Thursday 14 February 2008

Pro-pornography/pro-prostitution "feminism": A Critique

'Spread'emism' (spread-them-ism), as radical feminist S.M. Berg (creator of so wonderfully put it, is "the misleading idea that women can fuck and get fucked into political, academic and social equality with men via prostitution and pornography".

'Spread'emism' is how all the pro-pornography and pro-prostitution so-called "feminism" should be named.

The thing is that due to the facts that so many women are harmed (1) in being savagely (ab)used in prostitution or in the production of pornography and (2) by men who use pornography, there cannot be such a thing as "pro-porn/prostitution feminism". This is why I refer to women who defend pornography and prostitution while daring call themselves 'feminists' as pro-pornstitution "feminists".

The first failure of pro-pornstitution "feminism" is that it totally capitulates to patriarchy. It in no way analyzes some power structures of patriarchy such as the mainstream (i.e. "malestream") media and how sex is generally represented in our culture. Pro-pornstitution "feminism" merely reflects those structures.

Many women are socially trained to conform to cultural instruments of sexual brainwashing (and us radical feminists know there are many). Many women are routinely taught to want to be "sexy", to find "empowerment" in sexiness.

Many women, wanting to be appreciated by men, simply say "porn is okay" (without seriously thinking it) while wishing the pornographic images they see on the screen of their partners' computers or TV's weren't so degrading, so awful. And many women also say that "prostitution is a choice for the women who do it" (without seriously wondering what's hiding behind this so-called "job") because they have been taught by the media to see it as a choice, or a job like another. Thus, pro-pornstitution "feminism" mirrors what many women think because so many women have nothing else to genuinely empower them and enable them to see things a different way.

Pro-pornstitution "feminism" helps maintain the status quo that is patriarchy.

Regarding the prostitution debate, many pro-prostitution "feminists" call themselves "sex workers" or claim to be "defending sex workers' rights" and argue that the legalization of prostitution would make things better for prostituting women.

The legalization of the sex industry has been proven to be a failure by prostitution researchers. One four-country study, for instance, showed that legalization in the Netherlands and Australia led to a dramatic increase in all facets of the sex industry, a dramatic increase in the involvement of organized crime in the sex industry, a dramatic increase in child prostitution, an explosion in the number of foreign women and girls trafficked into the region, and indications of an increase in violence against women.

Pro-prostitution "feminists" or "sex workers" who say they "defend sex workers' rights", very often, are in fact madams, or women who defend the rights of pimps to run a business which inherently relies on the sexual exploitation of women and children, and the rights of johns to (ab)use prostituted women. A nine country study interviewing more than 800 prostituted people (most of them women) showed that 89% of prostitutes would rather leave the sex industry if they had the option. I believe that real feminists should seriously consider the overwhelming majority of prostituted women who are in the sex industry due to lack of real choice and who are sustaining unbearable violence and injury, instead of looking at the other small 11% of prostitutes who'd rather stay -- the few women who make a lot of money or are privileged in any other way. I believe that real feminists should seriously look at the demand side: the johns. This egregious sexual commodification of women and girls' bodies that is called prostitution exists because there is a demand for it.

Regarding the pornography debate, Feministe, Feministing, Pandagon, and other Web sites and blogs represent a current famous "brand" of 'feminism' which should be called 'spread'emism'. This 'feminism'('spread'emism') is presently the most popular kind of 'feminism' in this patriarchy, while radical feminism (real feminism) is constantly vilified, because radical feminism speaks the truth while 'spread'emism' lies (for the most part) about patriarchy.

The male-supremacist system hates hearing the truth about itself and denies it in order to maintain the status quo. Therefore, 'spread'emism' or pro-porn "feminism" gets a higher rating in patriarchy because it does not threaten the status quo but perpetuates it.

The main pro-porn "feminist" argument is that because pornography is here to stay, there's nothing we could possibly do to resolve the problem apart from advocating a change in the pornography industry itself, i.e. the making of a more "women-friendly, non-sexist, feminist sort of porn".

First of all, it is clear that, these "feminists" have forgotten or do not know what the word "pornography" actually means and all the definitions of the word that feminists have so accurately given.

Second, these pro-porn "feminists" imagine some sort of Utopian "feminist pornographic" world within the capitalist marketplace of ideas. They say they are merely against the "bad porn" and defend a sort of porn which they claim is/would be "empowering to women". This pro-porn "if you can't beat them, join them" conceit is nothing else but outright capitulation to the male-supremacist system.

These women forget that woman hatred is inherent in pornography and the porn that most men want to see is always more degrading, relentlessly crueler, and increasingly more sadistic. Do these pro-porn "feminists" seriously think that a good market of so-called "woman-friendly porn" is going to wipe out all the popular and mainstream misogyny of the pornography industry and society?

A recent article, The Anti-Feminist Politics Behind the Pornography that "empowers" Women, written by Gail Dines and Robert Jensen who were coming back from the Adult Entertainment Expo 2008 in Las Vegas, is one of many proofs that a fanciful idea such as "feminist porn" is utterly absurd!

Pro-porn "feminists" also frequently say that "women in porn have chosen to be there so we shouldn't judge them". These "feminists" fail to analyze the psychological and economic conditions that lead most porn performers to do what they do. Pro-porn "feminists" also fail to see the grievous harms that prostituted and pornographized women are subjected to. If only pro-pornstitution "feminists" could think more clearly just a little for a moment, they would notice that ignoring the harms that pornstituted women suffer and identifying oneself as a feminist is a despicable rejection of one's humanity and empathy.

