The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

I don’t know why I am doing this either.

Hi! I’ve been quiet, haven’t I? Don’t worry darlings, it’s me, not you. It’s always all about me, you know that.

Anyway, as I made my re-emergence back into being Tallulah last night, my timing couldn’t have been better. Because there was quite the little Twitter storm happening about this piece. FsOTLG were het up. I eventually abandoned the conversation to go find some, you know, actual porn, of the kind that would make Gail Dines weep for my feminist soul. Except who am I kidding? Gail doesn’t think I’m a feminist at all.

Anyway, in the midst of the Twitter conversation, someone mentioned that if you’re going to have a “debate” about porn, you might want to include a sex-positive voice in there somewhere. So, in my yappy, annoying, interrupty way, I thought I’d interject myself into the “debate”.

[see how I keep putting that word into scare quotes? It’s because I don’t believe printing something that is essentially two people agreeing with each other is a “debate”. Hence this post. Dines is a “noted anti-pornography campaigner. Smith admits to not actually knowing anything about the subject  – she believes porn is really, really bad, just not as bad as other stuff. Editors? We’re right here. You want a counterpoint? Come ask us. Not all feminists agree. It’s kind of a thing.]

So let’s begin. I’m just going to take the choicest quotes from Gail Dines, because she’s the one making the argument I most disagree with. But do go read the whole thing.

Radical feminists see the production and consumption of porn as a form of violence against women, while liberal, and many postmodern, feminists argue that it is an issue of sexual freedom, fantasy, choice and, in some cases, sexual liberation. The battle is actually one based on theoretical differences, since radical feminists situate their arguments within a wider social theory that owes much to a left-wing analysis of the role of images, culture, ideology and power in capitalist society

See how she gets that out of the way nice and early? Radical feminists are better than you. They know more, and their feminism takes more into account than big tits and cumshots. They’ve read more, discussed more, and think more.

For the record, if anyone wants to check my feminist credentials? I have a post-graduate degree, I read The Women’s Room at 13, The Beauty Myth at 15, and De Beauvoir in the original at 17. I abandoned my marxist politics when I realised no one in that particular room was having any fun, but I am perfectly capable of ‘situating’ my “I choose my choice” feminism within the dominant paradigm of patriarchal power structures. You can choose for yourself how much most of this paragraph has been taking the piss, because we all know how I feel about the One True Feminist idea.

Importantly, porn – with its reactionary ideas about women’s ‘natural’ role as fuck objects and its misogynistic representations of women enjoying humiliation and degradation at the hands of men – creates ideologies that support legal, economic and cultural sexism.

Le sigh. It is about here that I start getting bored. Because OH MY GOD, how many times are we going to have this particular conversation? I don’t know anyone who would argue there’s absolutely nothing problematic within the porn (and wider sex) industry. But to argue that all porn is “reactionary”, that every woman involved in, whether acting, making or enjoying porn is being subjugated, and that no woman ever enjoyed being humiliated? Well, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I don’t need to explain why, do I?

Type ‘porn’ into Google and click around the most well-travelled websites that appear. With mind-numbing repetition you will see gagging, slapping, verbal abuse, hair-pulling, pounding anal sex, women smeared in semen, sore anuses and vaginas, distended mouths, and more exhausted, depleted and shell-shocked women than you can count.

As I have said before when I have written on this subject, I’m not TLG’s resident porn expert. And I don’t watch a lot of porn, so I am mostly sheilded from the gagging, slapping, and hair-pulling….what? Sorry, got a little distracted there. So all I will say, is that if “type X into Google” is your main research, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Pointed out by FOTLG in this discussion is some, you know, actual research.

…Physical aggression – including spanking, open-hand slapping and gagging – occurred in over 88 per cent of scenes, while expressions of verbal aggression – calling the woman names such as ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ – were found in 48 per cent. The researchers concluded that ‘if we combine both physical and verbal aggression, our findings indicate that nearly 90 per cent of scenes contained at least one aggressive act, with an average of nearly twelve acts of aggression per scene’.1

Just FYI? Spanking, gagging, and calling names? Not necessarily inherently aggressive, nor inherently degrading, depending on the context.

