The BBC has managed to report on this better (although I still had to change the headline from ‘child sex’ to ‘child sexual exploitation’):
Eighteen people have been convicted of abusing girls in Newcastle who were plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced to have sex.
The vulnerable victims, some as young as 14, were exploited by a “cynical organisation”, a court heard.
The 17 men and one woman were convicted of rape, supplying drugs and conspiracy to incite prostitution.
Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.
These trials involved 26 defendants, who were mostly Asian, facing a total of more than 100 charges and 22 victims.
Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.
Of the 26, three people have been jailed. The rest will be sentenced next month.
A Romanian couple have been jailed for trafficking a 14-year-old girl and other women into prostitution in the UK, in the first prosecution for child sex trafficking under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Romelia Florentina Radu, 32, and Petre Niculescu, 39, were each sentenced to 14 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to trafficking the child and eight women.
A third Romanian national, George Maracineanu, 47, who persuaded a woman to come to the UK, promising her love and work before handing her over to the couple, was jailed for two years and eight months.
The criminal network run by Radu and Niculescu was dismantled by the Metropolitan police and Romanian police after an eight-month joint operation.
The trial at Kingston crown court in Surrey heard that the group preyed on women from impoverished backgrounds, telling some they would be given work in shops or restaurants.
“The defendants benefited criminally from the sexual exploitation of a number of women,” prosecution counsel Caroline Haughey told the court. “They beguiled and deceived their way into their lives and them put them to work on the streets.”
In the case of the pair’s youngest victim, they “deliberately and callously stole her childhood,” she said.
The pair had operated in the UK since 2013 and lured the 14-year-old, one of nine siblings from a poor family, in 2016 after promising her a job as a waitress.
But on the night she arrived in the UK, she was told to change into “sexy” clothes and put on heavy makeup, because “she had the face of a child”, said Haughey.
The court heard that the girl was forced to have sex with men every day for four months.
In a victim impact statement, the girl said: “I was forced to have sex continuously. Many times it was painful and I was disgusted.”
She said she lived in permanent fear and was told not to tell anyone her age or her real name. “They would swear at me and threaten me with violence. They would tell me that they are going to hurt my family and that they would set fire to the front of my door,” she said.
Met police became aware of the gang after one of the victims, a 41-year-old woman, went to a north London police station. She told officers she had been recruited by Maracineanu, who had promised they would earn money together to buy a house in Romania.
The court heard that other women had been controlled by the couple, recruited through friends and family with the promise of a better life. One had been offered work as a prostitute when she was 14. Four years later, she agreed to go with Radu for unspecified work in the UK, but when she arrived was told she would be working as a prostitute.
Others knew they would be working as prostitutes and were told they would share takings. But when they had arrived in the UK thye found themselves in debt bondage – told by the couple they owed money for their travel costs, as well as their “patch” of the street and rent in the flats they used in Paddington, west London. While the women could earn at least £250-300 a night, they were often given as little as £20-30 a day.
They described physical and mental abuse. In a victim impact statement, one of the women said: “Once [Niculescu] beat me really badly. He punched me and then hit me many times with the pole from the hoover… I was covered in blood. I still have a scar because of what happened that day.”
Another described being beaten by a man who refused to pay for sex. “The client was under the influence of drugs and beat me for an hour, both during and after sex,” she said. “He slapped me all over my body, including my face. I was praying to God to escape alive.”
DC Alison Hines said all the women had been subjected to various levels of abuse. “All of them were threatened that their families would be harmed, their houses would be burned down, or they would be beaten up,” she said. “The fact that they were willing to give evidence against their traffickers is incredibly brave.”
Damaris Lakin, a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service London’s complex casework unit, said: “All three suspects initially denied controlling these women and girls for prostitution. The bravery of these women in providing evidence and supporting this prosecution has helped stop a dangerous criminal network taking advantage of vulnerable young girls.”
It is almost impossible to talk about pornography without wading into a swamp of controversy. Facts are not neutral, the politics are contradictory and, if you suspend judgment altogether, it often reads as silently taking a side. And still, we try. Good old us.
