Monday, August 02, 2010

5 Years On: The Passing of Her Holiness, Andrea Dworkin

I came across this while looking through some of my old writings. This was written right after Andrea Dworkin's death, and I wish I had found it a few months earlier so I could have posted it for the 5th aniversary. Anyway, better late than never.

I think the post is interesting, because at the time I was seeing the stirrings of a major backlash against sex-positive feminism and unfortunately, the last 5 years have proven me right. At the same time, I think I had some good insights as to why this was happening, and where the sex-positive movement needs to take the thunder out of the radfem/abolitionist critique of sexual exploitation.


This entry is kind of belated, but then I found out about it kind of late. Andrea Dworkin died last week. Blogland is filled with discussions about her, and interestingly, a lot of the commentary is positive. (Even on the Suicide Girls message board, several SG models were vociferously sticking up for Dworkin and were ready to tear a new asshole on the (male) poster who dared to trash her. The fact that girls who quite openly and proudly doing softcore nude modeling have such a soft spot for AD speaks volumes about the weird charisma and reality distortion field that woman had.) Perhaps this can be chalked up to not wanting to speak badly of the dead, and of the feeling that Dworkin took a lot of shit for her ideas and actions and that too much insult had been thrown her way already.

I'm not sure I'm so inclined to be quite so charitable, though I'm past the age where I'd get any great pleasure dancing on somebody's grave, either. There's much talk about what a maligned figure Dworkin was, but the fact is, when it came to attacks, she certainly gave as good as she got.

Many of us remember all-too-well the laws that Dworkin and MacKinnon tried to enact back in the '80s. These broadly-written ordinances would have opened to crippling lawsuits anybody who produced any work of sexual expression that fell short of MacKinnon and Dworkin's narrow ideas on politically correct sexuality. And that's not to mention the frequent bitter attacks and even death threats toward other feminists who dared disagree with the idea that sexuality wasn't 100% male-dominated evil.

Dworkin's protestations about her supposed victimization was just so much posturing – she lost vicious fights that she clearly started and then complained when she took some hits. What's left out is that if her side had won, they would have beat down their opponents at least as severely. Its all too easy to posit Dworkin as a victim – if you totally ignore the way she treated others.

There's a lot of commentary about how Dworkin really didn't hate men, but this really seems to be disingenuous. In practice, the only men she didn't seem to positively loath were men like her partner, John Stoltenberg, who were really little more than a loyal poodles. She deeply hated male sexuality in any form that actually existed. If the situation had been altered – if a straight man said that he didn't hate all women, just the ones that weren't deferent to him and didn't hate gays, just gay sex, he'd rightly be seen as clearly sexist and homophobic. Dworkin's says the same things about men and she gets treated like she was some great egalitarian! Gotta' love double standards.

It's kind of ironic how her death followed just a week after Il Papa JPII. In some ways, Dworkin was kind of the Pope of a certain brand of radical feminism. Her writings on sexuality were quoted as dogma by some, much the way some Catholics treat Humanae Vitae as the last word on sex. Dworkinistas may or may not treat her writings as infallible, but they certainly treat it as holy writ that's not to be trifled with by the uninitiated, commonly complaining that unless you've read her entire body of work "with an open mind", you have no business criticizing her ideas at all. Never mind that these people want everybody to be subject to laws inspired by Dworkin's ideas, whether we've actually read them or not.

On another note, though, one thing I've been impressed by from several blog commentaries is that Dworkin isn't taught much in Womens' Studies courses, which surprises the hell out of me, since anti-porn authors pretty much monopolized feminist scholarship around sexuality up through the early '90s. It seems there was a backlash within feminism against that perspective just as there was in much of the rest of society. Womens' Studies can be very cliquish and exclusive and when the next generation of sex-positive/queer/pomo/third-wave types made their way up in that discipline, I guess many of them turned the tables and excluded Dworkin and company. This is unfortunate in that Dworkin is now getting a reputation as this great suppressed feminist thinker and sex-positive feminism is increasingly being seen as a sell-out status-quo.

