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Missing intersectionality in sex positive feminism: the unaddressed racism in porn

[Content warning for discussions of sexual material, including racist violence - no images in the post, though]

I love porn! I do! I have even written about porn recently! Yet, I really resent that I need to offer this disclaimer any time I would like to address something about the genre. Because it seems that there is a dominant trend within feminism where you are either for porn or against it. And the thing is, for me, one can be “for” porn and still have serious reservations. However, this lack of nuance in most of the discussions leaves so many important and necessary arguments out because, being in favor of porn, for the most part, means you do not align with the critics of porn, you just play along, you tout the usual favorable talking points, namely

  • porn can be empowering for some people
  • there is a way to produce consensual non exploitative porn
  • there is a market for feminist porn
  • as long as the participants partook out of their own volition, we should not stick our noses into their choices, after all, people should live their lives in any way they see fit.

And I agree with all of the above. These are the reasons why I believe that porn and erotica, and the producers of said media, should be respected for their work and not treated like people who are incapable of making informed decisions about their own bodies and well being.

Then there is the camp that staunchly opposes porn and sex work on the basis that it is always exploitative and degrading. Organizations like Object in the UK, who carry on the ideological legacy of Dworkin, aggressively campaigning against it, conveniently leaving out the arguments of sex workers, porn producers, people in the industry and consumers alike. Theirs is a specific brand of “neo puritan feminism” that seeks to empower women by silencing those who are deemed “oppressed” and not capable of making decisions about their own bodies and lifestyles. This condescending, binary dichotomy of “what is good for women” vs. “what is degrading” leaves no room for counter points or personal autonomy. Either you are for “exploiting women” or you are against it.

Still, both camps share an inherently similar approach towards porn: it is hardly ever intersectional. It hardly ever addresses the many ways in which racism, classism, ableism, etc conflate to turn porn into a cultural minefield.

If you point out that there are ingrained elements of racism within certain sub genres of pornography, to wit, some stuff that is presented as “fetish”, the usual defense, even from many in the sex positive feminist camp, is that “people like what they like” and, as long as it is consensual, we should not question it. This kind of determinism due to preference remains unexamined, unchallenged, as if our personal taste would develop in a vacuum, devoid of any other sociocultural influence. As if we could separate ourselves from the environment where we exist. I suspect this uncritical “we like what we like” argument stems from a need to anticipate the attacks based on moralistic arguments. I understand that anything that deviates from the heteronormative and patriarchal ideas of “acceptable” is criticized on tenuous arguments involving “values” and supposed “deviance”. However, “we might like what we like” and still, that supposedly personal preference might not be as simple or as harmless as we might want to believe. Kyriarchy, after all, infiltrates even the most seemingly disconnected areas of our lives.

So, I have to ask the obvious question here: how “consensual” is some of this fetish porn when it involves extreme and brutal forms of racist degradation? Sure, we say, the women were paid for this, they agreed to be featured, they signed consent forms, they knew they were going to take part in porn. And yet, nothing prepares us for the horror involved in some of these fetish productions that Jamel Shabazz so well illustrates in this piece at Hycide, GHETTO GAGGERS: A Nation Can Rise No Higher Than It’s Women. From the piece:

I clicked on a video. As it begins, the women are asked, “Why are you here?” Many say they want cash because their boyfriends were “broke ass n*****s” or because they needed money to support their children. “Ghetto Gaggers” allegedly pays $2,000. Some say they want to be porn stars. Some are college students or unemployed, and some are even pregnant. They have names like Mecca, Ashanti, Precious, Ebony, and Destiny. Maybe they are expecting to star in an erotic video, or maybe they think this is gag porn, in which women who sign a release form are humiliated and hurt to satisfy fetishistic viewers. But it’s hard to believe they expect the level of degradation that comes next, or the resulting emotional trauma.

Some porn stars who reportedly knew what they were in for have quit the industry after starring in “Ghetto Gaggers”. “After we get through with them they’re going to have to see a psychiatrist for the rest of their lives,” one attacker boasts on camera. In a typical video, three or four men take turns physically and mentally destroying their victims. During 90 minutes of barbarism, the perpetrators spit in their faces, slap them, stomp them and force some to crawl on all fours with chains around their necks. In other scenes, the women have watermelons smashed on their heads and then are forced to eat the melon, along with the men’s semen. Some women have their faces shoved into a toilet, much to the pleasure of the assailants. During the grotesque finale, the men shove their penises deep inside the women’s throats until they vomit into a large dog bowl, which is emptied on them. As the humiliated women cry, a host promises fans there will be new girls every week!

