Julia Long’s Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism

I think it’s patently obvious to anyone who’s read a single post on my blog that I am most emphatically an anti-porn feminist. I believe that Robin Morgan was correct when she said “pornography is the theory, rape is the practise.”* I support Dworkin’s thesis that porn isn’t just the representation of VAW but that the very existence of pornography is VAW.** I believe that people who buy and/or watch porn are perpetuating and perpetrating rape culture.*** I believe people who go to strip clubs, burlesque clubs and lap dancing clubs are perpetuating and perpetrating rape culture. I believe men who buy “Lads Mags” are perpetuating and perpetrating rape culture. I believe that people who argue that pornography is an issue of free speech are deliberately obfuscating the violence committed on women’s bodies in the porn industry and the violence to women outwith it. I do not believe that the existence of so-called feminist porn is anything but an attempt to obfuscate the hegemonic construction of porn which privileges the male orgasm at the expense of women’s bodily integrity and existence. I believe the porn serves only to reinforce the hegemonic construction of heterosexuality within the capitalist-Patriarchy. I believe the language of “choice” and “empowerment” are lies perpetuated by the capitalist-patriarchy in order to deny culpability for VAW. I believe that women’s liberation will only come with the complete destruction of the capitalist-Patriarchy and the eradiction of pornified rape culture.

I think it should come as no surprise that I love Julia Long’s Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism. Long is a radical feminist, anti-porn activist who is an active member of the London Feminist Network and Object. It’s a brilliant thesis. It’s both a critical analysis of the representations of anti-porn feminism, pro-porn feminism and the pro-porn campaign within the media and culture; as well as a history of the anti-porn movement within Britain. It is an academic text full of theory but is incredibly easy to read as Long doesn’t allow the jargon of academia to obfuscate her message. Long outlines the numerous factors in the ongoing pornification of society, which include but are not limited to, lads’ mags, strip clubs, and the normalisation of the Playboy empire.

But, most importantly, it is a radical feminist critique of the debates surrounding pornography [and prostitution]. Far too often the “debates” on porn within the media focus on porn as an empowering tool for women [conveniently ignoring the fact that men are the ones getting rich from porn] and porn as an expression of human sexuality [and ignoring just how much porn dictates a hegemonic, heterosexual, racist sexuality which, in and of itself, is incredibly limited]. Long traces the feminist activism against pornography and illustrates some of the more successful feminist activist anti-porn campaigns: from Object’s Stripping the Illusion to UK Feminista’s Eff Off Hef. Long has given a voice to both the survivors of the porn industries and the grassroots activists fighting against pornographication. She has contextualised the anti-porn feminist movement in the UK within diverse factions of feminism.

It is a brilliant book and everyone should read it; especially those still trying to argue the libertarian assumptions of the total lack of harm caused by porn because some men like it.

Julia Long has a book reading  Sheffield October 15 at the Quaker Meeting House at 7:15

*Robin Morgan, (1974) Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicles of a Femininst, New York: Random House

**Andrea Dworkin, (1979) Pornography: Men Possessing Women, London: Women’s Press

***Susan Brownmiller (1975) Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, New York: Simon & Schuster

Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Axt of Esme Lennox is one of my school Christmas Fair finds. There is a reason I always ‘help’ at the book stall. This year I did exceptionally well on the first trawl through the donations. And, promptly wrapped them up and shoved them under the Christmas Tree as ‘birthday presents’. The best part of having a Christmas birthday is being able to put another stack of presents under the tree. Inevitably, I wind up buying myself books in charity shops whilst trawling through them for the teenager [and a big thank you to whoever donated all the Anne Rice books. That was the Teenager sorted].

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is so very beautiful and so very heart-breaking. It is just the story of two young girls born in India who return “home” to Edinburgh to find husbands. As with so many of the children of British Raj, the two girls are traumatised and lonely. They are the unloved pawns of a society obsessed with appearance. They, inevitably, are punished for the transgressions of their parents and their parents’ parents.

