So now Russell Brand wants us to stop watching porn as part of his campaign against all things Capitalist. And like his previous forays into politics, he is quite proud of his lack of experience and knowledge about the subject, stating in this vlog that he has neither seen or read 50 Shades of Grey, (the particular focus of his current ire) yet he wants to tell us why we should not be watching it. His argument is based on skim-reading a couple of academic articles/sites for a few supportive data which alas, as members of the adult industry know all too well, do not actually represent anything more than a part of the whole story.
The main problem I have with Brand and others’ arguments against porn is apart from the reductive ideas of sex being about procreation and loving a person (enter the Christian Conservatives and anti-abortionists, all is well!) is the basic premise that porn has to be responsible for all our insecurities and dating/relationship problems. People like anti ‘porn culture’ campaigner Gail Dines and Brand want an easy answer to a difficult and messy situation in which young people, especially, have issues with themselves and those they date. He worries that young people today are going to hell in a handcart, an enduring moral panic we have seen most recently with the campaign of the 1980’s against the video nasties, in which Mary Whitehouse assumed (she never watched the things either) that boys watching films like the now kitsch classic Driller Killer would be running the streets murdering people in a further ten years. Needless to say, nobody died.
The main problem with the common arguments against porn lies in the non-existence of the oft-imagined “pre-porn” or “outside of porn” situation in which the opposite was true, when young people didn’t have such issues, or men didn’t sexually objectify women. For instance, the list of problematic symptoms of men’s porn watching Brand gives in his blog (via Gary R. Brooks) are:
- Voyeurism: An obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them.
- Objectification: An attitude in which women are objects, rated by size, shape, body parts.
- Validation: The need to validate masculinity through beautiful women.
- Trophyism: The idea that beautiful women are collectables who show the world what a man is.
- Fear of true intimacy: The inability to relate to women in an honest and intimate way, despite deep loneliness.
He fears that his previous focus on a woman’s beauty rather than her diabetic status (his words not mine) is a symptom that he as a man was encouraged to do because of his hitherto porn consumption. In this I hear ramifications of the defense encouraged by lawyers in the late 1980’s to encourage those accused of rape to blame porn producers and not themselves for rapes they were accused of, as was momentarily entertained by the anti-porn feminist-inspired Meese Commission. Such a defense would have encouraged rapists to walk free and presumably rape again were it successful. In the same way Brand gets to externalise his guilt.
I’d like to add that I too sexually objectify people, that is fleetingly see them for their looks alone (and have done so long before my pornographic career) and I believe this is something most people do. It is the sexist culture we live in that then justifies men’s ownership of this state of objectification that causes women issues (along with the denial that women might objectify others too given half a chance), not that men momentarily see women as only attractive with no consideration of their blood sugar levels. If the feeling were left as fleeting and individual rather than developed into structures that disadvantage women more widely, it would be a lot less insidious.
As someone who has studied masculinities extensively I can assure Brand that such a list as the one above reads as almost the classic litany of issues men face about their masculinity. Importantly, these issues were first outlined in the early 1970’s by theorists of masculinity, long before the proliferation of porn on the web. Such male concerns also existed before the photographic printing press was invented (and was soon used to distribute sexual images of women) in the UK, and these problems also exist in countries where porn is outlawed today. In other words, these problems are caused by our attitudes to gender, especially in this case masculinity, not our access to pornography.
Rape and other crimes and forms of discrimination have reduced as pornography use (by both sexes) has increased. Sexual assaults against young people (like all violent crime) have been dropping since the late 1990’s. Teenage pregnancy and STD transmission rates are similarly falling through the floor as the facts outline. So how can people be so happy to pin all of the ills women face in the world today on such an easily refuted idea? I believe it is because people like to outsource the problems they have onto one easily identifiable object so they can enjoy an imagined easily attainable elimination of it, in one fell swoop as it were. Working out all of the quotidian and piecemeal ways women experience sexism would be far more difficult and therefore less satisfying to imagine. But such a fantasy is about an object that just happens to be positioned on the outskirts of society, so doesn’t have access to the required political apparatus required to fight such claims.
Well, Brand I say this to you Mr Socialist. Porn isn’t just the money-grabbing evil capitalist industry image that you perceive it to be (actually it is much more of a cottage industry in the UK at least, so this description is also unwarranted) it is a group of real people who have to live day in and day out with the fallout of your semi-researched, emotionally based arguments. Do you ever spare a thought of the effect your type has on those people in the films whom you assume do not choose to do so out of their own educated consent? Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, it’s the anti porn feminists that we have to fight, not the porn fans? That maybe your activism is greatly damaging and that rescue industries that try to “save us” do so without even the cursory respect of the people they use as pawns in their moral crusades?
When I started www.WeConsent.org a few years ago my intent was to campaign on behalf of all those in the various sex industries who consent fully to the work they do, I spoke to many sex workers who were quite clear, it was the moralists who they had to fight, even more so than dangerous customers! After all, it is those like you and Dines who are trying to take their income away either by removing the market for their work or by making their work illegal such as in the Swedish model of banning sex work.
Please do us a favour Brand and keep your campaigns away from areas that hurt people who have already been made vulnerable by laws that deny them equal rights at work and by a culture that assumes their inability to know their own minds. The porn industry is actually very difficult to get into, as my own experience and my inbox full of wannabes’ emails attest. So please, do your research and see beyond the false dichotomy of ‘Capitalism’ v ‘Creativity’. The adult industry is full of people experimenting and pushing the boundaries of their minds and bodies both for personal satisfaction and financial gain, both of which they get more of inside the industry than outside. In other words they aren’t mutually exclusive, and neither is an industry and the people that work in it. So when you campaign against our industry, you campaign against us. And it hurts.