What I mean by that is that I am never, ever bashing any group of people that isn’t harming women.
A few weeks ago, two posts appeared on Renegade Evolution taking me to task for my anti-porn views and for some purported mischaracterizations of the sex industry in my porn series and on my about page. I don’t expect that Ren and myself will ever agree on the abstract ethical issues involved in the porn industry, but I do think there is some common ground that can be reached, or at least that we can use each other to clarify our own positions. At least that’s what I plan to do.
As a result of the Kyle Payne incident (Kyle – if you’re reading this, KILL YOURSELF), I’ve been reading a few blogs lately that I’ve never read before. I can’t say that I’ve been persuaded of much, but I can say that I’ve developed a somewhat more nuanced view of some of the positions/arguments of a few of my opponents in the porn/sex work debate. Either that or I’ve figured out how better to respond to them. Anyway, I hope what I’m about to write doesn’t turn out to be too nice and disappoint my readers; I promise I’ll try to throw in some broad generalizations and insults, but this is about as likely to be funny as Tim Allen at a time-share owners’ convention.
I admit that I make a lot of generalizations when I discuss the sex industry. I have to. It’s a huge topic. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when people make generalizations about radical feminism or even about me based on a small sample of what I’ve written. As such, I didn’t really have a heart attack when I read that Ren and some of her commenters thought me guilty of slut-shaming, transphobia (funny, since I’ve never mentioned trans people, EVER), and sundry other uncool things (including, to my dismay, faulty logic!). In one post, one of her commenters even accused me of violating Rage Against the Machine’s copyright and trying to ride their street cred to some kind of uber-rebel status, which is fucking hilarious. First off, I’m way more radical than those assholes. I don’t need to get dreadlocks or jump up and down with black socks on to prove that I’m fighting The Man. Radical means outside the mainstream, and way more people know about the uber-corporate bullshit funk “music” of Rage Against the Machine than know about my totally indie blog. That means I’m way more radical than they are (har har). Besides, I saw that singer guy Zac La Cucaracha at Aron’s records in LA when I lived there, and he didn’t look all that radical to me. He was probably buying a Radiohead CD or something. If he was really a radical, he would’ve stolen a bunch of Rudimentary Peni CDs and kicked a cop’s ass on his way back to his skateboard, then ridden back to the squat he shared with GG Allin and Wendy O. Williams. I mean, that’s what I did that day.
Anyway, I’ve decided to spend my Monday evening correcting some of the misconceptions some people have about radical feminism (well, actually, just of my kind of radical feminism, which I admit isn’t necessarily representative) and getting a little more specific about my ideas on porn. In the spirit of this week’s climate of non-assholism between feminists of various stripes, I’m going to do a lot of qualifying, but I suspect I’ll still be forced to make generalizations here and there.
People assume that radical feminists have a problem with sex workers, or at least that we have paternalistic attitudes when it comes to sex workers and that we deny them any agency when making our arguments. That, my friends, is bullshit. I’ve got nothing negative to say about sex workers, but I’ve got a problem with the sex industry. There is, after all, a difference between the two. I’m not trying to speak for sex workers, or tell them that their experiences aren’t what they say they are. That would be presumptuous, and if I was doing that, I’d deserve the shit I get from sex-positive types. What I am saying is that the sex industry is not a feminist industry. I don’t give a fuck this way or that what individual women choose to do with themselves. I’m not here to tell people how to make life choices. I do have sympathy for women who suffer within and because of the sex industry, but I’m not in the business of telling those who are happy with what they’re doing that they shouldn’t be doing it.
I’ve read that it offends pro-sex-work types that radical feminists supposedly take it upon themselves to pity sex workers. That shit would piss me off too, if it were the case. I’m not going to tell you I pity sex workers. I pity women who are being abused and I pity women who are stuck doing something they do not want to do because they need to make a living or because they’re being coerced into something. Women who are doing something by choice I don’t pity, because I’ve got no reason to (but we’ll have to talk about “choice” later). Why would I pity someone who isn’t unhappy? I’m not sitting here telling sex workers that they’re deluded, that they don’t see what I see and that I feel sorry for them in their ignorance. I’m simply laying my theoretical and ethical issues with the sex industry out and asking people to consider them. If you disagree, I don’t feel sorry for you, I just think you’ve got different priorities. I’d ask for the same in return. I’ve read a lot of comments from people in which I’ve been diagnosed with all manner of emotional problems. I don’t have emotional problems, I have ethical objections to what I see as an inherently problematic industry.
