Friday, June 11, 2010

Reactions to the call to censorship.

As a long-time advocate and consumer of pornography, I find it fascinating how politically polarizing the discussion can be. I remember once in college, when a fellow student in a class in sexual politics broke into tears because her male roommate had used porn. I don't remember the full context of the story, but my initial thought at hearing her weep was something like "he wasn't forcing you to watch it. How did he affect you?"

These memories are getting stirred up because in the blogosphere, folks are writing about the Stop Porn Culture conference happening in Massachussetts this weekend, June 12-13, 2010. The descendents of Dworkin and Mackinnon are alive and well. It's a little late to do research, but here's what I could quickly find.

Here is the mission statement of Stop Porn Culture:
StopPornCulture! is dedicated to challenging the pornography industry and an increasingly pornographic pop culture. Our work toward ending industries of sexual exploitation is grounded in a feminist analysis of sexist, racist, and economic oppression. We affirm sexuality that is rooted in equality and free of exploitation, coercion, and violence.

In the mid-to late 1970s, anti-pornography and anti-rape groups began to organize against pornography, arguing that pornography is degrading to women, and complicit in violence against women both in its production (where abuse and exploitation of women is common) and in its consumption (where pornography eroticizes the domination, humiliation and coercion of women and reinforces the sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment.) Across the country, feminists formed groups such as Women Against Violence Against Women, Women Against Violence in Pornography, and Media and Women Against Pornography to educate people about the sexist and violent images in media and to demand social responsibility from media institutions. Feminists organized protests, marches, and group tours of pornography districts, picketed and boycotted films and presented slide shows on the pornography industry’s perpetuation of woman-hating and violence. Some groups engaged in direct action and civil disobedience against the industry to dramatically draw attention to pornography and its harms to women.

In 1983, grounded in the accumulated knowledge of pornography’s direct involvement in the subordination of women, feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin proposed an ordinance that would offer women the chance to seek compensation for harm caused by the production and use of pornography. The anti-pornography civil rights ordinance that they drafted was passed twice by the Minneapolis city council in 1983, but vetoed by the mayor on the grounds that the city could not afford the litigation over the law’s constitutionality. In 1984, the ordinance was successfully passed by the Indianapolis city council and signed by the mayor. In 1988, the ordinance was also passed by a voter initiative in Bellingham, Washington. However, in both cases the ordinance was ultimately struck down as unconstitutional by the state and federal courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ rulings in the Indianapolis case without comment.

Despite the defeat of the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance, feminists continued to organize against pornography in the 1990s through individual and small group efforts. However, anti-pornography feminists lacked a large-scale, national movement to support and coordinate their efforts.

With the explosion of technology and increased accessibility of pornography via the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, feminists from around the country began to organize meetings to discuss the proliferation of pornography and the increased violence associated with its production and consumption. Through these discussions, it became clear that efforts were needed to rebuild a viable, national movement to combat the harms of the pornography industry. Several feminists developed a contemporary version of the slide shows developed in the 1970s to be used as an educational tool and to inspire action against the pornification of our culture. It is out of these efforts that the new organization, StopPornCulture! was created.

I'd like to take a crack at deconstructing the arguments of the anti-porn and pro-porn activists.

To paraphrase the anti-porn arguments that I have read or heard, the pornography industry as a whole is exploitative of female performers. In addition to that, the very subject of pornography is seen as harmful to society at large by endorsing or facilitating views that women are merely objects.

A somewhat more moderate view is that sexuality as portrayed by the ("mainstream"?) porn industry has been an influence on the culture of sexuality as a whole. One website suggests that its readers Make Love, Not Porn.

As for pro-porn arguments, Sasha Grey is quoted in her picture above. Audacia Ray wrote some very interesting thoughts on Waking Vixen. Tony Comstock wrote a response on Koan of Silence (oh, I think I just got that pun.) Nikol Hasler also recently interviewed Ashley Steel on Crushable.

Here is a video of sex blogger Violet Blue drumming up support on the anti-porn side. She uses a healthy sense of humor in her derision of the anti-porn arguments:

This may be tangential, but Professor Lisa Wade wrote an article about the portrayal of sexiness in the media. What Does "Lust" Look Like? This isn't strictly about pornography, but it does seem germaine to the discussion. It appears that images of women as sex objects already permeate popular culture.

In my own thinking about porn, I often feel that the men are presented as pieces of meat; they are more often than not faceless entities. When I read how differently men are paid for their services in porn than women, I question the notion that women are exploited.

From the wikipedia article linked above:
Most male performers in straight porn are paid less than their female costars. Ron Jeremy has commented on the pay scale of women and men of the sex film industry: "The average guy gets $300 to $400 a scene, or $100 to $200 if he's new. A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year. "Girls can easily make 100K-250K per year, plus stuff on the side like strip shows and appearances. The average guy makes $40,000 a year."

I'm ambivalent. Perhaps there are women who have been exploited. Like Audacia Ray's porn:blue jeans analogy, we don't know the conditions of the workers by looking at the product.

On the front about images and perception, there's a porn-meme called POV. These are films shot entirely from the point of view of the (male) cameraperson who is also a performer. I haven't ever seen evidence of POV porn shot from a female perspective. I'd be curious to see this made. I'm not sure that it has ever been tried before, but I'm very intrigued by the potential. Even if it didn't sell well, what about the erotic possibilities? Also, what questions would it invite about the portrayal of women and men in the media?