The lunchtime event, moderated by HLS Assistant Professor Jeannie Suk ’02, was sponsored by the HLS Federalist Society.
Rosenfeld, former senior counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women office, argued that pornography is connected to the devaluation of women and to rape, although perhaps not as a direct cause. Pornography’s prevalent theme of domination and the increasingly violent tone of modern pornography, she added, has a degrading effect on male-female relations and society as a whole.
“The messages in mainstream pornography are getting more and more cruel toward women,” said Rosenfeld, who said she has seen its effects in heterosexual assault cases on which she’s worked. “My concern is the relationship between pornography and rape and rape-prone attitudes.”
Strossen, a former president of the ACLU and founding member of Feminists for Free Expression, sided with one of the principles of the sponsoring Federalist Society, that the state exists to preserve freedom. Strossen said, “The sexual expression that some people demonize with the term ‘pornography’…tends to be used by everybody for whatever sexual expression they don’t like.” Calling herself “a civil libertarian feminist,” Strossen defended pornography as free speech and argued that it empowered women by allowing them full expression of their sexuality.
Students lined up to ask questions following the debate. The discussion continued even after the debate had formally ended, with students lingering in animated groups, talking with Rosenfeld and Strossen.