It is about families and betrayal and the destruction of generations after one malicious act. It is the story of madness, rape, betrayal and the Patriarchy.

There is no redemption. There is no forgiveness. There is only the waves of destruction which threaten them all.

Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park

This is one of those books that I really wanted to enjoy. It is the story of a woman’s reawakening after an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant man. Unfortunately, the entire book is the minimisation of male violence both in the marriage of the main character, Jeanie, and that of her daughter. Like Paula McLean, who wrote The Paris Wife,  Hilary Boyd seems to have little understanding of the level of coercion and control that is common. Boyd also gives both husbands an ‘excuse’ for their abusive behaviour: one is the victim of child sexual violence and the other suffers from extreme jealousy. Obviously, neither man is responsible for their own behaviour to the point that Jeanie labels herself a bitch for wanting out of her unhappy marriage.

I would really like to read a “romance” novel, since Jeanie had to find a new man rather than be happy by herself, that actually understood the dynamics of domestic violence. Just one.

Helen Castor’s She-Wolves:The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

I couldn’t put this book down. Helen Castor has a real gift for prose; a rare gift among historians. The hours I’ve wasted reading badly written historical texts in my life are extensive so this was a joy to read. I also knew next to nothing about the 5 queens that Castor profiled: Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine,  Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou and Mary Tudor. She-Wolves: The Queens who Ruled England Before Elizabeth is a fascinating and quick read. There are some problems with the text; notably the complete lack of footnotes and sources. I understand this was written as a piece of “popular fiction” but the inclusion of the bibliography at the back was not enough. I want to read more about these four women but it’s hard to tell which would be the best texts for me to read next.

Castor’s respect and admiration for these five women, however flawed they were is evident, but this is still a military history of battles and men. Yes, this testifies to the paucity of primary source material on the lives of these women but the book is still focused mainly on military history, dynastic squabbles and male temper tantrums. There is very little about the women themselves and much of what Castor writes focuses on their military and political battles. In many ways, this is a very traditional “history” text, albeit one written about women.  Castor simply doesn’t make enough of the social and cultural milieu in which the women lived. She focuses on the military history to the exclusion of the households and courts of the women themselves. They are all defined in relation to the men they married or birthed.

Castor also leaves numerous questions unexamined. She claims from the start that these 5 women were prevented from becoming true queens because of their inability to lead armies. Her first evidence of this is Matilda’s inability to lead an army to fight Stephen who ousted her from her thrown. Yet, less than 20 pages later, Castor claims that Stephen’s wife lead an army against Matilda’s troops. Why could King Stephen’s wife, a queen consort, lead an army whilst the ousted Queen Matilda could not? These women also lived across 4 centuries and Castor makes very little of the changing political and social structures which dramatically changed the women’s ability to claim the thrown. After all, Matilda was English -born [but the granddaughter of William the Conquerer] whilst Isabella, Eleanor and Margaret were all foreign-born. Mary become queen by dint of being properly English [and a Tudor]. That makes a significant difference.

I did enjoy this book as Castor’s gift for writing compensates for any problems within the text. It isn’t the best text for learning more about these 5 Queens of England though. What She-Wolves does demonstrate, more than anything I’ve read in a long time, is cultural femicide: the complete erasure of women from culture. The fact that there is simply not enough evidence of the lives of these 5 women to write a history without basing it on their relationships with men is cultural femicide.

As ever, I would love recommendations for histories of these women!

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality was first published in 1995 and grew out of her work and activism following the publication of Female Sexual Slavery in 1979. The first half of the book, which is just theory, is brilliant. The second half felt outdated as it is based almost entirely on the research undertaken for Female Sexual Slavery. I would argue that the situation is actually worse now than it was even 10 years ago, particularly in relation to rape as an accepted tactic of war. I’d be interested to read an epilogue to the book which examines the reality of women’s experiences of sexual exploitation now and whether Barry thinks it is worse for women or if its just that I’ve become more aware of sexual exploitation.

