Friday, October 30, 2009

Feminism and pornography

Madison Young, Making Waves in Feminism One [Sexually Explicit!] Scene at a Time:

I feel like I read a lot of so called feminist articles on the evils of porn that are most likely written by people who don't even watch a lot of porn. Porn can be feminist. Porn can be educational, inspire couples, save sex lives, undo some of the sexual repression and body image issues that women grow up with, document our sexual culture, capture chemistry, create visibility for alternative sexual beings, create connection and dialogue around sex between partners, create connection and reduce isolation around fetishes.

It's fair to say that our culture has some real issues around the subject of women having sex. And yet we sure devote a lot of resources to the prospect that they will! The ubiquity of the sexualized female portrayal in all media, not just pornography, suggests we might do best not to feign silence on a subject in which nearly everyone participates!

For these reasons, it's difficult to make an argument that pornography is not important. In whatever ways it has proven destructive to relationships or imposed male expectations on female sexuality, these trends deserve to be challenged. But one cannot boycott the world's premier industry -- or proscribe specific activity as "anti-feminist" -- and expect its essential character to be changed. Instead, feminism must be reconciled with sexuality in whatever ways women choose. In some cases, this will be pornographic. Women deserve support in instances that the choice is actively theirs, defense in the instances that it is not; and advocacy in general!


Richard said...

Yes, and yet the "porn as empowerment" movement strikes me as hopelessly naive. Just because you yourself have some power or privilege does not validate the whole enterprise.

Also naive is, I think, the claim that our sexuality is "innate" or "animalistic" and not heavily mediated or even created by the (very porn-heavy) patriarchial society in which we live.

Do people want to have messy, fluid-dripping sex because that's just who they are, by nature, or is that who they are, by culture, because they've seen countless images of facial shots?

C-Nihilist said...

we should consider recognizing female personhood.

Jenny said...

I don't know,I always feel arguments about porn whether feminists can like it or not and if so whether they're influenced by society or not, usually get very condescending and paternalistic. I think women can make their own choices, including starting a career in pornography and sex work. Hence, due to this attitude, a lot of sex workers are standing up for themselves.

Now, this is not to whitewash the industry issues: I think with possible prostitution legalization, there's a few examples of international law here:

We can ensure those forced into sex work and those who take it up themselves are protected and safe.

Coldtype said...

"Do people want to have messy, fluid-dripping sex because that's just who they are, by nature, or is that who they are, by culture, because they've seen countless images of facial shots?"-R

"Messy"? You're being awfully judgmental.

Richard said...

heh, no doubt. I thought I was using the kind of language in the linked post, but perhaps not....

JRB said...

Speaking for myself, the only thing I have that's messy and fluid-dripping is my conscience.

You all raise good points. That's why there's a civil war about this within feminism! And in this case, compelling reasons for preserving "the union."

C├╝neyt said...

It's like modeling. We can criticize it even as we acknowledge a right to engage in it. I adhere more to that pornography can be, as a product, feminist, but that it as an industry is still male-dominated and maintaining of the status quo. And, of course, our individual answers to the question of what is porn probably differ.

JRB said...

Just a point of clarification in case it is needed. The person in this instance is advocating pornography on her own terms in contrast with "the whole enterprise," as Richard puts it.

So it is pornography informed by a feminist critique of the prevailing industry, and subsequently asserts that pornography is not one thing categorically, but changes meaning depending on the context.

It seems to me that the insistence on a feminist critique suggests the author is not naive about patriarchy or other relevant issues. As a practical model, it seems deserving of support.

K. said...

Hi, I'm a female sexworker and a feminist and I have a few things to add to the conversation.

Also, Madison Young has a feminist art gallery space just down the street from me, and I love watching her business, art, and community projects evolve!

Here are two ideas I hear often in the sexworkers rights movement that I think are useful to consider.

1. "Sexwork is work."

The conditions that create just relationships in the workplace in the sex industry are often the same things that create good working conditions in other industries. Many of our issues are fundamentally labor issues. The sex and gender issues in sexwork are often tied to power dynamics around our labor.

2. "Nothing about us without us."

There is a (shockingly still popular!) belief in some branches of feminism that sexworkers cannot actually consent to sex work, because all sexworkers are motivated by internalized oppression or economic coercion. This reasoning justifies paternalism and invalidates our (diverse!) perspectives. The argument that we are unable to have agency excludes sexworkers from the discourse about us. Not such a feminist thing to do.

And as for feminist politcs around viewing porn:

Sexual fantasies are notoriously politically incorrect. They don't respond well to repression. Must one sanitize their fantasy life or resist tempting images? How is shame around our desires helpful to women?

Personally, I think acknowledging the separation between consensual fantasy play and "real life" is more helpful. The creation and viewing of porn can be such "consensual fantasy play." I think most people actually know porn is fantasy, not reality. Even if they don't, it would be more helpful to nurture a sexual culture that is self aware enough to know the difference than to shut down the dialogue.

I hope with women like Madison Young authoring our smut things will become more artful and interesting, as well as more politically enlightened.

Richard said...

My main point was that this, let's call it "good porn", doesn't exist in a vacuum. I have no desire to deny sex-workers agency, nor do I think it's wrong to support their efforts at either improving their lot or the work itself. (And I agree with k's remarks, about sex-work being work, and about the presumption of one group speaking on behalf of another.)

I'd also like to suggest that there's a difference between talking about the nature of people's sexual fantasies, how we don't necessarily control them, and so on, and watching those fantasies unfold on screen--watching someone else perform them. Again, in the context of other, actually-existing pornography. (Which was the main reason for my use of the word "naive", not to imply that these women are somehow naive of patriarchy.)

JRB said...

I'm not really sure where the disagreement is!

It seems to me one either argues that women can't make sexual choices on their own terms because of patriarchy; or they can in spite of patriarchy, with the question being whether this should be regarded as "feminist" in specific instances.

For me, the definition of feminism is women making choices on their terms, so, by definition, this will encompass a wide range of activity I may or may not endorse personally.