Can You Watch Porn and Still Be a Feminist?

hot girls wanted

I’ve seen and heard a lot of discussions about porn and feminism over the years, and I still can’t figure out whether it’s empowering or abusive. There are plenty of feminists out there who will inform you that if you watch porn, you’re singlehandedly destroying the feminist cause and participating in a cruel and misogynistic industry. And after watching the documentary ‘Hot Girls Wanted’, about teenage girls hoping to make their big break in the industry, I can kind of see where they’re coming from. To hear a young woman talk about how she was essentially tricked into being ‘facially abused’ for her first porn film; an 18 year old girl, being spat on, slapped, forced to vomit, called a ‘little slut’ by an old man as she gagged and wept…it made me change my world view a little. OK, so *technically* it was all legal. She was old enough, she hadn’t been trafficked. She had agreed to do the film, even if she didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. But if you watch porn like that without a conscience, then you’re either naïve, burying your head in the sand, or not a very nice person.

HOWEVER. There are plenty of educated, consenting, powerful porn stars out there who tip my morality scales in the other direction. These women say that they do what they do because they love it, or because it pays well, or because they’re in control; or all three. I actually detest the brand of feminism that tells women they can’t be porn stars or prostitutes or strippers; who the fuck are we to tell other women how to live their lives? Not all women need saving. Some do it of their own free will and really do feel empowered by their work. I know if they got told by feminists that they were doing a bad job of representing women, they would tell them to do one, and rightly so.

But the operative word here is some. Some women. Maybe a minority of porn stars are drug addicts, trafficked, taken in, desperate; but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Maybe these women do need saving. When you click on that link to a porn video, how can you know if the woman you’re watching is a grownup who is making the choice to work because she can, or a woman who is working because she has no other choice? Is it really that sexy to get off to someone who’s going to burst into tears as soon as filming finishes?

I guess the only way around it is ethical porn. Pay for it. Get it from reputable websites who choose their actors carefully, who pay them properly. Go to American or UK sites that follow the rules of checking ages and getting STI tests. But people don’t like to pay for porn; it’s free, it’s everywhere, why should they? My gut feeling is that women are more likely to pay for it than men, maybe because it’s easier for them to imagine how female porn stars feel (and to feel guilty about watching porn). Some men -by no means all- will jerk off into a sock over anything that moves, even if ‘it’ happens to be a woman who looks in desperate need of a lie down and a cuddle. And as porn gets more extreme, appetites for weirder, more dangerous and more hardcore material increase. Women are pushed to do acts that could be perceived as kinky, but could also be seen as painful and degrading.

I think the problem I have with porn is that a lot of it is inherently misogynistic. I can’t say I’ve ever come across porn in which men are ‘destroyed’; slapped, pushed around, called whores, made to lie back and be used by women until they can barely stand. I’m sure it exists, but it clearly isn’t as mainstream. And feminist porn exists, as well as porn which shows loving couples, or consensual role play. Some people like to be submissive, and if you want to get off on that, that’s fine. But it has to be agreed and wanted by both parties. And so much of porn is about the opposite; women being ‘forced’ or degraded and they really, really don’t look happy about it.

I’m not saying don’t watch porn, and I don’t think other feminists should either. We can’t control people’s sexuality and both men and women need and enjoy porn. It isn’t our job as feminists to tell people what they can and can’t wank to. But I do think it is our job to think about the women behind the camera. If you’re going to get off, you may as well get off to someone who is happy, healthy, and in control. What’s sexier than that?

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One response to “Can You Watch Porn and Still Be a Feminist?

  1. I like porn, and consider myself a feminist. One of the earliest movies I saw (we are talking 70’s era) had a man being abused with a corncob – so I came into the whole thing thinking that some lines weren’t to be crossed. I do prefer something that shows a woman or man enjoying the experience, but I hate plastic boobs and the two usually go together. Hmm. Mostly I read my porn rather than watch it, so it all happens in my own head.

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