What is ‘ethical’ porn for? What does it achieve?

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?

sex critical

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 Kink.com (beyond the way cam ‘girls’ are paid), which has left women injured and traumatised? No.

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.

mandatory condom bill

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

“Kinky Queers – Slave Training” “We shoot high quality, ethical, hardcore BDSM porn”

Or how about something Stryker herself re-tweeted?

filthy taboo

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.

Lily Cade tweets

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.

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.

22 responses

  1. Great post. The slipperiest thing about pseudo-feminists like Stryker is the way they, as you say, ‘co-opt the language of radical feminism’.

    Such co-option is a serious problem for feminists and represents what I would say is the most effective strategy in the malestream-media led backlash to second-wave feminism, which took off in the 80s and grows ever more sophisticated and pervasive.

    First the media tried to portray feminism as a movement for ugly, desperate, pathetic women, in an effort to ensure no woman would want to be associated with it (ably documented in Susan Faludi’s Backlash), and when that didn’t work, they moved on to promoting pseudo-feminism, in the form of third-wave funfems, who use the language developed by second-wave feminists in the service of defending male supremacy and porn, prostitution, etc. Now literally anything can be feminist!

    Thus ‘feminists’ like Stryker can claim to be against sexual abuse at the same time as they promote industries and ideologies that rely on it, like porn and BDSM. They use the language of liberation to justify women being in sexual service to men and men buying impoverished women and children for sexual use. Probably the most egregious example of this is their fetishisation of the word ‘consent’ as the only ethical standard by which to judge sexual activity, and which is now used to justify any and all exploitative and abusive situations involving sex because, look – ‘she consented’.

    The founders of sex-positive ‘feminism’, Pat Califia and Gail Rubin, were unabashed promoters of sexual violence and paedophilia (Califia in fact was a contributor to a Dutch child porn magazine for many years). I thought for a while that Stryker was just a confused woman who had been trapped too long in the porn/BDSM scene, but she’s proven herself to be just as sociopathic w/r/t to victimisation and harm as Califia and Rubin.

    Such co-option is a much more effective strategy than outright backlash because it confuses women as to what feminism actually is. The media promotes these women as feminists and then women are told that being uncomfortable with the exploitation and abuse they promote is anti-woman and anti-freedom. And that women who work towards a society in which women are actually free and have genuine choices are the ones working against women’s liberation. Very crafty, devastatingly effective.

  2. Thank you for the brilliant comment Donkey Skin!

  3. If “no one is perfect on consent” why should anyone be having sex? It’s alarming that someone can explicitly claim that every human being is a rapist/sexually abusive and yet we should all go along having sex lives.

  4. Not just boring old ‘vanilla’ sex either, but sadomasochistic sex that could involve the risk of serious physical or psychological injury; Stryker also isn’t against 24/7 slavery arrangements (can’t be bothered looking up the in-speak).

  5. KS tweet 00
    Really? I still say that your original call out of the BDSM scene was brave, but what have you actually done recently?

    KS tweet 01
    And where is that exactly? Do you think I haven’t been reading your on-line contributions? Funny how Kink.com is the only thing I’ve mentioned that you are replying to, what about the rest of my article? You are very good at dodging awkward questions.

    KS tweet 02
    You weren’t conversing though, you repeatedly refused to answer any awkward questions in the previous two posts on this blog.

    I don’t despise you, but I do think you are very dishonest and self-serving.

    KS tweet 03

    Yeah, you really sound like you want to engage in a real conversation with this straw radical feminist.

    KS tweet 04

    Kitty, you are an educated IT professional, you do porn and prostitution for fun, you are privileged. Setting up women who disagree with you as some kind of bizarre ‘other’ is underhanded and cheap – either that or you are just being very very creepy, wanting to know what I wear …

    If there is a ‘rescue industry’ there is a ‘keeping women in prostitution industry’, lots of pro-sex industry academics are making a career out of their support for the sex industry, all paid for from the same basic pot of academic funding.

    Re-tweeting a criticism of radical feminists as ‘academics’ is laughable, you’re the one coming out with all the post-modern non-speak, not me.

    KS tweet 05

    Yeah, it really sounds like you take abuse in the sex industry seriously.

  6. I suppose I have to say it again: the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base. People, like Stryker, at the top, have their sex-pozzer fun on the backs of all the women and children who haven’t made any kind of meaningful choice about being in the sex industry.

  7. Wow, you have really misrepresented kitty so much here that I don’t blame her for not replying thoroughly. Your facts are off and it looks like you are more interested in bullying women than understanding them. It’s basically a personal attack on a young woman and her sexuality. It just looks like more slut shaming/woman hating.

  8. Please actually demonstrate how I have done all the things you are accusing me of, with specific examples, otherwise you are just bashing a straw radical feminist.

  9. When most people use the term ‘slut shaming’, they mean punishing a woman or girl for being sexually active, or just perceived to be sexually active (eg dressing like a ‘slut’).

    What I have done here is critique Stryker’s politics.

    Unless you can demonstrate how being critical of someone’s politics is the same as punishing them for being sexual, you’re going to have to admit that you are using ‘slut shaming’ as a piece of empty rhetoric designed to shut down debate.

  10. I keep wondering what these radfems do for work, how they dress, what they use to write on

    What Stryker is doing here is positioning radical feminists as some bizarre, alien other who aren’t like regular people.

