Roy, one of the coolest male-feminists and bloggers around, has a particularly thought-provoking post up at Feministe, where he’s guest-blogging for the week. It’s about porn, and how the stances that we feminists sometimes take on it have the potential to cause more harm to women who actually work in the sex-industry.

Personally, this is an issue that I am torn on, and therefore don’t generally blog about. I consider myself to be sex-positive. I like sex. I think that sex is a healthy, natural, fun, beautiful thing in all its consenting, mutually-pleasurable forms. I’m supportive of sex toys, kinks and fetishes as long as the participants consent and no serious physical harm is being done.

In that same vein, I theoretically support the right to porn. I think that watching two or more individuals have sex can be highly erotic for both those flying solo and having fun with a partner, and there is nothing inherently harmful in that. But practice is a hell of a lot different. In practice, a vast majority of porn is violent, highly misogynist and/or highly racist. That’s not to even mention the ridiculous body standards it places upon women, its potentially addictive properties and the extreme exploitation and abuse that takes place within the porn industry. The type of porn that I describe in my theory, which documents natural, comfortable sexuality, is extremely rare, if it can be found at all.

Just the other day, my husband and I passed by a sex shop and decided to go in. For the above reasons, neither of us actually look at porn, but every once in a blue moon it’s fun to check out the toys. I ended up leaving feeling pretty upset, despite the fact that we didn’t even venture into the actual porn section. Toys that are supposedly made for women to use are being marketed towards men, with photographs of women mostly made of silicone gracing the packaging in unnatural, misogynist poses. Gag gifts portray cartoon women being penetrated by massive erections while displaying looks of horror. The blow-up dolls were shockingly racist, including one called a “sexy Nubian” and one called the “J-Ho.” It definitely made me realize that, yeah, as much as I hate it, the sex industry is a lot different in practice than it is in theory.

Am I becoming less naive and more perceptive, or is the porn industry getting worse? I’m not sure.

And where am I to stand on the larger issue of porn? What am I to think, as a sex-positive feminist who is also vehemently anti-rape, anti-racism and anti-sexism?

I sure as hell don’t have the answers yet, and don’t know that I will for a while. But I think that Roy might provide a few clues.

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{ 14 comments }

1 Roy June 14, 2007 at 8:28 pm

*phew*

That? That was a difficult post to write. I’m still feeling really overwhelmed by it. But I was having all these thoughts, and I just kept going back to belledame’s post about Iran, and it was gnawing at me. I just couldn’t let it go.

The funny thing is that Jill made a joke to me about the uproar my first post created. She said something like “If you really want to create a scene, write about blowjobs, porn, or sex-work.”

I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

Still, it’s actually been easier to deal with than the child post was- people have been more civil and the posts are coming in much slower than that one did.

Now? I take a break. I’m feeling… twitchy.

2 Cara June 14, 2007 at 8:38 pm

I’m actually surprised that you’re getting such positive responses. Obviously, I think that it’s a great post, but sex-work/porn is SUCH a hot-button issue in the feminist community, and taking a stance on it one way or the other is usually bound to invoke someone’s wrath. I guess that we’ll see how it plays out.

3 Anorak June 14, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Cara, what you describe is exactly how I feel about porn.
In theory, I see it as possibly great, but in reality, it turns my stomach.
I thing that makes me so angry is the inherent violence or contempt for women that is shown in so much (all?) mainstream porn.

4 Anorak June 14, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Should be *One thing*!

5 Cara June 14, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Thanks, Anorak, for letting me know that I’m not so alone! It’s hard for me, because I’m known for being such an opinionated person, to actually not have an opinion. But for now, I’ve kind of resigned myself to sitting on the sidelines and taking in all in, rather than trying to prematurely push myself in one direction or the other.

6 Tracey June 14, 2007 at 10:38 pm

I don’t know how I missed Roy’s post, but I’m about to go read it now. I’m sure I’ll have something more to say then, but I do agree with you, Cara, that porn is more of a negative thing in practice than in theory. It sounds kind of like the distinction many anti-porn feminists make between pornography and erotica.

7 Tracey June 14, 2007 at 11:01 pm

Unfortunately my firewall doesn’t let me comment at Feministe or at Roy’s blog, but here’s what I have to say about his post:

Yes, yes, and yes. I went through a similar mental transformation/enlightenment on the issue when I read “Whores and Other Feminists”, ed. Jill Nagle and “Live Sex Acts” by Wendy Chapkis. Two amazing books filled with first-hand accounts by women working in all facets of sex-work — especially prostitution. And it seems like the issues that contribute most to their struggle are the illegality of their work and the stigma against female sexuality and sexual agency. It’s NOT that what they do is inherently harmful. It’s that they are unable to have fair and safe working conditions because what they do is illegal or stigmatized. ANY line of employment could become just as shady or dangerous or exploitative if it was suddenly both illegal and shunned by society.

That said (and kind of what ROY was getting at), I still agree with SO SO much of the THEORY behind why and how pornography/prostitution are bad for women in our patriarchal society. But what good it sitting in an ivory tower of academia and passing judgnent on hundreds of millions of women who are just trying to make a living?

