“We need another perspective in pornography; we definitely need the female gaze.” said liberal feminist and pro-porn activist Erika Lust. Pro-porn feminism started when a group of women distanced themselves from radical anti-porn feminists in the second wave and soon led to what is now called ‘sex positive’ feminism. Such views have now become mainstream, and unfortunately, often, the only kind of feminism many women get to know of. Where pornography is freedom, radical feminists are said to be moralistic prudes. This article will bust such myths, and explain how pornography is oppression, and radical feminists are the only ones on the side of women.
MYTH #1 – Pornography as a means of sexual expression and liberation
One of the central arguments liberal feminists make in support of pornography is that pornography is a means for women to sexually express themselves. So they argue that by banning pornography, we are restricting women from their freedom of sexual expression, making the movement counterproductive and anti-feminist. However, it is well-known that the porn industry is male dominated and therefore has a predominantly male perspective. The directors are usually men, and most of it is made for men. What this means is that a woman is simply forced to fit into this narrative as the object that delivers male pleasure, and she is portrayed as if her own sexual desire is also to be subordinated. Where then, is the ‘female expression’ and ‘female sexual freedom’ in this? In fact, women rarely have a choice in the situations they are placed in and are forced to perform acts they otherwise wouldn’t want to. Pornography is the last place where a woman’s sexual freedom or preference is given a priority.
MYTH #2 – Pornography as a means of Sex Education
In her TED talk, Olivia Tarplin argues that almost all individuals today haven’t learnt about sex and received ‘sex education’ from their schools or parents, but rather from explicit magazines and “hardcore” porn. She proclaims therefore that as pornography helps people explore their sexuality and navigate people throughout their sexual experiences, porn should be looked at, and considered as a medium of sex education. While exposure to pornography is widespread among young people with no exposure to other information about sex, the real question is, what kind of education does it really provide? Pornography doesn’t give an accurate picture of what healthy sex is like; they cut out things like their use of condoms and other means of protection. Therefore, it doesn’t convey any understanding about what ‘safe sex’ is and how to practice healthy sex. In fact, it’s claimed that porn watchers tend to engage in riskier kinds of sex that put them at greater risk of getting sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Porn gives men an unrealistic view of women and the sexual act; most pornographic videos do not practice consent, which makes men end up believing that all women enjoy giving oral sex, like rough intercourse, enjoy being hit, and achieve orgasm without the slightest bit of foreplay, and emotional connection. Additionally, a team of researchers studied the most popular porn films that year and analyzed them. It was found that 88% contained physical violence, almost always toward the woman. On top of that, 49% contained verbal aggression. This teaches men that it is not only completely okay and normal to practice violence, but in a lot of ways this violence is also ‘sexy’. Moreover, when women watch the same things, they end up believing that if they don’t perform like a porn star there is something wrong with them. It teacher her that it doesn’t matter if a woman doesn’t want him to orgasm on her face, or be taken forcefully, or perhaps smacked around in bed due to “passion”, all that matters is that their male counterpart is satisfied. Porn also instills in women an unrealistic idea that ALL sex is always enjoyable, and that if they don’t enjoy it, something is wrong with them. With the absence of right information and presence of the wrong one, porn is nothing but the most counterproductive means of sex education.
MYTH #3 – Feminist Porn
Despite the harsh truths about how the current pornographic industry violates and oppresses women, liberal feminists continue to staunchly believe that to erase and get rid of all these issues, the porn industry merely needs to be ‘tweaked’ a little, and abolishing the porn industry altogether is ‘too extreme’. The solution to this misogyny according to them is – Feminist Porn. According to Alison Lee, manager of Good for Her in Toronto, any porn qualifies as ‘feminist’ porn when “a woman has been involved in the production, writing, or direction of the work; or the work must convey genuine female pleasure; or the piece must expand the boundaries of sexual representation and challenge mainstream porn stereotypes”. Does merely following these guidelines make the porn ‘feminist’? A few liberal feminists, headed by Lee and her foundation have recently begun with Feminist Porn Awards . It is considered as the ultimate standard of feminist porn and most liberal feminists and pro-porn activists are in agreement with its functioning. Surprisingly (or not), this award show consists of categories like “Best BDSM (Bondade, dominanation/discipline, submission/sadisim and masochism) act” which is essentially deep rooted in subordination, objectification and therefore misogyny. A few screenshots from their website, highlighting the winning porno movies are as follows:
Everything that this points to is that so-called feminist porn ALSO has its roots in objectification of women. Not only does this kind of porn not challenge the ‘male gaze’ and abuse of women, but by its own propaganda, furthers it.
