The porn debate still rages.

One thing I love about being involved in the online feminist community is that, in addition to intelligent analysis of the media and updates about opportunities for activism, you also find yourself having conversations that speak right into your own life and relationships, challenge you, inform your choices and remind you that the political can also be extremely personal. One such conversation emerged recently on a discussion forum I am part of, on the issue of porn. Well really, it was broader than that extending to members sharing very honest experiences of friends, relatives and partners who have visited lap dancing clubs and even brothels. Courageous and inspiring feminists that I have come to know and respect through these online exchanges spoke about their various approaches to people in their lives (usually men) who love and understand them but continue to take their place in the patriarchy through their sense of entitlement to get the odd bit of commodified fanny.

I’m going to leave the lap dancing clubs and brothels part of the conversation for now because honestly, if anyone reading this doesn’t think they are completely hideous examples of the ongoing oppression of women’s bodies, dignity and choices then you probably got here by accident because the word PORN is in the title and you’re only still reading because you’re curious about what the silly little feminists are on about. Thanks for stopping by.

When it comes to porn however, the soapbox can get a little more shaky. To some extent, the anti-porn crusades are more associated with our mothers’ second wave generation. The 1980s saw a counter-argument in the fact that assumptions about porn being always harmful to women was really built on a sexist premise that only men enjoy this kind of sex while women simply endure it. This was a particularly divisive debate at the time but a hugely important one, especially given the wider cultural climate at the time in which censorship and outdated ideas of women’s roles were still rife. However, in the following decade a single invention exploded supernova-style onto the scene throwing it’s stellar energy into every aspect of our lives: the internet.

When you look at the multi-billion dollar industry that has developed from this new revenue stream (28,258 people are viewing internet porn every second) it’s quickly obvious that the liberation and female empowerment the 1980s pro-sex fems had hoped for has not really materialised. The body of work by feminist directors, though interesting and potentially transformative, remains small and marginalised and feminist actresses who speak publicly about their own enjoyment of the work are few and far between. Porn is, perhaps more than ever, a man’s industry made for the male gaze, riven with misogynistic fantasies of dominance, aggression and violence. With a new porn film made in the US every 39 minutes it gives me a real sadness when I look at those girls on the freebie porn sites, so interchangable and disposable, knowing that they’re ten a penny and therefore not possibly getting paid anything near what they might have anticipated for getting repeatedly fucked in whatever way the big man with the camera says they will.

It would be self indulgent of me to go into all the problems associated with the mainstreaming of porn on our TVs and newsagent shelves, and the impact it has on the developing balance of mutual respect and sexual agency between women and men. So I’ll just mention a conversation I had this week with a group of 16 and 17 year old girls I was training to be mentors to the first year pupils. They were lamenting the fact that these younger girls were ‘sluts’ and said they couldn’t believe the way they dressed and some of the sexually explicit conversations they had. I found myself advising them to try to understand that things are different now – a mere 5 years on from when they were becoming teenagers. The pressure to be adult and provocative and sexually available has grown immensely in the second half of the last decade and these girls are trying to figure out their boundaries and their understanding of self-respect in a very hostile climate. I went away from that conversation more convinced than ever that we owe it to these young women to start turning the tide.

My last word on this must be directed towards the men, those we love and respect and are delighted to have in our lives. There’s no doubt we have to listen to them to figure out where the cognitive dissonance comes from as they believe and live out all of the feminist values we look for in a person we would be proud to call our friends and partners, but seem to leave this understanding behind when they just want to bang one out. I’m always amazed at the number of extremely leftist anti-capitalist or anti-establishment men I know who will berate somebody for shopping in Primark but continue to consume porn so uncritically. Hmmm. It also seems to me that the biological explanation (you know the ‘I’m just genetically hardwired to get off to this’ one) is very problematic. As instant and involuntary as that response is to “barely legal asian girl – look how much she loves it in the arse” (that’s going to increase my hits a million-fold), I can’t help noting that if Pavlov could make a bunch of dogs salivate on hearing a bell ringing then I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard for the proprietors of the porn industry to pretty much own your balls. They’ve been marketing tits and ass at you constantly since before you were old enough to get a firm grip and have dictated the terms of many of your sexual impulses ever since. What presents itself as an involuntary response is actually preceded by a complex set of automatic thoughts, and while intervening in this process is not easy it’s certainly not impossible. One of the most common explanations I’ve come across for the difference in how many men and women perceive the use of porn is men’s narrow focus on the visual stimulus in front of them while women’s perspective of it is a wider focus on the fact that these are real people acting out real sex acts and subsequently another woman is getting your partner off. I understand where the male focus on the visual stimulus comes from but I challenge any feminist man to justify porn use on these grounds as surely that is the very essence of what objectification is – not a person, just a hole with a dick going in and out of it. That’s the kind of attitude to women that lies at the heart of this whole struggle for equality and for freedom from violence and exploitation.

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3 Responses to “The porn debate still rages.”


  1. 1 Lynn Malcolm February 3, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Porn – an interesting read – of course I agree with all that you’ve said – and would like to ask if anyone’s seen the movie ‘Taken’ with Liam Neeson – this is just a wee glimpse into that world of porn & human trafficking that’s so horribly rampant in these times in which we’re living – in S.A. the word is that during the World cup – soccer – this will be a major problem – along with prostitution – I’m wondering how it all went so wrong – I know there’s nothing new under the sun – but for women to allow themselves to be USED by men to promote porn in any form at all – is such a degrading thing – and I just wish that women would learn how valuable their role is – and when the time comes as mothers – imagine – how you’d feel – knowing that your children could find out what you used to get up to – Women – should be taught how to love themselves – as God made them – to be loved by one man in marriage and to NOT allow themselves to be manipulated by anyone – at anytime – times now here for a MAJOR advertising campaign to say NO TO PORN – count me in.

  2. 2 Delilah February 6, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Very interesting post – I read your Object email and then came here, and nearly missed my stop on the train while reading it!

    I agree – there does seem to be this reasoning that ‘men can’t help themselves’, which is used to justify all sorts of horrible objectification and consequent actions.

    One of the main arguments I hear in favour of prostitution (and I have written a few blog posts on it here: http://delilah-mj.blogspot.com) is the claim that men couldn’t do without it.

    I often wonder if women wouldn’t feel they too ‘couldn’t help it’, if it were socially acceptable to sexually hunt down and degrade men in a similar way, and if it were normal to view men as mere objects to be played with and abused, rather than to treat as real people.

  3. 3 South Belfast Feminists February 13, 2010 at 6:40 am

    One could speak to Robert Peters @ MIM or Prof. Donna Hughes at Rhode Island University.

    The financial transactioning ( credit cards) relating to pornography is handing out ‘security’ jobs to police officers and therefore, the porn industry, sit at the top of the table.

    The porn industry were ( believe it or not) invited to Belfast in style by Paul Goggins when he was @ the Home Office,

    policing is complex politically, and the credit cards don’t tolerate anti-porn cops, and the govt. always listen to multi-billion dollar blue-ships.

    ‘Police will not target offenders against law on violent porn | UK …26 Jan 2009 … Officers will not actively target members of the public to track down those who own violent pornography banned under a new law, …
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/…/police-offenders-law-violent-porn – Cached – Similar -‘

    A huge amount of publicity, a new law, and the ACPO take the view, the VP will be on the same computers as the indecent image of children intel the FBI push over, and so – no need to spend a penny.

    So, until Americans get fed up paying for British policing, the ACPO can continue to opt-out of legislation they don’t like.

    The PSNI are totally with the ACPO, they are contempuous of MLAs – the PNSI have discovered their own sense of political power.


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