8 Anorak June 15, 2007 at 12:18 am

Roy’s post actually ends up talking about sex workers in general as opposed to just porn, which is something I feel slightly less ambivalent about. Or maybe not!
I guess it’s the same thing really, in practise, I’m ok with it, but the reality is pretty damn miserable.
Remember, I live in a country that legalised prostitution about 3 years ago, so I guess we’re all waiting to see what difference, if any, this has on the sex trade here.

9 dew June 15, 2007 at 2:20 pm

I have so many thoughts and comments here that I’ll have to work at leaving some of them out.

I think it’s not only ok but great to stay on the sidelines til you feel you have an opinion one way or another. People who do that instead of just jumping to take a side have thought their position through and are more certain of it.

I feel really ambivalent about what Roy said about allies. I don’t want those allies, either, but you know, sometimes it’s possible for someone to believe the right thing on a wrong premise.

I find it far more common that someone will try to lump ME in with the sex-is-dirty camp than that the sex-is-dirty camp wants anything to do with me. Why, just the other day when I posted a Sheila Jeffreys article, some man responded by calling Jeffreys a Bible thumper! Now you have to admit that’s hilarious, but my point is that I don’t think I’ve ever once had an actual fundy come back up my stance against porn. But I do frequently get the attitude that I must hate sex, be frigid, etc.

In reality, and I think you’ve heard me say this elsewhere, I consider porn like the chocolate flavored fluoride paste at the dentist’s office and sex like Haagen-Daxz chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. The first only bears a vague, plastic resemblance to the second. If I had no H-D for years, I might get hungry for that fluoride paste. But my freezer is stocked with all varieties of H-D if you know what I mean.

The other thing I get is the whole, “But it is the women’s CHOICE to be in porn! You are limiting women’s FREEDOM!” I’m just not sure there’s much choice involved for a 15 year old girl who leaves home to escape abuse, just for example. I had THAT discussion the other day with an avid pot-smoker who claimed that no one under 18 is in porn because that’s illegal. Yeah, and pot is illegal, too.

On other thing I get, but less frequently, is, “Well, do you object to gay male porn, too?” Not being a gay male and not ever having seen any gay male porn, and not having read up about whether young boys are exploited in gay male porn, can’t I just be allowed to not have an opinion? Is there really anything wrong with admitting you’re too uninformed about something to know your stance? I don’t think so, which is why I admire your admitting your own ambivalence here.

10 Roy June 15, 2007 at 3:41 pm

I feel really ambivalent about what Roy said about allies. I don’t want those allies, either, but you know, sometimes it’s possible for someone to believe the right thing on a wrong premise.

Absolutely.
I’m not opposed to people who have conflicting views on some issues working together on other issues. I’m happy, for example, to work on poverty with religious groups. I feel like there isn’t a conflict of interests in working together in a soup kitchen, for example.

My problem is with the allies we take here. I think that anti-sex-work/porn conservatives have a very different agenda from me. I don’t think that they really care about the women involved or that harm that’s being done, and I’ve realized that it means we can’t really be allies. Our goals aren’t actually the same- they’re superficially the same. There’s the facade of wanting to help women there, but what they really want to do is gain tighter control over women, and tighter control over “immoral” behavior. They’re not concerned about the 15 year old girl who got into sex-work to escape violence in her home. And they’d as soon punish her as help her escape the lifestyle.

Is there really anything wrong with admitting you’re too uninformed about something to know your stance? I don’t think so, which is why I admire your admitting your own ambivalence here.

I totally agree with you here, even as it’s something that I sometimes have trouble with. Well said.

11 wellie June 15, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Tracey – jill nagle is FANTASTIC! i ran into a good bit of her stuff while compiling an essay on erotica v porn a couple years back.

roy – we seem to be all the same places… didn’t even know you posted here, you blogebrity, you :) and as usual, your arguments are valid, sound, and very well put.

cara – what sex store were you in that was selling blowup dolls and awful ‘gag’ (as in, makes me wanna) gifts like that? i mean, there are plenty of places that don’t sell things like that… sorry you had to be subjected to that. ick. check out toys in babeland (www.babeland.com)

12 Cara June 15, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Thanks, I’ve seen that site before :) I definitely prefer to look online because there are a lot of sites that don’t have that kind of misogyny. I have no idea if there are less offensive/feminist/queer friendly shops around here . . . it’s not really anything I’ve researched.

13 Sara July 3, 2007 at 9:11 pm

Related to porn…There is a book displayed in the ‘impulse buy’ section of the university bookstore in which I work during the summer. This book is titled “Porn for Women” and features men cleaning, cooking, and handing over the remote. I was furious! It assumes that all women are heterosexual, that men never do these things anyway (and that only women should), and that women would not be interested in sexual porn so they must get a kick out of some guy telling her ‘not to worry, I’ll do the dishes tonight’. Bleh! To top it off, when I voiced my concerned opinion to my FEMALE co-workers who are much older than I, I was told that I have no sense of humor and need to get over it. Get over gender role stereotyping? Hell no!

14 Cara July 3, 2007 at 9:18 pm

Oh yeah. I’ve seen discussions about that book before. Ridiculous condescending bullshit excuse for a “joke.”

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