The ‘progressive’ response to Pam Anderson’s anti-porn stance shows how misguided progressives have become

pamela anderson

How did we come to a place where protecting the feelings of male porn users was a top priority for progressives? When did the left become so incredibly apolitical? While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, the endless responses to Pamela Anderson’s recent anti-porn op-ed, condescendingly telling her how terribly wrong she is to “shame” porn users, go to show how gutless and misguided progressives have become.

“Why Pamela Anderson is wrong to shame porn when denouncing Anthony Weiner,” reads today’s headline at the CBC. Earlier this week, a response by Tina Horn at Refinery29 concluded with an inspired comparison between porn and ice cream, because, as we all know, eating dessert is exactly the same as choking a woman with a dick until she cries (for the record, this is not the first time such a comparison has been made), saying:

“Porn and sexting are treats, just like ice cream. So treat yourself in moderation, if you’re so inclined. And don’t let anyone shame you — you deserve it.”

In The Independent, Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive who believes the free market will create radical change, has used Anderson’s op-ed as an opportunity to advertise her own project, “MakeLoveNotPorn,” saying:

“The ‘epochal shift’ that needs to happen is for us to stop squawking about porn and start talking about sex. Normalize sex, take the shame and embarrassment out of it, welcome and support ventures like MakeLoveNotPorn designed to educate people about sex in the real world, enable everyone to own their sexuality, express it healthily and celebrate it, and watch the world become a much happier place.”

You deserve it! Let the market regulate itself! Don’t make the oppressor feel bad!

All classic leftist mantras, amirite?

I say “the left” and “progressives,” but of course these people are neither. Nonetheless, these concerns are echoed and largely accepted, today, by those who consider themselves to be both feminist and progressive. Anything declared anti-porn, anti-objectification, or anti-sex-industry is immediately deemed “moralistic,” “pearlclutching,” and “shaming.” But there is nothing progressive about pornography and whether or not those who engage in and perpetuate misogyny feel ashamed is the least of my concerns.

One cannot simultaneously call oneself a leftist while defending a multi billion dollar industry that profits from the exploitation and degradation of women. One cannot call oneself “progressive” while refusing to stand up against the commodification of women and while refusing to challenge an industry that depends upon the absolute selfishness of men who tell themselves that their orgasms are more important that women’s humanity. One cannot claim to care about equality while choosing to defend men’s hurt feelings over women’s hurt bodies. There is no debate. If you are a leftist, you oppose capitalism and you oppose the exploitation, commodification, and abuse of your fellow human beings. You oppose hierarchy, oppressive systems of power, and imagery and ideas that naturalize and sexualize inequality.

While Anderson’s analysis of pornography may not be precisely in line with mine (keeping marriages together is simply not a priority for me — in fact, I don’t think anyone should be getting married to begin with), and while I’m doubtful that her politics are either, the “progressive” response to her position is anything but.

At The Daily Beast, Amy Zimmerman writes, “Pamela Anderson is an icon of sex and screen — which makes her backward, unsubstantiated opinions on pornography even more disappointing.” Wait, what?? If anyone is equipped to critique the reality of the sex industry, it’s women who’ve left the industry and had time to look back and reflect on its impact. The mere fact that Anderson is female makes her well-equipped to speak to the harm of pornography, but the notion that because she herself was objectified within it somehow means she must remain supportive of the sex industry is ridiculous. Like, allow me to introduce you to the hundreds of thousands of prostitution survivors who look back on their time in the sex trade with horror…

While Zimmerman later begrudgingly acknowledges that Anderson is technically allowed to condemn pornography (I guess), she writes Anderson off as “out-of-touch.”

This reaction is familiar and exemplifies how badly the public and oh-so-open minded liberal masses wish to remain in their fantasy bubble, angered any time a woman dares question their lazy (and delusional) party lines: “Sex work is work!” “Porn isn’t real, it’s just a fantasy!” “Men need an outlet — they’ll die if they can’t jack off to racist gang bangs!” “It’s natural, harmless fun!”

Problem is, porn is real and woman are real. Those are real bodies and real people and porn impacts real bodies and real people. Are you really going to tell me that watching a grown man jack off onto the face of a supposed teenage girl has no impact on men’s sexualities and the way they treat women? Do you also believe that connecting orgasms to racist and misogynist ideas won’t shape men’s sexualities and the way they see women and people of colour in real life? If so, you are stupid and also wrong.

