by

Katherine Williams

 

9781780320250

Anti-Porn Feminism: The Resurgence of Anti-Porn Feminism by Julia Long, Zed Books, 2012

Anti-Porn Feminism: The Resurgence of Anti-Porn Feminism by Julia Long lends its voice to a long-running debate on an extremely divisive issue for feminists. From the ‘feminist sex’ wars of the 70s/80s and the recent debate in the UK regarding porn filters and an opt-in system to access pornographic materials online, the question remains; does pornography have a place in our society?

Anti-Porn Feminism…attempts to answer that question through ethnographical research, an analysis and history of women’s groups campaigning against the pornography industry, and importantly, it gives grassroots organisations a voice; a voice that is often ignored and marginalised under denouncements of censorship and accusations of conservative moralising.

Long starts her book by arguing that the language that frames the debate is itself somewhat problematic; whilst those feminists who advocate aspects of the porn industry are referred to generally as sex-positive, those who identify as anti-porn are characterised as having an anti-sex agenda altogether. This is something of a misnomer, as Long stresses, and reframes the language to address these misconceptions with the simple use of pro/anti-porn feminist/s.

With this ‘new’ definition in mind, Long attempts to unpack some of the issues surrounding the pro/anti-porn arguments.

In essence, the anti-porn framework that Long subscribes to rejects pro-porn feminism’s view that society consists of equal, distinct individuals. Alternatively, anti-porn feminists believe that the basic social unit is the group, and that the individual within this unit is a social being.

Whereas pro-porn feminists emphasise heavily on the prized notion of selfhood, idealism and individuals and their private selves existing in a realm without so-called state interference; anti-porn feminists believe that we exist socially as part of a bigger group with shared responsibilities.

Long rallies against the misconception of anti-porn feminists being characterised as sharing similar perspectives to conservative groups who also protest against pornography. The conservative view being that pornography, and indeed sex, is indecent, immoral and at contrast to ‘traditional’ values and notions of sexuality.

In response to this misconception, Long argues that an anti-porn perspective builds its framework around existing relationships of power and inequality between men and women, and this especially, is central to the radical feminist critique of pornography, one that Long unapologetically subscribes to. Another key anti-porn argument is that pornography constitutes the eroticised subordination of women and sexualises (and normalises) male domination and female subordination in society at large.

And, this has never been more evident, as recent campaigns against the sexualisation of women in the media have shown.

Organisations such as OBJECT, No More Page 3, UK Feminista and Lose the Lad’s Mags, reflect the same concerns that the Women’s Liberation Movement (in the UK) had in the 1980s; namely, the ‘normalisation’ effect that Page 3 and pornography has on society, and the promotion of the idea that women’s bodies should be sexually available to all men at all times.

Another issue that is deftly discussed by Long is this notion of ‘choice’; a term often bandied around in the pornography debate. Pro-porn feminists might argue that one chooses to participate in the making and consumption of pornographic material, and that it is empowering to do so, as a woman and as a pro-porn feminist. However, Long argues that choice only meaningfully exists when an individual is choosing from a set of viable options, those which must be available, visible and intelligible (Long, 2012). Is pornography a true choice in a capitalist society?

Critical of pro-porn individualist assumptions, and its inability to recognise the patriarchal social structures that disadvantage women in society, Long discusses the intersectionality of oppression that exists within pornography; i.e., representations of women of colour. As Long notes, ‘powerful critiques of the racism in pornography and the sexual commodification of black women have been produced by both black and white feminists…yet given the intersection of oppressions of sex, racism and class in pornography, far more work remains to be done in order to address the specific oppression of black women in pornography…’ (Long, 2012). Long argues that this is primarily a result of the ‘feminist sex’ wars and the rise of pro-porn sentiment, pushing such discussion to the back burner.

While pro-porn feminists argue that the construction and consumption of pornography can be empowering for women, as aforementioned, and indeed, there have been many attempts to level the playing field with so-called ‘feminist porn’, a question still remains: can porn ever be anything other than mere exploitation masquerading as liberation?

Are pro-porn feminists more concerned with the aesthetics of pornography than real issues that affect real women? As Long’s critique of queerporn.tv shows, the same old abuses of the power dynamic between sexual partners still exist in so-called feminist porn, albeit packaged as something ‘less’ harmful and more ‘empowering’ than ‘traditional’ pornography.

We are, never-the-less, invited to make up our own minds and we are also privy to testimonies of real women who have endured abusive relationships that have been hijacked by the influence of pornography and also women who are making their voices heard and saying, ‘we’re feminists, and we’re not putting up with the rampant objectification of our bodies any longer.’

The fact that Long acknowledges the voices of women affected by the nature of pornography echoes the landmark anti-pornography civil rights ordinance that Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon created in attempted to classify pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights in the US.

Such a comparison might seem a little spurious, but essentially, the documentation of women’s lived experiences regarding this issue is extremely important.

That is something that I personally believe is missing from the pro/anti-porn debate: what are the lived experiences of real women affected by the influence of pornography and the influence of a sexist media? This is what grassroots activism is all about in Long’s mind; listening to women.

In conclusion, Anti-Porn Feminism… provides a disturbing glimpse into just how far porn culture has infiltrated our lives and media. I think Long has, rather succinctly, unpacked some of the key issues surrounding the knock-on effects of the consumption of porn, and what we can do about it as a society; from the grassroots up.

Anti-Porn Feminism… is an excellent introduction to those who may be new to feminist activism or theory. Whilst its stance is unalterably from a radical feminist perspective, it does not alienate the reader with impossible academic jargon; it gives a comprehensive overview of the anti-pornography movement itself and the issues that are associated with it. It presents a concise history of the rise, and fall, of the Women’s Liberation Movement (US and UK) and its umbrella groups; gives voice to women who are involved in anti-pornography movements now and most importantly, asks us to examine our own position on the issue that has, and continues, to threaten to tear the feminist movement apart.

 

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Katherine Williams graduated from Swansea University in 2011 with a 2:1 in German and Politics, and will start an MA in International Security and Development later this year. Her interests include the de/construction of gender in International Relations, conflict-driven sexual violence and grassroots feminist activism, being a co-founder of Swansea Feminist Network. You can follow her on Twitter here: @polygluttony.