You’re doing X in spite of Y. Right on. Now how about we remove Y so we can all do A through Z?

One cannot spend eight years reading books on historical esoterica and four years in graduate seminars on the subject of historiography without being forced to train oneself to maintain equanimity of facial expression no matter how many times one is confronted with the trendiest topic in contemporary social science: agency. It’s a trendy topic because it’s obvious and simple, and it allows graduate students who are short on time (and, often, motivation) to pretend they’ve thought carefully about a reading assignment by raising the objection that the historian has not given enough consideration to the “agency” of this or that group of people or has overstated the amount of agency that group of people was able to exercise. So, I’ll admit, of all of the feminist bloggers on the internet, I probably have the lowest tolerance for discussions of the concept of agency, both because I feel sorry for the dead horse and because there’s almost always an element of delusion, dishonesty, or intentional relativism in any agency argument.

The discussion of agency might make more sense in the realm of writing about history than it does in terms of feminism, mainly because there’s no real agreement on the role of the historian in society. Is a historian supposed to tell us how things got the way they are now? How things were at a given moment? Which things led to which other things? Are historians supposed to use the past to warn us about the present or the future? Offer moral judgments? As the belief that the scientific method is the only true means by which one can know anything has come to dominate western (and — at this point — global) epistemology, and as the belief that only “experts” with expensive and standardized training have the cultural and social authority to tell us anything (and even then, experts are only allowed to have opinions about the very narrow subject areas that they’re experts on), historians have moved away from making grand claims and toward attempting to explain “what it was like” at a given time in a given location while avoiding mention of what came before and after out of fear of being accused of teleological thinking or, even worse, stepping beyond the boundaries of their areas of expertise. They can be excused for that. The academy sets up false divisions between disciplines, geographical regions, time periods, and subjects of inquiry that one must tolerate in order to get the funding needed to read for a living. But what that has done to the field of history is fairly dismal. The world looks fragmented, patterns of oppression and violence seem incoherent and quite possibly unreal, economic exploitation appears disconnected from politics, women look like one percent of the population because that’s how much text ends up devoted to telling their story.

Unfortunately, those who write women’s history are often the worst culprits and are frequently guilty of focusing on agency to the exclusion of reality, telling us these women transcended the limits placed on women as a whole, these women resisted male oppression, or these women made lemonade when men gave them a truckload of horseshit and abuse. Usually, these women end up being an infinitesimal portion of the female elites of a given society who were able to exercise a small measure of freedom and write about it, leaving us with evidence that it happened. I’m all for celebrating women who break out of molds and resist, but not when the celebration covers up a reality that warrants mourning, a covering up that often occurs despite the fact that the broader, oppressive reality is cursorily acknowledged in the introduction to the book.

There’s a balance that has yet to be struck; how do we recover and acknowledge the voices and perspectives that patriarchy, plutocracy, and global capitalism have suppressed and silenced without losing sight of the overarching systems of oppression that left us with that dearth of competing perspectives in the first place? Is it more important to recover those perspectives, or is it more important to call attention to the systems of oppression in order that we might move toward taking them down? Do we focus in on individuals exercising agency in a system that’s fucked, or analyze and critique the system itself?

I’m going with the latter, both as a historian and as a feminist, not because I don’t think the former is important, but because the former, while it might make me feel warm and/or fuzzy, distracts me from the work that has to be done. And because, as a feminist, I’m not beholden to the same set of rules I am as a historian. Feminism needs totalizing theories, not micro-histories or anecdotes of individual agency. The fragmentation of knowledge and the emphasis on detail over systematizing theory is a key component in the continuation of capitalism, patriarchy, and human misery. Marx didn’t care whether one factory worker in Berlin said, “Hey, your theory doesn’t ring true for me. My life fucking rules!”

I’m often told that I rob people of agency by making statements that porn is bad, that rape is an epidemic, that stripping isn’t transgressive, that breast implants aren’t a form of empowerment. I’m tired of making those incredibly obvious statements anyway, but how exactly am I robbing anyone of their agency? I know it’s hard to face the idea that one’s agency is limited in a world in which we’re told we are all individuals with unlimited potential, but please have a look around. We operate within fields, as Bordieu would say, and within those fields, our agency is, in fact, limited. Not by radical feminists, but by those with enough social and cultural capital to set the terms of the field itself (which radical feminists do not have). I might ignore what agency you exercise within a fucked system and choose to focus my energies on the system itself, but I can’t rob you of agency or the ability to exercise it, only the system can. What does agency mean when it’s so limited by pre-existing boundaries? Why focus our energy on congratulating people for agency exercised within a limiting, oppressive social formation instead of calling attention to systemic oppression? Why allow seven women’s agency, especially when it plays into patriarchal oppression, overshadow three billion women’s reality?

Get on the fucking ball, janitors.

I was hanging out here at Chez Deuce with Pisaquari the other night when we decided to do a little Google experimentin’. You see, despite having issued challenges in the past to my many porn-apologist readers requesting that they produce an example of “feminist” (or at least non-misogynistic) porn, I have yet to see one of these unicorns myself. I don’t particularly care whether I ever do see one, being as I don’t need other people to tell me what to think about in order to jack off, but I would like to see some evidence if people are going to keep making the claim that not all porn is necessarily laden with woman hatred. I also don’t really understand why people — especially feminists — spend so much time and energy discussing three feminist outliers that may or may not exist while ignoring the three billion or so misogynistic porn images that definitely do exist.

