Wow. That line is the conclusion of an article in the Life section of today’s Globe and Mail, titled, How to Revel in Porn and Feel Good About It. I started reading, hoping – and I’ll admit, expecting – to find that the title was intended to be ironic. Instead, the piece is a matter-of-fact, (if not terribly thorough) quick exploration of a few ‘ethical issues’ the author has been struck by as he’s “surfed through videos on websites that aggregate porn.” Namely, “is there any way to become an ethical consumer of smut.”
Admittedly, some credit is due the author for beginning to ask important questions about the porn industry. What happens off camera? How are the actors and actresses treated? Are men and women coerced into sex acts, either through circumstances of economic disparity or even rape? What about condom use? Are they fairly compensated for their ‘labour’?
These are good questions, even important questions. But I’m certain that if he had really done his homework in seeking answers to them, he might have come up with a different conclusion than “if you want to be an ethical consumer of porn, pay for it”. He would have landed on a question that didn’t ask how to be an ethical consumer of porn, but rather whether that was even possible.
In her new book “Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality”, anti-pornography activist Gail Dines argues that society’s dominant discourse around sex and sexuality has been hijacked by the pornography industry.
“As a major industry, the porn business does not just construct and sell a product; it constructs a world in which the product can be sold: the technologies, the business models, the enthusiastic consumers, the compliant performers, the tolerant laws, even the ideologies that proclaim porn to be the very pinnacle of empowerment and liberation”
She calls porn sex ‘debased, dehumanized, formulaic and generic,’ sex that ‘encodes deep cultural scripts of male entitlement and female subservience.’ What she describes is a sex that is so deeply contrary to the dignity of each and every human, male and female, created in the image of God.
I’ll confess, when it comes to pornography – and to be very clear, I mean where the subject matter involves adults and doesn’t involve violence or overtly degrading acts – I used to wonder if I should exercise a live and let live attitude.
But as I have become more and more familiar with the issues of prostitution and human trafficking, I’ve become increasingly convinced there isn’t anything live and let live about pornography. To ignore the intricate connections between all these facets of the so-called ‘sex trade’ is both ignorant and irresponsible.
There is much more than a simple question of morality involved. It is a question of justice. And while I may waffle on what my role is and ought to be in speaking to questions of morality, I know for certain I am called to “do justice.”
It seems our society has been groomed (a term used to describe how child predators prepare their victims) to believe that as long as there is consent, and willing participation, it’s an informed choice, it’s okay, it’s ethical, and it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.
But as it is with the issue of prostitution, in stark contrast to the few voices that argue freedom of choice and women’s liberation, there are more and more women who have ‘survived’ these industries who are speaking out about how unsafe, non-consensual, undignified and unliberated these so-called professions are in reality.
In an address at the June 2010 Stop Porn Culture Conference, Gail Dines said that for all the successful, apparently glamorous porn stars we see on the television programs like Oprah or Howard Stern, there are “thousands of women that go to the San Fernando Valley with stars in their eyes and come away with scars on their bodies. Some go back to their low paid jobs while others end up on the streets under the control of pimps, in the brothels of Nevada, or doing the type of porn that is considered to be beyond the mainstream, even by the porn industry…These are the women the pro-porn people never want to talk about because they bring into stark focus just how the industry really treats women. Their lives illustrate the contempt and utter disregard that the industry has for women and the reality of their lives is hidden behind the mantra of ‘well, they consented.’ What does consent mean in a world where women are the poorest, hungriest and most overworked group? What does consent mean in a world where according to economist Amartya Sen, 100 million women are missing? And we don’t even notice their absence.”
These words firmly put to rest any notions of a ‘live and let live’ mindset when it comes to pornography. The porn industry uses, abuses and exploits vulnerable people. And, it has so infiltrated our society that the common understanding is that it’s all okay, that boys will be boys, and that boys want porn… increasingly graphic and hardcore porn.
What struck me most as I read the article was that porn was presented as just so… normal. This unquestionably unhealthy and unnatural representation of sexuality was, for an author writing in a major national newspaper, simply... normal. And his suggestion to any ethical dilemma that porn might present? We should try at least to make sure our sources of porn are reputable, compensate the actors fairly, and oh, make sure you pay for it.
As a mother of a six year old boy, I firmly believe that it is in fact true that ‘boys will be boys’. Little boys say and do things that sometimes make VERY little sense to me. And I love it. I wouldn’t dream for a second of trying to stifle any of his little boy-ness.
But I refuse to accept that being a boy means being complicit in either an industry or in societal attitudes that exploit and demean and dehumanize sex and those who engage in it. That say anyone is entitled to treat anyone else’s sexuality and personhood as something that can be bought or sold. I refuse to believe men are born with a propensity to be violent and misogynistic. And I will do my best to raise my little boy to become a man who respects and values women – and sex – and will never think that it’s okay to treat either as a commodity, whether on the internet, at the video store, on a street corner or in a strip club.