On not being exploited

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.

Bullshit.

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.

Related:
Porn, like sex work, defies easy generalisations
Sex work and the right to choose

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21 Responses to “On not being exploited”

  1. Argh, so sorry you’re still having to deal with this shit! Wonderfully-written and sensible piece.

    One thing I am taking in pleasure in learning as part of my recovery and healing process from various forms of abuse and sexual violence, is not just that I love BDSM, and being a switch (this I have known for a while!), but also that a degree of selective exhibitionism is an important part of my sexuality, and an important part of *me*. At the moment it’s confined to sharing some photos on Fetlife, but I am finding just that a genuinely healing and affirming experience. And, yeah, have definitely been having a few Thoughts about other places I might, cautiously, be wanting to take that.

    My kink, my exhibitionism, finding my authentic sexuality – all of this feels like reclaiming my body, my sexuality, my soul, for *me*. Mostly, because it *is*. Also, it’s hot. :-)

    And, speaking not just as a survivor but also as a feminist: the concept of porn of the kind that you make being oppressive is, frankly, laughable. And it’s deeply frustrating that fair trade, feminist porn made by people who utterly love what you are doing is still getting lumped in by outdated concepts of what most porn is now.

    The images of women I see every time I’m on the tube and happen to look at the adverts tend to make me feel rubbish about my body, my sexuality and my status as a more-or-less-female-presenting person. What you make and share emphatically does not.

    Here endeth the rant but, yeah. So much solidarity, and thank you for doing what you do, and talking about it in the way that you do. You rock. :-)

  2. [...] take this line as what they see as a feminist position. Pandora’s written <a href=”http://pandorablake.com/blog/2013/06/on-not-being-exploited/”>a really super post</a> about her thoughts on this, which I highly [...]

  3. Michael says:

    It bugs me whenever somebody says that X is not feminist, because there is nothing whatsoever that can’t take the place of X in some established definition of feminism or other. You name it, hell Germaine Greer will happily argue that gender equality is anti-feminist given an excuse. So if that can be used to argue that everyone who believes in gender equality is anti-feminist then there’s already not many feminists left.

    (For those who want the details, in abridged form, she has argued that gender equality means women are as free as men to be oppressed by the elite and therefore gender equality means trading a lack of freedom for a different lack of freedom)

    It seems to me that the reason people even still use the term “Feminist” to describe their views on gender politics is that if they had to use a term that actually applies to what they think they’d discover that far fewer people actually agree with them.

  4. [...] egalitarian” (and 2013 Feminist Porn Awards nominated) Dreams Of Spanking site, has written a magnificent manifesto against the pernicious feminist ideology that deems all porn to be exploitative and denies the [...]

  5. [...] egalitarian” (and 2013 Feminist Porn Awards nominated) Dreams Of Spanking site, has written a magnificent manifesto against the pernicious feminist ideology that deems all porn to be exploitative and denies the [...]

  6. Kelley says:

    *cheers and waves pom poms*
    Well said! Congrats on your continued eloquence on this topic. You always make me feel so much better about my own choices in making porn.
    I would try to add something, but I can’t think of anything to say that you haven’t already!
    Hugs
    Kelley

  7. Bob says:

    Wht about teen age girls being butt fucked by 100 guys to pay the rent?

    • Pandora says:

      Oh dear, did you type that one-handed?

      Bob, underage sex is already a crime, as is shooting porn starring under 18s. None of that relates to the choices of consenting adults – you’re raising a straw man.

      Giving your comment a bit more of an in-depth answer than it really deserves: I acknowledged in my post that not all porn is empowering. If someone is financially desperate enough to have sex they feel degrades them, then that is a shitty economic situation and a failure of our welfare system to support those in need. But if they feel that sex work or appearing in porn is a better choice than, say, washing dishes or stacking shelves, then that is their choice to make. How many people REALLY choose the job we do, and how many are perfectly happy with it?

      And if a sex worker does not consent, and is not making a free choice to do what they do, then that is rape, and that’s already a crime.

  8. Peter says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I am a porn actor of sorts, a submissive who has filmed with a few doms – I am out there on Clips4Sale :-) I do not feel remotely degraded or exploited. I had a lovely time and met some really nice people.

  9. N Craig says:

    I agree with all of what you say. As a bloke, it’s not always easy to have an opinion on this – am I trying to justify porn because I like looking at it? But I have come to the conclusion that, if someone finds some act in the sex or porn industry empowering, then I have no right to tell them that they’re wrong, and it is patronising to do so. If feminism is about choice, one can’t then say “sorry, you made the wrong choice”.