I can hear the arguments already “but this is the BAD kind of porn!”, this is the “non feminist!” kind. True, however, missing the point entirely, since, as feminists, even for those who identify as sex positive, we should concern ourselves with all issues involving matters of gender and gender representation. Even more so, when they involve the systematic degradation of an entire group of women based on their ethnicity. Here’s where the argument in favor of unexamined fetish becomes flimsy and harmful: people like what they like and as long as it is consensual, what is the problem? Except that something like precisely this case illustrated above, can be simultaneously consensual (the women initially agreed to participate) and extremely harmful (obviously, if they needed therapy to overcome the experience, nobody would claim that this was just an innocuous form of indulging in fetish). Because consent, especially for women who are already viewed as targets, whose bodies are already viewed as “ready for abuse” is more complicated than signing a release form and agreeing to be filmed while a bunch of racist white guys degrade you.

From the horrific website featured in Jamel Shabazz’ piece (BIG NSFW WARNING): “Beauty Dior is another A-List ebony pornstar who we destroyed”.

Or take this other description from a video poignantly titled: Degrading a Latina slut (BIG NSFW WARNING):

Cali Couture is pretty new to the industry. She did a few things, but nothing note worthy. She walked in today and sat down and said, “God I’m so nervous.” I asked her why. She said, “This is the first time ever I am doing something like this.” I said, “Dear diary, PAY DAY!” We started out just passing her head back and forth from cock to cock. After about 5 minutes of that she began to whimper like a little puppy. Then we stuffed our cocks in her tight pussy and went to town, all the while she was bound in leather restraints, and getting smacked across her face.

People like what they like

Just like politicians like to call the children of women like the Latina above, “anchor babies” and send them to detention camps where the degradation will be of another nature, this time, supported by the State.

Now, imagine the same line of argument invoked in any other area of racist critique. When the editor of a fashion mag calls Rihanna a “ni**abitch”, would we, as feminists, accept this idea that “people like what they like”? When the fashion industry does something racist, would we agree that people just “like” that kind of fashion and leave the subject alone because well, “as long as the models took part in the production consensually, then who are we to critique?”.

Even in my last piece, where I critiqued the penis centric nature of porn and erotica for straight women, some commenters felt the need to inform me that “that’s what they like and I had no business criticizing it”. However, again, I repeat myself: how can this personal inclination be isolated from everything else? How can our desire be isolated from the rest of our influences? And I am sort of exhausted of this individualistic defense that because “someone likes it”, these notions cannot be challenged or analyzed as part of a bigger framework. Because that is at the very root of an intersectional approach to gender politics, we cannot separate the personal circumstances involving race, class, gender, dis/ability, etc, from the overall frameworks of consent, fetish, porn production and the consumption of said products. All of them are interconnected and, “BUT I LIKE IT!” is a poor defense focused on individuals when the focus should perhaps be better directed on how the sum of each individual adds up to create a system of representation.

“We might like what we like” and yet, that very same media might as well be based on the systematic portrayal of certain individuals as “inferior”, unworthy of love, of care, their ethnicity solely “a fetish”. The idea of consent, only in paper, unexamined because we are supposed to operate under the assumption that agreeing to a sex act for the camera only stems from personal choice. Although for WoC depicted in porn, there is obviously more than meets the eye.

35 Comments

  1. This part of the porn industry is facing issues with enthusiastic consent. It seems the details of what will be done, how it will physically and emotionally affect the performers, and a means of withdrawing consent are not discussed. Reducing consent to a piece of paper doesn’t work for anyone.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  2. I have another question (not to you specifically, Aaron, just in general) regarding the idea of enthusiastic consent: what does it mean when your entirely livelihood might involve consenting to this stuff? What I mean is, what does consent mean for a woman who, for example, is about to be evicted and is doing this to keep a roof over her (and her family’s head)? What does it this idea of enthusiastic consent mean for someone who does not have enough money to eat on a given week? Or for a person dealing with issues of addiction? Even the whole idea of consent needs to include these variables, this, sorry to repeat myself, intersectional approach. Because consent is not void of all these other axis wherein a person exists.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  3. glittertrash wrote:

    I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see this finally said on a mainstream feminist website. Thank you, Flavia, this is wonderful. It is such a goddamn shame that the oversimplified binarism of “sex positive” vs “puritanical” feminisms mean that people starting out from talking points like “porn can be empowering for some people” and
    “there is a way to produce consensual non exploitative porn” very, very rarely take on the “and then there is ALL OF THE OTHER PORN and maybe it is JUST A TINY BIT PROBLEMATIC” as part of the argument.

