Talking against pornography in any way whatsoever is a direct attack against the liberal mainstream. When I posted my entry against male entitlement, which only mentioned pornography once as an aside, all the replies I got from the liberals (especially from Reddidiots) were about pornography. It’s obvious that this is a topic they have an extremely strong need to defend.
We seem to now be operating under the assumption that access to pornography is a human right. In fact, this has been American jurisprudence since 1969 (Stanley v Georgia). Prisoners are not given access to pornography for the most part, which prompted a court case famous amongst radfems, and this response:
Seeing as pornography is largely produced for, made by, sold to, and used by men; it is unsurprising that it would be viewed as a civil right, as is being argued by the prisoner. After all, men’s sexuality is represented as both uncontrollable and as, in fact, a ‘need’, like food and water. Because this dominant version of male sexuality is also very much tied to a version of masculinity that tells men (and women) that what is ‘sexy’ is to treat women as though they are not equals, assumes that masculinity equals dominance and femininity equal passivity, and also, of course, that sex must equal the penetration of women in an orifice that belongs to her, this supposed ‘need’ men have to find a sexual release seems, based on these assumptions, almost always to include the objectification and degradation of women, for example through the use of pornography and prostituted women.
On this particular issue, I am of course against prisons and think that whole system (including the entanglement of profit-seeking, and therefore prisoners-seeking, corporations in what is now the prison business) needs to be dismantled pronto. It makes no sense to say that prisoners surrender their rights. If they have a right to pornography, then they have a right to pornography whether they are in prison or not. Human beings are human beings, no matter whether they’re children, prisoners, in a coma, etc.
But beyond that, Meghan Murphy is right in pointing out that this is a male issue and that it is based on the sexual myth of [heterosexual] men as depraved beings who can only “get off” on the degradation of women. This is a great myth for men to perpetuate because it gives them the perfect excuse to degrade women.
Pornography, on the whole, exists to channel that degradation and objectification for profit-making purposes, although it is not by far the only industry that does so. It also gives men the perfect comeback to women who oppose pornography or to girlfriends/spouses who oppose their use of pornography; they can belittle them for being backwards (because pornography is “progressive”), for not being considerate to men (because men absolutely “need” pornography) and for not supporting women’s choices (because pornography “empowers” women).
As for the thorny issue of what exactly constitutes pornography, there seems to be no consensus on this. My working definition of pornography is pretty simple: it is the product of the mass production of representations of what is supposed to be sexual activity.
Pornography is not the explicit depiction of people having sex, it is the transformation of this sex act into a commercial commodity for popular consumption.
According to a recent study, 88.2% of scenes in top-circulating adult videos contain violence, and 48.7% of these scenes contain verbal aggression. Some pornography does not visibly objectify or degrade women and portrays female sexuality realistically, mainly Internet-intensive companies like MET-Art, Abby Winters, Hegre-Art, and so on (although Abby Winters has been sued for a number of unethical practices, so those companies can be shady as well). But these companies produce a minority of all pornography, and I doubt you’ll find any of those videos on the shelves of video stores. At any rate, I am not including them in this analysis, so if you only watch videos from these companies, don’t take it fucking personal.
Men who do not watch porn are discouraged from speaking up by social ostracism; for instance, famous sexologist Dan Savage has called such men “liars or castrates.” A man who doesn’t get off on the degradation of women is not really a man.
Here is Savage’s unprovoked attack against a woman who is concerned about her boyfriend’s use of pornography and asked for his help:
All men look at porn–men with hot girlfriends, men with dumpy girlfriends, men with 10 girlfriends, men with no girlfriends. The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates. Tearful discussions about your insecurities or your feminist principles will not stop a man from looking at porn. That’s why the best advice for straight women is this: GET OVER IT. If you don’t want to be with someone who looks at porn–if you can’t handle it, AG–get a woman, get a dog, or get a blind guy. I’m sorry if you think that’s insensitive–no, wait: I’m not sorry.
Either get over your feminist principles or become a lesbian/spinster, you crying hysterical woman! Things always get interesting when privileged liberals think they can get away with being bigots, don’t they?
In another entry, Meghan Murphy quotes Savage and other sexologists, who do their best to trivialize women’s reasonable objections and worries about porn use. While they are not as macholy insulting as Savage, their message is basically that those women are worrying for nothing and that some good ol’ communication (the universal relational solvent) will quiet their reticence. Heck, you can even use the porn as a way to improve your own sex life (one assumes that a cumshot on your face a day keeps the divorce away, or something like that).
Pornography is only a problem if the man is addicted to it, i.e. an actual “medical” problem. Otherwise, the woman’s values or worries are merely the result of a communication problem. Presumably the man can convince the woman that getting off on the degradation of women is no big deal, and even convince her to do some of that stuff in bed.
Everything in our rape culture is oriented towards normalizing sexual violence against women and the trivialization of female sexual concerns, to the point that performing masculinity means to actively want to degrade women.
