Why haven’t I read Rae Langton before?

6 11 2008

“This bears on the question of silence.  If you are powerful, you sometimes have the ability to silence the speech of the powerless.  One way might be to stop the powerless from speaking at all.  Gag them, threaten them, condemn them to solitary confinement.  But there is another, less dramatic but equally effective, way.  Let them speak.  Let them say whatever they like to whomever they like, but stop that speech from counting as an action.

                                                                               -Rae Langton, Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts, 1993

24 04 2007

Things are on hold here for a little bit while I recover from some nastiness in my life. It seems like everyone is going on hiatus – but it’s that time of year I suppose. Sorry I’ve been absent, I’m not feeling well and am focusing on getting better. I will try to throw up some links here soon, but the real content is on hold for a little while. Sorry!


9 04 2007

This was posted on Feministing recently, with absolutely no mention of the racial dimensions of this billboard. When people brought it up in the comments, the vast majority of posters disagreed with them. I shouldn’t be surprised that feministing has dropped the ball on race yet again, but this seems so obvious to me that I can’t believe anyone would deny the real message this billboard is sending.

Pornography and Pop Culture – Part 1

31 03 2007

I realized these posts are going to be quite long, so I’m going to post my reviews in installments, cutting them off when they seem to be getting too long. That seems like the easiest way to do this.

The day started with Rebecca Whisnant’s paper on the challenges pro-pornography 3rd wave feminism poses for a feminist anti-pornography movement. But rather than just lament the problems with 3rd wave feminism, Whisnant uses this opportunity to articulate a clear distinction between 2nd and 3rd wave feminism. She argues that viewing the difference as solely generational is a mistake. There is a fundamental difference between the 2 waves that isn’t reflected in current literature. In 3rd wave feminism, she argues, there is a reluctance to speak for other women, and thus, most of the arguments about what counts as feminist revolve around the choice of the women directly involved. Therefore, if a woman chooses to appear in pornographic material, that choice is necessarily feminist. Members of the 2nd wave believed that women shared a common condition, and as they began to uncover the political implications of their private lives, they felt very strongly that their personal decisions had much broader implications for women everywhere. Because of these divergent views about what constitutes feminist action, 2nd and 3rd wave feminists developed very different reactions to pornography. In fact, it seems like the 3rd wave arguments are less about pornography and more about personal freedom and autonomy. But those concepts are not uncomplicated. To say that something was autonomously chosen is so complex and contingent that it becomes a meaningless statement. These accounts rarely take into account the full weight of coercion, adaptive preferences, economic and social inequality, and a whole host of other factors that constrain one’s autonomy. We’ve been talking a lot in one of my classes about feminism being similar to membership in a union. In certain situations, you may be asked to give up something that is personally beneficial because your rejection of it works to the advantage of the entire group. This example was offered in our discussion of marriage, but I think fits somewhat into the pornography debate. However, this argument assumes that participation in the porn industry is beneficial to some women, and that’s a dicey claim I don’t really agree with. It can be economically beneficial, but to the extent that much participation in pornography is fueled by one’s own experiences with child sexual abuse I’m inclined to say that it isn’t beneficial. Regardless, the fact remains that the existence of pornography and the porn industry impact the lives of all women, and taking that into consideration is something that distinguishes 2nd wave feminism from 3rd wave feminism. She points to the distinction between liberal and radical feminism as another way to understand the difference, arguing that 3rd wave feminists favor liberal feminism while the second wave is radical. This is a problem, though, because a lot of the members of the 3rd wave identify as radical feminist while promoting and advocating a liberal feminist agenda (is anyone else uncomfortable about the cover of Feministing blogger Jessica Valenti’s new book, Full Frontal Feminism?).

One of Whisnant’s suggestions for trying to raise awareness about pornography in a culture that is absolutely saturated in pornographic material is to challenge the belief that commodification is linked to freedom. Feminists must promote a view of human freedom that is contrary to the commodification of everyday life. This works specifically against claims that participation in the pornography industry is liberating. Whisnant rightly challenges the idea that because something is recorded and bought and sold it is liberating. I think this also has to do with the work Gail Dines has done on the importance of imagery – that there is a pervasive belief that to be represented or recorded as an image is liberating or positive in some way.