I cannot recommend this book enough though. Barry’s theory on the global exploitation of women is incredibly important. She destroys the idea that prostitution can be consented to within a capitalist-patriarchy. She clearly proves that the sexualisation of human bodies renders women passive objects and men active participants. Barry challenges the heteronormative construction of pornography and prostitution and the hegemonic nature of capitalism which is built on the bodies of women.

I am adding this book to my list of Top Ten Feminist Theory Texts (in no particular order):

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. 

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

4. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

5. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women

6. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny

7. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue

8. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics

9. Melinda Tankard Reist’s Big Porn Inc

10. Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography is an inter-disciplinary collection of 13 essays which are situated within the anti-pornography movement. Its focus is on the pornification of mainstream culture but also on the mainstream of pornography; that is to say the heterosexual male audience and the materials created specifically that audience. This is the praxis of the “everyday” of pornography and this is what makes Boyle’s book so powerful: it destroys the myth that porn is an isolated part of our culture that we can refrain from being exposed to. Karen Boyle’s personal contribution to the book “Porn Consumers’ public faces: Mainstream media, address and representation” demonstrates the ubiquity of porn within popular culture through films like American Pie, Showtime’s Porn: A Family Businessand the extremely tedious program Friends. Sarah Neely examines how pornography and other parts of the commercial sex industry are reflected and constructed within the virtual online reality game Second Life. Meagan Tyler’s research focuses on how the porn industry defines itself. Tyler’s findings demonstrate that degradation, abuse, and violence are not only common in pornography but that the industry actively promotes it. Lisa Jean Moore and Juliana Weissbein’s is a fascinating study of the fetishisation of semen.

The academic language of the text can make it easier to disassociate from the violence within. In many ways, Everyday Pornography is the perfect companion to Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray’s Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography IndustryBig Porn Inc. written by a collection of activists and radical feminists. I had a more immediate visceral reactions to the violence committed during the making of pornography in the text Big Porn IncEveryday Pornography was easier to process despite the fact that it is equally distressing.

Everyday Pornography is a necessary read. It is hard but we can not destroy the capitalist-patriarchy unless we understand just how just how it functions: Jennifer Johnson’s analysis of porn’s use social networking is essential to this understanding.

Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industy

Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, is a collection of articles from radical feminists, activists, and academics who all believe that pornography is not about “pleasure, self-empowerment and freedom of choice”; rather that  pornography represents the systemic subjugation of women as a sex class.  Therefore pornography is not about sex, it is a form of violence against women. I am an anti-porn, anti-sex industry feminist so it’s fairly clear that I agree with the basic premise of this book.

I wasn’t prepared for what I read. I had already read Gail Dines’ Pornland and Robert Jensen’s Getting Off. I even attended the Challenging Porn Conference in London in 2011. I already knew the links between pornography and the pharmaceutical/ medical business. I knew how the pornography industry uses “free sites” to suck people into payed-for porn. I knew the violence perpetrated on women’s bodies. I knew how porn was predicated on racist constructions of the human body. I thought I understood just how mainstream violent and child pornography actually is. I had seen images I never wanted to see in the first place. I still wasn’t prepared for this book.

I wasn’t prepared for the soul-destroying mundanity of it all; of realising just well pornography is integrated into the capitalist economy; how horrifically common-place extreme violence is. I wasn’t prepared for just how normal porn involving children and teenagers is. I wasn’t prepared to read what men do to the bodies of women and children. I wasn’t prepared to realise just how many men hate women.

I have  storified some of the quotes I tweeted out over the weekend whilst I was reading here. Allecto from Liberation Collective has written an excellent review here. It includes a graphic description of child rape so please take care before opening this link.

Big Porn Inc is an incredibly powerful book and I’m going to recommend it to every single person who tries to convince that porn is just a laugh and women like being brutally assaulted.

The Creation of Patriarchy, the Reality of Women’s Oppression and Infertility.

Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy is an absolutely fabulous text and I highly recommend it. Lerner’s thesis is based on the belief that women’s oppression is based on both women’s potential reproductive ability and their potential as sex objects which occurred before the creation of private property and a class society. This is then institutionalised in practise through the creation of slavery, the codification of laws and the creation of monotheism. Lerner’s thesis is, obviously, far more complex than that brief sentence and her work deserves more thought than I’ve written.

A conversation earlier today on twitter had me thinking in a different direction. The conversation was about recognising women’s oppression as a class due to potential reproductive capacity without excluding those women who are infertile. This is all completely speculative and I’ve done no research and am quite open to being completely wrong on the following (and would love suggestions for books which either prove or disprove my musings).

I agree with Lerner’s thesis: women are oppressed because of reproductive and sexual capacities but I have been thinking about the role of infertile women in the creation of patriarchy. Women’s safety depended on their relationships to men with power. This would have put infertile women in very precarious positions. If they could not bear their husband that much vaunted male heir, how would it impact their safety? Yet, an infertile sister might be of economic boon to their brother’s household if she was deemed unmarriageable (or replaced by another woman).

So, what was the impact of being infertile for women across cultures and history?

  • Would women who are infertile be more likely to be used for sexual slavery?  At certain points, their infertility could be classed as a positive since the lack of offspring would prevent questions about dynasty, inheritance and power.
  • The infertility of first wives could give space for other women to carve themselves a place of safety by bearing a child for a powerful man.
  • With the high rate of maternal mortality, the labour of infertile women in childrearing, caring, housework and estate management must have been of economic benefit.
  • How often were infertile women used as “bogeymen” as a warning for women to behave lest they too become infertile.

If anyone has suggestions for research which has addressed these issues, please get in touch!

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

I loved this book. I was quite relieved though when I discovered that the title wasn’t the one Denise Thompson intended though. The book was based on Thompson’s PhD entitled: Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning which is a much better title considering the book is about defining feminism and not about the state of radical feminism today (or as it was in 2001). Why the publisher thought the title Radical Feminism Today was an appropriate title for a book on defining feminism is, frankly, boggling.

Thompson is a radical feminist and her definition of feminism is about male domination. In this she critiques a wide variety of feminist  and non-feminist writing which use terms like patriarchy, gender and sex without referencing biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. A feminism which does not recognise this reality is not, in fact, feminism.

Thompson deals with the issues of gender, race and class by insisting on the primacy of male domination and supremacy: women all suffer from the effects of the Patriarchy which is historically and culturally contextually whilst acknowledging the importance of multiple oppressions in how women experience Patriarchy. A major theme throughout the text is that we simply are not working with defined terms; instead we allow them meanings which do not have biological realities (gender). In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and cannot simply be by women for women otherwise it is reduced to the idea that everything a woman does is feminist because a woman does it. Feminism has to recognise male supremacy and domination or it is simply irrelevant.

This is one of my favourite quotes:

The sense in which feminist theory is universal does not entail that feminism is as a matter of fact all-inclusive, either of women or the human race, but that it is open and non-exclusionary. Feminism has universal relevance because it addresses itself to the human condition.

Radical feminism, in theory, has always been all-inclusive. It has been the individual failings of women to understand the multiple oppressions of other women which have resulted in the continuing marginalisation of women of colour. It is not the theory which is problematic but how we use it.

There are parts where I disagree. I do think she is unnecessarily defensive of criticisms of white feminism, particularly in relation to Audre Lorde’s letter to Mary Daly. Both examples given by Thompson as a reason to object to Daly’s racism are incredibly important and I did not realise just how badly Daly had missed the issue of racism in her own writing. I find Daly’s text more problematic having read Thompson’s book, yet, I find Thompson’s criticisms of Lorde odd. Lorde published an open letter to Daly having waited 4 months for a response to private communication. It was also an open letter, not a peer-reviewed article with footnotes. Lorde didn’t give a detailed breakdown of the racist undertones of Daly’s work because she wasn’t writing a book review for a major academic journal. Criticising Lorde for not writing a peer reviewed article with footnotes seems a bit, well, petty.