No arguments yet? Good. Here’s where the problems start. Get naked, hump away, take pictures, make a video, party down, but when you’re done, don’t come and tell me that what you’ve been doing is a feminist act. Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining, as it were. Working from within an industry that is inherently anti-feminist, one cannot create a feminist product or further the feminist cause. I’m going to have to drop the p-word here — in a patriarchy, women are valued for their usefulness to men. One of the ways in which women are useful to men is as sex objects. When women choose to allow themselves to be treated like sex objects, they are acquiescing to the patriarchy, not fighting it.
Oh! Wait, wait, wait! What about lesbian porn? And I don’t mean the fake kind dudes like, I mean, like, the real kind! Gender Studies 101, my dear. First off, gender binaries hold in most same-sex relationships, and porn is usually no exception. Even in the case that one can’t pick out a “top” or a “bottom” in same-sex porn, the element of objectification persists, and objectification is outside of the realm of feminism. There isn’t really a consensus on what feminism is, but I’ll bet that no one would argue with the proposition that, at a minimum, feminism is about gaining recognition for women’s humanity. As such, it can’t mesh with pornography. You see, when we use pictures of human beings to masturbate, we are turning human beings into objects, and objects are not human. The social contract involved in human interaction is obliterated, never exists, which is why people use porn, for its convenience. Making people objects is easier than treating them like people with feelings. It is OK to use objects, but it is not OK to use human beings. That is why turning human beings into objects is not OK unless you are ready to admit that what you are doing has nothing to do with feminism.
I realize that sex work is one way that women can gain power in a patriarchy in which their sources of power are limited, and so I rarely call sex workers sellouts, but I don’t need anyone who is participating in an industry that pumps out anti-woman propaganda telling me that what they’re doing amounts to feminism. That’s reductionist and insulting. I’m not tremendously happy that women participate in the sex industry. I’d like it if they didn’t need to, or didn’t want to, or if the industry didn’t exist, but we live in a culture in which those conditions are unlikely to develop this week. Still, I’m not labeling every sex worker an Uncle Tom, and I’m not saying that the term “feminist sex worker” is an oxymoron.
I will say that the term “feminist porn” is one. Someone can be a sex worker and also be a feminist, but they can’t logically say that sex work is a feminist act. Women may create pornography, run their own brothels, or own strip clubs, but what they are doing is acting as agents of the patriarchy, not as its opponents. People often argue that, in producing porn, women are transforming themselves from objects into subjects, but subjecthood that is defined by outside forces (the P) cannot truly be deemed subjecthood. I don’t argue with the idea that many of the women who create, participate in, and consume the products of the sex industry are exercising their agency, but I do think that they are doing so within a limited set of parameters, parameters that preclude feminist action.
I’ve been told that I’m missing the point when I don’t see that women like Jenna Jameson are feminists because they have taken control of some aspects of their own participation in the porn industry. I understand how someone could construe women taking leadership roles in any industry as a gain for feminism, but I don’t see it that way. If Jenna Jameson was a feminist, she wouldn’t participate in the creation and distribution of a product that harms women, or she’d at least realize that her participation in that industry was a thing completely separate from whatever kind of feminism she’s claiming. Saying that women working in porn are feminists requires taking a very myopic view of the world and women’s place in it. Let’s say there was a right-wing men’s organization that wanted to fight to keep women out of higher education. Would a woman attorney working for that organization be a feminist just because she’d reached a lofty career position within her field? Or would the actual results of her actions matter more in the grand scheme of things? Pornography has a net negative effect on women’s lives, on our chances for equality, and on our personal relationships. I won’t argue that there is no such thing as a woman who is into porn, who thinks it’s been a force for good in her life, but most women do not see pornography as a boon, because on the whole it isn’t one.