Last month’s Goop was The Sex Issue. If you browsed through pieces on the ethics of porn and one titled “Reality Check: Anal Sex” you found yourself in Gwyneth’s “Get It On Shop” where you could spend $885 on a pair of silver “benwa balls” to “strengthen your kegels and have a better orgasm all at once”, and $20 on individual sachets of “sex dust”. Goop sex is mindful, artisanal, aspirational and typically expensive. If US shipping costs put you off I have a good recipe for sex dust you can make at home that simply requires a swab from the underside of the far booth in the Brighton All Bar One, and some finely ground turmeric.
Last week, Rowan Pelling (ex-editor of the Erotic Review) launched the Amorist, which she describes as “an erotic version of Woman’s Hour”, a phrase that will undoubtedly be swimming in your head the next time you wake at dawn with a start, sweaty and scared, the taste of pennies on your tongue. It’s “a general interest magazine for those who are generally interested in sex and desire – and an antidote to Brexit”. It seeks to “counter the excesses of online pornography and the tendency to see sex through a functional prism”. It’s based in the same building as the Oldie, and the tone is that of a frisky couple whose youngest child has recently left home to study PPE.
Elsewhere, porn is being investigated in a new Netflix series of documentaries called Hot Girls Wanted, produced by a team led by Rashida Jones. In their first film we meet female filmmakers in the porn business; in the last, a teenager in Ohio facing 20 years in prison and a lifetime on the sex offenders’ register for livestreaming the rape of her friend on Periscope. Jones “wanted to show where there was dark, there was also light”. In particular, she said she was interested in “self-empowerment versus self-objectification”.
Except, says the New Republic in a crushing critique: “In their rush to ‘humanise’ adult performers and explore the concept of ‘empowerment,’ the producers enact precisely the kind of objectification and dehumanisation that they aim to critique.” Thinking about sex sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Every seven seconds, a thesis.
We snap the word porn on to images of excess. We understand the meaning of phrases like food porn, property porn, plant porn, travel porn, cocktail porn, not because these are sexy things, but because we associate the word “porn” with the feelings we have when we look at them – a combination of desire and guilt, and fantasy, and disappointment at the celibate reality of our real lunch, our real home.
But while we know what porn means, what it stands for, to judge by the ever-growing number of takes on the subject, the lure of learning about it seems almost as powerful as porn itself. That’s how we excuse our obsession: porn stops being something private and dirty, and becomes instead something you can discuss with your partner’s boss at dinner parties over cheese.
The cycles of thought have rolled between empowering to dangerous and back again, with new incendiary debates on whether it’s right to call porn “work”. What the commentaries have in common though, is that they’re all deeply enervating.
Porn has proved as slippery and ungovernable as sexuality itself. However much people attempt to pick away at it with words, porn remains, this mountain looming above us, its shadow falling over everybody’s private lives. Ironically the act of intellectualising porn, drilling into the stone of it, is the one thing that threatens it, in that it makes pornography a chore and not sex, and therefore much harder for a person to enjoy during their “me time”. Despite featuring nudity and lust, debating pornography is the opposite of talking dirty.
For instance, if instead of paying for sex a landlord would rather receive sexual favours from a tenant living rent-free, would that really be so bad? Well, yes, actually it would, at least according to recent reports of landlords making this very offer. Apparently, this is an appalling example of the current housing market allowing predatory men to exploit the vulnerable.
Only if this is the case, why is paying for sex not viewed with the same horror? It’s the same marketplace, the same bodies, the same needs. All sex for rent does is cut out the symbolic means of exchange in the middle. Yet far from decrying the exchange of sex for money, supposedly progressive organisations such as Amnesty International and the NUS, in addition to mainstream political parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are pushing to liberalise attitudes towards the purchase of sex. Why are these two things seen so differently?
True, live-in work carries with it particular risks and uncertainties, but do any of us feel the same qualms about housekeepers or nannies getting to live rent-free? And aren’t many of us doing jobs we’d rather not do, only a pay check or two away from eviction? So why should sex for rent be seen as especially problematic?
If it’s to do with the fact that it’s sex and not, say, cleaning or childcare, shouldn’t we be able to pinpoint why this is? And yet few are willing to do so, silenced by the thought-terminating clichés – “sex work is work”, “my body, my choice” – that have come to dominate the left’s approach to sex and gender.
