‘In the name of Sexual Liberation’ – How pornography is being labelled the new ‘post-feminist’ choice

DISCLAIMER – Please be advised the following contains graphic sexual content.

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“In an era when women are expected to submit to any sexual practice just to prove that they are sexually liberated, there seems to be something rather apt about this latest corporate pornification of feminism. Perhaps you would like to buy a naughty little sexually self-empowering mirror? [For only 1000pounds)…which liberates your sexuality so that you can observe your own pleasure…Wearing a pointy nosed dog mask will set you back 350 pounds…If you fancy being ridden like a horse there is a harness or two, or if you want to be treated like a pig you might find a ‘hog tie’ appealing. Dog, cat, horse or pig? Post-feminism has opened up your choices.” – Bray, A. (2011, p118-119).

Pornography has long been seen as an ‘experience’ or ‘product’ designed for the male fantasy. In the past it was something which we as women often found alienating; however in the 21st century pornography has grown to become a billion dollar industry which more and more often is being consumed by women. With the emergence of books such as ’50 shades of grey’, and the saturation of sexually-marketed media that pervades our society on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, women have become increasingly accepting of pornography and further-more, active consumers.

New research (including that of Dr Gomathi Sitharthan at the University of Sydney’s Graduate Program in Sexual Health) has discovered that today, 30% of women (or 1 in 3) are active viewers of online pornography; which equates to around 9 million female users per month.

Similarly, pornography is increasingly becoming marketed as a ‘post-feminist’ choice. In the book ‘Big Porn Inc’ (2011), Abigail Bray discusses the pornification of post-feminism and the rise of sex-shops which are marketing pornification to women under the guise of ‘sexual liberation’. In particular is the store ‘Coco De Mer, which is run by a post-feminist business woman named Sam Roddick. Here you can buy expensive silver butt plugs, ‘Sado Chic’ masturbation mirrors, animal masks, human hair whips and many other ‘sexually liberating’ products.

“To avoid being sexually rejected for defending your rights, you can transform yourself thanks to the new ‘up yours!’ feminism of Coco de Mer.” (Bray, 2011).

Now, I must stop for a moment and say that I don’t necessarily have an issue with the idea of sex products entirely, and the concept of couples using products and toys to spice up their sex lives. They may not be my cup of tea, but what is sexually exciting for one person may not be so for another, and that is what makes us human. I do not however, in any way promote the sale or production of any products which encourage/market pedophilia or incite violence against women or men, which is unfortunately what many sex-shops are nowadays doing.

I find it interesting to see the way in which pornification however, is being marketed to women as ‘post-feminist’ liberation – almost as if we are reacting in fear of being seen as shrewd, boring and unadventurous. In the chapter ‘The Pornification of Post-Feminism: Why Roddick’s Sex Shops Are a Sell Out’, Bray discusses how we as a society have come to see a need for sexing up feminism, and how businesses cash-in on our insecurities. Roddick herself claims that her stores are helping women to break free of the negative aesthetic stereotypes of feminism.

“Feminism as a word is desexualised. If one claims to be a feminist, one is almost sacrificing her sexuality or sexiness, right? Because it’s not really permissable to be powerful, self-determined, challenging of society and be sexy”. (2011,p 119).

The fight to have our voice heard, and the fight to be seen as attractive and powerful… These are very real issues that many of us struggle with. I myself have experienced this inner fight, especially during my activism this year. I have been labelled a hypocrite simply for wearing clothes which do not cover my knee’s or come all the way to my neck, because I also speak out against sexualisation of girls and women. It’s as if people expect that because I am standing against the porn industry I have to dress like a nun. One particular young woman wrote (in response to my activism):

“Unless you dress as a f**king nun you have no right to speak on women’s rights”.

Apparently the fact that I wear clothes that are above the knee, and may expose some cleavage at times, means that I cannot have a voice. But why? Why is this stereotype so pervasive? And what does it mean for us as women, to be told that we are either one or the other – intelligent or sexy. But not both. Why can we not be sexy, influential, intelligent and a feminist, (or humanist – however you want to describe yourself) embracing our sexuality and our beauty without exploiting ourselves?

