Porn’s Bad, M’kay?

I thought it prudent to talk bluntly about this because a lot of artists get really bristly when any sort of media form is taken on or has it’s validity challenged- because as artists we value expression, creativity, rebellion, and freedom- at least as much as anyone else, if not more so.

I include myself among people who value those ideals. I still think the porn industry needs to be obliterated.

In fact, I think that there is more aptly descriptive terminology that could taxonomize the industry I’m talking about: you’ll hear me call it the sex-industrial complex, the sexual exploitation industries, and any number of other stuff. I want to be clear that when I launch into some diatribe about the exploitation of women etc. and so forth that I am not attempting to deny agency to women in any sort of broad sense; but my thoughts regarding what this particular industrial machinery does to us, as a whole, as WOMEN, are very strong and very clear.

That is, this industry promotes imprisonment and rape of women and our continued, collective treatment as sub-human beings by our government, by men, and perhaps most unfortunately, by each other. I believe that if you are a vegetarian and support animal rights, or if you refuse to shop at places like Wal-Mart which utilize child labor and make their goods in sweatshops-and you continue to support the porn industry- you commit an act of outright hypocrisy, and you can’t give yourself that little moral pat on the back that you want to- well, at least not in my world.

That said, I don’t think that “illegalization” of pornographic materials is an answer, because it’s proposal really only serves to divide people, based on abstract constitutional concepts of free speech and expression (which most women in this country have no real access to anyways)- and puts our liberation once again into the hands of an angry Government-who-would-be-God, and has no interest in our lives. I think that people have an obligation to each other to be critical and to boycott this industry, by not feeding money into it, by educating themselves, BY NOT ATTACKING FEMINISTS SENSELESSLY OUT OF FEAR, by not attacking the women whose lives are bound up in the industry, and by re-educating ourselves about sexuality and intimacy with a criticism of misogynist, compulsory heterosexuality and a very sharp analysis of false dichotomies which are forced into our thinking from the time we are born by the dominant culture.

Pornography and all it’s feeder-industries are key elements in the sexual abuse of children, the rape of women, women’s subordination and treatment as non-human-animals, and act as a guide and handbook for all these awful things that happen to us in the gender bootcamps we grow up in. Porn is harmful for men in that it trains them to ignore and dull down their own emotional processes, and treat their sister human beings in ways that, if you ask them, they don’t feel comfortable with but they do anyways because it’s what they’re supposed to do. Pornography is harmful to transgender people for all these reasons but also because of it’s role in slaughtering their image in the minds of “mainstream,” cisgendered people, hampering their political movement and just insulting and degrading them as people.

Porn is not sexuality. Porn is not freedom. Porn is not original. It is the same shit, over and over, it’s boring, it’s uninventive. It is NOT art, and yes, I feel perfectly qualified to make that statement.

I believe that the vast majority of women who work in the sex-industrial complex do it because they have to do it, and would do something else if they felt like they had the option. I believe that our society systematically stigmatizes and de-qualifies these women from escaping- not due to any moral or character failure on the part of the women involved, but because we live in a world of ruling-class, white-male supremacy, where it’s taken as a “given” that men have some “need” to fuck women whenever they feel like it. The women who claim to do these jobs completely of their own “free will” or to “enjoy” it constitute a very small minority, and their numbers do not constitute the survival of a monstrous, abusive, industrial machine.

Once again, porn is not “sexuality.” It consists of depictions of sexual acts in contexts which are incredibly skewed as to relative power and privilege.

I suppose that this is good for now on this issue. BTW, if you stumble over this and decide to try and start a flame war or be the king of all the trolls, we don’t engage in that sort of thing here and your shit will just get deleted. But I’ll talk more about that in the “rules” page. I know that folks will have questions, but I just can’t spend the whole evening writing about this. I have art to do.

9 responses to “Porn’s Bad, M’kay?

  1. Q&A

    How do you define imagery which is art, and imagery which is porn? Can you point to a time in human existence where there was art, but not imagery you would consider porn? Why is Rubens art and not porn? Are 200 year old Japanese woodblocks of tentacle rape art, or is that porn?

    What do we do about CSI or Law and Order, Special Victims Unit? Or about the imagery used in fashion, tv, movies, albums or at Target, and Walmart?

    What do we do about Abercrombie & Fitch?

    What do we do about younger feminists who admit to liking music with misogynistic messages and art?

  2. I think it is a mistake to conflate “porn” with “the porn industry” in the way that you do.

    Inequitable and unethical business practices should, of course, be stamped out in any industry (not just porn, or clothes-making), but that doesn’t make the whole category of produce bad just because some producers of it are bad.