Within a male-dominated society, it is not surprising that some women defend prostitution and pornography while claiming to be "feminists". Women are commonly trained to please men in this culture. Thus, it is no wonder that among women who are interested in feminism, some will choose a type of 'feminism' that doesn't bother men or does not look like a real threat to men, because these women want to be appreciated by men in what they do. Jessica Valenti, executive editor of Feministing, has recently published a book named Full Frontal Feminism, which rad fem blogger Lost Clown's insightful review of it doesn't make me want to read the book. Valenti seems to be promoting a new "brand" of "sexy feminism" which I would name "'Fuck me' feminism".

IMO, pro-pornstitution "feminism" is partly based on the worldwide denial that women are still oppressed in the Western world. Women are afraid (partly due to the fact that they have been taught fear as a so-called function of 'femininity'), so they do not want to look -- similar to the common example of the woman closing her eyes wishing the pornographic images she saw on the screen of her partner's computer or TV weren't that sexist and cruel. Women are afraid of seriously looking at what's happening around them in this woman-hating culture, so they construct a "this isn't happening" sort of protective denial. Pro-pornstitution "feminism" is based partly on both this denial and also the fact that some women interested in feminism refuse to truly challenge the status quo for fear of being hated by men.

Unfortunately, as a result, pro-porn "feminists" may well become the public norm for "feminism". We do not have any specific numbers, but pro-pornstitution "feminism" is apparently well-represented on the Internet. And this kind of "feminism" is defending a multi-billion dollar trade in women, a 'sex' industry built on men's desire for the mass-marketed sexual degradation and abuse of women and girls around the globe. Tell me, pro-pornstitution "feminists", do you seriously think this is feminism what you're doing? Real feminism?

Though often wrongly portrayed as "man-hating", radical feminism is an explicit refusal to capitulate to the status quo. Radical feminism truly recognizes the oppression of women and identifies all its roots. Radical feminism is not a threat to men, but to patriarchy. It asks for the complete abolition of the whole patriarchal system.

Radical feminism is, I believe, the real feminism that empowers women. It calls on women to open their eyes widely and face the realities of this world in order to change it. One of the first things that drew me to radical feminism is how it genuinely empowers women while any bullshit "'Fuck me' feminism" or 'spread'emism' never does, for radical feminism's bold and courageous oppositions to pornography and prostitution are accurately challenging male dominance and sexism. Radical feminism asks us to unite in a real sisterhood to change the misogynistic status quo and it also asks us to preserve our humanity and empathy by acknowledging the tremendous harms of pornography and prostitution to women.

No real feminist can possibly defend a vicious money-making misogynistic industry that is intrinsically linked to rape and other sexual violence against women and girls.


Debi Crow said...

Thanks so much for writing this Maggie, it's a great piece. As you probably know, this is one of my pet subjects too!

"Unfortunately, as a result, pro-porn "feminists" may well become the public norm for "feminism"."

I really worry about this. The general public, who neither know nor care very much about feminism, could all too easily get the message that feminism stands for being 'pornified'; that feminism thinks porn is okay.

I don't know whether I'm imagining it, but this type of "feminism" does seem to be on the increase, and becoming the "mainstream feminism", and radical (ie real) feminism is being pushed to the sidelines.

I only wish I knew what to do about it! x

Maggie said...

Thanks, Debs. I worry too. This is ominous.

I believe, nevertheless, that we have to keep on speaking out and be strong. Pornography is woman hating and that's a fact!

Also, not that many women use pornography, contrary to what the mainstream media would have us believe. As a matter of fact, many women hate porn or stay away from it. It is my hope that many women will be introduced to our real feminism via our Websites, blogs and conferences.

I'm sure that some women will find that weird "that feminism apparently thinks porn is okay" so they will want to dig deeper and hopefully find our radical feminism that opposes pornography and prostitution as woman-hating industries.

Don't forget, Debs. We are a sisterhood and we're here to stay! We also have to carry on debunking the myths about us (you know like when they say that we are "anti-sex man haters" and blah, blah, blah, the same old bullshit that pro-porners say about us).

Debi Crow said...

Thanks Maggie, you're on inspiring form today! xx

Anonymous said...

Though often wrongly portrayed as "man-hating", radical feminism is an explicit refusal to capitulate to the status quo. Radical feminism truly recognizes the oppression of women and identifies all its roots. Radical feminism is not a threat to men, but to patriarchy. It asks for the complete abolition of the whole patriarchal system.

Worth repeating.:)

Anonymous said...

wonderful piece of writing, Maggie. Thanks for the links as well! :)

Maggie said...

Thanks Laurelin and Sparkle*Matrix.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant, Maggie.
As a survivor of the sex trade, I find these "feminists" are deeply hurtful.
There is a mass of evidence of the violence, degradation and inhumanity that women and girls are exposed to in the sex trade. But these "feminists" ignore all that, and say that the sex "industry" is empowering to women.
That is utter nonsense and a very dangerous belief system. For these "feminists" seem to promote the sex trade, and I am sure are finance by the "managers and pimps" of the sex trade.
Unfortually this idea that the sex trade is fun and empowering is spreading to too many young women. It is seen as an easy way to a feminist, all the fun none of the pain.
All this silences the authentic voices of survivors of the sex trade. Their voices are too raw and say pain and grief at what they know.
I hope their voices can be louder.
I very grateful to radical feminism for giving me and other women a platform.

Maggie said...

Thanks Rebecca. Yeah, I agree with you.