Dude, did you take a picture of yourself fucking a pizza?

I’m a half-assed vegan. That means I edit the list of things I will and won’t eat at will, and that I do so frequently. But, because I sometimes stick to the rules, I’ve got a few vegan cookbooks. One of those cookbooks is Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. She apparently has or had some local access show in New York called the Post Punk Kitchen (What does that even mean? Does she imbue her dishes with the spirit of Sonic Youth and The Jesus Lizard or something?), and she’s got a related website. One day I happened upon a section of the website’s forums called “Food Porn XXX.” Say what? I seriously thought for a second that I might find images therein of people committing lewd acts with seitan (Satan!). I know, I’m a dork. What it really is is a collection of photos people have taken of edible items they’ve cooked, usually based loosely on Moskowitz’s recipes. 

Then, a few years later, I came across some link on some stupid website (I’m sure it was something owned by Gawker) that was categorized as “hotel porn.” Apparently people are creaming their shorts over images of $950-a-night hotel rooms. That shit was weird enough, but what really blows my mind is “puppy porn.” You know, photos of puppies for people who really like to squeal over cute shit. I’ll admit that I don’t give a shit about puppies, but it struck me as odd for several other reasons as well. First, why are we using the word “porn” to refer to images that have nothing to do with depictions of sex (whoops, I mean prostitution)? And second, as “pornography” is basically synonymous with “obscenity,” does it really make sense to use the term to refer to pictures of lentil loaf and baby dachshunds? Third, doesn’t using the term “porn” in connection with innocuous, fairly wholesome things like vegan snacks and pets (puppy mills notwithstanding) lessen its impact and help normalize the consumption of real pornography in mainstream daily life? Actually, I think the fact that we’re using the word “porn” in so many contexts means the work of normalizing porn culture has already been done, that the acceptance of rampant porn use as a matter of course is already taken for granted.

Well, let me remind you why pictures of food, puppies, hotels, etc. do not qualify as porn. The word “pornography,” as Laurelin recently pointed out, has a very specific meaning:

 

Greek: porne = slave prostitute, raped daily in the public brothels of Athens, graphe= from graphos = I write, depict.

‘Whore’/ ‘porne’ is a misogynistic term, applied to women whom men can abuse with impunity, and near impunity. It comes from the sexual, political and economic subordination of women.

 

When we look at “puppy porn,” we are not looking at the graphic representation of a cultural hatred of puppies. When we look at “food porn,” we aren’t seeing burritos degraded, we aren’t absorbing the message that dumplings are filthy sluts that deserve to have their heads shoved into toilets and their faces ejaculated on. No one is attempting to assert their power over fancy hotel rooms by making hotel rooms suck a dick that’s already been in the hotel room’s ass, all while calling the hotel room a whore and slapping it around. And no beagle, quiche, or deluxe suite has had to pretend it enjoys undergoing serious abuse in order to excite a lascivious audience of “porn” lovers. 

I don’t mean to be gross, but I think people need reminding about what actually goes on in porn, and I think people need reminding that we ought to reserve the use of that word for describing real, actual pornography. I have a step-daughter. She likes pictures of puppies. I don’t want to hear that her desire to look at a photo of a baby dog is somehow equivalent to some piece of shit’s hankering after images of women allowing themselves to be fucked by grown-up dogs. And Moskowitz ought to be ashamed of herself. She claims to be an anarcha-feminist. Can someone tell me how photos of vegan cupcakes equate with images of women’s sexual and economic exploitation? Words matter and shit.

(Oh, and talking about “food porn” and “puppy porn” makes you sound like a fucking dork.)

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BDSM (the sexual equivalent of being into Renaissance faires) Part 2: The Problem with Kink

BDSM is two parts hilarious, three parts terrifying.

It’s hilarious for a lot of reasons, chief among which is the theatrical aspect of it. It might be a result of my being unlikely to respond positively to orders, but I really can’t imagine doing aught but snickering at someone handing out orders to me with the expectation that I’d get all excited by it. I realize that role-playing gets some people all hot and bothered, but that shit is lost on me. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings here, but until someone really cool tells me they’re into role-playing, I’m going to assume it’s the domain of dorks with no sense of the absurd and people who go to Medieval Times and call each other “sire” all night without the excuse of being wasted. I mean really, who besides people who can’t let go of their high school theater days can prance around in those stupid costumes and deploy all of that ridiculous Renaissance faire lingo without laughing too hard to maintain a boner? 

Sex therapists can often be heard advising couples to try role play to “spice up” their sex lives. What a fucking bizarre idea, right? Apparently, in our warped culture, sex is not sexy enough anymore. You’ve got to throw in some power exchange, some foreign objects, some corny outfits, or some absurdly trite verbal exchange in order to make sex sexy. Seriously? How fucking silly. Kink, in general, is about as embarrassing as this.  

But there’s more to it than that. That kink is seen as the remedy for a lack of sexual contentment says a lot about where we’re at culturally with regard to sex; kink, at its core, represents an attempt to derive as much excitement and titillation out of sex as possible while avoiding real intimacy. It’s a lame substitute for what sex can be, an attempt to substitute adrenaline for intimacy, because real intimacy can be quite a frightening concept for people who’ve absorbed the idea that sex is about power and satisfying base urges. Sex may not be sacred, but it’s got the potential to be a bigger deal than using the toilet. It’s a unique way for people to bond and it’s kind of sad that so many people are missing out on that in the quest for ever more absurd couplings of adrenaline and orgasm. 

