Blog of Feminist Activism

The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

Wheelock College Feminist Anti-Porn Conference

Posted by charliegrrl on April 16, 2007

In March there was an anti-porn feminist conference at the Wheelock College. Hearing reports of this make me feel so inspired and comforted.

Here is the opening speech by Gail Dines

Here is a report by Britta who attended the conference

I was at the [Pornography and Pop Culture — Reframing Theory, Rethinking Activism] conference from 9 am to 9 pm on Saturday, and 9 am to 3 pm on Sunday, and it was such an intense experience.
At the beginning of the conference, I was very interested but had no idea what I was getting into. Although I’ve been studying and living feminism for 10 years now, pornography was one feminist issue I had not studied much or thought much about. I naively thought it didn’t affect my life and therefore wasn’t relevant or necessary of my attention. I have been anti-porn for a while now, but only intuitively and mostly secretly. Most feminists I had come across, especially the ones close to my age (20s) are pro-porn (or at least, “pro free speech” to the point of being indifferent to porn) and are condescending to those of us who are against pornography – *especially* when someone, like me, is against porn because of her emotions and gut and has no educated, rational, research-backed reasons to give. Mostly I thought I’d better keep my mouth shut on the issue until I could defend my stance logically and intelligently. And yet, I never really got around to studying pornography, because I was too focused on what I thought were more pressing and relevant feminist issues.

Being at the conference was an amazing experience and I learned so much. For starters, I realized porn *is* relevant to my life – the industry is much bigger, and more connected to mainstream media, than I had realized. Also, the conference helped me understand and re-frame events from my childhood and adolescence. There were boys and men who sexually abused me, and debased women in general, and I now see that their attitudes, thoughts, and actions towards women were heavily influenced by pornography.


The conference *did* give me rational, intelligent, research-backed arguments against pornography, but it also showed me that it’s also perfectly valid to oppose pornography because it makes my stomach hurt to see it, and that I’m not the only one who feels that way. After one particularly graphic, brutal, and disturbing slideshow presentation, the presenters invited anyone who felt so inclined to come up to a microphone and state how they were feeling. Dozens and dozens of women got up and spoke about how they were feeling deeply sad, full of rage, stupid, depressed, scared, and pained. Some women simply cried. I looked around, and plenty of women weren’t getting up to speak, but were sitting and crying, or clenching their fists, or holding onto each other tightly, or grimacing in pain. Before, I had worried that my emotional reaction to pornography was not a “good enough” reason to oppose it, but it was eye-opening to see *hundreds* of women having the same emotional response that I did… And our collective pain and trauma is certainly a good reason to oppose pornography. It’s even *enough* of a reason, regardless of those other rational, theory-based, research-backed reasons. How can anyone honestly believe/say that pornography is not harmful to women? We women, there in that room – and representing many, many other women who weren’t physically present with us – are clear proof that it DOES hurt women. It hurts US.

What was perhaps most shocking and eye-opening for me to learn was that violence in pornography is the norm, not the exception to the rule – previously, I had naively thought/hoped it was the latter. Robert Wosnitzer, Ana Bridges, and Michelle Chang gave a presentation on the research project they had done – analyzing the violence/aggression in 50 pornography films (selected randomly from a pool of the 275 most popular). Their research hasn’t yet been published so I’m not clear on whether or not I’m allowed to post the results of it here, the notes I took from their slides… but in summary, they counted over 3,000 acts of verbal and physical aggression in these 50 films, which averaged about 11 acts of aggression per scene. And 95% of the time, the recipient of the aggression (who was female 94% of the time) responded with neutrality or pleasure. They also searched for/analyzed *positive* behaviors in these 50 films, and found that positive behaviors were only present in 9.9% of scenes. There were about 2 caresses, 2 or 3 kisses, and about 5 compliments from a man to a woman. That is, they found that the most popular pornography films were overwhelmingly full of male aggression against women, and that positive behaviors from men were very, very rare.

I saw pornographic photos of women crying, grimacing in pain, screaming, wincing, and gritting their teeth in what’s supposed to be a smile but isn’t. I saw a naked woman on the floor, crying, with a toilet seat framing her face. Women tied, gagged, bound, hung up on walls, hanging from chains, bruised, and drenched in semen. What possible argument could anyone give in defense of this???

Even if it IS true that a very few women truly consent to allow men to do such things to them (in a patriarchal culture that offers constrained and fixed choices), Robert Jensen pointed out, it’s usually not possible to know *which* of the women a man is viewing has freely consented. And even if the specific woman he’s looking at freely consented, when he adds fuel to the pornography industry by buying/renting *any* porn DVD, it guarantees that more women will be hurt in the future.

