The Feminist Minefield?

If there is one subject guaranteed to produce a lively debate amongst a group of feminists – male or female – it has to be porn. I have never been particularly vocal about my feelings on the subject until I visited this very site for the first time and saw a quote (taken from another website) on the issue saying that, “People who believe that porn is liberating for women (idiotic, but there are women like this) should call themselves ‘pornists’ or some other word. They are not feminists. Period.” This infuriated me. What right does anyone have to say that I can’t call myself a feminist because I like pornography? Do politicians have to tow the party line on every single policy in order to rightly call themselves Liberal/Conservative/socialist/whatever? I think not. I have no problem with other feminists’ varied views on porn and will gladly read any reasoned argument, be it pro- or anti-, so decided that it was time to actually sit down and analyse some thoughts on the subject in more detail but from my own perspective.

It seems that more and more these days it is an industry where women are coming out on top

Pornography used to be terribly dull for women. For years the industry was run by men for men and so it was understandable that women would feel threatened by porn, but it seems that more and more these days it is an industry where women are coming out on top. Pop along to the Hot D’or – an alternative to the Cannes Film Festival for the adult industry – and you will get a glimpse into a world where a ‘Best Actor’ (sic) category had to be added for fear that the male performers wouldn’t get a look in. Female porn stars are usually much more highly paid than the men and, at the top end of the market, really do call the shots. Women are also taking the opportunity to get busy behind the scenes too with photographers like Suze Randall producing images that appeal women as well as men, female directors becoming more prevalent (such as the French former star Ovidie), and others even setting up their own companies to produce a more ‘female friendly’ product. From a feminist perspective, you could say that things have never looked better.

Exploitation does still happen however, as a Channel 4 documentary called Hardcore illustrated two years ago, but this is no longer the norm and I don’t think that the entire industry should be tainted by the behaviour of the few. Of course this should not be allowed to continue and anyone forcing people to perform acts on camera against their will should be prosecuted, but this is not the sort of porn I would either view or purchase. Banning pornography would not stop this from happening as women are exploited and harassed in many other industries besides porn, so perhaps better education and worker representation is the way forward. Earlier this year, Britain’s fourth largest union launched a campaign to protect the rights of sex workers and an international union is currently working towards the decriminalisation of all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults. Surely, when an industry that employs so many women is seen to be working hard to stamp out unsavoury practices, this should be considered a good thing?

Better education and worker representation is the way forward

The often heard feminist viewpoint that pornography is degrading to women was reinforced by Gloria Steinem writing in Ms magazine that the word ‘Pornography’, “begins with a root ‘porno’, meaning ‘prostitution’ or ‘female captives’, thus letting us know that the subject is not mutual love, or love at all, but domination and violence against women”. Although this may have been the case when the first ‘modern’ porn was produced, over 500 years ago, anyone who has actually looked at the genre in the 21st century must surely realise that the linguistic root of the term is no longer relevant to what it describes. The dictionary defines pornography as a “creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire”, serving to differentiate it from erotica as an art form but at no point mentioning prostitution, domination or violence. Feminists for Free Expression counter the argument that pornography promotes violence against women by stating that, “Studies in the U.S., Europe and Asia find no link between the availability of sexual material and sex crimes. The only factor linked to rape rate is the number of young men living in a given area. When pornography became widely available in Europe, sexually violent crimes decreased or remained the same. Japan, with far more violent pornography than the U.S., has 2.4 rapes per 100,000 people compared with the U.S. 34.5 per 100,000”. People who say that porn is responsible for the many violent attacks that take place on women every year are probably the same people who claim that rock music makes kids shoot their classmates. There are evil people in this world who are going to do these things whether or not porn exists and, in this modern ‘blame culture’ of ours, some people are just determined to find someone or something to take the flak for it.

Even without the claims of misogyny and violence, the subject of porn is faced with hoots of feminist derision. You may say it objectifies women, but just look at the poor men involved. Yes, that’s right, you often can’t see more than one part of their bodies! A feminist view on a related subject featured in The Observer newspaper’s recent ‘Body Uncovered’ supplement: “Feminists increasingly make the argument that cosmetic surgery is a statement of empowerment, allowing women to stress the strength of their sexuality and enhance their idea of self”. If this is the case, then surely enjoying pornographic images could be viewed in the same way. Don’t look at the women in the images, look instead at yourself as a viewer of these images and you’ll see the liberation. I feel that it is a mark of how society has progressed that women are no longer afraid to embrace their sexuality, and have a great many ways to do so. From the Ann Summers chain’s Christmas advertising campaign for the Rampant Rabbit to hardcore star Jenna Jameson giving advice to UK men in a mainstream magazine, we have come a long way in a relatively short time.

I think that pornography is a rare product because it really needs no clever marketing campaign to sell itself. The majority of human beings have sex and most of those do so for recreational purposes; because they enjoy it. Pornography not only provides fuel for these desires but is handily available in a variety of ‘flavours’ to suit all tastes and is, within reason, guaranteed to do no more than excite. I find good quality pornography a turn on and other women all over the world also benefit from porn either by profiting from its sale or enjoying an improvement their sex lives, so why not seek to eliminate the bad parts rather than attack the industry as a whole? You can love it, as I do, or loathe it but please don’t tell me what to think about porn. In return, I’ll leave you to make up your own minds too.

As always, your comments are welcome and responses will be printed – Editor

Raine Stretford researched this article with the help of Google and some very carefully chosen search terms. The truth is out there, it’s just difficult to find amongst all that smut.