There Is No Such Thing As Feminist Porn, Says Beatrice Louis

there is no such thing as feminist porn
Image Via Rolling Stone

I’ve been meaning to write this piece on pornography for a long time. Immediately, a host of arguments, issues, horrors, refutations, and rebuttals flood my mind. I’m reminded of extremely frustrating conversations online, bafflement at the sheer inhumanity of some I’ve had conversations with – why can’t they see the obvious, I’ve wondered. I’ve realized its partially due to denial and partially because users who benefit from it have a great interest in obfuscating the terms of the discussion. It is therefore even more important that those of us with reservations have to be even more clear in communicating about the evil called porn.

So in trying to categorize the various types of rebuttals, especially the repetitive ones and save ourselves some time, I’ve realized that at the start of any conversation about pornography a few crucial distinctions need to be made, and terms defined.

Firstly, what does anyone think of when they refer to pornography? It has become customary for those supportive of porn, or users to revert with some version of ‘not all porn’ to imply that horrifying examples are an ‘abuse’ or ‘distortion’ of porn, but not porn itself.

There is a larger conversation to be had about what makes any substance or media form inherently exploitative, abusive and harmful, but that is a subject for another article. The issue, however, is that by merely describing pornography as ”the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement” (Merriam Webster), includes a wide swath of media, from books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to a regular film with a PG-13 rating. While in common parlance it is mostly used to refer to sexually explicit material in video form, it is unavoidable that porn defenders will use the expansive definition to root their arguments of exceptionalism.

So for the sake of clarity, at least in my own writing, I find it necessary to clarify that concerns revolve primarily around mainstream internet pornography, characterized by both the websites owned by MindGeek – Pornhub and XXXPorn, among others.

It also includes videography that is qualitatively and observably the same as the content hosted on the above websites– whether hosted on Tumblr and personal websites, themed as ‘amateur porn’ or ‘ethical porn’. This is not an adequate definition, but in the face of the exploding porn landscape, and until and unless a new term is coined within the subset of pornography, it is crucial to make this distinction.

A similar distinction has to be made when it comes to porn featuring BDSM, colloquially referred to as BDSM porn. Unfortunately, those in support of videos featuring BDSM will frequently attempt to use examples of what they call as ‘light’ BDSM – hair pulling, handcuffing etc, to dismiss concerns about BDSM. This is because BDSM can involve a gamut of actions from hair pulling to being whipped with metal whips with barbs, constrained in a leather straitjacket and having one’s mouth held in place by screws and metal plates while men urinate and defecate into it. So in the interests of clarity, it is important to preface a discussion with examples of the conduct that one is concerned about, and to clarify that while it may be true that some pornography involves hairpulling, an act not objectively horrifying, the sphere of concern includes infinite examples of far more horrendous acts as well.

Another convenient deflection by most people in favor/defense of pornography is by using a restrictive definition or conceptualization of ‘violent’ porn.

While most condemn ‘rape pornography,’ it is conveniently regarded as the main representation of ‘violent porn’. So while most people show some concern about ‘violent porn’ , which in their minds refers only to porn that depicts either rape or forced activity, or the infliction of extreme pain, there is an incessant tendency to sideline it as merely another variety of porn, linking back to the ‘not all porn’ obfuscation.

Since porn that contains acts of degradation, humiliation or reductive, dehumanizing acts cannot always be accurately labeled as ‘violence’, the hyperfocus on ‘violent’ porn allows the majority of problematic porn to escape scrutiny. This restrictive approach to ‘problematic porn’ is particularly dangerous in the academic context, as researchers either conduct wide-ranging studies on persons consuming ‘porn’ in its widest possible sense generally, or attempt to simply study the availability of ‘violent porn’ which is considered to be characterized by either force or extremely torturous acts. The impact and implications of porn that contains content like ‘teen’s tight pussy fucked by gang’ doesn’t qualify as violent or extreme by porn users and pro-pornography supporters, even though it is clearly both violent and extreme. The assumption is that the act is consensual, which truth be told, is something we can never really know, can we?

The ‘not all porn’ deflection takes many forms – notably in projecting that as long as there is porn that is not obviously objectionable, porn itself cannot be inherently problematic.

Activists, writers, and academics expressing concern, therefore, are in the unenviable position of either having to go through the gamut of refuting these typical, tried and tested responses, and risking a conversation being derailed, or set the parameters of the discussion in a way that clarifies the content of what they’re talking about. Therefore, using actual examples of degrading, dehumanizing pornography and backing it up with data on the amount of content that uses descriptors that are mild but refer to horrifyingly dehumanizing content needs to be a first step in marshaling the arguments against pornography.

A common retort is also ‘feminist’ porn.

Now I’m aware that I don’t get to decide what feminism is or therefore what feminist porn is. A lot of my cohorts and fellow anti-porn activists will firmly tell you that there is no such thing as feminist porn because pornography as a product is produced within structural inequality. True as this statement is at an abstract level, it doesn’t quite answer the rebuttals of those who will insist that ‘x woman consented, and y is feminist pornography, therefore pornography can’t be bad for women’. The logical flaws in this bizarrely constructed statement notwithstanding, let’s assume for a second that ‘feminist porn’ is technically possible.

The most incredible part of this retort is the mechanical and badly thought out nature of the response. Legions of young women in particular snarkily and smugly throw this back at those concerned about porn, as if this is a conversation stopper.

But what IS feminist porn? Is porn feminist just because a woman made it? That would assume no woman is ever capable of hurting other women – which flies in the face of all of history.

Is it ‘feminist’, because the woman making the film claims it is? If the basis to judge whether a product reflects a certain perspective is the self-claim of the person making the product, then we can all allow any product manufacturer or provider of service to self-certify themselves as being representative of anything.

Information on so-called feminist porn, however, does not show that such pornography is less aggressive or degrading to women. So the question that I’d have for those repeatedly claiming ‘feminist porn’ is this – what makes the pornography feminist? The fact that there are women in production? The fact that other women may find it desirable? Feminist porn is a public relations strategy and none of its most vociferous users can ever qualify what makes it feminist. For anti-porn activists, questioning the proponents of this ‘genre’ as to how it qualifies within that genre is a necessary step.

Beatrice Louis is a legal professional working on issues relating to sexual violence, male sexual aggression, predictors, trends, and jurisprudence.

4 thoughts on “There Is No Such Thing As Feminist Porn, Says Beatrice Louis”

  1. Pingback: Pornography, Technology & Brain: Bang It On?

  2. I agree with your post. It often seems that some feminists prefer ideology that benefits men (more often than not). Lots of the same feminists who proclaim porn as positive seem disinterested in supporting women. If it was so empowering, why aren’t therapists promoting it?

  3. Damn. Hard-hitting post. Timely too, thanks to the PornHub controversy. I think porn is legit evil but I am not so sure about feminist porn not existing at all.

  4. This is such a deep and well written article. Of course, I can’t conceive how a certain porn clip can get categorised as ‘feminist porn’. What’s happening in it is exactly the same as in the other clips. And if that is not the case, then it’s simply something else – not porn.
    The greater issue is porn addiction amongst youth. It affects at a very personal level. Making love is sharing. Sharing bodies and emotions with a partner. And youth addicted to porn somehow lose that natural tendency to share. They demand and inflict! As they have been conditioned that way from the tons of clips they’ve gone through. And another damaging side effect is addiction to masturbation. This makes a person dependant on a constant dopamine high that the climax gives and the inevitable lows later. It slowly erodes his/her spirit and joy.
    Bottom line, I feel, is that addiction to porn, or anything for that matter, is highly detrimental.

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