If feminist and left blogs are any indication, there's a real backlash brewing against sex-positive ideas. Perhaps this is because sex-positive feminists are seen, wrongly in my opinion, of offering a blanket apology for the entire porn industry no matter how badly all-too-many pornographers treat their talent. This gets back to one of the more lucid points I've seen raised by Camille Paglia concerning political correctness, that if leftists or liberals shut down discussion of certain ideas, those ideas will be taken up and used by the Right. If we take anti-porn feminism to be a kind of right-wing within the feminist movement, we can certainly see this – progressive sex-positive feminists don't deal effectively with some of the more problematic aspects of the sex industry, so anti-porn feminists come out looking to some like only ones offering an effective solution.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Violet Blue's "Ourporn" Group Censored by Antis

Violet Blue's pro-porn Facebook group, "Our Porn, Ourselves" was hit by censors the other day. This was a page that contained no pornography or adult material, but simply was a political campaign against the censorship of pornography and stigmatization of porn viewers. The group has for the last several months been getting false flags for non-sexual photos on the group, and yesterday was taken down completely by Facebook.

As you can guess, it appears the usual suspects in the anti-porn movement were behind this. PornHarms has been crowing about it in their own Facebook group and on their Twitter feed. PornHarms claims the page was "inappropriate" and should not be allowed on any site that could be seen by children. This merely because it advocates a pro-porn political opinion. And in spite of the fact that anti-porn sites are often quite graphic about what they oppose. Once again, these people have proven that to be anti-porn is to be pro-censorship, and for the suppression not just of pornography, but of political speech on sexuality and sexual expression.

There is a good chance Porn Harms or somebody close to them is behind the false flagging campaign. At the very least, they are openly treating this act of censorship as a victory for their side.

Who is this "PornHarms"? Its main site, is registered to Patrick Trueman, a right-wing anti-porn crusader with some long history. He was once chief obscenity prosecutor in the Bush I administration. Since then, he has been active with religious right groups like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defense Fund, tirelessly campaigning for increased obscenity prosecutions. This met with some success during the Bush II years. He has been quite visible recently campaigning alongside other anti-porn activists to have the Obama administration renew these prosecutions. Notably, feminist anti-porngraphy campaigners like Gail Dines, who claim to be against censorship, have joined him in this call.

Porn Harms maintains a considerable presence in social networking sites, including YouTube. It appears that these sites are maintained and designed by the same person who runs AntiPornographyBlog. Although this person has generally maintained a behind-the-scenes presence on the net, mainly acting as a clearinghouse for anti-porn information and a place for activists to network, I think that given their rhetoric toward, and possible involvement with, the false flagging of the Ourporn Facebook group, they have some explaining to do.

Even though this did not take place on YouTube, I think that this should be taken as seriously as any act of false flagging here. I say, treat PornHarms as you would any other YouTuber who was openly reveling in the flagging down of another channel. Let them know how you feel about this in their channel comments. If you're on Facebook, let them know about it there, too. Let's also call out AntiPornography Blog for this, since they have a close connection to Porn Harms. Ask them how their alliance with a group that flags down political speech and calls for increased obscenity prosecutions squares with their claims to be "anti-censorship and anti-banning".

These people, whoever they are, need to be held accountable for their actions and the censorship they are advocating.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pro-Porn: An Apologia

There's been an interesting discussion over at Melinda Tankard Reist's blog, where she posted about the Stop Porn Culture conference, including Gail Dines keynote. (For those not familiar, MTR is one of the anti-porn folks mainly coming at it from the standpoint of "sexualization" of young women and girls. She is kind of an Australian equivalent to Diane E. Levin ("So Sexy So Soon").)

I will give one word of praise to Ms. Reist: unlike many others in the anti-porn movement, she seems to have open commentary at her blog, so there has been some interesting back and forth there. Whether this is her clear moderation policy or she's simply overlooking comments, I'm less clear about.

I had a chance to respond to one of the condemnations of pornography and porn culture made by another commentator, and I think my response was strong enough that its worth posting here.

