Pornography and Pop Culture: Boston Conference Starts Today

Pornography and Pop Culture: Reframing Theory, Re-thinking Activism, a three-day conference, opens today at Wheelock College in Boston. This conference will:

  • feature recent feminist theory and research on pornography, prostitution and pop culture, and
  • provide space for collaborative discussion on how we can prepare the ground for building a broad-based, energized and vibrant feminist movement that can address the harms of pornographic images in the context of a more general political and cultural crisis.

We look forward to sharing information and strategies from this conference over the coming days and weeks.

9 thoughts on “Pornography and Pop Culture: Boston Conference Starts Today

  1. Letter to the Editor Regarding
    We read the agenda and overview for the “Pornography and Pop Culture: Reframing Theory, Re-Thinking Activism” Conference, which is scheduled from March 23-25, 2007 at Wheelock College in Boston. We are deeply concerned by the rigid ways in which the complex issues of feminism and pornography are portrayed. In the broader society as well as within academic and feminist frameworks, there is a lot of disagreement about the extent to which pornography reflects and promotes sexism and violence.
    Though this conference is about pornography, none of the presenters on the agenda are performers in the pornography industry. Various important voices are excluded from the list of presenters, such as sex workers, feminists and scholars with opposing views about pornography, and advocates for the legitimization of consensual sex work.
    Furthermore, the genre called “feminist pornography” is not included on the agenda. This genre of pornography is inspired by feminist principles, such as gender equality, bodily freedom, and mutual sexual pleasure. Women play a major role in producing this genre of pornography, so this genre is not produced just by men for a predominately male target audience.
    We realize that various types of activism occurs on college campuses and encourage this, but there is a difference between a group using a college simply as a venue for activism and a college actually presenting a conference on a controversial issue, such as pornography, in a very biased manner. Because the website to this feminist anti-pornography conference has a Wheelock College domain name (http://www.wheelock.edu/ppc/index.asp) and no organization(s) is listed as the official presenter(s) of the conference, it seems like the College is presenting this conference rather than only serving as a venue for the conference. Since Wheelock College is a College rather than an anti-sex work organization, we contend that conferences such as this one must be more balanced in the name of academic integrity.
    Though the organizers and presenters of this conference have the right to their perceptions, it is important to understand that their attitudes toward pornography do not reflect the views of all sex workers, feminists, and scholars.

    In Solidarity,

    Jill Brenneman, Sex Workers Outreach Project-East, Coordinator

    Danielle L. Brodnick, M.A. Gender and Cultural Studies

    Aster of San Francisco

    Gayle Thomas Sex Workers Outreach Project East, Board Chair

    Gennifer Hirano, Sex Workers Outreach Project-Los Angeles

    Stacey Swimme, Desiree Alliance, Sex Workers Outreach Project-Arizona

    Susan Lopez, MSC, Assistant Director-Desiree Alliance; Founder-Sin City Alternative Professionals Association

    Kitten Infinite, Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago

    Averen Ipsen, Ph.D., Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies, UC-Berkeley

    Melissa Gira, St. James Infirmary

    Holly Pottle, M.A. Sociology

    Jessica Land, Sex Workers Outreach Project-East

    Ricci J. Levy, Executive

  2. I appreciate the value of a balanced debate. The Wheelock conference is an attempt to balance a debate that has become grossly one-sided in the academy and elsewhere. It’s the first anti-porn conference of its kind in over a decade.

    It is not necessary to defend porn in order to make space for more egalitarian eroticism. Our FAQ explores these issues in detail. Abuse is abuse and should be criticized, whether or not a camera is present.

    I appreciate that it is possible some women might freely choose “sex work”, but the very term implies that most “sex workers” consent. I find this counter-evidence more compelling…

    Pornography Trains and Indoctrinates Prostitutes

    In a study of 475 people in prostitution (including women, men, and the
    transgendered) from five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey,
    USA, and Zambia)…92% stated that they wanted to escape prostitution
    immediately…

    Giobbe, a former prostitute turned activist who testified before the
    Meese Commission as a survivor of commercial exploitation, is active in
    anti-porn legislation. She says she comes at her beliefs “personally,
    politically and theoretically. (Pornography) is something that hurts
    women,” she says. “It hurts your dignity. It hurts your health. It
    hurts your mind, spirit and body. These premises came from the lived
    experiences of women like myself. These women aren’t finding this
    particularly empowering.”

