We can do without the faux-feministing
Men, we’re better than porn!
A Cambridge student has championed the feminist cause among men by proclaiming his disdain for pornography.
His article highlights some of the major issues with commercially-produced porn and the misogyny that is inextricable from it.
And yet, I resent the attempt to enlist feminism in the cause against porn when the core argument of the article is different. The author writes against all porn, not just abusive, misogynist porn.
He argues that pornography is inherently wrong because it cheapens human sexuality – an argument often made from a religious, and particularly Christian, viewpoint.
The point I’m making is not that you cannot be a Christian feminist – because you can. And there is a clear case to be made against porn use, whether or not you are religious.
But do not conflate the view that “porn is morally wrong because it damages relationships” with the argument that “commercial porn is misogynistic”.
Let’s start with his second claim. According to the study cited in the article, 88% of scenes in popular porn films featured physical aggression, mostly towards women. 95% of the victims of that aggression responded either neutrally or with pleasure.
Another important issue which the article didn’t mention is the link between porn production and human trafficking – many of women who have been trafficked into the sex industry report being forced, at one point or another, to film a sex scene.
Feminists should campaign against the misogyny and human exploitation that is inherent to this kind of porn – but that does not amount to being opposed to porn entirely. People who are angered by the violent and oppressive nature of mainstream porn have set up alternative porn sites. There are even Feminist Porn Awards. And a Wikipedia page.
Just as you can choose to buy Fairtrade coffee or ethically produced clothing to end your contribution to the oppression of coffee-growers and textile-manufacturers in the developing world, you can look into the alternative porn industry and the options available to you as an ethically-minded porn-consumer.
Essentially, you can choose to pay for porn that is ethical and feminist.
The view that porn is destructive to relationships is different – it opposes pornography in all its forms.
It is an argument that can be made from a Christian perspective – that sex is only to be enjoyed by two people in a stable relationship – or from a secular perspective, stating that porn is naturally damaging to people’s relationships and self-esteem.
As the Polish philosopher Karol Wojtyla once said, the “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little,” and this is a criticism that can both religious and secular.
However, it is not a criticism that can be backed up with the claim that ‘porn is misogynistic’, at least not unless the author had clearly said that all porn involving any number of people of any gender is inherently misogynistic no matter how it is produced – which is a difficult argument to make.
And it is perhaps particularly difficult for the author, who is unlikely to have thought of feminism at any length at all – otherwise, they would not have written a hetero-normative, ‘feminist’ piece entitled “Men, we’re better than porn,” completely erasing the experience of women or non-binary people as porn-viewers.
The fact that 50% of female university students claim to have never watched porn (compared to just 8% of male students) simply indicates the extent to which women’s sexuality is suppressed compared to men’s.
Perhaps more than 50% of the women surveyed by the NUS have watched porn on at least one occasion – they just did not admit to having done so.
Finally, the article concluded with an appeal to anyone out there who is complacent about their porn use, calling them out: you are not a feminist.
But here’s a newsflash. As a Christian feminist, it’s not enough for you to just encourage people to stop watching porn – which is pretty easy for you to do, given your belief that porn is wrong even when it is not misogynistic. You need to actively speak out against misogyny in your church.
If you remain complacent about the church’s institutionalised misogyny, then you are not a feminist. If you are against women’s reproductive rights, you are not a feminist. And if you believe that women and men naturally have different ‘roles’ in society, you are, of course, not a feminist.
Abstaining from watching commercial porn is only the first step – doing that and patting yourself on the back for being a feminist simply isn’t going to cut it.