I’d go so far as to suggest the mainstream left has no real right to be shocked about sex for rent. After all, it’s only the logical conclusion of a pseudo-feminist politics which refuses to engage fully with power and labour redistribution, choosing instead to talk in circles about the right of individuals to do whatever they like with their own bodies while bypassing any analysis of why one group seeks to control the sexual and reproductive lives of another. It’s politics for the unthinking and the privileged, yet it appears we can all afford to be unthinking and privileged when it’s only the bodies of women at stake.
“My body, my choice”, a perfectly appropriate slogan when used to mean only a pregnant woman should be able to make decisions about her pregnancy, has been expanded ad absurdum. Yet the point about abortion is that the only alternative to it is the work of pregnancy; there’s no possible third option, whereby the already-pregnant individual gets to go through neither. The same is not true of sex work or poverty. It is possible for there to be alternatives to exploitation or destitution. That for many women there are currently none is not least down to a politics that values unlimited sexual freedom for all – an impossibility – over a fairer redistribution of limited choices for everyone.
If we regard women as full, equal human beings, then we cannot have a world in which there are no limits placed on men’s access to female sexual and/or reproductive labour. “Sex work is work” and “my body, my choice” simply don’t cut it when it comes to deciding where to draw the line. We should all face restrictions on what we can do with our own bodies, just as we should all have duties of care towards the bodies of others. The problem with patriarchy is not that it prevents women from having the same physical freedoms as men due to some inexplicable, knee-jerk “woman-phobia” –it’s that it shifts most of the necessary physical restrictions and duties attached to reproduction and care onto women, leaving men with the belief that liberation means no one ever saying “no” to you.
Such a belief – at heart pro-capitalist and anti-feminist – has seeped into supposedly pro-woman, left-wing thought and activism, yet anyone who points out the absurdity of it is treated to a Victorian asylum-style diagnosis of prudery and whorephobia. To claim, on the one hand, that one is anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal, while insisting, on the other, that no woman is without means as long as she has orifices to penetrate, is not progressive. On the contrary, it’s ultra-conservative. It shifts the baseline of our understanding of need and it does so dishonestly, masking coercion by repackaging it as free choice.
If anything is for sale – any body part, any experience, any relationship – then the poorest will be stripped bare. If you accept the principle that there is nothing wrong with buying sex – or ova or breastmilk or babies – how do you ensure supply can meet demand? Only by making sure there are always enough women with no other options. There is no other way. There are not enough female bodies to meet male sexual and reproductive demands without any form of coercion; that’s why patriarchy, with all its complex systems of reward and punishment, exists in the first place.
If sex work is work, poverty is necessary. The alternative to patriarchy isn’t a world in which everyone gets to be a de-facto patriarch, free to make whatever sexual and reproductive choices they want, safe in the knowledge that there will always be willing bodies to meet their demands. The postmodern fantasy that an underclass of coerced, poverty-stricken females can be replaced by an underclass of willing, always-up-for-it, cisgendered females, while charming in its naivety, remains just that: a fantasy.
She is the leader of the Women’s Equality party (WEP), a new political force committed to furthering the cause of gender equality, but which has yet to make inroads electorally.
He is a Tory MP who tried to derail a bill to protect women against violence, and told a conference hosted by an anti-feminism party that “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it”.
Now, in what is likely to be one of the most fascinating clashes of the general election, Sophie Walker and Philip Davies are to face off on the campaign trail as other opposition parties consider giving her a free run in her attempt to unseat the Shipley Conservative MP.
The developments in the West Yorkshire constituency come as attempts to engineer a broader “progressive alliance” gather steam. On Monday the leftwing pressure group Compass will launch a website to help maximise the anti-Conservative vote in constituencies around the country, and bring together activists from the three main opposition parties in a new political movement.
Walker, a journalist who became the WEP’s inaugural leader in 2015 and has been at the forefront of its campaigns for equal representation and pay in working life, said: “Philip Davies basically is a sexist misogynist who puts his own ego ahead of his constituents. His anti-equality agenda in Westminster threatens the rights and freedoms not just of women but also people with disabilities, BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) and LGBT+ communities. I think that Shipley deserves an MP who will prioritise representing them and the issues that are important to their constituency, rather than using parliament as a stage to play out attention-seeking performances.”
The Green party approached the WEP with the offer to stand aside, according to local Green activists in Shipley, who have yet to rubberstamp the idea but are supportive of it in theory. The idea has not so far been floated widely among local Liberal Democrats, who meet on Thursday, but there is strong support already among some officials.
