Mythbusting Monday: Being Anti-Porn Means You’re Anti-Sex

16 Apr

[Trigger warning: discussion of violence against women, racism, pornography]

On the whole, being anti-porn is a pretty unpopular position to take. In feminist circles, the anti-porn movement has a pretty bad rap, in no small part due to anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin’s collusion with the religious right. Her strange bed-fellows and desire to ban porn made her pretty unpopular with some feminists, for good reason (reasons I agree with). This is also part of the reason why I want to refute what I consider to be the myth that to be anti-pornography is to be anti-sex. Sex-positive feminism was born, in part, out of the resistance to anti-porn activism, but I think they are in no way mutually exclusive. I say this because I am 100% pro-sex, but I am also anti-porn. Also, I’m not really sure why most feminists are okay with critiquing every other type of mass media—music videos, movies, the news, T.V. shows, art, music, you name it—but porn is always off limits. And to not discuss the effects porn has on culture is unacceptable. Porn might not be the cause of misogyny, it’s not the cause of rape culture, but it certainly contributes its fair share.

I want to start off by saying, I don’t believe in banning pornography. Unfortunately, when you say you’re anti-porn, many people equate you and your beliefs to people like Rick Santorum, known to many feminists as the worst person on the planet, because he’s spoken out against porn, and wants to ban it. Unlike some feminists I’ve already mentioned, I don’t think there are any issues where feminist and conservatives can come together. Because, let’s be clear, Santorum and people like him are anti-porn because they are anti-sex. There is also a major difference in that Rick Santorum and his call porn misogynist but then hold seriously misogynist ideals themselves and have no desire to uproot women’s oppression and patriarchy. Whereas, for me, one of the biggest issues with pornography is that it upholds the same systems of oppression conservatives uphold—white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.

Here, I want to spell out my major critiques of pornography, of which there are many. (But I also want to make it very clear that I am not condemning the women who work in pornography). The porn industry makes $97 billion annually, which means its revenues are larger than those of Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, eBay, Netflix, Yahoo!, and EarthLink combined[1]. Which makes it seem like the worst of capitalism to me. To be able to make that much money, annually, off of the exploitation of women’s bodies is incredible. Porn, like anything else in capitalism, functions because of demand. There is endless demand for (mostly) degrading images of women and women’s bodies (I’ll be getting to that point in a minute). And because of a culture that manufactures demand for exploited images of women’s bodies and women’s sexualities manipulated for patriarchal male pleasure, porn provides the supply. But like other facets of capitalism, it is inextricably tied to racism and patriarchy.

The porn industry is undeniably racist, reinforcing conceptions of Black men as wild animals with uncontrollable, dangerous sexuality. Some porn titles include, Hot Black Thug, Long Dong Black Kong, and White Sluts on Black Snakes[2]. Porn demonstrates racism completely unmitigated, at its worst. Most of the people producing porn are white, meaning that white supremacist views pervade porn, so that people of color are reduced to degrading, harmful stereotypes. Women of color are ghettoized into racial genres, and Black women are only ever portrayed as the hypersexual jezebel figure—while women in porn are already portrayed as always ready and willing, women of color fair worse. As Dines notes, “In all-white porn, no one ever refers to the man’s penis as ‘a white cock’ or the woman’s vagina as ‘white pussy,’ but introduce a person of color, and suddenly all players have a racialized sexuality, where the race of the performer(s) is described in ways that make women a little ‘sluttier’ and the men more hypermasculinized” (123).

In porn, there’s no room for the word “no.” Active consent (and, therefore, positive sexuality for women) doesn’t really exist in a world where women are assumed to be constantly ready to have sex and willing to have any kind of sex with anyone. When women do say no, it’s ignored. Which is the definition of rape. But in porn, when rape occurs, it doesn’t matter as long as someone (the male perpetrator) gets off. In Pirates, the highest grossing, highest-budget porn film ever made, there’s a scene where a woman is told to perform sexual acts on another woman. The second woman cries and protests, repeatedly says no, and is gang raped by a group of (you guessed it), pirates. But in the middle of the rape she begins to “enjoy it” and when it’s over, she wants more. Of course, how are you really enjoying something when you have no choice. And in porn, women have no choice. You must enjoy it all the time. Think of the context: 87% of college men watch pornography. And this is probably what they’re seeing. I want to reiterate, I’m not anti-sex. But rape (and rape scenes are common in porn) isn’t sex.

