Sex industry advocate Kitty Stryker participated in a short debate at New Internationalist recently with regard to ‘ethical porn’; but before we look at that, let’s have a re-cap of Stryker’s activities.
In early 2012, an article was published by Salon, quoting Stryker (and also Maggie Mayhem) about abuse and cover-ups in the BDSM ‘scene’.
This was a brave condemnation of a ‘community’ that preached ‘safe, sane, consensual’, but in reality practised the covering-up of abuse and the ostracism and blaming of victims.
In the comments thread under my blog post about the Salon article I said that Stryker would have to choose sides at some point, and within six months she had backed down, and gone from a damning indictment of the BDSM community to ‘consent is complicated’ and ‘we need to educate ourselves about consent’ and ‘people fuck up’, as if all the bad stuff happened by mistake rather than being deliberate and systematic.
From a much more recent, and slightly odd, comment Stryker left under my first blog post, it seems that her ‘consent culture’ work now consists solely of providing one-on-one therapy to individuals worried they may be abusers, which is all very nice for the individuals involved, but has nothing to do with keeping your house in order. Stryker also revealed that she doesn’t actually understand what ‘rape culture’ means, as she sees it as something separate from culture itself, rather than a part of the air we all have to breath every day.
In the New Internationalist article, Stryker explicitly states that she is not financially reliant on pornography, which places her in a privileged minority who get to do porn ‘for fun’.
Stryker drags out the tired old canard that women are paid more than men in pornography (at least she says ’employees’ this time, tacitly acknowledging that the real money and control is behind the camera), while completely ignoring that women are paid more than men in porn because they are not doing the same job, as someone else put it so well, “men are paid to orgasm, while women are paid to suffer.”
Stryker also says “As a woman without a degree, or as a transwoman, porn is often the only industry where class mobility may be achieved.”
This is offensive rubbish, there is no ‘mobility’ when there is nowhere to go, no kind of long-term job security, when the ‘work’ doesn’t give you any transferable skills and you are left with a gap in your CV and the constant fear of your ‘past’ being exposed. It ignores the fact that in the mainstream of het porn (which is effectively interchangeable with gonzo now), women are chewed up and shat out within less than a year, often with infections and injuries they receive no workers compensation for; that they have to prostitute to survive financially (so that the porn becomes merely the advertising of the prostitution); that only a tiny minority of women get to the point where they can have any kind of control over their ‘career’ and ‘image’.
This isn’t just offensive rubbish, it’s disgusting rubbish, it’s obscene; Stryker gets her fun and her choices and her safer sex practises, those other women, those poor women, they ‘need’ to be chewed up and shat out by the sex industry, in the name of ‘social mobility’.
This is a ‘sex positive’ “let them eat cake”; there are poor women? then let them be sex workers! I’m having a great time!
Stryker says: “Most major porn companies are owned by white cisgendered straight men; this stands in the way of ethically produced pornography. I agree that’s problematic, and that representation and marginalized voices being brought to the centre is incredibly important for an ethical workplace.”
This is more rubbish, porn is the commodification of sexuality under white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy, the idea that that is can be made nice by ‘centring’ ‘voices’ (whatever that actually means) shows no understanding of the reality of capitalism. It also ignores what men actually consume porn for, male pornographers are far more honest about this.
Stryker claims that there is more ‘interest’ in the porn industry in ‘alt’ porn because ‘mainstream’ porn is on the decline (please be aware that all links to Stryker’s blog are nsfw and potentially triggering because of pornographic images in her sidebar), but there is actually no evidence of this. The LA porn industry may be in decline, but this is not because of a shift to ‘alt’ porn, but because the industry has become more corporate and more professional (in fact Stryker doesn’t have proof that more people are consuming ‘alt’ porn, she even says in her blog post that women simply aren’t buying porn).
This is why I ask what ‘ethical’ porn is for, and what does it actually achieve? There is no evidence of it replacing mainstream het and gonzo porn, or of it having any real influence over your average porn-consuming hetero dude. The proponents of ‘ethical’ porn call themselves campaigners, and call their pornography ‘political’, but what do they actually achieve politically, as campaigners?
Stryker co-opts the language of radical feminism, calling herself a ‘sex critical feminist’, but where’s the criticism? Where is the criticism from any of these ‘ethical porn’ purveyors?