It’s a great book on how feminism is undermined and erased through the use of sloppy language and ill-defined terms. I highly recommend it!

I’ve storified a selection of quotes from the text here which are definitely worth reading.

Is this the end of Terry Richardson?

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 09.58.36

 

This is a message sent from photographer Terry Richardson to model Emma Appleton. Currently, Vogue US is trying to distance themselves from Richardson in a desperate attempt to not look like rape apologists by supporting Richardson’s continued campaign of sexual exploitation of vulnerable young women.

Problem is: they are 4 years too late. Jezebel has been covering this story, which wasn’t exactly a hidden secret in the industry since at least 2010. The story hasn’t changed: model after model has come forward to describe the sexual harassment and abuse they received at the hands of Terry Richardson and yet the fashion industry continues to work with him. Jezebel has conveniently listed the publications which have continued to work with Richardson since the allegations rose in 2010. This is just the section on Harper’s Bazaar

March 2014 Cover Lady Gaga
February 2014 Editorial Bar Refaeli, Wale, Diane Von Furstenberg
November 2013 Cover Madonna
October 2013 Cover Miley Cyrus
September 2013 Cover Sarah Jessica Parker
September 2013 Editorial Lindsey Wixson
August 2013 Cover Sophia Vergara
June 2013 Editorial Alessandra Ambrosio
April 2013 Cover Selena Gomez
March 2013 Editorial Lily Aldridge, Emily DiDonato
March 2013 Editorial Catherine McNeil
December 2012 Cover Lily Donaldson
November 2012 Cover Nicole Kidman
November 2012 Editorial Chloe Norgaard
October 2012 Editorial Jacquelyn Jablonski
September 2012 Cover Gwen Stefani
September 2012 Editorial Barbara Palvin
September 2012 Editorial Miranda Kerr
June 2012 Editorial Kate Moss
May 2012 Editorial Kate Upton
Jun/July 2012 Cover Kate Moss
May 2012 Cover Penelope Cruz
April 2012 Cover Mila Kunis
April 2012 Editorial Dolce, Gabbana
April 2012 Editorial Miranda Kerr
March 2012 Cover Gwyneth Paltrow
March 2012 Editorial Lindsey Wixson
March 2012 Editorial Lily Donaldson
February 2012 Editorial Candice Swanepoel
November 2011 Cover Beyoncé
November 2011 Editorial Eniko Mihalik
November 2011 Editorial Gisele Bundchen
October 2011 Editorial Lindsey Wixson
September 2011 Cover Karmen Pedaru
September 2011 Editorial Georgia May Jagger
August 2011 Editorial Michael Kors
May 2011 Cover Lady Gaga
April 2011 Cover Courteney Cox
March 2011 Cover Kim Kardashian
March 2011 Editorial Magdalena Frackowiak
January 2011 Cover Lily Donaldson
November 2010 Cover Christina Hendricks
August 2010 Cover Cameron Diaz

The list doesn’t include ad campaigns he’s worked on, videos he’s directed or the new project with Lady GaGa.

The fashion and music industries, as well as Hollywood, have continued to work with Richardson despite the clear evidence of his harassment. Women like Madonna, Nicole Kidman and Gisele Bundchen have continued to work with him despite being in a professional position to refuse. Charlie Hunman, Pharrell, and Jeff Bridges have continued to work with him. Modelling companies, who have the power to protect their young models, choose to send vulnerable women to work with a man who has a reputation for harming them. Fashion houses continue to hire men.

So, do I think this is the end of Terry Richardson?

No.

I think young vulnerable women will continue to be placed in positions where they have very little choice but to work with Richardson. Because all the fashion industry gives a shit about is making money and being a spectacle. They don’t care about the health and well-being of their models. If they did, they would have addressed the issue of eating disorders within the industry years ago. Vogue US is only backing off now because they are humiliated – not because of Richardson’s abuse – but because Richardson made it clear that Vogue’s cover was up for sale.

This is all about the money and not about the young women.