All porn is revenge porn

internet porn

In recent years, there has been growing media coverage, academic research, government interest, and public anger about what’s known as “revenge porn.” But a false separation between “revenge pornography” and the proliferation of commercial pornography undermines existing analyses.

The basics of revenge pornography are often understood to involve “sharing private sexual images and recordings of a person without their consent, with the intention to cause that person harm.” That harm is largely enacted through “degrading women sexually and professionally.”

Despite its definition, “revenge porn” is almost never used to describe commercial pornography. Indeed, the rush to decry “revenge porn” implies that commercial pornography is somehow not about harm, degradation, and humiliation.

It is taken for granted in many of these public discussions that all women in commercial pornography have freely and willingly consented, not only to the sex acts that have been recorded, but also to their global distribution. Beyond that, the stories of abuse from within the commercial pornography industry are largely ignored.

Women involved in all aspects of the porn industry, from the so-called “soft porn” of Playboy and the “free choice” of amateur, to the harder forms of gonzo, have spoken publicly about violence and coercion. I also recount a number of their stories in Selling Sex Short. The filmed recordings of these assaults and abuses of trust are still in circulation for a mostly male target audience to access for the purposes of sexual arousal.

Even the inclusion of specific abusive incidents in the commercial industry as “revenge pornography” is still very limited. The analysis remains stuck on an individual level and offers no meaningful context of consent. Most understandings of “revenge porn” hinge on the idea that the person in question — almost always a woman — has not consented to the distribution of her image and that the purpose of publishing the image is to degrade or humiliate her in some way.

We need to understand that questionable consent, along with humiliation and degradation, are hallmarks of the pornography industry itself. Firstly, women’s inequality — economically, socially, political and sexually — contributes to a kind of cultural coercion into pornography production in the first place. There is little sense in suggesting that commercial pornography is all about “free choice,” as though consent exists outside the context of a capitalist-patriarchy or pornified culture.

Secondly, there is the representation of women in pornography. Sexual violence and sexual aggression against women in mainstream, commercial pornography is extremely common. The ways in which particular groups of women are depicted in pornography also shows that humiliation and degradation exist outside obvious sexual violence.

Racism, too, is pervasive in mainstream heterosexual (and gay male) pornography. As Gail Dines explains:

“Hiding behind the façade of fantasy and harmless fun, pornography delivers reactionary racist stereotypes that would be considered unacceptable were they in any other types of mass-produced media. However, the power of pornography is that these messages have a long history and still resonate, on a sub-textual level, with the white supremacist ideologies, that continue to inform policies that economically, politically and socially discriminate against people of colour.”

Dines demonstrates how sexism and racism intertwine with common tropes such as Asian women constructed as petite and submissive and black women constructed as poor, or “ghetto,” and easily pimped. Pornography not only reinforces male dominance and white supremacy, it sexualizes them: it makes inequality something to get off to.

Furthermore, the pornography industry fundamentally requires sexual objectification in order to function. As Kathleen Barry argues in The Prostitution of Sexuality, the increasing proliferation of pornography has been, at least in part, about publicly reducing women to sexed bodies for the male gaze. She states that, in post-industrial societies:

“[W]hen women achieve the potential for economic independence, men are threatened with loss of control over women as their legal and economic property in marriage. To regain control, patriarchal domination reconfigures around sex by producing a social and public condition of sexual subordination that follows women into the public world.”

In this sense, at a class level, all porn is revenge porn. Instead of an individual man benefiting at the expense of an individual woman — as in dominant understandings of “revenge porn” — this is men, as a class, benefiting at the expense of women, as a class.

The situation is similar with other aspects of the sex industry, as Sheila Jeffreys explains in The Industrial Vagina:

“The boom in strip clubs can be seen as a counterattack, in which men have reasserted their right to network for and through male dominance without the irritating presence of women, unless those women are naked and servicing their pleasures…[Strip clubs] provide an antidote to the erosion of male dominance by institutionalizing the traditional hierarchy of gender relations.”

As women have increasingly asserted their equality with (and autonomy from) men, the sex industry — including its most pervasive and profitable arm in pornography — has become a form of patriarchal compensation, or even revenge. It is a way of reclaiming hierarchies founded on racism and sexism.

We’ve had several decades worth of feminist theorizing and activism about the harms of pornography. It is 24 years since the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance put forward the idea that women should be able to hold pornographers who profit from their abuse civilly accountable. It is an ordinance that would have been well suited, in many ways, to addressing revenge porn today.

There is little need to reinvent the wheel in understanding the harms of revenge pornography. There is, however, an urgent need to re-engage with feminist critiques of pornography, sexual inequality, and consent if we are to have any hope of redressing such harms.

Guest Writer
Guest Writer

One of Feminist Current's amazing guest writers.

Like this article? Tip Feminist Current!

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $1