Friday, August 15, 2014

An Open Letter Response To My Sister

Dear Emma,

Your response to my previous post demonstrates your nuanced perspective on this issue as much as it does your love and respect for me. I am lucky to have a sister who resists the temptation to "turn me over to the wolves" as you put it, and instead takes time and energy to respond to a piece that you thought deserved neither. So, thank you. I hope in this response to both acknowledge the serious problems you underlined in my piece, but also to clarify some points that I think were interpreted incorrectly. Hopefully, I will prove that my essay was not "pretty standard Andrea Dworkin-esque anti-pornography screed." First of all, I do not think that porn should be abolished, I never said that in my piece, and I do not identify with that clique. I was advocating for 1. men to start the conversation with others about why they use porn and question whether it is problematic and 2. if they decide that it is problematic, to boycott its use. Boycotting a product is a much different idea than abolishing an entire trade. Now I will address the rest of your criticisms point by point.

1. The picture - I had a really hard time finding a picture to go with this piece. I did not want to use a picture of Christy Mack or Jon Koppenhaver, because I do not think that jumping on the sensationalism bandwagon would be constructive. I also did not want to use any pictures that would insinuate that sex workers were responsible for this violence. I also did not want to give the piece levity. I almost used a screenshot of someone deleting their porn folder, but it did not really work visually. I think you are right to suggest that the picture I used demonizes porn and those who work in the industry, but what I was trying to go for was making men question whether porn is harmless or not. However, I do think you are correct in this point, and I am in the process of finding another picture to replace it.

2. "Fantasies are served up by many kinds of entertainment: what makes porn unique?" - for me, the answer to this question is obvious - its connection to orgasm makes it unique. I'm sure people have masturbated to a Toni Morrison novel, and I am positive that people have masturbated to Sting, but neither of these mediums claims the intention of facilitating orgasms. Porn is unique, because the messages that mainstream porn conveys (which I believe are problematic as I detailed in my piece) are introduced to the majority of men when their bodies are going through puberty. Repeated correlation of orgasm with mainstream porn's simulation of women chemically instills that dehumanizing image into boys' developing brains. This transaction is much more powerful than the emotional effects given by the other mediums you listed, and that is why more extreme forms of resistance (boycott) are required to change the messages that medium primarily distributes.

3. "Where is Christy Mack the worker?" - I believe this is your strongest criticism, and one that I admit neglecting. I was very cautious to make it clear that I was not shaming or blaming Mack for what happened, which is why I wrote:

Those who underline Mack's complicity in this case also seek to distract attention from the systemic causes of her injuries. Although she and other female porn stars profit from the industry the composition of the pornographic fantasies emerges from the market relationship between the producers of these videos and their consumers, both groups predominantly heterosexual men.

One thing I should have clarified here was that I was talking about mainstream porn, and I realize that there are porn producers out there that seek to create a more ethical product. I also wrote:

It is important to note that in the following analysis Mack's pornographic roles are being referenced, not her actual person. As previously mentioned, regardless of Mack's involvement in the creative process of these videos, her pornographic persona is dictated by the desires of a heterosexual male authority and audience.

What I failed to do here, in trying to avoid blaming Mack for what happened, was neglecting to give her credit and respect as a worker. In this way, I dehumanized her, which is what I attempted to condemn in the piece. It's not like it would have been hard for me to get a sex worker's perspective on this issue. Obviously, I know that you are involved in sex workers' rights, and I have benefited from reading your writings on it in the past, and I could have easily have asked your opinion before I published the post. It was an egregious error that I left the sex worker perspective and aspect out of my article, and one that is harmful. It is a mistake that I regret and denounce in retrospect.

3. "Porn is not an unstoppable billion dollar industry" - you dismiss the point as being simply untrue, but the source you linked to, while showing that the profits of the industry are dropping, does not claim that viewership or consumption of porn is dropping, which is my primary concern. I realize that in my piece I probably should have substituted "consumption of mainstream porn" many of the times I used "porn industry." I did make the porn industry out to seem like a monolithic singular entity, when you are correct to point out that the actual industry is much more complex. Still, my main point holds true that consumption of mainstream porn is widespread.

4. "Your piece blames her performances for the violence committed against her." - I completely reject this accusation. No where in my piece do I say or imply this falsity. The reasons for the violence are complex and in some sense unknowable, but what my piece was analyzing was how the mainstream pornographic simulation of women contributes to the dehumanization of women in real life, and how that enables violence. You are right to say that we live in "a society where rape is treated as mythology by policy makers," but I never claim in my piece that the detrimental effects of the mainstream pornographic simulation of women is the only reason this sort of violence happens. As I state here, I see it as part of a bigger picture:

Koppenhaver's conviction that Mack was being unfaithful is the first example of how his violent reaction to the situation is validated by a patriarchal world view perpetuated by pornography.

Here, I should have clarified further that the "patriarchal world view is in part perpetuated by mainstream pornography," but I think it still comes across that I do not think this is the sole reason for the violence, but one that maybe is not as discussed.

5. "You dismiss the support of the community of sex workers as a cover up" - I only suggested that it is not in Fleshlight's interest to draw attention to how its manufacturing of women's bodies into commodities might contribute to violence against women, and I think this holds true for other companies involved in similar practices. I of course did not mean to devalue the support of the sex workers who have come to Mack's aid, and I think the solidarity shown by them is a testament to the strength of their community.

6. "You would not be there for me if one of my sex worker friends was attacked because of an opinion you hold" - I want you to know, Emma, that no matter what I think about this issue or any issue, there is absolutely nothing that would keep me from supporting you in times of need.

Finally, I want to once again clarify the main theme of my essay. I realize how my exclusion of the sex worker occupation and the humanity of its workers is problematic and contributes to the regressive agenda of porn abolitionists who demonize and criminalize sex work. But what I intended my piece to be was an analysis of the powerful and harmful effects that mainstream porn has on men (starting from an early age) and how these negative effects are rarely discussed between men for various reasons. There should be no subject that feminism cannot critique, including how men's perception of simulated women in mainstream porn overlaps with their perception of women in real life. The failings of my piece (which you point out astutely) should not discount the main argument I was laying out.


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