    A Review of Christine Stark, “Girls to boyz: Sex radical women promoting pornography and prostitution”

    According to Stark’s own research on Nevada’s legalized brothels, the owners routinely groom underage runaways to enter prostitution when they turn 18, then virtually imprison them in the houses, with no money and no way to communicate privately with the outside world (pp.283-85)…

    Stark suggests that misogynist porn appeals to lesbians because it lets
    them escape their feelings of vulnerability as women and sexual
    minorities, and identify with the powerful oppressors. This is not a
    new, radical vision of sex and society–it’s an unhealthy coping
    mechanism that leaves the power structure intact. (p.289) Meanwhile,
    potential abusers take women’s acceptance of rape and incest fantasies
    as proof that sexual violence is natural, consensual or even invited by
    the victims.

  3. The pornography industry has a large, visible, well-funded public voice and presence. Therefore, it’s fantastic to offer a conference dedicated to an opposing view. Academic integrity is not an issue here; academic freedom, however, is.

    In other words, the pro-pornography camp’s interest in a “balanced” conference is itself an extraordinary bias. Radical feminism has no need to engage in discussion when our goal is not debate, but activism.

  4. Dear Jill
    Brenneman:

    Here is my response to your posting.


     

    Jill Brenneman
    writes


    :  “We are deeply concerned by the rigid ways in
    which the complex issues of feminism and pornography are portrayed. In the
    broader society as well as within academic and feminist frameworks, there is a
    lot of disagreement about the extent to which pornography reflects and promotes
    sexism and violence.”

     

    Andrea Lavigne
    writes


    :  You mention the broader society as if this broader
    society is some gender neutral egalitarian international community. 

     
    Anti-porn feminists
    are against rigid sex roles bestowed upon us by the patriarchy, the broader oppressive, male chauvinist
    society in which you subscribe to, Jill.  Sex roles are rigid for the fact that they are
    patriarchally based on private ownership, class division, hierarchy, male
    supremacy, inheritance via the male line, a male God, sexual discrimination,
    etc….   It is the anti-porn feminism who
    maintain non-rigid sex roles.  In fact,
    any deviation from anti-porn feminism’s non-rigid sex roles toward patriarchal
    sex roles is a direction toward the most extreme rigidity.  Anti-porn feminism is to non-rigidity what
    patriarchy is to rigidity.  Any deviation
    away from anti-porn feminism is a move away from true sexual liberation, toward
    sexual repression/oppression. The disagreement in which you speak about is
    really a disagreement between anti-porn feminists and so-called pro-porn
    feminists.  The disagreement is amongst
    those who claim to be feminists, but are really sex liberals who really are not
    feminists, but people who have co-opted feminism.  These “pro-porn” feminists really subscribe
    to traditional patriarchal standards of female sexuality.  Amongst true feminists, there is no
    substantial disagreement.  The so-called
    pro-porn feminists are really the lackeys and apologists of the
    patriarchy.

     


    Furthermore, I should
    not have to put the words anti-porn in front of the word feminism to distinguish me from
    so-called feminists.  To be a feminist is
    in part to be anti-porn amongst other elements that make up feminism.  Within true feminism, there is no room for
    pro-porn.  For the sake of the feminist
    movement being high-jacked by “pro-porn feminists”or sexual liberals, I will
    make the distinction and keep the anti-porn words in front of the word
    feminism.  A person can’t be a pro-porn
    feminist anymore than s/he can be a pro-meat vegan. 

     

    Jill writes

    : 
    “Though this conference is about pornography, none of the presenters on
    the agenda are performers in the pornography industry. Various important voices
    are excluded from the list of presenters, such as sex workers, feminists and
    scholars with opposing views about pornography, and advocates for the
    legitimization of consensual sex work.”  

