by Furry Girl

06.18.10

As the dust settles a bit in the wake of all the discussion about Stop Porn Culture, many bloggers are still trickling forth with their own "and this is what all sides keep missing in their posts about the matter" posts.  It's good to see the discussion keep going, and I'll be the latest to hitch my wagon on the end of the ongoing "people are missing the real point!" train.

A running theme I saw in the conversation about Stop Porn Culture, as well as at other times, was people commenting that we need to prove to anti-porn activists that feminist porn exists.  These people's hearts are in the right place, but I don't think that tactic has any chance of swaying feminists who hate pornography.

Some sex workers and pornographers identify as feminists, some of us don't.  As I complained once in a room full of people shooting daggers out of their eyes at me, I'm sick of seeing the word "feminist" being used as the sole or primary qualifier of whether or not a given idea/product/person is good or evil.  It's sloppy, reductionist thinking.  While I'm not at all against anyone calling what they do "feminist porn", and indeed love what comes out of the feminist porn scene, it's awfully tiring to see people act as though the only ethical porn out there is the stuff being made by a handful of small producers in San Francisco.

When people fixate on the importance of spotlighting and praising feminist porn, I, and others like me, are tacitly being slighted.  Why is the label of "feminist" more important than the actual production of what's been discussed?  How about rather than squealing endlessly about feminist porn, we use the term ethical porn instead?  It makes more sense and actually explains, in simple English, what you're talking about.  It would be nice to see inclusiveness towards all the awesome and ethical non-feminist pornographers (ahem - like me), and you'll also avoid the endless semantic debates with anti-porn activists over what feminist "really" means.  Sidestep that bullshit - it's a useless distraction, and you'll never win an argument with it.  Believe me, I spent years trying.

When we get lazy and use the word "feminist" as an all-purpose stand-in for "ethical", we create a false dichotomy by inferring all porn not marketed specifically as "feminist" is not produced ethically.  This helps our enemies fracture us, and it hardly fosters productive dialog about the real politics and ethics of porn production.  If we want to have open discussions about labor and production issues - rather than endlessly rebutting baseless accusations that watching porn turns men into rapists - we need to drop the loaded terminology and use proper descriptive words.

It's also irksome to see the way in which many people in the pro-porn community rush to decry anti-porner's highlighting of BDSM porn in their materials.  While the anti-porners cherry-pick presenting the most graphic and kinky porn they can get their hands on - images of women being degraded, humiliated, and beaten - the pro-porn retorts to this emotionally-manipulative tactic annoy me just as much.  It completely plays into the divide-and-conquer efforts of anti-porners.  "Hey, most porn isn't violent and degrading!  You're just using horrible examples!  Most mass-market porn is wholesome, not abusive!"  This only serves to further enforce the sex-negative overall social norm that kinky sex is defacto unethical and nonconsensual sex.

Excuse me, but since when did either side research the porn in question and figure out if the examples used by anti-porn nutters were produced under conditions that were agreeable to the performers?  Whether the women in the images are doing artistic soft-focus implied nudes or having their faces rubbed into a puddle of piss on the floor, there's no way to tell by looking at an photo how the performers really felt about being a part of the production.  When you're only looking at and talking about images of a pre-negotiated scene, you're glossing over everything that actually matters.  It would be like asserting that a war movie is an illegal snuff film because you, as an audience member, are certain from the "evidence" you were given that you saw people get shot and bleed to death.  Or, that since you found Hollywood's latest romantic comedy to be light-hearted and fun, you're absolutely certain that everyone involved with its production was treated fairly and loved working on the movie.

Guess what?  I've met a lot of women who work in front of the camera doing "violent", "degrading", and "humiliating" porn, and they consistently gush about how amazing their work is and how happy they are with their jobs.  I actually think I hear more kinky porn performers express happiness about their work, and more often, than I see even other happy sex workers glow about their jobs.  Is that anecdotal evidence?  Sure, but it's a lot of anecdotes - more anecdotes than the anti-porners can trot out in the form of a few ex-performers who later decided they regret their jobs and felt abused by having worked in porn.

