While my regular readers will not be too surprised by this topic, a vast majority of people, I suspect, would be outraged by it: both people who are pro-pornography and anti-spanking (liberal types) and people who are anti-pornography and pro-spanking (conservative types). I have never seen this comparison made before, and for good reason: people devote a great deal of energy denying what pornography and spanking are, and comparing them truthfully requires one to first understand precisely that. What I intend to show here is that the arguments used by both pornsick men and spanking advocates are very similar. I don’t believe this is a coincidence.
1. “It’s not real abuse!”
This is pretty straightforward. Spanking advocates vehemently deny that spanking is abusive at all: it’s generally the very first thing they start their arguments with, as if we need to be “set straight” on this subject before we can even understand their arguments. They say that spanking is a necessary part of parenting, that without it children simply cannot be disciplined.
Pornsick men also argue that pornography is just fantasy and that the abuse we observe is not real, did not really happen, and are a necessary part of “the industry.” In fact, they apply considerable legal pressure against, for instance, mandatory contraception in pornographic shoots on the grounds that, without legal leeway, pornography simply cannot survive.
These arguments are great examples of delusional thinking. While there is an element of fantasy in both cases (in the case of spanking, the rituals associated with its use, in the case of pornography, the dialogue and acting that comes before the sex), spanking and sex in pornography are real acts that happen to real people and have real consequences. Real children are sexually assaulted every day, and real women are getting assaulted and raped on film every day. The rituals and the dialogue only serve to distance the participants (and viewers) from the acts, although nowadays pornography is increasingly getting rid of dialogue and going straight for the sex.
2. “Bad women/bad children deserve to be abused (because they chose to be bad)”
Both positions share the belief that women/children must be divided into two groups, “good” and “bad,” although the justification for those groups differs. In the case of pornography, women are divided into “good women,” usually described as “wives, mothers, sisters,” and so on, and “bad women” (“sluts”), who want to be abused and get no negative repercussions from the abuse. Even though they also have families, these “bad women” are never described as wives, mothers, or sisters because, again, the objective is to distance the pornography viewer from empathizing with those women.
In the case of spanking, children are divided into “good children,” who are “better seen and not heard,” and “bad children,” who are unruly, too loud, “wild,” refuse to agree with their parents, refuse to behave, refuse to obey orders. The latter deserve to be abused because they “chose” to be unruly.
The concept of “choice” is crucially important in both cases, and shows the similarity of views about “choice” for liberals and conservatives. For people who are pro-pornography, the women’s “choice” to be in pornography validates the abuse they go through, but it’s framed as a good thing. For people who are pro-spanking, the child’s “choice” to be unruly validates the abuse they go through, and it’s framed as a punishment, as a correction, or using the weasel word “discipline.” “Choice” is always used as a cudgel against the exploited group, no matter who’s doing the exploiting; they just frame it differently.
Many questions are buried under the word “choice,” and the most important of those is: what makes a woman or a child turn “bad”? It’s an important question because the people who push this “choice” rhetoric absolutely do not want to you ask it, and they will complain and whine mightily if you try to give some answers. Obviously the people doing the exploitation don’t want you to undo the illusion of “choice” that their moral high ground relies upon.
Furthermore, in both cases, the motivation is connected to the exploiters themselves in some way. In the case of children, it’s a direct connection: by and large, children are “bad” because their parents either put unreasonable demands on the child and have made it so rebelling is the only way out, or have mishandled the child’s early development. Most parents have no expertise whatsoever in child-raising, and you get the results you expect to get from amateurs, in the same way that you’d expect a group of amateurs to build a terrible house or fail at driving a plane (and a child is many orders of magnitude more complex than a house or a plane). So they compensate for their failures by inflicting physical violence, because force is the only thing that makes any sense to them.
In the case of prostitution, the connection is more indirect. By and large, women involved in pornography are economically motivated: they get involved because they are promised a high-paying career and they have no better alternatives. This is a result of the way capitalism has segregated people by gender, the same capitalism that the pornography industry is embedded into. And the pornography industry is no more kind to its workers than any other industry.
