Friday, 20 March 2015

To (Make) Porn or Not To (Make) Porn?

Ca, c'est la question.

I have been listening to Woman's Hour again. This is something I do often at home, but have not really done since being in Canada. I have to say, hearing once again the dulcet tones of Jane Garvey and the quintessential 'Englishness' of her guests and callers sure made me a little homesick.

Radio 4 was ubiquitous in my house growing up and, much as I rail against its pomposity and unrelenting middle-classness, secretly I love it to bits. Not only does it remind me of home and my childhood but it puts out some genuinely great work. Among other programmes, I enjoy Book of the Week (except the ones with the silly accents), Dessert Island Discs (except the politicians) and (most of) the comedy (sorry, Mitch Benn, but you are not funny). I still can't take The Archers (I listen to the music and then turn it off) or You and Yours but, in general, I have a lot of time for their output.

Anyway, this week (or recently) Woman's Hour took on the subject of Porn and, chiefly, whether women are empowered (or not) by it. If you are interested, you can find the podcasts of the initial  debate and the follow-up programme here: 



Have a listen, why dontcha?

However you feel about the issue – or, indeed, Woman's Hour – it's worth tuning in just to hear the presenters attempting to discuss porn without saying 'cock,' 'hard,' 'jizz,' or similar. As you'll see, it's not actually that easy, but they do an admirable job.

On a more serious note, is it not interesting that the issue should be making it into the mainstream? Does it not validate the existence of this blog and show Yours Truly as the prescient, on-trend genius that he is? The first one? Guys? Self-congratulation aside, I think it is excellent that porn is now being discussed and bold of Woman's Hour to be the ones to do it.

Bringing things into the open and talking about them are, I believe, crucial steps on the way to changing things with which we may not be satisfied. The shame I spoke of in my first post is something we (I) desperately need to address. When people feel ashamed, they are are far less likely to be able to discuss things and therefore ever make any progress towards reconciliation.

So, does porn empower women? The initial debate was far too short (in my opinion) to make any real headway (Dear Jane was aware that 40 mins is a paltry amount of time to devote to such a large topic) on this issue. How can you fit the myriad views on a contentious subject into so short a time? Well, really, you can't, but the fact that the debate took place at all is what's important and really should be the beginning of the discussion rather than its conclusion.

Also, is this even the right question to be asking in regard to porn? Rhiannon Lucy Coslett wrote an excellent response to the debate in the Guardian* in which she argues convincingly that perhaps 'empowerment' is the wrong word in this context. Coslett says, As with taste or preference, empowerment is personal, and may not apply to others. That’s why the word causes such handwringing for those who are unable to distinguish between what might be individually empowering for them, and what might be empowering (or not) for women everywhere, as a gender and a social category – even a class – who are routinely singled out and discriminated against.”


Right on, sister. Perhaps it is misleading or counter-productive to talk about empowerment in this context but, be that as it may, I would like to discuss whether porn should exist (or not) at all and, in doing so, to clarify my stance vis-a-vis being 'anti-porn.'

You may be have been misguided (through no fault of your own) by some of my impassioned early posts into thinking that I am anti all porn. This, friends, is not the case. I am a libertarian and advocate of freedom in all its forms. I dislike being dictated to by the state or anybody else about what I should or shouldn't be allowed to do as long, of course, as I am not hurting anybody else. I believe we should 'live and let live' as much as human(e)ly possible.

I do not think porn should be banned. I do not thing prostitution (or drugs for that matter) should be illegal. As we have seen time and again, criminalising these things pushes them 'underground' and into the hands of the (even more) unscrupulous. Conditions for sex workers deteriorate; they make less money, are put in more danger and generally have a shittier time than they were having in the first place.

Knee-jerk banning of things we, as a society, cannot face is the shortest route to exacerbating the problems. So where do I stand? As I said, I am for freedom for people to do things as long – and here's the rub – as they are not hurting anyone else or are being done at their expense.* And this is the problem with (most) modern hardcore porn: people are suffering for it. Women (and men) are being degraded and maltreated by it. That's where the shame comes from; the intrinsic knowledge that you are taking pleasure from watching someone do something they are not enjoying and/or have been pressured or coerced into.

* (Sweatshop labour and the 70-hour-a-week Apple 'prisons' are a case in point here and a whole other kettle of (massive) fish. I can't talk about it now, but suffice it to say that porn does not have the monopoly on human exploitation. This world was built on it and, in many ways, it is still its lifeblood).

There was some excellent (and some not so excellent) input from some of the speakers at the WH debate, one of whom spoke about the 'market forces' nature of modern pornography. That it is being driven by money and money men and that, this being the case, it is never going treat its performers with compassion. This speaker's answer is that, in this case, only market forces i.e. consumer behaviour will effect any change in the situation.

This was a point raised by producers of 'feminist' and 'fair-trade' porn who argued that porn is not inherently wrong and that, if you don't like the current state of affairs, vote with your bits and start looking in other places. Places where performers are respected, properly treated and (crucially) that women's fantasies and wishes are catered for. Again and again, I couldn't help thinking that one of the key 'problems' with the current situation (as in so many – most – other areas of society) is male dominance within porn production.

It is this overwhelming male dominance which creates the fantasies of the boss getting sexual favours from his sexy, under-performing secretary or (worryingly) the teacher fucking his naughty nymphet of a pupil in return for better grades. In all of these situations, men are using women's sexuality to exercise power over them and the sexual act becomes just another form of male domination; he chokes her on his cock until her eyes water, and then she knows she's been spoken to.

I found the most compelling listening in those working with children and young adults and hearing (as I suspected) how porn is affecting their early sexual development. What the older members of the group patently failed to comprehend is simply what it's like to be a teenager (not a problem for me as I never stopped). In the absence of dependable adult role models with which to discuss sex, children are obviously (and routinely) looking to porn.

If young boys see men slapping women in the face and calling them 'sluts' before penetrating every one of their available orifices, might they just start thinking this is acceptable? With no-one to tell them otherwise, probably yes. Heart-breakingly, these contributors told about girls feeling forced to do things they are not comfortable with (which boys have seen in porn) because they have no frame of reference and do not feel confident enough to say, 'I'm not into this.' There was a frighteningly low statistic about how many teenagers associate sex with love and intimacy which is the whirlwind we are reaping by letting (mainstream i.e. male-dominated) porn teach our kids about sex.

The counterpoint to this statistic was that in Holland (“we used to have a big problem with crime, so we legalised it”), where sex (and porn and drugs and prostitution) is not such a shameful topic, the proportion of young people associating sex and intimacy together was far higher.

So what have we learnt? Indeed, just what (the fuck) am I trying to say? Essentially that I'm not calling for an end to porn but for a sea change in (mostly male) behaviour. It's no good saying 'I get off on this and it's available, so it must be fine.' We need to be stronger and demand different and better from an (ever-growing) industry which has the dangerous potential to damage not only us – who can at least contextualize the images seared onto our consciousnesses – but our children, who cannot.

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