    I worked as a video editor in porn, a long time ago. My company processed A LOT of movies, from A LOT of studios. Mostly gay, some het. There were two main categories that I worked with: polished, shiny porn of beautiful people in beautiful settings, and porn where the sexual energy derived from an exploitation of a real-world power disparity- the wider the power disparity and the more extreme the exploitation, the better-selling the porn. That porn was so common, produced at such intensive volumes, that it made up by far the most of what came across my desk. Exploitation* of trans women, exploitation* of poor young men, exploitation* of men of colour by white men: extremely popular genres.

    I liked that job. Relaxed office, fun queer workmates, creative freedom. But holy shit ever since I worked there I have never, ever, ever been able to take simplistic arguments about “but I like what I like and being critical of that is antifeminist because choice and orgasms” as anything other than totally unreflected bullshit. Being critical of that very large percentage of the porn market, wondering why it is that what sells most porn is NOT “attractive member of my desired gender-grouping being sexual” but “person in oppressed position in society being exploited and harmed”, doesn’t necessarily mean buying into abolitionist politics, or ceasing to support the rights of erotic workers to work safely and without harassment. What it means is that “it gets me off” should be nobody’s get-out-of-critique free card.

    Almost every feminist engagement with porn that I read is about “the good stuff”, the consent-happy stuff produced by one of 5 studios, where everyone has a good time, where if there’s SM then first up you get the smiling consent of the sub, and everyone’s using safe sex supplies. I mean cool and all but I think that engaging with the murky, harder stuff is necessary to understanding what porn is and what drives the market. Understanding that is necessary (I think) to developing a nuanced, intersectional feminist conversation about porn that first of all supports the industry’s workers and second of all examines it’s place in our economy, media and sexualities.

    *the exploitation may have been fictional, I don’t know, I didn’t interview any of the actors personally, but the films were all very invested in portraying the exploitation as authentic.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  4. glittertrash wrote:

    Um, sorry for the incredibly long comment, I don’t have my own blog anymore so I appear to have taken up blogging in your comments section.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  5. finka wrote:

    Very well written, thank you. Furthermore, I think what you wrote here applies to other things as well. As a cis-woman who is into BDSM stuff I often wonder why it is that I get turned on by female submission. As you said, I don’t think these desires are born in a vacuum.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  6. Greg wrote:

    Re: “Ghetto Gaggers”:

    oh FUCKING SHIT. And I feel guilty about watching [heterosexual] blowjob videos because usually the male performer holds the female performer’s head with his hands.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  7. Kitten wrote:

    I also work in the adult industry, for a company that distributes adult cable television. One of the things I have most about my job is having to write what feel to me like really racist descriptions of interracial or other types of “ethnic” content. But you know what? The more racist it feels, the better it sells.

    Personally, I feel like a paradigm shift in porn doesn’t just take people talking openly about it- it will take a lot more sex-positive, feminist, queer, radical, and just generally NICE, GOOD people producing content in the industry. And it will take people out there actually being willing to pay for that content. There is a pretty big queer/ feminist industry going right now, which I think is great and I love what they’re doing. But it just doesn’t really sell.

    Just because something sells doesn’t make it ok, but it does mean that it’s what the industry is going to continue to produce. The overwhelming majority of people remaining who are actually willing to buy their porn seems to be older, white men. In the South. I think most of us could make a bit of a stereotyping connection there.

    Another thing I want to point out though is how important I think it is for people to have the freedom to express whatever they feel needs expressing with porn. To me, porn is art. A lot of it doesn’t really feel like art, but someone is always expressing some form of of their personal sexuality with it. I would hate to ever see something like that censored, even if a lot of it is really ugly, racist, sexist, genderist, homophobic bullshit. It’s important for everyone to be allowed to express their art. In my opinion at least.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  8. Battameez wrote:

    Delurking to say, Flavia, your response to Aaron is perfection.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  9. Annaham wrote:

    Amazing post, Flavia.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  10. glittertrash wrote:

    “The more racist it feels, the better it sells” is a perfect description of what felt so ick about that otherwise awesome job I had, editing porn in that nice studio with lovely colleagues. Stuff that wasn’t racist, classist, sexist & transphobic as all-get-out did cross my desk, it just didn’t sell nearly as much as the stuff where you could jerk off to a real-world exploitation of power, recorded for your pleasure.

