The Porn Wars

27 Jan

by Meghan Ferguson

The Internet is really, really great…for porn.  Or so says Avenue Q.  But let’s be real here, for as great as the Internet is for scholarly research, cat memes, and your favourite feminist blog (ahem), there’s a whole heck of a lot of porn.  And unlike in years past when the only way to acquire such materials was your local adult theatre or porn shop, the Internet provides free, anonymous, and unlimited access to any kind of porn your little heart desires.  Yippee.

Now, odds are, by this point you’ve fallen into one of two camps – either the mention of porn has already made you feel all of the feelings about the objectification of women, the patriarchy, and rape culture; or, you’re all excited about sex positivity and armed to the teeth with arguments about the agency of women and their free choice to be porn stars or consumers of pornography.  I fall into the latter category, but allow me to explain myself.

Pornography has been a contentious point amongst feminists pretty much since day one, with anti-porn activists like Catherine MacKinnon fighting for a ban on pornography and obscene material on the grounds that it degrades and oppresses women, and creates a culture where the abuse of women is acceptable.  Reading such arguments, you are faced with graphic descriptions of the foulest, most violent scenes from what are supposedly popular porn films, and these scenes are held up as a monolithic image of pornography.  There are also stories of women forced into the porn industry, held there against their will, and treated inhumanely.  I do not doubt the truth of such stories, and in the sex industry, the abuse, manipulation, and objectification of women is heartbreakingly inevitable at some point, as a large part of society is incapable of seeing women in a sexaul context as anything other than an object to be used.  I also do not doubt the existence of truly violent, degrading, and dangerous genres of porn.  However, I do not believe that the way to go about solving these problems is to shove all porn into this category, ban it, and then skip merrily off into the sunset knowing that you’ve done your moral duty.  That isn’t solving any problems; it means you’re doing a very good Ostrich impression, but that’s about it.  Ignoring the problem does not address the underlying causes of the violence against women, or the reasons why some women feel that sex work is their only option to making a living.

Historically, yes, pornography has catered almost exclusively to men and male desires, which has led to all sorts of problems, from expectations on what the female body ‘should’ look like, to the fetishizing of ‘girl-on-girl’ sex (All The Feelings on that later…).  Porn used to be a way to exclusively legitimise white, heterosexual, male sexuality, but that’s beginning to change (God bless the Internet).   Ah yes, our technological friend returns to save the day.  The Internet has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for pornography, the most important of which is the development of queer and ethical porn.  One of the beautiful things about the interwebs is that anyone can upload anything they want, and in our case, that means the queer community is no longer excluded from the porn industry.  In recent years, sites such as the Crash Pad Series, QueerPorn TV, FTM Fucker, and Indie Porn Revolution, to name a few, have cropped up, each offering a plethora of porn, some of it amature and some professional, catering to a wide range of tastes, and all made ethically without the exploitation or maltreatment of the performers, and all done with consent from all parties involved.  For the first time, there are positive, accurate representations of queer sex made by queer people for queer people.  No more of this two blonde, leggy, double D-cup cheerleaders hooking up with the football team watching bullshit (now it’s the women’s rugby team that gets to watch).  But I’m kidding.  The best part of this is that it’s all ethically produced.  The performers all chose to be a part of the production, they use safe sex practices, no one is forced to be there, no one is committing malicious violence against another person.  Similarly, women as a whole have been able to have a say in what porn gets created, and because of the increased access to porn, women have become a larger percentage of consumers, and now mainstream producers are listening to what we have to say.  It’s a basic fact of capitalism – you want to make the money, you listen to what your consumers want, and you do it.  Consequently, there is an increasing (though still relatively small) amount of porn that is aimed at women.

For the first time, sexually marginalised groups have a mainstream forum to express, explore, and own their sexuality, and pornography has been a major player in making that happen.  Is pornography faultless? No way.  Are there a lot of problems it’s caused that piss me off to no end? Yup.  But, like anything else in this world, porn is not a monolithic category and to disregard the many facets of it is to do a disservice to society – the only way we can fix the problems is to know what we’re dealing with, and in knowing what we’re dealing with, we can see where a broken system has gone right.

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