    The “sex-positive” branch of feminism certainly carries forth an ideal and practice of, in your words, “re-educating ourselves about sexuality and intimacy with a criticism of misogynist, compulsory heterosexuality and a very sharp analysis of false dichotomies which are forced into our thinking from the time we are born by the dominant culture.” On my own blog, you will find many articles addressing precisely these issues. However, I am most definitely in favour of the continued existence of porn.

    You state, “Porn is not sexuality. Porn is not freedom. Porn is not original.”

    It is true that porn is not sexuality, but it can be and often is a useful expression of one’s sexuality. A similar statement goes for “freedom” also. But what porn can do is help one feel normal about being sexual at all. As I am sure you are aware, the dominant Patriarchal system makes women feel ashamed and guilty for expressing their sexual desires; and men, too, are placed in a bind where they are supposed to want it without being allowed to say so to those they want it from. Used responsibly, porn can even help to erode that imprisonment. That is certainly how it worked for me. I definitely disagree with many of your statements about what role porn plays in society. I think misogyny is spread by mainstream advertising far more than by any other form of media. The other aspect of this is that porn is harmful when it is used as “sex education”, which seems to underlie a lot of your points – but if we had proper sex education in schools (ideally, including a class on pornography and why it’s totally unrealistic!) then obviously that would be much less of a problem!

    As for “porn is not original”, as far as I can see, sex itself is hardly “original”. I think it’s been a very long time since anybody came up with a completely new way of having sex (and most ways that have been imagined, there’s already porn dedicated to it). And I don’t see anybody complaining about infringements of Adam and Eve’s patent rights!

  3. Although I am not entirely anti-porn, I agree wholeheartedly with several of your points –

    “I believe that our society systematically stigmatizes and de-qualifies these women from escaping” – that point is something that is not discussed enough.

    I have also avoided the writings of many anti-porn feminists like the plague, because they are so astoundingly bigoted when it comes to trans issues – and this isn’t because I’m trans myself, I couldn’t respect the more valid views of someone who was astoundingly racist etc. either.

    But you highlight that the sex industry negatively affects trans people disproportionately – and I regularly see people regurgitate the “porn shemale” image, and I see people hurt by it, in real life.

    “The women who claim to do these jobs completely of their own “free will” or to “enjoy” it constitute a very small minority” – yes, they do, but I still find this problematic. PLEASE do not put scare quotes around other women’s experiences, when their descriptions of those experiences do not insult anyone.

    How do you feel about pornography that doesn’t feed an industry – truly amateur stuff? I can see how it’s problematic in its reflection of “porn industry” attitudes, but in itself?

  4. fewsmallnips

    Just addressing some points- this won’t be a long, drawn-out, debate over whether or not porn is “bad” or “wrong.” This is MY blog, and it happens to be my opinion that the porn industry categorically and systematically destroys women and sexuality for everyone.
    Anyhoo. Wanted to address some points made in the comments.

    Q&A- the questions you ask me have been asked and asked and asked again, esp. those in your first paragraph. I generally don’t engage in the “what about the erotic cave art of olden tymes”-type of argument/interrogative approach, ’cause it’s usually just a straw man that incorrectly relates those sorts of things with the porn industry of today, and I don’t think that has anything to do with anything, really, in reality.

    SE- I have a fundamental disagreement with even the nomenclature “Sex Positive” the way in which it is currently used to label a certain branch of feminism- namely because it’s utility assumes that all other branches of feminism are “Sex-negative,” which is a complete load of misinformed, ignorant horseshit. I’m very aware of the philosophies, etc. promoted by this particular genre of feminism, and it’s a set of theories that I find irrevocably logically flawed.

    “But what porn can do is help one feel normal about being sexual at all.”
    -I think we focus far too hard on what pornographers say porn can do- and the women who do repeat what the pornographers say about porn- and on the “hopes” that porn might do something positive. There is very much evidence that pornography harms a lot of people. Much more evidence than there is to the contrary. And it’s all on film.

    One person’s privileged, idealized, ultimate experience of their individual sexuality is never, never more important than the suffering of millions, and it’s pursuit doesn’t justify an industry that enslaves women.

    One way that I’ve framed the question to some of my male coworkers is like this: How many women have to be raped just so you can have an orgasm?

    Porn is not an expression of sexuality in the same way that art is an expression of the imagination. Porn is an expression of dominant stereotypes in sexuality- namely that sexuality consists of a subject that consumes and an object which is consumed- and not people sharing an experience.

    If the porn industry collapses, how is this harmful to those indy folks who are just making art films? It isn’t. Nobody’s trying to promote delegalization, just responisble consumerism. You shouldn’t shopt at any dept. of Wal-Mart. You shouldn’t buy anything from any porn store that gives it’s money to the big companies. And that’s most porn stores.