This is an argument that had never occurred to me, and was one of the most important things I took away from Whisnant’s paper. I’ve always felt like there was something not right with the claim that pornography and sexual exhibitionism is liberating, but I couldn’t really articulate it. This makes a lot of sense to me. Why does the fact that it’s public and can be bought and sold necessarily make it liberating? In fact, that’s part of my frustration – it seems like things done for money are usually less free than things I choose to do without an eye to compensation – and furthermore, I make the rules in those situations.

There was so much more in Whisnant’s paper worth discussing, but I feel like I should probably end this now. More on the rest of the conference later.

The Conference

28 03 2007

I just wanted to say that I’m working on collecting my notes and thoughts on the Pornography and Pop Culture conference – I’ll likely have something up by this weekend. It was really inspiring and I have a lot to say, I just have to catch up on some of my homework first.

A well-timed pornography debate

20 03 2007

I’m getting ready to go the conference on Pornography and Pop Culture in Boston, and I mentioned that I was going there on an all-female listserv that I’m a member of. There was a small discussion of porn going on, but my letter was more of a “I’m going to be in town for this conference – I’d like to meet up with those of you who live there” kind of post (it’s a small list, and a lot of us have met up before). This is the reply someone posted:

“If you’re deadset against porn, read the study Linda Williams made. A real eye opener. I consider myself a feminist and a pro-pron. Actually I think it’s a given that I defend porn. Being anti-porn has its roots in catholic conservatism, in my opinion, a lot to do with the fact that women should not enjoy porn/sex.

That’s all I’ll say cause it’s a lot like religion: a war quickly ensues. ;-)”

There are so many things that infuriate me about this post, I don’t even know where to begin. More than anything, I am upset by the suggestion that being anti-porn is necessarily linked to bodily shame. My opposition to porn has absolutely nothing to do with the way I feel about my body or whether or not I enjoy sex. My opposition to porn has to do with the way it presents women, the violence it both enacts AND provokes/encourages, and the predatory nature of the industry. MY ISSUE, to be clear, has to do with the sexual victimization of women both in the production and consumption of pornography.

Also, I feel like the nature of her post is pretty arrogant. In calling pro-pornography studies “eye-opening,” she seems to be telling me that my opinion is pretty predictable and old-fashioned, and if only I learned about the liberating power of pornography I would truly come to understand feminism. It seems to me, however, that pornography embodies a lot of themes of catholic (and christian) history: hatred of women, the appropriation of women’s wealth, humiliation of women and the destruction of women’s bodies (just to name a few). But I’m the one stuck in a catholic, patriarchal mindset?

Some mildly graphic material to follow, so please click only if you feel alright about reading it.

Read the rest of this entry »

a gripe and a request

17 03 2007

It seems like everything I read acknowledges that the feminist movement and the anti-racism movement aren’t going to get anywhere unless they combine in a more meaningful way.  When we talked about this in my philosophy of race class, though, the professor said that this statement assumes the movements want different things to begin with.  But I don’t think it’s insane to say that the feminist movement isn’t always working explicitly for the liberation of people of color or that the anti-racism movement isn’t always working explicitly for the liberation of women.  And as far as I can tell, there is a lot written about how a narrow focus on the liberation of women will always fail women of color.  So far, I haven’t read anything that really explores what this means.  If the two movements need to combine, what would that even look like?  It seems to me like it would need an entirely new name if it were truly a combined movement.  And then I worry that it would need to be a name that is much broader, like “anti-oppression” which is meaningful, but loses some of the power that “feminism,” “anti-racism,” and “black power” carry.  And it would surely shift priorities of both movements around.  Furthermore, if we increase the scope of the movement, the magnitude of the task becomes overwhelming (as if they aren’t overwhelming enough on their own).  But if we don’t, then we end up just devoting ourselves to the liberation of white women.

At this point I feel like I should take advantage of the spike in readership and ask for recommendations – who addresses these questions?  I’ve read some hooks, Collins, Crenshaw, and a significant amount of standpoint theory at this point, and so far I haven’t figured out what is being proposed.  What are some of the options?  And if I’m missing something, where am I going wrong?


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