Sexual objectification always follows wins for women. It is an attempt to put women back in ‘their place’; that place being beneath men, individually collectively, metaphorically and literally. Commonplace sexual objectification sends powerful messages to women and children of course; but it also sends messages to men. It sends messages of assurance, messages that say no matter women’s gains towards equality in the workplace, in politics, in the home – women as a class can be, and are still, reduced to their sex alone: scrutinise-able, purchase-able and abuse-able.
When you fight porn you fight global capitalism. The venture capitalists, the banks, the credit card companies are all in this feeding chain. This is why you never see anti-porn stories. The media is implicated. It is financially in bed with these companies. Porn is part of this. Porn tells us we have nothing left as human beings – boundaries, integrity, desire, creativity and authenticity. Women are reduced to three orifices and two hands. Porn is woven into the corporate destruction of intimacy and connectedness, and this includes connectedness to the earth. If we were a society where we were whole, connected human beings in real communities, then we would not be able to look at porn. We would not be able to watch another human being tortured
Women fighting India’s “rape culture” have used the internet in highly creative ways – but is posting rape videos onto YouTube a step too far?
“I watched the video and to my utter shock, it was an untampered video of rape.” This is how Sunitha Krishnan, founder of anti-sex trafficking charity Prajwala, describes watching the first WhatsApp rape video she discovered back in February.
“It was absolutely nauseating and I just couldn’t continue. The whole thing was a young girl who was being gang raped by five people.”
“What was shocking was that these people were aware of a camera, they were getting it all recorded. They were laughing and there was this huge sense of gloating.”
The video was shown to her by a man who attended one of her public talks, and whose own cousin had shared it.
Krishnan realised it was one of many such videos doing the rounds in a shocking and perverted subculture which seems to have many adherents in India.
The “scene” is driven by rapists themselves who share the videos – and, shockingly, don’t bother to hide their own faces – using messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
She made the decision to edit it, to blob out the faces of the victims, and upload it to YouTube.
“I decided that enough is enough,” she told BBC Trending’s Anne Marie Tomchak, for a radio report you can listen to here.
“The very next day… I captured the pictures of these young men from these videos and exposed it to the world.”
In the weeks that have followed, Krishnan has posted more such videos on social media – and been sent even more by those who support her aims.
It’s provocative and certainly gained attention. But is it the right way to combat what some have called India’s “rape culture”?
One concern is that showing the faces of men who appear to be committing a crime, before they have been subject to criminal procedures, could encourage vigilante violence.
BBC Trending asked Krishnan if she was in effect taking the law into her own hands, she defended the practice.
“The offender is using this medium to shame somebody and to show their impunity,” she said.
“Why should I be so sensitive to their needs?”
After posting videos online, Krishnan says she does hand them over to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. To date, she says, three people have been arrested.
Are men’s voices as equally important to women’s in feminism? And can men even be feminists?
No, says newly retired gender politics academic Sheila Jeffreys, a leading figure of 1970s-style radical feminism.
She says men can be “pro-feminist but not feminists”.
“Men do not like to be left out and many think they know better than women even about distinctively women’s issues,” she says. “Women daring to organise around their issues without men does actually threaten the power relations of male dominance, and this is why it is crucially important.”
Professor Jeffreys likens this to trade unionism, saying members of “oppressed” groups must be able to meet and articulate their concerns without fear of being surveilled or interrupted.
“Bosses are not saying they know better than and can help create and articulate theory around labour exploitation.”
She has a suggestion for men who would be feminists: they should form groups of their own. Unlike Doug’s feminism club, however, Professor Jeffreys suggests they should “discuss and problematize their own experience”.
This, she says, could include “why, for instance, do some men find it hard even to imagine being attracted to women who do not depilate”.
“This is an excellent question and men need to talk through this on their own. Women should not have to listen to it.”
Iselin’s article, which sparked such debate, was cheekily titled “No Country for Male Feminists”. She argues that the “feminism practised by men is often common decency followed by a request for applause”.
