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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And now to dig into some meat! (Er, figuratively speaking. Unless it's free-range of course.)

Recently Anthony Kennerson, on his blog The Smackdog Chronicles, critiqued an article by antiporn feminist Stephanie Cleveland. Now I'd like to take my own crack at the multifarious flaws in this piece.

"A few weeks ago, I attended a Take Back the Night rally on campus....But there was one issue nobody seemed willing to talk about. No one said a word about pornography."

It doesn't occur to her that, rather than not being "willing" to talk about it, it might just be that the speakers didn't view the issue the way she does. But that couldn't be: she possesses the Single Truth. How could any thinking person see it differently?

"No one mentioned that over two thirds of them [porn workers] have lived through childhood sex abuse."

Antiporn feminists are notoriously loose with their facts, but let's suppose for the sake of argument that this is true. What follows from it? First, that apparently a third of sex workers aren't survivors of such abuse. How does that fit into her picture? Second, not only is correlation not causation, but causation isn't symmetric. That is, "A causes B" is not the same as "B causes A." If surviving sexual abuse does sometimes lead to taking up sex work, it hardly follows that sex work results in more abuse. After all, presumably a disproportionate number of those attending Take Back the Night rallies are survivors of abuse or assault. Does it follow that their participation is a continuation of their abuse? Cleveland, to the contrary, presumably would argue that this is a way of overcoming those experiences. Well, guess what -- some sex workers say the same thing about their work.

"Nobody talked about how the average prostitute is raped eight times a day."

I think we can safely assume she's talking about consensual acts here, and not forced sex. She's simply creating "rape" by ideological definition, and hoping to make it stick by throwing in the "eight times a day." Kinsey's group found that what people labeled "pornography" was reliably predicted by whatever elicited a physiological reaction they dubbed "visceral clutch." The strategy we see here is to bypass our critical faculties by pairing the idea of prostitution with the VC many of us may experience at the thought of having sex with eight different men in a day. (In the terms of classical conditioning, that is: seriatim sex = original stimulus, visceral clutch = response, prostitution = conditioned stimulus.)

"[A]nd no one dared [sic] question whether or not there were similarities between the descriptions often given by porn stars of how filming a scene feels ('It's like I'm outside of myself, like I'm watching what's happening to me') and the dissociation frequently experienced by rape victims."

She overlooks here that people also report out-of-body experiences that are not at all unpleasant. Just to mention one extreme example, OOB is a classic feature of near death experiences, which are usually described as beatific.

"While everybody acknowledged that we live in a culture where men often feel they have the right to take sex by force,"

I don't know how true that is. I've heard it, but I've also seen how misleadingly some studies can be reported. Often the language used in describing results to the public is quite different from that of the questions posed to the respondents.

"[N]o one seemed willing to admit [sic] that most men also feel they have the right to buy it,"

With the seller's consent, that is. Again she's implicitly assuming that other people share her ideology, when she has no reason to. If you don't start from the assumption that sex should be treated differently from other services, then the right to buy it is a nonissue, not something you're willing or unwilling to "admit" to.

"freely availing themselves of the forces perpetrated by capitalism."

And here she simply makes an unproven assumption about why prostitution exists -- a very dubious assumption when prostitution not only antedates capitalism, but by some accounts patriarchy as well (viz., the reportedly matriarchal origins of "sacred prostitution"). And again it singles out sex work for no apparent reason, when the very same argument could be made about all sorts of other services.

"[A]s an anti-pornography feminist, I oppose the selling of women for sex,"

Leaving aside the routine verbal objectification of women who actually have agency, she's saying here, "As an anti-pornography feminist, I oppose pornography in the name of feminism." Did she really need to waste keystrokes on a tautology?

"I oppose the businesses of pornography and prostitution because both hurt me, and both hurt other women."

Another unproven assertion.

"As a woman, I would like to be treated as an equal human being. I would like equal treatment for all women, but I don't see how we can reach that goal as long as some of us are being bought and sold as fuck objects."

Again the verbal objectification, conflating sex work with slavery. That has of course been the central strategy of porn-haters of all stripes for the past couple years.

"I am not a closet-conservative,"

No, you're an open sexual conservative.

"but am strongly pro-choice,"

Not when it comes to sex work obviously.