A lot of people will make the claim that kink will create a bond between the two people engaging in it, but that’s a bit of a red herring. Sure, experiencing fear with someone will tend to create a sense of shared experience (and thus an attachment) between two people, but is that the kind of bond a relationship should be based on? People who have been held hostage together tend to form bonds, too, but no one’s throwing a party about that shit. Sexual adventurousness can be a healthy thing, provided that it’s not being used as a substitute for the bond that ought to exist before it begins. Unfortunately, we’ve all bought into the idea that sex with the same person over a long period of time will necessarily grow boring and that a long-term couple will need to do it outside, pretend they’re doing it with other people, bring new people/objects into the mix, or otherwise alloy the experience with extraneous mental or physical sensations. We’re told that without these additions to the sex mix (that sounds like a Chex mix with pretzels that are shaped like boobs and wieners, which you can consider patented as of now), we can assume that one or both partners will cheat.  

Well, maybe they will. Not because it’s true that sex with the same person must necessarily become boring, but because physical and emotional brinkmanship have become an integral part of modern sexuality to the ouster of intimacy. We’ve gotten the idea that sex is boring if it isn’t coupled with adrenaline, and that only happens when you’re with someone new or when you’re doing something emotionally or physically frightening. Ideally, that adrenaline that comes with getting busy with someone new will be replaced by the kinds of excitement and exploration that real intimacy can make possible, but when it isn’t people often turn to kink rather than considering the idea that they might be with the wrong person. Kink is the solution to the problem that compulsory marriage creates: couples who don’t belong together feeling like failures because their relationships suck. And kink nearly always involves a power differential. Think about a few examples of kink, from the most pedestrian role-playing to the most extreme forms of BDSM and see for yourself whether that’s true.  

It’s true. And because we live in an oppressively misogynistic culture, that power differential usually expresses itself in male dominance and female submission. Mainstream sex and pornography (the line between which I fear is rapidly disappearing) reflect that dynamic in very clear ways: in general, men are aroused by female pliancy, and women are aroused by their ability to arouse men. Women are objects, men are subjects. 

And here’s where BDSM comes in. As funny as my hazy Hot Topic-esque tableaux of the average BDSM interchange might be (at least to me), it ain’t no joke. BDSM, all of the corny posturing aside, is nothing but a highly-concentrated and more obvious remix of the mainstream conception of sex as something men do to women. If misogynistic mainstream sex is meth, BDSM is ice. 

Now I promise I’ll get to the data…

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Sluts!

I suppose anyone who has ever read anything I’ve ever written, ever, will know that I’m not in the practice of calling people sluts or telling women to be ashamed of their sexuality or sexual behaviors. Good on those of you that applies to. But there are a lot of people in the world, it seems, who seem to think that radical feminists are all about shaming women for their sexual activities.

You see, there are a lot of people in the world that don’t know the difference between calling attention to the fact that the sex industry is inherently misogynistic and calling sex workers (or anyone else) sluts. Or they pretend not to know the difference because it benefits them and makes their ludicrous arguments seem like they have a gram or so more merit.

As a joke, I’m going to pretend that people who accuse radical feminists of slut-shaming really believe that’s what we’re up to and explain to them why they’re mistaken.

I’ve written before about the idea of women (or anyone, for that matter) calling other women sluts. I’m not for it. You see, I’m a feminist. That means that I want women to be treated like human beings rather than like caricatures, which means I’d like for us to have the opportunity to define our identities for ourselves rather than choosing to be a) a slut, or b) wife material. I don’t want my or any other woman’s identity defined by our sexual availability to men. When men have sex with a lot of people, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because men are human beings. There is more to men, our cultural assumptions tell us, than their sexual practices (unless they’re gay, which makes them more like women than men). But women, our cultural assumptions tell us, are either whores or prudes, and that’s about all that matters.

Sounds like a socially-constructed gender role to me. Guess what radical feminists are totally opposed to?

As a woman who isn’t a virgin, I’ve been called a slut before. It’s shitty, it sucks, it’s uncool, it reduces the person it’s aimed at from a human being to a worthless piece of trash. Slut-shaming is one of the chief ways that women attempt to compete with each other for male approval in a patriarchy that defines women’s worth by their physical attractiveness and limits their ability to distinguish themselves by other means. As such, it’s a divide-and-conquer tool, and I don’t try to use the master’s tools to tear down his house because that shit doesn’t work.

I want women to have sexual freedom. I want us to get to decide who we want to have sex with, when we want to do it, how it should happen, and how often it should happen. I don’t want anyone coming and telling women that they can’t or shouldn’t do something that they want to do. Sex is private, our desires are unique, and no buttinskis should be coming around to tell us what we should desire to do in our private sex lives.

And even when sex becomes public and commodified, I’m not here to tell the sex worker to quit doing what she does, nor am I telling her she ought to be ashamed of herself. Like I’ve said before, we all find our own ways to make living in a patriarchy tolerable, and I’m not at this to judge other people’s choices. Knowing as I do that a lot of women face a pretty shitty set of options in this here oppressive society of ours, I won’t tell a sex worker that she’s selling us out to The Man. However, I will ask anyone who claims stripping, porn, and other forms of prostitution are empowering whence they derive their empowerfulness, and whether that empowerfulness remains once the transaction has been concluded.

Are women who engage in the business of catering to men’s fantasies exercising their own sexuality? That’s a tough question. I mean, we’re conditioned from such a young age to believe that female sexuality consists of catering to male sexuality that maybe it is for some people. Still, I would tend to argue that, since they’re being paid to fulfill a desire that comes out of someone else’s psyche, sex workers are exercising very little of their own sexuality and almost no real power (though they are exercising what agency they have within a patriarchal system). I’m open to discussing that with anyone whose experiences it doesn’t mesh with.

