Sex Wars: In Defense of Feminist Porn

International Relations
Universitas Gadjah Mada
Gender and Politics
Final Essay
Raditya Putranti Darningtyas

______________________________________________________________________________________________________


            Reading into Andrea Dworkin’s array of works on radical feminism[1] reminds me of that time I was scolded by my mom for having sexual urges; as if I was to be blamed for the way my body works. As if it was unnatural for women to want to have sex. I was probably four when my mom first caught me rocking on my tricycle seat, back and forth, trying to generate more from the strange pleasure of rubbing my genital against something. She pulled me off my tricycle abruptly and proceeded to sit me in front of her. Here came her first reprimand on how what I was doing was absolutely disgusting, shameful, and most importantly worthy of sin from God. Without any coherence of reasoning, she simply stated that touching my vagina is unacceptable. The 4 year old me was understandably confused and scared of the threat in her voice and decided to never do it again(or even if I did, it was never to be found out by her). Later when I entered adolescence she tried to address it again. This time acknowledging that masturbation indeed produce pleasure but women are not to acquire it themselves, vagina and its virginity is literally “the only precious gift a wife can offer to man who wed her” and I was “supposed to keep it intact for my future husband or else I wouldn’t be worthy of any”. She insinuated that indulging in porn and embracing sexuality in general is inappropriate for women.
            Born and raised in a conservative Muslim and Javanese family herself, what she did was expected. It was patriarchy who made her demonizing women who indulge in sexual pleasure because men are somehow more entitled to it than us, believing the notion that even our vaginal functions belong to men. However, to hear the similar tones of judgment, reprimanding, and demonization –­­­­­even though they come with slightly different reasoning­­­–­­­­­ of women who simply accepts their bodily functions of wanting to indulge in sex from feminist scholars like Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon is problematic. This demonization creates harms where women are shamed for simply fulfilling their natural urges, sometimes resulting into irreversible psychological harms like destructive self-hatred for women or women leaving feminism altogether. In this essay I am going to argue that the emergence of feminist porn and the notion that encourage women to explore their sexuality  should be embraced by feminist movement not only because in principle, it fulfills the very purpose of feminism but also creates two important benefits for women; personal empowerments and necessary education to develop their sexuality.
Before that, I need to characterize the parameters of what constitute as feminist porn. Feminist pornography refers to a genre of film developed by and/or for those dedicated to gender equality. It was created for the purposes of encouraging women and their self-beliefs of freedom through sexuality, equality and pleasure.[2] This type of porn put women as the agent or subject of the sexual act directly contrasting the usual portrayal of women as object in mainstream porn. It can be produced in a form of movies, novels, even fanfictions. Feminist porn movies typically involve more elaborate plot as opposed to simply portraying the sexual act. Feminist pornography ensures women’s pleasure and the wellbeing of women working in the industry. That is to say, feminist porn has to guarantee proper working conditions, consent, minimum wage, fair contract, and conduct its production in a non-exploitative way. This characterization is important so that opponents of pornography can no longer argue on the basis of direct and non-consensual violence women may receive from the industry because that’s not the type of porn I am endorsing in this essay as they are inherently exploitative.
First of all, the purpose of feminism is to free women out of patriarchal prison that limits their freedom of expression and deprives them of their own self-autonomy. Embracing feminist porn fulfills this ideal. Dorothy Allison in her book, Pleasure and Danger talks about the deep shame women often feel about their own sexuality, especially if it deviates from dominant norms.[3] Why should feminism heighten that shame by standing in judgment of women’s most intimate desire? Most of anti- feminist porn still uses Dworkin’s extreme argumentation that contends in light of society’s pervasive sexism, women cannot freely consent to sexual intercourse and porn industry that commodifies it[4]. Opposing feminist porn on the basis that woman will always be exploited no matter how educated she is or how much improvement the working condition in feminist porn industry has gained, is grossly assumptive. To assume that women are not capable in giving meaningful consent in relation to sexual acts because they don’t realize they are being exploited is highly offensive. To simply assume women are not rational enough to reason when they make the decision to indulge in porn industry highly mimics the patriarchal notions that women is inherently incapable of being rational thus need other to make the decision for them. Feminism requires not a fixed set of choices but rather acting with what is called a “feminist consciousness,” defined as “knowledge of what one is doing and why one is doing it”.[5] As long as women are conscious and informed, her consent to indulge in porn or any sexual activities should be valid and considered as feminist actions.
Second of all, opposing feminist porn perpetuates the disempowering notion that women are essentially victims, thus hampering women’s individual empowerment. As anti- feminist porn movement views women as inevitably being victims in sexual matters, that movement also perpetuates stereotype that women are victims in more general sense. Growing numbers of feminists are starting to recognize that while giving victimhood to women may be beneficial, it can backfire against gender equality.[6] Although mainstream porn typically contains misogynist imagery about women, feminist porn contains positive images. Feminist writer Ann Snitow describes some of these positive facets of pornographic imagery: “Pornography sometimes includes elements of play, as if the fear women feel toward men had evaporated and women were relaxed and willing at last. Such a fantasy-sexual revolution as fait accompli can be wishful, eager and utopian. Porn can depict thrilling (as opposed to threatening) danger.. some of its manic quality ... seems propelled by fear and joy about breaching the always uncertain boundaries of flesh and personality.“[7]
The anti-porn narratives that describe porn as as violent, degrading, and harmful to women and society ignore the diverse ways that women actually interact with it. Sexuality and sexual relationship are individualized to the most intimate and personal aspect of one’s life. One’s interpretation and reaction to sexually explicit expression are also subjective. Pornography that one women views as misogynistic can also be viewed by another as reaffirming their desires and equality that both men and women deserve pleasure out of sexual relationship. Even with scenes where male appears to be dominating over female, some women can actually find empowerment through what appears to be demeaning acts, case in point sadomasochism genre. Women may find sense of power in their ability to delegate control over their body to someone else, knowing full well that she is the one who owns and control that very decision.
Female sex workers may see their profession through different perspective. Rejecting the label of “victim”, they propose alternative view of feminism that emphasizes their right to pursue their own desire. As one states, “ We have been out there doing our own thing, fighting all the fights that you possibly can to be females in any way we choose and that’s our right and our power. We were doing it long before the feminist come in and started picketing clubs saying that we were exploiting ourselves.”[8] She argues that feminism is about “personal empowerment,” and “the choice to be a stripper,” she insists is “personally empowering.”[9] What can be more empowering for women than having the ability to pursue our sexual desire, understanding that sexuality is the very aspect of our life that has been suppressed by patriarchy for so long?