"Most of the men I speak to about pornography agree with me on these issues. They identify themselves as liberal and feel that the subordination of human beings is wrong. They believe that massive corporations do not have the right to exploit people in the name of global capitalism—unless, of course, those corporations are part of the porn industry."

And this is sheer invention. The issues of sex work as an occupation versus exploitation of sex workers by capital are clearly separable, the same as in any other industry.

"The porn industry is the epitome of capitalist greed."

Why the "epitome," she doesn't say. Nor is "greed" much of an analytical category. As a structuralist and historical materialist, I don't regard capitalism as a system based on "greed," but on a particular set of social relations, maintained by political institutions. Blaming "greed" is most typical of liberal would-be reformers of capitalism, not radicals trying to overthrow it.

"It is a 'service' industry, ninety percent of which markets women to men."

This is true of prostitution, but plainly not of the porn industry, which manufactures a product. Whether this really affects the argument I don't know, but it does demonstrate how sloppy her thinking is.

"[M]ost of the liberal men I know staunchly defend their right to use pornography despite their supposed commitment to social justice. They defend pornography despite that the fact that in the most popular pornography women's humiliation is glorified."

Quite a leap here! If men (or women or trannies) defend their right to use porn, isn't it the kind of porn they use that matters, not the kind that's allegedly "most popular"?

"We are depicted as enjoying rape,"

This is the area where I might have the most qualms. I don't know whether belief in the "rape myth" is really as common as some claim, but it is still found not infrequently in porn, if I'm not mistaken. Though I can't be certain that such portrayals really promote that belief, I'm concerned enough that I think I would avoid buying such material, or making it.

"being fucked by strangers,"

So now casual sex is inherently degrading, hmm? But apparently only for women.

"and performing oral sex on large groups of men until they cover our faces with semen."

I can personally aver that the first part of that fantasy does appeal to me as a bi man. The second doesn't, but I suspect she'd think no better of what I'd actually prefer (if not for the health concerns), which would be swallowing it all. If I want this as a man, who is she to presume that no women want it?

"Many of these women might choose not to be fucked on film, contrary to popular belief, if they were not physically or mentally coerced."

"Might"? Sure, just about anything "might" be. That's one of the weasel words of a crank, like von Daniken's numerous "What if"s and "Could it be"s.

"But a lot can happen to a woman, if her boundaries are broken down early; and if she is poor enough to lack other options."

Here we see the technique of implying something as fact without actually demonstrating it. Notice also the presumption that only Cleveland's kind of boundaries are healthy ones. She overlooks that we have no boundaries when we're born; so if those of some adults are different from hers, this may simply mean that they formed differently in the first place, not that they formed the same and were later broken down.

"A lot can happen in a culture that still teaches us sex is the most valuable thing we have to give."

Here she's blaming the culture for "teaching" something that she presumes to be false, so that she can again argue that sex work is pathological. But a look at the evidence suggests that this isn't a cultural "teaching" but an economic truth. Sex workers are paid better than women with similar backgrounds employed in other areas. Sex work is therefore typically a rational choice, not a mark of pathology.

"More importantly, pornography fuses men's orgasms with women's dehumanization."

Again, unproven.

"At best, it connects male sexual pleasure with the belief men have the right to buy sexual access to women."

A nonissue if one hasn't prejudged that women don't have the right to sell it.

"[A]t worst, it lets men jerk off to images of physical violence against us."

And even with respect to that sort of pornography, there's no consistent evidence about what its effects might be. The general worthlessness of laboratory studies in this respect is demonstrated convincingly here: The name of the author, Dr. Ted Palys, actually appeared in the bibliography of an antiporn anthology I read last year; I guess the work cited was one he wrote before becoming disillusioned with that methodology. Ironically, seeing it there was what prompted me to finally read this article, which I'd bookmarked some time earlier, and which destroyed the provisional credence I'd previously given such studies.

"Thus, pornography is about offering women sexual 'choices' just as long as we don't choose something other than a cold hard fuck."

First, this ignores that some porn decidedly doesn't fit that description. But more fundamentally, it's just a rhetorical trick, like the "Feminists for Life" saying, "Abortion is about offering women reproductive 'choices' just as long as we don't choose something other than killing our babies." No single concrete thing can offer you all choices; for instance, porn doesn't offer you the option of being a virgin either. What offers women choice, when it's consistent, is the abstraction feminism.