As for plain ol’ promiscuity and general Girls-Gone-Wild-esque behavior, I’d ask a similar question: do flashing one’s boobs, handing out blowjobs, and having sex with random dudes equal sexual empowerment for women? I know that there are women who genuinely enjoy doing such things, but I wonder where the enjoyment comes from. I’m not going to tell anyone where their sexual desires stem from, but I would like to ask people to consider the question for themselves, and tell me whether I’m full of shit for supposing that women who do enjoy such things like them because they’ve been bombarded with the idea that female sexual enjoyment should be dependent on the ability to arouse men.

You see that? I’m asking other human beings to think about some of the issues involved in the realm of human sexuality. Raising theoretical ethical issues with the sex industry and its impact on women’s lives and asking women to consider some of the more tangled cultural aspects of female sexuality does not equate with calling women sluts for engaging in this or that sexual activity.

So, how could anyone possibly accuse me of slut-shaming?

Ah, maybe because I ask people to consider the wider implications of their actions? Reducing that to slut-shaming is dishonest and provides a pretty lame foundation from which to engage with my arguments (if that’s even the intent, which I doubt). Human sexuality is a complex subject, and this argument is much more sophisticated than simplistic bullshit conceptions of sexuality like the Madonna/whore complex can account for. Let’s give it the respect and intellectual honesty it deserves, hmm?

Alright, enough about sex for today.


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Where are the sex-positive dudes at? (An invitation)

I’ve noticed, because I can read, that there are an awful lot more women out there fighting for women’s “right” to get naked, get fucked, and have the whole thing taped than there are men doing so. Why might that be? Every time I get into a conversation about sex positivism or third wavism (coinage!) with a group of people (that doesn’t include any radical feminists), the men (even the ones who use porn) seem more likely, if they’re being honest, to agree with me that porn and prostitution exist in inherent conflict with feminism, whereas the women want to tell me I’m blowing it as a feminist because I’m excluding women who engage in sex work from feminism. I’ve even met a few women who have told me that I’m worse than men are because I’m trying to tell them what to do, because I’m trying to limit their choices, as opposed to the men, who are all about letting them exercise their freedom and express their sexuality. That’s a real knee slapper.

Where are the men who want to argue vociferously for women’s “right” to participate in their own exploitation? Where are the men clambering to convince me that (women) getting naked for money is empowering? Where are all the dudes who want to tell me that feminism is about “choice” and that women who are making the “choice” to suck a bunch of dicks for money are leading the charge toward some future utopia in which women will be safe, free, and human? Not many of these men exist, because most men know that they’d have a hard time keeping a straight face while making such claims. So why are women making the claim for them?

As stupid as I think most (MOST – calm down) men are, it’s pretty goddamn brilliant that they’ve gotten women to run around fighting the porn/prostitution battle for them. “Sex-positive” “feminists” are the greatest allies men have ever had in their quest for ever more unfettered access to women’s bodies and a free pass to degrade and abuse women. I mean, if you can get a few women to acquiesce to your porn fantasies and call it a feminist choice, you’re the fucking man, right? You don’t have to claim responsibility for the damage caused to some women because you’ve got a few other women who will call the women hurt by your support for the sex industry anti-woman and anti-sex. Fuck yeah!

I’ve had untold numbers of dudes make comments to me that let me know how men really see sex positivism. One example: some asshole, in trying to belittle my blog and feminism in general, commented, “Get off the internet. But if you’re one of those sex-positive types, I do oral.” Mmmhmm.

Most men love sex positivism and hate radical feminism. That should tell us something.

There are some ethical issues involved in sex work of all kinds. Performing sex acts for money isn’t apolitical, and it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Women who participate in sex work and run around telling people that it’s a “choice” and that it’s “empowering” and that it’s somehow a feminist act have an effect on other women’s lives, whether they like it or not. They shove a detour into feminist discourse and make it possible for the public to ignore the chief problems women still face while they’re arguing about whether pole dancing is what feminism is all about.

But, apparently, asking someone to think about something is akin to telling them they’re worthless and have no agency, according to the sex-positive types I’ve been reading. Well, I’m not doing that, and I expect people to discuss things like rational adults, not get all whiny because they are uncomfortable with the issues my questions raise.

I want to say first that this post is in no way directed toward women who are unwillingly involved in sex work, but rather toward women who conceive of sex work as a choice, and a feminist one at that. I have said this before and I’ll say it again now: I’m not here to take pity on “choice” sex workers for not “getting” what I “get.” I understand that we all live under the same oppressive system, that we get by in whatever ways we can, and that we all face different obstacles and have different priorities. I’m not calling sex workers sellouts, I’m not saying they’re deluded, and I’m not going to decide the consent issue for them. But I, unlike many purportedly pro-sex-worker feminists, will not patronize “choice” sex workers or their advocates or treat them like babies by refusing to ask them to explain their positions (pisaquaririse brought my attention to that tendency, which I thank her for because it helped me tremendously as I formulated this post).

