The porn argument and how not to have it

Caroline Ferguson has a guest post on the continuing and fascinating porn debate happening at The Hand Mirror.  And boy oh boy do I have two big throbbing issues with it.

Following this battle, I was extremely dismayed to find this pro-porn post on THM…. I thought post-“Female Chauvinist Pigs”, sex-positive ‘liberating’ ‘stripping-is-empowering type feminism had been pretty clearly debunked – pornography has not ‘benefited’ women, and is no triumph of feminism (as Hugh Hefner argues). How is it that this argument is still continuing among feminists? It leaves us open to being viewed as an incoherent, vitriolic movement, undeserving of respect.

First issue – “has been pretty clearly debunked”.  Either Caroline Ferguson is completely ignorant of the number of feminists and non-feminist-identified women* who are anything but done with the porn/prostitution/BDSM debate, or she knows they exist, but doesn’t give a fuck about their opinions and doesn’t rate their voices.  Talk about a quick-and-easy silencing tool – if you think stripping can be a liberating experience, well, aren’t you a little moron?  That’s been debunked, precious, now go play with your toys until the growed-up feminists finish talking.

ETA: Second issue:  And as noted by Psycho Milt in the first comment at THM, you know what’s really fucking offensive?  Acting like the real problem here is that, oh noes, feminists might be seen to disagree with each other,** which gives us a Bad Image – and that the fucking solution is, “so the other side needs to shut up already because they’re making us look bad”.

Then the thing that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise after that intro:

When we look at the issue of pornography, why not accept the distinction made by Dworkin and MacKinnon between porn and erotica.

Um … because it’s a tad one-sided?

I mean, as we approach a referendum hugely decried for using the circular-logical phrase, “a smack as part of good parental correction“, it shouldn’t need explaining that it’s frankly bullshit to insist your opponents (when you acknowledge they exist) only operate within parameters entirely designed to prove your point.***

That is,

“the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and words, that also includes women presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; or women presented as sexual objects who enjoy humiliation or pain; or women presented as sexual objects experiencing sexual pleasure in rape, incest or other sexual assault; or women are presented as sexual objects tied up, cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or women presented in postures or positions of sexual submission, servility, or display; or women’s body parts — including but not limited to vaginas, breasts, or buttocks — exhibited such that women are reduced to those parts; or women presented being penetrated by objects or animals; or women presented in scenarios of degradation, humiliation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual.” (Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 176.)

What about women presented as people who get off on pain?  What about women presented as people who are tied up?  Or women’s body parts presented as part of a woman who is a sexual person?

There’s a whole other argument to be had about BDSM, but my point is this:  if I walked up to Caroline Ferguson and said,

Hey, what’s wrong with taking the distinction:

“the graphic, sexually explicit depiction of women perceived through a female gaze enjoying themselves sexually in a liberated and enthusiastically-consenting manner possibly including sex toys which leave both hands free to give a double thumbs-up to the camera”

I would not be playing fair.  And neither is she.  Personally, I’m not sure about thedifference, semantic or otherwise, between “porn” and “erotica” – probably because I’ve most often seen it used in situations like this, where “porn” gets defined as Sexy Stuff What Is Bad For Women, and “erotica” is Sexy Stuff What Is Good.  Now when those are your starting assumptions, who can blame you for assume the argument’s already over and done?

*And while we’re on the point, it might pay for people to consider why these women refuse to associate themselves with the word “feminism”, and it ain’t because they’re patriarchy-pleasing Slaves to the Man.
**And nothing screams “I need a privilege check” like saying “We need to have a coherent, unified voice which will just probably happen to be middle-class and white.”
***And no, this argument doesn’t work for creation scientists, because they claim to be able to work within a scientific framework anyway.
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10 comments

  1. Emma

    Privilege check? You don’t say. That post actually left me throbbing with rage for about an hour, it’s SO condescending. You know what makes you look undeserving of respect? Treating people with different opinions (who, actually, some of them, know a fuck of a lot more about the issue than you) like misguided children who need to STFU for the good of women. Y’know, women. By which we mean, ‘women like me’. Not women like you, because by definition being told to shut up is not good for you.

    Rage has probably knackered my pronouns there. But this post was foul. And, apart from the attack on sex-pos women, actually pretty devoid of content.

  2. QoT

    actually pretty devoid of content

    I did get a bit confused by that, actually – it starts off with “reaction to Enid’s post” then “base assumptions/arguments” (albeit offensive to me) and then … not so much development of position. But then I’ve been known to taper off in rage myself.

  3. Maia

    I am so with you. I can’t even figure out which bits to respond to I’m so frustrated.

    Turns out I will have to jump into the fray after all. I’ve been meaning to write “why I think arguments about pornography turn to custard” possibly followed with a multi-part epic of my opinion. This may have annoyed me enough to motivate me.

  4. Deborah

    Following this battle, I was extremely dismayed to find this pro-porn post on THM.

    This sentence astounds me. You mean that it’s wrong full-stop to discuss porn on a feminist blog?

  5. ms poinsettia

    While I think this post certainly made some assertions that surprised me (really? Feminists have a set position on porn? Where the hell was I when that happened?) and definitely find describing dissent as threatening the feminist movement incredibly troubling, I wonder if the condescending tone isn’t in part a response to the tone in Enid’s initial post (as well as maybe dealing with the Craccum business).

    When I first read Enid’s post, I was just glad I wasn’t Anjum because it seemed, to me, to take a quite condescending and judgemental attitude to Anjum’s views (ie you just haven’t found the right porn; sex involves objectification and if you don’t think so you’re lying or have bad sex), and by proxy, people who agreed with her. I overlooked that, and the “disabled/lame” jibe, to comment because I wanted to discuss some of the assertions in the post but it was offputting. I’m kinda not surprised that there’s been a response equally condescending.

    • QoT

      I agree there were parts of Enid’s post that came across as a little condescending. But acting as though it’s shocking that any feminist might be in favour of heavily-qualified porn is in a whole other league.

  6. stargazer

    ms poinsettia, thank you particularly for the second paragraph of your comment. i can’t even begin to articulate how it felt personally to have been set up like that, and to subsequently be criticised for not engaging. however, i respect ms enid’s work and her as a person, so am not interested in an on-line stoush about that. which is why i stuck to the issues, as i saw them in my post.

    re caroline’s post, yes i agree also that the debate isn’t over in the way she put it & i believe she has retracted somewhat from that position in comments. and i too am very interested in reading maia’s post about why these discussions so quickly turn to custard.

  7. TrinityVA

    “And while we’re on the point, it might pay for people to consider why these women refuse to associate themselves with the word “feminism”, and it ain’t because they’re patriarchy-pleasing Slaves to the Man.”

    Thank you. I get so tired of “if you’re happy you can vote, you’re a feminist!” as if the only people who don’t claim the term are people who are ignorant. That totally erases people like me who were part of the movement and got disgusted and left. I’m glad I can vote, but what does that have to do with whether I agree with people who insist that all right-thinking females agree with them on everything?