"For defenders of pornography, filmed violence against women is 'natural,' and cannot constitute sexual abuse."

Again, she cites no evidence for her claim, other than the unverifiable "most men and women I know who use porn."

"The underlying assumption is, deep down, some women just like to be hurt."

And the underlying assumption here, by implication, is that no women like to be hurt. Which view fits the facts?

"What does that say about women's status, or men's view of us in general?"

Let's turn that question around. Since some pornography depicts men as wanting to be hurt, what does that say about men's status? Does it demonstrate that we're the oppressed sex? It must, by Stephanie Cleveland's reasoning -- the same reasoning by which she came to the conclusion that women are the oppressed sex. Since both conclusions can't be true simultaneously -- while the factual premises of each are undeniable -- we must conclude by reductio ad absurdum that the reasoning is invalid.

"Those who critique pornography are told never to think about what the woman being fucked might be feeling. We are told not to consider whether or not her 'free choice' hurts women exposed to pornography or women as a group."

More invention.

"Most women in the sex industry are poorer, have had less educational opportunities, and fewer alternatives, than the men and women who defend pornography."

If so, this is equally true in relation to those who critique pornography. Proving exactly nothing in either case.

"Yet, as a feminist, if I show concern for these women prostituted through pornography, I am usually accused of denying them agency."

I find that hard to believe. I don't think "showing concern" is what invites that accusation, it's what you do to "show concern" -- like trying to restrict women's choices in the name of protecting them from their own (presumed) bad judgment.

"While liberal men and women agree that the poor are entitled to help and compassion from their governments, for some reason, they act as though women being sold through pornography and prostitution don't deserve help to leave."

Oh, really? Insofar as you presume they're doing it because they're poor, doesn't government help for the poor automatically accomplish that? And insofar as you presume that they're doing it because of a mental problem, wouldn't universal health care -- which the "liberal men and women" of whom you speak presumably favor -- also automatically accomplish that? What other kind of help do you have in mind? Career counseling and retraining? Even conservative DLC Democrats support those things.

"I am an anti-feminist, they tell me, if I dare to suggest that all women deserve better than being turned into spittoons for men's semen."

No, you're an antifeminist if, under cover of such rhetoric, you attack women's choice -- again, just like the Feminists for Life who do so under slogans like "Women deserve better than abortion."

"I am the one making women into victims, and not the men who use them."

Yes, because you're trying to take away their choice, and those men aren't. If, in fact, they'd choose something else under different economic circumstances, then the political rulers maintaining the present circumstances can be held to blame -- but not individuals making consensual decisions within the context of those circumstances.

"Women in pornography should be unionized and well-vetted, its defenders repeat, but never, ever encouraged to leave."

Another invention. The problem people have with you is, I suspect, that rather than encourage women to leave sex work, you want to coerce them into leaving by destroying their ability to make a living in it -- whether through direct state suppression, as your co-thinkers have done in Sweden, or other means such as shaming liberal men into thinking it's sexist to patronize them.

"It has also been suggested to me by liberal men and some women, that rather than attack pornography, I should work towards putting control of the industry in women's hands. The people who suggest this seem not to have noticed patriarchy is still pretty firmly in place."

Quite the contrary -- if they didn't know that, they wouldn't be suggesting attacking patriarchy within the industry, would they?

"One male reviewer's comments on 'feminist' pornographer Candida Royalle's website seem pretty telling: 'Not too much for my wife, but still arousing. I am not sure if it would be great to sit down to alone. I might want something a little less "lovable."' Sadly, women, like men, can abuse other people, and women, like men, can be pimps. This is why the idea of a woman-run pornography industry is not only improbable, but awful. In that case, the industry would still be based on injustice—on selling people for sex—the only difference being, women would be the pimps as well as the victims."

Her she blatantly disregards what she just cited, insisting that women's porn would be no different from men's, immediately after providing a quote suggesting that it is!

"The speech of those raped by porn users should be allowed to matter."

