QotD: “The portrayal of porn culture as an empowering, feminist win epitomizes the degree to which pop culture feminism has lost its way”

Last Sunday, a number of Pornhub’s most popular Asian performers took to the runway at New York Fashion Week to model the “Herotica” collection from Namilia. The designers behind the label, Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl, described their choice of models as a “feminist statement.” Li explained, “The cosmos of sexual pleasure has been restricted to a few boring and chauvinistic narratives for the pleasure of the male gaze,” adding, “Porn isn’t something existentially male.” With this collection, Li and Pfohl intended to subvert the dominant narrative of submissive Asian women, by using dominatrix-inspired looks — a traditional Chinese dress was deconstructed, and merged with contemporary sadomasochistic porn culture.

The collection is heavily influenced not only by porn, but by sadomasochism in particular — the designers included a schoolgirl-type uniform, with a pink and white pleated leather skirt (a blatant nod to porn culture’s fetishization of girlhood), and printed the phrase “cock wrecker” on a number of items from the collection. During a backstage interview, Li said, “We wanted to take porn into a new context to kind of normalize sex work, prostitution, pornography, and put it in a fashion show context, so there’s not as much shame and taboo,” emphasizing her desire to create a “revolutionary new feminist youth culture.”

The portrayal of porn culture as an empowering, feminist win epitomizes the degree to which pop culture feminism has lost its way, completely abandoning the long-standing feminist goal of female liberation in favour of a faux-feminism that panders to male desire. Far from representing a challenge to the male gaze (the apparent aim of the designers), the show stayed perfectly on script, falling prey to the sleight of hand that has convinced women that our sexual objectification is subversive and liberatory. In a classic marketing move, porn culture and those who profit from it have sold us something that harms us, and convinced us that we wanted it all along.

[…]

Pornhub is one of the most popular porn sites on the internet. Alexa, the leading web-traffic tracker, lists Pornhub in 36th place among the world’s most visited websites, out of tens of millions of sites. Rule out search engines like Google, web portals like Yahoo, and shopping sites like Amazon, Pornhub takes fourth place, beaten out of the top spot by Wikipedia, Microsoft, and Netflix. Four other porn sites crack the top 100, including XVideos, BongaCams, xHamster, and xnxx. Between these five porn sites, their combined views per month exceed 6 billion. That equates to over 138,000 views per minute, or 2,300 views per second. Pornhub alone claims 115 million visits per day, and 42 billion specific searches annually.

Over the last year, Pornhub has been implicated in a number of cases of sex trafficking, child exploitation, and rape, as the site hosts an unknowable number of video recordings of sex crimes. In October, a 15-year-old who had been missing for a year was found after explicit photos of the girl were posted online. Further investigation found that she had appeared in 58 porn videos posted on Pornhub, and the man responsible was arrested in Fort Lauderdale. The girl reported that she was forced to have an abortion after getting impregnated during this time.

A few months after being attacked and raped at knifepoint, Rose Kalemba, who was 14 at the time, found several people from her school sharing a link online in which she was tagged. After clicking on it, Kalemba was led to Pornhub and was horrified to find multiple videos of her attack posted online. Recounting her story, Kalemba said, “The titles of the videos were, ‘Teen crying and getting slapped around,’ ‘Teen getting destroyed,’ ‘Passed out teen.’ One had over 400,000 views.” Kalemba emailed Pornhub numerous times over a period of six months, begging for the videos to be removed from the site, but she received no reply and the videos stayed up. The videos were not removed until Kalemba set up a new email address pretending to be a lawyer and threatened legal action against the site.

In a viral blog entry posted last year, Kalemba shared a detailed account of her ordeal, and called for Pornhub to be held responsible for their extended inaction. She heard from dozens of other girls saying videos of their sexual assaults had also appeared on the site. Though Pornhub claims to remove all videos of assault, the reality does not reflect this and Pornhub continues to unapologetically host videos with titles such as, “Teen abused while sleeping,” “Drunk teen abuse sleeping,” and “Extreme teen abuse.” The company’s defence is that they “allow all forms of sexual expression” that do not go against their terms of service, even if “some people find these fantasies inappropriate.”

