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PORN PORN PORN!: why i should never read alternet

Posted by pocochina on September 22, 2010

So through the endless series of links I have waded in these last couple of days,* I somehow came across this post by Clarisse Thorn:  “Why I Sympathize with Anti-Porn Feminists.” And, lord help me, I dove on into this particular front in the endless straw battle of nudie flicks.

The post isn’t particularly incisive.  The author doesn’t share any new insights into feminism, porn, or human sexuality.  But what struck me about it – what clued me in to the specifics of some of my (extremely muddled) feelings about the Porn Issue – is the extent to which it mirrors right-wing rhetoric.  The article utilizes narratives familiar to the authoritarian theocratic right in order to contextualize the development of her feelings toward pornography and argue against anti-porn feminists.  Though she’s making an argument associated with left-wing feminism, she’s utilizing the bad-faith thought processes of the radical right in order to do so.

And if you’ve got to argue like them…I’m not sure you have a good argument.

NOTE:  I am NOT saying you are a bad feminist or a bad person if you like porn or loathe it.  I don’t care if you are rubbing one out right now.  This is about people who mischaracterize the concerns of some feminists about porn in order to dismiss them out of hand, rather than engage in difficult and potentially painful questions about mainstream depictions of sexuality, particularly those which are prevalent in mainstream pornography, and the wide-ranging impact they have on sexuality and gender inequality.   This post isn’t even about my feelings about porn (which, for the curious, are mixed) or people who enjoy/don’t enjoy porn (because, IDGAF).  It’s about wanting to have an intellectually honest discussion of the issue.  I understand that there are lots of places where folks have to defend their enjoyment of porn, their discomfort with porn or both, but this isn’t one of them.

Trivialization:

She starts off explaining that she has “sympathy” for anti-porn feminists.  This is extremely condescending language.  Anti-porn feminists aren’t just wrong, having a philosophy and logic of their own by which they have created informed opinions; rather, they’re foolish, misguided, silly unliberated women who are pawns in the grips of their own oppression, in need of sympathy rather than condemnation.  I utterly loathe seeing this kind of language thrown at women of any stripe, since it’s usually followed by unconscionable dismissal of women’s arguments based on our realities.  You know, decide something for us over our objections for our own good.

Do I even need to say how this is a page out of the playbook of socially backwards rhetoric?  Women have just been deceived by profiteering abortion doctors, or misled by a “fetish” for a fair income.  Gay people aren’t evil, they’re just sick and need to be helped.  A reliable social safety net is demeaning to the poor, and they’ve been duped into thinking they need social security.  People who are uncomfortable with porn just don’t know what they’re about.  Poor deceived lady-fools *head pat.*

Actually, most if not all feminists who critique porn – which in practice seems to mean feminists whose main concern with pornography is actually with seriously objectionable bullshit in mainstream porn, and if that doesn’t mean you then I don’t know what the fuck to say to you (and yeah, there are “sex-positive” people who love their denial about that shit) – are usually looking at the social phenomenon of porn in the aggregate, and interrogating (not assuming, asking) how it may or may not reflect and/or influence society.  These are perfectly reasonable questions to ask.  These are important questions to ask.  These are questions we need to ask if we’re going to have a genuinely sex-positive society.

But, I can hear you say, maybe she doesn’t mean people who are asking questions about porn!  She just means people who are policers and shamers and haters!

I admire your optimism.

The Conversion Story:

This one’ll be familiar if you’ve paid attention to mainstream Republican politicians over the last decade.  She used to be Wrong, like the folks she is addressing.  But since then, she’s become enlightened, and now that she Knows Better, she is better, and other folks should endeavor to be more like her.

She once was lost, but now she’s found.  And you don’t get to take your sweet old time and get found on your own terms.  Do it right now, dumbass sucker bad feminist.

It’s the typical American Christian-for-votes conversion/reborn in Christ story, only, well, about the awesomeness of porn.  (She actually does go on to compare her sympathy for anti-porn feminists with “sympathy for the devil.”  I would love to be making this up.)

Of course, she was never actually like the un-Elect.  She conflates “anti-porn” with “uncomfortable with and uneasy about” porn – two very different things.  Analogy time!  I dislike seafood, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-anyone eating fish fillet ever.  I am, however, vehemently anti-people who ignore my nausea face, wave it under my nose, and tell me I’m a retrograde dupe for not scarfing it down.  HOW IN THE SHIT-FILLED HELL IS THIS HARD?

Blah blah, accepted it but didn’t love it, blah blah one boyfriend lied and hid his secret turn-on of rape porn, she had a reaction she wouldn’t have today, blah blah blah.

Again.  This doesn’t make someone anti-porn.  She was never anti-porn.  She just wasn’t always wild about it, particularly while she was working through the bullshit that gets dumped on young women about sexuality, and it was part of what was uncomfortable about what was already a dishonest, fucked-up relationship.  Being emotionally unsure about a sexual component of one questionable relationship is NOT what anti-porn (which seems to include porn-ambivalent) feminism is about.  If you don’t agree with her, you’re just emotional.  She understands.  She was like you once.  YOU POOR THING.

Seriously?  Not everyone likes any given sex act, tool, or toy.  That is OKAY.  There are certain things that I’m not comfortable doing sexually, and if a hypothetical partner was really into them, I’d want to know because we’d probably be better off going our own separate ways or not being exclusive.  That is not shaming.  That is not anti-sex.  That is being mature and pragmatic about sexual compatibility, which I think is way more necessary to sex positivity than being someone who totally gets off to porn.