     

    Andrea writes

    : 
    One doesn’t have to be a “sex worker” to have an objective opinion on the
    oppressive influence patriarchy has on our sexuality.  Secondly, you don’t know whether or not the
    conference presenters ever performed sex work or intimately know someone else
    who has. You don’t know the historical plight of those who presented at the
    conference. Thirdly, all of us women are seasoned into the sex trade to some
    degree whether entered into the sex trade or not at some point or degree.  You can’t say a “sex worker”, is going to be
    more objective about pornography, than a non-“sex worker”.  An objective interpretation of the sex trade
    by a “sex worker” or other, no matter what, requires in someone a high degree of
    liberation from internalization of oppression.  This would be someone most likely in a refuse
    and resist mode.   There is no such thing
    as legitimate consensual sex work under patriarchy.  Consensual implies making a decision free
    from coercion.  When a human being is
    reduced to a body, objectification to sexually service another, whether or not
    there is consent, violation of the human being has taken place. In the American
    legal system, consent has become the defining factor in determining whether
    violation has occurred.  In this way the
    human experience and self is reduced to will, intent or consent, as if that is
    all that is involved in violation.  In
    this way, liberal legal theory does not consider the oppressive condition of
    class domination which invokes consent. 

     
    Anyway, “sex worker” implies a
    simplistic employer / employee relationship. 
    Just like you would not reduce the relationship between a domestic
    batterer and survivor of domestic violence to one of employer / employee
    relationship, you would not be correct to reduce the pimp/prostitute
    relationship to a simplistic employer / employee relationship. 

     

    Jill writes

    : 
    “Furthermore, the genre called “feminist pornography” is not included on
    the agenda. This genre of pornography is inspired by feminist principles, such
    as gender equality, bodily freedom, and mutual sexual pleasure. Women play a
    major role in producing this genre of pornography, so this genre is not produced
    just by men for a predominately male target audience.”

     

    Andrea writes

    : 
    There is no such thing as feminist pornography.  The term pornography, porno- means
    whore.  Feminist pornography is an
    oxymoron.  Just because pornography is
    made by women does not mean that it is feminist pornography.  For example, Boink magazine, founded by a
    “sex positive” woman is suppose to display “egalitarian” sexuality.  But, when you do an analysis of the magazine,
    it has a stark resemblance to the same old tired patriarchal genderistic ethics
    / portrayals of female and male sexuality. 
    Boink caters exactly to a male target audience, even though it’s founder
    is female.

     

    Jill writes

    : 
    “…we contend that conferences such as this one must be more balanced in
    the name of academic integrity.  Though
    the organizers and presenters of this conference have the right to their
    perceptions, it is important to understand that their attitudes toward
    pornography do not reflect the views of all sex workers, feminists, and
    scholars.”

     

    Andrea
    writes


    :  You mention that this conference has to be
    more balanced in the name of academic integrity.  Wow. 
    Earlier you had a beef about academia, now you want academic
    integrity.  Anyway, the patriarchal
    pornographer’s have a long history where only their voice was heard, and heard
    loud.  The voices of anti-porn feminists
    at an anti-porn conference once a year does not even come near to the loud mouth
    pornographers that we have to contend with all year around.  Even if you wrote to your local pornographers
    to cut their sexist bullshit in half, their loud mouths would still muffle out
    the voices of anti-porn feminists.  You
    want balance, go tell your pornographer buddies this.  You and your buddies need to stop
    infiltrating and co-opting the feminist movement once and for all. 

     

    Sincerely,

    Andrea

  5. A couple of brief thoughts for the sake of clarity.

    1. I am not the author of the petition Ms. Lavigne references. While I am honored to be attributed as such as it is a petition I whole heartedly support. I did not write it nor was I involved in its creation. My role was being the first to sign it and as someone who forwarded it to many outlets.

