Liberals want more lies in 'Lovelace'

Lovelace was hard to watch. It was hard to be reminded that there was a time when women couldn’t legally testify against their husbands. It was hard to watch a woman trying to escape from an abusive man, but have nowhere to go. It was hard to watch yet another woman’s trust and love for a man be repaid with hatred and violence. But it felt refreshing to see Hollywood deal with the sex industry in a way that didn’t make light of, glorify, or sexualize women’s experiences in it. wrote: “cinematic justice has never been so bittersweet.”

Deep Throat holds a significant place in pop culture, pinpointing the beginnings of porn culture. It was seen as fun, sexy entertainment then and is seen more as kitsch today — continuing to be, more often, the butt of a joke rather than a reminder of the brutal reality that is misogyny.

Today the project of mainstreaming pornorgaphy that began back in the 70s is complete. Hipster culture loves vintage porn. We’ve brought it back via burlesque and pin-ups, as well as in fashion photography. Our larger cultural attitude towards porn is that it’s an ordinary part of life. Objectification is something fun we do at parties, porn is decorative — something we put up on walls or play in the background at parties. It’s something that brave, open-minded, sexually liberal women do. Feminism had something going there for a while in a solid critique of pornography during the 80s (galvanized, in part, by the publication of Linda’s memoir, Ordeal). But we lost the plot on that one, handing porn over to liberals, capitalists, and pop culture.

Feminism has come a long way and so has porn culture. No longer relegated to dark theatres, no longer a subculture or something that’s purely masturbatory — it’s a look.

We’ve all seen enough American Apparel ads to know that grainy, soft core porn style that’s supposed to remind us of the good old days before breast implants and hairless crotches, as though it’s more ethical to objectify women with real breasts. We don’t see it as sexism, we see it as a throwback. Or art. Or irony. Or something.

Don't Google "Terry Richardson porn." I did and it was disgusting. Just trust me on this one.

But hair or no hair, real or fake breasts, the only thing that’s really changed since the 70s, when Deep Throat came out, is that porn has successfully woven it’s way into our everyday lives. It’s our fashion, our entertainment, our celebrity culture, it’s in the bars and at the parties we go to. That the foundation for our current reality was built, in part, on the abuse and exploitation of this one woman, Linda Lovelace, is not insignificant.

Gang rape is in this year.

Linda Lovelace was called the poster girl for the sexual revolution, if that tells you anything about the sexual revolution… Women really got screwed on that one (pun acknowledged). Informed of our liberation, we became free to become the public, rather than just private, sexual playthings of men. What was different now that we were “liberated” was that we had to like it. We had to be turned on by our own objectification and enjoy whatever male culture deemed sexy. Our own “liberation” was used against us, to shame us into subordination — albeit with smiles on our faces, moaning and groaning in feigned ecstasy.

Most media outlets covered the film with an appropriate level disgust for and critique of the reality of Deep Throat, the popularization of which turned out to be, essentially, a celebration of abuse and exploitation. “This is the Linda that the world didn’t see and who, even as her body became a public spectacle, nursed her wounds in private,” reads a review in The New York Times. How often do male fantasies come at the expense of women’s lives?

In The Week, Monika Bartyzel argues that Lovelace failed to capture the extent of the abuse inflicted on Linda, saying that the directors “frame Chuck and Linda as some pair of doomed, star-crossed lovers by ending on the note that Chuck died exactly three months after Linda on July 22, 2002.” Bartyzel points out that Chuck began abusing Linda and prostituting her even before they were married, though the film shows the abuse beginning on their wedding night when he rapes her. As grim and as upsetting as it was to watch the film, the reality was actually much worse.

Stoltenberg points this out as well, saying:

The movie makers left out the worst of what was done to Linda, which was abominable and included forced bestiality. Had they not, I have no doubt, Lovelace would have been not only unreleasable but unwatchable.

Even the most tepid version of reality is almost unbearable.

Gloria Steinem, who befriended and supported Linda when she came out about the abuse and wrote the article, “The Real Linda Lovelace,” for Ms. Magazine in 1980, said something similar after attending a screening of the film — that Linda’s life with Traynor and in porn was much more violent than Lovelace let on.

Yet liberals and even some feminists are unsatisfied with that truth. Desperately clinging to the “empowerment” narrative sold to them first by the porn-makers themselves, back in the 70s, and again by third wave feminism today, they continue the victim-blaming that began so many decades ago, questioning Linda’s credibility and asking why she returned to the industry years later. (Newsflash: she needed the money.) They say, over and over again, that Linda eventually rejected the anti-porn movement years later, as though that somehow compares to or negates the abuse and exploitation she experienced in the industry.

In a rather convoluted review at Art Forum, writer Sarah Nicole Prickett accuses the film of painting Linda as a victim (well, I’m afraid she was), calling it “pro-family, anti-porn-industry propaganda.” Angry at the lack of nuance and the perpetuation of simplistic tropes, Prickett sees the film as, “at surface, a morality play” which falls back on the “happy hooker/sad hooker dualism.”

