Let’s take a moment to talk about porn, okay? Okay.
Some feminists argue that the porn industry is just another way the world exploits women, objectifies them, sells them. The same feminists, probably, that say those same things about other forms of sex work – another topic for another day, buddies. They say that it is bad for sex and bad for body image and bad for feminism. I am oversimplifying their somewhat valid case, but I seriously do not want to get that much into that viewpoint.
Yes, some women are exploited into and by the sex industry (by sex industry I mean pornography, street-based prostitution, escorting, hotlines, etc). But as with sex work, viewing all pornography as exploiting women ignores the vast majority of cases in which, with more or less degree of choice, women opt into the industry. Their experiences are equally valid. Moreover, it reduces women in the industry to passive victims instead of actors in their own lives, it strips them of any sort of credit and agency. It also implies that women could not possibly WANT to work in such an industry, morally judging it. Unequal working conditions, agency within the workplace and pay, furthermore, are (sadly) true to any profession and any industry. Which is to say, you are still marking a difference and morally judging it. Not very feminist-sounding, IMHO.
Yes, porn, as most form of media nowadays, objectifies women. BUT it also objectifies men, albeit in a different, possibly-less-degrading manner. Most mainstream porn does in fact portray women as receiving, dying-to-get-some-from-whomever, furniture. Sure. But it reduces men to their penises, and they are only as good of a man as the lenght and girth and endurance of their ever-ready, ever-pleasing, sex machinegun.
One could argue – as many have and will – that it objectifies women more, or in a more negative way. Maybe, I don’t really know. But even then, doesn’t every form of media do that same thing? Then the problem is not pornography, but pervasive sexism and patriarchy. This is to say, STOP HATING ON THE SEX INDUSTRY. Feminism has bigger things to worry about, you guys..
Porn tells us both, too, to expect unrealistic – and lets face it, not even that pleasurable – things from sex and from our partner. It tells us both what we should want and what we are supposed to get out of sex.
Where the similarities stop, and my main charge against porn, is where point of view is concerned, and diversity is ignored in every possible aspect in which diversity exists.
The point of view, the gaze, in mainstream porn is clearly that of a man. The pleasure it seeks is that of a man. The fantasies it portrays are those of a man. It absolutely reiterates that sex and pleasure are GUYS STUFF. And that what women want is either secondary and optional, or supposed to be only to please a man. Visit any major porn site – what a cool homework I am giving you, eh? – and look at the videos in the homepage. How many women orgasm? How many men? How many show a man who is hotter – by mainstream standards, anyway – than the woman (we like ’em good looking too, y’know?!)? How many gay couples (although there is the lesbian fetish that men have..)? How many end with the guy cumming in the girl’s face – the absolute grossest thing for a gal, if you ask me?
In sex as in life, furthermore, variety and diversity are what makes it awesome. There is no such variety in mainstream porn. Look at that same homepage. How many gay couples are there? How many radically different sexual experiences are portrayed? How many have prostate stimulation? You’d think that if it is supposed to be the most pleasurable thing for men, they’d include it, but because it is related to homosexuality and OMG EW LEAVE MY BUTT ALONE it is not. How many gender non-conforming people do you see? How many include foreplay which does not directly include genitalia? How many include toys (and I do not meen strap-ons in lesbian vids BECAUSE WHO COULD NOT WANT A PENIS)? In how many is the woman the “agressor”? How many of the penises are not irrealistically huge? How many women are unshaved? How many vids feature women are not skinny but the vid does not revolve around their large breasts? How many transgender people?
A very controversial thing that I do not often talk about is snuff porn, rape fantasies, etc. It is a very contested area for feminists, for women in general (why aren’t these groups the same people? another topic for another time..), for activists. Sure, the fantasy of rape or abduction is a real one for many women – many more than most feminists would like to admit, probably. While, true, it is largely due to how women are socialized into being passive receptors, into being submissive, into wanting protecting and strong and powerful and dominant men. It is also true that it could be partly due to the fact that women sexuality and sexual desire is still a taboo and that, through a rape or abduction fantasy women are free of responsibility – and therefore guilt or shame – for what happens.
Thing about these fantasies many women have is that the rape or abduction happens with a man the woman already desired. With a man the woman was playing hard-to-get, or was feeling unsure but his irresistible moves made her change her mind mid-act, as much of this type of pornography would have it. And let’s remember it is a FANTASY, not to be confused with a desire to be translated into reality. Other times, outside of porn and often when it is acted out with a partner, rape fantasies are possible only in a previously agreed-on space and time and manner, with a trustworthy partner women already know and desire and feel safe with.
The problem is not with the women in this type of fantasy, but in men. Because men are the ones at which mainstream pornography is targetted, because men are statistically more likely than women to be the rapist in real-life situations, because men have this fantasy too but it does not translate to the same thing necessarily. Because men are receiving other ideas from mainstream pornography that, together with rape fantasies, can be extremely dangerous and problematic. From most porn, as I already discussed, they learn and internalize that women are passive receivers, always ready for some action from whomever wants it: the plumber, the teacher, the doctor, the neighbor, the brother, the grand-father even. She always wants you and if she seems to not, she just needs some convincing (#MaliciousAdviceMallard: don’t convince her with words and open communication and charm. convince her waving your dong at her instead). Many men, then, internalize that a woman is only playing hard to get, but your ever-ready machinegun non-consensually inside her will change her mind for sure. A rape fantasy played out is only cool if an explicit, verbal, consensual, safe conversation happens before – and by before I mean a fully-clothed, un-pressured, calm kind of before.
I guess that is what I want to say about porn. That in itself it is not a problem, that it should probably try to take on a bit of variety, that it should embrace the radical, unthinkable notion that women want orgasms too and that it could do away with so much violence against women, so much rape fantasies from a male gaze, so much “Oh you were just a plumber but now that you’re naked you are my ideal stud” (how about some where the woman really wants to and the guy plays hard to get? let’s at least switch roles from time to time, man!), but that porn by the mere definition of porn is not the problem.
I would also like to reiterate that stigmatization of the porn industry and the sex industry at large is totally uncool. They are performing, they are making a living, they are selling a product. All else that you add to their definition is your own moral judgment and lack of understanding of the many dimensions of sex industry. Sex workers are not criminals nor are they victims. They are people who happen to work in something that is considered taboo in this day and age. Hey, at some point doctors had to dig up corpses illegally to do a filthy thing called science, so drop it.
[Also, those whose charges against porn are that it is missinforming our youth: you should start by giving youth appropriate, comprehensive, inclusive sex education. That is one big reason why people look to porn when searching for info and some sort of truth about sex – porn was there when sex ed was not. Don’t get me wrong, porn can teach you stuff – sure as hell taught me a thing or two -, but if unaccompanied by science and facts and support from a community, it deeply impairs and limits you sexual identity and experiences.]
For further porn-related goodness (sorry! no porn here, dudes and dudettes, that is what Google is for):