With that out of the way, I’m inviting anyone who calls her/himself a sex-positive feminist or who refers to sex work as a feminist choice to answer the following questions, and I promise to be fair, civil, and reasonable in discussing them:

  • Do you believe that women would participate in sex work if we did not live in an oppressive, misogynistic culture? If so, what would the sex industry look like in a world in which women were seen as possessing the same humanity men do?
  • Do you believe that pornography and prostitution negatively affect some women’s lives (obviously some sex workers suffer abuse, but I am referring to women outside the sex industry here)? If not, why not? If so, does any of the responsibility for that lie with sex workers, or does it lie solely with the producers and pimps? Or somewhere else?
  • Why aren’t there more men out there arguing for women’s “right” to participate in sex work? What do you make of the fact that very few men call sex work a feminist choice? I’d also be happy to discuss the arguments of men who do make such a claim.
  • Can women like Jenna Jameson be considered feminists for taking leadership roles in the production of pornography? Why or why not? If the answer is yes, how can we reconcile the negative effects pornography has on women’s lives with referring to a producer of mainstream pornography as a feminist?
  • How can sex work empower individual women when it requires that women submit to being objectified and performing acts for money rather than out of genuine desire to do them?
  • Alternatively, if one genuinely enjoys something and gets paid for it, does it become a feminist act?
  • In other words, does feminism exist to advance the cause of women as a whole or for individual women to use as a justification for their personal choices?
  • If sex work is a valid, feminist choice for individual women, what are we to make of women who say that their participation in sex work resulted from their dire poverty, drug addiction, etc. being exploited by pimps and porn producers?
  • I see sex work as a reductionist commodification of human sexuality. Do you think that the reduction of sex to a commodity has a negative effect on our ability to explore and express the potential of human sexuality? If not, why not?
  • If you’re a sex-positive dude, tell me why. Why are you in such a huff to help women out? And why does it manifest as sex positivism? Why is your desire to help women out limited to arguing for their “right” to serve you sexually?

I realize I’m asking a lot of big questions and that I’m leaving a lot out. Please feel free to bring up anything you think germane, and to pick and choose what to address.  I also realize that I’ve framed the debate, but I don’t care. I’ve wanted the answers to these questions for a long time, and I have to pose the questions if I’m going to get the answers I seek. You see, these questions stem not from a desire to trap anyone, but from my own honest sticking points when I think about what I’ve seen of the sex-positive position.


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Jesus Christ. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Ever.

What in the FUCK can this possibly mean? I’ve about exhausted my mental capacities trying to figure it out and have come up with almost nothing aside from a few unfathomably stupid possibilities:

  • I worship porn
  • I think porn is cooler than Jesus or evolution
  • Follow me to the porn
  • Porn is my religion
  • I’m so into porn that I can’t find enough ways to let people know
  • I’m equally into porn and seafood
  • I’m really into porn starring members of the band Phish
  • I’m into porn involving fish

What kind of person picks out an item like this and affixes it to their vehicle? Among all the bumper stickers and decals in the world, someone thought this one said more of what he wants to communicate to the world than any other. He liked this better than a Buckcherry sticker. He thought this was wittier than a “Bad Cop, No Donut” decal. He was feeling this more than a decal of Calvin pissing on the logo for whatever brand of car he doesn’t drive. He even went for this over a set of Trucknutz.

And, leaving the purchaser aside, let’s not forget that someone made this thing. Someone had to dream this up, think it was so fucking awesome that he just had to share it, make a mock-up, pass it by a few people, and tool a machine to make it. At no point was he dissuaded. Right now, someone is either profiting on this item or, worse, willing to operate at a wash or a loss because they so desperately want to put this message out there.

Seriously, someone help me. What can this mean? It’s a mystery to rival figuring out why people think Adam Corolla is the international spokesman for manhood.


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A few responses to common objections to my position on porn

  • But I don’t really see how porn is a feminist issue!

Porn is a pressing feminist issue because it is anti-woman propaganda, pure and simple. It reduces women to a set of holes and completely erases their humanity and their sexuality (porn is about men’s sexuality, not women’s). Mainstream porn has always degraded and objectified women and taught men that women are to be used as objects, but now it carries the added message that women are vile trash. (See the name-calling, ejaculating onto faces, and choking that are ever more common in mainstream porn.) I fail to see how that is not a feminist issue, how it is not a feminist issue that a huge proportion of men are tying orgasm to seeing women humiliated and dehumanized.

  • Porn is pro-sex! What, are you anti-sex?

The argument that porn is pro-sex is faulty. The equation of women with temptation and sex and thus evil has led to a lot of the misogyny in our culture, but porn is an expression of that, not a rebuttal to it. In porn, women lose the power they supposedly have over men, the power to decide whether they will allow sex to occur. The women in porn are punished for the “prudishness” of other women. They are used, abused, and denigrated. There is no affection, no care, no respect. There’s not even any sense that the performers are attracted to each other.

Sex in porn is a commodity, something that the ones with means buy from the people who have to sell it to survive (whether survival consists of having enough money to live — almost all porn actresses are relatively poor, so don’t bring up the three that have made some money — or making an ill-advised attempt to get desperately needed attention and ephemeral power by allowing oneself to be objectified and exploited).

Porn, instead of being pro-sex, is pro-sex-as-a-tool-of-power. If you can find me a single example of mainstream porn in which an obvious power differential is absent, I’ll give you $1000. It doesn’t exist. Mainstream porn has NOTHING to do with women’s sexuality. Women in mainstream porn are fuck objects, and their sexuality is presented as consisting solely of serving male sexuality (and a fairly cheap and shallow representation of male sexuality, at that).

Sex in porn is honestly pretty lame. No matter what the people are wearing, no matter what they are saying, no matter what they are doing, they are acting out the same scenario over and over: female humanity being subordinated to male desire. That may very well be one way to conceive of and “do” sex, but it’s certainly not the only, and definitely not the most desirable or interesting, way. But that’s all we see. So I would not say that porn is “pro-sex.” I’d say it’s anti-sex. It’s anti-sex in that it severely constricts the ways in which sexuality can be expressed.

Unless you define sex as a commodified exchange of power, sex doesn’t exist in porn.

  • You’re demonizing sex workers! Most women in porn choose to participate in it. By saying they’re all being coerced, you’re diminishing the importance of real rapes!

