Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Feminism's Fun New Brand!

Sometimes, my Google Alert for "feminism" sends me the darndest things. In addition to regularly including "men's rights" blogposts informing the world that Men Are Very Angry And Feminism Is A Failed Little Experiment That Has Nonetheless Managed To Ruin Everything, I occasionally receive bizarre articles like this one, in which a dude college student explains that he's a "self-identified feminist who enjoys watching gang-bang porn."


I also want to note that the dude does not elaborate upon his definition of "gang-bang porn," particularly with respect to whether he likes watching the consensual or fake non-consensual gang-bang types, and really, is there a difference given that Wikipedia's surprisingly-NSFW-entry implies that the default "gang-bang" involves multiple men using a woman's body for its historical, eroticized, and rewarded purpose of passive penile ejaculation aid.

Now, I also know that some feminists take a more sex-positive view when a woman exercises her sexual agency to have sex for pay. I hesitate to open that can o' worms today, as I am not an expert on the feminist porn debate. But, at the risk of being inundated with comments telling me that I'm a "not the fun kind" of feminist, I will take a peek inside.

The portrayal of women as sex objects is a key component of rape culture, but to some, to restrict a woman's sexual agency is also a creepy convergence with conservatives and religionists who aim to restrict human sexuality, especially the sexuality of women, and turn it into something "bad" that needs to be controlled. Women are making a choice, it is said, to participate in porn, and feminism is grounded in the idea that women should have agency and choice.

And, while I certainly agree that women should have agency, the million-dollar question is whether such porn-participating agency truly exists in a patriarchal society.

An analogy comes to mind.

Researchers and medical ethicists know that any study that uses financial incentives can be coercive to persons who are poor. One of the reasons we cannot legally choose to sell our organs in the US, furthermore, is because it is believed that such a policy would exploit the poor by coercing them into participating. The idea is that a poor person's "choice" to sell their organs is deemed to be less voluntary than a well-off person who, it is assumed, would be selling their organs solely for altruistic reasons as they don't "need" the money. Thus, even though a poor person could very well have altruistic motives, it is presumed that those who are not financially stable would be coerced and more likely to sell their organs than the rich. Only the rich have the privilege of exercising agency over their bodies without having to think about or be lured in by financial remuneration.

Here, I believe, could be the existence of an analogy with respect to women who choose to participate in porn. Of course, we have the surface-level argument that financially poor women (and men) are more likely to be coerced into commodifying their bodies for porn purposes than are more well-off people. But also, if we accept as true that women in our society are highly rewarded with patriarchal pats on the head for demonstrating appropriate submission to male sexual control and authority, I question whether a woman who "chooses" to participate in the ultimate act of sexual submission and inequality- having her every orifice simultaneously penetrated by penises for movie-making purposes- has truly made a completely free choice. Or, as Twisty has written:

"The idea that women’s public sexuality can so precisely mirror traditional male fantasy while simultaneously existing in a kind of pro-woman, I-do-it-for-myself alternate universe is the cornerstone of funfeminist 'thought.' The flaw in this reasoning is that all women must participate in patriarchy regardless of what they say motivates their participation; patriarchy is the dominant culture, and there is no opting out. Which means there is no opting in, either. Do it for me, do it for you, whatever; the primary beneficiaries of women’s participation — willing or unwilling, ironic or sincere — in patriarchy, are men."

Being in favor of women's sexual agency is a distinct issue from whether or not that agency is possible in a patriarchal society. After all, those patriarchal head pats land on all of our heads, not just those of the usual Concerned Women suspects.

Or, as the article explains of the dude college student:

"His interests in non-normative sexual and lifestyle exploration led Charles to invest in the work of contemporary feminism."

Seems to me that it should be a given that gang-bang porn for dudes is a counterproductive marketing tool for feminism.

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