18 January 2009

Responsible consumer

The other night, I had a really interesting conversation with a good friend about something that seems to affect the relationship of almost every couple I know. Our topic: pornography.

I have to say that I know very few women who jump for joy at the thought of their partners watching any porn online. I don't know if the attitudes would change if they were confronted with magazines or videos (DVDs, etc.) that had to be purchased. But the friends I talk to get upset at discovery or mere thought of their partners using the internet to look up pornographic pictures or videos, whether they're free or not.

I personally hated it. I only dealt with it in one relationship, since both my other major relationships were before the major proliferation of the internet (especially high-speed). When it's an occasional thing that acts as an outlet during dry spells, I can sort of understand it. My experience was slightly more... insulting than that. In my case, he was staying up past my "bedtime" to watch pron before he came to bed, while I was already dealing with some sexual trauma. In effect, rather than do his best to "not pressure" me, I ended up feeling completely undesirable, inadequate and incompetent, sexually. And while I don't know exactly how often he was watching porn, I do know that his garbage can filled up with tissues quickly and that on more than one occasion he couldn't be bothered to go get his own lube when he ran out (despite a pharmacy across the street), so he would use my stash.

In some ways, I blame porn for the decline of sexual intimacy of our relationship. Not only did he run to it when I was looking for a slower return to physicality in our relationship, but I feel like it created unrealistic and false expectations of sex, period.

Those expectations and the increasingly degrading depictions of women in porn are my two biggest problems with the genre. Couple that with its proliferation on the internet and easy access, and you have a problematic situation: how does a moderately sexual person find and connect with someone who doesn't a) see them as a mere sexual commodity, and b) feel the need to use porn as the gold standard for how sex works? And then there are those ethics of porn.

Without delving too deeply into the "some women choose" debate, let's take a look at a parallel. Some children choose to go to work in developing countries. It may be a choice between working in a factory or starving, but it's still a choice. Does that make it okay to beat them? Does that make it acceptable to deny them safe working conditions? Does that mean that they don't deserve the same basic protections as other workers? In the West, we have organizations that fight to let kids be kids, or guarantee protections for kids who have to work. Now replace "kids" with "women" and "go to work" with "make porn" and tell me what the difference is?

I would say that the difference is misogyny; that women working in porn somehow deserve whatever treatment they get because they're, well, women. And they're working in porn!

I'd love to be able to reason out all the problems with that particular mindset and how it connects to violence against women, domestic violence and sexual abuse, but I feel like the issue is so large that I don't know how to do it justice. I'll try another tack.

Right now, there's a push in society toward responsible consumerism. We're encouraged to "go green", reduce consumption, consider the impact of the products we buy/consume, consider the origins, find the least harmful, etc. Why shouldn't that apply to pornography? Why shouldn't we start considering where we get our porn, who makes it, how it's made and what impact its viewing will have on the world? Why not find out if the actors are being paid a decent wage, that everything is fully consensual and nothing coerced? Why not make sure that the sex is safe and hot so as not to encourage dangerous and possibly deadly sexual acts? Why not check into the policies of the producers to make sure that the women are taken care of in the event of a career-halting pregnancy? To me, this is common sense.

If you going to make sure that your shoes are produced in a factory that rejects child labour, buy fair trade coffee, go organic, support local businesses and producers, and do your part to reduce your impact on the environment, then how can you possibly justify not finding porn that is responsible and ethical in a parallel way?

I think whether porn is harmful to society as a whole is immaterial until we take a look at how and what we consume. Ladies, change your strategy: don't try to get the men in your life to stop watching porn altogether. Have them switch to porn that is made responsibly, has respectful, realistic depictions of women, and doesn't glorify unsafe or harmful behaviours.

If we can change attitudes about seat belts, gas mileage and pesticides, surely it's possible and realistic to find a new way to look at porn, too.

3 comments:

Todd said...

"Without delving too deeply into the "some women choose" debate, let's take a look at a parallel. Some children choose to go to work in developing countries. It may be a choice between working in a factory or starving, but it's still a choice. Does that make it okay to beat them? Does that make it acceptable to deny them safe working conditions? Does that mean that they don't deserve the same basic protections as other workers? In the West, we have organizations that fight to let kids be kids, or guarantee protections for kids who have to work. Now replace "kids" with "women" and "go to work" with "make porn" and tell me what the difference is?"

I don't follow your line of reasoning here. Could you explain further? I do not understand how one can compare children in developing countries with women in, what I can only assume as you did not specify, developed countries. Children in developing countries lack options, as you mention. A woman, lets say in a developed country, does not. I've not heard of a woman being presented with the option of starving to death or earning a substance wage through pornography.
Who said it that it was OK to beat or deny safe working conditions to actresses? The actors and actresses are subject to stringent a stringent testing policy so as to be sure that the work environment is as safe as possible.

"Why not find out if the actors are being paid a decent wage"

I don't think it would be easy to judge what a "decent wage" would be for a pornographic movie.

"If you going to make sure that your shoes are produced in a factory that rejects child labour, buy fair trade coffee, go organic, support local businesses and producers, and do your part to reduce your impact on the environment, then how can you possibly justify not finding porn that is responsible and ethical in a parallel way?"
Support organic, fair trade, local, pornography made from 60% recycled material. I dunno about you but I'm not about to download a pornographic film made in Yarmouth or Baddeck.

Tricky said...

