I Do Know What I Think About Pornography

A while ago I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Really Know What I Think About Pornography“, in which I explained my uncertain fence-sitting on the issue of whether pornography is a bad thing from a feminist point of view. Thinking recently, I realised that my views had actually become more settled, and that I wasn’t particularly interested in being ‘against porn’ in any meaningful sense. So I figured I might as well explain a bit about how I’ve reached that view.

To be clear: I’m talking about the consumption of porn, not about its production and the people involved. That’s certainly a big issue – probably a bigger issue. But it’s not the same issue – it’s an issue of consent, employment, exploitation, etc. rather than an issue of cultural images and messages. As can be seen by observing that a lot of porn isn’t produced using any models, such as comics, stories, or computer animations.

The first thing to note is that it’s often claimed by anti-porn feminists that, in some vague sense, the meaning of our actions and statements isn’t something we can completely control – we can’t, for example depict a black person as a monkey without inadvertantly drawing on a history of racist images and actions. We carry cultural baggage and whatever we put out into society carries that baggage with it.

This is used to argue against attempts to trivialise pornographic images that, say, show women being raped and loving it – regardless of how they are intended, it is claimed, these draw upon a history of trivialising rape and ignoring women’s refusals.

But this has to work both ways.

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