Prickett’s main source of frustration seems to be that the filmmakers painted Linda as a “good girl.”

In 1972, Linda found millions of Americans willing to think any woman would believe that her clitoris was in her throat, and in 1980 she entered a world ready to accept that a woman regretted, without complexity, every sex act she’d ever committed. But this year—what gives? Must a heroine still be proven innocent?

A piece in The Atlantic reminds us that things are oh so different in today’s porn industry — full of fairy dust and ponies. Whatever you do, make Linda’s story the exception, not the rule, the writer warns us.

Somehow, no matter how many tales of abuse and exploitation we hear, no matter what we actually see in the world around us, we are loathe to point the finger at the perpetrator.

The liberals are angry, no doubt. But not at the gang rapes or the beatings inflicted. Rather they’re mad that Linda wasn’t the “sexual revolutionary” society wanted her to be. Mad that she wasn’t the “happy hooker” or the “carefree if drug-addicted superfreak” that would be so much more palatable (and more titillating) on screen.

We’ve learned to look for nuance at the expense of truth. Grey areas and character flaws don’t alter reality to the point where we can’t say that which is glaringly obvious. We remain so uncomfortable with the victimization of women that we look away — pointing towards Andrea Dworkin and vilifying Catharine MacKinnon, women who supported Linda and fought tirelessly against male violence. Whether or not Linda remained a staunch anti-porn campaigner for life doesn’t change her history in porn and her experiences at the hands of abusive men in her life.

Feminism is an easier target, to be sure. And perhaps if you silence the voices pointing out oppression, it will cease to be a reality for you. Of course the privilege of ignorance will never save those who bear the brunt of our collective fantasy.



Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • Maya

    Meghan, I cannot thank you enough for writing this.

  • Aph

    This is phenomenal. I was glued to every word.

    “Somehow, no matter how many tales of abuse and exploitation we hear, no matter what we actually see in the world around us, we are loathe to point the finger at the perpetrator.”

    • Meghan Murphy

      Oh thanks so much, Aph!

  • Toni B

    Another great article! I always find it difficult to comprehend why a woman’s sexual liberation is suppose to be tied to her being abused and exploitated by men.

  • Lauren

    Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing. It is often very difficult to talk about such painful topics in a smart and critical way without being reduced to hate-filled tirades. I really appreciate the time you took to look at the many different facets this movie’s release touches.

  • Shae Savoy

    More brilliance, Meghan. Thank you.

  • riv

    Well done Meaghan. I remember. Literally no one believed her, she was just cashing in, again. Very few bookstores carried the book, few read it (something like on a par with those who read Margaret Trudeau’s books) but Steinem’s book did make more money for the film which went through a resurgence of popularity, among the elite left. I think it also spawned the “sexologist” profession, but that’s just my thinking I’ve not researched it.

  • Alice

    Thank you so so much! That’s great not only having comments on the film and the truth of Linda’s life but also on how liberals hates it, how they will still yell that “everything is ok, everything is great” louder and louder to not let the truth comes out to the eyes of society.
    We need radical feminist more than liberals!

  • scaldingmay

    This was an excellent article as always Meghan! Here’s another review lamenting how the film wasn’t “complex” enough, meaning why was Linda portrayed as a victim in a “black and white way,” instead of as a culpable participant in her own oppression:

    I left a comment over there and already I’m being accused of twisting the author’s words. If you can, I encourage others to comment too :)

    • Meghan Murphy

      OH GROSS.
      “but the real Linda starred in the R-rated sequel Deep Throat II and a raunchy comedy called Linda Lovelace for President. The point here isn’t that Linda didn’t really suffer; rather, it’s that her suffering and her journey had more nuance, open ends, and shared culpability than the film seems interested in portraying.”

      MAN, I wish they’d published this one day earlier. Would have liked to include this in my critique. UGGGGGGH.

  • Toni B

    I think part of the “liberal problem” is they confuse trauma with compliance. Any decent therapist will tell you that significant traumas such as rape and abuse particularly when they are long term and sustained destroy in sense of self preservation and safe boundaries. That’s why study after study shows that victims of long term child abuse tend to be revictimized as adults. Untreated survivors have it literally beaten into them that they can’t say no. A person who’s been traumatized who hasn’t been in my opinion is not capable of giving real consent. Acting from a traumatized space doesn’t equate to being a culpable participant.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes, definitely. It’s like, why women stay with/return to their abusers. They learn to be abused, that abuse is ok, have had their boundaries violated so many times they think it’s normal, etc. It’s ridiculous to simplify that kind of complexity into an issue of ‘consent.’

