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Feminism and Porn: A rant

04/09/2010

Hi. I’m a feminist and I like porn. There. I said it.

The fact that I hold these two seemingly opposing viewpoints does not mean that I think the porn industry is inherently feminist or that the production of pornography is immune from the influences of bad people and practices. Far from it, actually.

Similarly, the fact that some women find themselves turned on by porn does not mean that porn is not oppressive to women. It simply means that women are turned on by images of sex, which is no surprise. Relatively few women want to admit that they are turned on by sexual images, because they think they are not supposed to, but studies show that most are physically aroused by sexual imagery, whether it be porn or True Blood or even chimps doin’ the nasty.

I recently read this essay by Franklin Veaux on his blog while researching another topic, and while he had me for the first two thirds of his essay, he lost me when he got to the part about porn.  Specifically, he argues that feminists who argue against porn are agreeing with social conservatives, and therefore their arguments are suspect (guilt by association, anyone?). To support this, Mr. Veaux is presents a strawman argument. He suggests that anti-porn feminists wish to shame women who do not fit their ideal of feminist behaviour and that they wish to control women by eliminating pornography.  He also asserts that the more oppressive the patriarchy within a society is, the less sexual imagery is tolerated, and that in our more free and enlightened society, porn is so rampant because of our freedom from repression. He is affirming the consequent by implying that the fact that porn exists means the patriarchy does not exist, which is logically unsound.

As I understand it, anti-porn feminists want to see an end to pornography.  However, I would argue, as a self proclaimed pro-porn feminist, that I’d also like to see an end to pornography too. Like arguments against the burka/hijab/niqab (or arguments against abortion for that matter) any attempt to control what a woman does with her body is anti-feminist, ultimately. It’s missing the point. Ending porn is a by-product of what we’d like to see, which is an end to the patriarchy (or, really the kyriarchy to be more inclusive).

Abortion (and anti-abortion), religious headgear and pornography are all products of the patriarchy.   However, All three of these things can be argued to be empowering for women:

  • An anti-abortion activist can argue that pregnancy and motherhood are empowering because it’s one of the only things a woman can do that a man can’t.
  • A woman who wears a niqab may do so to assert her identity as a Muslim. It may be empowering for her to get respect from the men in her culture as a woman who chooses to dress modestly.  She may feel more comfortable protecting herself and even may feel a certain kind of freedom in its anonymity and it can be a great equaliser in a culture where it is worn by everyone. (I used to like my school uniform for the same reasons, actually)
  • A woman who acts in pornographic movies may enjoy her career. She may enjoy getting paid for doing something fun. She may be gain financial security and independence in a high paying job and there are several notable women who have become directors and producers themselves.

But these exceptions do not mean the institutional sexism that brings these things about does not exist, just as saying “My black friend uses the n-word” does not mean the n-word is not a racial slur, or that racism does not exist. People can reclaim lots of things that are products of oppression. That does not mean the oppression that created them does not continue to exist.

The fact of the matter is that women are told from an early age that their only value is their sexuality. From Disney Princesses, to Purity Rings, to Pretty Woman. Treating sexuality as a commodity to be tightly controlled leads to a scarcity economy of sex. When society tightens the supply of sex (through making chastity a virtue), we create a demand for it. Girls grow up seeing sex as a something they trade for the things they want. Some find that withholding sex gets them what they want, i.e. waiting until marriage (which they are taught guarantees financial and emotional security). Others find – often after discovering that sex is not such a big deal and they actually enjoy it – people will pay them for it, whether as exotic dancers, sex workers or porn actresses.  The conditions that created the first group, which is held as the highest ideal in our culture, in fact created the second group which are reviled. One could not exist without the other.

I like porn, but if I have to trade it for a world where all humans are treated as equals and sex is just sex, rather than a means (sometimes the only means a woman thinks she has) to an end? I’d be happy to see it go.

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