So we googled “feminist porn” to see what we’d find. What we got was 322,000 results, most of which were discussions by feminists of whether such a thing as feminist porn can or does exist, along with a very, very small number of sites claiming to offer “woman friendly” porn. On the first page of results, there were only two that contained any porn or links thereto, and there wasn’t another one until the fifth page of results. From there on out, I didn’t see any at all and eventually got tired of seeing the same summary results over and over: rehashings of the ol’ “is feminist porn an oxymoron” debate and interviews with women who claim to be both feminists and porn stars. Interesting.

We weren’t exactly shocked at the results, though I think we were both a bit surprised that there were only three sites within five pages professing to offer feminist porn. I mean, I know that most self-proclaimed feminist porn fails comically to live up to its name, but I still figured there’d be more than three sites in five pages claiming to make the grade. We decided to compare those results with other search terms for niche varieties of porn we assumed would garner a similar number of hits.


We googled “rape porn.” We got 1,860,000 results, and the entire first page, a link to the Wikipedia article on tentacle rape porn notwithstanding, was made up of links to sites offering rape porn. On the first five pages, every single result save three was a rape porn site. Some quotes: “Crying young teen bitches in violent rape porn movies!,” “Weeping chicks getting their holes probed by countless men in a row or even at once – all without their approval, all at inimitable Gang Rape Videos!,” “Rape these bitches so hard they bleed from torn ass holes and abused pussies.”

We googled “brutal porn.” We got 2,810,000 results, and every single result in the first five pages except for one news story about a brutal child porn ring was a site offering things like “Brutal sex, throatfuck mixed up with brutal face fucking” and “some of the scariest porn on the net.”

We googled “dog porn.” We got 47,600,000 results, and aside from a few articles about a porn actor who killed a dog and some dumbass asking what would happen if his dog watched porn on Yahoo! Answers, the entirety of the first five pages were made up of sites offering things like “Dog fucks wet pussy. Huge horsecock in teen pussyand “dog fucking girls, woman drink animal cum, beast cumshot.”

Sigh. For god’s sake. Can we face the fucking facts, PLEASE? There are nearly six times more hits for “rape porn” than there are for “feminist porn,” nearly nine times more results for “brutal porn,” and nearly one hundred forty-eight times as many results for “dog porn.” In all three instances, the top results were all for sites offering images of women being brutalized, raped, or fucked by animals, with nary a news article, blog post, or interview with anyone who might take issue with the existence of propaganda that teaches men and boys that women and girls are subhuman and available for raping. I know how search engine optimization works, but I also know that the number of times people click on a certain site in relation to a given search term plays a role in that site’s position in the results for future searches for that term.

Do you know what that means? No one clicks on sites that claim to offer feminist porn. Lots of people click on sites that offer rape porn. Were feminist porn to actually exist, it wouldn’t matter, because no one is looking for feminist porn and no one cares to see what it might look like because people don’t watch porn to see two equals going at it. While we waste our time arguing about whether feminist porn exists, whether a feminist can be into mainstream porn without getting kicked out of the club, whether women can participate in the production of mainstream porn and still claim to be feminists, etc., men are producing and consuming enough brutal porn to drown us all in a purulent swamp of misogyny. It ain’t men these sites are claiming we’ll get to see fucked by donkeys, anally gang raped, brutally throat fucked, and covered in jizz. It’s women, and it’s women who have to live in a world saturated with images of women being degraded, debased, dehumanized, and despised. Who gives a shit, in this context, if a couple of tattooed, 115 IQ havin’, zombie lovin’ drama club geeks think they’ve found a way to make a video of two people fucking that doesn’t involve the woman being called a whore?

We had to try to find something even more recherche than feminist porn. We tried “pizza porn” (3,190,000 results) and got a combo of photos foodies had taken of pizzas with ridiculous shit on them and sites about introducing “sluts” to “big sausages.” We tried “rodeo porn” (748,000 results) and were treated to sites featuring topless women riding bulls and being porked by rednecks. So, of course, we tried “redneck porn” (725,000 results) and found out there are thousands of sites that amalgamate cousin incest and deer hunting into one rompin’ good time. We checked out “homeless porn” (1,050,000 results), “cop porn” (2,730,000 results), “emo porn” (2,920,000 results), “fart porn” (1,680,000 results), “shit porn” (6,490,000 results), “fraternity porn” (387,000 results), and “puke porn” (1,620,000 results). It seemed we’d never find a porn genre that had generated less interest than feminist porn when at last we stumbled upon it. Janitor porn! Only 239,000 hits! But to be fair to janitors and lovers of janitor porn, there were quite a few actual porn sites with clips like “Janitor Pretends he Rich give SLUTS fake Vodka for Group Sex” within the first five pages of results, so even though “janitor porn” might generate fewer results than “feminist porn,” there might actually be more janitor porn than there is feminist porn (really, I’m sure there is, since I’ve now seen janitor porn and have yet to see feminist porn).

Let’s get some perspective here, huh? When someone spends 99% of their time defending .0000001% of an industry while avoiding confronting the 99.9999999% of the industry that has real effects on women’s lives, that person looks a bit delusional/defensive/dishonest. Let it go, dude. Admit that you know porn is bad for women and you use it, participate in it, or profit from it anyway. You aren’t fooling anyone here, and I doubt that you’re even fooling yourself.