And why is it that women feel a need to ‘liberate’ themselves by adopting and normalising an identity which is not sexually unique at all, but yet is paraded as being so?

“ ‘The hard-working hedonist who can afford to spend her income on vibrators and Wine’ (Power, 2009, p21), and does a bit of home porn with her executive lovers for a laugh, invests in botox, fake breasts, and full body-hair removal, has become the aspirational ‘it’ girl of post-feminist consumer culture, this ‘reclaiming of women’s sexuality’ sounds more like another porn chic sell out.” (Bray, 2011, p120)

Yes, there may be a ‘market’ (aka the sex industry) for women and men to explore their sexuality…but when it is done so in a way which encourages abuse against women and their degradation, should it be encouraged under the guise of ‘sexual liberation’? Specifically, should we be excusing violent, sadistic pornography because we want to be seen as ‘progressive’?

This brings me to part 2 of this blog: The Rise of Sasha Grey: ‘The Dirtiest Girl in the World’ (As she was labelled in Rolling Stone Magazine, 2009).

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sasha-grey

“I hate to say, but I think the future of American porn is violence. I see the signs of it already…the culture will become much more accepting of gang rape movies and abuse movies” – Joe Gallant, pornographer. (In Bray & Tankard-Reist, 2011, p174).

In 2006 a new pornographic actress appeared on the scene hailed as perhaps ‘the next Jenna Jameson’. Sasha Grey began her career in the adult film industry at the age of 18, and within a year had appeared in over 80 hardcore movies.

Grey is a self-confessed sado-masichist who says she enjoys inflicting and receiving pain, and views her involvement in the porn industry as a way of “self-exploration first hand, in a sex-positive” way (Interview with Tyra Banks, 2007). In her first ever porn scene (at the age of 18), Grey told her 50 year old co-star to punch her in the stomach.

“It was during a fellatio scene…I said, ‘Would you like to punch me in the stomach?’ He was shocked’…” – Grey (2007).

While Grey doesn’t see herself as a feminist, she has stated that her aim is to make pornography more exciting again (through s&m acts), whilst others have argued that she is pushing boundaries of women’s sexual liberation; something which I strongly disagree with.

Irrespective of whether Grey enjoys the sex-acts she performs, the reality is that in the majority of her films she is so terribly degraded and humiliated as a woman. Penetrated anally in almost every scene, sometimes double penetrated, used as a live masturbation toy for up to 15 men, filmed licking a toilet bowl and made to dress as a teenage babysitter whilst simultaneously giving oral sex to 3 men (Grey herself stated she did not like being typecast as a little teen, but this was unfortunately part of the business)… At no point in the latter mentioned film do the men treat her as anything more than a sex-toy, at no point is she given any sexual satisfaction herself.

Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t understand how a woman licking a toilet bowl, a woman who has won awards for the best ‘Group sex scenes’, a woman who abuses men and allows them to choke, slap and abuse her on film, can be seen as ‘progressive and sexually liberating’. Even if Grey may enjoy these sorts of acts in her own relationships off-screen, it is not her personal sexual tastes that I focus on whilst writing this article, but rather the fact that by performing them on-film she is encouraging and normalizing violence against women (and men) to the rest of the world. The more these images are viewed, and the more of these films are made, the more accepting viewers become of this violence.

In an interview on Tyra Banks in 2007, Grey was challenged by a former sex industry worker as to how she could explain the abusive footage in her films as being ‘sexually liberating’ for women. Former prostitute and porn actress ‘Tiana’ posed the question:

“Would you want to be alone in a room with the guy who watches you be sexually abused by a male in your films? Would you want to be alone with a guy that watchesthose videos and thinks, ‘That’s how that girl is, if I was with her I could punch her, I could spit on her, I could disrespect her… in any way that I could think of…and that’s okay’. Do you think that that’s sending a good message to anyone that’s out there?

