"Sex-Positive" Feminism and Sasha Grey; No Defense for Porn
Recently, two college students (young women) insisted to me that it was wrong to oppose pornography because we should be "sex-positive." They also insisted that many women choose to go into pornography out of their own ambitions and that ought to be respected as a means of "empowerment."
This is bullshit on so many levels. First, the vast majority of women and girls in pornography and prostitution (and the lines do blur) would get out of it if they could. Second, even where women choose for themselves to be in porn despite the availability of other options, this does not mean that choice is a good one. For them, or even more significantly for society and women as a whole. The view of women that is concentrated and perpetuated in porn hurts all women way beyond those who "choose" to take part in it. Every woman at every hour of every day -- whether on the street, in her home, at her job, in school, or on a battlefield -- is affected by, diminished by, and endangered by living in a world where millions upon millions of men get off of watching women reduced to objects to be tortured, humiliated and brutalized for their sexual arousal.
These young college students then mentioned Sasha Grey as their perfect example of a woman who entered into porn on "her terms" and to "her own benefit and empowerment."
I described, among other things, some of what Sasha describes about herself in the video below -- how she invited a man to punch her in the stomach during oral sex as one of the ways that she won such favor in the porn industry, for instance. The young women hesitated for a moment, but then one of them insisted that if this was her choice we should respect it. "But, what of the content? What of the view of women and sex that is being promoted through this?" I asked them. At this point, they insisted they were out of time and had to go (interesting, as they had stopped on the street and talked at great length and with no seeming hurry for quite some time).
The fact is, most women do not like the acts they are forced to take part in as part of the porn industry. Many women comply with those acts out of fear, out of financial desperation, out of addiction, and other forms of extreme coercion. Often, women don't even consent to what is done to them in film but have no resources or rights to keep the film from being distributed anyway.
But for that fraction of women in the industry like Sasha Grey who choose to be demeaned, degraded, abused, and much more (including films that portray them as small girls, ass-to-mouth scenes, gang-bangs with up to fifteen guys on her at once, scenes where she licks a toilet bowl and worse), the critical question is NOT whether she chose to do those things or not. The key question is the social effect of those actions -- and of broadcasting those actions to millions of viewers.
When someone kills someone else, we don't ask the question, "Did they really feel it in their hearts? Was their choice 'authentic to them?'" We ask first, "What was the social effect?" And, if there is not a very good reason for them to have killed (ie: some situations of self-defense or in certain situations within the context of a just war) their behavior is condemned for its effect on society. Further, such behavior -- wherever possible -- is stopped.
This is an analogy. Killing someone is not the same as choosing to be in a porn film. But, the method involved must be the same. The effect of porn must be evaluated based on its societal effect -- not based on the individual intentions of the people who made it. Judged from its societal impact, porn is extremely harmful to women -- to the women involved in making it as well as to every woman walking the earth where there is an international demand for it. It trains men (and women themselves) to not regard women as human beings worthy of respect and equality, it sexualizes degradation and domination, it strips sex of the full range of human interaction, intimacy, vulnerability and caring it can potentially enable human beings to share, it concentrates some of the most unreconstructed racist bigotry and hatred, and it spreads this courseness of being able to view other people as "things" into other dimensions of this heartless world (it is no coincidence that soldiers fighting in unjust wars often get "pumped up" watching porn before going out killing).
Having walked through all that, take a look at this clip from Tyra Banks when she had Sasha Gray on as a guest. Someone has put some extremely important information throughout the clip which I hope you will also take the time to consider.