To channel my inner Christian Bale: hey, it's fucking distracting when people chase the red herrings of "feminist porn" and "violent porn".  Let's stop that, and focus on the comparatively boring issues of discussing labor politics within sex work.





26 Comments

  1. If we want to have open discussions about labor and production issues - rather than endlessly rebutting baseless accusations that watching porn turns men into rapists - we need to drop the loaded terminology and use proper descriptive words.

    Although I'm unconvinced that "anti-porn movement" stalwarts actually want to have that discussion, it's a discussion that many of the loudest speakers on the "pro-porn" side of the fence seem equally inept at having. I'm similarly frustrated about that, as you are, and I agree that the loaded terminology is often (although not always) unhelpful.

    For what it's worth, I've tried calling out both sides of this smoke-screen issue for their respective obfuscation pretty regularly, but not quite so diplomatically as certain others have done. Unfortunately, I've not felt so very listened to, and I sense you feel similarly there, as well.

    Comment by maymay — June 18, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  2. I'd say the simple reason why labor politics are not a topic people really discuss is because most of the people in the conversation aren't involved in the porn industry first-hand. That doesn't mean they're wrong to talk about the end products and imagery, like Violet Blue's been doing with talking about women who love porn to counter the argument that porn is something men DO TO women, but it does leave labor issues mostly neglected.

    One of the issues that interest me - transparency - is pretty much not addressed even in porn-maker circles. I wrote about transparency and pay rates last year as I was deciding whether to start another porn site: http://www.feminisnt.com/2009/somewhat-disjointed-grievances-on-porno-pay-rates-transparency-and-a-pinch-of-boring-labor-politics/

    Comment by Furry Girl — June 18, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  3. I think you hit the nail in the head there, with the point of feminist as a stand-in for ethical.

    I was helping my roomie try and find a porn gig and researching rates, and it floored me how far from transparent things were. She'd come up with figures like "I could make $500 and they'd pay my travel for this shoot..." and I never could find where she got the information. (And now, I'm beginning to think she may not have had much to go on.)

    Comment by Aria Stewart — June 18, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

  4. Excellent points. Whenever I hear about this back-and-forth with feminists who just don't grok kink, I think of that hilarious mini-scene at the end of Secretary where that woman in the black turtleneck randomly shows up with a pile of books and says "Read about women's struggle first."

    Also, ethics aside, it is my understanding that criminalizing photographs and/or films of acts that in and of themselves are not criminal, is unconstitutional.

    Comment by lovesickrobot — June 18, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

  5. All good points. I think, though, a lot of anti-porn feminists (and, more importantly, perhaps, a lot of "on the fence" feminists who are open to being convinced that some porn is ethical) would argue that the ethics of the conditions under which porn is produced are not the central issue. You wouldn't excuse producers of Nazi propaganda because they treat their actors well. The argument is that porn -- especially violent and/or kinky porn -- is degrading to women in general and fosters misogynistic attitudes, not necessarily that it does specific harm to the women who participate. If you want to make distinctions about which porn is ethical, the distinctions may need to include the implications of the material as well as the conditions under which it is made. For example, does some porn tend to encourage or perpetuate inaccurate ideas about female sexuality? (My impression, ironically, is that kinky porn is less likely to have that characteristic than mainstream porn.)

    Comment by D. Claude Katz — June 19, 2010 @ 6:26 am

  6. D: Comparing pornography to Nazi propaganda? Class act.

    Since there is zero evidence to suggest that porn causes people to act differently, I'm simply not concerned with having philosophical/theological debates with people who want to believe porn causes social ills. It's another red herring. If they can present some real peer-reviewed data, I'm happy to look at it, but I'm not going to debate someone's emotional feelings that are unsupported by evidence.

    But, as for whether plenty of porn perpetuates inaccurate ideas... of course it does. It's entertainment. Being erotic entertainment, it features people who are good at athletic/camera-friendly sex and have idealized sexual characteristics like big tits and big dicks. Action movies perpetuate inaccurate ideas of how physically strong men should be. The World Cup perpetuate inaccurate ideas about how good one can be at playing football. Every single form of entertainment throughout history "perpetuate inaccurate ideas" about how _____ the audience can be in comparison to the characters, whether it's a cheap porn movie or classic literature. Otherwise it would be completely uninteresting- you don't want to read a book or watch a movie about people that are unremarkable and plain in every single way.