The greatest obstacles to limiting coercion in the porn industry are the lack of regulation in the industry (I know that regulations exist, but are they enforced? When was the last time “the feds” showed up on a porn set to enforce regulations?) and the lack of ethics on the part of the consumer.  If men cared about women’s human rights, they would not use porn. The fact is, no one can be sure that the porn they are watching is not footage of a rape, and it is therefore unethical to consume pornography.

As to the issue of choice, I’m not all that concerned with blurring the distinction between voluntary and involuntary participation in sex work, because there really isn’t such a thing as voluntary participation. If women’s choices weren’t so limited by how far we have left to go in the struggle for equality, they wouldn’t need to turn to allowing their bodies to be exploited for money. I know that there are plenty of women who have bought into the idea that objectifying themselves is a source of pride and power, but the fact that they fail to see just how limited women’s sources of power and prestige are in our society doesn’t mean that the reality isn’t there. I do not wish to stigmatize sex workers, but nor do I believe that we ought to be looking up to them as seems to be the trend these days. I’ve never once exaggerated how sex workers are different from other people, nor have I claimed that they can’t be raped. They are raped, constantly, and if we actually cared about that fact, we wouldn’t support the industry that does it to them. The fact is, it is impossible for a woman who has been abused on a porn set to prove that she did not consent to what was done, and that means that women in porn have no recourse in the event that they are forced to perform acts they are not comfortable with.

  • Using porn is like eating meat or wearing clothes made in a sweatshop. I know I shouldn’t, but my decision to use porn or not to use it doesn’t really have much of an impact, and it’s easy to justify, just like it’s easy to justify eating meat or wearing clothes made in a sweatshop.

While I understand the arguments porn users make analogizing porn use to eating meat or buying products made in sweatshops, they’re not really good ones. When you buy clothes from a sweatshop, you are not looking at a picture of the person who made your jeans suffering. When you eat a cheeseburger, you are not looking at a photo of a cow being slaughtered. When you look at porn, however, you are looking directly at a human being who is being exploited. If you have the capacity to turn off your sense of empathy long enough to have a wank, congratulations. I don’t, and I wish men weren’t so selfish, didn’t feel so entitled to the use of women’s bodies, that they could do so. Our culture is absolutely saturated with images of women’s bodies being used for various purposes, so I understand where a lot of that entitlement comes from, but I still argue that men, if they really want to be able to claim to be thoughtful human beings, ought to feel pity, not titillation, when they see a woman being degraded.

  • I read a study once that said porn does not increase the incidence of rape.

The fact that one study (and is it even reliable one, or was it put out by MRAs?) says that porn use doesn’t increase sexual violence among “most men” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do so among the most dangerous of men, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lessen the sense of empathy in most men. It doesn’t address the fact that porn changes men’s attitudes toward women, whether they realize it or not, as many other studies tell us. Even if the fact that porn causes sexual aggression may still be up for debate in the minds of a few holdouts (just as Rush Limbaugh and 3 other assholes don’t believe in climate change), the fact that it changes men’s attitudes toward women and their status as human beings is not. When porn causes men to disbelieve women’s claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, how can anyone argue that it has no net effect on women’s right to not be sexually assaulted?


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I don’t drink Haterade, man.

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.


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Porn Part 8: Rights vs. Privileges

There is a lot of confusion in the world today as to what constitutes a “right.” Seriously, if you think about it, the idea of a “right” that inheres in a human being but transcends the will of human beings is pretty weird. That’s why there are very few cultures outside of those that inherited the idea from ancient Rome that even have a linguistic equivalent for the word “right.” For example, the Chinese translation of “right” is the word quanli, which also means “privilege.” If you take the two characters quan and li on their own, they mean “power” and “benefit,” so the Chinese equivalent for the word “right” could be translated as “the benefits that derive from power.” The “right” as it is conceived of in the western legal and social traditions is not an easy concept to grasp in its entirety, even for those of us who have grown up with the concept. Even in western countries in which the definition of the word “right” is more or less agreed upon, we can’t seem to come to a consensus on what should be considered a right for every human being.

Let me tell you about a rather stupid situation I found myself in a few weeks ago. I’m going to Kauai in January and have a reservation for a rental car, and I need to have a driver’s license to pick that car up. I realized a few weeks ago that my California license was expired and that it had been for just over a year. I don’t drive in New York because I’m neither rich nor stupid, so I hadn’t given the status of my license much thought since I moved here. I called the New York DMV and told them I needed to come down and trade in my expired California license for a New York one, and they told me to piss off since it had been expired for over a year. In an attempt to weasel my way out of dealing with the tests and driving lessons involved in getting a New York license, I called the California DMV and tried to get them to send me a renewal. They also told me to piss off and that I had to come back to California if I wanted a California license. I made up some sob story and told them I couldn’t live without a driver’s license, and the DMV agent repeated the line I first heard in License to Drive and would come to hear on a daily basis as I made my way through driver’s ed: “A driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.”

Whatever your thoughts are on whether the government has any place deciding who can and can’t drive a car, you have to admit that in the grand scheme of things my “right” to drive legally is really not that important when one compares it to other phenomena to which rights normally attach; I’m a little more concerned with my right to not get killed, raped, or detained by government officials for no reason. Arguing with the woman at the DMV that I have a “right” to rent a car and drive it around does, on final analysis, seem pretty stupid and whiny, does it not? Eh, fuck her. The DMV and its employees are all assholes.

