Of Feminism & Inequality In Porn & Sex Work

Normally I discuss sex work and sex worker issues at Cult Of Gracie, or curate sex work issues at Scoop.It, but as today’s discussion of the topic centers around pornography and other more graphic issues, it best belongs here.

The Feminist Times has an excellent series on sex work, covering a diverse range of issues. (Sadly, it is only found by searching for the hashtag #SexIndustryWeek, as if finding it on Twitter was more important than a person being able to find all the discussion on the site.) Because it is a diverse series, there are plenty of articles I do not agree with; but that’s what makes it a good discussion, so, please, do take the time to read them. However, there’s one article in particular that raised my hackles and prompts me to write today ~ primarily because it has gone without comment. Such absence of comment might make people think it is “right”. And it is not.

The article is #SexIndustryWeek: Dworkin Was Right About Porn, by VJD Smith of Glosswatch. In it, Smith uses the words of Andrea Dworkin to align all porn as patriarchal misogyny abusing and raping female victims:

In Women-Hating Right and Left, Andrea Dworkin calls out the way in which pornography is granted a special “get out of misogyny free” card because it makes people come:

“Those who think that woman hating is all right—they’re not feminists. They’re not. Those who think that it’s all right sometimes, here and there, where they like it, where they enjoy it, where they get off on it—especially sexually— they’re not feminists either. And the people who think that woman hating is very bad some places, but it’s all right in pornography because pornography causes orgasm, are not feminists.”

Dworkin was right, and it’s annoying that she’s right, given the things that might turn us on. I’m only human, too. I don’t want to be Andrea Dworkin; I’d much rather be Belle de frigging Jour. But I want to participate in feminism with my eyes open and I’m not so prudish about what happens to women that I’ll insist we turn off the lights.

Sex is not frightening. It is just flesh touching flesh, going into flesh, moving and feeling. An orgasm is an orgasm, a penis a penis, an orifice an orifice, a tongue a tongue. Nothing to be scared of. It is what it is.

What we fear is violence and abuse. That’s why we don’t call out misogyny. That’s why we don’t question the context of sexual exchange.

As a woman, as a feminist, I give many thanks to Andrea Dworkin ~ and Mary Daly ~ for all the work they’ve done. Without them, most of us would never have examined our culture, ourselves, and our own needs. I know that without them, I probably never would have pulled and tugged at such uncomfortable things as what it means to be a woman ~ within myself and with others. But Dworkin and Smith make simple, but huge, mistakes.

Who says porn is for men? The idea that porn is only or predominantly for men is an antiquated notion. (As a feminist, it would be easier to argue that the long history of pornography, from French postcards to men’s mags, from stag films to hardcore porn, was more impacted by gender inequality than lack of female interest; women have always had less money, so how could they match male investment?) What about heterosexual women and couples who enjoy porn? Does liking porn really make you a misogynist? What about lesbians watching lesbian porn made by lesbians? Is that infected by the patriarchy too? What about gay male porn ~ women watch that too. And even the most stereotypical porn steeped in traditional male values has a healthy, feminist, female following.  Lots of women have rape fantasies ~ it’s perfectly “normal”.

Who says porn is abusive? Smith begins her article with a story about a twelve-year-old boy who raped his 7-year-old sister after watching hardcore pornography. But let’s face facts. Rape is not about sexuality; it’s about violence, power and control. And there are no reliable studies that link pornography to rape or abuse; not even porn featuring BDSM. Shouldn’t the blame of the rape lay at the boy’s inability to control himself, at his parents for not getting him the sort of help he obviously needs?

Why can’t people give other people credit for being able to separate fantasies from reality? And, when they cannot, let the problem lie at the feet of the wrongdoer, not blame porn, the media, or sex work?

We discussed a lot of this back in 2005, in the Sex Kitten Pornography & Women Issue. (Yes, Sex Kitten is an old sex blogger site, dating back to 2001; even if it has been left out of some people’s histories of sex blogging.) But, apparently, all this bears repeating.

pheobe camiI agree with Smith that sex is not frightening, that we should participate in feminism, and indeed our world, with our eyes open. That includes accepting orgasms from fantasies, pornography, and even role play scenarios that are not feminist or are otherwise taboo, i.e. not deemed appropriate for reality. That includes sex as a commodity.

