Soo. Pornography, eh. Recently the topic of porn has come up in the not-terribly-radical ‘Glasgow Feminist Network’ Facebook group, provoked by a link to this event. I wouldn’t pay that much attention, but, well, so much of the chat is just the same stuff you see everywhere, so I thought may as well knock off half an hour of a slow bank holiday monday putting some of my objections in one place.
For those of you who didn’t click through on that link, it is a “call for action” that aims to ‘subvert the aesthetics of desire’, by asking questions like, “Can you make a porn film that isn’t offensive to women as a whole, without losing the sexual experience for the female individual? Is our sexuality really limited to these icons of hegemonic desire?”
Which is all dandy. (The idea of offensiveness to ‘women as a whole’ doesn’t … fill me with confidence – all women? Monolithic pornography is monolithically offensive to women, en bloc? That seems a little, y’know, too easy
problematic dangerous. But whatever, it isn’t like I’ve never used a phrase that’s too easy and as a result been a dick; that’s like, the story of my life, man.) Things that are less dandy: the discussion provoked. Good grief, sisters, your privilege is showing.
You could play prohibitionist bingo with this stuff, but I’ll resist (sort of. Like, I won’t make a board). That’s for another time, involving friends and alcohol, not grey afternoons and lemsip (glamourous call-girl life). Instead, I’m just gonna give you some bullet points and some bits of things I’m reading.
- “There are tenets to feminism and watching a woman get jizzed all over is not a feminist act. It’s anti-feminist. I’m disturbed that porn is being posted in this forum.”
One of the only good things I’ve read in the Observer recently was an interview with the founder of Rookie Mag, in which she says, “I realised feminism isn’t a rulebook; its a discussion”. Obviously, Tavi is terrifyingly amazing and badass (we can all get behind this, right?), but seriously, – she’s what, fourteen? How difficult is this? Beyond saying “feminism: very much up for discussion”, I’d beware of ‘friends’ bearing definitions (“there are tenets to feminism …”), because it is feminisms, plural, and doesn’t it strike you that “I, me, myself, with my all-seeing insight, will now list for you everything in the world, under two columns, ‘is feminist’, and ‘isn’t feminist'” – does it not seem like that might be a wee bit, y’know, problematic? You’re gonna define feminism for everybody? For Louise Mensch and Emma Goldman and the women who collectively run a 12,800 strong sex worker co-operative on the outskirts of Kolkata? All those feminists are the same and have the same interests as you? Interesting. Literally very interesting.
The other thing I have to say about this particular pull-quote is how it interestingly elides “talking about pornography” with “pornography itself”. The original event that started the discussion – the one of I’ve already quoted from? – The one that asks questions like, “Is our sexuality really limited to these icons of hegemonic desire?” – that is being called ‘pornography’ (“I’m disturbed to see pornography being posted in this forum”). Like, man, I’ve seen some weird kinks in my time, but even I think only a vanishingly small minority will be getting off on the use of the word ‘hegemonic’. You’re disturbed to see pornography being posted in this forum? Well, I’m disturbed to see use of the scary p-word being deployed to frighten off critical thought, so who’s disturbed now, huh?
- “I’m talking about actual images of women being degraded, not written ‘erotica’.”
Even people who don’t agree with me on everything (you sickos) will surely already see the problem here. But here’s a wee quotation from a book I’m currently reading: “In recent times, the word ‘pornography’ has assumed such negative connotations that it tends to be used as an epithet to describe – and condemn – whatever sexually orientated expression the person using it dislikes. As one wit put it, “what turns me on is erotica; what turns you on is pornography”. Likewise, Walter Kendrick’s comprehensive 1987 study of the subject … makes clear that the term ‘pornography’ consistently has been applied to whatever sexual representations a particular dominant class or group does not want in the hands of a less dominant class or group”(1). The distinction between pornography and erotica is one born of class privilege – that, and a hilarious inability to imagine that what turns you on might leave another person stone cold, and vice-versa.
Incidentally, just to break down this insidious ‘men like one thing, women like something totally different’ implication that has definitely snuck in, here’s a brilliant and hilarious article from a feminist woman who – get this – likes being ‘degraded’ (she even specifically talks about the whole jizz-on-face thing! Why, its almost as if feminists have had this chat before, and lots of people have really not so much excuse for being so under-educated!). We should probably take away her feminist card, amirite, sisters? Or maybe we should pause before unleashing all this gender-essentialist, heteronormative, sexuality-policing weird stuff on each other. (The author of the linked-to piece: “anybody who thinks I, personally, am going to spend the rest of my life being sweetly made love to while I cry tears of sheer, uncut BOREDOM is out of their freaking minds”. Successful marriages have been built on less love than I have for this woman.) Or, “since we can’t erase reality, we better start dealing in nuance”.
- “Prostitution = rape. Pornography = filmed prostitution = rape on camera.”
Oh goody, we’ve reached the money-shot. (Sorry)(2). This has been covered so many times, and so well, that I really am just going to curate the excellentness of other feminists.
On the topic of rape, here’s Sofie Buckland: “Leon Trotsky exhorted communists to ‘call things by their proper names’, a lesson feminist writers would do well to take on board. Utilising the language of non-consent, of violent crime and violation, to describe sex work diminishes the feminist politics of rape and sex work equally. If a sex worker cannot consent, even within more-or-less constrained circumstances, why does it matter when she is raped? The sexual assault of a sex worker becomes one with her work: if you cannot consent, under any circumstance, if your work is rape, then there is no concept of being raped, for you. Consent and non-consent alike become meaningless. And if this sounds like the attitude the police, the judiciary and the state have taken towards sex workers since time immemorial, that’s because it is ..”.
I have worked with survivors of sexual assault; like many people who have been teenage girls(3), I’ve experienced less than ideal levels of consent in some of my sexual encounters, and I’m a sex worker. If you really think that “prostitution = rape” (so elegantly expressed, by the way), then … you’re telling me that I don’t know the difference between rape and consent – as it plays out – in my own life. Wouldja like to come and say that to my face? Wouldja like to at least see why that is so very, very offensive?
All the desks in the world may not be enough for me to band my head upon. To conclude, here’s a Ms article that should be required reading: ‘How To Respect Sex Workers’. I’m really just going to leave this here for y’all. Sofie’s piece is brilliant and amazing, but also quite-context specific and has scary quotes from Trotsky. (Trotsky!) The Ms article has less scary leftwing politics (if you’re scared of that sort of thing), and plots a really really clear route towards using language a whole lot less shittily: please do consider having an extended peruse, Glasgow-feminist sisters.
And I’m now too ground down with how depressing this all is to finish in a terribly spritely way. Here’s a message from Le Tigre, fronted by, as you’ll all know, feminist icon and former-stripper Kathleen Hanna. Sometimes when I’m sad I do a google image search on “Kathleen Hanna” and look at pictures of her and think how amazing she is, and that cheers me up. See, people – sex workers, they’re just like you. (If you also do that kind of thing. If you don’t, let’s pretend this never happened.)
(1) Defending Pornography, Nadine Strossen. Page 18. No way am I doing these academic-style.
(2) I’m not sorry.
(3) This may also apply to people who have not been teenage girls. I’m being flippant because this topic is difficult.