Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sorry, Men and Fun-Fems: All Porn Is Rape, All the Time (Or, If You Are Watching Porn, You Are Watching Rape)

This is a guest post by Femonade

I have been on the fence for years about whether porn is inherently harmful, or anti-feminist.  The source of my ambivalence, and how i talked myself down from that particular fence are as important to discuss, it seems to me, as is the anti-porn position to which i ultimately committed.

For years, I felt ambivalent about porn.  it didn't really do anything for me, but I was never inclined to agree with either the old-school radfems or misogynist religious proselytizers putting limitations what i should and shouldn't watch, or enjoy.  I think my problem was a common problem for young women and young feminists:  I was letting men and the male-identified fun-fems define feminism for me, and I was too young and uneducated to really analyze what I was seeing.  not unimportantly, I was afraid of a radical feminist analysis, and what that would mean for me, should I decide I was anti-porn, as a young female, a sister and daughter (of white men), as a heterosexual, and most recently, as a professional in a male-dominated field.  Instinctively and intellectually I knew that coming down on the side of anti-porn would cause a problem for me.  I am not a fucking idiot, after all,  most feminists aren't.

I was also screwing up my analysis, in that I was giving too much credence to my own “feelings” about what I saw, and knew, about porn, and consumers of porn, having watched it myself, and dated men who ran the gamut between being literally and problematically “addicted” and “meh” when it came to using and possessing the stuff.  I wrongly believed that my ambivalent “feelings” were somehow neutral, and unaffected by the culture I lived in–a culture that fully embraces not just porn but rape, too.  I think that too is a common problem for feminists:  an objective analysis that comes down on the side of anti-porn is at odds with how some of us ”feel” subjectively about watching it.  In other words, watching other people fuck doesn't necessarily bother me.  I just didn't get that visceral “yuck” feeling like so many feminist women and religious zealots alike claim to get when watching, talking about, or analyzing porn.  and I wrongly assumed that having done some rudimentary analysis and come to a conclusion, that i had done my due diligence, and that I was done.

But for all thinking people, and all feminists, its the objective analysis, not our subjective feelings that takes us into the weeds.  Considering that a misogynist rape-culture is the backdrop against which we all live, and against which we conduct all of our daily transactions, we would be right more often that not, if we embraced this credo: our subjective selves are not “us”.  We literally cannot trust our own feelings on this issue, although our feelings are not completely irrelevant.  Pro-porn or even ambivalent sentiments are part of living in a rape- and porn-culture, but that's not terminal to a feminist analysis of porn.  At the same time we live in a porn- and rape-culture, we also live in a puritanical and slut-shaming one.  We need to know, objectively, what is informing our opinions, no matter on which side we ultimately land.

What I came up with is this.  You don't have to be skeeved out by porn, to be an anti-pornography feminist. You can be anti-porn FIRST.  in my experience, the ick-factor followed closely behind, once I realized what I was looking at, and talking and thinking about, when i was looking at or analyzing porn.  For reasons I will more fully explain below, it was my objective analysis of the concept of consent that lead me to the conclusion that porn is rape.  to be clear:  I did not use an objective analysis to explain, explore, or justify my pre-existing, subjective revulsion to porn.  This is an important point, particularly against the anti-feminist barrage that women and feminists encounter daily, by men who are only too eager to dismiss women and feminists for being overly-emotional about every subject that affects them (as if responding emotionally to emotionally-charged subject matter is ever inappropriate).  Despite my ambivalence, I performed an objective analysis of porn from the perspective of consent versus non-consent, and I came to believe that its objectively, inherently harmful, and anti-feminist.  that is, when I realized, objectively, that what i was looking at was rape, I began to feel revolted.  so, while I could have done this sooner, even before the revulsion kicked in, it’s time, now, to get down off the fence, and get real.  The answer to the question, i believe, is YES.  Porn is both inherently harmful, and anti-feminist.  Furthermore, I believe that all porn is rape, all the time.  Here's why.

In a nutshell, porn = rape because of the consent “problem”.  Even at the most basic, non-feminist, penis-loving, women-hating level, the lowest level we can hold ourselves to and still claim to be a nation of laws, and civilized human beings, I think we can all agree that where there is no consent, there is rape.  You do not want to be on the wrong side of the consent problem: if you find yourself there, you are a rapist.  but porn falls on the wrong side of it consistently, and in many ways.