    What we shouldn’t do is extrapolate from the particular to the general. I see this done on both sides of the debate – there’s sometimes an undercurrent to what Brooke Magnanti says along the lines of “Hey, I had fun as a sex worker, so everybody does”. But it is especially prevalent in the anti-porn camp, who see the sex industry as monolithic, and all porn as inherently exploitative. I see that in the opposition to the academic journal Porn Studies, where people are arguing that the journal is too porn positive, by which they mean the editors have not automatically shut down the idea that porn can be anything other than harmful. I see it in Bob’s comment above – here is a bad example which he wants to argue invalidates your whole argument that porn and the sex industry can be empowering. Which, of course, it doesn’t, because the argument is not that there are not bad things in the porn and sex industries, or that they are always empowering, but that there are bits of it that are not bad and are empowering.

  10. [...] twitter about whether or not porn is exploitative.  Pandora Blake was inspired to write a blog post here with her views.  Rosie B also had something to say about her experiences in the workplace, as [...]

  11. AndrewZealand says:

    This is a good opportunity to say what I think on the issue of female self-respect and the sexual entertainment business.

    People pre-judge strippers, pornographic actresses and other people who work in the sexual entertainment business as whores. Well I say there is more than one way to be a whore, other than by taking your clothes off. At least strippers and pornographic actors are doing something. They’re not passively sitting at home living their lives through a husband. Some women who work in a sexual entertainment job know how to draw genuine respect from their audience not just possessive sexual desire. I think that many men, if they have genuine respect for a woman, would not be comfortable inconsiderately grabbing them at strip clubs or having callous, possessive fantasies about women they’ve seen in pornographic films. When a man treats a woman like a sexual object he more or less turns her into a whore. A whore is a person who is used for a purpose, without consideration for that person’s self-respect and for their full capabilities. I feel women like Pandora and many of the cast members of Dreams of Spanking have genuine technical ability in spanking theatrics and that helps to shield them from inconsiderate lust and prejudice. Sadly there are some women in spanking theatre who just leave themselves too open to disrespect. Well frankly there are a lot of women in ALL theatre who leave themselves open to disrespect. I’m not going to name names. That a woman leaves herself open to disrespect is no excuse to disrespect her, but course there are always going to be men that will take advantage of a woman when they see how they can. But if a woman is, in her profession, able to draw lust from men, but shield herself with some talent e.g acting ability, dancing ability, then I don’t see why her profession can’t be as respectable as any other profession. People should start to reconsider what being a whore entails and decide who the real whores of society are.

  12. That’s a great piece even by your standards, Pandora, and I’ve put the link on Facebook.

  13. RevPhil says:

    Pandora your voice is a fabulous gift to those of us who have been struggling with 2nd wave feminist politics for so long.

    Thanks for my beloved community of liberated queer feminists who have been singing your praises and to you for submitting your ideas about sex and transportation to Bike Smut! x0x0

  14. Ludwig says:

    A well-written and well-argued piece that stands out even by your high standards. I enjoyed reading it.

    Of course, I am not sure how much, if anything, pieces like this change. We BDSM bloggers are preaching to the choir here. I doubt that people like the guy you quoted will be prompted to re-examine their position, though. One can see time and again that, when it comes to subjects where emotions run high and preconceptions are deeply entrenched, such as politics, religious belief, climate change or indeed pornography, good reasoned arguments usually fall on deaf ears. If anything, they tend to make people angry!

    In the porn debate, I think the main bone of contention is not reason, anyway, but emotion. For some people, the idea of taking part in a porn video arouses very strong negative emotions: “I would feel awful if I did that!” For whatever reason (desire for privacy, shyness, negative body image, insecurities about or negative feelings towards sex in general…), they could never, ever imagine themselves taking part in such a video, the one exception being perhaps if they imagine themselves in desperate financial straits. And, because this is how they would feel, they conclude that it is how everyone doing porn must actually be feeling as well.

    In discussions of various topics over the years, I have come to the impression that a large group of people are quite unable, on an emotional level, to assume other points of view than their own and entertain the possibility that others might honestly, legitimately feel differently about things than they do. Especially when they have strong negative feelings towards something, they can’t imagine how someone else could possibly get something positive out of it. It’s a self-centeredness, a lack of imagination, which one sees time and again. “I don’t like this music, therefore it sucks! Anyone who likes it has no taste!” “I could never do that, I can’t imagine how anyone could unless they have something wrong with them!” And so on.

    A bit of an over-simplification, perhaps, but I do believe that much of the anti-porn sentiment comes down to this point – people feel that doing a porn film would not be a positive experience for them, so they believe that it can’t be a positive experience for anyone else, either. And because their position is informed by strong negative emotion, it is largely inaccessible to reasoned debate.

    “…people who tell me I’m exploited are often remarkably silent on whether the men in porn and sex work are victims too.”

    I’ve long had the impression that the main impulse of quite a few men who condemn porn is, ironically, good old-fashioned patriarchal patronisation and protectiveness: the white knight coming to rescue what he perceives to be the damnsels in distress.

    We have that double standard in the spanking community as well. All those debates about “poor girls” allegedly being exploited by producers of severe videos like Lupus or Mood, and not a word of concern – literally, I haven’t seen it brought up one single time – about producers of severe F/M videos like Cruel Amazons, where men are thrashed even harder and longer.