    2. Ms Lavigne and I have never met. I have no idea who she is. Until she forwarded her letter to me I hadn’t ever even heard of her. Thus I would have to state that her analysis of me, my intentions and certainly of the sway I am thought to hold over others be taken with a grain of salt.

    Lastly, I am a sex worker human rights activist. My goals are constructive social change for sex worker human rights. There is no movement to infiltrate anti sex industry feminism and I certainly can not call off anyone. I am not in a position of authority over anyone involved in this petition. I can state without question that I am not trying to infiltrate anti sex industry feminism or it’s movement. I stopped doing activism from an anti sex industry perspective in 2003 and broke with a majority of the anti sex industry activists over strong differences of opinion involving the method of fostering social change and ethics related to activism. I am a reformist. Not a revolutionary. I don’t see feminism as the basis of defining enemies. Webster defines feminism as Main Entry: fem•i•nism
    Pronunciation: ‘fe-m&-“ni-z&m
    Function: noun
    1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
    2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
    – fem•i•nist /-nist/ noun or adjective
    – fem•i•nis•tic /”fe-m&-‘nis-tik/ adjective

    this is the basis of my view of social change. Unlike Ms. Lavigne, I see feminism not as exclusive but as inclusive.

    I do hope Ms. Lavigne continues her activism and perspective. Her words are a strong message that undoubtedly will cause many to think, define their own feelings and develop their worldview and it’s relationship to this issue.

  6. This is a response to Andrea Lavigne’s letter, considering I also signed the petition I felt I had a couple of comments to make:

    Andrea,..

    Though I did not write the letter you comment about, I did sign it, so I feel should tell you my own views.

    It attracted my attention that you start off by saying that anti porn feminism, or “pure” feminism if I understood right what you express about feminism being anti porn by definition, is non rigid while whatever opposes to it, namely what you call patriarchy, is rigid without option. I can’t help but thinking that thought looks very rigid for a movement who claims, in your own words, to be the essence of non rigidity. I seriously distrust your affirmation that anti porn feminism is non rigid, when you say only a few lines below that “ Amongst true feminists, there is no substantial disagreement” . It would be the first case I know of a movement made by human beings with all their diversity, granted there’s no rigidity and no imposed views, where there is no important disagreement. Your claim of being opposed to rigidity gets increasingly difficult to believe due to the rigidity shown in your own statements.

    Then I went down and read “you don’t know whether or not the conference presenters ever performed sex work or intimately know someone else who has” as a response to the paragraph in the letter which states that several voices were excluded from the conference, sex workers among others. You’re right in what you’re saying, personally I don’t know whether any of the presenters has ever been or is currently a sex worker. But then I asked myself, wouldn’t it have been only too easy for any of the participants to say “thank you for the letter, don’t worry, we did include the voices of sex workers and other views different from ours too, and though there were many areas of disagreement, we found some points in common and got to understand each other’s position a little bit better.” But, unfortunately, I haven’t yet read anything like that. Which is sad, since my belief is all meetings to discuss ideas should be done assuming no one has the absolute truth, the truth is a figure in a puzzle which will be discovered only when everyone adds her/his piece to the puzzle, meaning we all hold a part of the truth. Even the person you consider your oponent has something to teach you. If anything, I think that’s something that we, as humanity, should’ve learned from the experience of the patriarchal system that you mention and which I also dislike. In patriarchy there’s only one voice, the authority. Whoever disagrees has only to remain silent and obey the patriarch. There’s only one truth, the truth stated by the authority. Any other truth is heresy. For years I’ve believed that something better than Patriarchy meant also a system or movement where anyone would be free to express their own truth, with the only condition