First, the post I responded to, followed by my defense of a sex-positive and pro-porn position:

I’m also confused by the idea that if you oppose porn you’re ‘anti-sex’ while if you support it you’re all about ’sexual freedom’ and ’sex positivism’. Pornography is a commercial product that desensitises and deadens the senses, that promotes masturbation and isolation as opposed to sex with another human being, that favours sensation over sensuality, that dictates what ‘good sex’ and sex acts supposedly are, that dictates what ’sexiness’ is and that turns many people, particularly women off of sex a lot of the time. I’m mystified as to what any of that has to do with the positive expression of human sexuality. Pornography is a commercial product, it’s not sex. Pornographers are not interested in our sexuality, they’re interested in our wallets and their bank balances, end of story.

From another perspective, I was exploited in ‘the sex industry’ when I was a teenager. My sexuality and ability to have intimate relationships has been seriously impacted by my experiences during that time. To say that ‘the sex industry’ is all about our ‘right’ to sexual freedom is ludicrous to me. Not from my perspective. It’s about sexual exploitation for profit. That is it’s purpose. Whether that exploitation is consensual is neither here nor there. We’re talking about the ethics of the industry itself and what it means for everybody, especially the women who are most effected by it.

I think it’s very sad and indicative of how pervasive ‘the sex industry’ has become that so many people fail to differentiate between a commercial product designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to maximise profit, and real sex. And even worse that they’re happy to do the pornographer’s dirty work for them and defend porn in the name of ’sexual freedom’, ultimately to their own detriment (not to mention the detriment of those who are less privileged than they are).

Well, even though you probably don't want to hear a response from one of us horribly misguided sex-positives, I'll give one anyway, because I think debate abhors an echo chamber.

In my opinion, the freedom to express sexuality through media, in other words porn (note that I view the porn/erotica distinction as basically meaningless), is part and parcel of sexual freedom. The idea that "you can do it, but broadcast it and its morally wrong" (or even a crime) just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

The statement "whether exploitation is consensual is nether here nor there" is absolutely mind-boggling. It makes me wonder how you even define "exploitation" if the party ostensibly being exploited is not even allowed to define that for themselves. I think the Stop Porn Culture session that referred to homemade porn as "self-exploitation" was very telling. Is personal autonomy as an ethical value even on the radar of the anti-porn movement? Statements like this make me doubtful.

In my opinion, the fact that pornography is "commercial" is kind of a red herring. All mass media in a modern capitalist society is more or less commercial. There is a publishing industry, a newspaper industry, a movie industry, a music industry, and an art industry. To simply hold that these are no longer the subjects of free expression because these are often large for-profit industries would be ludicrous. I don't think this magically should change just because sex enters the picture. And, yes, the fact that its an industry that is dependent on the labor of its workers means that paying attention to the rights and needs of sex workers in that industry is vital. But I think approaching it from a sex workers rights perspective rather than a paternalistic "abolition" one is far better.

It is also important to point out that to speak of the porn industry as a monolith is ludicrous. The "porn industry" is everything from multi-million dollar companies like Playboy Enterprises to somebody who has a for-pay webcam set up in their bedroom. Do you really think all of these people are either exploiters or victims?

There's lots to unpack in your ideas about "real sex". Evidently, you're very down on masturbation, and against non-relationship sex. You seem to think pornography "imposes" this on the society, rather than being a reflection of how sexuality has been going since the sexual revolution. I think open, democratic societies are ones that can allow pluralistic values about sexuality to coexist. To have the state or a powerful social movement step in and impose a "return to order" in the name of a narrow relationship-only view of sexuality and "stopping porn culture" is moral authoritarianism of the highest order.

It is likely that you'll probably see these words as my simply doing the "dirty work" of "the pornographers" and dismiss it out of hand. But perhaps you need to at least understand where we pointy-headed "sex positive" and "sexual freedom" folks are coming from, and why we so vehemently oppose much of what your movement is trying to accomplish.

We're not trying to step on your sexuality. Please don't step all over ours.