There is currently a debate in UK feminism about ‘rape porn’ and whether it should be banned. I’ve not yet drawn a conclusion on my thoughts around this, but I do have some questions.
I wonder if a lot of the framing of this discussion of rape porn is really about violence. Porn by definition requires consent. The people participating in the scenes are workers. So ‘rape porn’ here is a bit of an oxymoron. As feminists we understand rape to be sex that has taken place without consent. No grey areas. We also know that rape does not always involve violence (the realities of rape are often very divorced from the stereotypical stranger jumping out of the bushes with a knife in a dark alleyway). It’s really important to stress the point that rape does not always involve violence. My own sexual assault did not leave me with bruises on my body but I suffered the mental health repercussions for a very long time afterwards.
However there is a discussion to be had here about simulated scenes of sex without consent, scenes that sometimes depict violence, enacted by paid actors and if/how this contributes to the rape culture that we live in.
I read this piece by @chiller and it got me thinking.
In it she says “People getting off on abuse is people getting off on abuse, and we need to start calling it.”
Without ascribing a value judgement to this statement I want to explore the implications of a consensus that this kind of porn is bad- a consensus that could become concrete if the government moves to make it illegal.
When we determine the porn that is bad, we may as well go one step further determine the porn that is good. However, I feel that this step is hindered by a further feminist consensus that all porn is bad full stop. Honestly, I don’t think looking at pictures and watching videos of people having sex is a bad thing. But I do have an issue about these pictures and videos created and consumed uncritically, under a white supremacist patriarchy, for profit. If you watch porn you might know the consequences of this- like any visual medium it reflects some of the worst discriminations and prejudices in our society. This made all the more stark when genitals are involved. Sex between women is offered up solely for the titillation of men, sex between white people and black people is classed as marginal and taboo, there are deeply racist narratives regarding white women being debased by groups of black men and a thousand submissive stereotypes of Asian women.
All the while, there has been concerted effort (though not without significant feminist opposition) to create porn that is focused on woman centred sexual pleasure, from queer porn actresses like Courtney Trouble and feminist directors like Anna Span. Whilst I can’t say I’ve watched any of their work, I do think their work is a step in the direction. However, feminist porn is a molehill compared to the mountain of the porn mainstream. It doesn’t seem quite enough.
There is a feminist sticking point regarding what our sex and sexuality looks like divorced from patriarchy. It’s a huge topic, and porn that doesn’t pander to a white supremacist, patriarchal gaze goes some way in covering it. One day I’d like to see us at point where we can own our desires, without patriarchy and without slut shaming.
So this is my question: what does good porn look like?