Saturday, February 13, 2010

Anti-Porn Feminists: An Oxymoron

Turns out that among all the weird phenomena in the world there is one called Anti-Porn Feminists. Of course, everybody knows that there are often bad, abusive things going on in the porn industry. These abuses should be discussed and fought against.

But feminists who are anti-all-and-any-kind-of-porn? How insane is that? Why not just be honest about it and call themselves "anti-sex feminists"? The idea that all porn is bad and everybody who watches porn wants to abuse women is preposterous. Pornography is a way for people to explore their sexuality, their erotic fantasies. Any attempt to take that away is censorship of the worst order. The very idea that you can control your sexual fantasies betrays a profound misunderstanding of the very concept of human sexuality.

What disturbs me in this weird feminist anti-porn movement is that more and more often one encounters so-called feminists who promote the exact same agenda as the fanatical Focus on the Family or some other even more repressive religious organizations. Porn bad, erotic fantasy bad, sex bad, housewife good, homeschooling good, burqa fantastic. That this kind of claptrap is being sold to us as feminism is very annoying. For centuries, patriarchy repressed female sexuality. For women, sexuality was only acceptable as a vehicle of child-bearing and nothing else. Women were seen as an object of sex, and never as a free subject. The idea that all pornography is offensive to women comes right out of that mind-set.

There are many women in the world who live their sexuality freely. And they enjoy pornography on a regular basis. There are female film-makers who make porn tailored exclusively to the needs of women. It is very puzzling to me that some people would claim that all pornography presents women as objectified and abused. That is simply not true.

In the case of the anti-porn feminists I linked to at the beginning of the post, their vocabulary betrays a profound fear of sexuality. Of course, they are smart enough to couch their fear of sex in quasi-feminist and quasi-political terminlogy. The reality, however, is that they are as uncomfortable with the very idea of sex as any fanatical preacher who promises fire and brimstone to everybody who dares to want sexual enjoyment.

40 comments:

Amanda said...

I know I don't usually agree with you, but on this issue, so much YES.

I am utterly sick of people telling me that I only like sex because I'm a victim of false consciousness. I personally don't like porn-- but that's because I find it boring, not offensive. Especially in amateur porn, though, you have women who are engaged in making it, and who are making it at least partly for their own pleasure. there's a lot of exploitation still going on in the porn industry, but there's also a lot of pro-women porn out there in this day, too. And even porn that objectifies women-- as long as the working conditions themselves aren't bad, I don't see a problem with that. I know women who enjoy porn where women get objectified-- just as I know men who enjoy porn where men get objectified. People can't really control their lusts.

Clarissa said...

"And even porn that objectifies women-- as long as the working conditions themselves aren't bad, I don't see a problem with that. I know women who enjoy porn where women get objectified-- just as I know men who enjoy porn where men get objectified."

-Exactly!!! We can't make our sexual desires be an expression of our ideology or our politics. It simply doesn't work this way. So if I wantasize about having sex in a castle, dressed like a princess, it does not mean that I have abandoned my class consciousness and want to explot others in order to buy myself a castle. It only means that - at this particular point - this is a sexual fantasy that turns me on.

There are many people who are into BDSM, which in no way prevents them from being militant feminists, for example.

Sexual desire is not controlled by ideology. And that's precisely why all totalitarian regimes are so repressive of sexuality.

V said...

Let me be a Devil's advocate for a little while...

---We can't make our sexual desires be an expression of our ideology or our politics.

Why can't we? Why make exception for sexual desires? Suppose somebody would behave in the style "I want to lean on a strong man and delegate responsibility for my life to him". Every feminist of not "let's just accept everybody's choices" kind would urge woman in question towards "personal is political". Despite her attitudes being mostly subconscious and culturally determined. Just like people's attitudes about porn are.

On a more serious note, I guess you are making mistake by extrapolating your reasons for watching porn, your opinions of porn, the effects porn has on you, etc on the general population. I do not perceive most porn as violent, but there is one thing I agree with in that anti-porn reference in the beginning of your post: yes, young men perceive it differently. Since everybody has sex some way, while almost nobody fights terrorists in real life, it is indeed much easier to get the idea to apply things seen in porn (not only technical, I am speaking mostly of attitudes here) to real life. And to develop some expectations of real life based on porn. Namely, the expectation which I would loosely describe as "really sexy girls are supposed to be enthusiastic about anything, and if they are not, something must be wrong with them". Not only does it set the young men up for disappointment, it also makes them more likely to try to talk they partners into, convince, cajole, demand, manipulate or force their partners into trying different sexual things the partners are uncomfortable with.

