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Pro-porn vs. Anti-porn Feminists

Charlotte Hegley engages in the controversial feminist debate for and against pornography

There have always been disputes between factions of the feminist movement, ranging from issues including what ‘gender equality’ actually means and how this can realistically be achieved. Pornography has been a contradictory issue between feminists since the late 1970s; with pro-porn feminists claiming it is liberating for women whilst anti-porn feminists argue that it is ultimately degrading.

In the late 1970s to early 1980’s, pornography became an extremely divisive issue within the feminist movement. The dispute was labelled the ‘feminist sex wars’ of the 1980s, with the term ‘sex-positive feminist’ being used by members who wanted to distinguish themselves from the anti-porn feminists. Pornography is no longer confined to illegal websites but instead, manifests itself in popular culture, from Playboy Magazine to Love Island (less sex last year but LOTS the year before). Here is both sides of the argument…

“women have the ‘choice’ to be watching or in porn, with more seeing it as a form of sexual empowerment, rather than sexually repressive”

Pro-porn feminists argue that porn is about freedom for women, as they should be free to both watch, look at or even appear in porn, if they choose to do so. This branch of feminism has been on the rise. This is likely the result of us entering a ‘postfeminist’ era in which the goals of feminism have supposedly been achieved, and there is focus on the notion of female ‘choice’. Hence, women have the ‘choice’ to be watching or in porn, with more seeing it as a form of sexual empowerment, rather than sexually repressive.

“we have lost consciousness of the ways in which our society continuously and relentlessly demeans women and the female body”

However, anti-porn feminists would argue that we are fighting a new brand of in-house repression, which has become central to our culture. Hence, contemporary anti-porn feminists argue that maybe we have lost consciousness of the ways that our society continuously and relentlessly demeans women and the female body, with pornography resurrecting stereotypes of female sexuality that feminists wanted to remove. Furthermore, the violent nature of a vast amount of pornography sends the message that women gain sexual pleasure from being harmed by a male partner. Robin Morgan argues ‘pornography is the theory, rape is the practice’; asserting the view that porn encourages rape.

The increasingly positive outlook on pornography is reflected in the treatment of celebrities who are in pornography. A few decades ago, Vanessa Williams (the first black Miss America) was dethroned from the title, a direct result of nude pictures of her surfacing. Whereas, today, one of the most famous women in the world (Kim Kardashian, obviously) is famous partially because she was in a pornographic video.

there are bigger gender issues to deal with, such as the pay-gap and sexual harassment”

In my opinion, anti-porn feminists do not fully acknowledge that women consume and often enjoy pornography for themselves, rather than just with (or for) a male partner. I think there is a need to teach children and young adults that pornography is not a reflection of real-life. However, ultimately, there are bigger gender issues to deal with, such as the pay-gap and sexual harassment, whilst pornography is something that I think, if some women enjoy watching or partaking in it, should not be considered a major feminist problem.

Charlotte Hegley

Featured image courtesy of celebrityabc via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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