Compromising Positions

A sex ed blog with more

Sexual Ethics: Pornography

This week we are looking at pro- and anti-porn feminism by focusing on a hot-button topic of the 1980s, pornography. It is important to note that feminists chose to look at issues regarding male domination, power, and sex from different perspectives, giving way to the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1970s. Both agree that mainstream pornography is sexist and reinforces stereotypes, but they differ on how to tackle choice and participation. Hint: agency i.e. the ability to choose, is VERY important to pro-porn feminists

I am responsible for leading the discussion about one of the articles this week, which is a critique of the 1985 Meese Commission and created the following handout to summarize the article by Carole S. Vance, a woman who started an important feminist conference at Barnard College in 1972.

The Commission on Pornography was appointed by the US Attorney General “to control the problem of pornography” in 1985, during the Reagan administration. Vance makes it very clear that there was a significant conservative/fundamentalist bias that persisted for the entire 14 months of the Commission’s mandate.

The Commission used social science and feminist arguments to make its end goal seem more palatable to the masses: inequality, patriarchy, and women’s powerless are caused by pornography.

Ways in which the Commission on Pornography threatened free expression:

  1. The Commission suggested how pornography harms due to “violence and degradation of women” (P. 442) yet ‘degradation’ is a term used by all groups present at the numerous hearings to mean very different things.
  2. The Commission worked hard to exclude any perspective but its own.
  3. The Commission focused on atypical material, creating a lack of distinction between mainstream Playboy and marginal sexually explicit material, leading to the conclusion that all pornography is the same.
  4. When showing Sadomasochistic material, there was no explanation or witnesses or experts, only a hearty critique of male domination and disturbing/violent images.
  5. Despite the subjective nature of the viewing of sexually explicit material, the “commission worked hard to eliminate diversity from its hearings.” (p.447)
  6. Showing sexually explicit material in a courtroom “taught the importance of managing and hiding sexual arousal and pleasure in public, while it reinforced secrecy, hypocrisy and shame.” (p. 448)

These six points demonstrate clearly the biased nature of this Commission.

It is clear to me from this article that the conservative right really likes to incite moral panics i.e. create a hyper-emotional atmosphere, in order to control, WHICH IS REALLY PROBLEMATIC. This Commission did exactly what they seemed to be against, and surprisingly, it was the court (not the Commission) that argued for legal changes. More specifically, this Commission had far-reaching effects, as seen in point 6 above, in Canada with Regina v. Butler, a censorship law. Unfortunately, this law did not curb hetero/mainstream porn but rather encouraged it to flourish while limiting sexually explicit material aimed at and including already-marginalized populations (read: different abilities, races, sexualities, etc.). Way to go, Canada.

Full disclosure: I am pro-porn. I attended a feminist porn conference and learned a lot about why it is so important to see different bodies on-screen being sexual. For me, this is particularly intriguing because I had an uncomfortable porn-viewing experience very recently. I have come to realize that I no longer am able to appreciate mainstream, hetero porn. Thoughts going through my head, which totally turned me off and made the impending sexual encounter SUPER awkward and weird and it was very hard to come back from: ‘Why is there no lube?!’ ‘You can’t use the same fingers in both anus and the vagina!’ ‘IS SHE OKAY?!’ ‘Does she want this to happen?’ ‘Why can’t I ever see this guy’s face?!’ ‘What are those ridiculous noises? Nothing has happened yet!!’ ‘ Seriously, my partner showed up expecting me to be ready to go and I was pacing anxiously saying things like ‘WE WILL ALWAYS USE A STUPID AMOUNT OF LUBE WITH ANY BUTT STUFF, OKAY?! PROMISE????’ And it took like 30 minutes for me to be ready to be touched in a sexual way. Sigh. I have learned that I will now pay for feminist porn when I need it, cause that shit was awful. And, turns out, I much prefer reading my porn.

Speaking of, if you’re interested in reading a feminist, anatomically accurate, 50 Shades of Grey style erotica, I strongly recommend How Not To Fall by Emily Foster (which is actually Emily Nagoski’s pen name, and she has another incredible book about science and sex: Come As You Are).

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This entry was posted on October 3, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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