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What the anti pornography movement used to look like


Mary Tracy
WVoN co-editor

When I read on WVoN that a group of feminists had staged a protest against a pornography conference  framed as an attack on the “meat market”, I had to write about it.

Unfortunately, the story that demanded to be written was not the one I initially had in mind.

I wanted to shatter the preposterous idea that because “the women in the industry know what they are doing” this must mean that they weren’t oppressed by it.

I would have argued, once again, that the actions of some affect the lives of everyone. And I would have ended it with a call for regulation, in the same way I call for the regulation of all industries.

Instead, let me take you back in time to the mid to late 00s. Not that long ago in rational time, but an eternity in internet time.

The feminist blogosphere is full of women writing personal blogs and discussing ideas. Some of us are learning, some of us are teaching. We are all campaigning by virtue of keeping feminist ideas alive.

That was then. This is now.

So when I searched for coverage of the protest in The Guardian by typing in the word “feminist” to their search engine, I had to go to the second page in the results to find it, on a list arranged by date,  although the protest took place three days ago. Such is the number of articles containing the word “feminist”.

Today, the director of UK Feminista, Kat Banyard, can stand up and say, in a mainstream outlet, that

”brutal, body punishing acts are now routine in mainstream porn and women are presented merely as a collection of body parts, deserving and desiring of pain.”

Let me tell you: she would not have been able to say this six years ago.

Back in the 00s, if you believed that porn was “brutal” and “body punishing” you had to keep quiet about it. Or speak up and brace yourself for an onslaught of abuse.

You would have had to defend your argument over and over and over again. Your personal experience would have been invalidated. You would have been called “anti sex”, a “prude” and a whole host of other things.

But above all, you would have felt really lonely. Because most people would not have agreed with you. And they would have been far more popular than you.

Today, the movement against pornography is gathering steam. Women are no longer so afraid of speaking up. We see articles, posts and books emerging where feminists don’t just argue that porn is sexual violence, but state it without apologies.

One key component of the anti pornography movement has been the involvement of men. When men start questioning whether pornography has gone too far, you can be certain that it has. And men have started questioning.

True, they’re not joining the movement in droves, but they have begun to speak up. One article here, one comment there. It is slowly beginning to dawn on people that sex was never supposed to be this way. And that we are finding it difficult to remember how it was supposed to be.

We may very well be witnessing the demise of pornography. Like all industries, it can only exploit a resource so long as the resource is there. And whatever porn has been exploiting – call it human sexuality –  it is definitely running out.

As the anti pornography movement begins the long and difficult task of shattering a multi billion industry built on the bodies and souls of women (and some men), and moves on to the longer and even more difficult task of building up what has been destroyed on its way, remember how tough it was in the beginning.

The women who kept the discussion alive back in the 00s were in a very difficult place: we had to oppose what appeared to be inevitable, eternal, impossibly vast, before a nearly universal consensus that porn was nothing but fun and games.

We had to be confident that our sanity was intact when everyone around us thought we had lost it. And we were the lucky ones; because at least we had found feminism and each other. Most women who opposed pornography hadn’t. And they still don’t.

Yesterday we had to fight for the right to think and feel differently. Today, feminists can stand on the streets of London and accuse pornography of butchering women.

Andrea Dworkin would be proud.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Hi Mary – the internet has been the best friend and the worst enemy of women in unequal parts. The spread of vicious, abusive porn has harmed all of us by undermining our status as full human beings with the same pain thresholds as men and children. But it has also allowed us to begin to formulate a defence against this bigotry by banding together under the radar so to speak.

    For all the times you argued and felt like you were the lone voice saying ‘the emperor is stark, bollock naked’ I applaud you – it is always a lonely job being infront of the curve or a leader of opinion rather than a sheep. As they said in another war, I’m glad you kept calm and carried on, as do we all!!

  2. I’m a man. I’m against pornography. It really has gone too far. And, it is a process drug that harms those who view it as well. I think it was the drug of my generation (I’m thirty-something now.) It really is not at all natural to push the boundaries of sexuality the way contemporary, digitally delivered pornography does. I can see it leak into popular culture (TV and media). I can see it’s effects in India, where I live – where culturally and historically there is a conservative culture with no sexual freedom. But where accessibility of online pornography contributes, in my opinion, to the rape culture currently trending in India. It’s just not healthy and I’m looking forward to the end of porn.

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