Like I said before, feminists and others who struggle for equality, would be wise to look at issues of pay inequality, poverty, and other issues of economic divisions in terms of assessing the prevalence of “male porn.” Women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community can all see how less money means not only less access, but less ability to create demand in the market place. This impacts sex work too.

In Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work to Be the New Normal?, Katha Pollitt blames insidious male privilege for what she sees as fundamentally wrong with sex work:

It’s one thing to say sex workers shouldn’t be stigmatized, let alone put in jail. But when feminists argue that sex work should be normalized, they accept male privilege they would attack in any other area. They accept that sex is something women have and men get (do I hear “rape culture,” anyone?), that men are entitled to sex without attracting a partner, even to the limited extent of a pickup in a bar, much less pleasing or satisfying her. As Grant says, they are buying a fantasy—the fantasy of the woman who wants whatever they want (how johns persuade themselves of this is beyond me). But maybe men would be better partners, in bed and out of it, if they couldn’t purchase that fantasy, if sex for them, as for women, meant finding someone who likes them enough to exchange pleasure for pleasure, intimacy for intimacy. The current way of seeing sex work is all about liberty—but what about equality?

Yes, we all still struggle with male privilege (and white privilege, etc. etc. etc.), but let’s look at the real inequality for a moment.

In a world where men can get an over-priced penis pump while women’s rights to basic healthcare and control of their own bodies is eroding at an impossibly fast rate (especially for poor women, i.e. women of color), do you think it is possible for women to participate as consumers in the sexual marketplace?

Forget that we women make what, 70 cents to the male dollar, leaving us very little disposable income, we are not allowed such services. When women buy a book like 50 Shades, it becomes national headlines, so you can only imagine what would happen if women sought adult entertainment outside the safe confines of the bachelorette party making a visit to see the traveling Chippendales tour. And even then, we’re supposed to laugh and giggle at ourselves, lest we be labeled a Peg Bundy, or worse, risk real life things like the custody of our children. When men use sex services, they can continue to have their lives, their children, their jobs, hold political office, etc. Men will be men, right? But women ~ oh, hell no! Women must be women, non-paid guardians of home and hearth, and only as monogamously sexual as their male partners want them to be. Scarlet letters, remember?

If there were true equality, sex work would be legal and the free market would dictate what was “normal”.

Image of Phoebe via.

12 thoughts on “Of Feminism & Inequality In Porn & Sex Work

  1. Hi! I saw the pingback from your link. It sounds like you feel that not being mentioned was done intentionally. I want to assure you, it was not. I had to ask others who had been around circa early 2000s and rely on them to name blogs along with what I was able to uncover in bouncing through the Internet Archives. I also certainly couldn’t make a list of every single blog (I was trying for brevity, afterall).

    “The world of blogs about sex (as a general umbrella term) were varied and niched and I can’t possibly cover everything. In fact, I might very well be unintentionally leaving out crucial stories.”
    and
    “I’ve had to gloss over and sometimes leave out entire swaths of history. This really could be a book, but I’m not a book writer. I’ve left out a lot to focus more on how we got from Violet Blue & Erosblog to sex toy giveaways galore and flying cross country to hang out at conferences. So I remind you again that if you have stories to tell that will help fill in and round out this history, please share with us below. Every bit is fascinating. ”

    I’m not sure why you didn’t want to contribute to the conversation, but if you’d like to, it would provide us with another crucial viewpoint.

  2. Hey Lilly,

    I *did* add to the conversation; it was my virgin posting with your Discus thingy. (I also commented at Eros.) But my comment never appeared at your site. So including the link was my next-best.

    In any case, sSorry if I sounded harsh here ~ it honestly was more of my ire at the whole subject matter. Honest. :)

  3. Ah, I have been diligent in checking but will look in spam just in case. I get notified of new comments, I double checked and didn’t find your name. Hopefully it’s there somewhere, I’d like it included!

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  7. I agree with all the post! Why porn or sex is only for man? There is a lot of girls that likes porn but there is always a sort of “shame” for this…
    This is a really good post, thank you!

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