Statement above is in line with third-wave feminism that reintroduces sexual liberation into feminist discourse.  According to Leslie Heywood, the new movement not only defends pornography, sex works, sadomasochism, and butch/femme roles, but it also recuperates heterosexuality, intercourse, marriage, and sex toys from separatist feminist dismissals.[10] Third-wave feminism strives to be more inclusive and non-judgmental toward women from diverse background of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other forms of identity. Third-wave feminist try to also accommodate intersectional oppression faced by women in effort to avoid totalizing and stereotyping women. Commonly referred to as “choice feminism”, this branch tries to uphold women’s choices as long as they were not made under duress, providing that they were made under “feminist consciousness.”
            Third of all, opposing feminist porn would harm women’s effort to develop their own sexuality. It will deprive them of a platform to explore their sexuality in a healthy and safe manner. Throughout history, opponents of women’s rights have tried to limit the production and dissemination of information about women’s sexuality.[11] For young women like me, information may not be the most important thing about porn, but porn is important because of its sexual parameters, the bounds of the normal, and provides not only reassurance but permission to be sexual.[12] In that sense, I was no longer forced to suppress my nature to desire sexual activities. Exposure to sex positive, third-wave feminism liberates me from patriarchal narratives that has prevented me from opening more doors to sexual exploration. From societal norms that prevent me from finding out what I like, what I don’t like, and be vocal about them. Without supporting women’s pursuit of sexuality, we deny women of their womanhood. 
By opposing feminist porn, this will resemble the efforts done by Dworkin’s right-wing allies to deny women of information and confidence important in developing their own sense of sexual and gender-role identity. Banning feminist pornography would also stifle discussions and expression not only by porn enthusiast but also female artist. Identical to what one woman artist once stated, "Censorship (of porn) can only accentuate the taboos that already surround women's open exploration of their sexuality. There are too many other obstacles now in place to women becoming artists or writers, or even speaking out publicly, without inviting the judicial control of censoring pornography.”[13]
It is also worth noting that science has confirmed that desire to use one’s body parts for pleasure is part of normal sexual development, even among children. To have a positive self-image, enjoying one’s body parts contributes to developing healthy sexuality and liking one’s body.[14] For most kids, it’s a continuing discovery and it feels good. It’s as simple as that. Feminist should not in any way condemning pursuit of healthy pleasure through feminist porn for female adult as part of this process. If we oppose feminist porn and pursuit of women’s pleasure in general, what difference do we have from patriarchal parents who demonize their daughters for innocently discovering pleasure from touching their genitals?
 In conclusion, feminist porn is principally in line with the ideals of feminism to empower woman in making their own choices and liberating women from patriarchal oppression. Radical feminists who opposes pornography on the basis that it degrades women are backlashing this ideals because they condone patriarchal notions that women lacks the capacity in making rational decisions and meaningful consent. Supporting feminist porn is also feminist because it creates subjective empowerment needed for women whose sexual needs and wants are suppressed by their society and creating a safe platform for women who wants to develop and further explore their sexuality.