For many of us it is difficult to understand how there is anything liberating about a woman being paid to dress as an underage girl whilst having 3 men stand over her, ejaculating all over her face, hair and mouth whilst she sits there like an inanimate sex toy. As I’ve previously stated, I recognise that as individuals we all have different sexual tastes, but again I ask the following:

a) Why must we as a culture normalise the degradation of women on film, spreading a lie to future generations that to be ‘sexy’, ‘adventurous’ and ‘powerful’ a woman must be treated as a sexual service station? And;

b) How can sexual violence (whether against man or woman) be excused as sexual liberation or being sexually adventurous?

Interestingly enough, despite all her praise for the industry Grey retired from films after just 3 years. Unsurprisingly, the porn industry takes a huge physical toll on female performers. After all, our bodies were not designed to be treated on a day-to-day basis the way that they are in films. Grey stated that her time as an adult film performer had expired, however Radical Hub suggests that, “Perhaps the incidents of STIs, the scratches, bruises, and hemorrhoids, caused by the acts she engages in…have taken their toll on Grey.”

How sad that a woman at the age of 21 has allowed her body to be so brutally prostituted (for that is exactly what she has done, consensual or not) that she is to experience such health issues.

Doesn’t sound very ‘sex-positive’ to me.

Even more disturbing however, is the fact that our world is allowing young women to be prostituted in the name of ‘art’ or ‘sexual liberation’. There is something profoundly wrong with a world that will offer young girls (seemingly) extraordinary amounts of money to have every orifice of their body used and abused.

“The physical condition people put their body through is getting very far away from the sexuality as we know it” – Sharon Mitchell, Founder of ‘Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation’

Even after her retirement, even if Grey’s views of sex change, her films will continue to promote violence against women forevermore. Many try to justify pornography as ‘fantasy’, however the truth is that what is seen in these films is quite often acted out in real life.

As one internet user wrote,

“[Grey] admits that she would not want to be abused the way she is in pornography by an intimate partner or in her personal life. That would be a mission impossible I think. Any future intimate partner is likely to have seen her porn films, and want her to do for him, what he saw her doing with the dudes on film. And you just know in order to get her to do that, he will say something like “if you really loved me, you would do it, after all you did it with some stranger dude…” – DaveSquirrel (2011, Radical Hub).

Sadly the correlation between pornography viewing, and violence acted out in real-life is very high. As ‘Dave Squirrel’ suggested, there is no reason why a man who views a woman taking part in a particular sexual act on-film, could not transfer this to his own sexual experiences. Research has indeed validated this, confirming that many male rapists and abusers are frequent viewers of pornography.

Below are some examples found online of research collected over the years regarding pornography use:

■Federal Bureau of Investigation – Research conducted involving 36 serial murderers revealed that 81% (29/36) reported pornography as one of their highest sexual interests, making pornography one of the most common profile characteristics of serial murderers.
■Dr. William Marshall (1983) – Found that 86% of rapists admitted regular use of pornography, with 57% admitting actual imitation of pornography scenes in commission of sex crimes.
■Victor Cline, Ph.D. (Utah Psychologist) – Identified a common pattern of progression with many pornography users (sex offenders):
1. addiction to hard core pornography;

2. escalation in the need for more shocking material;

3. desensitization toward initially shocking material; and

4. an increased tendency to “act out” sexual activities

■Zillmann, Dolf (1982) – Findings show that massive exposure (4 hours 40 minutes over six weeks) to standard pornography (people having consensual, nonviolent sex) resulted in:
1. a loss of compassion toward women as rape victims and toward women in general;

2. a loss of concern about the effects of pornography on others;

3. a need for more violent and bizarre forms of sex;

4. a desensitization to violent, non-coercive hard core pornography; and

5. a trivialization of rape.