The only time sex industry advocates have stood up to the pimps and pornographers was in 2012, when Kink.com changed the way it paid webcam ‘girls’, and the protest was only over the way the women were paid (and despite some internet searching, I cannot find anything to say whether this protest was successful or not).
Has Stryker said anything critical about the ‘Free Speech Alliance’, the astro-turf lobby group for pornographers which claims to speak for porn performers? No.
Has Stryker said anything critical about the claims from the ‘Free Speech Alliance’ that porn performers don’t want to use condoms? No.
Stryker gets her safe sex practices, but cheers when a bill mandating condom use on porn sets gets killed off.
The two excuses given by the ‘Free Speech Alliance’ are that condom use is not commercially viable, and that the sex acts in most porn are so violent, condom use becomes painful. Stryker has nothing to say about this financial intimidation that would make it near impossible for a porn performer to insist on condom use, and she has nothing to say about what it means to have a ‘work place’ that leaves ‘workers’ in too much pain to use Personal Protective Equipment. Stryker also has nothing to say about the reality of an 18-year-old woman doing her first shoot on a gonzo porn set, and how unrealistic it is that she would be able to demand condom use, or have any real control over what happens to her. Instead she cheers the fact that a law, which could have offered some protection for vulnerable workers against exploitative bosses, has been killed off.
Has Stryker said anything critical about the more and more violent trends in gonzo porn, so that women are now expected to shit out their internal organs on set? Not that I have seen, and anyway one of the women who does this is out-spoken and empowered, so everything is ok right?
Has Stryker offered any words of support to Sasha Grey, who, it turns out, was coerced into the porn industry by an abusive boyfriend who was a decade older than her? No.
Does Stryker have anything critical to say about the Crash Pad Predators? Not that I can find (she works for that company after all).
As I have said before, many times, on this blog and elsewhere, the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base, Stryker, who does porn ‘for fun’ is at the top, and she gets her safer sex practices, her diversity, and her negotiation, on the backs of all the women who don’t have a real choice, and she won’t say anything about it because poor women ‘need’ abusive porn sets, for ‘social mobility’ purposes.
Stryker has her glitter and her My Little Pony fetish costumes and her supply of free sex toys to review and her paid speaking gigs (which would dry up if she ever started saying anything truly critical about the sex industry or the BDSM ‘scene’), so she’s-alright-jack!
But credit where credit is due, she does call out a ‘feminist pornographer’, for joking about raping a drunk woman, but she does so in the most minimising of terms:
“Now, I want to say that I know, especially when young, people say and do fucked up things. No one is perfect on consent. That said, joking about a situation where a woman felt violated enough to report rape seems pretty messed up – saying things like “so I gave it to the bitch” when talking about sex while drunk perpetuates rape culture, and is especially insensitive when in the context of college campuses.”
And the overall response from the ‘feminist porn community’ doesn’t seem to have involved much more than navel gazing.
So what is ‘feminist’ or ‘ethical’ or ‘alt’ or ‘queer’ porn (these terms tend to be used interchangeably)? What does it involve, what does it achieve?
Belle Knox says she loves ‘rough blowjobs’ so ‘rough blowjobs’ are ’empowering’ and ‘feminist’. If anything that gets a woman off is ‘feminist’, then all porn becomes ‘feminist’ and the label is meaningless (like in that old Onion article).
In the New Internationalist piece, Stryker describes ethical porn as “a spectrum of behaviour that treats performers as workers and as humans, both on set and within the marketing” which is all very nice, and conveniently vague, since any porn, including porn depicting horrific sexual violence, can fulfil those criteria, as long as there is a woman prepared to say on camera how much she enjoyed it.
Look at this thing I found on the internet:
“Kinky Queers – Slave Training” “We shoot high quality, ethical, hardcore BDSM porn”
Or how about something Stryker herself re-tweeted?
Anything can be ‘ethical’ porn.
Stryker says nothing directly or vocally about any specific instance of unethical porn production, just pretends that it’s dying out. The reality is that ‘ethical’ pornography is fully embedded within the porn industry, it uses the same websites, the same expos and award shows, and so-called ‘feminist pornographers’ work for mainstream/gonzo porn companies.
The recent twitter altercation between ‘gold star’ lesbian porn performer Lily Cade and trans woman porn performer Chelsea Poe, reveals an interesting take on ‘ethical’ porn.
That one of the main aims of current ‘trans activism’ is bullying lesbians (or ‘genital obsessed perverts’ as some trans activists like to call them) for not being willing to suck cock, is not news to any radical feminist.
