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Obviously we don’t agree on what’s obscene

February 5th, 2004 · post by Chris Lever · Make a comment

“Obviously we Don’t Agree on What’s Obscene” Vanilla Sex by NOFX

It’s time the porn wars ended, and the argument within feminism moved on to another level of tolerance and exploration. Leading 70s anti-porn feminist Andrea Dworkin once described pornography as “Dachau brought into the bedroom and celebrated, and it’s the prehistoric viewpoints of these individuals that’s hindering the evolution of a movement that could quite easily walk hand in hand with the porn industry, and in citing the lyrics of MY favourite post-modern feminists NOFX, “Obviously we Don’t Agree on What’s Obscene?”

So, how did pornography become to be a feminist issue in the first place? I crux of the anti-porners argument is not that porn may cause harm, but it is in itself, in representing heterosexual sex and act of violence against women, for the entertainment of men, though Ms Dworkin would prefer to describe them as “distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimised by it,” a startling accusation, made less than a decade after the feminist movements dedication to free expression and sexual awareness during the 60s. It was throughout this period that women were truly in control as you’ll see from some of the amazing sex zines edited by women at the time, but in a post 70s era of puritanical revisionism Deep Throat has now grown into the ultimate symbol of a woman being raped. Feminism even went as far as to point its accusatory finger at Heterosexuality as the root of the problem, claiming that “getting fucked and being owned are inseparably the same” as Dworkin cited further. Is it any wonder that popular images of feminism are mostly negative when the Andrea Dworkin’s of this world offer their moralist myopia as the rights and reactions of ‘everywoman?’ I recall a BBC news programme once conducted a brief report on feminism in which a pair of young women working in a clothes shop in Covent Garden we asked what they thought of feminism. Unsurprisingly, they said it was bad, and when further probed ‘Would you consider yourself a feminist?’ they strongly opposed the notion on the grounds that they deemed feminism to be anti-sex and anti-men, with one of them even going as far as to add “I actually get on quite well with my boyfriend, I enjoy being around men.”

The ironic factor is that the anti-porn stance is one only adopted by a small sector a movement that would be far more effective at addressing the real dangers to equality of the sexes (fair pay, equal opportunities, etc) if they observed a bit of unity in their midst. Instead, the true enemy of the moral feminist is the pro-porner and vice versa. Unfortunately, the feminist anti-porners mostly deal with the challenge from within the women’s movement by acting as though it doesn’t exist or by declining to debate with those that don’t share their point of view, when “unsparing criticism…is an essential element of a democratic society” (Howard Zinn). Leading anti-porners like Catherine MacKinnon have gone as far as to disregard the gestations of her pro-porn sisters, branding them with puerile names like ‘house niggers’ and those “who sided with the master.” Isn’t it great to see the once powerful feminist movement of the 60s reduced to an inefficient, infighting machine, where the essence of debate and free speech is nothing more than a bout of name calling that would be better suited on the Jerry Springer Show? However, it is the voices of the pro-porners that remain mostly unheard, a factor which has inevitably allowed the anti-porners to brand them as nothing more than social casualties. According to Ms MacKinnon “Empirically, all pornography is made under conditions of inequality based on sex, overwhelmingly by poor, desperate, homeless, pimped women who were sexually abused as children.”

To stick with the NOFX analogy “Who the hell are you tell me how to live, you think I sell my body, I merely sell my time…and I know what degradation feels like I felt it on the floor, at the factory where I worked long before, I took control, now I belong to me, the 50K I made this year will go any way I please…where’s the problem?” (Taken from Lori Meyers)

There is definitely elitism amongst the anti-porners attitude towards women in porn, and a selfish inclination to save these ‘poor, defenceless wretches.’ What about the many thousand of women in secretarial, waitressing and bartending jobs in London, exploited on a daily basis, inferiorly paid and where the need to look ‘pretty’ is imposed upon them as requisite to the retention of their shitty jobs? Isn’t this exploitation, or if I need to go on, don’t even get me started on the fast food industry? Surely one of the cardinal virtues of the feminist movement has been that a woman has control of her own body, and has equal rights before the law to do with it as she pleases? Instead, the anti-porners claim that no women ever fully consent to working in the sex industry, and that they are “Unaware of the ways they are misrepresented and mistreated” and “women are conditioned by sexism to conform to stereotyped images” (taken from a Campaign against Pornography and Censorship brochure). In other words the CPC claims that women who work in porn and claim they enjoy it don’t really know what they’re saying, a claim that not only damages the fundamental issue of consent that’s at the heart of feminism, but it’s tantamount to telling a rape victim she really meant ‘yes’ when she said ‘no!’

