Feminism and porn’s raunchy history

Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque

Feminist porn can be more than rose petals and Barry Manilow, according to DCU researcher Caroline West.

West, who is researching pornography for her PhD, hosted a presentation that explained and explored the history of feminist porn for DCU’s Feminist Society on February 13th.

She made sure to emphasise that feminism and porn have a complicated relationship, partly due to competing ideas within feminist circles. “That’s the thing with feminism – there’s no feminism, there are feminisms,” she said.

Feminists like Robin Morgan and Catharine MacKinnon have a great disdain for porn, and specifically how it portrays women. Morgan once said, “Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice.”

West described these feminists as “SWERFs”, which stands for Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists.

Even within SWERF circles, opinions vary on porn and its impact on women. Generally, most SWERFs believe that it is not possible to consent to sex for money according to West.

When asked by The College View what to do about children accessing porn, West said that it’s important that everyone has porn literacy. She said children need to understand that “What you’re seeing on screen isn’t real.”

A whole host of ethical questions were raised, such as “What do we mean by exploitation?” and “Do we choose anything under capitalism?”

The chairperson of the Feminist Society, Amy Ní Cholgáin, added that: “It’s important to have these discussions because if we only allow one narrative to permeate, it’s obviously one that’s damaging to women’s sexuality.”

West explained how research on porn is also not particularly great. For example, she brought up a study which concluded that 88 per cent of porn contains violence.

However, the study categorised a whole list of activities as violent (even if they were consensual) and would put things such as hair pulling on the same level as spanking.

On the flip side, there was another study by researcher Alan McKee which took consent into account and found that only two per cent of porn contained violence. But this study was conducted in Australia, which has stricter laws when it comes to making “extreme” porn.

As such, the porn they were viewing may not have been representative of porn as a whole. West said it was important to be aware of how people’s biases affect these studies.

She quoted feminist Violet Blue, who said: “Degradation is in the eye of the beholder.”

Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque

Image Credit: Brendan Fernando Kelly Palenque