Bad Attitude(s) on Trial: Pornography, Feminism, and the Butler Decision

Shannon Bell, Brenda Cossman, Lise Gotell, and Becki L. Ross

© 1997

Bad Attitude(s) on Trial is a critical analysis of pornography in the context of contemporary Canada. The notion that pornography both reflects sexual domination and 'victimizes' women has recently found expression in law in the landmark Canadian Supreme Court decision of R. v. Butler (1992). Many feminists embrace this new law as progressive, but in the post-Butler years, straight, mainstream pornography is still flourishing, while sexual representations that challenge conventional notions of sexuality, such as those centering on gay and lesbian sex and s/m sex, are the focus of censorship. It is the censorship of sexual others that the authors critique from a legal, cultural, gay, and philosophical standpoint.

Lise Gotell examines the intervention of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) in the Butler decision and provides an overview of socio-legal debates on pornography and censorship. Brenda Cossman examines the Butler decision itself and challenges the dominant reading of this case as a feminist victory. Becki Ross critically examines the expert testimony she delivered in defense of Bad Attitude, an American lesbian sex magazine seized by police from Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto in 1992. She details the difficulties she encountered in explicating and contextualizing the specificities, nuances, and complexities of lesbian s/m fantasy in a court of law. In the final chapter, Shannon Bell advances a conception of pornography that is not distinguishable from philosophy, using philosophy to make pornography.

Bad Attitude(s) on Trial provides a new debate on pornography and feminism. It will be of particular interest to students of both women's, and gay and lesbian issues, but will also be relevant for scholars of law, political science, and philosophy, as well as for anyone interested in a different, provocative view of the Butler decision.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Canada 150 Collection
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 274 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.7in x 9.0in
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Quick Overview

Mainstream, or straight, pornography still flourishes, while those centering on gay and lesbian sex and s/m sex, are the focus of censorship. A critical analysis of pornography after the Supreme Court’s Butler (1992) decision.

Bad Attitude(s) on Trial: Pornography, Feminism, and the Butler Decision

Shannon Bell, Brenda Cossman, Lise Gotell, and Becki L. Ross

© 1997

Bad Attitude(s) on Trial is a critical analysis of pornography in the context of contemporary Canada. The notion that pornography both reflects sexual domination and 'victimizes' women has recently found expression in law in the landmark Canadian Supreme Court decision of R. v. Butler (1992). Many feminists embrace this new law as progressive, but in the post-Butler years, straight, mainstream pornography is still flourishing, while sexual representations that challenge conventional notions of sexuality, such as those centering on gay and lesbian sex and s/m sex, are the focus of censorship. It is the censorship of sexual others that the authors critique from a legal, cultural, gay, and philosophical standpoint.

Lise Gotell examines the intervention of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) in the Butler decision and provides an overview of socio-legal debates on pornography and censorship. Brenda Cossman examines the Butler decision itself and challenges the dominant reading of this case as a feminist victory. Becki Ross critically examines the expert testimony she delivered in defense of Bad Attitude, an American lesbian sex magazine seized by police from Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto in 1992. She details the difficulties she encountered in explicating and contextualizing the specificities, nuances, and complexities of lesbian s/m fantasy in a court of law. In the final chapter, Shannon Bell advances a conception of pornography that is not distinguishable from philosophy, using philosophy to make pornography.

Bad Attitude(s) on Trial provides a new debate on pornography and feminism. It will be of particular interest to students of both women's, and gay and lesbian issues, but will also be relevant for scholars of law, political science, and philosophy, as well as for anyone interested in a different, provocative view of the Butler decision.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: The Canada 150 Collection
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 274 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.7in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    'The authors tackle their subjects with a sensitivity to the arguments of their ideological foes, but effectively demonstrate that the protection of women from harm does not begin with the suppression of imagery.'


    Karen Hill
    Quill and Quire

    'Bad Attitude/s presents a detailed refutation of anti-pornography feminists, accuses them of being enveloped by conservative social trends, and offers arguments for a dissenting feminist positions.'


    Bart Testa
    The Globe and Mail

    'A thorough and provocative book.'


    Bart Testa, The Globe and Mail

    'Bad Attitude/s on Trial is a thoughtful and complex study of both genuinely complicated social issues and tangled legal reasoning. It's definitely worth reading.'


    Stan Persky
    The Vancouver Sun

    'Although many readers many not agree with the opinions expressed about sexuality and depiction in Bad Attitude/s, they should take careful note of how genuine progressive concerns have been hijacked by the same old authoritarian social forces we thought were history.'


    Robyn Gillam
    eye Weekly

    'The most daring aspect of Bad Attitude/s on Trial is the authors' attempt to sketch out a positive theory of sexuality to counter the essential negative view enshrined in the common law traditions shared by Canada and the United States.'


    Nathan M. Greenfield
    The Boston Book Review

    'Many observers, especially feminists, have welcomed the Canadian Supreme Court's "Butler" decision that sexual explicitness was not, in itself, obscene. This book shows, however, that in the absence of a test for explicitness, "deviance" has become the new scapegoat and minority sexualities have come under increasing censorship. What seemed a liberalization of the law has turned into the occasion for the control of "bad attitudes." American feminists need to read this book to learn the perils of an ever-encroaching scapegoating of sexual differences. This could happen here!'


    Linda Williams, author of Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible and editor of the journal Film Quarterly

    'Bad Attitude/s pierces through the thick veil of hypocrisy surrounding the pornography debates in a lively and well-documented examination of the clashes between bodies and state power, detailing the vicissitudes of the pornography issue in a specifically national context. Rethinking the intersections of sexuality and nation via pornography, it should prove alluring to scholars, fans, ambivalent partisans and outraged citizens alike.'


    Laura Kipnis, author of Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America

    'Bad Attitude/s is a superb book. It challenges us all to examine our prejudice about what pornography is. A provocation in the best sense of the word.'


    Drucilla Cornell, author of The Imaginary Domain
  • Author Information

    Shannon Bell is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at York University.



    Brenda Cossman is Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, and taught at the Osgoode Hall Law School from 1988 to 1999.



    Lise Gotell is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Atkinson College, York University.



    Becki L. Ross is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and the Chair of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the University of British Columbia.

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