“When you say that women shouldn’t be beaten by their partners, or when you actively ask a woman’s consent before a man puts their penis inside her, you are not practising feminism – you are performing the most basic, bare-minimum actions required to participate in society without being a criminal.”
The British government has been criticised by the UN for lacking “a consistent and coherent” approach to tackling violence against women, warning that its austerity agenda will further undermine the safety of vulnerable individuals.
A leaked copy of the official report of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, seen by the Guardian, also calls for an urgent independent inquiry into Yarl’s Wood, Britain’s largest immigration centre for women, and focus of repeated allegations over sexual and physical abuse against detainees.
Manjoo’s findings, to be unveiled on Tuesday at a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, are the conclusions from her fact-finding tour of Britain in April last year during which she examined the UK’s approach to the issue.
The senior UN official concludes that although the UK has made the issue a policy priority, the reality is that “isolated pockets of good practice” are compromised by the “lack of a consistent and coherent human-rights based approach in the government’s response to violence against women and girls”.
Manjoo, a South African academic, criticises how the Home Office refused repeated requests to inspect Yarl’s Wood and blocked subsequent attempts by her to visit the Bedfordshire centre independently, contravening not only the code of conduct for members of the UN Human Rights Council but also the terms of reference governing fact-finding missions by UN special rapporteurs.
Elsewhere, Manjoo recommends that sex education should be made compulsory in all schools, saying that such a move would be a “fundamental way of ensuring the UK tries to prevent abuse”.
The recommendation backs campaigners who argue that mandatory sex education arms pupils with the information to make sensible decisions and would act as a key preventative measure. ”The UK should commit to solid long-term prevention measures including SRE [sexual and relationships education] in schools,” writes Manjoo.
In 2013, Bill and Melinda Gates announced that their Foundation was making condom innovation a priority (alongside toilets, vaccines and neonatal care): they offered a $100,000 grant to any team with a strong proposal for a “next generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use”.
The Foundation received more than 800 submissions, which in 2013 they narrowed down to 11 winners, announcing a further 11 winners of the grant in 2014. The successful proposals ranged from those using Nobel prizewinning materials (graphene) to those with built-in applicators or lubricant. The Gates Foundation also gave money to simple behavioural studies, and to a shrink-to-fit condom dreamed up by the CFHC. Those proposals are now able to apply for phase two funding of up to $1m each – the winners will be announced later this year, with only a handful likely to be successful.
On Monday, Lisa Wade wrote, for Sociological Images, that Playboy (you know, the multi-million dollar porn empire) has been shopping around for writers who can bring some feminist cred to the magazine’s website. While they’ve yet to find a woman from the actual feminist movement to join them, they found Noah Berlatsky, a man who has a bone to pick with any woman who challenges objectification, male power, and the sex industry.
Berlatsky’s willingness to invent quotes, beliefs, and opinions on my behalf in order to revel in his own self-adoration at his ability to objectify women is remarkable. He has written two articles, previous to this most-recent one, that have wilfully misrepresented or even outright lied about my arguments in order to present himself as the true ally of women, and I, their natural enemy. These three occasions are, tellingly, the only three times, previous to this week, that I’ve ever had to contact a publication about libel or about misrepresenting my work.
I am, of course, unsurprised that Playboy would publish his most-recent libel. Playboy has long promoted the sexualization and objectification of women as liberatory and have a history of unethical behaviour (beyond the obvious dehumanization-of-women stuff) to match. Gloria Steinem documented their exploitative labour practices back in the 60s, a number of women, including Vanessa Williams, Madonna, and Marilyn Monroe, complained that their nudes were published without their consent, and the magazine refused to put a black women on the cover of the magazine for the first 18 years of its existence. Despite their interest in turning women’s bodies into profit, Hugh Hefner claimed he was “a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism.” (The porn kings have always positioned themselves as the true freedom fighters.) It’s only recently, though, that “feminists” have bought it.
