No, radical feminists do not hate porn performers

I recently stumbled across this piece by gay male porn performer Connor Habib.

He is under the impression that the majority of people hate porn and porn performers.

This does not clearly explain how porn is a bigger industry in the US than all the arts put together, but never mind. He’s had relationship problems directly linked to his being a porn performer, also, he put ‘porn’ in a news search engine, and all but one of the results were negative (I would posit that this only proves that news stories are mostly negative, and doesn’t tell us anything specific about attitudes to porn).

Also, he gets to lecture occasionally at US colleges, and sometimes, afterwards, students have the temerity to ask him questions that suggest they weren’t entirely convinced by his arguments, that suggest that they have concerns (about sex trafficking, about the abuses women suffer on porn sets) that go beyond his own individualised experience; apparently, questioning Habib in any way is proof that you ‘hate’ him.

I’m sure that lots of people do actually hate porn performers, and the majority of the people doing the hating will be the heterosexual men who consume porn. They hate women generally, and they hate the women in porn because of misogyny, not because they’ve read something by Andrea Dworkin.

Some people will hate Habib personally, because of homophobia, because of racism, but not because of radical feminism.

Saying that those with an anti-porn stance influenced by radical feminism (as opposed to influenced by misogyny, religion, conservatism, homophobia) ‘hate’ porn performers, makes about as much sense as claiming vegans hate animals.

Radical feminists don’t hate porn performers, even the ones still in the industry, we hate the sex industry as a whole, and the patriarchal, capitalist society it replicates in miniature; we hate all sexual violence regardless of who it is committed against and where, we do not accept the patriarchal notion that society ‘needs’ a sacrificial underclass of women and children (and men) to be chewed up and shat out by the sex industry.

What he is really complaining about is that radical feminists, and others, won’t buy the ’empowerment’ and ‘choice’ lines with regards to the sex industry, and may point out that his experiences as a college-educated gay man doing gay porn might not actually tell us all that much about the experiences of the majority of women in the porn industry (but hey, he knows ‘countless’ female porn performers who say they love their job, so ignore the fact that the majority of women who exit the sex industry say they had to tell themselves they chose it at the time, in order to survive).

He calls this ‘hate’ because it is a nice emotive response that shuts down rational thought, and will terrify some people into silence.

The whole article is straw (wo)man bashing, that requires us to ignore completely the testimony of women who’ve exited the sex industry, ignore that women who are trafficked into prostitution are also used to make pornography, ignore that pornographers go to the Global South to make porn because it’s easier and cheaper to exploit women there, ignore that any filmed rape becomes pornography.

We also have to ignore the way that pornography is warping young people’s ideas about sex, to the detriment of women and girls, and also warping ideas about women’s bodies, so that labiaplasty is on the rise.

It’s a long article, and I’m not going to go through all the points he makes, but I will respond to a few of them:

But actually, let’s really get to the point here, because I have another question.

You might not like it.

See, because I’m stuck on the whole thing about what you’re imagining:

A young child, a little girl or boy sitting alone in a room illuminated by a computer screen. The child is totally innocent (but knows how to use the internet, of course), and suddenly, without any warning, there’s an image so intense that it penetrates his being and ruins his childhood. It traumatically destroys his innocence and nothing is ever the same. That’s the foundation of why you hate us. So let me ask:

Why are you always fantasizing about children being raped?

You can tell, from the delivery, that Habib thinks this is so clever, he thinks it’s a killer line, it’s his trump card, a big ol’ gotcha! to the anti-porn brigade.

you’re concerned about how porn affects children, that means your thinking about a child being violated, and thinking about something bad happening is exactly the same as fantasizing about it. Gotcha!

This is so obviously, breath-takingly wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s take it to its obvious conclusions: parents can no longer tell their children not to get into strangers’ cars, because that means they’re fantasizing about their children being abducted, raped and murdered; police can no longer investigate sex crimes, because that means they’re fantasising about rape; campaigners around the world can no longer fight to end FGM, because that means they’re fantasizing about little girls having their genitals mutilated.

If I am walking home after dark, and a strange man is following me, I can’t think about how that man may be a danger to me, because if I do, then I’m fantasizing about being raped, and therefore ‘asking for it’; if I take any kind of evasive action, for example, crossing the road to get away from him, that shows him that I’m thinking about how he is a potential threat to me, and therefore telling him that I am fantasizing about him raping me. He now has a great line of defence in a criminal trial, not that there would be one in Habib’s Brave New World, because no one will ever talk about sexual violence again, ever, because then they will then be accused of fantasizing about it.

Presumably, being into BDSM and consuming BDSM porn will still be ok, because that’s all ‘safe, sane, consensual’ and nothing bad ever happens in the BDSM scene or on a BDSM porn set ever.