  15. Sceptic Ginger says:

    Well, of course, pity doesn’t help anybody. It is, which is even worse, often used to justify mindless, prohibition, like: “Poor prostitutes!They’re victims of criminal organizations, forced to sell their bodies, we can’t let that happen,therefore prostitution must be illegal!” I guess,this kind of shallow argumentation can be used against porn, too. As everyone should know, this approach isn’t just ineffective, but damaging. I agree with you on your notion, that it is wrong to incapacitate porn performers by generally denying their capability of making choices. In my opinion,however, you’re over- simplifying a couple of things yourself. I can’t act too confident, since you’ve been involved in porn making for years, and I haven’t. The following thoughts are really just thoughts.

    you wrote:
    „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. „

    I’m not sure, if that guy you are answering was thinking about the opportunity, to create your own successful business based on porn, when he said „porn never empowers“. I mean,technically you’re right, but it’s still kind of a strange argument. That’s like saying: „Heroine sometimes empowers. Making and selling Heroine empowered me to…“ As far as I can see, all the empowerment comes not so much from porn itself, but from your ability to sucessfully run your own company. Sure, it’s still connected to porn, and the claim „porn NEVER empowers“ is probably wrong. But, as I assume, the ordinary porn performer might get paid very well, but only as long as he gets the roles, which makes him heavily dependent from the demands of both consumers and producers. I wouldn’t call that empowerment.

    quote:
    „I am an educated woman. Actually, as it happens, I’m rolling in privilege“

    Yes, indeed.

    quote:
    „But the power to make choices about our own lives is not limited to people born into privilege.”

    Actually, it is. That’s the point. Think about the U.S., for example. If some random girl, who would otherwise hardly find a job at Mc Donald’s, decides to do porn for a living, it would be cynical to call that a free choice, even if it’s technically true. I know, this is a drastic example,but you know what i mean.

    quote:
    „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”

    I don’t know, maybe the spanking/fetishporn sector is really not that bad. I can’t imagine, that this huge mainstream porn (bangbros etc) business looks the same. Especially not since I saw that documentary„9to5- Days in porn“,in which the interviewed performers also talk about the ways of pressuring them into doing stuff they don’t want to do without actually forcing them. And to me it seems plausible that in a time when most people are afraid of unemployment, of not making it, these people are ready to do anything to earn money.

    quote:
    “In the age of the internet, anyone with a smartphone can shoot footage and sell it onclips4sale or AdultWork – and lots of performers do.” 

    Is it possible to make a living by selling amateur porn? I’m asking because I really don’t know. And because I know, that I wouldn’t pay for watching a real couple’s spanking session in poor quality (compared to professional clips) ;)

    All in all, I see a general belittlement in your article,it’s like you refute the „everyone in porn is an exploited,enslaved victim“-argument by telling people,what a harmless business porn is, where everybody can find his/her happyness and nobody is forced to do anything, which wouldn’t be a surprise , because you’re a part of this business, it secures your economic existence. But your way of depicting porn reminds me of a quite similiar position on sex work. In every talkshow about that issue, there’s one „happy whore“,a strong,educated, completely independent woman, who is a sex worker,solely because she likes this job so much and hasn’t experienced any violence etc etc. Suddenly, it looks like there’s nothing wrong at all with sex work. But this happy,independent sex worker isn’t representing the average sex worker, she’s the exception, not the rule. At least in Germany, the average sex worker is a poor eastern european woman, who has a family to feed back home, was forced into this profession by poverty and hast to hand the biggest part of her earnings to some shady pimp. I’m afraid that your depiction of porn business is as unrealistically bright reality as the depiction of sex work mady by that certain kind of happy sex worker I mentioned, even though your intentions are noble, without a doubt.

    P.S. You’ll probably find tons of language mistakes in my comment. Sorry,as I mentioned, I’m not a native speaker.

    • AndrewZealand says:

      You know what Ginger, I think Pandora was only speaking defensively. I never thought she was trying to turn the tables and say that porn is the exact opposite of what the guy said it was.

  16. [...] “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.” On not being exploited – Spanked, Not Silenced [...]

  17. Logan J. Davidson says:

    When your own sexual fantasy makes you uncomfortable or offended (and, confusingly, aroused at the same time), you might worry that somewhere inside of you lurks a bad person, a person that “deserves” something harmful, or worse, that you actually want your fantasy to come true in reality. Rape and incest fantasies are not uncommon, yet are extremely disturbing to contemplate. These fantasies are just that — fantasies, and there they will remain in the realm of imagination or in the safety of fantasy play with someone you absolutely trust. Just because we have a fantasy, we do not wish it would really happen, on any level.

  18. [...] On not being exploited → [...]

  19. [...] –Pandora Blake, On not being exploited | Spanked, Not Silenced [...]

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