Today, day nine of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “The Fantasy of Acceptable “Non-Consent”: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t)” by Stacey May Fowles. I had mixed feelings about this essay, because on the one hand I definitely agree with the main point that BDSM-style negotiation can be far more liberated, far more feminist, and far less contributory to rape culture than vanilla sex. On the other hand, I felt that there was a confusion in the essay between submission generally and con non-con scenes or fantasies specifically and that the heterosexual perspective wasn’t really explicitly pointed out enough.
For the fourth day of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “A Woman’s Worth” by Javacia N. Harris. Harris, a feminist journalist, talks mostly about raunch culture and different trends that tend to be linked by some with feminism and empowerment: female pro wrestlers, the Pussycat Dolls, restaurants with scantily clad waitresses, and equally unclad women in rap videos, namely. I didn’t agree with Harris on every point, but I do think her essay raised some interesting questions about empowerment and what that word means for women.
I do understand where the anti-porn feminists are coming from. They want to cut down on violence, oppression, and degradation of women. Okay, great. Completely with you. What’s the problem? Well, degradation is subjective. Violence can be consensual. And though I may not want to watch 90% of the mainstream porn that’s out there, I believe strongly in freedom of expression. If a woman wants to be involved in the sex industry, more power to her. Here’s what I suggest:
- Focus on the real problems. Target coercion and non-consent, for example. Target non-consensual “recruitment” of women, whether through trafficking or other means. Increase regulation of the porn industry, but don’t regulate ideas. If porn is de-stigmatised, we can focus on getting the industry to pay its models well, making sure some tricky financial stuff isn’t going on to cheat the models, and making sure women in the sex industry have health insurance and other benefits. Though it’s hard to decide where I stand on this in terms of consent, I might also be okay with targeting unsafe sex in the porn industry. The problem is that when you target the content of pornography, or all of pornography, rather than the negative effects, you don’t achieve your goal. If porn was illegal, it would just go underground. The sex trade flourishes whether legal or not, but if we focus on protection and benefits for sex workers, at least we’re keeping women safe.
- Don’t use anti-porn activism as an excuse to regulate sex. By this, I mean that too often feminists get into the business of regulating desire. Proposed legislation that targets “degrading” forms of pornography tells women that their sexual desires are not okay. Targeting S&M and other consensual practices is just as bad as targeting gay or lesbian sexuality. If everyone is consenting, who are feminists to decide what is and isn’t degrading?
- Focus on sex-positive culture. And on a related note, this may seem completely antithetical to anti-porn advocacy, but I’m not sure that it is. Let’s focus on eliminating the stigmas that surround sexuality, especially female sexuality. Let’s make the message that it is okay to desire what you desire, and that it is not okay for others to force you into sexual situations in any way. This could achieve two things. One is that people won’t enter the porn industry because it’s the only way to indulge in their desires. Another is that it will de-stigmatise sex work and female sexual expression, so that women in the sex industry don’t feel like underground, unprotected individuals who don’t deserve fair pay and decent working conditions. It also could lead to more porn created by women, for women.