I’ve been writing a lot about Wendy McElroy and the individualist arguments for pornography. But her arguments, while important enough in the pro-pornography world, are hardly the final word. There’s a lot of people ready to defend pornography out there.
The most common argument, I think, is that the anti-pornography movement is just a waste of time, that it doesn’t address the real problems that women face, that pornography is just a symptom, that pornography doesn’t cause men to rape and that we should fight the real reasons why men rape.
This can be rephrased in an even better radical-sounding argument: why don’t you concentrate on the social conditions that give rise to the objectification of women, instead of attacking the objectification itself?
My first answer would be, why can’t we do both? What’s so bad about some people fighting pornography and other people gnaw at the roots? The latter can be a rather frustrating endeavor and something like antiporn has a greater chance of success, for one. A movement cannot be single-minded, and enforced conformity has never been healthy.
On the other hand, while people who make the argument may be honest, when it comes from men it does sound to me a lot like “stop attacking my boners.”
One example of this attitude comes from a paper called “Pro-Sex Feminism: Redefining Pornography.” The author’s argument is that the problem is not “all porn” but only “bad porn”:
There are many ways that feminists can change the impact porn has on society without resorting to laws that will only backfire. One way is for there to be more feminist porn producers. If there is more female-friendly porn on the market, the impact of the bad porn will lessen. As Betty Dodson states, “The answer to bad pornography is good pornography, not no pornography” (Dodson).
Although the term is not used here, it’s obviously another instance of the “feminist pornography” myth, that if only women were in charge of manufacturing the hierarchy-reproducing facsimiles of sex instead of men, they would produce “good pornography” which would not have any effect on sexual desire.
But this is a basic economic misunderstanding. All corporations seek to make and increase their profits, and they do so by manipulating and exploiting desires. It doesn’t matter if you put demons or angels in the command chairs, the result will be the same because the system will not change based on who’s taking what post. Female politicians, female policemen, female judges are subject to the same incentives as their male counterparts, and they do not change the world.
I might agree that “good pornography” would be one of the responses we should be making, if there was such a thing as “good pornography” and if such a thing was not doomed to failure within a pornography industry which is escalating the threat of violence, and actual violence, against women.
By educating women in the porn industry without taking away their free will, the flow of degrading materials will slow as quality ones are put into the market.
So these women would be “educated” (about what?) in a way that would somehow get them to create “quality materials” (“good pornography,” I assume), so cause them to change their behavior, but without taking away their “free will,” which is the (non-existing) ability to make “choices” without any external influence. What you’re seeing before your eyes is an incredible, wonderful Gordian Knot of bullshit. And this is supposed to be the workable solution?
But anyway, this education process is explained a little more in the preceding paragraph:
The key to battling the influence that the “bad” forms of pornography have on women is educating women about their sexuality. Education, along with other tactics, can prevent degrading, violent porn from disturbing those sensitive to its messages.
So educating women about their sexuality (women’s sexuality, not any specific person’s sexuality, I assume) is some kind of mental shield that prevents “bad pornography” from reaching their brains. Got it.
Another pro-pornography page tries to use Chomsky to make their point:
As Noam Chomsky has pointed out (see “ATC” 56, 25), whatever “harm” some pornography may be charged with, its effects (on women in particular) are surely insignificant compared with the effects of the continual barrage of sexist, racist, imperialist propaganda that spews forth from the mainstream, non-sexual media.
This, I think, goes to the core of the argument. The point raised by the author by referring to Chomsky is actually pretty great, but they obviously haven’t thought it through:
1. In this argument, pornography is designated as a source of harm, which defeats the author’s whole reasoning.
2. Obviously pornography is only a small part of the media, but the influence of objectifying images extends to the “mainstream, non-sexual media.” Objectifying images, poses that originate in pornography, become part of the “barrage of sexism.”
3. Radical feminists, being radicalized, don’t generally support the State either. They are also very well aware that pornography is only one of the sources of Patriarchal conditioning, and that it finds its roots in a deeper ideology of objectification and hatred of women.
They also argue that censoring pornography means giving more power to the State, especially power to censor women’s sexuality. I find that argument specious. As I’ve pointed out before, pro-pornography advocates don’t complain about the fact that we censor many other things, including child pornography, defamation, threats, and so on. I don’t know of any pro-pornography advocate who argues that censoring defamation and threats could give the State the power to censor run-of-the-mill gossip or healthy expressions of anger.
Of course as an Anarchist I am against the State by definition, and I’d rather live in an Anarchist society, but that’s not what we have right now. Given the situation we’re in, I’d rather the State censor pornography than simply ignore it, just as I’d rather the State prevent murder, rape, corporate fraud, and so on and so forth (it won’t, but it would be nice if it did).
The slippery slope argument is extremely weak, anyhow, because we want to censor corporations, not individuals. Pornography is manufactured and distributed by corporations. Surely there’s not a lot of ambiguity between a corporation putting out a pornographic video and two people filming themselves in their bedroom.
But I also agree that censorship is not a long term solution, although I don’t see why that would prohibit us from seeking it in the short and medium term. The long term solution is to take down the Patriarchy. But we can’t really challenge the Patriarchy in any meaningful way if we refuse to deconstruct and challenge its institutions, no matter what size they are.