Now, I know many people are thinking “but surely there are women out there who are bad/surely there are children out there who are bad.” I reject that premise, because I reject the perspectives (misogyny, childism) within which these categories make sense. Just to be clear, I am not saying that women and children do not commit immoral acts. But that’s not what a “bad woman” or a “bad child” is. A “bad woman” is not an immoral woman, it’s a woman who wants to be sexually abused in pornography and who gets off on it. And there’s no such thing. A “bad child” is not an immoral child, it’s a child that deserves to be punished for being unruly. And there’s no such thing. No matter what they do, no woman or child “chooses” or deserves to be abused.
Pornography has an additional consideration about this dichotomy, and that’s the belief that if men are not free to exploit “bad women” then they will rape “good women.” In a sense, “bad women” are conceived of as an inferior class which should be abused for the benefit of the superior classes. In childism, there is a concept that “bad children” can negatively influence “good children” and drag them down to their level, although I don’t think it’s specific to pro-spanking rhetoric. Most importantly, “good children” and “bad children” are not really seen as different classes, since any child can be spanked if they “misbehave.”
3. “I don’t care what you say, my personal gratification is more important.”
Pornsick men don’t care about the abuse or rape they may be masturbating to, because they hold that their orgasms are more important. Parents don’t care about the assaults they are inflicting on their children, because their intense desire for a quiet home or obedient kids trumps any such consideration. In both cases, the evaluation is done on a selfish basis. They don’t care about the well-being of women or children, they care about their own well-being above all else. And that’s just fucked up. How self-absorbed do you have to be to support women getting assaulted and raped, or children getting assaulted, to protect your own little feelings?
4. Flimsy rights claims.
Pornsick men claim that they have the right to watch pornography. They argue for this in two ways: first, in claiming the right to free speech for producers of pornography, second, in claiming that their orgasm is so important that watching pornography should be recognized as a right, no matter where. I’ve previously debunked the use of free speech to defend pornography. As for orgasms, everyone knows men don’t need pornography to get one… except, of course, if they’re pornsick. Either way, it’s not clear why this is a human right at all.
But more importantly, it’s also not clear how these rights claims, which are rather tenuous, stack up with the rights of the women who get raped and assaulted within the production of pornography, or the rights of the women whose rape or assault is motivated by pornography use, or the implicit threat that widespread pornography and pornographic media content presents for women as a class. These are real, tangible crimes. Not letting pornsick men have videos of a woman getting choked by penises… not really a crime of the same magnitude. I don’t think you can reasonably compare the two.
Spanking advocates claim that they have the right to parent as they see fit, even if this includes corporal punishment. Now, logically, you can’t have such a right unless you assume that the child is owned by the parents. Otherwise how could you claim a right to control another human being to the point where you can assault them, or, if you prefer, “discipline” them? No human being has the right to assault any other, but we think that parenting should be the exception. From a non-childist perspective, that doesn’t really make sense: children are human beings and deserve to be treated like human beings. Human beings may be stopped from doing something damageable if they are not aware of the danger, and they may be prevented from harming others, but they may not be assaulted in order to conform to someone else’s desires.
As I wrote above, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that pornsick men and spanking advocates use the same general approach to justify their perversions, because both pornography and spanking involve sexual assault and personal gratification. The fact that pornography reproduces inequality, and that spanking takes place in a context of incredible inequality, has something to do with it as well. Finally, stereotypes about women often refer to infantile characteristics: the oppression of women goes hand in hand with the oppression of children (and this is true in terms of social value as well).
Now, I do want to be clear: I am not stating that pornography and spanking are “equally bad.” I have no idea how you could even measure such a thing. I am not organizing an Oppression Olympics. What I am saying is that the arguments are similar because the social context is roughly similar. If you support the use of violence in one hierarchy, then you have no particularly good reason to reject the use of violence in another hierarchy. You could say similar sort of things about capital punishment fans, corporate abuses, neo-liberalism around the world, BDSM, natalism, and so on. The same attitude underlies support for all of them. Underlying all these rationalizations is a simple principle: might makes right.
Here are my answers to each of these points:
1. Abuse against other human beings is abuse, no matter the rituals, contracts or other scripts put around it.
2. There is no such thing as a “bad woman” or a “bad child,” because no matter what they do, no one deserves to be sexually abused.
3. Any individual’s personal gratification is not worth the ongoing abuse against women and children.
4. The rights of women and children to be free from abuse are more important than the oppressors’ “rights.”