Raffaëla Anderson, a former pornography performer, who has now become a nonfiction writer gave the readers an insightful look into her experience in her book, ‘Hard’. Here is an excerpt:
“Imagine a girl with no experience, not speaking the [same] language, far away from her home, sleeping at a hotel or on the set. She’s got to do a double penetration, a vaginal fisting, along with an anal fisting, sometimes both at the same time, a hand up her ass, sometimes two. At the end, you’ve got a girl in tears who’s pissing blood because of lesions, and who generally shits herself because nobody explained to her that she needed to have an enema.[…] After the scene which they are not allowed to interrupt, and anyway nobody listens to them, the girls get two hours to rest. They get back on the set […]. The director and the producer encourage those practices […] because the consumer asks for them.”
An extremely important connection that liberal feminism fails to recognise and understand is this link between Feminist pornography and mainstream pornography. Despite all the different criterias that feminists claim ‘differentiates’ their porn from the rest, it is undeniable that they still essentially function under the exact same industry that encourages this level of trauma and female oppression. Feminist porn and mainstream porn are posted on the same websites, they are more or less viewed by the exact same people, they have the same actors, they are funded by the exact same industry, and they feed into the SAME demands of the same market. The same demands that lead to such horrific experiences in the first place. Consider, as an example, that the “BDSM Winner” of the feminist porn awards becomes really popular, that not only women but men also somehow really enjoy it. What this would then do is generate more demand for similar kind of porn. And since mainstream and feminist porn exist in the same industry, ‘feminists’ wouldn’t be the only ones to recreate that porn. The demand could also very well be met by other mainstream porn directors and producers who are in it to make profit (yes, capitalism!). It is clear and obvious that these men would refuse to follow the same ‘guidelines’ and ‘ethics’, since at the end of the day, all they really care about, is that similar porn is present in the market for consumption. The consumers who create the demand too, couldn’t care less about how the porn was made. What role is feminist porn playing then? Isn’t it making the situation 100 times worse for women by creating more demand for porn? Does such feminism fail to realise that once women are brought into this industry, even if it is for feminist porn, they become a part of it and then aren’t limited to just feminist porn but are made available to be abused by mainstream pornography? By making something as brutal and absolutely horrific as pornography ‘feminist’, liberal feminism has done an excellent job of giving pornography an ‘ethical’ stamp. It has given the world, and most importantly men, a glorious excuse to continue to not critically evaluate their actions. It has given men a sexual liberation of women that serves their interests. It has given men a method of oppression that cannot be criticised in the name of freedom anymore.
More importantly, liberal feminism fails to understand that the core issue with pornography is the objectification of women- not how badly they are objectified. The essence of the porn industry is the commodification of sex, which happens no matter how ‘soft’ or ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ the pornographers claim that commodification to be. Liberal feminism refuses to understand and acknowledge the fact that there is no binary between feminist and non-feminist porn. The very act of ‘filming’ pornography for consumption and profit emphasises that ALL porn is a pretence. That all porn, no matter its contents, is faked, filmed, and distributed for profit. The very fact that each actress is ‘paid’ for her pretence and for the act she puts up in both ‘feminist’ and non-feminist pornographic films, clearly outlines lack of consent. The sole reason behind her putting up with this pretence is not her willingness to explore her sexual being on camera for thousands of people, but rather primarily because she is being paid for it. The lack of consent then means that ALL pornography, by its nature of being a pretense being paid for, is nothing but filmed prostitution – a global, multi billion dollar industry, based on the commodification of filmed rape. For instance, the truth of this gruesome industry is well explained by the recent case in Jharkhand, where 5 women representing an NGO were kidnapped, and gangraped by men who then forced them to drink urine. ALL of this, while being done to them was also filmed by these men. Why would they feel the need to film this, where do you think they got the idea to film such a horrific act in the first place? Where would they post it if not on these pornography websites? This does nothing but reveal and emphasises how closely pornography is linked to the filming of actual crimes. No porn can ever be ‘feminist’ simply and solely by its virtue of being porn in the first place.
As feminists, should our goal be to take what men have in the pornographic industry, to break off a corner piece, and try to mould it into something marginally less male-centric? Must we exploit other women the way men have exploited us? Are we so unwilling to imagine something different than simply “more porn!”? Perhaps the unnecessary stress on creating feminist porn reveals the anxiety of liberal feminists to find for themselves a liberation that does not alienate male approval, or go against the larger liberal agenda. As Jindi Mehat writes in her article, “There are real and dangerous consequences when women do misogyny while thinking they’re doing feminism.” It is time they realise that “liberal feminism demands nothing of women. Instead, it replaces painful self-reflection and bold action with mantras and buzzwords that allow women to avoid the sanctions. Women who choose liberal feminism aren’t choosing to fight patriarchy and break all women out of oppression’s cage ALL they’re doing is choosing to make that cage more comfortable for themselves.”