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.



5 responses

31 03 2007

yeah – valenti’s cover threw me for a loop as well. it seems that there is a huge push in the 3rd wavers to embrace a level of stockholm syndrome when it comes to porn. i hear a lot about “women taking the power of porn back (?!).” uh. when did women ever have the “power” to begin with? you can’t reclaim something that wasn’t there in the first place.

it seems to me that by money being involved at all would make anything less liberating – at the very least, it’s a false sense of liberation. does that make sense? girls gone wild videos = liberation? i don’t see it.

i have to run right now – i need to think about this some more… i’ll be back! thanks for writing all of this out – next best thing to being there with you!

31 03 2007

Valenti’s cover shouldn’t be too surprising, given that on the feministing bio page she lists the movie, The Secretary, as one of her favorites.

30 03 2008

Can you provide the name of the paper you are writing about or a link to it on-line? Whisnant’s paper ? You have provided a big service to women with this post.

1 06 2009

hi, i am a feminist who chooses not to use “2nd wave” or “3rd wave” as I believe it encourages a chasm between different groups of women over just a few issues – which tend to be porn and sex work! I don’t have time for an epic response to this, but I feel that a lot of the fighting between these “waves” leaves no space for layered opinions on the issues. Either you are opposed to all porn everywhere, or you can’t get enough of “Girls Gone Wild.”

I have no time for a male-run industry in which plastic-ed women work for pennies in cock-centric porn. But to be anti-porn means also denouncing the female-run, queer porn industry which, though small, has potential to educate and yes stimulate women. This porn industry demonstrates safe sex, educating where school sex ed programs DEFINITELY lack.

Can’t we be against exploitative porn rather than blanket hating the whole concept of film and photography for sexual pleasure?

9 06 2010
Monique Louicellier

I am just discovering your blog with many others after I thought I was totally alone, then I discovered Factcheckme and this evening, Toomuchtosayformyself and a lot of others..
I just created a blog only to translate Femonade’s blog posts and comments in French, so I liked the opinions there. I live in France, I am French.
So I am not alone.
I can better speak about lesbian feminism than only feminism.
In France as well, who identify as radical feminist, or radical lesbian alike are two types:
– Queers, pro-porn, pro-sex, transgender, male body cult, etc..
– Interestingly radical lesbians already out, and first political lesbians to be out in fact, in the 70’s, already 60 + in age and who are kind of part of an elite with stable jobs in universities, traditional political parties, unions, administrations. These ones, even if privileging non-mixed stuff, are thick like thieves with Queers and are not very active but like to represent the (dead) movement.
These lesbians are few now, were few in the 70’s and few in the beginning of the 80’s (2nd wave), where real bigger and more proletarian lesbian feminist discussion groups and activism emerged at that time in a lesbian-only movement (not open to men, gays, straight or bisexual women), something that gave birth to a real mass movement in fact.
Now these radical lesbians of the 70’s, mostly all academics, are almost the only survivors.
I know that in the 80’s the radical lesbians always argued with the lesbian feminist activists of the 80’s and did not share the same places, the same discussion groups because they, the 70’s radicals, were more keen on focusing on theory and writing books as well as declare themselves lesbians by political choice only, no more feminist but radical, which made them appear quite hermetical to the 80’s activists who considered them cold, elitist and not able to teach or to lead a real mass revolution.
The *70’s* did not like to mix with crowd and to recruit average lesbians who were not coming from the academic field or universities and who were not deep thinkers like themselves, they mostly were welcoming their fellow radical mates at their home, while the *80’s feminists* were recruiting all they could, in discos, in the street, it did not matter, they were not writing a lot but discussing a lot, brainstorming like the *70’s* were doing but not only, they believed and needed concrete actions, they were investing places, financing them outside of the commercial business, welcoming other lesbians, teaching them and training them, a kind of vast public relations and field work enterprise, more to the left, more proletarian. They were in the street protesting, attending case at tribunal (in case of rapes), asking for law changes, networking, writing lesbian feminist magazines (but not books), etc..
70’s were rewriting marxism for feminist purposes, 80’s were building it in real life.
In fact the opinions were almost the same, but the lesbians behind them were different.
Then the movement declined, but what may be important to keep in mind is that the core of the movement was a dozen for radical lesbians born to activism in the 70’s and 200 maybe for feminist lesbians born to activism in the 80’s…
I guess that the 80’s feminist lesbians were decimated by the new rise in unemployment as they did not hold stable positions like did the *70’s*. Something else to explain the decline was the sudden availability of lovers, non-feminist lovers outside of the activist groups, a kind of side-effect of their own success in helping lesbian magazines, visibility and the gain of new rights spread (you know there are dating ads inside these magazines too and in all France, while activist groups were mostly based in Paris. So lesbians migrated again but it was a reverse migration this time, from Paris to provincial areas), and last cause for decline was that some decided not to focuse on politics only, that it was not necessary anymore but they enjoyed a diversification instead, quite linked to their need to work with women or with their lovers: lesbian magazines, lesbian B&B’s, the famous all new LG (then LGB, then LGBT, etc..) associations, provincial and mostly leisure lesbian associations.
Lastly some radical lesbians of the 70’s confiscated our places and memory, they collected and archived (now you have to pay to access your own magazines..), they asked for subventions and did not care to leave the place free and opened to lesbians anymore (even if they were themselves), no lesbian parties anymore (big source of self-financing), they established a much more administrative management in our places, actually our place…

And now I am, back, as you guessed I am one of the *80’s* wave, born to activism in the 80’s, 1983 exactly and at only 17..
And appaled..
So it means in rage enough and young enough to fuel the 4th wave which will certainly look like the 2nd!!

And well my opinion is NO to any porn, any, and absolutely any.. porn is always objectification and ugly stupid and academic either, queer propaganda at best.

Queers act against the interest well-understood of lesbians.

To educate women by porn? By Queer porn? Never read something so noxious and ridiculous!
Queers are champions of male cult, phallus cult (godes and all that stuff, multiplication of phallus as they say, as if there were not enough like that ? introducing men under skirts and mandatory skirts for women or otherwise sex change from FtoM), well in fact Queers are champions of stupidity and neo-liberalism and neo-patriarchy.
Your safe PIV sex education with porn directed towards young girls who need much better than that, like rescue them from sexualisation and slavery to penis and men privileges, you can put it back where I think, Mrs or Mr MM, and I hope it will be your sexual pleasure!

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