"Pornography is inherently exploitative and damaging to women," she said, wide-eyed and earnest.
It was all I could do not to roll my eyes at this friend-of-a-friend. With as much diplomacy as I could muster, I began talking with her about pornography, feminism, and the intersection of the two.
"Oh, no, I completely disagree that all porn is exploitative and damaging," I said. "Are you aware of feminist porn?" She was not.
I told her about my own appreciation of pornography, and feminist porn in particular. I told her about On Our Backs and Annie Sprinkle and Susie Bright and Tristan Taormino and Courtney Trouble and my beloved friend Liandra Dahl.
"Feminism and porn can and do coexist," I told her emphatically. I chalked up her attitude to her age (mid-fifties) and likely lack of exposure to the kind of porn that graces my laptop screen on a regular basis.
Then, earlier this week, an article showed up in my Twitter feed. The title alone was enough to pique my interest, "When a Feminist Gets Bumped for a Pornographer," and when I read through it, I groaned aloud. Suddenly I'd been transported back to the 1980s and the Feminist Sex Wars.
The premise that feminists and pornographers are mutually exclusive harkens back to assumptions that expired long ago. Or so I thought.
The article's author, Gail Dines, was taking issue with Tristan Taormino's inclusion in an MSNBC show. Gail had been approached and ultimately cut from the lineup. She gives no evidence that she was bumped in lieu of Tristan, except to say that it's happened before, that her take on pornography has resulted in her being repeatedly invited and then un-invited to media events.
My hackles were up. For Gail to dismiss Tristan as a pornographer while couching herself as a wrongly-displaced feminist is both reductive and ill-informed. It assumes that a feminist can't be someone who creates or educates about and through pornography. It assumes that only one brand of feminism is legitimate.
Tristan's work as a writer, sex-educator, advocate, radio host, and film-maker is first-rate. I'd just met her this spring at the US premier of her Feminist Porn Show in Portland (more on that in a future post). Tristan's website includes a fantastic summary and background of Feminist Porn, as well as a list of Resources.
When I hear from feminists who have a narrow view of what does and doesn't count as "real" feminism, I am suspicious. I wonder about who is trying to control what, and why. I wonder about those who make a club, let in those who agree with them, and bar the gate for anyone else. And then I think of the comedian Bill Hicks and his sardonic tone, "You are free to do as we tell you."
In May, Liandra posted a poignant Venn diagram illustrating this issue as it relates to body autonomy, and the choice to alter one's body through cosmetic surgery. As she so eloquently states, "The one thing we have total dominion over is our own bodies. We must fight for that, it is imperative to everything I believe in. This is the defining principle of freedom."
Ultimately, it seems to me that feminism is about freedom. I've written previously about my frustration with either/or dualisms. Dualisms are especially irritating in the context of liberation. Women's liberation. Sexual liberation. Liberation from rigid gender ideals. Dualisms don't leave room for what exists in those between spaces where so many of us frolic and struggle and thrive.
Feminism and pornography need not be dug into opposing trenches of cultural warfare. They can and do coexist. In the places where they overlap, in those between spaces, there well may be a shimmer of freedom, of liberation. I bow in appreciation to the feminist pornographers, sex educators, and activists, who right the wrongs of exploitation by proactively creating a different reality.
above image via The Good For Her Feminist Porn Awards