This is one of those things I don’t write about much because it’s obvious. It’s implied in everything I do, the work I do every day. But there are well-intentioned people out there who have learned about feminism and gender politics and are trying to do and think the right thing to improve equality, but who still think this:
Apparently this still needs saying, so let me be clear.
Actually, no. Making porn empowers me, creatively expresses my true self, and connects me positively with my sexuality. To say “porn never empowers” is to dismiss and deny my lived experience. Porn empowers me. I’m not just talking about the sexy patriarchal power of being desirable to men. I’m talking about my own personal power: the power to choose what I do with each day. The power to run my own business. The power to make creative choices, to make political choices. Making porn has empowered me to develop my dominant side, to connect with new facets of my sexual self. It has given me confidence; satisfaction; skills; courage in my convictions; creative, sexual and political fulfilment. Making porn gives me freedom in multiple areas of my life, and choosing to continue making it is one of the ways I exercise that freedom.
But it’s not a real choice
If you claim that my choice to perform in and produce porn is “meaningless” then you are denying my agency. Oh, you might say, but I’ve been brainwashed by patriarchy, I don’t understand the complex social forces at work, I am a victim of raunch culture (is raunch culture still a thing? I’m a victim, anyway), I’m complicit, I don’t understand that I’m harming myself and others.
I am an educated woman. Actually, as it happens, I’m rolling in privilege – white, middle-class, one of the best educations on the planet. (BA and MPhil from Oxbridge, if you were wondering). This grants me certain powers (confidence, facility with language, writing and public speaking, critical thinking skills) and a certain respectability: it usually helps me persuade people that I am capable of making the best choices for myself, thank you very much. It is also the reason why I feel I have a responsibility to act.
But the power to make choices about our own lives is not limited to people born into privilege. Even if I wasn’t, I am a human being, an adult capable of thinking, understanding, reflecting. People in porn and sex work come from a variety of social backgrounds and we are all capable of making our own choices; of knowing what empowers us, what liberates us, and what doesn’t.
To claim that women (and men of course, and people who fall outside those binary gender categories, but people who tell me I’m exploited are often remarkably silent on whether the men in porn and sex work are victims too) are not capable of making meaningful choices is akin to the historic idea that women should not have the vote because of “want of understanding”; because we were too ignorant of politics to use our vote correctly. To say that my choices are meaningless is to deny my agency because you disagree with me.
I have educated myself about feminism, patriarchy and gender politics just as you have, and I do not believe that all porn always has a positive effect on humanity, or is always a positive experience for performers. However, I think that just as it is possible for humans to have consensual sexual experiences that are not inherently exploitative, it is possible to record those experiences in a respectful way. Feminist porn is no less impossible than feminist sex, and I think as a political movement we’ve moved on from Dworkin’s idea that “violation is a synonym for intercourse.” Sexuality is personally and socially complex, and so is porn. As feminists, both are possible. People are going to be making porn whether you like it not. Surely you should be glad that people who, like you, want to smash patriarchal oppression and achieve equality are choosing to do so.
But even if I hadn’t had that education, my choices would still be meaningful, because I am a human being and enfranchised citizen who is legally and morally capable of consent.
Exploited? By who?
Look. Your claim that all porn performers are exploited is based on this out-dated idea of mainstream commercial porn, this vision of big corporations and a production line of employees. Well, hired freelancers actually, but whatever. Your idea is based on the assumption that performers, particularly female performers, don’t control the means of production.
This is simply not true. This is possibly less true in porn and sex work than other industries. Porn performers are for the most part independent contractors and sole traders. Moreover, technology has liberated performers from being dependent on big production companies. In the age of the internet, anyone with a smartphone can shoot footage and sell it on clips4sale or AdultWork – and lots of performers do. So when a performer has a cute idea for a solo scene, shoots it at home on their phone, uploads it and starts receiving cheques in the mail, who exactly is exploiting them? The people sending them money? Do you feel exploited when you get paid for work you do?
In my work I am producer, director, writer, videographer, business owner. I am my own agent, webmistress and promoter. When I have the sexual experiences I want to have with my own lovers, and film it in my own home with my own camera, upload it with my own internet connection and receive money into my own bank account, who exactly is exploiting me?
But even if if I wasn’t running my own business, it would still be possible for me to work for porn productions that didn’t exploit me. Some do, others don’t. As in any other industry, part of a performer’s job is making choices about which clients and companies they want to work with.
But all porn degrades everyone involved in it
Okay: am I degrading myself if I have (consensual) sex? Are you degrading yourself if you have sex? How about sexual fantasies?
If no, then I put it to you that choosing to film the experience doesn’t make it suddenly degrading. Sexual experiences can be beautiful, intimate, profound, emotionally affecting. Film and photography can capture that intimacy, that beauty, and share it with others in a way that is inspiring and affirming. What’s degrading about that?
If you think the problem is charging for it, then you are saying I shouldn’t be able to cover my expenses; you’re limiting my budget and lowering my production values, and saying that only wealthy people of independent means should be able to create porn.
If yes, you think having sex or sexual fantasies is inherently degrading, then you think that all humans exist in a state of permanent, irreconcilable degradation and – well, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.