exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

the problem with pornography

by Jen at 2:07 pm on 20.11.2009 | 5 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle

i’ve been thinking a lot about pornography lately. it’s a topic i find hard to grapple with because it’s something that i’ve always had a difficult time reconciling with my particular personal brand of feminism. my brand of feminism, i guess if i had to describe it, is based in a largely pragmatic view of the world at large, but with my efforts funnelled towards those causes i think can have the greatest impact. in my personal brand of feminism, i don’t like to spend a lot of time railing against everything (though one might not guess that from some of my posts here!), but there are key changes needed which i believe are fundamental to the advancement of women’s equality. i believe that, like all fights for rights, the war is a long one, and change is slow, so you have to pick and choose your battles, and wisely consider where best to invest your energies.

pornography is a thorny thing for feminism in general. there are credible arguments from feminists that porn is empowering for women. there are also credible arguments from feminists that porn is truly harmful for women. which leaves me (and others) feeling somewhat stranded between a rock and a hard place.

as someone who has viewed and enjoyed pornography before, i have a hard time condemning porn outright. i’m not a prude, and i don’t have any particular objection to men or women taking pleasure in watching sexual acts, as part of a wide continuum of sexual expression. additionally, i am not an idiot – pornography is nothing new. from the early days of human representational art, sex has been depicted visually in various forms from religious to erotic. film and photographic porn is, in some ways, simply an extension of this.

in other words, porn is not, in and of itself, bad.

the difficulty for me arises from the fact that modern pornography is created, marketed and sold within a particular context – a context from which the end product cannot be extricated or innoculated. a context which is problematic in many ways.

the first and most obvious difficulty is that women involved in porn usually arrive at a place where they are getting their kit off for money because there are not exactly a plethora of other options available to them. in a nutshell, no little girl thinks “i want to be a porn actress when i grow up” – they just don’t. that’s not to imply that women in the porn industry don’t have free will – because many do participate willingly. but selling one’s body as a means to earn a living is not usually someone’s preferred choice of career. for many women, their socio-economic status still restricts the opportunities for earning a living wage. so pornography is an industry which makes its profits off of women who, via various paths, have come to see their bodies as a commodity which they sell, because at a practical level, it made the most financial sense out of the choices available to them at the time. and no matter how you dress it up with hugh hefner’s smoking jacket or cute little bunny ears, that amounts to economic exploitation. exploitation which there is considerable financial incentive to continue to propagate.

which leads us to problem number two: the reason women come to view their bodies as a saleable commodity is because our society is saturated with messages that reinforce that belief. every advertisment which pairs an image of a sexy woman with either a service being sold, or a glossy inanimate object we’re supposed to want to buy, reifies the underlying subtext that women are something you can either obtain or use for money. much like pavlov’s original experiment paired salivation to a bell, this is precisely what happens in the media and advertising world. women’s images are used to sell burgers, cars, lightbulbs. the overwhelming objectification and fetishisation of women’s sexuality (i.e. “pornification”) as part of our mainstream societal wallpaper is not a new phenomenon, and one i’ve written about before here, so i won’t belabour the point. it is, however, that same social context, where everything and everyone has a invisible pricetag, that makes pornography a viable option for women in the first place.

the third big contextual problem with pornography is that is exists in a society which still tolerates (and in some cases condones) sexual violence against women. this ties in with the pervasive mainstream objectification, because a side effect of the women-as-sexualised-objects culture is that it encourages the women-as-sexualised-objects-for-the-enjoyment-of-men culture. men who are taight to view women as objects lack empathy for them as humans – a detachment which can be dangerous. it creates the potential for a sense of sexual entitlement amongst men who have a propensity for violence. historically, women’s bodies have long been objects for the sexual gratification of men to use as they pleased – something which was long embedded in legal and societal mores in western countries. but even in westernised countries where modern-era women’s rights have been been rooting for 50 years, one in four women will still be victims of gender based violence in their lifetime. set against that horrifying backdrop, the pornography industry, whose model and medium is still overwhelmingly male-dominated-women-subjugated, is, at a minimum, not helpful.

so where does that leave me? as someone who staunchly supports a woman’s right to control her own body as a basic human entitlement, i end up conflicted. on the one hand, i want women to feel free to express themselves sexually, and i would never presume to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do with their body (including monetising it) – whether i agree or not. i want women to be fully empowered sexual beings. yet on the other hand, we have a society which continues to devalue women’s bodies as something to be used and abused. where women feel selling their body is the best of the bad choices. where women are still not free from sexual violence.

in an ideal world, i could support porn… but we don’t live in an ideal world. yet the pragmatist in me knows that pornography is not going anywhere any time soon. i don’t want to demonise erotica as anti-woman, and i don’t want to waste my time trying to eradicate something that will never go away. so i supposed that the best i can do in the meantime is continue to support changing the context. to continue to advocate for women’s education and employment opportunities which give them choices. to fight against the objectification and stereotypes of women which are so prevalent. to work to end sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable.

and that suits my particular brand of feminism to a tee.

2 people like this post.


  • 1

    Comment by Charlotte

    20.11.2009 @ 17:12 pm

    I’m exactly with you. I support porn in an ideal world. But we are still a long long way from that world.

  • 2

    Comment by Thomas Foolery

    20.11.2009 @ 17:59 pm

    Hooray for boobies!

  • 3

    Comment by lisa

    21.11.2009 @ 06:24 am

    Porn is your personal business but I am tired of adverts that is really just soft porn. Do I really want to see my M&M’s at a porn photo shoot? No thanks!

  • 4

    Comment by Jen

    22.11.2009 @ 10:58 am

    it’s insidious, isn’t it? it gets so very fucking tiresome.

  • 5

    Comment by Jen

    22.11.2009 @ 10:59 am

    @tf – if it was anyone else, i’d delete this as spam, you know )

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