However, while the idea of Walker’s candidature has been discussed by WEP and Labour members of Shipley Feminist Zealots, a local group, some Labour members are eager to field a candidate. Local chairman Joe Wheatley said that Labour had shown itself as the “most effective” opposition to Davies, who racked up a 9,624-vote majority over his Labour runner-up in 2015.
The Brexit-supporting MP will be boosted in a constituency that mirrored the referendum’s national result. Walker, a Remain supporter, wants an “equality impact assessment” of any final Brexit deal, and the chance for MPs to vote it down if necessary.
We are a grassroots group of women and men in Shipley, West Yorkshire, working for gender equality.
We started with a cake stall in August 2016, when our local MP Philip Davies notoriously said “Feminist zealots want to have their cake and eat it” and also complained of “politically correct males who pander to this nonsense”. He is also a well known supporter of Trump and opponent/filibuster of equalities legislation – despite currently sitting on the parliamentary committee for women and equalities.
We run cake stalls raising money for Bradford Women’s Aid and CALM (a charity working to prevent male suicide) and we organised the Shipley Sister March on 21st January.
The book is called Why I Am Not a Feminist, which is, of course, a lie as well as a provocation, for its author’s feminism runs through her veins like blood. Crispin’s principles, however, have their roots, radical and angry, in the second wave of feminism, not the third: she, for one, is not about to renounce the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone, whose uncompromising books she has, incidentally, actually read.
What she disdains, then, is what she deems lifestyle feminism: a bland, ultra-inclusive marketing exercise that demands absolutely nothing from those who buy into it save for to ask that they use the word “feminist” as frequently as possible, preferably while looking utterly adorable. “Dior has this $600 T-shirt that says on it: ‘We Should All Be Feminists’,” she tells me, when she talks to me on Skype from New York (where she is ill and rundown, her pink kimono almost matching the colour of her feverish cheeks). “But what does that say about the person wearing it other than: ‘I can afford a $600 T-shirt’? Feminism has been entirely co-opted by consumerism.”
The new feminism, which is not really feminism at all, is by Crispin’s telling as shallow as a martini, and a good deal less good for you: “This is a T-shirt you can wear in order to cloak your bad behaviour, to let you think of yourself as some kind of political hero or rebel without you actually having to do anything.”
What, she wonders, is the end result of so many younger women choosing to call themselves feminists? “It’s about individualism, and self-achievement. It’s about pop stars and television and narcissism. It’s not about subsidised childcare, or institutional and structural social change. It’s meaningless.” This self-obsession and ideological laziness extends, she thinks, even to their reading matter. “Roxane Gay [the US feminist writer] is on the record as saying that she hasn’t read Andrea Dworkin [the anti-pornographer campaigner], and that we don’t have to, either. Really? Isn’t there work and sacrifice in being a political person?”
Crispin looks out at the world and sees a hyper-masculinised realm in which women must mimic men if they’re to survive, let alone to rise in an upwards direction. “I realise that using words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in this way can get you into trouble these days,” she says. “But where are the [feminine] values of community, care and empathy in our modern world? Their absence doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people.”
“Good intentions are nothing against the system,” she writes sombrely. And then, more terrifyingly: “The system is older than you. It has absorbed more venom that you can ever hope to emit. You will not even slow it down.” She would also like it to be known that not getting what you want is not, by any stretch of the imagination, oppression.
The Women’s Marches which followed his inauguration seemed to her to lack focus. “This is a repeated problem with the American left: the lack of clear goals. Those marches were celebratory. They were good for the heart. But we’ve had [municipal] elections in the US since then where the turnout was, like 15 to 20%. During the Women’s Strike [on 8 March], I saw a journalist ask a woman what she was going to do instead of working. She said: ‘Oh, I’m just going to do something empowering like watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer!’ I mean, come on! Let’s do something, here.”
Well, now I’m going to have be a little tough myself. If our marches are pointless and our workplace aspirations without worth, what should we do instead? She can’t be allowed to get away with writing a feminist manifesto with no plausible suggestion for the society of the future.
“You can start by all divorcing your husbands!” she says. For a moment, I wonder if she’s joking. But, no. “There does have to be a process of understanding the way you participate in these systems of oppression. Marriage’s history is about treating women as property, and by being married you’re legitimising that history.” Another good start would be to remove your money from the big banks and put it in a small, local credit union instead, “even if you only have $80”. Above all, maybe women should start listening to one another again.