Men do not need pornography to “get off.” I state this outright because, insofar as pornography discussions go, it seems to be the elephant in the room. All men know this fact for themselves, but they cannot say it out loud because it destroys the only justification for their made-up entitlement/right to pornography. Pornography is merely one of the methods we have of expressing sexuality, a particularly degrading one which has little to do with sexuality to begin with. Because of this, no case can be made for any right to pornography.
The majority opinion on Stanley v Georgia based its support of a right to pornography on the belief that the consumption of pornography is a personal matter:
If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man sitting in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.
Well, as an Anarchist, I can agree that the State has no business telling anyone anything. But this also highlights the fact that rights-talk is often individualistic in nature. No one is denying that a man should sit in his own house and read or watch whatever he wants. But it must also be acknowledged that women have very good reasons to criticize and reject pornography as an expression of male sexuality, and to be wary of any man who uses pornography as a means to express his sexuality.
Most importantly, we must be extremely critical of the production side of pornography: who is making these movies, how are they treated, what acts does pornography depict, what effects does pornography have on the men who watch it and the women who have sex with those men, and whether this kind of “speech” is performed in an egalitarian manner or if it is inherently corporatist, hierarchical.
One of the conclusions of radical feminism is that pornography is part of the Patriarchy, that its working conditions are unacceptable to the point where one cannot tell if any act portrayed is consensual or not, that its actresses are often underage and prostitutes, and that it poisons the way in which men and women see sex.
If all this is true (as I believe it is), then it is wrong to produce pornography, and our goal should be to prevent this production. And it’s meaningless to speak of a right to access pornography if it should not be produced, since one cannot access what is not produced. If two people have sex with complete consent and record themselves, I wouldn’t call that pornography, but either way there wouldn’t be any issue with people watching that.
I mentioned that what pornography presents is ostensibly sexuality, but what it does present is a way for men and women to relate physically which is oriented towards the gratification of men and the degradation of women, which has little to do with honest sexual relationships. Considering pornography as a valid representation of sex is an obvious prerequisite for its acceptance as a normal, valid way for men to express their sexuality. If pornography is instead seen as a twisted facsimile of sex manufactured to appeal to the lowest common denominator, our indoctrination into gender roles, then why would we accept it as normal or valid? So our concept of sexuality is fundamental.
An analysis of sexuality is crucial. Sexuality is foundational in the subordination of women which means that – once you’ve got that – you can’t go wrong on pornography and prostitution and the global sex industry, marriage or any of these other issues.
And this is why pro-pornography and pro-prostitution advocates must desperately portray radical feminism as being anti-sex. If the concepts of pornography and prostitution are representations of sexuality, then anyone who opposes them must be anti-sex. To not claim that their opponents are anti-sex would be tantamount to an admission that pornography and prostitution are not really about sex. Obviously, that is the one fact they must evade at all costs.
But to a radical feminist, this criticism is bizarre. As anti-pornography activist Gail Dines once said, “if I made a criticism of McDonald’s from a capitalist or humanitarian perspective, would you say I was anti-eating?” Being against McDonald’s doesn’t make one against all kinds of eating.
The deeper analogy is equally obvious: McDonald’s serves imitation food, pornography serves imitation sex (a mass-produced, wrongly-produced, adulterated, unhealthy, ethically undesirable product).
Also, while we have a right to food, we don’t have a right to McDonald’s food. Shutting down McDonald’s for some good reason (whether it is the environmental devastation it causes, its illegal workplace practices, its unhealthy food, or any number of other reasons) would not deny anyone their human rights. McDonald’s is not necessary for food any more than pornography is necessary for sex or masturbation.
The funfem analysis of pornography is very, very different from the analysis I’ve given in this entry. They are pro-pornography advocates. Their central concept is that of agency: women express their agency when they voluntarily join the pornography industry or prostitution, and they see the role of feminism as ensuring that women can do so on equal grounds with men. For funfems, there are only two attitudes one can have towards sexual activity: the imposition of shame (the traditional response) or complete acceptance (the funfem response).
This means that funfems accuse radfems of wanting to make pornography and prostitution shameful for women1. But again, this conclusion is bizarre when seen from the radfem perspective, because radfem (as I understand it) concerns itself with systemic (i.e. radical) analysis, not analysis of individual actions. Radfem does not have much to say about the fact of any specific woman engaging in prostitution or pornographic work, except to frame it within the context of the Patriarchy; it is strictly concerned with the nature of these framing institutions and resulting system.
Women cope with living under a patriarchy in any way they can. This is not to say that the funfem approach is valid, but that we must blame the institutions women adapt themselves to, not the women themselves.
1 Based on this, they try to associate radfem with fundamentalist Christians who believe that pornography is “filthy” and something shameful. I don’t understand this argument: it seems to be a circular argument, since they define both pornography and filth as obscenity. As far as I can tell, it really means that pornography makes you think about sex, and that Christianity holds non-reproductive sex as sinful. This has nothing to do with radfem arguments.