Defending pornography as a choice made by consenting adults simply expressing their sexuality is a justification which ignores the fact that for many women, the poverty they face is so great, and their options are so limited, that the sale of their bodies becomes their only recourse for survival. Also, let’s pretend for a minute that getting into prostitution is a genuine choice, even within the context of a culture which presents sexual exploitation as power and liberation. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be raped, that you can’t be abused, within the industry itself.
You sign up to have sex for money, to take naked photographs, whatever; this does not automatically mean you sign up for being abused, humiliated, degraded, beaten, choked, slapped, raped – it’s a contiguous industry, you don’t step right into hardcore or gonzo porn. You start out stripping, you’re recruited into porn, which starts out pretty vanilla, but the money’s not as good as you thought, and it’s presented like a promotion, and so you lower your boundaries more and more. Various studies have put the number of porn stars and sex workers with post-traumatic stress between 75 and 90%. Ever seen Deep Throat? I have, a lot of people have. But the actress, Linda Lovelace, has been quoted as saying that she was forced, often at gunpoint, to perform in porn, and that anytime someone watched Deep Throat they are very literally watching her being raped. She’s not an isolated case, either; a huge number of sex workers were sexually abused as children, they are horribly physically abused; they suffer from dissociative disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and a higher than average suicide and murder rate (see this chart). But it is commonly expressed in studies of mostly men’s response to prostitution and pornography that once you have purchased the body, you have free reign to perform on it whatever acts you like, as though a woman is a couch or a table. That once money has been exchanged there cease to be any boundaries that would make an action abusive or violent. They just dissolve. We don’t treat animals that way, and yet here we are.
In addition to the economic pressures that might make prostitution of some kind seem like an attractive option for some women, we face social pressures which insist that we are in a post-feminist world in which women are now completely enfranchised, and in fact, have significant power over men, who are completely at the mercy of their sexual desires. Obviously no genders are fairly represented in this paradigm, but it is there, and it is loud. In the same way that women bought into the idea that their sexiness was empowering as long as it looked like pornography, so society bought the idea that pornographic sexiness is sexual liberation, when really it’s just another form of sexual oppression. And sexual liberation does not only mean that you love sex and think it’s great and want to have it all the time; it’s about the freedom to figure out your own sexuality without constraints from social scripts which validate one form of sexuality at the expense of others. In our case, porn sexuality is validated and sold as empowerment, but in order to access that power you must be sexy in this one particular way which often includes breast implants, bleached hair, and high heels.
This is what is meant by the pornification of society: shirts with porn star on them in sparkly letters, padded bras and thongs in children’s sizes, playboy bunny logos on everything from jewelry to car seat covers, that ten-year-old French model. The undertone of pornsex is very strong, and it is telling girls and women that empowerment is looking like a porn star, that being a porn star is glamourous. Abigail Bray refers to it as the “gentrification of sex work”, which I think is a marvelous turn of phrase, but whatever you want to call it, more and more women are drawn or coerced or enticed or convinced into the porn industry. It often starts through ‘glamour modeling’ or stripping, and those women are often completely shocked by how degrading the work turns out to be. It’s not fun and glamourous; it’s humiliating.
The Activists Editorial Collective
Pornography Is Not a Choice for Any Woman: How Women are Psychologically and Economically Coerced Into Porn January 16, 2012