Central to the position of the anti-porners is the belief that there is a link between pornography and male aggression/rape in the face of reports by leading psychologist like Beryl Kutchinsky that affirm no antisocial changes in sexual behaviour arise through short-term and long-term exposure to porn. Other research in this area has held that convicted rapists have had less exposure to pornography in their formative years, as well as during the period in which they were offending. In the USA, psychologist Larry Baron unearthed the fact that it was in the states where porn was restricted that women experienced the highest levels of inequality, whereas states with the least censorship were more likely to be tolerant communities, to have greater levels of gender equality in terms of politics, economics, social and legal rights; evidence which has also been supported in Scandinavia and the Low Countries. Although it isn’t unheard of for a person with a so-called ‘predisposition’ to do harm being sent over the edge by media stimuli there is no evidence to say whether it’s any more likely to be caused by Playboy than the Bible or Catcher in The Rye (both books are known to have pushed murderers ‘over the edge’ without even a whiff of dispute over their place in the book stores). Dispite the cries of the anti-porn feminists that ‘75% of Porn is violence, the 1986 Meese Commission on Porn heard from an inquiry into the content’s of men’s magazines that only 0.5% of the pornographic imagery found could be arguably depicting violence in the broadest sense of the word, which is a lot less than the percentage you’d find in your average Hollywood blockbuster/post 9/11 film, like Black Hawk Down.

In response to Catherine MacKinnon, actress Kerri Sharp has written “Her smug, quasi-holy expressions and wagging fingers of disapproval set my teeth on edge…her opinions negate the fact that women have their own autonomous sexuality; we’re not being ‘forced’ to read, write and consume porn.” The intrinsic fact that Ms MacKinnon et al seem to have overlooked is that not all women are opposed to pornography, as Rachael Hickerson of Feminists for Free Expression (FFE) affirmed in 1997 when she revealed that 20% of the customers of pornographic video tapes in the US were women (undoubtedly those “who sided with the master” as I can see Catherine MacKinnon’s narrow-minded argument forming before my eyes). In a UK readers poll in New Woman magazine in 1994, 1/3 of the respondents said they enjoyed watching porn with their partner, a factor that goes a long way to support the claim that the world would be any less sexist if porn was banned tomorrow, though as you could see from the Victorian era, it wouldn’t really disappear, it would simply get driven underground and intensified, whilst a sexually repressive society could arguably raise more sex offenders once you’ve deprived them of their ‘pressure valve’ and create a society where women would be less able talk about physical and sexual abuse.

“I have the right to chose what I want to see and read, don’t even try to take away from me my right to privacy, coz what I do is no-one’s business but me” Vanilla Sex by NOFX

Words/Photos by Chris Lever

Recommended Reading [as in READING…sorry, no pictures]

Pornocopia – Porn Sex, Technology and Desire by Laurence O’Toole. Whilst there’s no shortage of books on the porn industry I haven’t read a more objectively argued on yet. A must for anyone who’s fed up of the ‘Daily Mail’ subjectivity we’re spoon-fed on a daily basis.
The Girl in Scarlet Heels – Women in the Sex Industry Speak Out by Rachel Silver 14 of the most empowered women in the industry tell you what it’s really like…and not a moralist Christian Psychologist in sight.
A Defence of Masochism by Anita Phillips Believe it or not, the sexual revolution’s still out there, and it’s the women holding the ball gags. Lucid, intelligent and argued from experience this book delves deep into the realm of female empowerment, male ego and unified desire.

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