    The problem lies in people who act as though pornographic entertainment is somehow totally different from say, Dickens or Homer. It's unfortunate that feminists and others work to convince women that they should feel ugly and oppressed by porn, rather than by explaining to women who get insecure about their own bodies that porn is just entertainment, not an instructional manual.

    Comment by Furry Girl — June 19, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  7. Well, some feminists regard porn as being very much like Nazi propaganda, and, as I noted, there are some who are on the fence and willing to be convinced by either side, so I stand by my analogy: there's a group that needs to be (and, I think, can be) convinced that porn is not at all like Nazi propoganda, but you won't convince that group unless you address issues of content as well as the production process.

    Your response to my comment makes considerable headway in addressing some of those issues. But in fact, people do cite peer-reviewed studies and use them to make semi-credible arguments that porn does harm. You're certainly not obliged to debate those people, but I think it would be useful if someone would. (I hear precious little actual debate on this issue.)

    Dickens always did seem like the sentimental equivalent of porn to me anyhow, albeit unusually eloquent porn. Homer, however, is in classical Greek and dactylic hexameter, so he's clearly superior. And then there's Sappho...

    Comment by D. Claude Katz — June 20, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

  8. Furrygirl: All I have to say is - Yes! I've been trying to articulate this point for a while now, since I've seen this come up in *so* many blogosphere porn conversations. Basically, the idea that all porn is bad except for "feminist porn". And I'm not even offering up a straw man example, because I've seen people actually say exactly that and defend it.

    D: I have no idea who you are, but you seem to be coming fairly far into the middle of a debate with some pretty "101" level arguments. Yes: the debate about porn is ultimately about two things. One is conditions of production, which is essentially a labor and exploitation issue. The second is about the effects of pornography on its viewers and the larger society. Of the two, I think the first has some merit, in that porn, like all other industries, has labor rights issues that need to be addressed. The second, sorry, I really don't take seriously. There is actually precious little evidence that porn has much of any negative behavioral outcome that sets it apart from other media.

    As to arguments about behavioral effects being addressed, well, the pro-porn side has addressed anti-porn research claims extensively for over 20 years. The latest round of addressing this can be found on this post over at Scienceblogs, which describes, among other things, a meta-analysis of prior research by Neal Malamuth that doesn't demonstrate any strong effect on male aggression. I'll also note that that blog post was on the receiving end of a complete shitstorm generated by the wonderful people of the feminist blogosphere, notably I Blame the Patriarchy. Jason Goldman, a mild-mannered science blogger unused to the ways of the feminist blogosphere found that the attacks in his comments section became so nasty that he actually unpublished the post for a few days before thinking better of it. So that's the kind of grief you can expect when you do address the issue.

    The most frustrating thing about the two prongs of this argument is that it creates an oft-used derailing tactic: effectively debunk or address concerns on the "porn causes violence" issue, and suddenly we're told that the *real* issue is exploitation of women in front of the camera, and we're ignoring that. Address labor conditions, and somebody will drop out of the sky to tell you you're ignoring social effects. That gets old, really.

    Comment by Iamcuriousblue — June 21, 2010 @ 5:44 am

  9. Assuming that all the ethical issues really are on the production side, perhaps you are conceding too much even by using the term "ethical porn" (which makes me think of how the product is used rather than how it is produced, hence my previous comments). We don't talk about ethical running shoes or ethical computer chips. Normally we don't assign the ethics of the production process to the product itself unless there's something inherently unethical about the process of producing that kind of product. A vegetarian might describe meat as unethical because it can't be produced without killing an animal, but one wouldn't normally talk about "ethical dining" in reference to a restaurant's labor practices. In general, one may believe that consumers have a moral obligation to purchase products that have been produced in an ethical manner, but we still don't normally call the product itself ethical. What's so special about porn that makes the ethics part of the product?

