Thursday, June 14, 2007

How a Post About Iran Punishing Porn Prompted an Epiphany...

This is my fourth post over at feministe

I wasn't going to write about it.

I really wasn't.

When I wrote about children, I wasn't aware of the can of worms I was opening, but there are some things that I know are Big Messy Issues. Some things that I know people get upset about. I'm not sure that I'm equiped to comment on and deal with some of those issues- to not step in the shit, so to speak. Then, I'm looking over at Belledame222's post about Iran's parliament passing an anti-porn bill that could, if it becomes law, punish producers, directors, cameramen and actors with death. I'm reading that, and I'm reading belledame's post, and I realize... I don't see this anywhere else... Did I miss it?

And then I realize...

I don't even really know where to begin talking about a story like this.

So, my first instinct was to let it sit. To be horrified that people could be put to death over pornography, but leave it at that. After all, I don't want to say the wrong thing or step on more toes or... well... step in the shit. It's a minefield, and maybe I'm not informed enough or delicate enough to traverse this terrain without stepping on a mine. But, I'm thinking...

... if not now, then when?


Am I going to get better at parsing these things out by staying silent because the conversation might go sour, or because I might offend someone, or because it might make me uncomfortable? And how fucked up is that, anyway? The idea that I shouldn't engage in conversations that make me uncomfortable, as though my discomfort and insecurity about a conversation is justification for inaction or failure to engage?

Change doesn't come from silence, and it doesn't come from an unwillingness to engage in difficult topics.

So, I followed Belledame's hat tip back to trinityva's post and I read what she had to say, and I found myself nodding my head. I found this particularly interesting:

We often like very much to hide behind veneers of theory. And to many of us: why shouldn't we? We live in a wealthy country. Many of us are white, middle class, highly educated, comfortable. It's very easy for us to think that we can dismantle an industry through "radical" means, at which point anyone formerly "enslaved by" it has a better life, presto change-o.

Too often our "radical" dreams can't be achieved without nasty alliances. And too often we think of our "radical"ness and our "revolutionariness" and ignore what we deem collateral damage.

It didn't work in the Iraq War. Why should it work in the Vice War either?


So, I'm reading that, and I'm trying to apply it to myself, and I'm nodding my head. In some ways, I have to look at things through the veneer of theory. How can I not? I'm a college educated middle-class straight-identified white man. So, yeah, I'm looking at things from a theory standpoint sometimes, because that's where I'm coming from. But now I'm reading this, and I'm nodding my head, because that absolutely makes sense. It's easy for me to sit here at my computer and talk about other people's lives and the things that control their lives, because I can ignore the collateral damage.

That's privilege.

So, I keep thinking about it, and it's gnawing at my brain... there's something that it reminds me of.
What is it?
What is it?

And then I remember- it's taking me back to a conversation about sex work that came up at Pandagon. The conversation was pretty long, and since it involved a discussion about Dworkin and Mackinnon, things turned towards how bad sex workers have it. There, I stepped in and said:

I read it more as saying that the situations that lead to women getting involved in pornography are so fucked that it’s not a free choice, and that the women who tend to get involved in pornography are being victimized. That is, they’re being exploited or harmed, even if the harm isn’t obvious to them.

I mean, look at your own comment about it:
Most (though not all) of the women I interviewed felt humiliated by the work they did, but they also argued (with one exception) that the reason they do it is for the money.

So, you’ve got women working in an industry that they’re humiliated by- many of whom are, statistically speaking, likely to be abuse victims- because they can make more money than doing almost anyting else.

That’s fucked.


to which mythago responded:

Roy, whether or not it’s fucked, classist finger-wagging about how they’re Betraying Their Sisters, are idiots who simply don’t understand they’re oppressed, and should STFU unless they’re prepared to say that they were naifs who didn’t know what they were getting into helps them exactly — how?


At the time, I got defensive. After all, I was trying to help. What was mythago talking about? I wasn't suggesting that those were appropriate responses at all. I wasn't blaming women.

Later that day, I was talking to my partner, and telling her about the conversation that had taken place. I expected her to come down on my side, and tell me how unreasonable and out of proportion mythago's response to me was. Instead, she completely agreed completely. To paraphrase her comments-

"Even if what you said was true, you're not addressing the problems that face women now" she pointed out. "When you criticize like that- whether you mean to or not- you're leaving a lot of women out in the cold. You're talking at them, not with them, and you're ignoring the issues that they face right now."

Which, you know... is true.

I sat there at my desk, talking about sex workers and sex work and porn like they were abstractions... but they're not, and mythago rightly called me on my shit. It took me a while to realize that, but it was a totally fair criticism. My sitting there saying that stats show this and stats show that and look how many sex workers were this or that... none of that helps them now, and talk like that does make me more likely to find myself allied with religious conservatives who have a "moral interest" in condemning sex work... and sex workers.

And that's the thing that mythago knew when posting that "Mackinnon and Dworkin made the silly assumption that their anti-feminist allies on the right would see their point of view, and apply protectionist ideas in a way that would help women instead of as a way to control women" and that trinityva was getting at when posting "often even "enlightened" people here who object to porn for the "right" reasons are willing to form alliances with those who oppose it for reasons of "religious morality"."

And when I allow myself to ally with questionable or even flat-out bad groups, I have to accept that the damage they do in the name of our cause is damage that I'm contributing to. I can't wash my hands of the harm that my allies do if they're doing the damage in the name of our mutual cause. If I'm rallying behind the cry of "PORN HARMS ALL WOMEN!" and I allow myself to get backing from a group that's adding "BECAUSE DIRTY SLUTS ABUSE SEX!" then aren't I at least somewhat culpable? Because, ultimately, don't my actions help further that cause, as well? And doesn't that mean that the damage they're doing is to some extent, on my hands?