The fact that women believe the primary question, in terms of addressing sexual harassment, is whether or not they, as individuals, are hypocrites because they’ve had to subject themselves to sexist treatment in order to make a living, is significant of today’s neoliberal discourse that permeates feminism. Bronson feels guilty about her “choice” but also either chose or was encouraged to by an editor to frame this article in terms of her choice. Rather than focusing on men’s behaviour, this article questioned whether or not she and other women are complicit in their own sexist treatment and, beyond that, what that means in terms of their own individual identification as feminists.
I, too, struggle with the choices I make or am forced to make, as a feminist, in a patriarchal society. And I think it’s very important to think critically about and question our choices and why we make them. But not once have I wondered whether or not men’s sexist behaviour reduces my commitment to the movement.
Why are we not asking what we can do, collectively, to fight back? Why, in the end, does this come down to personal choice and identity?
The issue of sexism and harassment in the workplace is so far beyond individual choice. These are issues of class, race, gender and capitalism. When women should be talking about the labour movement and the feminist movement, the focus is rerouted back to personal identities, individual empowerment, and “good” vs. “bad” choices. Again and again. I think the Canadian group, F.E.D. U.P. has made a good decision to fight back collectively, sharing their stories and putting pressure on restaurants that encourage sexualization or engage in sexist practices to address the issue. Time to reframe the conversation, America.
The #FreetheNipple campaign, for example, clearly illustrates the type of feminism that is able to flourish on social media platforms. Free the Nipple claims to be “an equality movement, and a mission to empower women across the world.” It calls for a “more balanced system of censorship and legal rights for all women to breastfeed in public.” This, certainly, is a good thing. But the campaign now seems to be less about a woman’s right to breastfeed and more about a woman’s right to post a topless selfie.
By comparison, feminist activism that offers revolutionary ideas and issues a strong challenge to dominant cultural norms appears to be severely lacking on social media platforms. During the second wave, feminists deeply questioned personal life politics in order to formulate their political theory. Women made connections between issues, and remained resolute that emancipation on male terms was not enough. It was always about asking the hard questions. In the words of Catherine MacKinnon, the process of consciousness raising represents the “collective critical reconstitution” of female social reality. At this time, women were engaged in reframing patriarchal assumptions: understanding the pornography and prostitution industries as violence against women, theorizing the reproductive technology industry as facilitating male control of women’s bodies, and developing the concept of compulsory heterosexuality.
The type of feminism occurring on social media platforms today, however, often appears to be little more than what the recent book, Freedom Fallacy: the Limits of Liberal Feminism, describes as a popular brand of “fun-feminism” or “feminism-lite.” This type of feminism is palatable to a male audience, does not require women to engage in the often painful process of self-reflection integral to consciousness raising, and contains little, if any, political conceptualization of structural male dominance. Rather, the kind of social media campaigns that receive the most media attention often focus on a woman’s individual right to objectify herself.
Using the very language of the sex industry, the twitter account @freethenipple prompts a response from its viewers by asking: “How far will you go for Equality?” Increasing numbers of young women are now uploading topless photos of themselves on Twitter using the hashtag. The campaign has garnered widespread public support, and generated a large amount of publicity due to the backing of popular celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham.
It is difficult to understand, however, how the Free the Nipple campaign in any way challenges male social dominance. Rather, young women are being urged to strip for the entertainment of an infinite number of men on social media sites. Insidiously, such behavior is being sold back to women as empowering, and once again the sexual objectification of women is being rebranded as feminist. Men, meanwhile, are able to share and download these images countless times for their own purposes.
When the popularity of the Free the Nipple campaign is compared to the abuse feminist campaigner Anita Sarkeesian received in response to her YouTube series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, it becomes increasingly clear that we need to question claims that social media has deepened democracy and amplified marginalized voices. Sarkeesian’s videos look at gaming “from a systemic, big picture perspective” and argue that women in video games function as “a decorative virtual sex class who exist to serve a straight male desire.” In making this argument Sarkeesian displays an explicit awareness that involving women in the gaming industry will not be enough to alleviate its structural misogyny, as the wider problem stems from the positioning of a dominant and violent male sexuality as normal.