As porn has become mainstreamed (think of all those Playboy TV shows, the way women have become increasingly sexualized in most forms of media), it has also become more degrading to women. Gonzo porn has become the most common type of porn that is consumed, and it features these four sex acts more than anything else: double penetration, double anal, double vagina, and ATM (ass-to-mouth where a man has anal sex with a woman and then puts his penis in her mouth or the mouth of another woman, what ends up happening is that the woman literally eats shit)[3]. So that’s mainstream porn. I’m not trying to critique people’s sexual choices, if this is what they enjoy, but I think it says something when these are the acts that are most common in pornography. Acts which stretch women’s bodies past their usual proportions, or make them eat shit. Matt Ezzell’s article about porn (a JMU sociology professor, by the way!) later quotes from Max Hardcore, a porn producer, who says, “Women are much more understanding and aware of their true purpose in life than ever before. That purpose, of course, is to be receptacles of love; in other words, fuck dolls.”

Mutual sexual pleasure isn’t the point. It’s not the point of any of the acts depicted in Gonzo porn. The point is for men to have places to put their dicks, and in, this case, those places are women’s bodies. There’s no understanding of women as human beings, women who deserve equal sexual pleasure and real orgasms. Max Hardcore says it pretty plainly, ladies, we’re supposed to be “fuck dolls.” What isn’t degrading about that? In mainstream porn, women are literally just objects to be fucked and thrown aside, because there’s always a newer, prettier, shinier, Blonder, woman to be fucked next.

So that’s why I’m anti-porn. Because I’m more than a fuck doll. Because women deserve to have their sexualities respected, and deserve to be in control of our sexual agency. We deserve better than any porn is giving us. Porn restricts creative sexuality—it gives us a narrow view of our sexuality and actually voids ability to experiment. It normalizes sexual violence. Now, obviously, like I already mentioned, I’m not saying that porn is the bottom line for patriarchy. Like most other things in patriarchy, porn exists because of patriarchy, and works to constantly reinforce it. Porn itself is not the cause of rape, but it upholds rape culture. It gives a strict rubric for the way we’re supposed to have sex, and if we don’t like it then we’re boring, unimaginative, or prudish. And it involves the worst of white supremacy, showing completely unmitigated racist imagery to porn consumers. Porn should not be exempt from feminist criticism. And it’s incredibly short-sighted to slap people who are anti-porn with an “anti-sex” label. Because I’m really really really pro-sex. I just think sex can be a lot better, a lot more positive, and a lot less degrading than porn would have us believe.


[1] “Pornography, Lad Mags, Video Games, and Boys: Reviving the Canary in the Cultural Coal Mine”, Matt Ezzell.

[3] Ezzell.

3 Responses to “Mythbusting Monday: Being Anti-Porn Means You’re Anti-Sex”

  1. antiplondon 04/16/2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Hello,

    Thanks for linking to Anti-Porn Feminists, you’ve written a good article, highlighting the reality of mainstream heterosexual porn, how sadistic, misogynist and racist it is, and how pornography helps reinforce rape culture.

    But I do think the Dworkin bashing is a bit out of line; the anti-porn ordinance that she worked on with Catharine MacKinnon, was designed to hold porn-makers and porn consumers accountable for the harm they did to women, describing it as an attempt to ‘ban’ porn is too simplistic.

    Also, condemning her because some of her beliefs overlapped with conservatives is a straw-woman attack, some Evangelical Christians are also environmentalists, so do you then condemn environmentalism?

    Dworkin was right that the sexual revolution never really happened for women, the only sexuality that got liberated was men’s, we only got contraception and (limited) abortion rights because they benefited men too.

    I’d like to recommend some reading from second wave feminists who were there (the 60s/70s) at the time:

    Marge Piercy, The Grand Coolie Damn

    http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/modern/The-Grand-Coolie-Damn.html

    Robin Morgan, Goodbye to All That

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=50400086236

    Also, I suspect that you may not have read much by Dworkin herself, there is a lot of her work available here:

    http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/

    Kind regards,
    A

    • Katie O. 04/17/2012 at 5:11 pm #

      Thank you for your comment and the sources you’ve linked to! I’d like to clarify my comments about Dworkin, as I respect some of her work and did not mean to bash her. What I meant was, I think that actively working with the religious right was problematic. While alliance building is important to work on these issues, working with those who actively oppose women’s rights in every other context, and oppose porn because of morality or they’re anti-sex is an issue. And I don’t think it’s an issue that her beliefs overlapped with those of evangelical Christians, but the communication she held with them.

      I appreciate the sources you’ve linked to as well, I haven’t read the first two, and I’ve only read some by Dworkin.

  2. antiplondon 04/19/2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Ok, but it’s not like she compromised her radical feminist ideas to appease the right-wingers.

    If she and MacKinnon had succeeded in getting their anti-porn ordinance into law, we would be lauding them for using the right-wing to achieve radical feminist ends.

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