I noticed it’s been almost a month since my last publication. During that period I attempted three different posts and none made it to the end, the reason being Propeller, a project I was invited (by Hélice) to collaborate with. Propeller is a magazine dedicated to photographic expression. Until Propeller‘s number zero is out, I guess I won’t be able to structure my thoughts around anything but its central theme: pornography. So, for now, here are a few images and excerpts that take a peek at what’s been happening backstage:
In recent years, the sex industry has worked alongside the media to completely decontextualize the system of prostitution. This neoliberal approach is part of an ongoing effort to defang movements that challenge systems of power: If we are all simply individuals, working toward our own personal empowerment and therefore solely responsible for our own “successes” and “failures,” then there is no need for collective organizing. When Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, only individuals who must look after themselves first and foremost, this is what she meant.
The campaign to frame the pro-prostitution lobby as a grass-roots effort to help marginalized women has been very successful. By ignoring the inherent power dynamic at hand when a man pays a woman for sexual acts, and instead forcing the conversation to be one about women’s choice, those who might consider themselves feminist are pushed into a corner: “Do I support women’s right to choose?” The obvious answer is yes. But that question is a misleading one. The real question is: “Do I support poor and marginalized women’s right to a better life than that offered to them by exploitative men?”
While manipulative language designed to appeal to the liberal masses is a huge part of advocacy to decriminalize pimps and johns, another key component is the smearing of feminists who challenge this discourse.
From: The Sex Industry’s Attack on Feminists, by Meghan Murphy on Truthdig
Poverty is not an aphrodisiac. Those who sell their bodies for sex do so out of desperation. They often end up physically injured, with a variety of diseases and medical conditions, and suffering from severe emotional trauma. The left is made morally bankrupt by its failure to grasp that legal prostitution is another face of neoliberalism. Selling your body for sex is not a choice. It is not about freedom. It is an act of economic slavery.
From: The Whoredom of the Left, by Chris Hedges on Truthdig
The end result of this liberal approach that says anything goes so long as there is “consent” is particularly visible online. Feminists who see the existence of the sex industry as wholly enmeshed with colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy are shouted down with slurs, called “moralistic prudes” and “whorephobes” for daring to question men’s right to use and abuse women at will, so long as they can pay. Women who argue that we, as a society, can offer more to marginalised women than the fetishised racism that is ubiquitous in prostitution and pornography, are labeled “white feminists,” despite the fact that women of colour have been invested in the movement towards their own liberation for as long as anyone. Young women on social media are too afraid even to question whether or not posting sexy selfies really amounts to a political act lest they be told to “sit down and shut up” and kicked out of “cool girl feminism”.
From: Defining the f word: why we need to be radical with feminism, by Meghan Murphy
Maybe the idea of an ethical pornography is a contradiction, that’s why there are no answers; and that’s why each attempt to make feminist pornography is doomed from the beginning, and boycotts itself. Because the basic feature of pornography is objectification, of anyone – it might be a woman, or a child, or a man, or an animal, it might be a plant (or whatever is pleasing the spectator). But I think that the human being has this dimension, maybe a bit unethical, of objectifying other people, other living creatures. Even in our food chain, we objectify animals, that’s why we eat them. I don’t know if it’s possible to separate the human condition from the fact that we are horrible beings, so maybe that is where the fascination for pornography comes from, because pornography allows us to enter that sphere (also discussed by Batailleviii), the basal sphere, the more primary issues that weren’t socially domesticated. Socialization is a part of the human being as important as the basal one, or even more important. But we have that abject, horrible, uncontrolled component, so maybe the things we condemn in pornography are at the same time those that fascinate us. That’s why the idea of an ethical pornography might be contradictory.
From: Round-table about pornography, aesthetics, ethics and feminism, in Propeller #0, by Ana Matilde Sousa.
Regarding the documentary Hot Girls Wanted, by Netflix: In an interview with Rolling Stone, producers Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer, and Ronna Gradus explained their approach to the porn industry. They “wanted to show where there was dark, there was also light.” In particular, Jones said that she was interested in “self-empowerment versus self-objectification.” In contemporary feminism, she feels, the rhetoric of self-empowerment encourages young women to think, “You decided you wanted to be in porn, you decided you like it, and therefore you are empowered by it, and in theory that is great.” But for teenaged performers, she sees regret ahead.
Meanwhile, “There is an entire industry that depends on these women empowering themselves because they want these women to be in their films, and they want to make money off of them. So, what does it mean to actually feel empowered by sexuality?”
In their rush to “humanize” adult performers and explore the concept of “empowerment,” the producers enact precisely the kind of objectification and dehumanization that they aim to critique. Legal though it may be to show the face of somebody who signed a release and then said no, and legal though it may be to introduce an adult Periscope scene to a mainstream audience, the documentary displays a lack of interest in its subjects’ consent that should alarm viewers interested in journalistic ethics, women’s safety, or both.
From: How Netflix’s Hot Girls Wanted Demeans the Women it Wants to Empower, by JOSEPHINE LIVINGSTONE @ New Republic.