With respect, Todd, it does make sense. Minako does gloss over a few things, but she's referring here to people's 'deformed preferences'. The most ready example is the old Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes - he couldn't reach the grapes after much struggle, so he leaves them, saying 'they're sour anyways'.

The perceptions that you have about women in the pornography industry are patently wrong. Perhaps it's not the level of 'produce porn, or starve', but it is the case that women in porn do not make a good living, and they are exploited in numerous ways. An excerpt from an interview from Catherine MacKinnon, a law professor at U of Michigan, and one of the big names in political theory goes as follows:

Catharine Mackinnon: That’s because nothing effective has been done to stop it [pornography]—specifically, a civil rights claim that would make it possible for women hurt by it to get relief for the harms done to them.

What would you say to a woman who says, “I like it—it’s working for me.”

Catharine Mackinnon: Well, first of all I’d say that’s not true for all women. It’s not [simply] an issue of what they feel and if they want in it. One thing women aren’t in control of is how it’s used on other people and how other people are being used to make it.

There’s the perception that women are making a lot of money in this industry.

Catharine Mackinnon: Well, they’re not. I mean, there are a couple. I can name them all.

Which I guess makes the point that there can’t be too many of them.

Catharine Mackinnon: But there are also many people writing to me about how pornography is being made of them in ways they didn’t know about or didn’t consent to, or didn’t want and now can do nothing about it. They have no rights in relation to the materials, unless they are famous women and thus have a financial interest in their image and name so that they can sue somebody for exploiting them. In other words, they’re already exploiting their own image and name and would be making x amount of money were it not for the fact that this other person has done this thing to their image and name. But you’ve got to have a name already.

It feels like we’re losing.

Catharine Mackinnon: Oh, we lost. The idea that pornography is this isolated thing that happens over here and has nothing else to do with anything else in life—it’s an illusion. Mainstream media is more sexually explicit and abusive, particularly the Internet. Pornography is accessible in all spheres of society and it’s reshaping our standards of literature and commercial advertising. This is the point where we say, ‘We told you so,’ while not being happy about it.


full article: http://www.herizons.ca/node/214

Todd said...

"The most ready example is the old Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes - he couldn't reach the grapes after much struggle, so he leaves them, saying 'they're sour anyways'."

The lesson of that fable is that people resent what they cannot have. It is a form of rationalization. In order to live with the fact that you cannot have something you try to make yourself believe that it wasn't worth having in the first place. People do it every day. I'm not sure how the fables lesson applies here.

Catharine Mackinnon thinks that pornography is a form of sexual discrimination against women and that it is a matter of civil rights? I'm not sure what to think of that. It makes women sound weak and helpless and almost in need of protection instead of equal stature to men. Both men and women have to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. There are good companies and bad companies to work for. Some may pay more, some less. Some may have better working conditions some worse. That is the case with any job, and just because sex is involved doesn't make it any different.

"The perceptions that you have about women in the pornography industry are patently wrong. Perhaps it's not the level of 'produce porn, or starve', but it is the case that women in porn do not make a good living, and they are exploited in numerous ways."

I disagree. Here is a quote from an interview with Daisy Rock from The Guardian:

"Then, of course, there is the money. Porn actors are paid by the scene - "anything from £350 to £700," says Rock, "depending on what you do" - which can add up to a decent living. But combine this with other sources of income such as private movies, booking other performers, a subscription website, TV work, and even (in Rock's case) writing erotic stories, and a successful porn actor can do rather well. Randomly, I mention the figure of £64,000 a year to Rock, who says she would not be surprised if that was what she earned. "I make good money," she concedes"

(This is a very interesting interview and helps to shed light on a number of different aspects of the pornography industry including what can motivate a person to enter it)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2007/may/12/careers.work3

She hardly seems like a woman in need of being saved from pornography. She sounds like an independent woman who has found a career that she loves. What is wrong with that?

Ironically enough men actually make less in pornography than women do.

"This must be the only place in the world where guys get paid less than girls, and we call all the shots. (feminists take note!) Guys get a couple hundred per scene. New girls can get between five and six hundred for a boy/girl scene, and the rate jumps as you become a bigger star. Contract girls get paid by the movie, instead of by the scene, and they make thousands of dollars per movie. Then the stars go on the road dancing, which earns from $2500-$15,000 a week, not including tips, polaroids, etc. It's good money, but remember, when you're still working at 40 or 50, we're out of a job!"

http://www.asiacarrera.com/faqs.html#4

Ron Jeremy:
"The average guy gets $300 to $400 a scene, or $100 to $200 if he's new. A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year. But it is not unfair because men are more willing; there are fewer women who would want to do it."

http://ca.askmen.com/celebs/interview/34d_ron_jeremy_interview.html

It isn't like the pornography industry is a fantasy land for men.

"If you're looking to do gay porn, the girl is unnecessary and it will be ten times easier for you to get a job. Gay porn stars are always needed and if you're willing to do that, unless you're completely unattractive to most men, you will get work in LA.

The old/young/kinky/hardcore thing is vital, especially if you are not bringing a new female into the industry, as they call it. You have to be willing to do ANYTHING and they will often start you off on something gross. Naturally, you'll have to perform very well in your first few movies particularly, and then you'll also have to work for small amounts until you're well known."

http://en.allexperts.com/q/Adult-Film-2706/male-porn-actors.htm

How much money do you need to make before you are considered to be making a "good living"? According to Catharine Mackinnon it must be a lot.