Whimsical, queer exploration of all things gender.

So today my fine perusers, we will be discussing a particular issue relevant to Feminism – but first, a quick overview. Everyone has heard of Feminism, but there is understandable confusion sometimes about what this word actually means. A well educated friend of mine once demonstrated a serious misunderstanding when telling me why she didn’t identify as a feminist in saying “well…they’re bra-burning man-haters, aren’t they?”

“You didn’t just say that did you? Oh wait…yes…you did.”

In its most basic manifestation, feminism is quite simply the establishment and defence of equal rights and equal opportunities for women. It therefore seems to me that to disagree with this is to disagree with the idea that equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is a desirable outcome. Far more people agree with these simple principles than actively label themselves as being a ‘feminist’. There’s loads of discussion that can be had on exploring why this is, but an important thing to recognise is that many people who identify as feminists will have very different ideas about what they feel the best state of affairs should be, for both men and women*.

Of  the many possible contentions and divisions that exist between different feminist philosophies and movements, today the stance on pornography will be considered. Not only is this relevant to a large number of people (far, far more than would admit it) but the issue was of such importance that the debates that raged in the late ’70s and early ’80s actually became known as:

Not even making this up. It was also known as ‘Porn Wars’ , but I don’t love you guys enough to spend that long messing around in Microsoft Paint making two of these.

On one side of the Sex War were the anti-pornography feminists. Key members of this movement include Catharine MacKinnon, and the late Andrea Dworkin. Some of the key arguments include that the production of porn involves women being coerced – either physically , psychologically, or economically. The star of the infamous film Deep Throat‘, Linda Boreman, was publicly supported by both of these women when she publicly came out to say that she had been forced and abused by her husband into making the film.

It doesn’t take someone to be anti-pornography to say that ‘hey, forcing people to perform sex acts…is bad!‘. A criticism that has been levied is that anti-pornographers can imply that sex is something that men enjoy and enforce, but women only endure, marginalising female and feminine sexualities. There have indeed been some female porn stars, identifying as feminists, speak out in saying that their careers are their own free choices and they feel a sense of empowerment and ability to express themselves sexually in their work. One counterargument to this basically runs as ‘the Patriarchy has made you think this way, you are actually being exploited‘. 

Is it just me, or is it a deliciously appropriate state of affairs that Feminism is written right down the length of a shaft?

Now, this previous statement may have caused a small snort of derision. If it did, I’m hoping it’s because of the non-falsifiability of the argument. This response could be touted whatever anyone says – no new way is offered to actually test the idea that porn stars are repressed. Anti-pornographers may rather be shooting themselves in the feet in refusing to recognise the ability of women to choose to engage in and with pornography. I hope that you weren’t thinking the bold statement was a silly thing because of how the word ‘Patriarchy’ is set up as something big and scary. It is a real thing, and it is rather crappy. Without getting hugely sidetracked, it is fair to say that not simply from a global perspective but very much here in the UK and other  culturally similar countries, women experience lower wages for the same positions, greater risk of sexual crime, the socialisation of being the ‘weaker’ ‘delicate’ sex…go hit google, have a little explore.

Whilst it’s quite easy to find problems with some members of the pornographic industry, some ‘sex-positive’ feminists argue that blanket criminalisation (as has been called for by anti-pornographers) is a greater evil, in restricting freedom of expression and freedom of speech. It also isn’t the case that all sex-positive feminists sprung up in response to anti-pornographers – some indeed write and work under the axiom that the Patriarchy mostly holds a monopoly on how women are able to express themselves sexually, and seek to change this, through support of ethical pornography, and pornography featuring ‘strong’, ‘active’ women.

