International Women’s Day and its variety of uses

March 8th of this week marked International Women’s Day. Because men own time and have graciously allocated this one day to us. Yay! This is the day that women around the world go around busily trying to promote the fact that women exist, although many fail to notice that the other 364 days of the year belong to men.

But Zoe Williams of the Guardian decided that writing an “International Women’s day thought” would be the ideal occasion to promote porn. Who can blame her? She’d be out of a job if she did otherwise. And then she goes one step further. In one fell swoop she manages to use her platform to also disparage feminism (yep–the entire movement) through the use of a cunning plan: lying and  obfuscation.

I’m not that fussed about pornography. I never have been. I accept the practical point that a lot of porn degrades women intentionally so can’t be made without the humiliation of women involved in it; and I accept the theoretical point that it is made for the male gaze, so women aren’t agents of their own pleasure, they’re just accessories to male pleasure. But I can’t make the leap from there to any serious belief that the act of filming two people having sex is necessarily demeaning to women. I don’t accept that women who like porn have somehow been enslaved by a male cultural coding – or if they have, what is anybody’s sexuality but a series of triggers and preferences they’ve picked up on the way to maturity?

This is quite a paragraph. George Orwell’s “War is peace; freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” springs to mind because of the levels of obfuscation involved here. We learn that by simply pretending there is no correlation between two pieces of information you make it so. So let’s say fact #1 is “porn degrades women intentionally” and fact #2 is “porn is demeaning to women” . Nope, no correlation here at all. Any link is definitely random. Williams believes it would take a Herculean leap of imagination to see a connection, and that no right-minded person could seriously believe that there could possibly be a link between the two.

The Oxford English dictionary begs to differ:

degrade: 1. reduce to lower rank esp, as a punishment 2. bring into dishonour or contempt 3. lower in character or quality; debase

(degrading humiliating, causing a loss of self-respect)

demean: lower the dignity or status of

Both words essentially mean to reduce a person and make them less than they were before, and to lower their status through the eyes of the onlooker.

Porn achieves all of this and more, because it also has the knock on effect of lowering the status of all women in society, not just that of the particular woman who is being filmed. It degrades the image of women in general, which of course is the point. In fact it is difficult for me to believe that Williams lacks the common sense to realise that even if porn wasn’t demeaning it doesn’t suddenly magic away the fact it is (by her own admission) degrading. Or is she saying that it doesn’t matter if you’re being degraded as long as you’re not being demeaned?

She defines porn as “the act of filming two people having sex”.  What kind of porn is she talking about? We get the impression she imagines that porn is about two sweet lovers in a quiet bedroom and a camera rolling silently and unobtrusively in the background. She has swallowed the porn industry’s lie hook line and sinker. Compare this naive belief with what Gail Dines has to say:

“…pornographers have done an incredible job of selling their product as being all about sex, and not about a particular constructed version of sex that is developed within a profit-driven setting.

I want to make clear that when I talk about “porn”, I am referring mainly to “gonzo”–that genre which is all over the Internet and is today one of the biggest moneymakers for the industry–which depicts hardcore, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debased.(Pornland, preface)

According to the Oxford English dictionary, debased means “1. to lower in quality, value or character 2. depreciate . It is similar to “degrade” in that both words are defined as meaning “to lower in quality”.

At any rate, I fail to see how none of this is demeaning…

Moving on, Williams continues:

Nor am I incensed about what we’d call “raunch” culture, in which a porn aesthetic has seeped into “normal” life, and young women on primetime television might casually wear outfits that 30 years ago you’d only have been able to buy in a specialist shop. Sure, I think there’s a solid Marxist critique to be made of it, about market forces and how they flatten everything into one acceptable, sellable shape, and in so doing taint physical intimacy, which is idiosyncratic in its nature. But at the same time I think it’s in the nature of young, beautiful people to flaunt themselves to one another. The idea that you can banish the objectification of the body, in either direction, from the business of being human I find neither realistic nor especially desirable.

Marxist critique? Market forces? Who is buying whom? How do market forces flatten “everything” into one sellable shape when the main commodity being sold into pornstitution is women. Women who are being sold by and to men. “Flaunting beauty”  is not the issue here. The issue at stake is the marketing of human orifices.

At the opposite end of this male cultural coding, you have the burqa, and I no longer feel strongly about that. I used to think that it was a tragedy that a woman’s dress and, by extension, her public identity, should have to be mediated through male paranoia. But that was before all the attempts I’ve seen at intervention – from the French law against the veil, which has the effect of ejecting girls from school, to any given liberal argument that takes as its necessary starting point the laughable idea that western women are somehow immune to the exigencies of male paranoia.

The inference here is that porn is preferable to the burqa.  The point being missed, however, is that the antithesis of porn is not the burqa, it’s… casual clothes and comfortable footwear.

If you happen to be a radical feminist, then reading the article will have sent your blood pressure up to boiling point by now, and so in quite a  clever pre-emptive strike, Williams concludes by warning feminists not to be “purists”:

The women’s movement has a problem with ideological purism: in its discourse it demands not only that we all adhere to a central set of truths but also that we agree on their priority. This task is impossible – you cannot agree a priority between the defence of a woman’s reproductive rights and the rights of women to be protected from violence.

Her final Women’s Day message is that we all have to accept the ideas of other feminists if we want the women’s movement to get anywhere at all. Well, yes… As long as those feminists don’t support male privilege and patriarchy, then I quite agree. Unfortunately, porn does support both of those things, which means that this purist will continue to shout about banning anything and everything that is degrading to women.