    In my life I’ve gone through several phases in my feminism, and I’ve done pornography as well. I used to be a pro-porn feminist, and now I’m not.

    And let’s be honest- pro-porn feminism has, for years, promoted pornography as a means of sexual transgression- and it just doesn’t transgress anything.

    The whole porn model- consumptive sexuality- is as old as the Patriarchy. And it won’t teach you anything new or exciting or revolutionary.
    If you think that mainstream advertising industries are not informed by the porn industry, I don’t know what to tell you. You are obviously choosing to turn a blind eye.

    Oliver-
    I have read some anti-trans sentiments on radfem blogs, and I have read at least as many anti-radfem statements on trans blogs. It’s a matter of two oppressed groups beating up on each other cause that option’s easier than beating up on their oppressor.
    ““The women who claim to do these jobs completely of their own “free will” or to “enjoy” it constitute a very small minority” – yes, they do, but I still find this problematic. PLEASE do not put scare quotes around other women’s experiences, when their descriptions of those experiences do not insult anyone.”

    The point that I make is that these descriptions of experiences are indeed insulting to a lot of women who never get heard, because the popular opinion isn’t reflected in them, and they don’t reflect a real lived reality for women who didn’t ever choose this path. SO please don’t assume that no one is insulted.

    Why is it that feminists have swallowed the phallocentric notion that the numerical minority takes precedence over the majority? I mean, that’s what the minority protections are for in our government- protecting the rich white men’s rule.

    Anyhoo. Thanks for your comments, everybody.

  5. I don’t agree with you, but I do love your art. It’s really good, I like all the colors and texture.

  6. Q&A

    I have read some anti-trans sentiments on radfem blogs, and I have read at least as many anti-radfem statements on trans blogs. It’s a matter of two oppressed groups beating up on each other cause that option’s easier than beating up on their oppressor.

    I think there are clear and fundamental differences and it’s not just two oppressed groups beating up on each other. There is a long history of literature and articles and policy from rad fems and rad fem organizations dehumanizing, and delegitimizing the transgendered, actively promoting discrimination against them, and describing them as psychologically ill, the same diagnosis once given to the gays, and close to the “hysterical” diagnosis once given to women.

    That you can’t see that, or acknowledge that speaks loudly.

    I think “porn” is in the eye of the beholder. The porn that seems most damaging to me, is the porn that calls people to buy hummers, build McMansions, and fetishize a perceived victimization in order.

  7. Q&A

    (I do thank you for allowing my second comment through without moderation….)

  8. E

    At some points I really agree with you, like where you speak out against dychotomous categorisation. 🙂

    I consider myself somewhat of an artist. I create some art that some might consider porn; I think there is too much bad porn, and my solution is to create better porn. It is my belief that THAT is the only thing that could really work. Like you I’m against criminalisation, because I know which cultural forces would *really* like to decide what is or isn’t criminal content.

    But yet in your post you seem to fall repeatedly into Aristotelian Essentialism, from the title (Porn IS Bad) onward really. Essentialism has been an obsolete approach to reality for at least a hundred years now. I also consider it deeply patriarchal in that it embodies the mindset that only one viewpoint has merit.

    Because of your usage of this patriarchal speech pattern, I feel less than reassured that you value freedom as much as you claim. Not that I think you’re being dishonest, but because of the implications in that speech pattern. Surely you’re aware that there really *are* “sex-negative” forces out there causing immense harm while taking on airs of moral superiority? (think “abstinence only” as an example)

    I would challenge you to try to rephrase your piece in E-prime, because I think the result could be much more powerful, and you’d be much less likely mistaken for the new Temperance Movement. Well, not actually suggesting that you rewrite it, but… think about it, and keep it in mind for your next piece, perhaps?

    Cheers,

    E.

  9. fewsmallnips

    Ah, the ‘ol “but you’re being an essentialist. And essentialism’s essentially bad, m’kay?” argument.

    :: yawns ::

    So essentialism’s bad. So is blind, overprivileged, ridiculous abstraction into absurdity.

    ONCE AGAIN, the pleasure of few does not outweigh the importance of well-being for everyone. DOES NOT. WILL NOT HERE.

    Something else we won’t do here: attempt to pit radical feminism against the transgender movement. They don’t “naturally occur” in opposition to one another, and since my partner is trans, and also happens to be a feminist, and against pornography- I have a personal goal of pulling these two factions as close together as I can.

    I think I’m gonna try and figure out how to close the comments on this thread and put up some rules for engagement now that more folks seem to want to chime in. 😀

    In fact, I have begun to delete new comments already. If you want to attempt to beat a dead horse, go ahead, your comments won’t be posted. You are perfectly welcome to post them on your own blog, and then call me names if you want, and that is fine.