      • Missfit

        Liberal feminists will acknowledge, for example, that a battered wife who remains with her husband, or returns after failed attempts at leaving, is caught in a pattern where she is deeply hurt, traumatized, most probably financially dependent; to say that she is as culpable of the consequences of the abuse on her as the husband who beats and psychologically abuse her would hardly count as a valid argument – this would only show a failure to understant basic principles of psychology. But, as always, for a segment of these so-called feminists, everthing changes when it comes to porn and prostitution – women are suddenly imbued with powerful empowerment and untainted powerful consent that they can only be as equally guilty of any abuse they might suffer. Voices of experiences that do not fit into that script must be silenced or distorted. Why such a need to make pornstitution the hallmark of women’s sexual liberation (despite so many women’s voices attesting to the contratry)? Why? Liberal feminists (non)critique of pornstitution is a big fail.

        • Rye

          Personally, I think Liberalism has been co-opted by the ruling class. For example, John Stuart Mill, a big time liberal, held beliefs on prostitution that are quite radical.


          For example, he believed:

          1. If the object of the state was to protect innocent women from venereal disease, then the focus ought to be on men who frequented prostitutes, not on the prostitutes themselves.
          2. Women became prostitutes because of poverty, and the state should provide them with assistance to improve their condition.
          3. Regulating prostitution would legitimize it, and therefore increase demand and consequently supply.
          4. Brothels and pimps commit a moral crime by encouraging and profiting from prostitution, especially from women in vulnerable circumstances.
          5. Prostitution would not exist in a society of equality between men and women.

          I’m not saying Mill would have agreed with radical feminists, but his views are a lot more aligned with radical feminism than contemporary liberal feminism, yes?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Totally. Interesting!

          • marv

            While Mill did see prostitution as a result of male dominance and poverty he wanted to lift prostituted women out of their misery (with funding, education and informed public awareness) so that they could properly assimilate into legitimate societal institutions – the state, the economy, marriage, ect. – as equals with men; but he did not see that these hierarchical structures themselves were unethical by design. As Catharine MacKinnon notes, Mill insisted that ” women should have the liberty, as individuals, to achieve the limits of self-development without arbitrary interference”. He wanted each woman to share the male goal of becoming “the self-made man, condemning….sexism as an irrational interference with personal initiative and laissez-faire.” The problem is that “unequal distribution of wealth is exactly what laissez-faire and unregulated personal initiative produce.” (Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, p.7). Unequal power is also the outcome.

            Mill saw economic class disparities as natural except for abuses within them. In reality, he was groomed by the white ruling classes who were rich and bourgeois men. Sure he was right in claiming that women should be allowed to compete in capitalist and state entities by establishing a level playing field with men. Still, that these male raised forms (erections) were inherently harmful was lost on him. He saw capitalism as a consummate expression of liberty if everyone was given the equal opportunity to participate. Scrutinizing Mill in his fuller context then, demonstrates that he represents a patronizing altruism toward all women and lower class and racialized peoples, somewhat like a loving john who does not see himself as contributing to the sex, race and economic class system by exercising his privileges within it.

  • Hecuba

    Interesting that men are never told they have choices and they are accountable whenever they make a ‘bad decision’ or fail to prevent another male from subjecting them to male violence.

    The excuses men make concerning male violence inflicted on women and girls are limitless including claims ‘the man is suffering from a mental illness; alcohol caused him to commit violence against the woman/girl; the male temporarily lost control; female victim provoked him.’

    Yet liberals claim women have so much power and choice we scarcely know what to do with all this power and choice.

    Reason why liberals and those pro-pornstitution apologists always focus on supposedly ‘female accountability’ is to ensure the spotlight is never shone on the male perpetrators. I’ve yet to read malestream opinion pieces which focus on the male perpetrator’s(s) actions; behaviour; choice or agency. It is as if men are passive subjects who are incapable of any rational choice or agency. However, the reality is in fact the reverse and such claims are typical male supremacist ‘double think.’

    The questions/claims are as always directed at the wrong sex because men are supposedly not to be subjected to criticism or accountability for their actions/choices.

    • Kathleen Barry

      Saw the film last night and I knew Linda personally. Ordeal came out a few months after Female Sexual Slavery was published. Kitty MacKinnon and Linda’s children must be praised for seeing to it that they got her story right but more, put it out in a way that makes the use of Linda’s apparent consent to being the porn star a violation of her very being not to mention her body.

      Meghan as usual you really hit the core of the issue in getting to – I prefer to say misogynist rather than liberal – society’s fixation with Linda and Deep Throat and their willingness to see women destroyed for their sexual pleasure and fantasies.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks for your comment, Kathleen! And yes, I see what you’re saying regarding “misogynist” vs. “liberal” — at the end of the day, the acceptance of and fetishization of male violence/the abuse of women is, of course, misogyny.

  • lizor

    I’m trying to wrap my head around this:

    “…the thing that brought tears to my eyes,” says Steinem, “was that Linda would have felt that her true story was more present in the world.” MacKinnon adds: “I felt a combination of deep sadness that this level of respect was something Linda never saw in her lifetime, and joy and triumph that her victory is out there for the people who surround her children to see.””


  • Naom

    Fantastic article!