Habib also drags out this old canard:

Don’t worry, I won’t get into all the facts about porn being the one place where women are paid at a consistently higher rate than men.

This is simply not true. All the money in porn is behind the cameras, in production and distribution, and that area is dominated by men. It’s no coincidence that the few women who last any length of time in the LA based porn industry do so by setting up their own production companies and keeping control of the images; these women are the exception, not the rule, most women in the LA based porn industry are chewed up and shat out in less than a year, and they have to survive by ‘escorting’, so that the porn itself becomes merely the advertising of the prostitution.

Are we really supposed to believe that the women who were paid once to take part in Porno Dan’s ‘Fuck a Fan’ live stream were somehow making more money than Porno Dan himself did from all the subscriptions to the live feed, and from having ownership of the resulting images that could then be re-released, edited, and sold on forever?

They were, this time, paid more than the men they ‘performed’ with, because those men were fans who had won their place on the porn set in a competition; if they needed to be paying subscribers to enter the competition, they effectively paid to be there, and this illustrates perfectly the difference between male and female performers in ‘mainstream’ het (ie aimed at heterosexual men, but not ‘femdom’ fetish) porn: men and women are doing fundamentally different jobs, and are therefore paid differently; the women are the ones being penetrated, the ones being grabbed and slapped, the ones getting ejaculate in their eyes. It is not the same as being a male performer; pornographers know that they could get almost any random dude in off the street, and he’d be happy to do it for free, that’s why male performers in het porn are not paid the same as women.

There is also this slightly strange statement:

Because you hate us, we’ve absorbed your anger.

So sometimes we hate each other. The people who wear condoms in porn hate the people who don’t use condoms. The kink porn stars, the daring kids on Xtube, the indie porn stars aren’t “real” porn stars. The “normal” porn stars aren’t challenging or queer enough for the “queer” porn stars. The porn stars who don’t escort hate the porn stars who do. Sometimes, if there’s fear of HIV, everyone hates everyone for a second. Eventually that fades away and we get back to it. But during that flurry of fear, wow.

So you see, for many of us, your anger and fear are too much to hold. It’s too much of a burden. To get rid of it, we direct it at each other.

It’s that reality-altering power of radical feminists’ opinions again! Our brainwaves are so powerful that we can literally transmit hate! Our thoughts are responsible for all the bad things in the world! We have so much power! How can we explain the fact that patriarchy still exists despite these amazing mental powers we have!

Even if porn performers are internalising the hatred society directs at them, that hatred does not come from radical feminists. As I said before, the biggest demographic for hating (female) porn performers is going to be the heterosexual men who consume porn.

If that didn’t work, he also accuses us of hating men (the horror!) and of hating male sexuality:

Men are too enthusiastic about sex. They like it more than women do. They don’t know how to control it. They’re like stupid babies about it. And when they get that way, all horny, they turn other people into objects.

Of course yes, we’re anti-sex prudes who don’t want men to have a good time! Let’s ignore rape culture, lets ignore the wall-to-wall sexism and harassment that women suffer on a daily basis, let’s ignore the shockingly low rape conviction rates, let’s ignore that in main-stream public discourse, false rape allegations are believed to be more common than actual rape, let’s ignore the attacks on reproductive rights around the world. No no no! We just don’t like it that men get horny!

How about this: Aren’t we part object? Isn’t there a part of us made out of stuff? What’s so wrong with appreciating that aspect of ourselves? Why is that “dehumanizing”? I’m not sure why you think bodies are such an unimportant part of being alive.

[…]

If you like neuroscience so much, isn’t that also objectification? In fact, it’s even more objectifying than porn. It tells us that love is chemicals. Emotion is just motion. Matters of the heart are just matter. We’re biological robots. But you’re not complaining about that.

This is another breath-takingly stupid statement that Habib probably thinks is really clever: We’re made of stuff! We’re already objects!

What it does demonstrate is that he hasn’t bothered to look up a single definition of ‘objectification’ (or if he has, he’s decided not to show it). Let’s go with Martha C. Nussbaum’s definition, as I think it is the most useful:

[W]e need to ask what is involved in the idea of treating as an object. I suggest that at least the following seven notions are involved in that idea:

1. Instrumentality: The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her own purposes.
2. Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
3. Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
4. Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types.
5. Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary-integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
6. Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
7. Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

You will notice, I hope, that this is a political definition, and it relates to how people are treated by other people in society, not to any scientific understanding of how the (human) body works (lab mice certainly are objectifed by scientists).

But fine “Science is the most objectifying force in the world”, so let’s stop all research into new treatments for cancer and HIV, because that’s reducing people to ‘stuff-ness’.