Mortisha said...

from what i read on those websites - it is not the filming of sex acts by consenting of adults that they have a problem with, but the toxicity of industry itself.

e.g Many of the women trafficked into prostitution around the world are also used to make pornography, or that US pornographers are now travelling to the developing world to make their ‘rape camp’ pornography, where they can take advantage of the desperate poverty, the lack of interest paid by the authorities, and Western males’ demands for pornography that satisfies the intersection of their racism and their woman-hating. (See: Hughes, Donna M. (2000). ‘”Welcome to the Rape Camp”. Sexual Exploitation and the Internet in Cambodia’. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 6, double issue: 29-51.)

There are a great many issues connected to the porn industry that deserve feminist attention. To say they are just anti-sex is pretty simplistic.

V said...

Mortisha,
---There are a great many issues connected to the porn industry that deserve feminist attention. To say they are just anti-sex is pretty simplistic.

Yes, of course, but it is also simplistic to claim, as anti-porn feminists claim, that all porn is violent and misogynistic. And one is justified to question the motives behind that oversimplification. I doubt all porn should be outlawed (or declared immoral and socially unacceptable) on the grounds that a part of industry is into producing violent and misogynist products, I’d rather ensure that the production of misogynist porn is dealt with within the framework of hate crime laws…

I also can’t help it but feel that anti-porn feminists misrepresent the relative weight of violent misogynist porn among all porn, as well as the relative importance of misogynist themes among the preferences of men. Let me be as specific and as personal as possible while staying anonymous: I do not spend any money on porn. I do not subscribe to any pay sites, or to playboy channel or whatever. I do, however, occasionally watch porn on one of those free sites which have a word “tube” in their name. (I do not want to endorse any of those sites, but on the other hand I would like to give anyone the opportunity not to trust any word I say, but judge by themselves.) I haven’t so far come across any “rape camp” video, or a video of throwing a woman into a dumpster after raping her (example from a site referenced by Clarissa). Which means that the percentage of such extremely violent porn must be relatively low. (Alternatively, one would have to make an unrealistic assumption that high traffic user-uploaded-content free sites cater to some very unusual tastes, ignoring the preferences of the average Joe-the-rapist for humanitarian or feminist reasons.)
Are most of the “conventional” videos objectifying women? Yes. More than they are objectifying men? I do not know. Are action movies objectifying Bruce Willis? Are football players objectified, reduced to one function – to entertain us?
Are most of these videos justifying violence against women? No, if anything, they are presenting an unrealistic picture of women enthusiastically enjoying various acts. Or at least they are trying to present it that way.
Is it possible that some women are forced into performing? I believe it is. But if it does not appear so – how can one claim it is propaganda of violence?
Is it possible to find violent misogynist porn? Of course it is, but apparently one has to make some effort. Which most men would not make because they are content without violent misogynist porn.
Every now and then, for reasons which are partly subconscious, I may like one of those videos enough to download it and save it. The common denominator – all participants, men and women, being consenting adults really enjoying themselves (or doing extremely good job pretending that they are enjoying themselves), without caring about the camera angle. I wonder, does that make me an especially enlightened man in the eyes of the anti-porn feminists? Because if they really believe average man is a potential rapist, then I must look pretty enlightened.

tinceiri said...

The "anti-porn" feminists are indeed on to something, but it is not what they think it is.

Forgive me for using your sentence as a hypothetical example, but I feel instead of this

It is very puzzling to me that some people would claim that all pornography presents women as objectified and abused.

we should have this

It is very [puzzling / not so puzzling] to me that some people would claim that pornography presents (mostly white) women as objectified and abused in a misogynist, heterosexist manner.

(I am not trying to put words in your mouth as much as I am simply using your sentence to make a point.)

Clarissa said...

"yes, young men perceive it differently"

-Differently from what? It's not like anybody can experience it both as a young man and as a young woman and observe the difference. :-)

"Not only does it set the young men up for disappointment, it also makes them more likely to try to talk they partners into, convince, cajole, demand, manipulate or force their partners into trying different sexual things the partners are uncomfortable with."