Because those people have made it absolutely clear that they don't care about the women involved. They're not working to help end the abuse of sex workers. They're not condemning poor working conditions. They're not working to help sex worker's rights. They're not even remotely interested in making sure that their voices get heard. They're interested in keeping the whores out of their neighborhoods.

How am I doing so far? Because, I have to tell you, sorting through this? It's stressful. And I've barely touched anything yet. It's all babysteps and inching around. And I'm sure that I've already pissed off some people, and others are thinking "you're just getting here, now?"

But I'm feeling like, what's a safer place, anyway?

Because, where I'm standing... it's wrong.
It's never easy to say it, but it's true.

I was wrong.

It's not right for me to sit around from my position of safety and distance where I can point my finger and cast blame like a ray of light. What the fuck do I know about it, anyway? If I'm sitting here saying "Well, porn is bad" but I'm ignoring all of the women wh0 are involved in sex work, and I'm ignoring the realities of their lives in favor of theory and in favor of shrugging my shoulders because the conversation is too difficult for me to engage... how am I helping anything. My casting blame sure as hell hasn't made things better. Porn is still porn, and it's still pretty damned popular. Sex work keeps happening, and women's bodies are still used to sell shit.

And whatever abuses and injustices are happening to sex workers? They're still going on.

I think that JackGoff raised a good point about this, even if it was lost on me at the time:
As to porn, I am more in favor of worker rights advocation and utilizing that route because it seems to me to be the more plausible means of ending the coercion and other evil of the porn industry. I don’t, however, feel that funding a destructive industry while these safeguards are not in place is right, and I do not do so. The means of production have to be placed in the hands of the workers as opposed to corporations and their toadies. That is the only first step I can see as being on the right path.


As with so many other issues we talk about, I'm realizing the truth of the matter is this: we're fighting for the future, but we can't ignore the things that are happening now, either. Maybe it's fine for me to think that pornography as it currently exists is a big problem. Maybe it does contribute to the oppression of women. Maybe I should be working to end that and to fight against the forces that are trying to push that. But, even if that's all true, it's got to be important to remember that this isn't just theory I'm talking about. The women who are there- who are doing sex work for whatever reason- aren't hypotheticals. They're not abstractions. They're not ideas or statistics.

They're very real women in very real situations.

So, okay... going back...

What does all of this mean?

Well, the thing that I'm realizing- sure, an argument can be made that pornography hurts women. The fight against it, though, as others have pointed out, and I'm realizing, can often create collateral damage. The thing that I'm realizing, though- it's not just sex-workers that get swept under the bus during the crusade against pornography. Lots of people get caught up in the crossfire.

In the case of this law, it's Ebrahimi. A tape was released that supposedly involves her having sex. It became public, and, the story goes, the government is outraged about it, and are trying to push out a law that would punish such things as violations of the moral code.

Belledame rightly cautions against this attitude:
You see from this how women are all equally oppressed as a Class everywhere; it is a direct continuum from pole dancing classes over here to the whipping and possible execution of this woman (we'll just gloss over the whole State repression of sexual expression aspect, not to mention zomg what about the men involved). We are as one with this poor woman in her suffering, except for the actual possibly-going-to-be-tortured-and-executed part. Quick, to the Blamemobile!


I hope that's not where I've gone.

Raising my pitchfork and lighting a torch in some kind of crusade against The Pron... it's going to have consequences. It's going to leave sex-workers out in the cold, and it's got the potential to have very real consequences for women all over the place. Rallying against porn isn't solving the problem. It's not. The porn machine isn't slowing down- it's speeding up. And the fight against it doesn't seem to be helping, it seems to be hurting.

At least, that's how it's looking to me.

From where I'm sitting now- whether I'm still on solid ground or whether you think I've stepped in the shit, or whether you think I've let myself get blown all to hell by a mine- from where I'm sitting, I have to conclude that trinityva is right. Ignoring the collateral damage is dangerous and wrong. It doesn't work. Because the thing is, the ally that's outraged by porn on moral grounds? That's the same ally that is outraged by women having sex. The same ally that's outraged by abortion. The same ally that's outraged by homosexuality.

And that makes me really uncomfortable.
It should.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but I know enough to be sure that I don't want an ally like that, because they're not going stop with sex-work. They're going to take that, and they're going to extend it to everything else, as soon as they can. They're not going to concern themselves with worrying about the distinction between good porn and bad porn. They're not going to concern themselves with worrying about the distinction between porn and erotica. They're not going to be concerned about gay and lesbian literature and art. They're not going to be concerned with making sure that porn is the target, and not sex. In fact, they're going to want to go after those things. They want to get that foot in the door. They want to punish sex workers and women and gays...

It's happened before, and I don't want to be a part of it if/when it happens again. I don't know exactly what to do, or what to say, but I know that I was wrong, and I know that I don't want allies like those.
And all it took was a post a bout Iran punishing porn to finally make me realize it.

2 comments:

Cara said...

I haven't been to Feministe, yet, but I can definitely see you getting torn a new asshole for this. Good luck.

I just wanted to thank you for writing this. My stance on porn has been something I've been thinking about for a long time, as a woman who considers herself sex-positive, but also staunchly opposed to sexual exploitation and recognizes that 99.9% of porn is harmful. I'm still figuring it out. But this adds some more food for thought to the jumble I'm sorting out in my brain, and that's a good thing.

N1nj4G1rl said...

I've been reading your posts at Feministe all week, and I must say thank you especially for this one. I have long been fuzzy about the whole porn issue, my thoughts always just out of consciousness reach, and this helped me clarify that fuzziness. Cara totally beat me in posting the thanks, but I wanted to throw mine in as well.