We know that porn harms relationships. Not just because some view it as cheating to focus sexual energy on a person other than one’s partner, but also because it causes skewed expectations of sex, and promotes a lack of understanding of how a woman’s body works. It can also lead to a kind of body fascism where normal, average looking people are made to feel unworthy, and it reduces people – men and women, but mostly women – to the status of a commodity, an object.
Porn is about the exploitation of women. All women. The attitudes perpetuated by porn affect women in all walks of life from those who have nothing personally to do with it, to those who perform in it.
‘But wait,’ is the oft repeated counter argument, ‘No one is forcing women to do it, and they are paid more than the male performers. It’s their choice.’
Is it really though? We are all the product of our early conditioning and life experiences to such a degree that it is debatable whether we have free will, or are merely repeating learned patterns.
That a high proportion of women in sex industries were abused as children has been the subject of many studies, as has the theory that victims of trauma repeat those experiences, supposedly on their own terms, as a way of taking back control, and seeking a kind of dubious comfort in familiarity. This of course brings into question the whole idea of choice.
Everything we do is coloured by our perception, by our pre-conceived ideas. We make life decisions, good or bad, based on experiences. What kind of experiences might a woman have had that made her think her best option is taking her clothes off and being filmed having sex with someone who isn’t her partner, someone the director has chosen for her?
I do not believe it is about money, freely expressed sexuality, independence, a misguided sense of empowerment, or any number of excuses people make.
We are what we’re told or shown we are at a very young age, directly or indirectly. Just switch on the television or open a magazine to see examples of how the sexualisation of young girls is treated as normal. This isn’t a recent phenomenon either.
For thousands of years, we have lived in a misogynistic society where women are silenced, objectified, denigrated, to the point where it is very difficult to know whether our choices are truly our own, or whether we are acting on years of conditioning.
Just a few days ago it was reported that the person behind Femen’s topless protests was a man. As I mentioned at the time, getting your tits out is always for the lads, and does nothing, in my opinion, to further the cause of feminism. Did those women genuinely feel their actions were empowering, or were they coerced, persuaded to do so?
As a child I had a couple of minor facial deformities that led to my being mercilessly bullied at primary school. They got fixed, but the bullying didn’t stop. I had already been cast as the monster, so no change in appearance could put that right. So much so that when I was aged around eight or nine, a couple of the bullies threw me into a brick wall and broke my nose, resulting in yet more ‘ugliness’ for me. And as the break didn’t cause breathing problems, I had to wait until I could afford to have it put right privately, which I did just eleven years ago.
So all but the last eleven years of my life have been spent under a cloud of perceived ugliness. The cloud was not there constantly. On good days, I could see that perhaps I was ok, on bad days it was as if the kids that crowded in on me with snarling faces and claw hands (because I was a monster and that’s what monsters do) were still following me.
Is it my choice that I remade myself to fall in line with an image that is considered to be conventionally attractive? Is it my choice that I am virtually unrecognisable to people I knew years ago because I can’t accept my natural appearance? It feels as if it’s my choice, but how can I be sure I would have done the same thing if my experiences had been different? It feels like my choice, but I will never be sure.
It probably also feels like a choice to pose bare-breasted for Page 3, to dance around a pole in perspex shoes, to be a groomed child acting out as a ‘sexual predator’ because that’s what you’ve been told you are.