And even IF (big hypothetical) the woman on the screen has consented to having 3 men simultaneously penetrate her vaginally, anally, and orally and then ejaculate into her eyes, even if she, herself, does not feel exploited, many, many women who see it DO feel violated, exploited, angry, and in pain. Do their/our feelings not count? There was a woman from the audience who stood at that microphone, crying, and spoke about feeling deep pain because she’ll never know if the man she’s having sex with loves her for who she is, or if he’s imagining her as a porn actress, wanting her to act like the women in his DVDs, and how *robbed* she feels because of that. Do her feelings and experiences not matter? What of the woman who stood in front of me, looked at me through tear-filled eyes, and told me that when a man raped her 5 years ago, gagging her with a pair of underwear and saying “I’ve always wanted to live out this fantasy,” she didn’t really understand it – until she saw that scene that day in the slideshow presentation? Does her experience not count?

Rebecca Whisnant gave a great presentation, comparing 2nd and 3rd wave feminists – 3rd wave feminism largely promotes individualism and choice, a “willful myopia to the effects of one’s choices in a broader culture of sexual dominance,” or, in the words of Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards in their book Manifesta, “Feminism isn’t about the choice you make, it’s about your freedom to make that choice.” This contrasts with the prevalent 2nd wave feminist knowledge that “women are a class, sharing a common condition,” and that the fate of one woman is tied to the fate of all women, whether she likes it or not. Thus, the question is not so much “Did she choose X?” as it is “Does X further the oppression of women as a whole?” In general, 2nd wave feminists embraced responsibility for the broader results of their personal choices…whereas 3rd wave feminists are so afraid of being seen as essentialist, and are “reluctant to speak in an assumed and potentially false solidarity.” But it’s not as simple as saying any choice a woman makes is a feminist choice, so long as she freely chooses it, for that ignores the effects our choices can have on *each other*.

Rachel Lloyd, herself a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation (her self-identifying words), and who has now worked with hundreds of domestically trafficked girls and women, spoke eloquently about the issue of consent. The average age of entry into the sex trade in the US is 13, and mostly girls of color, and girls growing up in poverty. MTV, and the pornified pop culture of today, primes girls, to the point where they start to objectify themselves and each other, to the point where it’s relatively easy for pimps and pornographers to approach a young girl and flatter her by telling her he “really sees something” in her and invite her to be in a video or photo shoot… That’s how it happened to Rachel. She went for what she thought was a straight modeling shoot, at age 14, and was taken an hour away, alone, to a man’s apartment, where he pulled out a collection of violent photos of naked women.

Many women who are prostituted, or do pornography, were sexually abused as children, are survivors of racism and/or poverty, were neglected or abandoned, ran away from oppressive situations and had no other options. Jenna Jameson, gang-raped as a teenager, was so desparate that when the pornographer she auditioned for told her she looked too young, she ran into the bathroom to take her braces off with a pair of pliers. Often women consent to do one specific sex act and the men coerce them into doing more, or they are tricked into it, or filmed secretly and against their will as they get undressed or go to the bathroom.

For all of these reasons, the issue of whether or not the women in porn “consent” to it is rather irrelevant to me. Marilyn Frye’s essay, “In and Out of Harm’s Way,” (The Politics of Reality: essays in feminist theory, 1983) is a powerful analysis of how women come to a place of seeming to consent to men controlling and abusing them, through being systematically broken. For example, if a man brutally and ceaselessly tortures and humiliates you for a period of time then varies the torture slightly, decreasing its frequency or intensity, the woman is now in a world of “distorted moral proportion” where simply a lack of torture, or something like being allowed to pee when she needs to, can be interpreted by the woman as kindness. Melissa Farley describes this as “protective denial” – it’s common for women who are prostituted to say that they enjoy it and freely choose it and it’s going well, when what they mean is, “I haven’t been beat up today,” or “I haven’t lost all my money today.” You have to keep saying you love it, or you’ll die (spiritually, if not literally). Most women don’t fully realize the emotional impact of it all until they’re out of the industry. And of the 854 women, men, and transgendered people that she interviewed, who were involved in prostitution, 68% of them had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who had pornography made of them while being prostituted had significantly more severe symptoms of PTSD than those who had not had pornography made of them. Pornography is worse in the sense that it stays forever – there’s no way to ever close the door to that traumatic experience.

Could anyone honestly say there’s no connection between the messages men absorb (as well as create and promote) through pornography, and the way men treat the women in their daily lives? As Gail Dines and others pointed out, progressive, leftist people argue *all the time* that media influences people and that “mass media is one site where the dominant class attempts to create and impose definitions and explanations of the world.” (Pornography is a left issue, by Gail Dines and Robert Jensen, ZNet Dec. 2005). So why the insistence that pornography is exempt from that analysis, and that it doesn’t (or even, might not) promote violence and sexism??

Patriarchy makes loads more sense to me now. The pornography industry makes $12 billion dollars a year, which is $3 billion more than mainstream movies earn annually, so it’s clearly a HUGE industry – e.g. just ONE child porn site, recently shut down, had 70,000 men who paid $29.95 a month for it. With that many men, consuming that much pornography – pornography that includes an average of 11 male acts of aggression against women per scene, with the women acting like they enjoy it 95% of the time… Is it any WONDER that men, as a whole, treat women like shit?? Why do progressive leftists accept that advertising influences people to act, but deny that pornography does (or that it’s advertising)?? PLEASE.