Given the increased opportunities social media has provided men with to promote and engage in violence against women, it is becoming increasingly necessary to consider whether the technology has been good for feminism. #FreetheNipple is a social media success story because it plays into the dominant sex industry ideology that views women as products to be consumed by men. In this sense its popularity is not so much a win for feminism, but a win for male dominance.
The very clear message of Hot Girls Wanted is that “choice” and “consent” are deeply insufficient and misleading lenses through which we should view the impact of pornography on women and society as a whole.
There is no need to “reconcile” what Hale presents as two oppositional realities because “respecting a woman’s choice” to do pornography is not what this discussion is about.
The influx of young women – literally “barely legal,” in order to satiate consumer demand for the youngest girls possible, at 18 years old – eager to get into porn, is no exaggeration. As Riley, a 23-year-old “manager” featured in the film (whose job is to house these new recruits and drive them to shoots) says all he has to do is post a Craigslist ad, and he instantly gets countless responses.
It is true that there is no coercion happening, in an immediate sense. The “coercion,” rather, has already taken place over years as children and teens are groomed to view porn as fun, glamourous and, in fact, inseparable from the pop culture they’ve been ingesting for so long. The young women featured in the film, brand new to the industry, believe that the porn world is exciting, that is will bring them fame and fortune, that it is an escape from the mundane. They believe that performing in porn makes them powerful. When I get big, when I get big, when I get big, they say, over and over again. Getting “big” will happen for none of them, of course, but these women have learned that this is how stars become stars — from Kim Kardashian to Belle Knox to so many pop stars like Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus — the message is that pornification is sexy, normal, and a route towards success. The way they talk about the industry and their imagined futures is as though they think they’re in a rap video. Money, sex, power.
But, like all “power” gained through sexualization, it’s short-lived.
One male porn performer, John Anthony, explains just how quickly young women are used up and spat out by the industry. “The shelf life of a girl is – worst-case scenario – one to three months. Ok-case scenario? Three to six months. Best-case scenario? A year. Tops.”
When I get big.
The amateur porn industry, in particular, likes new faces. They shoot a “girl” (their language) a couple of times and that’s it … Of course, that’s not it. Because those images are out there, online, forever, for men to use and profit from indefinitely. Those experiences are forever, too …
“You’re just processed meat,” a young woman named Rachel (known as Ava Taylor in the porn world) says in the film. The industry, she says, sees the women they use as “boobs, a vagina, and an ass – that’s all that matters. They don’t care about who you really are.”
The women permitted to stay in the industry after the first month or so get old fast. Over 25? You’re relegated to doing “MILF” porn. Anyone younger has to be able to pass as a “teen.” It’s what the consumer wants, after all.
Themes in these porn videos are incestuous and non-consensual – teaching men and boys alike that rape and coercion is hot. Titles include: “Virgin Manipulations” and “Daddy’s Girl Gets Filled” and feature much older men (father and uncle figures) and what are meant to be teen girls. One of the more popular sites is literally called “ExploitedTeens.com.” The “consensual adults” line pushed on us by liberal media is laughable when you acknowledge what it is that consumers really want: exploited, non-consenting, underage girls who are not enjoying the acts inflicted on them. They don’t want empowered adult women. Men don’t look at porn to see sexually liberated, powerful women.
Most major amateur porn companies will only book a “girl” two or three times, after which they have to start doing “niche-oriented jobs.” This means bondage, S&M, and generally more extreme, more violent acts.
One Latina woman named Jade (aka Ava Kelley) tells the camera that her first porn shoot was a Facial Abuse scene (a forced blow job, in other words). The Facial Abuse scene, she says, consists of extreme oral sex aimed at making the girl vomit. In Jade’s case, she specifies that what she does is called “Latina Abuse,” wherein the sexual abuse happens while men hurl racist and misogynist slurs at her until she vomits. The men then force her to eat her own vomit as they continue to call her names.