‘Making Sense of Modern Pornography’ by Katrina Forrester, is a long, fairly well balanced (with a few exceptions, see below) article published by The New Yorker in September last year, about the current state of the porn industry, and also a review of a book called The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Shira Tarrant, I would recommend reading the whole article.
Pornography has changed unrecognizably from its so-called golden age – the period, in the sixties and seventies, when adult movies had theatrical releases and seemed in step with the wider moment of sexual liberation, and before V.H.S. drove down production quality, in the eighties. Today’s films are often short and nearly always hard-core; that is, they show penetrative sex. Among the most popular search terms in 2015 were “anal,” “amateur,” “teen,” and – one that would surely have made Freud smile – “mom and son.” Viewing figures are on a scale that golden-age moguls never dreamed of: in 2014, Pornhub alone had seventy-eight billion page views, and XVideos is the fifty-sixth most popular Web site in the world. Some porn sites get more traffic than news sites like CNN, and less only than platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal.
The millions of people using these sites probably don’t care much about who produces their content. But those who work in porn in the United States tend to draw a firm line between the “amateur” porn that now proliferates online and the legal adult-film industry that took shape after the California Supreme Court ruled, in California v. Freeman (1989), that filmed sex did not count as prostitution. Since then, the industry has been based in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, where its professional norms and regulations have mimicked its more respectable Hollywood neighbors. In “The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford), Shira Tarrant explains how that industry works in the new age of Internet porn, and sets out to provide neutral, “even-handed” information about its production and consumption.
It’s not an easy task. Since the “porn wars” of the seventies and eighties, when feminists campaigned against the expanding pornography industry (and other feminists sided with Hustler to defend it), talking about pornography in terms of mere facts has seemed impossible. The atmosphere of controversy makes it hard to avoid moral positions. Even to suspend judgment may be to take sides.
Linda Lovelace’s performance in “Deep Throat,” in 1972, made porn mainstream; later, her denunciation of the movie, which she characterized as filmed rape, made the idea of the porn star as victim mainstream, too. In the mid-eighties, the revelation that Traci Lords had been underage in her most famous films led to the prosecution of producers, agents, and distributors under child-pornography statutes, and new legislation resulted in stricter age-verification requirements for porn actors. But by the time [Jenna] Jameson arrived on the scene the industry had become an efficient star-making machine. It had distributors and advertisers, production teams and industry magazines, shoots requiring permits, agents who sold the talent and trade associations who represented them. Jameson quickly achieved her ambition, becoming the industry’s biggest star and most reliable brand. By 2005, her company, ClubJenna, had an annual revenue of thirty million dollars.
Things are different now. Much online porn is amateur and unregulated. It’s hard to tell how much, because there’s little data, and even larger studios now ape the amateur aesthetic, but applications for porn-shoot permits in Los Angeles County reportedly fell by ninety-five per cent between 2012 and 2015. Now most films have low production values, and they are often unscripted. Sometimes you can hear the director’s voice; apparently, many viewers can make do without the old fictional tropes of doctors and nurses, schoolgirls, and so on—the porn industry itself having become the locus of fantasy. Where performers like Jameson had multi-film contracts with studios like Wicked or Vivid Entertainment, such deals are now rare, and most performers are independent contractors who get paid per sex act.
Tarrant’s book sheds useful light on the bargain-basement world of contemporary porn. In 2012, one agent claimed that the actresses he represented received eight hundred dollars for lesbian scenes, a thousand for ones with a man, twelve hundred or more for anal sex, and four thousand for double penetration, but there’s reason to think that these figures are inflated. Stoya, a well-known performer who has written about her life in the industry, has cited a rate of just twelve to fourteen hundred dollars for double penetration. Wages have declined across the board. Tarrant estimates that a female performer filming three anal scenes a month would make forty thousand dollars a year.
Riskier acts are incentivized. According to one analysis of an industry talent database, women entering the business now will do more, and more quickly, than they once did: in the nineteen-eighties, they would wait an average of two years before a first anal scene; now it’s six months. Jameson famously never did anal (though one of her most viewed Pornhub clips is “Jenna Jameson accidental anal,” which shows, in slow motion, that on the Internet there’s no such thing as never). From 2000 on, she had only one onscreen male partner—her husband. “I look at these new girls today and I think, What the hell are they doing?” she said in 2004. “These girls don’t know that you have to start slow, baby, and make them pay you more for each thing you do.”