It’s clearly a tricky one. On the one hand, you’ve got people who unambiguously are harmed in the manufacture of porn. The shady, seedy view that is often socially held by those who purchase such materials makes it far less embarrassing to do so with a secretive and private air – there isn’t all that much pressure from the market for responsible, ethically aware, organic, pesticide-free porno. It would be very desirable for more people to pay more attention to how the people in what they look at and watch might really be treated. On the other hand, heavy-handed legal restriction and restriction of material because it is sexual rather than harmful (admittedly sometimes a controversial distinction to make) does no-one any favours, and buys into an old-school conservative (with a little ‘c’, but also probably many Tories as well…) anti-sex, moral absolutism. Arguments have been made that exposure to pornography can cause addiction, and make men more likely to commit sex crimes against women. On the other hand, studies exist that show things like people believe porn to have had a positive effect on their lives, and sex offenders had seen less or milder porn on average than other criminals. There seems to be lots of conflicting claims, certainly enough that I’m not going to attempt to take a clear side. However, it seems to me that abstractly, women (or men, or anyone for that matter) choosing to show off their naughty parts isn’t really the problem. People being rotten to people who are quite often women (in this context) is, which isn’t something one needs to hold the label of ‘feminist’ to have a problem with.

*Apologies that the wordings so far has implied a binary mode of thinking – not doing credit to the individuals who identify neither firmly as men or as women, and others – identities which for brevity’s sake I’ll describe with the term Genderqueer. Many (though far from all) feminist discourses don’t even acknowledge the diversity possible in gender identities, which is problematic all on its own.

Comments on: "To porn or not to porn? Feminist views on pornography" (6)

  1. Jacob said:

    It’s a very difficult problem; your study about sex offenders viewing less or milder porn than other criminals is an interesting counterpoint, very counter intuitive.

    I think a lot of the opposition to porn has to be viewed in context with the other views held by the opponents. They can be of the opinion, for example, that heterosexual sex itself is so hopelessly patriarchal that it’s necessarily oppressive.

    Take McKinnon’s description of sex in Only Words:

    “The aggressor gets an erection; the victim screams and struggles and bleeds and blisters and becomes five years old”

    In any case, these debates must hit something practical, otherwise it’s just words and words and words. Bans on pornography are utterly impractical. You’d have the equivalent of another war on drugs – costly and futile. The only plausible solutions, as far as I can see, would involve greater regulation and protection for women who were sucked into oppressive pornography.

    Also! I am fairly sure you mean conservative with a small ‘c'; a big C would imply you’re referring specifically to the views of the Tories. :)

  2. Michael said:

    What about homosexual pornography? Is that OK? Obviously female-female pornography could still be construed as “bad” because it could be made by men. But what about male-male pornography, made by men? Is that equally bad because it takes advantage of (vulnerable?) males?

    • This is something that is hardly ever really talked about, as far as I’ve explored the discussions and polemics. In Catherine MacKinnon’s book ‘Feminism unmodified: discourses on life and law’, she writes:

      “We define pornography as the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words that also includes women dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; enjoying pain or humiliation or rape; being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised, or physically hurt; in postures of sexual submission or servility or display; reduced to body parts, penetrated by objects or animals, or presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture; shown as filthy or inferior; bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual. Erotica, defined by distinction as not this, might be sexually explicit materials premised on equality. We also provide that the use of men, children, or transsexuals in the place of women is pornography. The definition is substantive in that it is sex-specific, but it covers everyone in a sex-specific way, so is gender neutral in overall design.”

      So going by this, gay porn is also bad. Though really ‘use of men’ feels somewhat tacked on to me, because all of her arguments really rest on things being done to women because they are women, as far as I see.

      The fact that she implies all transsexuals are neither men nor women is also a big old pile of problematic…but that’s another story folks…

  3. 1.you didnt make that picture
    2.feminism is just a way to hate men and get away with it.

    • 1. I assure you I did. It would not be surprising if someone else on the internet also has, it’s not a radically original image.

      2. I don’t think feminism means what you think it means. Though I’m sure you could find some ‘introductions to feminism’ blogs, as afterall, you found this.

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