-You must be watching yourself some weird porn, my friend. :-) I have yet to see any film or whatever where anybody convinces or cajoles anybody. :-) :-)

Clarissa said...

"---We can't make our sexual desires be an expression of our ideology or our politics.

Why can't we? Why make exception for sexual desires? "

-nature did it for us, so it's not like we get that much of a choice in the matter. :-)

Clarissa said...

"I also can’t help it but feel that anti-porn feminists misrepresent the relative weight of violent misogynist porn among all porn, as well as the relative importance of misogynist themes among the preferences of men. "

-I agree 100%. People seem to find the most egregious porn stories (which definitely exist) but are not as pervasive as some people want to believe. This is part of "sex is scary" mentality that I'm talking about.

Clarissa said...

" I wonder, does that make me an especially enlightened man in the eyes of the anti-porn feminists? Because if they really believe average man is a potential rapist, then I must look pretty enlightened."

-You are enlightened, my friend, but not because of this. :-) In this respect, you are just normal. :-)

Clarissa said...

"It is very [puzzling / not so puzzling] to me that some people would claim that pornography presents (mostly white) women as objectified and abused in a misogynist, heterosexist manner."

-With all due respect and no offense intended, stylistically this is a very clumsy sentence. :-) Sorry, I've been grading papers all day long and can't get out of the teaching mode. 70 papers in one day!!!

V said...

---I have yet to see any film or whatever where anybody convinces or cajoles anybody.

Did I say they learn to cajole and convince directly from porn? I said they may feel more entitled to experience everything what is depicted in porn.

----nature did it for us, so it's not like we get that much of a choice in the matter.

What kind of argument is that??? :)

Clarissa said...

"I said they may feel more entitled to experience everything what is depicted in porn."

-And maybe they are right. :-)

"What kind of argument is that??? :)"

-The one that recognizes that it's silly to argue with the physiology. :-)

V said...

"What kind of argument is that??? :)"

-The one that recognizes that it's silly to argue with the physiology. :-)

Why does it sound very biologically-essentially to me?..

V said...

I meant - biological-essentialist. :)

Anonymous said...

As someone who has worked on porn sets and not a person making judgments looking from the outside, porn DOES degrade women. At least on set, not always the actual film I guess.

The women are treated horribly and not respected as actual workers and if they speak up they get laughed out.

Of course none of them care because of one thing. I'll give you a hint at what it is: Green and starts with an M.

V said...

----And maybe they are right. :-)

Then I guess we have to make a poll for women...
a) my SO does not offer enough novelty and experimentation in sex
b) my SO offers just a right amount of novelty and experimentation in sex
c) my SO is too much into experimentation
d) my SO is too much into experimentation and it additionally upsets me that he seems to get ideas from porn.
e) do not have SO

Clarissa said...

V.: you forget that not all women see themselves as the objects of sex. I, for one, don't have an answer for your poll because I'm not one of those people who sit (or should I say, lay) around waiting to be offered anything. :-)

Clarissa said...

Anonymous: the women you talk about decided it's ok to be degraded for money. That happens often and in many different professions. As stupid as that choice is from my point of view, I do not believe that it's the government's role to protect us from our stupid choices. That's not only condescending and paternalistic but also inherently very dangerous.

V said...

---V.: you forget that not all women see themselves as the objects of sex.

??? In suggesting this poll, I did not assume that women cannot possibly introduce any novelty and therefore are objects. I wanted to determine the attitudes of women towards their men offering something new, especially if the idea of that "something new" can be traced to porn. It is not exclusive of everything else which could happen in a relationship.

Clarissa said...

It's just that there are people for whom this entire way of thinking ("my SO offers/doesn't offer") is very alien. As I said, I wouldn't know how to answer because for me sex is all about me and I kind of don't even notice much if anybody offers anything or not. I do whatever I need to do in order for me to get pleasure. I just don't think in any otehr terms about it.

V said...

Well, I am sorry if it is too personal - but even with that attitude, there are always some things one likes and the things one dislikes in sex. Thus, there is always an opportunity that your partner offers or tries to do something you are not very enthusiastic about. Has nothing to do with who is an object or if anybody is an object.
Otherwise what you describe sounds like you do not really care what he does or does not do, you just do your thing...

Clarissa said...

And that's exactly what makes me such a fantastic lover. :-)

Anonymous said...