Today, most porn actresses don’t stick around long enough to start slow. The average career is between four and six months. Performers work long hours with no benefits and they have to cover significant out-of-pocket costs. Tests for S.T.D.s can be as much as two hundred dollars a month. Add to this grooming, travel, and the usual freelancer expenses and it costs a lot to be legal in the porn industry.
In a context of declining wages and rising costs, attempts at regulation are unpopular. In 2012, Los Angeles County passed Measure B, a law mandating condom use in porn shoots there. Advocacy organizations for performers have resisted the measure, saying that it ignores the preferences of their workforce and would compel performers to use not only condoms but also safety goggles and dental dams. More important, perhaps, it also ignores consumer preferences: in an age when few pay for porn, producers don’t want to alienate those who do. The regulated industry has developed other ways to avoid condoms—preëxposure treatments, production moratoriums when infections are detected, and, in some gay studios, a working assumption that performers are H.I.V. positive. Other producers, rather than comply, have left California for Nevada or Florida. The industry may have created the norms that dominate online porn, but it’s being squeezed into irrelevance, and preferences have taken on a life of their own.
It would have been good to point out that these ‘advocacy organisations’ are representing the interests of the porn companies over the interests of the porn performers, that porn performers have nothing remotely resembling a real union to protect them at ‘work’, and that in any other industry, bosses arguing that workers ‘don’t want’ Personal Protective Equipment would be seen as exercising unequal power compared to non-unionised gig-economy workers. There is also no other industry were frequent, deliberate contact with another person’s body fluids is seen as just part of the job.
Whether you see porn as just another sector disrupted by the Internet or as a still powerful engine of profit-driven exploitation depends on a thornier set of debates that shape how pornography is understood. To talk about porn purely in terms of costs and incentives is not, as Tarrant suggests, neutral. Even to stress the work involved is a political move.
When America’s pornographic secrets have been publicly aired, they have usually taken the form of First Amendment issues. In 1988, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling against Hustler that had awarded damages to the evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell, the founder of the conservative organization the Moral Majority. (The magazine had published a satirical ad in which Falwell described his “first time” with his mother.) Flynt became an unlikely liberal hero, cementing a coalition between free-speech defenders and pornographers. After California v. Freeman, the Adult Film and Video Association of America renamed itself the Free Speech Legal Defense Fund, and, later, the Free Speech Coalition.
Remember, the ‘Free Speech Coalition’ is the organisation portraying itself as a grass-roots movement by and for porn performers.
But, in the famous phrase of the legal scholar and anti-pornography campaigner Catherine MacKinnon, pornography is not “only words.” The feminist campaigns of the seventies against rape and violence against women condemned pornography not on the ground of obscenity but on the ground of harm. It wasn’t a private matter but a political expression of male power. As MacKinnon wrote, with the anti-pornography feminist Andrea Dworkin, pornography was “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women.” Dworkin described it as a form of sexual slavery.
Thirty years later, porn is more pervasive than ever, but it’s also more diffuse—and so are the debates. There are new organizations like Stop Porn Culture, led by the feminist Gail Dines, which campaign for porn’s abolition, and against the industry’s hypersexualization of women and the “pornification” of culture. Old coalitions have reappeared, deploying new rhetoric: in April, Dines supported a Republican bill in Utah that declared pornography not a moral threat but a “public health hazard.” Critics worry as much about men’s health—porn addiction, erectile dysfunction—as they do about violence against women.
Ah yes, the old you’re in league with religious fundamentalists! argument. Coalition building on single issues is a normal part of mainstream politics; nobody would complain about, say, an environmental protection bill supported by Republicans/Conservatives, nor do pro-sex industry advocates balk at working with the right when it suits their aims, it’s only radical/abolitionist feminists who are expected to meet such an unrealistic level of ideological ‘purity’.
