Jemima at Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar wrote a very thought provoking post about sex-worker-exclusionary feminism. In my estimation, it’s exactly right, and needs a signal boost.
The problem with “porn made them do it” is that as an argument it is no different from the drink, the short skirt or the high heels made me do it. It is a transference of blame from where it belongs, on the rapist, to an external object. This transference is called rape apologism and should surely apply to the excuse of porn as much as the excuse of drink or clothing? The idea that young men ignore consent and sexual boundaries because of something they have seen in porn seems to have become embedded in our culture, with no one challenging it.
Picture this; someone asks a young man why he thinks a consent violation was acceptable. He replies with the excuse that allows him to duck moral culpability, “I saw it in porn.”
Feminists like Dent are actually providing people who chose to abuse (and ignoring consent is always a choice) with a ready-made excuse. “It;s not my fault, the porn made me” and we all nod and say its very terrible and the abuser needs not change in any way.
Patriarchy, as we all know dislikes women who are in control of their sexual agency. It really dislikes women who demand payment for something historically men have demanded (often by force) for free. Sex workers are othered, excluded shamed and stigmatised because if women were allowed to be in control of their own bodies, they might all start denying access to those who abuse, who use, and who wont pay. Without women to produce the next generation of workers capitalist patriarchy would fail. Blaming sex workers, be they workers in porn, clubs or brothels for the behaviors of abusive men is firstly a warning. It is a warning to the “good women” that if they step outside the sheltering arms of patriarchy they too will be fair game. It’s a dialectical moment of such tension, those women who have sought full control of their own bodies under capitalist patriarchy (and under CP control and autonomy are only recognised if one can commodify something) are the women who must have that control and autonomy removed, often by the state or its instruments.*
It’s this sort of exercising your own insecurities on others, acting as enforcers of the patriarchy by blaming its victims for the patriarchy’s perpetuation, that runs directly contra the sort of humanist feminism I would like to see spread. Sex-worker-exclusive and trans-exclusive feminism both have elements of transferrence, blaming patriarchy on a smaller subset of the group being victimized by patriarchy. It is damaging and it is inhumane and it is disturbing that anyone with any pretensions at having a more perfect, more egalitarian way of looking at society would attack a small subset marginalized group in service of improving the lot of the larger (but still marginalized in other ways) group.
As a sidebar, it’s also sad that Jemima was so let down by Grace Dent in the post — which you should really read in its entirety. Don’t rely on these (representatively insightful) excerpts to give you the whole of the argument. It is for this reason, this repeated disappointment in people, that I make any support of a person’s philosophy contingent on not later discovering they have shitty views on some other part of reality. You’ve seen this recently, very publicly, from me, and I know some of you recognize how awful it was from my perspective (even while others incorrectly think I was a sniggering malevolent, or a preening and arrogant ass). Coming to blows with people who are otherwise right on a lot of things, whom you’ve come to trust to be able to take criticism for what it is, about the thing they get wrong is an often devastating thing to have happen.
We often say around these parts, though, “no more heroes”. Make your support for any person’s ideas — me included, obviously — contingent on not discovering that person has other distasteful ideas. Do not let yourself become subject to the halo effect where a person being right about one thing means you’ll defend them to the death when they’re wrong about something else. If they’re wrong, speak up. If they’re being harassed, fight the harassers, but don’t stop speaking up about the ways the target caused splash damage regardless. If you keep your criticism focused on behaviours, rather than the person, you may never even get through to the person doing the damage, but people will recognize you as being on the side of angels.