    I am,therefor, EXTREMELY skeptical of the idea that the hunger of the majority of the market for porn that degrades can ever be overtaken by less problematic porn, just by producing more of the less problematic stuff. The less problematic stuff sells to a new market, one that didn’t previously exist. I would bet a lot that the people who were previously buying their dubious-consent gang-bang videos will keep on doing so even if the next video along on the shelf is Liberated Awesome People Having Hot And Enthusiastically Consensual Good Times.

    Making awesome queer-positive, gender diverse, trans-positive, consent-positive, anti-ableist, non-racist porn succeeds at putting porn into the hands of people who want to view that kind of porn (and for that, it’s brilliant! Yay every queer/feminist porn film festival!). No matter how much of that porn you make, I strongly believe that it is not going to succeed at changing the vast ocean of what is produced by an industry that combines the capitalist drive to make all of the money with the human sex drive as it is constructed within an oppressive and violent capitalist patriarchy.

    Friday, May 11, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  11. @Greg, it’s been brought to my attention that there is an equivalent to Ghetto Gaggers specifically for Latinas. (NSFW or should I say, “NOT SAFE FOR MY OWN MENTAL WELL BEING”). This is the kind of stuff I am trying to get at, from one of the video descriptions:

    Nataly Rosa is a cute Puerto Rican with the cutest face, and really long legs. They probably help her run from the police or jump borders with ease.

    And

    she still hated us for treating her little latina mouth like it was created solely for our pleasure

    THIS is exactly at the root of my problem with these kinds of fetish productions. This is exactly the mindset and ideology they want to promote. That these women exist solely for the abuse and degradation. The bottom line is, this is why I take issue with the lack of critical examination of fetish within the sex positive community. I cannot accept the premise that just because it is fetish, it cannot be actively oppressive and it is beyond criticism. Feminists wouldn’t accept such attitude involving any other area of sociocultural expression. And yet, this one area, as @glittertrash said, is kind of untouchable because “choice and orgasms”.

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink
  12. k wrote:

    Oh wow… thank you for this post.

    It’s worth adding that treating this as “people like what they like” DOES have real world consequences, as these days, people are slowly opening up about their fetishes and putting a lot more effort into getting satisfaction in bed. How many times have I seen my Latina friend, or my Asian classmates, get treated as fetish objects who exist to fulfill the “exotic” desires of others. Even my relationship with my boyfriend is sometimes seen as eyebrow-raisingly kinky, or we get comments about the crazy sex we must have, just because he is Black and I am white. Like they think that behind closed doors, we turn into actors from an interracial porn clip, and that we’re together because one or both of us are racial fetishists.

    I am all for sexual openness but people, PLEASE leave your stereotype based assumptions out of it…

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink
  13. GallingGalla wrote:

    Maybe it’s the result of my being a queer trans woman who was exploited by man in a “relationship” for many years, but I tend to lean towards Dworkin’s viewpoint on porn. I honestly don’t see how making, acting in, or producing porn can ever be considered a feminist act.

    I don’t want to ban porn, mostly because I feel that all people have a right to bodily autonomy, and that means they might make decisions, such as acting in a porn film, that I’m uncomfortable with. But like you say, Flavia, if you don’t know what your “consenting” to when you sign that form, is that consent? Or when you’re signing that form because as a trans woman, especially a trans woman of color, you’ve no choice if you want to eat? Does someone who signs a “consent” form under those circumstances truly have autonomy over their own body? I would argue that they don’t.

    I agree that the discussion about porn needs to be much more nuanced, and I’m just as sickened by the Dworkinist assumption that women have no agency and therefore need to be rescued by the Right Kind Of Feminist as I am by those on all sides (as if there could only be two sides), but especially the sex-positive crowd that totally dismisses the huge role that racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism play in the porn industry. Sure, there may be some porn out there that is less problematic (e.g. by-women-for-women porn), but that always has been and is currently a very niche market. And even if it is by-women-for-women porn, that doesn’t inoculate the women involved from engaging in racism, ableism, or transphobia. That latter one being not just excluding trans women from participating (it’s so bad that trans women have had to organize our own by-trans-women-for-trans-women porn projects), but also fetishizing trans men as “super butch women” when they too, often sign the form because they’ve got to eat.

    I have not participated in porn myself, but I have participated in the BDSM commmunity, both online and in real life. I had to leave it because I just got sick of how the community gave a free pass to every *ism imaginable in the name of “shut up, it’s role playing”.

    I cannot get on board with the idea that porn (or BDSM) is somehow inherently feminist or liberating as long as 95% of porn (and BDSM) trades on *ist exploitation.

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  14. Catherine wrote:

    As rape is sexualized violence so a lot of this porn is sexualized hate (and that ghetto gaggers- if you did that to an enemy combatant the Geneva convention would have a *lot* to say). Once again, it’s not sex, it’s what is wrong in human heads. And poverty- I suspect if I watched that stuff made in certain neighborhoods I’d probably see some of my ex-students.

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  15. Doone wrote:

    Timely post.

    About a year ago my wife and I were talking about the porn that we like. When you shop for it you know there’s like hundreds of categories, many dileneated by race, age, and most by power fetishes. My wife asked me about female positive porn. To this day we haven’t found any.

    Most of the “feminist” porn we find is either homosexual or is defined strictly on the basis that there’s cunnilingus. Every film still portrays women mostly the same as regular porn: submissive, existing to please the cock. Even the “romantic” porn is like this.

    We both came to the conclusion that there’s no porn which is sex positive. I’ve never seen porn which portrays equality of desire, power, and pleasure between male and female. Maybe we just didn’t find it. That just means it’s exceedingly rare and possibly doesn’t exist.

    We like porn. But because of this dilemma we’ve mostly given it up. We’re bothered by the idea that purchasing porn just because we like certain kinds means supporting potential abuse of the actors/actresses involved. And we haven’t seen anything to convince us that this is not the case, so we’re kind of afraid to indulge at this point. Yes, we like what we like, but *not* at the expense of others.

    Flavia, truly, is there such a thing as sex positive porn? I think it’d be easier to discuss or research the ways in which porn has positive effects. The negatives are obvious by glancing at even the most utopian porn studio libraries. I’m not sure any more that porn can be redeemed. It’s one of those things where we live in a society where there’s simply no positive way for porn to exist. What are the positives and in what ways do they redeem the negatives to the extent that the industry as a whole can be said to legitimately valuable to anyone?

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  16. @Catherine, I am sorry but I disagree, this is a lot more than sexualized hate. This is commercialized and legitimized as “fetish”. And as feminists we need to address that this is indeed what people are consuming as fetish. In many people’s eyes, this is “legitimate” and a “valid” form of sexual expression. Saying “ah, but this is not sex; this is something else entirely!” is an easy way out to avoid addressing that it is within the realm of what many people consider to be human sexuality. As @k pointed out, because of these depictions, there are real life consequences for those women whose ethnicity is considered “fetish” because people have expectations based on this kind of media. Even if the violence was more overt, it would still be something worth addressing: why are certain women only depicted as ethnic stereotypes in porn? Even in the less violent kind, WoC are only to fulfill certain roles and performative expectations.

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  17. Doone wrote:

    @Catherine

    I think I agree with part of your view. On the one hand I do think this is sexualized hate, while I also think Flavia is right that this is the brand being commercialized as “legitimate fetish.” I definitely think it’s both, and not one or the other. It *is* what’s wrong in human heads and behavior.

    Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  18. Catherine wrote:

    Flavia- they can call it “fetish”, but it’s still sexualized hate, even sexualized fear of the Other. that the hater responds to it sexually does not change the fact it is hate, and I think shows a serious problem in the watcher. If it’s inappropriate to sexually prey upon children, then its inappropriate to sexually prey upon hate.

    Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  19. M_K wrote:

    @Kitten I have difficulty with the “it’s art” argument. People are expressing aspects of their sexuality, yes, but in such a way that frequently exploits and oppresses as well. If a filmmaker made non-pornographic films, but the consent of the actors was dubious, I don’t think that would be viewed as so acceptable.

    Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  20. Joel Reinstein wrote:

    Great post, excellent nuance. Also, a very on-point comment from @Gallinggalla: the positive work of creating feminist porn is not enough. There must be the negative work of challenging (eventually eliminating) misogynist porn. (Admittedly that might be a false dichotomy, but I think the line is there to be walked, if faint.)

    Really have to side with Flavia in the debate in the comments:

    “Saying ‘ah, but this is not sex; this is something else entirely!’ is an easy way out to avoid addressing that it is within the realm of what many people consider to be human sexuality.”

    Do we need to say “that isn’t really sex” to criticize something that enables/promotes violence and rape? Is ethical purity a criteria for sex? If we include violent, racist, misogynist porn under “sex,” are we automatically making an essentialist claim? It can be socialized, and no less real for it.

    I wonder if *some* of the appeal of racism in pornography has to do with sex still being taboo. Maybe this is a stretch, but overt racism is “dirty.” Patriarchal society still frowns upon sex. Some of the socializing here might be the fetishization of anything that’s taboo? It’s sexier if it’s inappropriate, and overt racism is inappropriate?

    Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  21. @Joel, I suspect some people who identify with sex positive feminism (not @Catherine specifically, of whom I know nothing except from the comments left here) would prefer to call this “not sex” because then it would openly contradict one of the tenets of the movement, namely “all kink/sex/fetish is OK as long as it is between consenting adults”. And it is easier to say “ah this is not sex” than bring nuance to that blanket statement and address the way WoC, trans* women, queer folks, etc are treated by the industry and depicted in certain specific, exploitative ways within fetish/ kink. Which I get, if you open that door by saying “well, this IS kink and it is not OK because it is actively oppressing”, then obviously you open that door for any or other kink to be subjected to the same judgement. Which is of course, I get that, akin to letting the wolf come and take care of the sheep because that’s the slippery slope towards “condemnation” based on tenuous moral arguments.

    However, I also believe that any philosophy/ set of ground rules that does not admit that life is not always about absolutes is seriously flawed, which is why I keep insisting that this IS sex, this IS supposedly consensual (in so far as the people involved agreed to be part of it) and yet, it is seriously messed up. How does sex positive feminism address these kind of circumstances without trying to present this as NOT sex so that they don’t have to condemn it?

    Monday, May 14, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink
  22. k wrote:

    @Flavia – in response to your question, I am just not sure how we address this issue in a sex-positive context. My background is in sex-positive feminism. For me personally, when my boyfriend and I are treated as objects of fetishism or as a “kinky, naughty” couple due to our different races, my instinctive response (though I’m not claiming that it’s an adequate one) is similar to something I often hear in kinky circles when it comes to the issue of involving nonconsenting observers in things like D/s roleplay:

    “Please, leave me out of your sex life”, or “Well, now I know waaaayyyyy too much about your taste in porn”.

    I’d say that that’s the absolute bare minimum for dealing with porn issues in general and racist porn in particular – don’t treat actual human beings as if we are actors in one of your favorite porn clips.

    Of course there is so much more to be dealt with here. First, the white supremacist notion of treating sex that includes PoC as “fetishism”, which is very obviously premised on whiteness as the default category. And of course, the overt racist hatred involved in much “racial fetish” porn.

    Honestly, I don’t know where to even start on that. I don’t know what others think about this, but it would be nice if at least the minimum standard of human decency in NOT blurting out fetishistic comments, could be observed.

    Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  23. @k, I am Latina, partnered with a stereotypically looking North European (you know the type, blond, blue eyes, etc), so I share your frustration with having your relationship fetishized (from the “knowing” smirk of pseudo complicity implying “oh, you have a feisty one in your hands!”, to openly offensive remarks along the lines of “wow, you must have some stamina to be able to cope with a woman like her” or, while pretending I am not even standing there “Latina women sure are agressive, don’t ever make her jealous”). Which is to say, I understand your frustration and agree with your comments. I, like you, have no idea of where to begin to unpack this stuff.

    Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  24. AMM wrote:

    Re: consent.

    There’s this meme floating around that anything consenting adults do should be beyond question. However, the more I learn and the more I experience, the more I think this is BS. There is such a thing as abuse, and abuse remains abuse even if the victim “consents” to it. Moreover, “consent” is a lot more complicated — and problematic — than the “consent makes everything OK” meme suggests.

    This is most obvious in the case of domestic violence: victims may remain in or even return to the situation for a variety of reasons (I’m assuming I don’t have to explain this), but most of us (well, here, at least) would not hesitate to condemn the violence, regardless of whether or why the victim stays.

    Many of the reasons why domestic violence victims stay apply to victims of porn abuse, or BDSM abuse. I have no problem with saying that abusive porn is evil, regardless of what papers the participants may have signed, and that it should be condemned and, to the extent practical, stamped out.

    “Sex positivity” reminds me an awful lot of the “free love” meme back in the 1960′s. When it started, everyone talked like “free love” was the force that would turn the fascist world we were growing up in into a happy utopia of love. By the early 1970′s it had become obvious that “free love” all too often meant nothing more than that men’s use and abuse of women was now to be seen as a virtue.

    Is that what people are going to say about “sex positivity” 40 years from now?

    Monday, May 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  25. dragon_snap wrote:

    Regarding consent, and the concept of enthusiastic consent in particular, as an ace-spectrum and relatively sexually-inexperienced person, I whole-heartedly agree with this recent post by Cliff, over at The Pervocracy: http://pervocracy.blogspot.ca/2012/05/real-consent.html

    She argues that enthusiasm is not necessary, but sincerity and a contextual lack of coercive elements absolutely are.

    I think consent is dubious–>meaningless when there are circumstances preventing someone from being able to freely say ‘no’, including ‘my partner provides for me financially and will throw me out if I do not have sex with hir’ as well as ‘institutionalized racism and misogyny and systemic poverty have rendered this job as a porn actor my only available (legal) option to feed myslef.’ However, though it is relatively easy to make a firm moral (and sometime legal) judgement on the conduct of the partner in the first senario (namely, that is wrong and unacceptable and don’t ever do it), I don’t think it’s as easy to find out a way to morally or legislatively regulate porn companies. We can hardly say, ‘don’t ever hire any poor actors, so that we can be (more) sure that the actors aren’t being economically coerced into this profesison.’ In other words, the porn Flavia describes is indicative of many societal problems, as well as being a problem in and of itself, but I honestly have no idea how to go about fixing it.

    Monday, May 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  26. Cait Astrohpe wrote:

    I have two things I would like to say:
    1. The term “puritanical” describes the puritan laws, but put puritans themselves were quite sexually promiscuous; one out of three puritan women married while they were pregnant and the men were just as promiscuous. In fact, sexual deviancy was generally blamed on men, not women in the puritan society. Puritan laws were against sexual deviance, yes, but their punishments for breaking those laws were pretty much a slap on the wrist. You can read about it here: http://books.google.com/books?id=VlGHUz8GfVsC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA22#v=onepage&q&f=false
    2. I am a sadomasochist, that’s my sexual preference and has been for a long time. I love porn, but the first time I saw sadomasochist porn it broke my heart. It was supposedly “consensual” by a piece of paper but I looked those women in their eyes, I saw the fear, pain, and vulnerability they felt. I couldn’t continue watching it. I felt their pain. That wasn’t sadomasochism, that was rape. I don’t care what a piece of paper says, what I saw was rape.

    Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  27. GallingGalla wrote:

    @Amm: I like to get tied up. It turns me on. Are you saying that it’s not possible for me to consent to that and therefore is always abuse? That my enthusiastic, fully informed consent based on mutual trust between me and my top means nothing? Please let’s not get into that “false consciousness” minefield. There is a lot of nuance between the two extremes of “all sex is totally 100% pure good and never to be questioned” and “you can’t possibly consent to [insert personal squicks here], so you have to be rescued / activity has to be banned]. I think that that is Flavia’s point, after all – that both of those extreme positions completely miss the impact of intersecting axes of power and marginalization, and neither extreme permits us to deal with that.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  28. Shadow wrote:

    You make the ludicrous claim feminists who oppose pornography have ignored the racist element. Where are the facts to substantiate your ludicrous claims? Feminists – that is the real feminists – oppose pornography because it is filmed male sexual violence against women and girls as well as promoting white men’s/non-white men’s hatred of all women. Attempting to claim ‘feminists who oppose porn are ignoring the racist aspect’ is similar to malestream claims ‘feminists aren’t concerned with the real issues such as poverty.’ Such claims are deliberate attempts to deflect attention away from the central issue which is filmed male sexual violence and male contempt for women and girls. Take a look at this website which provide evidence concerning pornstitution. Making sweeping statements concerning the invaluable work the late Andrea Dworkin and her female colleagues did in respect of researching pornography shows you have no notion whatsoever of what exactly Andrea Dworkin researched and wrote. Likewise your claims concerning Object shows you have not taken the time to actually read their mandate because object do focus on racisim but they do not view as a separate issue – rather men’s hatred for women is interlinked with White Male Supremacy and how WMS promote the lie that non-white women are somehow even more dehumanised than white women. Divide and conquer is Male Supremacist mantra whereby the aim is to keep white and non-white women divided so that we do not see ‘the elephant in the room’ which is male domination over all women. ‘Consent’ is meaningless in our Male Supremacist World because we women do not have the power men accord themselves.
    http://www.antipornography.org/faq.html

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink
  29. @Shadow, I approved your comment because it so well illustrates the partisan, non nuance approach to pornography I was trying to get at.

    The lack of intersectionality in anti porn activists is not specific about racism. It is about the lack of interest in the ways sex workers and people in the industry who defend their work are systematically ignored. Intersectionality is not JUST about racism, though I used a couple of specific examples about it. It involves taking into account class, dis/ability, trans* issues, and a long list of other etc.

    Also, I respect Dworkin. I am sure she had valuable insights, I have read her work (I love how you suggest that being opposed to Dworkin stems from “not having read her”) and still find her views on porn and sex work to be against my politics. Why is it that you think that not agreeing with Dworkin and other similar activists stems from ignorance? Could it be that some of us are fully informed and still do not like her?