GodDAMN. I can’t think of a single damn pro-pornography argument that could possibly make any sense. Even if a tiny percentage of women consent… it doesn’t change the fact that many, many women do NOT, and it doesn’t change the fact that many, many women who see it feel horribly violated and degraded. Even if a tiny percentage of pornography is non-violent, it doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of it is violent and degrading, and that by supporting the porn industry at ALL, one is ensuring the future pain and degradation of more women. I don’t give a rat’s ass about men’s “right” to “free speech,” because as Robert Jensen re-iterated, free speech can’t exist without equality. How is men collecting $12 billion a year to literally choke and gag women and stuff their sorryass dicks down their throats “free speech”??? It’s quite literally PREVENTING *WOMEN’S* “free speech.”

Thanks to Heart for this info

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8 Responses to “Wheelock College Feminist Anti-Porn Conference”

  1. Burrow said

    I love Gail Dines. Thank you thank you thank you.

  2. Me too! Gail Dines is very intelligent, funny and very articulate woman. Who said feminists don’t have a sense of humour. Come to that why so much emphasis on women ‘having a sense of humour.’ Oh yes, forgot it is one of the many party tricks women are expected to do in order to gain male approval. Silly me!

  3. The HOH said

    I almost went to that talk but I had another event to go to. Now I wish I had.

  4. Brenda said

    Porn hurts a lot of women, and also hurts the people who watch it. Programming their brain to separate orgasm from intimacy, it’s a disease with symptoms all across society.

  5. Thanks for that it was an amazing review – I really appreciated the clear explanation of the different emphasis on collective responsibility in 3rd and 2nd ‘wave’ feminism but I don’t think this is an age thing… I do think the general concerns of ‘3rd’ wave feminism have become very influenced by hypercapitalism and post-thatcher / reagan years but I also love lots of current DIY ‘3rd wave’ activism.
    I’m 36 and much of the feminism I was involved in from my teens was DIY and radical / anarcha feminist (and still is).
    I had as many drop down drag out fights with pro-porn women then. I don’t know if it’s got any worse but rather the feel of the feminist scene (in Britain and US) has changed and the pro-porn arguments have mutated.
    One thing I can’t get is how so many avowed anti-capitalist can object to what happens to women in sweatshops etc. but refuse to see even the economic exploitation in the porn industry – it’s often the same women being exploited all over the world… Is it bad to enjoy starbucks coffee but good to enjoy globalised porn??? Lots of anti-capitalists are totally into giving up things that bring other kinds of power / pleasure and realise collective responsibility here… but when it’s back to thinking with your dick it’s back to Dworkin’s arguments on left wing men {and women). The issue of consent is relevant here as well – women aspire to work in free trade zone t-shirt factories and poluted coffee plantations but the issue of economics and poverty is recognised.
    I think we’d maybe get futher if the 3rd wave women who are middle class – educated and priviledged would give up all the lap-dance classes and Phd’s about the empowering aspects of deconstructed ironic spike heels.

    Hey ho – who’s up for some women’s liberation???

    love Rachel Feminista
    http://www.myspace.com/feministas

  6. Great comment Rachel, yes it is hard to understand why so many feminists, who are against capitalism, who partake in DIY anarchist activism, do not see the exploitation of porn and the sex industry. In my experience, they see consent as a very black and white issue- so if a woman ‘consents’ to working in the sex industry, and we are against the sex industry, we are oppressing women from doing what they want. I think this idea is influenced by individualism, rather than seeing women as a class, and thinking about what is liberation for women as a whole. I like the analogy of consent with sweatshops. I’ve seen images of people in Africa proudly wearing Coca Cola tshirts, aspiring to America- even though we know how badly America exploits and opresses Africa.

    Yes, not ‘me-first’ feminism, nor ‘fuck me’ feminism, but women’s liberation! 🙂

  7. m Andrea said

    Her speech, not just her opening remarks, was uploaded to Youtube. It is an amazing video, but I am having a terrible time finding it again. Anyone have an addy?

  8. Joy Caley said

    As i sit here crying, wondering why if so many women feel this way, why do i still have to walk into the nearest petrol station and deal with seeing porn on the shelf directly in front of me when i walk in the door? we need to make a stand no matter how afraid we are of how it will be taken, not only by men in our lives and that we know, but also women that side with men. I’ve just made my first two stands here in Whitby North Yorkshire. I wrote to the manager of the petrol station requesting him to at least cover the porn, or move all ‘lads mags/porn’ high up and in one place. He did! I felt that i had achieved so much! today i went to my friends shop and bought all his adult card packs and told him how they made me feel as i ripped them up, then asked him not to buy more, or if he did, not display them. He agreed! I want to do more!!! How can I?

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