    How do they dress and what do they use to write on are not so very far away, when rhetorically speaking, from, are they real people?, and that kind of thinking is not so far away from the Kill all TERFs rhetoric we get from trans activists.

    Here’s a selection of the dehumanising hate speech from trans activists:

    2 dead terfs

    All TERFs should be executed. I’ll bring the ice cream!

    ANTITERF

    Disgusting terf scum i hope someone shoves a knife in your cunt and makes you bleed to death

    fetch me a TERF 01

    I could give her some more PTSD

    I wanna direct a snuff film where multiple TERFs get shot in the head

    I want to pile up all the radscum on a bonfire and light that motherfucker up

    i wish i had a bomb and a building full of twerfs that would be the perfect way to die

    I'd kick you in your cishit vagina, but I'm afraid of losing my shoe

    if you see a TERF it is socially acceptable to crush it into the pavement

    it is perfectly fine to attack cis peole on the street

    killed-a-terf

    pest control

    remember that rock_cave their head in with it

    Round up every TERF and slit their throats

    Slowly and horrendously murder TERFS

    some of us wish they would all be dead

    stomponaterfshead

    TERFKILLER

    TERFS are scum pass it on

    TERFS should die

    But I’m the ‘woman hater’ right?

  11. The ‘poor helpless Kitty’ routine isn’t cutting it either.

    Stryker is a professional sex industry advocate, she gets paid to speak and she gets paid for her articles in forums like Salon. She is also the go-to girl for lazy journalists looking for a quote about the BDSM ‘scene’ or the sex industry. She has much more social clout than I do.

    So trying to paint this as some big mean radfem picking on some random nobody, simply because radical feminists hate women and hate sex so much, is entirely dishonest.

  12. Also, claiming that radical feminists are all either academics or students (ie, either stuck in an ivory tower with no connection to the real world, or young and naive) is dishonest too.

    It’s dishonest because there are many radical feminist who have first hand experience of the sex industry, including being the victims of the commercial sexual exploitation of children – try reading Rachel Moran, Jacqueline Homan, Rebecca Mott, or even just the comments on this blog.

  13. […] any kind of coercion or violence in it were banned, there would be no more porn. Even so-called ‘ethical’ porn can include extreme sado-masochistic violence. If your measure of ‘ethical’ production […]

  14. […] debate. Prostitution negatively affects poor, indigenous, and non-white women disproportionately (‘empowered sex workers’ are disproportionately middle-class, white, and educated), but sex industry survivors (including […]

  15. reclaimthenight

    ‘Ethical porn’ is a contradiction in terms, as is the notion of ‘feminist porn’.
    Hecuba

  16. Kitty Stryker_sex negative pornographer

    Stryker is now calling herself a ‘sex negative pornographer’ while she writes in the Guardian (she’s so marginalised, she gets published in a national newspaper!)

    Words have no meaning now.

    What a joke, what a phoney.

  17. dressingrooms_bathrooms

    Here we see Stryker showing how much she gives a shit about sexual violence against women by tacitly approving of a biological male exposing their penis in a women’s changing room (not all dressing rooms are private booths, and it’s hardly unprecedented).

    Stryker is also suggesting that she engages in exhibitionist behaviour, in other words forcing a non-consenting audience to take part in her sex life – what happened to BDSM being all about respecting boundaries and consent?

    She also tacitly admits she gets pleasure from the idea of upsetting women she doesn’t like with her exhibitionist behaviour.

    But she is ‘sex critical’/’sex negative’ apparently.

  18. There’s not such thing as ethical porn and it doesn’t matter who queer and sex pozzie it is. Kitty Stryker doesn’t need to do porn to survive and her half-assed critiques of porn do nothing. She, like a lot of other people these days, likes to parasitize radical feminism: https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/the-parasitizing-and-gutting-of-radical-feminism/

    I encourage you not to hold back. Men cannot be women and they especially cannot be lesbians or the other way around. It doesn’t matter how much hormones or plastic surgery they get. As for dysphoria, cry me a fucking river. Dysphoria does make you the opposite sex, and women are the ones with dysphoria and a huge reason for that is the increasingly pornified and photoshopped images in the media that are everywhere.

    I don’t know if you are a lesbian or know much about lesbian history, but actually lesbians did not even work closely with gay men until the AIDS crisis. Lesbians who tried were often put off by the misogyny. Then AIDS happened, and they need someone to care for them and their gay-hating family members wouldn’t do it. I think the best thing is for lesbians to completely break away from the alphabet soup and to have lesbian-only space again. Anyway, in the 1970s the first reaction was for a woman/lesbian to say “bullshit” when a man claimed to be one of them. Lesbians have an extremely high poverty rate, so I’ll be damned if a start fawning over some over-privileged man who thinks he’s one of us. Men who think they are lesbians are perverts and they harass us because they will never get consensual sexual access to a lesbian. Any woman who willingly sleeps with one of them is by definition not a lesbian.

  19. Oh look, here’s another transactivist who can’t work out if radical feminists are actually people:

    it's rly cute when radfem shitbags try to pretend to be real people

  20. […] not all the magical choosy choices of already privileged women – is that woman are poor, so they ‘need’ ‘sex work’, rather than any other route out of poverty (and poor women and girls aren’t good for […]

  21. […] articles I spotted recently on poverty in New Zealand. I think it is useful to point this out, as sex industry advocates want us to think that prostitution is ‘necessary’ because of wome… (if that were true there would be no poverty by […]

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