"Allowed to matter" -- ooh, slick rhetoric. What she's saying is that if she doesn't get her way in the public policy debate, it means that her most appealing witnesses haven't been "allowed to matter." Emotional manipulation at its most audacious.

Reminds me of the convolution in Diana Russell's introduction to the same anthology I mentioned earlier, where she complained that women's events were routinely insisting that if antiporn groups were allowed a table, then women on the other side also had to be. She said, "This seems to be the feminist equivalent of 'shut up.'" I recall that my jaw gaped when I read that. Could anyone but a True Believer buy the argument that unless you're given a captive audience who aren't allowed to hear an opposing viewpoint, you're being "silenced"? Incredible.

"They should also count more than the voices of a small, elite group of women willing to dignify pornography professionally.... They don't have to live through being assaulted by a father who uses porn, or being pushed into performing sex acts by a boyfriend who saw them in his favorite gangbang flick."

And how would you know what those women have or haven't gone through?

"This tiny group of women pornographers gets to stand behind the camera, producing about one percent of the industry's porn, their privileged role provided for them, temporarily, by pro-porn men."

Insofar as we're talking about independent producers, the pro-porn men you're referring to must be the consumers.

"The men, of course, are only too happy to support them and pay lip service to their idea of 'feminist erotica,' all the while continuing to film women fucked inside out, penetrated by two men at a time, raped, used, and sold as commodity."

But the consumers you mentioned above have nothing to do with that. So you're simply wrong.

"Some women may enjoy pornography, but many more have been brutalized because of it."

Another undocumented assertion.

"Why women should have to reclaim an industry men came up with in the first place?"

Huh? So you're saying that any industry invented by men -- say, shipbuilding -- is one that women shouldn't try to win equality within. Sounds pretty defeatist for an allegedly "radical" feminist.

"Why should we try to make 'lovable' porn, instead of creating our own ideas about sex that don't involve industry at all?"

Whence your presumption that if an idea about sex involves industry, it can't be "our own"? Royalle's ideas involve industry, but they're clearly her own, inasmuch as most men recognize her product as something different. And ain't she a woman?

"The enormous range of touch, emotion and sensuality that encompasses women's sexuality, or any kind of authentically human sexuality, isn't even hinted at. The problem is—those aspects of sex can't be captured by pornography; they can't be commercially boxed and marketed."

This could be said about any aspect of mass culture, such as films, music, etc. Socialists respond to this capitalist conformism by advocating media democracy, not abolishing the film or recording industry. Consistent socialists do likewise for the "adult" industry.

"Some of us would like to experience sex that is not commercial, but human; we are 'pro-sex,' to the point of wanting sex as human beings. What happens to us, if as women, Hartley's pornographic version of sex doesn't make us feel better?"

To paraphrase a familiar pro-choice slogan, "If you don't like pornos don't get one!"

"As Andrea Dworkin wrote, 'Girls want so much, not knowing they want the impossible: to move in a real world of action and accomplishment; to be someone individual and unique; to act on one's own feelings, appetites, and ambitions.'"

We see here that Dworkin openly told girls that their most fundamental human desires are unattainable, and that therefore they're doomed to an existence of if-only frustration. Sadly, people like Stephanie Cleveland show she was all too successful at convincing many of them.

Eric Hamell


porter said...

Excellent rebuttal.

The part of her article I find most telling is:

"Feminism should be about giving women choices as individuals, they say. And that's true to some extent, but it's also true that feminism is doing what's best for the status of women as a group. Women who identify as feminists have a responsibility how our choices... as women affect other women's lives." (italics mine)

Wow. So male dominance is simply supplanted by feminists who are restricting choice because they "know what's best" for women, implying that they're either too stupid, too ignorant or brainwashed to make their own choices or draw their own conclusions. Amazing.

stripey7 said...

Actually this has a precedent. In feminism's "first wave," there was a divide between so-called Red Stockings and Blue Stockings. The latter were mainly elite women who focused on trying to create professional opportunities for women of their own class, while taking paternalistic positions toward working-class women. For instance, they opposed legalizing abortion and contraception, on the grounds that this would simply open young women to more sexual "exploitation." How familiar this sounds!

By contrast, Red Stockings were socialist, working class-oriented feminists who generally recognized that sexual protectionism is disempowering for women, even when enforced by other women.