Let’s talk about this term, “sex industry.” Is it just me, or is that kind of a gross combination of words? I’ll readily admit that I’m all for regulating the fuck out of capitalism. Let’s get that into the open up front. Free market fundamentalism is either naive or heartless (likely a bit of both), and the only way to protect the many from the predations of the powerful few is to control the capricious elements of capitalism on behalf of the many. Call me a socialist, whatever.
That means that there are a few realms of human existence in which I think the concept of the primacy of profit is obscene and immoral (e.g. war, health, and sex). We all see what the primacy of profit does when industry and government get together. I know it’s a cliche at this point, but Eisenhower was right about the military-industrial complex. When war equals profit, those who stand to profit will push for war, and when those in charge of deciding whether to go to war stand to profit, either directly or in the form of campaign contributions, war is guaranteed to happen and to continue indefinitely.
That profit supersedes everything else should be recognized as immoral and unacceptable, but people in the US seem very, very reluctant to question the wisdom of men who, three hundred years ago, thought absolutely unfettered markets were the answer to all the world’s ills. Never mind the fact that we’ve yet to ever allow markets to operate freely, that our government has intervened in the operation of free markets constantly and consistently for centuries. We’ve fought wars over tariff practices, we’ve used our military and intelligence apparatuses to back American corporations’ agendas in foreign countries against the wishes of the people in those countries, we’ve used governmental policy and funds to promote certain industries and suppress others, we’ve subsidized farming, oil, electronics, and scads of other industries at various times because of their perceived importance to our greater goals. Government does not leave markets be. Government interferes with markets on a daily basis. What we ought to be paying attention to is not whether markets are interfered with, but rather how we choose to interfere with them, to what end, and for whose gain.
Profit should not be more important than the health of a medical patient. Profit should not be more important than human life. Profit should not be more important than human rights. But it is, and that’s the foundation of my objection to many of the things I think feminism is and should be here to address (porn, misogynistic advertising, sexist entertainment media, etc.). Corporations have the rights of individual human beings but lack our sense of right and wrong, and that is where the problem lies. We are asked every day to trust amoral corporations with our physical, mental, social, and financial well-being, and it’s quite foolish of us that we do so. Corporations are responsible to their shareholders, to their bottom line, not to the consumer or the general public. Why would we trust the most important things in human life to amoral corporations? Why would we view their activities with anything other than extreme suspicion? And when they are providing goods and services to a market that is inherently misogynistic, why would we ever assume that they are putting out a feminist product? Simple economic thought tells me that, in the absence of demand for a feminist product, one won’t be supplied.
I don’t suppose that any pro-porn feminist would claim that rape porn is feminist in nature, or even that most mainstream porn is feminist in nature, but I’d bet that plenty of them would tell me that there is such a thing as feminist porn, and that’s where we come up to the wall. I don’t think it exists. If we lived in a world in which women were as human as men, we wouldn’t get excited about seeing women objectified, just as we currently don’t get excited by seeing men objectified (on the whole — I know exceptions exist, but that’s what they are, exceptions).
Porn is misogynistic. I know that a lot of pro-porn types will tell me that such is not the case, that a lot of the performers are actually into what’s going on, but that isn’t what I am talking about. I’m saying that, despite what the sex workers involved think, porn is inherently misogynistic. If you want to try to provide me with an example of porn that is not misogynistic, go ahead, but I’ve never seen nor heard of such a thing. Pornography is about power as much as it is about sex, power that has itself been sexualized. When male dominance and female submission is sexualized, misogyny has been sexualized, and depictions of sexualized power are thus misogynistic. Bring up same-sex porn all day, tell me about BDSM in which women are dominant, but remember the gender role binary that still exists in same-sex porn, and remember who is paying for depictions of women dominating men, remember who is playing a role at whose behest.
I’ll get to the idea of consent and regulation in the sex industry, the social harms of porn, and some other stuff later.