Pornography’s defenders still lean on ideas of sexual freedom and empowerment. “I am a pervert,” Sasha Grey—the only recent star to rise anywhere near Jameson’s heights—declared in a 2009 interview. “I want to tell young women that sex is O.K. It’s O.K. to be a slut. You don’t have to be ashamed.” In a “mission statement” she wrote when she entered the industry, at eighteen, Grey said that she was “determined and ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone’s fantasies.” She was no Lovelace: “If I am working out any issues through porn, it’s anger at society for not being open about sex.”
It would have been a good idea to mention that, it turned out Sasha Grey was being violently controlled by a much older boyfriend/pimp when she entered the sex industry.
Performers now often defend porn using the language not of freedom but of work, and begin with the idea that [prostitution] is a form of work like many others. Sure, working in the sex industry is exploitative and precarious, but so is work in other industries. The porn workers who do their jobs well enough that you buy their performance are giving their consent, but they likely do so only as other precarious workers do: they need the money and have limited choices. To an older generation of feminists, this defense sounds hollow: it concedes that sex and intimacy can be bought and sold. For a younger generation, the idea that they can’t is a misunderstanding: sex has long been monetized, and today there’s nowhere that the market doesn’t go. To reflect this, many younger feminists want a sexual politics that restores a tradition of labor organizing predating the porn wars (when even Playboy bunnies had a union), and seek to protect performers from profit-seeking managers.
Are they really? When sex industry advocates are happy calling bosses ‘sex workers’ and trafficked women ‘migrant sex workers’, and hardly ever criticize any aspect of porn production, I’m dubious about ‘younger feminists’ commitment to real change in the sex industry, beyond ‘centering alternative voices’ (whatever that actually means), and harassing lesbian pornographers for refusing to work with pre-op trans women. Also, let’s be realistic here, the Playboy bunnies were not being subjected to double-anals in front of a camera – any real workers rights in the modern porn industry would render porn production impossible.
At the fringes of the industry, performers are trying to change it from the inside, in the name of fair pay, better conditions, and more enjoyable sex. The aim of companies like Pink and White Productions and TrenchcoatX is to challenge the tube sites’ monopoly and to overthrow the racist, sexist categories that silently shape preferences. Their hope is that making inclusive, diverse porn—in which the performers’ pleasure is authentic and the orgasms real—will change sex for the better. The defense of this artisanal approach to porn pulls in contradictory directions: it at once argues that porn is work and not pleasure, and also that the pleasure it captures is authentic. Tarrant, despite claiming neutrality, is subtly allied with this view, and compares campaigns for ethical porn to those for organic, fair-trade food. In reality, it’s a harder sell. Few people want ethics with their porn.
When it comes to sexual practices, too, statistics are open to interpretation. Anti-pornography campaigners frequently cite the widely reported increase in the practice of anal sex among heterosexuals as evidence of porn’s influence. (In a 2014 study of anal sex among young British heterosexuals, a majority of young men surveyed – described as “teen-age boys” by the anti-porn camp, and “emerging adults” by the pro – admitted “persuading” their female partners to try it, with reluctant or little consent.) The campaigners insist that teen-agers are reënacting humiliations they’ve learned online. But that assumption leaves out other explanations. The British study suggested that the rise of premarital sex has meant that “conquest” narratives, which once fetishized the taking of virginity, now require a new focus. Equally, it might indicate a severance between reproduction and sex, or a straight acceptance of gay sexuality.
This last argument makes no sense whatsoever, anal sex is not ‘gay sex’, sex between two or more men is gay sex. Anal sex is not compulsory, even for gay men, and before the 1970s, it was not even a widespread practice among gay men. If the increase in heterosexual anal sex was about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why the coercion and lack of enthusiasm among the teen-aged girls? If it’s really about an acceptance of ‘gay sexuality’, why are we not hearing about an increase in heterosexual teen-age boys being anally penetrated by their girlfriends using strap-ons?
Sometimes, though, porn’s defenders overcompensate. They are too ready to interpret the lack of unequivocal data about porn’s impact as unequivocal proof that there is no impact. In a field as hard to measure as sexual behavior, this seems unwise. Pornography may be more likely to turn us into solipsistic masturbators than violent rapists, but it’s hard to imagine that it has no effect at all. The pro-porn argument, which insists that pornography is changing but denies that it changes us, appears contradictory. It inverts the anti-porn mistake of seeing porn as the key engine of transformation, instead giving it no power whatsoever. But sex is always changing, and, though porn can’t explain it all, its role can’t be ruled out, either.
