Although it conveys a protest against the horrific price paid for “culture’s revenge against nature,” Griffin’s tone is elegiac rather than angry or bitter. She attempts to get inside the mind of the chauvinist and to see his fears and humiliations with compassion and understanding. Griffin also calls readers to rethink their most basic assumptions about beauty, fashion, classic literature, and film. Seeing these genres as productions of a pornographic and deeply fearful society explains the hateful messages against women that they spread.

The book is sometimes difficult to read—not because of its style, which is deeply poetic and moving—but because of the graphic descriptions of dehumanizing pornographic images. Griffin ends with a hopeful image of a “seventh life,” a life that transcends narrow and hurtful stereotypes and lives forever. Her breadth of vision and originality make Pornography and Silence essential reading for those who are interested in feminist analyses of pornography.

Pornography and Silence Bibliography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Crown, 1991. A thorough and readable study of how feminism came to be seen as a scapegoat for a broad spectrum of problems in American society. Faludi examines popular culture, including fashion, film, magazines, television, and the men’s movement, to trace the backlash against the movement for women’s equality.

Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. London: Paladin Books, 1971. Greer examines ways in which women can find motives and causes for political and social action through reassessing themselves and through questioning basic elements of education and socialization. The provocative quotations inserted into the main text and the thorough footnotes are helpful.

Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Written in a style similar to that of Pornography and Silence, this “long prose poem” focuses on the oppression of women. Griffin links the exploitation of women with the victimization of the earth; both are sustaining forces and are often victims of male revenge.

Showalter, Elaine, ed. The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985. Sections on feminism and the academy, feminist criticism of literature and society, and women’s writing make this essential reading for those interested in understanding feminism and its influence on reading and writing. Very thorough bibliography.

Steinem, Gloria. Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992. Research on factors that affect self-esteem, combined with personal stories from Steinem and other women. Steinem examines education, the family, the body, and ways of working for positive change.