    Beatriz Mercado Clinical Pharmacist Chile

  7. I agree with Jill and Beatriz. I’m a sex worker and I’m deeply
    disturbed by the patronizing, condescending attitudes that “radical feminists” express toward sex workers. Radical feminist is a term that refers to a segment of the women’s movement which is anti-sex work and conveys sex negative attitudes even beyond the sex industry.
    I read a post above where somebody quoted a study which found that 92% of workers in prostitution wish to leave prostitution. That’s not suprising considering that being criminalized and stigmatized usually isn’t a desireable experience. Also, did these 92% of people looking to leave prostitution also say that they thought prostitution should be crimininalized or that they wanted to be persecuted for engaging in prostitution? I agree that there are people in prostitution who would prefer to be doing something else, but that doesn’t mean they support the criminalization of prostitution. People in various industries do what they need to do to “make ends meet,” and there are people in various industries who would ideally prefer to be doing something else. Criminalizing and stigmatizing prostitution makes it harder for people looking to get out to do so. Having prostitution on people’s criminal records doesn’t help them to exit prostitution. Also, with the high levels of stigmatization associated with prostitution, listing prostitution as part of one’s job history can make it more difficult to get hired at jobs outside of prostitution.
    Furthermore, I think it’s hypocritical that radical feminist claim to be anti-patriarchy, but yet the oppose the genre of pornography called feminist pornography, which challenges patriarchy and sexism. I wonder if any of the feminists who say that pornography can never be feminist have ever seen this genre of pornography. Automatically assuming that all sexual materials are anti-feminist is like saying that feminism is anti-sex, or that feminism is about very rigid, puritanical values toward sex, neither of which I agree with.
    -Liberation Feminist

  8. I agree that prostitutes should not be stigmatized. Where there is shame in the sex industry, it belongs with the exploiters, not the victims. We argue, however, that the primary harms in the sex industry stem from taking a noble, intimate human act and selling it to strangers for money. Legal niceties are secondary. We discuss issues of stigma and harm at greater length here.

    Prostitution is legal in Nevada, yet brothels often mistreat women and girls there.

  9. To say that sex should just be about intimacy is like telling people why we should have sex. Some people have sex for intimacy, but some people have sex for other reasons as well. It seems puritanical to be telling people why they should have sex. Furthermore, some people may still feel intimacy even with cameras present. I realize that not everybody finds having sex with cameras to be intimate, but that doesn’t mean nobody does. Not that intimacy is the only reason why people have sex with camera present.
    Also, prostitutes, as a group, have been referred to as “the victims.” I feel that prostitutes are victims of repressive laws and policies in which workers in this occupation are being persecuted and have no legal labor rights under a criminalized system. These workers can’t report abuse or publically mobilize for their rights without incriminating themselves in the process. These workers aren’t even protected by the minimum labor laws because they have no legal rights while working in prostitution under a prohibitionist system.
    I’ve worked in the Nevada legal brothel system before and I didn’t love everything about it, but I thought it actually allowed me a lot more freedom than a lot of jobs outside of the sex industry did, and the opportunity to make a really good living without having to work a lot of hours. Also, after my stay was up, I could leave the brothel for as long as I wished to, which gave me the opportunity to engage in sex worker advacacy and pursue my education. With most jobs, people can’t just take off for as long as they decide to. I found most of the clients and the ladies I worked with to be very enjoyable. I realize that different people have different experiences with the brothels, and I’m just speaking from my experience. I don’t try to define the experiences of all sex workers and I ask that the anti-sex work feminists stop trying to do this because you aren’t the voice of all sex workers.
    My opinion is that I’m not opposed to brothels, but I find the Nevada laws to be highly restrictive and I don’t think that brothels should be the only way prostitutes can work without being criminalized.
    Getting back to the topic of victimization, what about the legal rape that prostitutes are subject to by some vice cops who pretend to be clients, and then have sex with them and arrest them? The anti-sex work feminists say that they’re so concerned about prostitution as a form of violence, but I don’t notice any of them addressing the abuse prostitutes are subject to from law enforcement under these prohibitionist policies they promote.
    I call this rape because when a vice cop dupes a sex worker into having sex, the sex worker isn’t consenting to have sex with a cop who will arrest her/him afterwards, but rather is consenting to engage in sexual activities with somebody who s/he was duped into believing was a client. Why not fight this form of abuse if you’re so interested in fighting abuse against sex workers?

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