Woman writing "girl power" on a mirror with red lipstick (For NCOSE article: "No, Pornography Is Not Feminist.")
May 5, 2020

No, Pornography Is Not Feminist.

Is there any kind of pornography that is congruent with feminism? Is it possible for pornography to be feminist? In spite of the research and data that provide a resounding “no,” some porn apologists still attempt to say otherwise.

“Any kind of porn can be feminist if everyone involved is having a good time,” one proponent enthused inside an article for VICE, “even if they don’t look like they’re having a good time.” She went on to note that “feminism isn’t very sexy. Most people don’t have feminist sexual fantasies because it’s boring.”

Similarly, other “feminist porn” advocates have also refused to oppose the violent tropes of their mainstream counterparts:

Feminist porn does not eradicate violent fantasy, aural play, and bondage. In fact, it celebrates and encourages individuals to radically traverse their fantasies and indulge in them, explore them, and legitimately defend them. Feminist porn does not dismantle fantasy. Actresses are hog-tied; they can be submissive. [S. Nicole Lane, Rewire]

The aforementioned VICE interviewee even went so far as to assert that BDSM can be feminist: “I think, generally, experienced kinky people are very good at being feminist, because if you want to do something that isn’t standard, then you’ve really had to self examine and think about that – or at least you should have done. If you fantasise [sic] sexually about hitting women – which obviously isn’t something that’s encouraged – there’s a feminist way to do it if you ask [.]”

For the record, female submission is the opposite of feminism.

And there is no feminist way to hit a woman.

Feminists want violence against women to be unthinkable, not sexy. Yet there’s a cultural trend attempting to connect all kinds of dangerous, male-dominant practices such as prostitution and pornography to feminism.

Andrea Dworkin once wrote: “For a woman, love is defined as her willingness to submit to her own annihilation.” Substitute “love” for “empowerment” and you have the core of what often passes for feminism today: Anything can be feminist, or empowering for women, if they choose it—especially if it has to do with sex.

Behind this idea is the fallacy that you can neutralize a dangerous dynamic by “eroticizing” it.

This simply isn’t true.

Blurred image of a person sitting on a bed representing the federal charges against Girls Do Porn for trafficking
GirlsDoPorn’s Exploitation and Trafficking Are Not an Anomaly in the Porn Industry

On the contrary, promoting the idea that a man hitting or injuring a woman can be a feminist act blurs the lines in a way that can endanger all women and girls. Sexualizing violence isn’t a tactic for flipping the script on, reducing, or condemning violence against women—it’s a tactic for justifying it.

“Feminist porn” advocates mostly emphasize that feminist pornography is consensual. But consent doesn’t make pornography feminist. It makes it not sex trafficking, maybe. Not rape, maybe. But consensual isn’t the same as wanted—or safe. Women can die when men choke them, whether they consent to it or not. Consent, while important and indispensable, is not a “be all and end all” for determining whether something is feminist.

Feminism is a concept with content – it’s a political commitment to women’s equality in the face of male dominance. That’s what it is. You can’t slap the feminist label onto a misogynist practice and magically change the nature of that practice.

Here, so there is no confusion, is the nature of the practice of pornography: it promotes violent, misogynistic, and often criminal themes such as child sexual abuse, incest, and racism – including slavery role play targeting black women and Holocaust pornography. The pornography industry is one that profits from many outright crimes: assault, battery, fraud, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, rape, obscenity, defamation, and child sexual abuse. For example:

  • Sex trafficking: In Florida, a 15-year-old girl, missing for nearly a year, was discovered when over 50 videos of her rapes were posted on pornography kingpin site Pornhub, now rightly subject to a massive shutdown petition. (Yes, this is the same Pornhub which has been offering free premium content during the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Child pornography: Pornhub has also hosted child pornography, and encouraged users to not report the videos.
  • Violence against women: A BBC study of 18-39 men found that 70% them had engaged in violence during sex: choking, gagging, spitting, hair-pulling, and slapping.  Half of them said they were influenced by pornography.  A third of them said they didn’t ask.
  • Rape: A woman detailed how her attackers filmed a 12-hour sexual assault, and posted videos on Pornhub. In some of them, she was unconscious.  She was 14.

There are, of course, different ways of being feminist. But if the word has any meaning at all, it cannot mean being an apologist for the sexual abuse and exploitation that are inherent to pornography.

Pornography is not and cannot be feminist.

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Christen Price, Esq.

Legal Counsel for the NCOSE Law Center

Christen Price serves as Legal Counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center. Christen has been passionate about using the law to stop violence since she first encountered the issue of trafficking in persons in college, and now engages in legal advocacy to end impunity for all forms of sexual exploitation.

In her role at NCOSE, Christen works to influence courts and legislatures toward protecting human dignity and equality on behalf of sexual exploitation survivors, through legislative advocacy, litigation, and providing support to other attorneys, particularly with respect to sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse, and pornography.

Prior to joining NCOSE in 2020, her human rights focus was on conscience protections as Legal Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom for over four years, where she specialized in First Amendment law.

Christen was also an associate at Wiley Rein LLP, where she worked in a variety of practice areas, including employment law, international trade, white-collar defense, and government contracts.

While in law school, Christen worked for the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and was a Law Fellow with Shared Hope International, where she analyzed state law protections across the United States for domestic minor sex trafficking victims.

Christen received her Juris Doctor and a certificate in transnational legal studies at Georgetown University Law Center in 2012, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Cedarville University in 2009. She is admitted to the bar in New York and the District of Columbia.

Further Reading