QotD: “This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity”
Like most fairy-tale heroines, Belle doesn’t have a mother. One presumes her mother must have died while engaged in some second-wave, biologically essentialist activity such as giving birth. Thankfully Belle doesn’t need an older female role model – or indeed any female role model – because most women are rubbish, lacking the imagination even to question their fate. If they’re not fancying Gaston, they’re faffing about with babies or getting old.
While I doubt the creators of Beauty and the Beast had been reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (published in 1990), I think the overall shift in mood is obvious. This is the beginning of a new style of feminism, which is not about one’s social position, but one’s inner identity. It’s not for rubbish women, who marry local heartthrobs and have babies and get old and shit. It’s only for special women, like Belle. This makes it more inclusive (no, I don’t know why, either). More importantly, it makes it more marketable. Sod the sisterhood; as long as you have the right accessories, liberation is yours.
Structurally, it turns out there’s very little Gaston wants to do to Belle that the Beast doesn’t actually do. However, the latter is excused because he does it while being a beast and hence has identity issues. Not only that, but the Beast’s sexism isn’t as clichéd and common as Gaston’s. If the latter reads FHM, the former reads Julia Kristeva. If Gaston stands for the easy-win, obvious, pussy-grabbing misogyny of the right, the Beast stands for the left’s more refined, complex, long-wordy woman-hating. It’s not for Belle to challenge it, but to listen and learn from it.
This is, I think, one of the most insidious aspects of Beauty and the Beast, and the one which marks it out as a fundamentally third-wave project: it remarkets femininity – by which I mean female accommodation, empathy, self-sacrifice on behalf of males – as not just a female, but a feminist, virtue. Belle is sneeringly dismissive of the Bimbettes’ adoration of Gaston, yet quite prepared to embrace self-effacement for a more unusual male in a more unusual setting. Why, then it starts to look like empowerment! Watching this now, I can’t help recalling my own feelings about leaving behind the “coarse and unrefined” men of my own town to go to university, where I met men whose sexism I chose not to see. I associated misogyny with a lack of education and an uncritical embrace of stereotypes. Surely men who looked different and read books couldn’t hate women, too? Perhaps all they needed was a woman who understood them.
Feminism makes no sense without a meaningful analysis of work and class. I didn’t realise this back in 1991. As far as I was concerned, sexism was simply a massive, global misunderstanding, the unfortunate outcome of the mistaken belief that women were inferior to men. It never crossed my mind that it might all be the other way round: that the dehumanisation of women could have arisen as a means to justify their exploitation, an exploitation upon which countless social, political and economic structures depended. That would just have been too depressing, not to mention terribly second-wave.
As she keeps on reminding us, Belle wants more to life than unpaid domestic labour. While second-wave feminists had an annoying tendency to remind us that such work never actually goes away – someone still has to do it, and surely it should be everyone – third-wavers had a better idea: pretend there still exists a class of people who are born to do all the boring old tasks no one else wants to do, only this time, said class doesn’t have to include you personally. This is the solution to which Belle turns.
The likes of Betty Friedan may have fretted over how to liberate middle-class women from domestic servitude without piling the labour onto other women. One solution Friedan didn’t count on was an enchanted castle, with the staff who claim to “only live to serve”. In modern feminist terms we would call such people “cis women” (singular version: your mum). Such women’s relationship with their class status is not conflicted; on the contrary, they apparently identify [with] it. This means feminists don’t have to challenge an exploitative hierarchy after all. Rather they only need ensure that they – as individuals wanting “more than this provincial life” – don’t find themselves wrongly positioned within it.
Do you really believe … that everything historians tell us about men – or about women – is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by men, who never tell the truth except by accident.
Moderata Fonte, pseudonym of Modesta Pozzo (1555-1592). She was an Italian writer from Venice who wrote religious and romantic poetry. Modesta is best known, however, for the posthumously published The Worth of Women: Wherein Is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men
Check me out, front and centre! This photo made international news!!
We had a collective of about 20 radical feminists marching for International Women’s Day in Melbourne, and there were enough of us that we could do our own chants and everything (we did a call and response chant of “name the problem” “male violence!”)
There were some anti TERF/SWERFs trying to antagonise us but we just ignored them and stood strong. Really felt like a victory for the radical feminist movement in Australia :~)