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.
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.