US feminists challenged the porn industry bigtime when I was young — this is 40 years ago now. Of course we got clobbered by accusations of “prudery” and “censorship.” ACLU would not recognise porn as hate speech, not matter how hateful it obviously was. Since then it’s only gotten worse. Bigger (a huge multi $B industry now), more ubiquitous, more available to kids and teens, more extreme in violence and misogyny. The beneficial increase of benign erotica that came with loosening censorship restrictions, I suspect, has not balanced out the much quicker & more profitable increase of misogynistic how-to tutorials for abusing women.

If your kid kept a copy of Mein Kampf and vintage Nazi comic books under his pillow and read it regularly — let alone wanked while reading it — would you worry just a little that he might be leaning towards antisemitism? What we choose to put into our heads affects our values and attitudes. If we put a steady diet of hate into our heads, some of it sticks. Routine exposure enables normalisation, emotional blunting, shifting of the borders between acceptable and unacceptable.

Of course men — especially insecure, anxious, angry men — are drawn to violent misogynistic porn! Of course it sells — just like junk food sells, and super-violent jingoist action movies sell, and rec drugs sell, and all kinds of escape from reality sell. Porn offers a durable, juvenile, grandiose fantasy of dominance, power, license, unlimited sexual access to slavishly compliant women. It also offers the schadenfreude of watching harm done to someone who is not-Me, thus enhancing the reader’s feelings of safety and privilege. Men who eagerly consume misogynistic porn enjoy a version of the same thrills enjoyed by the crowds who used to gather to watch hangings, burnings, lynchings… or Roman games.

Porn also shows women being punished for all the grievances or grudges the male viewer may be harbouring against women in his life (from his Mom on forward). It offers a secret little thrill of superiority and power when interacting with women in the daily world (yeah, you may be my boss, but I can watch a porn video any time I want, of a woman who looks somewhat like you being gang-raped by men who look somewhat like me). And the viewer doesn’t even have to take personal responsibility for his vengeful fantasy, because he’s not inventing it himself — it’s being spoon-fed to him by cleverer men than himself, who have tailored their product to his weaknesses to get some cash out of him. When someone has convinced you that you need to purchase your sexuality from them, they’re really got a captive market!

There is far too little acknowledgement of what life in the porn industry is like for the real women and girls who feature centrally in these staged male fantasies, yet get a very small share (if any) of the enormous profits. A few major stars, maybe, get good salaries and have some control over their working conditions. Those are the ones who are perpetually cited to reassure us that it’s actually all in good fun and a fine job opportunity for women with the looks and “liberated” attitudes to qualify. As for the rest, the rank&file… well, it’s a sweatshop industry. The average woman in porn, not a superstar, just one of the endless supply of replaceable young bodies? She is way more comparable to a garment factory wage-slave than to Coco Chanel (even though both Coco and the maquiladora worker are in “the clothing industry,” don’t kid yourself that their lives are similar in any way). It’s not an easy way to earn a living, and it can be hard on the body (as in STDs, as in physical damage from bizarre sexual “stunts” that women are coerced into performing).

About this lucrative international sweatshop industry and its working conditions and real human costs, even consciously Left men are strangely silent. Because they are consumers of its product. Workers’ rights cease to be of interest when those workers are providing Left men’s daily wank-fare. Anyone ever seen a porn site guaranteed cruelty-free, stamped Fair Trade, or produced by an egalitarian worker collective? Does that make us chuckle? That chuckle tells us what we all know. Some Left men who would never drink anything but Fair Trade coffee still indulge in a binge of sweatshop sex consumerism, and for some reason their heads don’t explode.

I could go on (and on) but I’ll stop there. I’m glad that after decades of self-righteous blather about free speech rights trumping (you should excuse the expression) women’s rights, we are starting once again to question whether porn really deserves its sacred-cow status, or whether a goodly chunk of it should be recognised as just another (ho hum) form of hate-speech. (Speaking of which, always be aware of the specialty lines in porn that combine racial or national hatred with hatred of women: videos purporting to show Iraqi women being gang raped by US soldiers, for example. Adding racial or religious bile to the mix can make it even tastier for some consumers. Personally, even a small dose makes me want to puke.)

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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