When analyzing the consent “problem,” straight-away, porn-consent and real-life consent are at odds.  firstly, and problematically, in porn, consent is a non-issue.  If its considered at all, its presumed.  for the porn-consumer, the question of consent never even comes up:  a woman’s very presence on film acts as her consent as far as he's concerned.  But in real life, a woman’s mere voluntary presence does not equal her consent to anything except being there.  And for the male porn-performer, the contractual nature of the transaction–and the industry–acts as the woman’s consent to whatever comes next.  Except that, it doesn't.

Although porn presents the opposite picture, just because a woman initially says “yes” does not mean you get to do whatever the fuck you want to her.  The “free-for-all” nature of even mainstream porn is especially problematic, when it escalates, always, to include acts that most people would not willingly participate in, such as gang-bangs, and “rage-in-the-cage” styled death-matches where the woman is presented as being “versus” the man.  Both ethically and legally, without a constant negotiation and re-negotiation of consent, there is no consent.  This renegotiation occurs when each party, always, has the option of ending, altering, or decelerating the action, at any time.  Consent, by definition, is a living, breathing, thing, and cannot be given prospectively.  the constant renegotiation required in consensual sexual encounters simply doesn't occur when deals are struck, and contracts are signed beforehand.  Did you hear that?  Let me repeat it:  consent does not occur, in porn.  therefore, porn is rape.

Furthermore, if the male performer is legitimately to know whether a certain sex act is wanted, that understanding can only occur through constant communication with his partner.  In real life, these communications are spontaneous, and can take the form either verbal cues (“yes”) or are evidenced by the woman’s enthusiastic engagement with her partner.  but in porn, the woman is acting.  That is, her communications to him are inauthentic.  He should know better than to engage in this act, then, if he doesn't know whether its wanted, or not. is he no longer legally or morally culpable for rape, just because he is getting paid to do it?  In real life, you have to be sure its wanted. In porn, what, you don't? or, it doesn't matter? Bullshit.

What we have in porn, then, on both sides of the screen, are men who don't give a shit whether the sex acts being performed on a woman are wanted.  We have “consent” that was given prospectively, which means quite literally that it wasn't given at all.  In other words, we have rapists raping women, and men watching episodes of rape, thousands in a lifetime, but convincing themselves each time that they are watching ”sex.”  Somehow, consent has been entirely removed from the equation, but make no mistake.  Removal of consent from the sexual equation means we are dealing in rape.

The other problem is in bringing porn-behaviours and porn-mentalities and porn-desires into your real life, and most of us acknowledge that men (including men who are advertisers…and fashion designers….and law enforcement) tend to do exactly that. But porn-consumers appropriating rape-mentalities and behaviours are not the only problem with porn. Men who watch porn are indulging rape-fantasies, and can become rapists if they bring these behaviours into the bedroom. But the men who participate in porn really are rapists under a consent analysis. And the female actors really are being raped.

So…where does that leave us, as feminists and women living in a culture that embraces porn so completely?  I don't know the answer to that.  It’s entirely possible that the entire porn industry is inherently problematic and cannot be corrected, and indeed, that's what a consent-analysis ends up:  If legal and moral consent cannot be given prospectively, then it cannot be contracted for, period. It’s quite possible that voluntary sex cannot be legitimately commodified. But the extreme power differentials involved here, driven by literally billions of dollars means that the “right” conclusion will not carry the day. Many, many men in our lives will continue to be consumers of porn, or wont see anything wrong with it, and radfems will end up endlessly having to explain ourselves, in the face of self-proclaimed liberal men and the fun-fems who want need their acceptance.

As far as me personally, I guess i am “lucky” in a way, that I don't have to deal with numerous men in my private life:  I don't have a relationship with my dad; my only brother died 10 years ago; and my partner is on the “meh” end of the spectrum when it comes to porn, having done away with his collection without explanation 7 years ago, and seems to have not looked back. But I still have to rely almost exclusively on men to sign my pay checks, and I will still have to “please” various men in various ways, knowing always in the back of my mind the repulsive scenarios they are likely to find “pleasing.”  And this is the context in which I and other radfems will live our lives, unless and until something changes.  if I seem “upset” about it, I am.

Editors Note:  My opinions on porn are very different from that of the author.  I do not believe that it is always rape because I do believe that it is possible to consent.  Also, I think that it is important to note that not all porn is made by men; it is possible to find very women centric porn.  Another point worth noting, is that not all porn is heterosexual.  Womanist Musing is about having difficult conversations, which is why I chose to post this piece.  We cannot always agree but what we must not stop doing is conversing with one another.  As usual, I expect respectful conversation in the comment section.