"And that's exactly what makes me such a fantastic lover."

Ha, right on.

I draw the line if my partner leads a donkey into the bedroom. Well, unless it's a really cute donkey... ;-)

But anything else, I am game.


-Mike

V said...

Mike, I wanted to poll women. :) :)

I am also game for many things, but maybe that is because my brain is irreversibly corrupted by porn. :)

Clarissa said...

The discussion took an i9nteresting turn while I was teaching. :-)

But now I'm thinking about it, having sex while being observed by a donkey sounds kind of like fun. Huh.

Guess I'll just join the club of the porn-corrupted people. :-) :-)

Val said...

We are currently observed by an elderly cat (sometimes the younger one too) & a Chihuahua who's pretty good at staying out of the way, although we occasionally have to lure her out of the bedroom w/treats...
I think our donkeys would be ambivalent unless carrots were involved ;-)
Oh, & V - my answer would be "B"!

Clarissa said...

This is turning into a really fun discussion. :-)

Thank you for your contribution, Val.

V said...

Val, thank you for participating in the poll.

antiplondon said...

What a bizarre straw (anti-porn) feminist you have constructed for yourself. You link to our blog, but I get the distinct impression that you haven’t read a single thing on it, past the title. If you had, you would have seen that our tag-line is “pro-sex, anti-porn”, and one of our main concerns is that pornography stunts our sexuality, rather than expands it.

You might also have noticed that we are a radical feminist group, that means we are opposed to all forms of patriarchal control, and recognise pornography and pornified sexuality as just another form of control: before we had to be ‘good girls’, now we have to be ‘bad girls’ and if a woman doesn’t like that, she can be ridiculed as an anti-sex prude.

Can you point to where exactly on our blog where we say housewives and burkqas are good things? Can you point to how exactly we demonstrate that we have “a profound fear of sexuality”, or where we say that no sexual expression whatsoever is allowed?

None of us got the chance to develop our sexuality in a vacuum, if you’ve been fed junk food all your life, then you think that’s what good food tastes like. That some women get off on porn doesn’t make it feminist, some women sexually abuse children, is that feminist too? That some women make porn doesn’t prove anything either, some women are pimps and traffickers and make money exploiting weaker women, does that sound feminist either?

Clarissa said...

If pornography stunts your sexuality, I think you'll be better off joining the fundamentalist Evangelical camp. They will also appreciate your rants about pornified weaker women. Religious fundamentalists also don't want to prohibit ALL sexuality. Just like you and your group, they want to control and legislate some parts of other people's sexuality that bothers them. I think you will find a lot of support for your quasi-feminism among these religious fanatics. Good luck!

antiplondon said...

You failed to answer a single one of my questions; instead you just resort to insults. Again, have you actually read any of the blog?

Dismissing any woman who questions the pornified status quo, or who suggests that there is actual violence against women occurring in the real world, as “ranting” and a "religious fundamentalist" is just doing the patriarchy's job for it by trying to silence any dissent - I’m sure you’ll find plenty of support among pimps and pornographers and traffickers with your support of the sex industry - well done!

Why is human sexuality the only part of human existence that gets cordoned off and treated as sacrosanct? As normal, natural, inevitable and unquestionable?

As feminists we have to recognise that all our ‘choices’ are mediated, the ‘choice’ to be a housewife, or to wear a burkqa, to take your examples.

There are very obvious examples of how our sexuality is culturally mediated. More and more women are getting their labia surgically removed to conform to an air-brushed porn ideal. Now, natural genitalia are seen as ‘wrong’ and in need of a surgical ‘cure’. The same with the complete removal of pubic hair, and breast implants, the cultural ideal for women’s appearance (which is undeniably tied in with sexuality) is now something that appears nowhere in nature.

If we cannot question any aspect of human sexuality, if we say that it is cut off completely from culture or politics or ethics, then we cannot question men’s sexual violence, because that simply becomes a ‘natural’ part of human sexuality, not culturally constructed, not an aspect of male supremacism and a consequence of living under patriarchy.

The very existence of a commercial sex industry clearly demonstrates how sexuality is part of culture; without poverty, there would be no sex industry as we have it now, and poverty isn’t innate, natural or inevitable. It is impossible to separate out sexuality from the rest of human culture.

antiplondon said...