And yeah.  If someone feels uncomfortable, or is still working through their feelings about any sex act, aid, or toy, it is gross to pressure them into gleefully and publicly embracing it.  THAT INCLUDES PORN.

She extrapolates her (in her judgment) bad reaction to all folks who are uncomfortable with the idea of pornography, and then lumps together all anti-porn folks.  That’s right.  Feminists who are like “hey there is actually some chance that the group of straight men who get off to no-means-yes rape culture porn in some way overlaps with the same men who go out and rape again and again and again and that is a phenomenon worth interrogating, so that someday more people can actually be sex-positive in a safe and healthy way” are JUST LIKE Christine fucking O’Donnell.  A great deal of this argument is enabled by that perennial favorite of the anti-feminist right, the Straw Second-Waver.

The Straw Second-Waver:

I actually don’t know a lot of, if any, feminists who actually lump all porn together, or feel that it should be censored.  Okay.  Fine.  Catherine MacKinnon.  (Though when someone is willing to write off her dozens of other contributions to feminist philosophy and jurisprudence based on this particular issue, I have to admit that I do experience a hint of doubting that they’re legit in it for the feminism and not for the nekkid boobies.  There’s nothing wrong with liking nekkid boobies.  There is something wrong with deciding the availability thereof is the most important thing evar, decades of anti-rape activism be damned.)  Gail Dines, whoever the fuck she is, making her name off the PORN!/NO PORN! controversy.  But most of the more outspoken and well-known feminist thinkers of today, online and off, not so much.

This is textbook silencing.  Basing an argument against an entire group of people based on rare extremist outliers is a way to ignore legitimate critiques.  Sure, it’s cathartic.  But it’s not productive.  Which is why right-wingers LOVE the straw second-waver!  LOVE HER.  People who question MY sexual status quo are ugly hairy-legged wet blankets who are just NO FUN, therefore their arguments MUST be without merit!

If we don’t accept it from anti-feminists, we accept it from feminists….why, exactly?

Libertarianism:

This is really my main issue with the “if you don’t heart porn, lick my clit” coalition.  Their arguments usually, and often exclusively, focus on the awesomeness of a particular opportunity for a small, select group of privileged people.  It minimizes the deeply damaging effect of the status quo – that is, the mainstream experience for most people – and does so with the implication that the large number of folks who are suffering are doing so not because of systemic kyriarchal injustices, but out of ignorance, foolishness, or lack of moral fiber, and that people who abuse their privilege in this context would be just as evil in the same way no damn matter what so there is no sense in even trying.

In the case of economic and social libertarianism, of course, I’d be referring to the substantial effects of poverty; to the imbalance built into our economy to all but ensure a largely impenetrable upper-class and upper-middle-class being ignored in favor of a bootstraps ideology.  When it’s about porn, it’s about the vastly unequal, and gut-wrenchingly deep, hurt caused by sex shame.  Traditional economic libertarianism and porn libertarianism (pornitarianism?  Libertogrophy?) are about blithely claiming this mythical pure human state from back before Everything Went Wrong and was fucked up by the state/sex shame, and claiming that it is not only excusable but desirable to pretend such conditions actually exist, despite all rational evidence demonstrating that they do.  Hey, if a few people give it credit for making them rich/getting them off, IT IS ALL WORTH IT, and fuck everyone who gets left behind.  It’s their fault for letting the state/sex shame get them down.

It’s important to contextualize this in the context of libertarianism, because there’s an awful lot of important anti-capitalist shit that gets ignored by people who, though they’re genuinely in favor of dealing with sexual inequality, get sidetracked into making “anti-porn” feminists into shaming baddies.

There’s no way to say “most porn that most people use.”  It is impossible to track down all the porn in the world and categorize it as feminist/questionable/misogynist.  Can’t be done, and even if it can, I don’t wanna.  But you can look at the concept that most people have of most porn most of the time, and what their reactions to it is likely to be.  Alt porn, which is invariably held up as proof of the general awesomeness of porn, is alternative for a reason.  Even if in raw numbers most porn is alt porn – and I’d doubt that – the social construct of porn, that is, what large numbers of people are most likely to be exposed to, engage with, and base opinions on, is more in the vein of the GGW dub-con empire.  This has a real impact on many people and they do not deserve to have their feelings invalidated.  And the reason the GGW-esque crap is so successful is that it is easy to market, and easy to sell.  It is part and parcel of the anti-sex beauty myth which turns deep and desperate self-loathing into a for-profit industry.  That is in the way of people having the energy and self-esteem to stand up for themselves.  It is in the way of cultural body diversity.  It is in the way of moving from a rape culture to a yes-means-yes culture.  It is in the way of people exploring and enjoying their sexuality to the fullest.

Those of us who want to try to understand and change this cultural phenomenon are not dupes.  We are not anti-sex worker or anti-sex.  We are not anti-feminist.  We are not even necessarily anti-porn.  We’re in favor of a straw-free, rigorous, intellectually honest examination of how we can have healthy, accessible sexuality for all.  That’s not the end of the world for someone who is actually sex-positive.

It’s only the beginning.

*This was actually 80% finished a few weeks ago.  I got bored.

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