WORKS CITED
BOOKS
Allison, Dorothy.1989. Public Silence, Private Terror. In Pleasure and Danger : Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance. London: Pandora.
Baumgardner, Jennifer, and Amy Richards. 2000. Manifesta : Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York : Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
Bell, Laurie, ed. 1987. Good Girls/Bad Girls: Feminists and Sex Trade Workers Face to Face. Toronto: The Seal Press
Dworkin, Andrea. 1981 [1979]. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. London: The Women’s Press.
_______. 2006 [1987]. Intercourse. New York : Basic Books.
Gronau, Anna. 1985. Women and Images: Toward a Feminist Analysis of Censorship, in Women Against Censorship, edited by Varda Burstyn. Vancouver and Toronto : Douglas & McIntyre.
Heywood, Leslie L. 2006. The Women's Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third Wave Feminism, Vol ume 1: A-Z. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Snitow, Ann. 1985. Retrenchment Versus Transformation: The Politics of the Anti-Pornography movement, in Women Against Censorship, edited by Varda Burstyn. Vancouver and Toronto : Douglas & McIntyre.

JOURNALS AND OTHERS
Lewin, Tamar. 1992.  Feminists Wonder if It Was Progress to Become "Victims," N.Y. Times, May 10, at D6.
Snyder-Hall, R. Claire. 2010. Third-wave feminism and the defense of "choice". Perspectives on Politics. Cambridge Journals. Vol. 8, No. 1 : 255–261.
Strossen, Nadine. 1993. A Feminist Critique of "the" Feminist Critique of Pornography. Virginia Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 5 : 1099-1190
Tisdale, Sallie. 1992. Talk Dirty to Me: A Woman's Taste for Pornography, Harpers Mag., Feb, at 37, 39





[1] Dworkin 1981 [1979], 200
She argued that “Male power is the raison d’etre of pornography; the degradation of the female is the means of achieving this power…that women are inhibited or have a low sex drive or do not want or need sex…is a recognition, however perverse, that no one could possibly like or want what men do to women.”  Despite her claimed disapproval for the idea that women do not like sex, Dworkin believes that women should not like sex. This black-and-white narrative endorsed by Dworkin ignores women’s agency and demands all women to conform to a very specific idea of female behavior which resembles what patriarchy has done to women for decades.

Dworkin 2006 [1987], 155 – 156
She argued that sexual “Intercourse in reality is a use and an abuse simultaneously…There is no analogue anywhere among subordinate groups of people to this experience of being made for intercourse: for penetration, entry, occupation…Intercourse is a particular reality for women an an inferior class; and it has in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy”.  Aside from portraying the sexual practices of the vast majority of women as anti-feminist, but her generalizations and totalizing language appears to give no rooms of interpretations of heterosexual relations.

[2] Snyder-Hall 2010,  255–261
[3] Allison 1989, 108.
[4] Dworkin 2006 [1987], 155 – 156
[5] Baumgardner and Richards 2000, 83.
[6] Lewin 1992
“On issues from domestic violence to pornography, feminists are rethinking their emphasis on women as victims-and looking for new legal and political approaches to enable women to force social change. Fifteen years ago, Elizabeth Schneider helped develop the legal argument that battered women who killed husbands who had abused them for years were the victims, not the aggressors. Now she worries [that] battered women are victims of their victim status. [She said:] "Courts and society have glommed onto the victim image.... But it's a two-edged sword. Many battered women lose custody of their children because judges see them as helpless, paralyzed victims who can't manage daily life. And if a woman seems too capable, too much in charge of her life to fit the victim image, she may not be”
[7] Snitow 1985, 107-120
[8] Bell 1987, 195
[9] Ibid., 190
[10] Heywood, 2006, 260
[11] Strossen 1993, 74
[12] Tisdale 1992, 39
[13] Gronau 1985, 91
[14] Masturbation: Six Ways to Manage It. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2017, from https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/child-rearing-and-development/sexuality/masturbation-six-ways-manage-it

**Artwoks' credit goes to one of my favorite  French artists, petite luxures.

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