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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Porn as Power: a Fallacy of Liberation (2003)



There is much defense in Eugene (and other places) of the use of pornography as a tool for sexual liberation. Very few activists are willing to target purveyors of pornography, who have turned sexuality into a commodity, but they are quite ready to target other oppressive businesses, like Nike. Often this is because they fail to see that pornography has less to do with liberation or free speech than it does with commerce. Pornography turns human sexuality--particularly women's sexuality--into a product, bought and sold for huge profits.
Worse yet, supposed post-feminists defend woman-made porn or stripping, and even the likes of playboy or hustler, by claiming that women are finding their sexual power through bearing their naked bodies for money. I want to dissect these rationalizations to give a better understanding of what is behind the failure of anarchists and other activists to combat the oppression that is pornography. Why are so many activists, who are otherwise aware of capitalist exploitation, unable to make the connection to the commodification of sexuality into a billion-dollar industry?
Some women in the sex industry and porn apologists defend the commodification of women's bodies as women reclaiming their power. I've heard this from friends and roommates who worked as strippers, who said they enjoyed controlling the sexual response of men and being the object of desire. As an anarchist, I find this rationalization absurd. How far have you fallen from the tree of sexism, if you still define sex in terms of power dynamics? Who is really in control of the product? In actuality, porn is consumer-driven. It provides a very limited forum for women to perform sexually in ways that the consumer will find appealing. The "performer" must conform her expression to the whims and fantasies of the consumer or she'll quickly lose her forum. This is not free expression by any means!
It is particularly disturbing to hear anarchists use "liberation" as an excuse to defend what is blatantly sexist and hierarchical. There are at least two problems with the "liberation" argument: capitalism in any form is oppressive, but most especially when it exploits and distorts humanness and intimacy. Secondly, how on earth can anarchists or feminists claim with a straight face that the use of sex as power is anti-hierarchical or even anti-establishment? Commodification through capitalism and the bastardization of sexuality as power are both very much in line with mainstream society and patriarchal values.
Additionally, the concept of women gaining power by putting themselves forth as objects to be drooled over by men, is absolutely a ridiculous argument. ("I contribute to the demeaning of women's sexuality, because it gives me power.") For anarchists, the concept of using sexuality as a means of power over others is not only a bastardization of sexuality, but it is oppressive and anti-male, as well as anti-female. To portray oneself as an unobtainable fetish is manipulative and dysfunctional. Women who get their kicks off gaining sexual power over others obviously have some issues about sexuality that they need to work out.
Women who put themselves forward to be judged only by their sexual attributes reflect caricatures of women in our society. In an average issue of a porno mag, the only aspect of a woman that is presented is her sexuality. The reader never has a chance to see the woman as anything but her ability to copulate or titillate. Interviews may be conducted with the latest writers or actors, but not usually with any of the "models." And thus, women put themselves forward as nothing but their sexuality. I'm proud to say that I am more than just my sexuality -- I am a whole being that refuses to be pigeon-holed as only one aspect of myself. Women who believe that they gain power by leaning on their sexuality as their major attribute are selling themselves short.
Porn also presents an irresponsible and shallow image of women, and contributes to the mass perception of women as objects to be used for their sexuality only. Because it perpetuates an image of women as synonymous with sexual availability, it contributes to the lack of safety for all women. women who allow themselves to be portrayed as merely sexual creatures contribute to the all-American myth of women as always sexually available for men. This is distinctly pro-establishment.
While it's easier to not examine this issue, or to fall back on "first amendment" defensiveness, it's something that activists cannot ignore. Try using the first amendment smokescreen to defend any other billion-dollar industry and most anarchists would laugh you out of the room (at the very least!). It's time to get past the excuses and look at the way pornography ties into issues of domination, the commodification and distortion of human experience, class issues, sexism and many other oppressions.
So the next time a spontaneous demonstration/riot happens, I hope anarchists are also thinking about the many porno shops that are dumped in poor and working-class neighborhoods. There's a reason these places are ghetto-ized. There's a reason why the most vulnerable (young and poor women) are targeted for this sexual exploitation. So start thinking about it...
This is an excerpt from Durga #3. Get your very own copy, filled with other cool stuff!
Write Durga at:
PO Box 5841, Eugene, OR 97405
Source: theinsurgent.net/index.php?volnum=13.3&article=pornpower

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