Porn is an industry, and like other industries it shapes the way we live. The fashion industry shapes the way we dress, the food industry the way we eat, and the sex industry the way we think and have sex. To argue otherwise would be to make the ridiculous claim that the only industry that has no power in the real world is porn.

Except that what porn depicts is by and large, fantasy. That there are people who can’t tell the difference between that and reality is, yes, worrying. But so are the people who can’t recognise that the models in Vogue don’t look like actual women, and the clothes they are wearing are worth about a year’s salary for most people. The fashion and food industry are selling us products. Porn is the product. It exists to sell itself. Which is not to say that is isn’t selling something, nor that it isn’t shaping culture and behaviour. But it’s different.

They understand that systems of inequality are never secured once and for all, thus part of the work of the elite is to produce a hegemonic ideology that convinces both the oppressor and the oppressed class that the system is fair, just and unchangeable. To drive a wedge between the material and the ideological, as Smith does, is to ignore the complex ways that systems of inequality produce and reproduce themselves across time and place.

Yes. Because there are no women working to make the porn industry more accountable to, and produced for, women. ALL the women involved are oppressed. No woman ever has stood up and said ‘I don’t care that you saw it online, I’m not doing that.” No man has ever said, “you know what? That scene is kind of rapey, and I don’t want to act it”. There’s never, ever been anything in a mainstream hollywood movie that gets anywhere close to what’s happening in the world of porn.

I hope Smith is right and we are beginning to see some change in the air, but I do not have any faith whatsoever in any man, Left or Right, who has learned his sex education from porn. For real change to happen, men need to see women as full human beings with an absolute right to equality. Try telling that to the guys who jerk off to SUCKMEBITCH.COM.

Oh Gail. You know what? I am not sure if I believe you have faith in any man. Left or right (because those are the only two classifiers), porn-watching or chaste. Regardless of where he got his sex education. But you’re right, we should be very wary of anyone who got their sex education from pornography. Mostly because, likely, they are going to be really shit in bed. But there are plenty, plenty of men who see women as full, equal, upright citizens who enjoy a nice bit of anal porn with their tea and biscuits. That there are people who take the fantasies and extremities portrayed on seriously – speaks to a bigger social ill.

Look. The conceit of the article is “whether porn should be a priority for the women’s movement”. We live in a world where legislators can’t say “vagina”. Yes, porn should be a priority, but not in the way Dines means.

6 responses to “I don’t know why I am doing this either.

  1. OR June 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I remember there being some raised eyebrows at the “research” in your “actual research” link at the time it came out.

    • tallulahspankhead June 22, 2012 at 10:12 am

      I’m sure there was. There always is in this area. My point was more that there is more robust evidence to point to than “I searched google”.

      (And no, I’m not going to link to any because I am at work, and I am not googling anything.)

  2. OR June 22, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Okay, just trying to give a heads-up that the pop science book in the Stuff article you’re linking to is maybe not all that flash.

  3. Emma June 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Yes, Ogas is problematic. I wrote about that here. Still not as dodgy as Dines.

    And yeah, I broke several of my own rules engaging in that discussion last night. Don’t talk about complex things on Twitter. Don’t engage with [redacted], ever. Don’t argue about porn with people who’ve never watched any porn. And don’t, ever, argue about something when it’s of academic theoretical interest to the other person, and deep personal significance to me. Because yeah, I’ve had relationships in which every single sexual act would have met with Dines’s disapproval. At least two of us pulled out (so to speak) because we were thinking, “But this thing you think is so inherently subjugating? I’ve done that. With someone I loved.”

    As long as Dines views sex acts as having a moral value outside of their context and the feelings of their participants, as long as she continues to view porn as absolutely monolithic and ignore any examples that don’t fit with her preaching, her opinions are completely, utterly fucking worthless.

  4. Hugh June 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    “Having a debate” is a big red flag for me.

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