A list of people who’d been discriminated against in their jobs, communities, schools, and relationships because they’d been in porn.

Notice that this can happen to all ex or current porn performers, regardless of whether they say they enjoyed being in porn or not. The world is not run by a secret cabal of radical feminists, this is the result of patriarchy, not radical feminism. In parts of the US, child victims of commercial sexual exploitation can end up with criminal records that keep them in poverty for life, this is not the result of radical feminism, but of misogyny and patriarchy.

So, all-in-all, Habib’s article is another good example of how sex industry advocates refuse to even understand radical feminism and refuse to talk about male violence, particularly men’s sexual violence (all in the name of being ‘sex positive’ of course).

10 responses

  1. Good post, but I don’t like the definition of objectification that you used. In particular I don’t like points 2 and 3. Some people really don’t have all that much agency because they are enslaved to and dominated by other people in various ways (slavery, prostitution, high exploitative wage labour, etc.) This does not make them any less human. Recognising that a person lacks power does not mean viewing them as less than human. If you WANT someone to be enslaved and powerless, then perhaps you do view them as subhuman and you actually rob someone of their agency by enslaving them, then you almost certainly view them as sub-human. But “denying” someone’s agency/autonomy in the sense of believing that they do not have agency and acting upon this recognition (e.g. by creating a political movement that aims at liberating them) is not “dehumanising”, it’s simply an acknowledgment of reality.

  2. I think that’s it, it’s about how the objectifier views the person they are objectifying, not about anything intrinsic to do with the person being objectified.

    I think ‘agency’ has more to do with free will than in the material choices in front of a person (note Nussbaum uses ‘autonomy’ ‘self-determination’ and ‘agency’ as being different things, all these terms are slippery and open to different interpretations); a slave with few choices still has free will to choose between them – that’s why agency! arguments in favor of ‘sex work’ are so meager, they hold up agency! as some magic cure-all to oppression.

  3. They don’t know how to control it. They’re like stupid babies about it.

    Re-reading this post, I just realised, referring to the epidemic rates of sexual violence against women and children as men ‘behaving like babies’ is absolutely part of rape culture.

    Plus, radical feminists are pretty much the only ones saying men are capable of controlling themselves; ‘boys will be boys’ is a main-stream patriarchal apology for men’s sexual violence.

    Men choose to rape, they know exactly what they are doing when they rape, and they do it because they know they can get away with it.

  4. U do not hate them u just wish to put them out of work because you don’t like what they do

  5. Wow, that’s some real deep thought there.

    If a porn performer has no other economic options available to them outside of porn, then they never made a free choice to enter the sex industry in the first place.

    You are saying that prostitution of one sort or another is something all poor people should do.

    How about looking at the root caused of poverty (hint, it’s not radical feminists being anti-porn and prostitution), instead of championing jobs in the sex industry.

  6. “You are saying that prostitution of one sort or another is something all poor people should do.”

    No I did not. Can you show me where I said that.

    Even if you believe women who are porn performers have no other economic options available to them how would shutting down their jobs make live better for them. You are saying porn performers do porn because they have no other jobs anywhere else. So you’re option in that economic reality is to shut down their jobs and leave them with zero income.

  7. Look shit-for-brains, why not make this easy on yourself and fuck off now, you are not going to out smart me.

    You expressed concern about the loss of jobs of porn performers, this is only an issue if they have no other options, if they have no other options, then they never made a free choice in the first place.

    “You are saying porn performers do porn because they have no other jobs anywhere else.”

    I used the “if … then …” sentence construction, I did not say that it was a fact that all porn performers have no other options.

    Lots of women do do porn because of a lack of choices, and they have even fewer options when it comes to leaving the sex industry, because it doesn’t give you much in the way of skills to put on your CV, and is likely to result in substance addiction and physical and mental health problems.

    As with prostitution, I want porn performers to be given real options, including exit services and help with education, homelessness, addiction and the legacy of sexual abuse.

  8. Oh dear you clearly are an immature person who cannot engage in debate without resorting to insults and foul language. Pathetic really.

  9. Oh wah wah!

    And you called me pathetic, rather than try to answer anything I actually said in my last comment, you know when you are out-classed!

  10. It has just occurred to me that Habib’s claim, that being concerned about the effects porn viewing may have on children is the same as “fantasizing about children being raped”, is doubly ridiculous, given that we live in a world where ‘age play’ and ‘Daddy Doms/little girls’ are recognised sub-cultures of BDSM.

    Do you think Habib spends any time castigating the paedophilia-fetishists who actually do “[fantasize] about children being raped”?

    Nah, me neither.

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