■Michigan State Police ( Lt. Darrell H. Pope) – Studied and recorded the use of pornography in sex crimes. He researched 48,000 sex crimes spanning a 20 year period (1956-1979). (Research was done in 1977, replicated in 1981).
In 42% of the 48,000 sex crimes investigated, police indicated that pornography was involved — used just prior to, or during the act of sexual assault — as stated by the victim or the offender.

■Silbert and Pines (1984) – A detailed content analysis of 193 cases of rape and of 178 cases of juvenile sexual abuse revealed a clear relationship between violent pornography and sexual abuse. (http://antisex.info/en/stat2.htm)
Furthermore, the ‘sexual liberation’ of women through porn is now impacting far greater than just the men in our lives. Alarming new statistics are showing that children are being introduced to porn at increasingly younger ages, which is leading to a spike in the occurrences of child-on-child sexual abuse. Can we really be selfish enough to argue that the impact that pornography is having on children is justified due to ‘sexual liberation’? The fact is that in today’s world, despite the best efforts of parents children cannot escape pornography. And with the inevitable truth that 100% of boys in Australia will have seen pornography by the age of 15 (with first exposure around the age of 11), it is inevitable that their views of sex will be formed from the violent images they see in these films.

There has been discussion that perhaps pornography as a theory would not be so much of an issue if it were not so shallow and one-dimensional. Author, blogger and Feminist Jessica Valenti writes:

“The main problem I see with pornography is not pornography as a theory, but mainstream pornography as it is right now and the industry as it is. I find it really disturbing. And that’s not to say there isn’t woman-friendly and feminist porn out there, but I think a lot of the mainstream porn I see is so much based on humiliation and calling women whores. I find it really problematic, and I think a lot of it is a result of the purity myth and a result of not being more open about sexuality. If we were more open, if we had more discourse, and if we didn’t have this binary way of looking at women and sex, then I don’t think that that kind of pornography would be that popular, frankly.”
– The Purity Myth (Excerpt received from Marie Clare Website)

Whilst I agree with Valenti that perhaps pornography would be a whole different kettle of fish if it were to show real, loving, intimate depictions of sex with physically diverse women, I am hesitant to agree that there is woman-friendly pornography. I recall reading one of Valenti’s books many years ago where she mentioned that women who are interested in viewing porn should focus on older, less mainstream films – such as those with actresses that depict a real woman (complete with pubic hair etc). However, the sad reality is that even older pornography films have brought to light stories of abuse. Former 70s porn actress Linda Lovelace stated that during her years in the industry she was raped, forced into prostitution by her husband, watched day and night and made to perform sex acts with a gun to her head. Testifying before a court in 1986 Lovelace made the following statement:

“When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped. It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time.”

Whilst the idea of ‘nice, feminist porn’ is good in theory, I believe that for the most part it is just that. Research and porn movies clearly show violence towards women as the norm, and this is extremely concerning.

People have asked me why I care so much about these issues. I’ve been asked what my motivation is behind sharing this information. Isn’t it distressing? they ask. Of course it is. Sometimes I numb myself as I research, and yet other times I still find my jaw drops in shock. But the reason I share, is because a cultural change is vital. And if perhaps someone stumbles across my blog, or a friend has an opportunity to share what they have learned from my research with others, this can be seen as encouraging. Changing the mind-set of our current generation may seem impossible at times, but if we can help our younger generations to see women as they were created to be seen – intelligent, beautiful, creative, mystical individuals – then perhaps we will have more of an opportunity to see real social change.

Sources of further information:

http://www.safefamilies.org/sfStats.php

http://pornharms.com/mim/shifting-views-women-now-more-ok-with-porn-than-men/

(http://antisex.info/en/stat2.htm

http://radicalhub.com/2011/12/15/why-did-sasha-grey-exit-pornography/)

http://www.kspr.com/news/kspr-more-women-say-theyre-addicted-to-porn-20121129,0,4318579.story

http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/opinion/jessica-valenti-purity-myth

By Jas Swilks

One Reply to “‘In the name of Sexual Liberation’ – How pornography is being labelled the new ‘post-feminist’ choice”

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