Still, it got me to thinking. People seem seriously confused about the difference between a right and a privilege these days. Deciding what falls under the rubric of “rights” is a difficult task, and gaining any kind of universal consensus (even on the most basic of human rights) is nearly impossible because the discussion is landmined with the participants’ conflicting cultural and religious values. Fuck, we haven’t even reached the point where we can agree that we all have the right to not be murdered. “Culture” gives everyone who wants one a handy excuse for barbarous behavior, and the weenies who come from places where rights have come to include the right to act like an asshole if one’s “culture” says it’s OK don’t seem to want to raise any kind of serious objections to people in Afghanistan stoning women to death for having the temerity to have been raped, to gangs of soldiers raping women and children left and right in Darfur, to the international sex trade in which women and children are held against their will and raped repeatedly not just in filthy dens of iniquity in Asia, but even in American and European cities.

It’s a little odd to think that we don’t seem to see many people taking a serious stand in their daily lives to secure and protect basic human rights for these people, but that we have dumbasses like Lars Larsen harping on the radio every day about the government’s having violated his “rights” by forcing him to wear a seat belt when he doesn’t feel like it. Or people like [insert local Libertarian idiot radio talk show “personality” here] whining about the fact that inheritance taxes infringe upon the “rights” of people like Chuck Bass. Or Larry Flynt crying over a perceived threat to his “right” to free speech coming from feminists/human beings with morals who don’t think he ought to be allowed to profit from hate speech and disseminate anti-woman propaganda with impunity.

What we are seeing in each of these examples is classic rights inflation coupled with willful myopia. These over-privileged, whiny little assholes who’ve never had to deal with any sort of serious infringement upon their rights (even if we conceive of the term “rights” broadly to include life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, a big house, a pure-bred Labrador, unlimited micro-brews, a big-ass truck, a higher salary than their talent and skills warrant, more social prestige than their worth as human beings can account for, and the freedom to act like Larry the Cable guy and then ask people to take their points of view seriously) have come to see their privileges as rights, and to use language that ought to be reserved for decrying the most egregious of abominations to defend those privileges. They think they have a “right” to say/publish/broadcast whatever hateful, demagogic bullshit comes into their Coors Light-saturated cortexes, but are totally unwilling to take the rights of those affected by what they’ve said/published/broadcast into account. They have a “right” to drive around with no seat belt on, but want to reserve the “right” to sue someone who hits them for causing injuries the seat belt could have prevented. They claim a “right” to keep every cent of money they receive in an inheritance, despite the fact that it’s a windfall that they didn’t even earn, ignoring their debt to the social and economic structures (which can’t exist without government intervention) that allowed that wealth to accumulate.

And don’t even get me started on MRAs. Those motherfuckers think that their “rights” are in danger every time someone sneezes.

And this is where porn comes in. Men have come to assume that using porn is a right. How many of my readers have been in a relationship with a dude who thinks he’s entitled to use porn and that it’s your responsibility to “get over it”? How many of my male readers have used porn while in a relationship, knowing that it made your partner uncomfortable (or worse)? How many of my readers know someone who is struggling with the feelings of anger, betrayal, and inadequacy that a partner’s porn use has created? Why, might I ask my male porn-using readers, do you feel entitled to do something that hurts someone you (purportedly) care about?

I have a suggestion for women who are dealing with a porn-using partner: start making out with other men until he stops. Tell him it isn’t cheating because there’s no penetration — and because you don’t feel anything for the other men — and that he’s lucky because you’re coming home to him. Tell him that, since it isn’t technically cheating, he has no right to try to tell you what to do. And then tell him he’s being a hysterical, whiny little bitch if he doesn’t just get over it, that he’s just jealous. I know, yeah right.

I know men don’t want to give up using porn. Why should they when they know they don’t have to? It’s there, it’s often free, it does the job they want it to do, and they’ve already convinced everyone that they’re entitled to do so. Maybe because it hurts the people involved in its production, it hurts the women who have to deal with men who use it, and because it hurts the women they are in relationships with. A man who uses porn while he’s in a relationship is basically saying to his partner, “I care more about the fact that I want jerking off to be quicker and easier than I do about the fact that someone I’m jerking off to might be being raped, about the fact that it hurts you and damages your self esteem and security in our relationship, about the fact that it is detrimental to our sex life.” He’s also quite plainly telling her that he sees women as objects, herself included (unless he’s a “separater,” in which case he sees some women as objects and others as Snow White).

I’ve said this before, but let me make myself perfectly clear: using pornography in a relationship amounts to emotional abuse. It is not a woman’s responsibility to “get over” the damage that her partner’s porn use causes. It is his responsibility to stop causing the damage. Despite what our ever more porn-addled culture wants to tell us, men do not have a right to use pornography. Pornography exists because men run shit in a patriarchy, and because the use of women’s bodies is one of the chief privileges men reap from a patriarchy. Sure, almost everyone may do it, but what the fuck does that mean? Just because a privilege is a norm does not make it a right.

Men might not come out and say they conceive of using porn as a right, but their arguments in the face of their partners’ objections make it fairly clear that they see it that way. The men who take issue with my analysis of the porn industry consider using porn to be a right, or else they wouldn’t bother arguing that they ought to be able to continue doing something that has been proved to be detrimental to women’s lives. Dudes in general feel entitled to unfettered access to women’s bodies, and to unfettered access to footage of any pervy thing they can dream up being done to women’s bodies. They’ve gotten so used to privileged access to women’s bodies that they’ve come to see it as their right as men. That, my dear readers, is complete fucking bullshit.

Heterosexual women have three choices when it comes to this: avoid men (if only it were possible to will oneself into lesbianism), find a dude who will respect our emotional boundaries, or tolerate being abused emotionally. Only one of those options is acceptable, and when more of us start making that clear, more of them will have to come to grips with the fact that they are not, in fact, entitled to shit, and that having sexual access to women is a privilege, not a right. Think of it like driving.

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Porn Part 7: It Takes Two

I thought I was done with this series, but I guess I’ll never be. It’s kind of like the New Kids on the Block that way. OK, not really.