    Also: “Feminists – that is the real feminists“. LOL. A million LOLs. I suppose you and other anti porn activists are the “real feminists” and the rest of us disagreeing with you are what? Playmobil figurine feminists?

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink
  30. Kiri wrote:

    As someone who watches porn (and is still kicking around the idea of producing some) who has long despised the extreme racism found throughout the industry, I appreciate this post greatly. Thank you.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  31. Angie unduplicated wrote:

    These contracts undoubtedly were signed without informed consent. The films are unscripted, so the actresses had no ability to review role or scenes. My unresearched, unsubstantiated suspicion is that a man who would produce such a film would lie like hell in the hiring process, as do many non-porn hiring managers.
    The quote “I’ve never done this before” and subsequent comment are revelatory. The long-term unemployed are susceptible to almost anything which disguises itself as a paycheck.
    Anyone watching such a film is watching a documentary of fraud and assault, not to mention a hate crime. This distinguishes such films from consensual porn.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  32. Charley wrote:

    I think the perceived contradiction between being sex-positive but still recognizing the problems with pornography as it exists disappears when you look at the societal context.

    We live under patriarchy. This tends to produce media that reflects patriarchal norms. This is even more true in media, like porn, that focuses on sex and gender relations (and that caters to an audience that is mostly (at best) uninterested in feminism). Misogyny will always be a problematic issue under these conditions.

    We live under capitalism. It forces people to do a lot of things that they don’t want to in order to survive. This is even more true in industries, like porn, that are marginal. Consent will always be a problematic issue under these conditions.

    I like all kinsd of sex. I can enjoy individual pornographic works. But I don’t see how the industry as a whole will ever be feminist and reflective/productive of positive experiences until both patriarchy and capitalism are resolved.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  33. Doone wrote:

    @Charley: Agree. This was exactly the point of the questions I asked above. I read all the responses, but saw that most of us may have the same dilemma and didn’t know how to answer.

    The context is too screwed up; I don’t believe porn can be redeemed in this country (world even). The systemic failures do not and could not allow for the proper conditions to have sex positive/feminist porn.

    Friday, May 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  34. Sam Rico wrote:

    This is a brilliant article. I have usually been more in the radical socialist feminist, ‘sex-negative’ (even though I don’t like the dichotomy) camp, but recently have become a lot more open minded to the range of arguments in the debate. This article is obviously by someone who is doing the same thing, but on the sex-positive side. We really need a lot more nuance from both sides if we are to properly address these issues, and thats why I really appreciate this article.

    Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  35. Nanasha wrote:

    Porn that involves actual people turns me right off. My husband and I have seen a couple of porn movies from back in the 70′s (Sex World, etc) and I couldn’t even get remotely turned on by the sex that was being had, and couldn’t help but feel really annoyed by the *ist behaviors going on.

    Plus, perhaps it’s just me, but most of the actors don’t really seem into the sex act whatsoever, and I just can’t get off to people who are only getting off for a paycheck.

    This is why pretty much 100% of the stuff that I view and read involves drawn characters or written fictional people. And the very few pieces of sexual writing that I’ve produced myself tend to have heterosexual sex scenes that play off of power in a more individual situation sort of way instead of relying on class or racial disparities.

    And yes, I have some pretty problematic “desires”- but I’ve had a lot of these since before I ever looked at one pornographic image and had a very active and “creative” sexual fantasy life even as a young girl.

    But watching real people be hit or choked or hurt in “gonzo” porn makes me ill. Even watching a short Disinformation special on it and watching the “non sexual” clips they included made me want to throw up.

    Because in my head while it’s kind of hot to imagine some woman ENJOYING humiliating her husband (who is totally into it) by having sex with someone else in front of him, that dynamic really squicks me out when I see real people doing it. But in a story or in an h-manga, the reality of the story can stay in fantasy-land, while watching actors say the lines and go through the motions in a real-life video just makes me want to vomit-I can’t believe in it long enough to get remotely aroused.

    I find it interesting that my husband can watch things like “Backdoor sluts 9″ or whatever and be ok with jerking off to it, but in our own sex life he’s really subdued and would hardly ever want to try anything new or talk about what he would be interested in doing (I secretly wonder if it’s because it would be severely disrespectful and he respects me too much to act it out IRL). Whereas I’m very open about my various fetishy things and even though he’s expressed some discomfort in saying certain things during sex, he sometimes will do it because he knows that it turns me on in a crazy awesome sort of way.

    Sometimes I wonder if I just fail at having a truly “feminist” sex life, though.

    Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 3:44 am | Permalink