Stryker buys 100% into the ‘most oppressed people on the planet ever’ line, ignoring the fact that the middle-class heterosexual white men who transition in middle age after having a career and a family as men (the same middle-class middle-aged heterosexual white men who have taken over what was once the LGB movement), tend to do fine. The trans women who are oppressed along multiple axis (race, class, disability) tend to do as badly as other women or men who are also oppressed along the same axis.
After the Sylvia Rivera Law Project launched a campaign in support of child rapist and murderer Synthia China Blast, because his ‘dreams mattered’, I’m no longer interested in holding back on this subject; a large amount of ‘trans activism’ is about protecting and enabling violent men.
And it looks like ‘ethical porn’ is a part of this. Does Stryker have anything critical to say about Poe’s harassment of Cade? No! In fact, she joins in, calling Cade a ‘mean girl’ for not wanting to suck cock. [EDIT: The original page has been taken down, but there is an archived version from 2016 here.]
Cade has responded to the attacks against her (the link is to a wiki porn site and therefore nsfw and potentially triggering because of the images on the page):
Chelsea Poe, a pre- or non-op transsexual woman (a human being with a penis and testicles) asked me to cast her in my lesbian porn. I said no, and she accused me of transphobia, and it could have been left at that, but people piled on and piled on and I stood there and fought it because this whole thing is coming from a place of refusal to face reality… and I don’t believe in suffering delusion.
Frankly, I still don’t think Chelsea and Thelma [Sleaze] and all these other uptight, immature people understand why I went to war with them. I tried nuance and I tried grace and I tried everything in my arsenal but if you can’t grow up I can’t drag you kicking and screaming into the light.
What Chelsea asked me to do was to spend my capital, my energy, the trust of my fanbase that I have built up over six years in porn, to fight for her cause: her cause of proving she is attractive. Chelsea asked me to give her work in my movies. Every time I cast a movie I can’t include all my friends and lovers and the women I think are beautiful and the women who I like fucking, but Chelsea demanded that in the name of “equality” I give one of those roles to her and pay for someone to fuck her, so that she could wave her dick in the faces of my lesbian porn fans to make some point about how they should stop being bigots and accept that she’s hot.
Attraction isn’t bigotry. I fully support the creation of porn that speaks to all kinds of people. I do to some extent, and have many friends who create porn that features non mainstream looks, that showcases new things that maybe people didn’t know they were into, and speaks to some larger truth about the world. I’m not exactly Brazzers. I don’t make assembly line porn.
(Emphasis in original.)
So, then, ‘ethical’ porn, the sort of porn that Stryker and her friends make, can be seen, at best, as a vanity project, of interest only to a small group of people, and, at worst (being realistic about who is actually buying porn, including ‘alt’ and ‘queer’ porn), as being exactly the same as all other porn, about granting men access to women’s bodies.
QotD: “The basic psychological dynamic of masculinity is that men are men because they aren’t women. Women are the hated Other. Hating her, hurting her, is how boys become men”
The basic psychological dynamic of masculinity is that men are men because they aren’t women. Women are the hated Other. Hating her, hurting her, is how boys become men. Masculinity breeds a personality based on entitlement, arrogance and cruelty, which is compelled to prove itself again and again. Inherent in masculinity is a violation imperative: in acts of invading and conquering, men become men. The brilliance of male supremacy is that it links acts of political oppression to sexual response. Not only is the soldier-rapist rewarded with orgasm when he dominates/rapes, but his action feels “natural” rather than political. This welding of domination and subordination to sexual arousal, and the accompanying normalization of oppression, is the deep heart of patriarchy. And these acts of oppression become what sex is – how sex is practiced, how arousal is experienced – under male supremacy.
For instance, researchers tried to show male viewers a film scene depicting violence – not sexual violence, just regular old violence – against women. And they found that they couldn’t. No matter what the film showed (hitting, punching, kicking) at least 25% of the men would get an erection. Sexual domination and subordination are institutionalized into the very concepts of masculine and feminine. Masculinity is simply a conglomeration of the personality traits necessary for the patriarchal soldier-rapist: physically strong, emotionally cauterized, rational, domineering, cruel. All of this is supposed to add up to “handsome” as well. Likewise femininity is ultimately a description of the personality that results from trauma and powerlessness: weak, passive, yielding, emotional, hyper-vigilant to the needs of the dominators and desperate for the dominator’s attention.