In part five of this series, I tried to explain the ways in which porn use affects all women. My point was that — as study after study has shown — men’s porn use has a net negative effect on women’s lives because men who use porn are affected by it. Men who use pornography are less likely to take women’s claims of sexual harassment and rape seriously, they are more likely to assume that a rape victim was “asking for it,” and they are more likely to disregard women’s physical and emotional boundaries. It’s not as if it takes a rocket scientist (or a radical feminist blogging ninja) to figure out that frequent exposure to media in which women are transformed from human beings into hyper-available sex objects will tend to color a dude’s perceptions, especially when that frequent exposure is tied to orgasm. Pavlov’s dogs and shit.

Men apparently find my saying that offensive for some reason. I suppose being told that you aren’t in complete control of your attitudes and feelings is pretty unsettling, especially to dudes (who usually manage to make it through life without being told they’re hysterical every time they get upset). Nonetheless, it’s a fact. Each and every one of us suffers under the heavy load of bullshit that advertisers, entertainers, government officials, news media, pornographers, our parents, our friends, and geeks off the street have heaped on us since we were born. I mean, yeah, some of us try to exercise a little critical thinking here and there, but no one has completely escaped social and commercial influence to attain some ultimate state of mental autonomy. Sheeit, I’ve been complaining about the beauty industry since I was, like, twelve years old and I still shave my legs, so what hope is there for the average unthoughtful, unquestioning, Red Bull-drinking porndog? (Thanks, Laurel, it’s in the mail tomorrow.)

Porn has an impact on the way men see and interact with the women in their lives. It’s a fact (one I’m sure 30 Helens would even agree upon). But that isn’t what I want to talk about here.

What I want to talk about is how very odd it is that men who use porn will often make the argument that they can separate porn from real life. Is it just me, or is that a tacit admission that what is going on in porn is objectionable? And also, are these men not admitting that they have virgin/whore complexes? (Seems that way to me, but it might just be hysteria. Or maybe jealousy.) How can a dude say that he can separate porn from real life without admitting that he is a misogynist?

Porn is the first exposure most men have to sex in this day and age, and is usually their only source of information as to what women want and like in bed until they get together with real women (who are still not likely to set them straight). As such, to hear a dude argue that porn doesn’t have an effect on how they end up behaving toward real women is almost funny (or would be, were it not for the tragic results of their incredible cluelessness). Any woman who has slept with a dude who has used porn repeatedly knows the impact of porn on male sexuality: men who are really into porn are generally thoughtless, rude, insensitive, fumbling, and boring to sleep with. They also tend to display a fairly pronounced inability to relate to women emotionally, because they’ve lost the ability to see women as full and complex human beings (which also makes them shitty sex partners).

But let’s pretend for a minute that tying orgasm to images of women being dehumanized doesn’t introduce any problems into the sexual and emotional relationships men have with real women (har har). Let’s say that a man can wank all day to the most egregiously degrading and emotionally and physically violent porn on the internet and then turn around and treat his partner like an equal in every sense of the word (snicker). Is there not still a problem? How about the fact that the fluff-from-reality-separating porndog needs two kinds of women, one that he can respect and love, the other that he can use like a toilet? That he needs the world to provide him with both good girls and whores in order to be satisfied? Uh, doesn’t that mean he doesn’t see women as complete human beings but rather simplistic caricatures of sex roles? That, to me, doesn’t sound much like any kind of equality I’ve ever heard of, nor does it sound like there’s much separating going on besides the sorting of human beings into the limiting, dehumanizing, and wildly misrepresentative categories of “virgin” and “whore.”

And even if I wanted to let these “separaters” off of the misogyny hook (I don’t), I’d still have a pretty rough time not noticing that they are totally down with class exploitation, that they don’t mind taking advantage of the fact that a woman’s social, political, educational, and financial opportunities have been limited by her having been born poor and female in order to supply themselves with cheap tossing fodder.

The sense of entitlement bewilders almost as much as how much the new episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia suck does. More on that sense of entitlement to come.

To be continued…

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Porn Part 6: Stockholm Syndrome

L from Editorializing the Editors posted a comment on one of the blogs in this series referring to the internalization of porn culture by women as a widespread case of Stockholm Syndrome, an apt characterization if there ever was one. I’m of the opinion that women who participate in and defend the production or consumption of pornography have been conditioned by our porn-crazed culture to believe that the choice to capitulate to the porn industry’s demands on women’s sexuality is something that they themselves desire. Don’t get all upset with me and tell me that I’m robbing women of agency. I’m not. I’m arguing that women, consciously or not, choose to participate in their own objectification because the rewards for doing so are better than the difficulty that comes with resisting porn culture’s demands. The parameters are laid down by the forces that be (patriarchy, capitalism, etc.), not by women. Women who choose to participate in porn culture are just exercising what instrumentality they have within a restrictive system.

I’ve suffered through reading, deleting, and even responding to a lot of comments that center on the idea that some women choose to be involved in the making of porn, that some women like to watch porn, that some women like to be treated like the women in porn, that women are “taking control” of some aspects of the porn industry, that there are forms of porn that are not misogynistic, blah fucking blah. There are as many arguments for the continuation of women’s exploitation and subjugation as there are varieties of pornography, and none of them are right. Almost all arguments in defense of porn production and consumption spring from the kinds of libertarian economic and social positions that most people who aren’t comfortable with the religious right but also aren’t comfortable with the idea that their actions have consequences beyond their own lives exhibit. Libertarianism is naive and myopic in almost every sense, and porn is no exception.

