Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Noam Chomsky On Pornography

H/T Lenins Tomb

Normally I am in agreement with most things that Noam Chomsky has theorized but in this case I must respectfully disagree.  The idea that the decision to work in the porn industry is simply a result of womens exploitation ignores the degree to which womens agency can make this an active choice.  While all paid labour in a capitalist economy is defiantly exploitation, working in the porn industry is not more exploitative because what is being produced is sex, or rather the imitation of  reciprocal sex.

Why is sex work necessarily more degrading than working at McDonalds, or a  Dunkin Donuts for that matter? Both involve the sale of ones body, and labour power to a certain degree. Both involve not being adequately compensated vis a vis profits versus wage, yet pornography is deemed horribly degrading. I submit that this because womens sexuality is only culturally acceptable when it is virginal in nature.  Good girls, or authentic women don't actually enjoy performing sex acts, or participating in any form of voyeurism.  Certainly there are women working in the porn industry that are not happy about that choice but not all women feel that way.  If you ask Walmart workers, I  some will tell you that they are not happy working there either.

For us to accept this as completely degrading to women, we must ignore those in the sex trade industry who unequivocally state that they perform this labour because they enjoy it, and therefore if we truly feel that it is necessary to respect women, we should validate their experiences and accept their explanations about their labour.   Is it still demeaning if the one performing does not feel demeaned? By telling sex trade workers that they are uniquely oppressed are we not guilty of seeking to discipline their bodies in the same manner that we accuse others of doing?  Are we not creating them as other? It is simply not progressive to tell someone that they are oppressed when they themselves feel no unusual exploitation.  Validating agency means respecting  choices even in cases where we are in disagreement with them.


22 comments:

Larry Geater said...

Validating agency means respecting choices even in cases where we are in disagreement with them.

I could not agree more. We must tollerate the coices of others even when we find their coice offensive. This also applys to the women who apear in the comedies that you find so offensive and the people who make them.

Renee said...

No it does not apply to the people that are making these movies, they are exploiters of the worst kind, in the same way that Walmart is an exploiter.

Larry Geater said...

1. I was refering to the people who make the comedies.

2. When I talk about the people who make a movie I am refering to the creative people, writers and directors. I am not talking about the people who finance the movie. Producers and their studios are the WalMart of movie making.

outcrazyophelia said...

"Why is sex work necessarily more degrading than working at McDonalds, or a Dunkin Donuts for that matter?"
You hit the nose on the head--sex work is constructed to be degrading because of our notions of sexuality. A woman's worth is inversely proportional with the amount of sex encounters she has had in our culture. How many sex workers have reached out in cases of rape only to be told that their bodies are basically community property now and thusly rape isn't possible for them?

The discussion of pornography is a difficult one. Should we acknowledge the factors that tend to inform the decision to perform in porn or do we take the choice to perform as valid as any other? I don't feel like he's trying to be paternalistic and telling women what they feel--at the same time, he is.

Sandalstraps said...

I'm not at all opposed to creative depictions of human sexuality. If that is all that is meant by "pornography," then I think that no one who values sexuality could possibly opposed to it.

However, when much of what is actually marketed as "pornography" contains sexual violence, and depicts principally or exclusively male sexual fantasies, viewing women as principally sexual objects in a cinematic male wet dream, the ethics of porn becomes more complicated.

I can't condemn women who freely choose to work in the porn industry. That would be misplaced condemnation. But at the same time I can condemn the porn industry as a whole for both contributing to and capitalizing on the principally male domination of public discourse on sex. That, rather than the actual performance of sexual acts (especially when such sexual acts are mutually beneficial and respectful of women's agency), is what is degrading in porn.

What this means, among other things, is that it is possible to imagine a deeply ethical, feminist, creative, artistic depiction of human sexuality, in which the actors involve actually engage in the sexual acts that they are representing in film. It is, however, more difficult to imagine a market to support such an endeavor.

Meadester said...

Wow, Renee. First the Rocky Picture Show post and now this. Two posts where you described fun, entertaining things without condemning them! Sure you made sure to take your swipes at capitalism and push the antiquated Labor Theory of Value, but how long can that last now that your mind is at least partially open? The Berlin Wall inside of your head is starting to be dismantled. It will be frightening at first but if you don't fight it you could be happier in the long run.

Renee said...

You have no idea who I am or how I think about every issue so keep the snark to yourself.

Larry Geater said...

keep the snark to yourself.

Worry not. The snark does not reflect poorly on the snarked upon in this case.

Meadester said...

@ Renee, Come on, I was just kidding. I know you must have more of a sense of humor than that.

evisiblewoman said...

Validating agency means respecting choices even in cases where we are in disagreement with them.

I think his analogies with the sweatshop workers and the abused child were very good and dealt with the idea of choices and the context of those choices well.

At the end of the day, there are women who have chosen pornography. Recognising that choice as not being a completely free one is not the same as calling women stupid.