    Comment by D. Claude Katz — June 22, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  10. Iamcuriousblue: I totally second your last paragraph on that comment. No matter which issue you're addressing, you get told that it's the other one that really matters.

    D: I have no idea what you're trying to ask me. Now, after comparing porn to Nazi propaganda, you're asking why ethics in porn matter? Huh?

    Comment by Furry Girl — June 22, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

  11. The topic of sex work includes both voluntary and involuntary workers. It is important to respect and defend the rights of both of these experiences.

    The issue with involuntary sex workers is not sex. The issue is forced labor. Whether that labor is sex or not, forced labor is the crime. It is important not to conflate sex with slavery. They are not the same thing, but opponents of sex work often blur these concepts either to strengthen the reaction to their argument or out of undisciplined analysis.

    Voluntary sex workers also have rights. If sex work is legalized, then they can address, access, negotiate and reinforce those rights through the same institutions of law and governance that other workers have at their disposal. The usual arguments about abuse of voluntary sex workers exist because they are denied access to legal protection, organizing into a union and being certified, insured and regulated like any other business. The greatest gift one can give a sex worker is legalization.

    A great many people feel compelled to speak out on what they believe is proper concerning sex. When sex is brought into the conversation, social customs that support and reinforce traditional and largely unquestioned responses and opinions about sex. If the subject is a man's many sexual partners, the conversations are usually favorable or dismissed as "something that men do". If the subject is a woman engaged in sex, whether this is for money or not - most conversations tilt toward the negative - and often very much so. Our societal structures applaud men for sex and punish women.

    Feminism then, is about a woman's right to choose her own life and be accepted by society as the equal of men. It is the right of any person calling herself or himself a Feminist, to choose their own opinion about sex work. It is not however that person's right to impose that choice onto anyone else, for the same reason that they do not have the right to force anyone else into sex work.

    No one can ask or tell us to have sex for money for the same reason that they have no right to force us into any form of work. It is our right to choose for ourselves, regardless of what anyone else thinks. In return, we must grant that freedom to everyone else.

    Comment by sexgenderbody — June 22, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

  12. I wasn't "comparing porn to Nazi propaganda" in the sense of implying that they are actually similar; I was using an extreme example to illustrate the general point that, from an ethical point of view, content matters -- a general point, which, in principle, also applies to porn. So you argued that pretty much all porn content is OK ethically, and I'll accept your arguments until someone convinces me otherwise.

    Consequently, what I'm bringing up is a semantic issue about how one uses the word "ethical." Of course ethics matter in the production of porn. But why do you need the phrase "ethical porn"? It's not the porn itself that, in some cases, is unethical; it's just the process of producing it.

    It's the same way with running shoes: if they were produced by slave children in sweatshops, that may make the act of knowingly purchasing them unethical, but it doesn't make the shoes themselves unethical. It sounds ridiculous to talk about "ethical shoes." (It doesn't sound ridiculous to talk about "ethical art," because the content of art can have ethical implications. But you have argued that the content of porn does not have ethical implications.) So why talk about "ethical porn"?

    I would say, provisionally, that all porn is ethical. That doesn't mean that all porn producers are ethical.

    Comment by D. Claude Katz — June 23, 2010 @ 1:44 am

  13. D: If you want to have a philosophical conversation about the varied meanings of "ethics", go ahead, but such discussions are not my bag, so you'll have to find someone else to spar with. I define ethical porn simply as porn made under fair conditions mutually agreeable to all parties, with bonus points to companies that allow performers to have a say in who they're fucking and how said fucking occurs.

    Comment by Furry Girl — June 23, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  14. While it's not the case with every bit of kinky porn I've seen, the porn that I would class as "ethical" has a massive showing from the BDSM/Kinky side. Before and after interviews with models and clear discussion of safewords and limits are things you don't find many other places, frankly.

    Comment by McDuff — July 15, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

  15. McDuff: I agree. I find "extreme" and "violent" porn, overall, to be more concerned with ethics and consent than softcore/mainstream porn.