Also, we wouldn’t get support from religious fundamentalists (or support them) because we are radical feminists opposed to all patriarchal control, but hey, it’s easier to call people names than actually listen to what they say and engage in actual debate right?

Clarissa said...

I did not read your site. Nor did I ever claim I read it. I tried but it is full of rantings of sexually repressed people who want to make me equally repressed, and that bores me. I, for one, have no interest in controlling and legislating YOUR sexuality. You, however, want to control and police mine.

It;s hard for me to discuss anything to you because you use linguistic barbarities, such as "pornified status quo." I don't know where you live but I currently live in the US. This is an extremely sexually repressed society. Has been so always for a variety of historical and cultural reasons and continues being so today. So your way of speaking sounds simply laughable in the context of this country.

You also tend to use meaningless rhetorical questions, such as "Why is human sexuality the only part of human existence that gets cordoned off and treated as sacrosanct? As normal, natural, inevitable and unquestionable?" I don't know where you copy-pasted this from. certainly, I never suggested that sexuality is the ONLY sacrosant area of my existence.

Another problem with your writing is that you use endless passive constructions, such as: "Now, natural genitalia are seen as ‘wrong’ and in need of a surgical ‘cure’." Seen by whom, may I ask? I don't see my genitals this way. Even though I enjoy porn a lot. This proves that there is absolutely no connection between porn and genital surgery. I can guarantee that you will find that most of people who have this surgery are profoundly sexually repressed. They might even use the expression "pornified status quo" just as much as you do.

As to opposing patriarchal control, I wonder how you manage to do that if your desire to control my female sexuality is in no way different than any patriarchy's desire to control it. Feel free to point out the differences if you find them. I haven't been able to do so yet.

Clarissa said...

"As feminists we have to recognise that all our ‘choices’ are mediated, the ‘choice’ to be a housewife, or to wear a burkqa, to take your examples."

-This is yet another of those meaningless sentences that seem copy-pasted from somewhere.

Anonymous said...

http://web.mit.edu/sgrp/2008/no2/EatonSAPF.pdf

On an unrelated note, feminists have been disagreeing with one another since the days of Elizabeth C. Stanton. Just because you disagree with some feminists' POV doesn't make them less of a feminist than you are. Quit using personal attacks derived from remarkable ignorance to invalidate other people's opinion. Sometimes opinion is just that - opinion - they're always right if you look at them from a certain angle and always wrong if you look at them from a different angle.

kthxbye!

Clarissa said...

If you don't mind, unintelligent anonymous person, I'll decide what I should or shouldn't do on my own blog without your advice, ok?

soandso said...

I was so excited to find your blog until I read this. Show me the porn performer who wasn't abused / isn't on drugs and I'll concede that watching that performer get paid to have sex (how exactly is it sex-positive if you require payment for it?) is progressive. The women who make porn for women? Tristan Taorimo? Her 'hard sex' video featured an actress who later landed on Dr. Drew, said she was a sex and drug addict, and quit the industry. So that's how much 'better' women porn directors are doing. And if the industry was ever transparent enough to release financials, it would probably show a 90/10 distribution of customers to profit - i.e. like liquor manufacturers, they make 90% of their profits from 10% of their customers who use the product pathologically. Sad. Just sad.

soandso said...

Incidentally, I found your site by googling "feminism is dead." And this is exactly why I think that is so. I don't advocate making porn illegal, but I don't advocate consuming or making it, either. The oldest profession - selling our bodies for money - hadn't resulted in social, economic, or political equality for thousands of years. If we keep doing what we've been doing we'll keep getting what we've got. And furthermore, when one woman objectifies herself, it makes it harder form me to be taken seriously as a not-sex-object, so by advocating for women's objectification (and consuming it) you are working against my best interest. Therefore we do not advocate the same thing - which leads we to believe there is feminist tent big enough for us both to fit into. I therefore concede feminism. Go watch a drug addicted, emotionally damaged person with herpes get paid to have sex for your enjoyment and call yourself a feminist. I don't want to be in the same category as you.

Clarissa said...

My friend, its is not your place to "advocate" what adults do or do not consume. You have serious issues with sexuality and I am convinced that you will be well served looking into them. There is too much fantasizing going on in your head about something that you claim to have no interest in.

Your references to "us" having sex for money are also well-noted. I'd appreciate it, though, if you excluded me from this category. Maybe a housewives' blog will provide you a good reference group for that.