More recently, 22 women sued the owners of GirlsDoPorn, Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, as well as porn actor Ruben Andre Garcia, saying they were coerced into performing sexual acts on film that were later uploaded to Pornhub. The men had posted Craigslist ads for “beautiful college type preppy girls” needed for photo shoots, but when the women arrived, they were plied with drugs and alcohol and pressured to participate in a porn shoot. The victims were awarded $12.7 million. According to a federal indictment, Pratt and his co-conspirators also produced child pornography and trafficked a minor.

These cases demonstrate how dangerous Pornhub is, and how easily the site can be used as a tool to capitalize on the abuse of vulnerable women and girls. Laila Mickelwait, Director of Abolition for Exodus Cry and anti-pornography activist, found that all that is required to upload content to Pornhub is an email address. No government-issued ID is needed, even to become a “verified user.” She found that it took less than 10 minutes to create an account on Pornhub, and to upload blank content to the site, which was immediately live and accessible to all users. If she wanted to become a verified user, she could have done so with nothing more than a photograph of her holding a piece of paper with her username written on it.

Pornhub is a resource for anyone who wishes to upload content, with absolutely no verification needed other than an email address, making it a perfect breeding ground for exploitation — something they appear to be in no rush to prevent, despite claims made in their terms of service.

In her book, Pornland, Gail Dines explains that when you Google the term “Porn,” over 2.3 billion pages show up in the results, generated in less than half a second, with Pornhub being the top search result (hence it being frequently referred to as the “YouTube of Porn”). Based on what comes up just in the first page of links, some of the most common sex acts in mainstream pornography appear to be vaginal, anal, and oral penetration of one woman by three or more men simultaneously, double anal sex, double vaginal sex, gagging, and bukkake, along with regular references to women being “destroyed,” “punished,” “choked,” and “brutalized.”

The three porn performers that modelled for Namilia are Asa Akira, Marica Hase, and Jade Kush. A quick search of these names on Pornhub turns up videos with titles such as, “Japanese Porn Star Marica Hase Fucked Rough in Bondage,” “Marica Hase Beauty Teen Fucked Hard,” and “You Fuck Jade Kush Every Which Way Then Cum On Her Face.” When we consider the amount of abuse that has been hosted on Pornhub, the normalization of such titles is unsettling at best. And the idea that portraying Asian porn performers as dominatrixes will subvert the norm of submissive Asian women is nonsensical.

First, reversing a norm does not necessarily weaken the norm, and in fact could be said to strengthen it. The reversal is an acknowledgment of its power. The idea of a dominatrix is only considered sexy because we have been taught to eroticize imbalances of power; that a dominatrix is treated as a fetish shows that she represents a deviation from the norm of male domination. She is a male fantasy. Second, we do not undo the damage caused by sexist stereotypes by swapping sides in the narrative. A dominatrix is “sexy” because it is not real — that “power” does not extend beyond that moment, in that bedroom or scene. The dominatrix, though somewhat contrary to the social norm of male supremacy, still reinforces the eroticization of unequal power. Being a “cock wrecker” is not a feminist position, and only further perpetuates the idea of violence and abuse as sexy.

This move by Namilia does nothing to liberate women, and instead represents yet another instance of the pornification of pop culture. Pornhub is not a feminist utopia of sexual empowerment, but quite the opposite — it is a resource frequently utilized by abusers of women for manipulation and humiliation. Collaborating with Pornhub to display outfits that fetishize sexual power imbalance, girlhood, and leather is about as far from feminism as anything could be, and indeed, only serves to normalize and bolster the site not only in the eyes of the general public, but for young women specifically, who are being told this is what feminism looks like.

Andrea Dworkin once wrote that “the new pornography is left wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die.” It looks like the corpses will be dressed in pink leather school skirts with “cock wrecker” emblazoned across their chests.

Jessica Masterson, Feminist Current, full article here

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