Friday, 8 May 2009

Report back on the pornography debate at Vic's Womensfest

Reader and commenter Hugh attended and has written about it on his livejournal. Here's a couple of his observations to whet your appetite and encourage you to make with the clicky to get the rest:
Rachel Wright opened for the pro team and I have to say I was impressed by her. Rachel is/has (I'm not quite sure on the details) a sex worker and porn actress who feels that her own work has done nothing to disempower her as a woman - indeed, that it has done quite the opposite. Although I felt a little sorry for the opposing team, who obviously can't match her personal experience in the area, it did make a pretty forceful point. One of the main issues that both sides repeatedly touched upon was the empowerment of sex workers. Nobody on either side wanted to do anything to impede the ability of sex workers to be able to choose their own destiny, which is fair enough, but I felt that the anti-porn side's attempts to express this were tokenist. They didn't really have an answer to Rachel's charge that their condemnations of sex work were disempowering for her and her co-workers.
The anti-porn side tended to talk exclusively about pornography as it is now, focusing on the male dominated nature of the industry, the formulaic nature of sex scenes, etc. The pro-porn side tended to talk about pornography as it could be - they acknowledged that there are problems with the industry as it exists, but that they are not universal and that the best thing to do is improve pornography, not throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is defensible, since focusing the debate on features of the industry that could be changed with relatively trivial effort does not make for a strong critique, but I'm not sure it's decisive - to base one's advocacy of pornography on some idealised future pornography is to avoid the question of exactly how likely that idealised future pornography is, and why, with pornography in its modern form having co-existed for so long with an active feminist movement, this hasn't happened yet.
Haven't clicked through yet? Now is the moment!


Emma said...

It's not 'idealised future pornography', or at least it's not for me. It's a strain of pornography that's happening right now and has been for the last five years or so, but which tends to get ignored in discussions on pornography. Try this thoughtful post about lesbian porn, from a woman who makes het porn. (WARNING: there are NSFW pics in the sidebar on that site.)

Pretending that this stuff isn't being made, but that 'maybe it could be made in the future maybe after everyone gets a pony' just isn't fair on the women battling to make it in a heavily male-dominated industry.

Hugh said...

I didn't mean to say that porn that's acceptable from (some) feminist viewpoints doesn't exist. Even if I'd be unaware of it prior to Tuesday I certainly wouldn't be afterwards.

I simply meant that focusing on the most positive aspect of the industry doesn't necessarily persuade people who are focused on its most negative aspects.

Thanks for the link though.

Anna said...

I find this whole issue really interesting. I tend to think that if sex work can take place in a way that is genuinely consensual and safe for the people involved, that's OK. I'm sure some sex work is like that now, but I'm a bit wary of 'sex work' as a giant category - I'd assume there are big differences in pay, safety, opportunity etc between different kinds of work. There's also the potential for workers to unionise to improve their wages and conditions.

I sometimes wonder (and I might be treading on thin ice with some people here) if part of the discomfort of many feminists and women with porn is to do with the fact that most of the porn which is readily available appeals to men's ideas of what's sexually interesting? Mills & Boons are sexually explicit too, and they continue to be consumed by women on a grand scale. One difference is that no actual women are potentially being exploited to make Mills & Boons - but is the key thing that men and women often have different sensibilities around what is and isn't attractive?