Men who use porn know that, deep down, they think it’s odd that the women they’re jerking off to have “chosen” to participate in pornography (more on that concept here). It is odd that a woman would choose to work in porn, would choose to use porn, or would choose to defend men’s and their own porn use to other women. It’s odd because women should instinctively sense, when confronted with the vast majority of pornographic images, that what they are seeing is degrading to the human spirit. Evolutionary psychologists can make whatever bullshit claims they want to about men being “naturally” prone to becoming aroused by visual stimulation (which is utter horseshit), but no such claim has been made when it comes to women’s porn use, most likely because it would be absurd to argue that women’s porn use stems from anything other than a quest for acceptance in a world dominated by entitled and oblivious porn-using men.

I think I’ve got an explanation for why some women get into porn, and maybe even some alternatives to offer to women who are involved in their own objectification simply because they don’t see any other options. Women get the message from a very young age that their value lies in whether they are attractive to men. It’s hammered home by television, movies, ads, fairy tales, toys, music, etc. These outside influences are so strong that they can completely transform female (not to mention male, but I’m tired of talking about men) sexuality into something vastly different from female sexuality in its natural state. Women come to see themselves as if through a lens, as if through the eyes of someone else, after a lifetime of exposure to media that teach them to conceive of themselves in such a way. It is no surprise, then, that many women find that their own sexual arousal is highly dependent on the ways in which others seem to perceive them. Almost everyone is aroused by the feeling of being desired, but in our culture, that tends to become the chief element in women’s arousal. Many women see themselves as if watching from somewhere beyond themselves, and derive their sexual arousal from viewing their own sexuality as if through the eyes of an onlooker. Put simply, women in our culture are conditioned to be aroused by the idea that they can cause arousal in an observer.

It’s not a very big leap from that idea, which I contend exists to some degree in all women, to the idea that a woman would be excited by being viewed as a sexualized object, or by viewing images of other women as sexualized objects. In fact, I’d say that seeing beyond such systematic and forceful conditioning is the big leap, which is why there are so many “sex-positive” “feminists” and women who use and defend the use of porn, and so few outspoken anti-porn feminists. BUT… that doesn’t mean that the pro-porn crowd is right. Remember, everyone used to think slavery was OK, that women shouldn’t get to vote, that cocaine was a good beverage additive, that menthol cigarettes cured colds, and so on. I mean, look at how many people still think Family Guy is a good show and that Panic at the Disco is a good band.

How many times have you heard some woman who prostitutes herself in the pornography industry say that she’s “just an exhibitionist”? It’s exactly this process of women being conditioned to identify with their own objectification that allows such a woman to make that claim, and I wouldn’t argue that she’s being dishonest. What I would argue is that she’s either consciously or unconsciously avoiding thinking past that idea, because doing so would cause some serious emotional discomfort and require some difficult decisions. Participating in your own objectification comes with some major rewards; you get attention (although not respect), you get (limited and questionable) affection, you get a bunch of dudes lusting after you. In short, if you don’t think too hard about it, allowing yourself to be objectified can make you feel valuable and powerful in a system in which women don’t have a lot of access to power (and in which they are fairly consistently undervalued as human beings). Defending men’s right to use porn, and using porn yourself, gets you the approval of men who want nothing more than a woman who is just as into her own objectification as they are. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a dude tell his friends how pumped he is to have found a girl who is as dirty as a porn “star,” or how excited he is that his girlfriend likes porn as much as he does. It’s funny, though, I’ve never heard one of these same guys tell his friends how stoked he is that his pornified girlfriend is a cool person, or smart, or interesting, or funny…

What does going along with porn culture require of women? I’ve already argued that women, as a result of social conditioning, generally come to be aroused at the thought of arousing a third party, but is that the whole of women’s sexuality? Of course not. Human sexuality is very complicated (I would even argue that female sexuality is more complicated than male sexuality), and there are so many factors involved that I won’t even try to tell anyone what female sexuality “is,” but I will say that I’m pretty sure it involves more than just being aroused by being seen as a sexual object. Porn culture, in tandem with our mainstream media, has taught women and men that the object of sexual interaction is male orgasm, and that everything else that takes place is corollary to that. Even the most indoctrinated of women cannot derive all of their sexual pleasure from arousing men, so this poses a serious problem; women’s sexuality is almost completely ignored in porn, and is treated as a side dish to male sexuality in most other media. That’s ridiculous. Women’s sexuality, the more complicated of the two, is treated as if it were so simple as to be almost non-existent, and women who want to go along with porn culture in pursuit of male acceptance are being forced to make do with having only a very small portion of their own sexuality acknowledged and having the vast majority of their sexual needs ignored.

It’s a dilemma: is it worth the trouble to demand that our sexuality be taken as independent of male sexuality, that our sexual needs be met, and that we be seen as fully human individuals who approach sex with motives that extend beyond the desire to titillate men? It might not be for some people. There don’t seem to be a huge number of men who are interested in understanding female sexuality or in relinquishing their perceived right to define what sex is and should be. For some women, learning to make do with a less-than-perfect sex life might be the easier option when the alternative is risking being shunned, ignored, or called a feminazi, lesbian, or prude for demanding that their sexuality be accorded the consideration men’s sexuality is.

But the only way that will change is if more of us do exactly that. I’m of the opinion that a lot of men, if they actually knew what real female sexuality was about, might find it more interesting than what goes on in porn. I also think that a lot of women would be surprised to find out just how complex and full of possibilities female sexuality is. Instead of thinking about new ways to sexually manipulate men, why not think about new ways to experience your own sexuality? Women need to start thinking about themselves more and about men less in almost every arena in life. It’s difficult and it goes against everything we’ve been taught, but it’s ultimately the most rewarding path in life, even if it is uncomfortable at times.


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