    Comment by Furry Girl — July 28, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  16. Wow. This is so much brilliance and truth, so concisely packaged. If only more people would simply read and think about what you've said. I could talk for hours about this, but I won't bore everyone with that. Furry Girl, thank you for sharing your amazing, insightful analysis of the ethics of sexuality, pornography, and feminist culture and thought.

    Thank you. Thank you.

    Comment by Will — July 23, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  17. I know I'm referencing a year-old argument, but just as a rebuttal to the semantics-of-ethical problem, there are plenty of precedents in the language that use words like 'ethical' to mean what FG means. Fair-trade, kosher and halal come to mind immediately -- they mean that the product, whether fair-trade coffee or kosher food, was produced in a manner considered acceptable, preferred or required by the group that consumes it. Done properly, thoughtfully, and with an eye for the welfare of all involved.

    (Though I'm sure the kosher and halal arguments won't carry much weight with you, FG, as a vegan.)

    'Feminist porn' uses feminist the same way. Presumably.

    Comment by H. Davis — September 19, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

  18. H. Davis: It's not just semantics to me. There are feminist pornographers who engage in business practices I find definitively unethical, so it's not a matter of me saying that "feminist" is a mere inaccurate stand-in for "ethical." Marketing porn to hipsters as "feminist" might mean it has good marketing, but it has nothing to do with ethics. (Especially given that there is no list of standards for what "feminist porn" even means, other than "no skinny blonde chicks.")

    Comment by Furry Girl — September 24, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  19. I think youre losing track of what this kind of content does to already fucked up, violence prone men.

    Wether or not the model on video is acting, you have to wonder where this kind of porn is leading us when the bar needs to be raised ever higher.

    Im a guy, and seeing a guy spitting on a girl's face when she totally doesnt seem to be enjoying herself is a total turn off. Same with choking, slapping, ass to mouth, girls in pain. Theres a bigger question here than "Is it fake or not?" and "do the models care how they are treated?".

    I understand people are consenting adults and have a right to do what they want, i just wonder where this is all leading us 20 years from now when the purpose of a sex video is getting men to get sexually aroused by violence against women and theres a competition to push the enveloppe. The sort of porn i come across sometimes feels like something filmed out of a nazi sex slave camp. I cant see anything healthy society wise to men beating off to that. Im sure this is the kind of stuff passed around in the US army, that has a high rate of rapes.

    Comment by Eric Francis — December 31, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

  20. So was my comment removed or it just didnt go through?

    There was nothing disrespectful in it, or attempts at trolling.

    Just think you should weight in what this kind of "its just a fantasy of men raping girls" mindset is leading porn to, when men are titillated into wanking off to violence against women and theres competition to push the envelope ever forward.

    If it was my army comment that got the comment deleted, i know first hand the types of porn that gets passed around in the army, my friends sister's boyfriend was in it.

    Comment by Eric Francis — January 1, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  21. Eric: You are engaging in a shoddy debate tactic called "concern trolling." You have no proof that porn or violent porn causes anyone to act in any way. You, and concern trolls like yourself in the porn debate, might as well be screaming that eating strawberries causes violence and rape because it can't be proven that strawberries do not cause violence and rape.

    Comment by Furry Girl — January 7, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

  22. This is a thoughtful post and a good read.

    It seems to me that it is possible to define ethical porn and then to create watchdogs to certify ethical porn where it can without having to establish whether most of current porn offerings are good or bad ethically.

    It seems like an insurmountable task to determine in advance if a current product was developed ethically with prenegotiated scenes that the performers took on for the fun and professionalism of it. Even so, I would prefer to support conscientious producers.

    Comment by Seth Strong — February 3, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

  23. Seth: I would totally support some sort of industry-initiated "ethical" certification program, but only if it's truly independent, transparent, and democratic. I don't want one popular alt porn studio to decree they are the sole arbiter, and then only "certify" their friends' work. I have a feel that any certification scheme would likely end up that way, though.

    Comment by Furry Girl — February 5, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

  24. Comment by Trackbacks — February 25, 2017 @ 9:00 am

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