Welcome to my new, weekly-ish feature, Feminism Friday. In my efforts to bring feminism front and centre in my life and my studies, I have read tons of great feminist pieces, seen films and documentaries relating to feminism, and had seemingly endless conversations with friends and family about women's issues. Because women are a heterogeneous group, women's issues are also race issues, religious issues, sexuality issues, economic issues, political issues, ecology issues, and on and on. I am interested in human rights, critical race theory, and anti-oppression theory of all sorts, and so am always keeping my ears and eyes open to these subjects in the news, in literature, in film and television entertainment, etc. The purpose of this feature is to have a place to discuss various subjects relating to women. Somedays, it will be a place for critique, and other days, a place for celebration; mostly, the writings that appear here will be both theoretical and personal explorations of the issues I will present. I have some ideas as to where I would like to go with my studies, and part of that will be research and writing. I welcome ideas and suggestions for topics in this space, as well as comments and critiques of the work and ideas I express here. Feel free to email me directly at the address listed under my profile. A special thanks to all those who support me in my efforts to understand my place in the world and my place in feminism. (I found this image on the web and loved it – I'd love to know who the artist is so I can ask for permission to use the image and give proper credit, so if anyone knows this info, let me know!)
Feminism Friday – "Not a Love Story"
This week, I had the opportunity to watch the documentary "Not a Love Story: A Film About Pronography" (1981). This is a piece about the pornography industry, and its impact on women and society. The filmmaker, Bonnie Sherr Klein, interviewed lots of different people for the film: strippers, live pornography performers, porn film actors, porn models, a female pornography photographer, a pornography magazine publisher, and several feminist writers and activists. The film had a clear feminist slant, and deconstructed all the reasons why pornography is harmful to women, men, children, and society at large. It was well-done, but disturbing.
Because the film was about porn, there was a lot of porn shown in the documentary. The content was graphic, and certainly not for the faint of heart. Much of the pornographic content shown was explicitly violent to women, showing women in various forms of bondage and discomfort, so much that I can't imagine the women involved having consented to the situations in which they were shown. In the majority of these situations, the women were gagged so they could not scream out in pain. All of the situations shown were ones in which women were not receiving sexual pleasure, and all of the situations shown were ones in which women were in positions of submission. One particularly haunting image for me was a Hustler cover, showing a woman from the waist down, nude and from the side, upside down, high heeled shoes in the air, being fed into a meat grinder. Another was a film of a woman who was naked, bound and gagged, whose pubic hair was being ripped out by a man who then bit her nipples to the point of bleeding. This film was entitled "Beat the Bitch". One of the women involved with the making of the film, after being shown the clip, was asked what she thought of it. She said, "It hurt. It hurt me."
The interviews were very enlightening. One interview, with a former porn actor, was very interesting. He said he left porn because he couldn't stand degrading women anymore. He also said the expectations placed on women and men to perform in the same ways as actors in pornography films were too high. Sherr Klein also interviewed a male porn publisher, who said he believed the rise in violent porn was a direct result of "women's lib", and that he believed pornography to be helpful to women because it provided an outlet to men who were frustrated with their new social positions and did not want to be equal to women. Another interviewee stated that pornography results in stunted intimacy. An interview with a live porn actor found she had been repeatedly sexually abused as a child and felt this was a better way to make a living than prostitution because she was "acting" with her husband on stage for 12 shows a day. She said the men who most seemed to enjoy her show were white men who enjoyed seeing her black husband aggressively having sex with her (she is white), because in their racist and sexist minds, being with a black man is degrading and humiliating for a white woman. Another live porn actor said she hated her work and it made her feel horrible. An interview with a feminist anti-porn activist described the ways in which pornography creeps into everyday relations between the sexes in society, whether in the bedroom, in the workplace, in the street, on the home: men expect women to be a certain way, and feel within their rights to treat women as they see women treated in pornography, whether in ways that are explicitly violent, or "merely" subverting and subordinating.
It took me about 2 days to get over seeing this film. I wasn't affected negatively while I was watching it, but when I went home and thought about it, I became very upset and despondent. I came to the realization that this brand of pornography is hate literature, one of the only forms of hate literature that is readily and heartily accepted by society. At the time the film was shot, porn was a $5 billion dollar industry. That was 25 years ago, before the advent of the internet, and before home videos were so widely accessible and inexpensive. This is not counting the majority of child porn, which is so underground it is difficult to get numbers on it. I was despondent because I had never had to endure hate literature before, and this was hate literature I could relate to: the women in the video looked like me. They were not today's porn stars, bleached and shaved and implanted and glossy. They were ordinary, normal women. I hated that it seemed that men's sexual appetites were so depraved and power-hungry; what happened to intimacy and sharing in a sexual relationship? I hate that women were depicted in ways that made me feel dirty and used. I hate that men exist who want to see violence done to women, and who use sex to do it. I hate that there is nothing I can do to stop it right now. I hate that violent pornography is protected in so many countries by that goddamn freedom of expression bullshit. I hate that it seemed like whatever a man wanted to do or see, a woman was willing to do it for money. I hate that this is the opinion of so many people, who do not take into account the fact that our society is oppressive, and that some women exist under such circumstances of coercion it isn't possible for them to consent in the same way it is posisble for others to consent, that when it comes down to not having a roof over your head or food to eat, and no skills or options, porn may be the only available job. I felt utterly despondent; how are we ever to achieve equality if men feel this way about women, if women are viewed by men as being nothing but objects to do violence to, to get sexual gratification from?
I realize the film is quite old now, and that women's equality has developed since that time. I also realize that the film was selective in the pornography it showed, and that not all porn is about violence toward women, or degrading women in some way. I also realize that the porn industry has tripled at the least since the film was shot, and that the prevalence and pervasiveness of porn in our culture has grown proportionately. Porn used to be something people were quiet and secretive about; now, almost everyone has seen porn of some sort, whether it be a strip club act or an unsolicited email or internet pop-up. Porn is easy to access on the internet – most sites don't even have a disclaimer citing adult content. One of the strangest and most unsettling things about contemporary pornography is the blending of child porn with mainstream porn: the vast majority of women who appear in pornography have little to no pubic hair, and tiny vulvas – all the better to contrast with the size of a man's penis, I suppose. Of interest: a relatively new, but increasingly popular, cosmetic surgery is "labiaplasty", in which "excess" labial skin is removed to make the vulva appear smaller and more "like a flower".
So, ultimately, how do I feel now? I'm glad I saw the film. I'm glad I know the extent to which pornography harms women. I'm glad that I have an understanding of the degree of violence in pornography. I'm glad I have an understanding of what I'm up against in this world, in this society. Knowledge is power, right? I know that each day when I get out of bed, I will face at least one man who views pornography and thinks of women as subordinate in ways small or large. I know the expectation for me to be feminine, to be slim, to be responsive, to be entertaining, to be beautiful, to be engaging, are all in part due to pornography. I know there will be resistence to my ideas about women, men, sex, pornography, society. I know that anti-porn = anti-sex in the eyes of many men. I know I will be accused of being uptight, in need of a good lay, insecure about my body, insecure about my sexuality, insecure about my identity, not feminine enough, dumb, too smart, not sexy, not interested in sex – all because of my viewpoint as a feminist. As long as I know, I will be empowered. I will not be surprised. I will not be silenced, like the women in the film. I will be ready.