Why is sex work necessarily more degrading than working at McDonalds, or a Dunkin Donuts for that matter?

Because the content of nearly all the pornography in the world is degrading to women. Sex isn't degrading. Nudity isn't degrading. Pornography is.

I wish pornography were just films of "sex, or rather the imitation of reciprocal sex" - but it's not. That's one tiny drop in the ocean of porn, and the rest is the humiliation and degradation of women, recorded on film, for men to masturbate to.

Danny said...

That's one tiny drop in the ocean of porn, and the rest is the humiliation and degradation of women, recorded on film, for men to masturbate to.

Believe me when I say I ask this as a serious question. You say that the majority of porn is degradation and humiliation of women. What are the definitions of degredation and humiliation you are going by?

Renee said...

I wish pornography were just films of "sex, or rather the imitation of reciprocal sex" - but it's not. That's one tiny drop in the ocean of porn, and the rest is the humiliation and degradation of women, recorded on film, for men to masturbate to.
Women masturbate to pornography and consume it. I don't necessarily agree with the choice to work in sex industry but I support the right of women to choose it. Yes sometimes it comes under constrained circumstances however sometimes it is an active choice by women and we need to validate that experience as well. Women are diverse and as such we cannot always expect to agree with all of the choices made but if we support womens autonomy we must agree to believe women when they say they enjoy producing porn.

There is also a degree of fetishism of the penis in so-called straight porn to the degree that it could almost be labeled homo eroticism and so the images of masculine sexuality are not nearly as cut and dry as we initially perceive them to be.

Meadester said...

Chomsky never heard of Hustler before? Yeah, right! He didn't have much credibility with me before, but now he's lost what little he did have.

Jack Stephens said...

Meadester: Chomsky's credibility is lost because he never heard of Hustler?

charlequin said...

The concept that all pornography ever created or sex work ever performed is entirely degrading and all women who have participated in it are unwilling victims is needlessly simplistic, but I don't think that should lead to an equally over-reduced conclusion on the opposite side.

Work for others is, generally speaking, fairly degrading, but some kinds are more degrading than others. Fast food work is more degrading than white collar work because of the way in which your personhood is devalued and your labor reduced to a commodity; sex work is usually more degrading than that because it strips the agency of the person performing the work to a greater degree, more actively reinforces misogynist sex roles, frives the participant to perform something of a greater emotional significance for money, and so on.

There's a lot of effort (both successful and unsuccessful) to recontextualize sex and sex work in a way that can be feminist and positive, which is why the universally anti-sexwork position is untenable, but recognizing that the sex work INDUSTRY is inherently misogynist and degrading, and that "bad" sex work is more degrading than something like a minimum wage fast food job, is necessary to combat those excesses.

Renee said...

@charlequin
Fast food work is more degrading than white collar work because of the way in which your personhood is devalued and your labor reduced to a commodity

It is not a matter of personhood being devalued by service sector work it is a matter that we attach greater value to white collar work though essential is essentially still work in service of others. Paid labor essentially means that you are not free to make your own decisions on how to perform the work, when to take a break or how long the work will last. Consider why a garbage man is considered on a smaller social scale than a CEO, yet society is infinitely benefited more from the labor of the garbage man.

the participant to perform something of a greater emotional significance for money, and so on.

This is only true if we believe that sex cannot be separated from emotion. As we know people engage in casual sex on a daily basis without forming lasting attachment to each other.

Jenny said...

You seem not to be distinguishing clearly in this piece between the job of "acting in porn" and the job of "having sex with strangers." Clearly the former job, performed in a safe environment, with the opportunity for breaks/snacks, etc., is much more desirable as well as lucrative, considering that the images of one act of sex can be replicated numerous times and generate that much more profit.

"Having sex with strangers for money," however, is dangerous, tiring, difficult, sometimes disgusting, and involves a lot of emotional engagement (cajoling, smiling, flirting) and it pays much less per act. While it is possible some women choose prostitution because they enjoy sex, I believe that the majority of prostitutes around the world would not choose to prostitute themselves or have their daughters follow in their footsteps.

This is not only because they have been led to believe that they are valuable only as virgins or wives, I'm telling you. Prostitutes provide for many men an emotional therapeutic outlet, an opportunity for discussion, a chance to pretend he has a healthy relationship. Men often establish regular dates with particular prostitutes, bring gifts, get jealous, etc. For the prostitute, this level of emotional work is EXHAUSTING and unending.

You can flip burgers, scrub toilets, etc., with a frown on your face and as long as your product is fine, no one cares. But if you are selling your body, you'd better be "on" socially, alert to dangers, willing to tolerate rude and nasty behavior, willing tolerate rough physical contact, and able to accept that you might get diseased, robbed, or murdered by your temporary employer. It's a crappy job.

Kirsten said...

It seems porn starved/addicted people will say ANYTHING to defend their porn--- some of you here definitely demonstrate that! Geez...

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