In reference to Anderson’s argument that porn contributed to the end of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin‘s marriage, Zimmerman quotes clinical psychologist David Ley, who says, “Calling Anthony Weiner a sex addict is a distraction from the important issues of personal responsibility and mindful choice.” And I actually agree with this statement. Weiner made choices that he should be held accountable for. I do not wish to medicalize his choices to the point where we are expected forgive men for their bad treatment of women and porn use because they’re just sick. Ley, though, goes on to say, “It’s also a sad form of slut-shaming.” Really? Like, really are you worried about “slut-shaming” Anthony Weiner?? Is this where we’re at? (Spoiler: yes.)

The notion that protecting men from feeling any sense of shame over their choice to objectify and exploit women should be of great concern to society is deeply misguided. While shame may not be the best tool we can use to combat misogynistic behaviour, I’m also not particularly worried about men feeling bad about something they should feel bad about. Like, are you also worried about “racism-shaming” racists?? Oooooh we don’t want those white supremacists to feel bad about using the n-word. No no. Too harsh.

Men should collectively feel ashamed about the way they treat women. You treat me as a thing instead of a real human being? Shame on you.

Likewise, on the CBC’s 180, Kristen Gilbert, director of education at Options for Sexual Health, believes shaming pornography and the people who consume it needs to end. She goes on to advocate for “thinking about sex in a positive and healthy way,” saying that “pornography can occupy a space in healthy sexuality”… Hmmmmm butitdoesn’t.

Whether or not you wish or believe that in some alternate universe there could exist some form of something called “pornography” that could maaaaybe “occupy a space in healthy sexuality” (and I’d argue that a thing that literally means “the graphic depiction of vile whores” cannot, in fact, be redeemed), the reality is that it does not. Most porn sexualizes male domination and female subordination and most porn presents women as fuckable bodies that exist for male pleasure. Is this something you imagine “can occupy a space in healthy sexuality?” I suppose if you believe that patriarchy, gender inequality, and violence against women are innately good things you might answer “yes.” But alas, that also makes you a shitbag who has no business speaking about human rights and the progressive project of working towards an equitable society.

The greatest concern progressive defenders of pornography seem to have is that criticizing porn equates to criticizing sex. But hey, wouldn’t it be swell if “sex” wasn’t assumed to be something that harms women? And, in any case, what the hell is wrong with criticizing sex? Is sex some untouchable part of society that must be protected at all costs from critical thinking? Because, in a rape and porn culture, that seems incredibly dangerous.

Gilbert asks:

What about if we taught people that sex is natural and human and beautiful and pleasurable and satisfying? How would we feel about watching porn then? Maybe we would be more inclined to see it as fantasy or a release.”

The obvious answer to this question is that, if we taught people that sex is natural and human and beautiful and pleasurable and satisfying, we wouldn’t watch porn. Because if people really truly believed that sex was intended to be “beautiful and pleasurable” they wouldn’t treat it as a one-sided thing, aimed primarily at getting men off, at the expense of women.

All these concerns about “shaming” men who use porn strike me as incredibly short-sighted. First of all, porn exists to shame women. It is used to hurt us. Increasingly, girls’ private “sexts” to boys are used to punish and humiliate them. The imagery we see in porn, too, explicitly aims to humiliate and degrade women. What other purpose does calling a woman a “bitch” and a “whore” while gagging her with a penis serve? Beyond the literal shaming of women that happens in pornography, though, men use porn to pressure and shame their female partners into engaging in sex acts they wouldn’t otherwise desire. Women who don’t like porn, whether for personal or political reasons (or both), are routinely called “prudes,” both privately, by their boyfriends, and publicly, by — that’s right — other self-described leftists and feminists. What purpose does this serve, if not to shame women into accepting sexual abuse and the degradation of women as not only “normal,” but healthy and sexy.

The fact that even progressives can’t imagine a world without porn is sad. As the left, our duty is to imagine a better world — a world without violence and oppression and hierarchy — and then to fight for that world. These knee-jerk “criticizing is shaming and shaming is bad!” reactions are irrational and beside the point. My interest, with regard to rejecting pornography, is rooted in a desire to restore women’s humanity and to end male power and violence. I have no interest in protecting the feelings of men who are opposed to that project.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

Enjoy fiercely independent, women-led media? Support Feminist Current!

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $5