6 Oct 2016

Saving women who didn't ask to be saved isn't feminism

I've seen this piece - "I clean up the messes of the pornography industry" by American lawyer Ann Olivarius - shared by several feminist groups that I follow on Facebook and Twitter recently. While I respect their right to hold different views to mine on the matter of porn, I do feel disappointed that feminists are getting behind such a post without deploying any critical thinking towards its content. 

I can see why the post is getting shares; it's not just written by a "random" feminist who has a beef with an industry with which (as is often the case with anti-porn activists) she has very little actual familiarity, but comes from a lawyer who has dealt with porn actors. (Or at least one porn actor.) That immediately appears to give it authority; it can't just be another piece advancing the moral biases of the author, now can it? Well, actually - the very title of the piece is misleading. What exactly are these "messes" Olivarius claims to be cleaning up? The first - very deliberately emotive example - is about a suicide caused by revenge porn. I hesitate to even call non-consensual sharing of explicit images "porn" because it implies there's no difference between that and consensually produced porn. But that's a deliberate tactics by people such as Ann Olivarius - to make it look like these things all exist on the same spectrum. But they don't. There's a world of difference between an adult woman making her living as a cam girl-- and I spent an evening amongst many such women last week, one of whom said "Everyone wants to know if I've been exploited in this industry; and I can honestly say I never have. In fact I sometimes wonder if I'm doing the exploiting, getting these men to pay me these amounts of money"-- and a vulnerable teenager being betrayed by their sexual partner. One has fuck-all to do with the other. The porn industry does not have the power to create 16 year-old rapists. Implying it does lets the adolescent scumbag off lightly.

Which brings me to another of the author's deliberately heartstring-grabbing points; when she uses the case of an 8 year-old girl sexually abused by her cousin, and tries to lay the blame at the feet of the porn industry because apparently the cousin got ideas for how to molest the girl from his smartphone. Again, it continues to amaze me how feminists can't see the parallel between blaming porn for rape and sexual abuse and blaming a short skirt, an alcoholic drink, a smile, a "no" that wasn't screamed loudly enough. Any adult or teen with a smartphone has instant access to a dizzying cornucopia of images and videos at any given time. I can watch a cat video, or I can watch adults engaging in faecal play. I can laugh at a dog on a skateboard, or watch Colonel Gaddafi get beaten to death. I make these choices. And even if I were to watch the more extreme choices, I would still consider no one and nothing but ME responsible were I to try and act out those things non-consensually on another adult or, god forbid, a child. Same goes for everyone else on the planet. Having access to those images is not what makes you force yourself on another person. Billions of us do, and yet we manage not to rape or molest anyone. That twisted, rotten part of a person which thinks it's OK to do so is already there and was already there long before they opened their phone screen. By shifting responsibility away from the rapist/abuser you are merely supporting a culture and a system that already refuses to blame perpetrators far too readily. That's not feminism.

These emotionally manipulative tactics aside, the part of the article that probably got up my nose the most was the total misrepresenting of the porn actor who approached this lawyer. It's important to note here that the actor did not approach the lawyer with any complaints of mistreatment or abuse from her industry, as the title of the piece would have you believe. Instead, her question was a factual one; whether she was entitled to any job protections while being off work with an injury. Now, because the injury was sustained in her line of work -- from filming a scene that the author calls "brutal", even though the actor's own words are conspicuous by their absence -- that apparently is sufficient evidence that the porn industry is an evil, misogynist place where women are routinely injured. Even though, again, the question from the porn actor is not a complaint of mistreatment.
Well, let's just take a moment and allow me to list the injuries I sustained in my decade of doing care work on and off.

- Needlestick injury (where a hypodermic syringe accidentally pierces your skin, necessitating blood test and in some cases, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis to guard against HIV. Hepatitis is also a risk here.)
- Multiple bites; hands and arms were the most common places
- Cuts and bruises from having someone gouge their fingers as hard as they could into my skin
- Facial swelling and bruising from being headbutted
- Various bruises on arms and legs from being kicked and punched
- So many sore scalps from having my hair yanked I couldn't even begin to count them
- Ear infection from having a full plate of food thrown at my head (got gravy in my ear!)

(To work in care you're also advised to have Hepatitis B vaccination, because of the likelihood of coming into contact with bodily fluids, needles and/or sustaining one of the above injuries and then coming into contact with them [like the guy who gouged my arm - he often had faeces under his fingernails]. If you think porn actors are the only people who come into contact with some nasty stuff, you really need to get out more)

All those injuries, assaults and precautions come alongside doing a job that's both physically taxing and emotionally stressful, where one regularly has to clean up faeces, urine, saliva, vomit and blood, dodge violence from dementia patients and those with learning disabilities who exhibit "challenging behaviour," often work understaffed or with poorly trained, apathetic workers (three male staff once stood by and watched as a teenage boy a foot taller than my 5'2" headbutted me), where one gets paid maybe a bit more than minimum wage but not much more, and where one enjoys *none* of the protections of holiday pay, sick pay or pensions because I usually worked for agencies or as relief staff.

So, are feminists going to say that care work is inherently evil and degrading because people get injured doing it and because it's underpaid and there's little job security? Or because it's mostly women doing it? Funnily enough, they are remarkably silent on that issue, except to suggest that we might need better working conditions and that care should not be seen as a solely female arena. I agree with both those statements. So why not suggest the same about the porn industry; that because "this is not an industry in which performers can grow old, have a pension, guaranteed holidays, or job security," there should be reform, rather than abolition? Because I can sure as hell tell you that writing, my main career, is sure as hell not an industry in which there is *any* job security, pension, holiday or sick pay. No advances, pitiful royalties, and a plethora of clients asking you to work for a pittance if not actively trying to get your work for free. I'm an internationally published author (not self-published) and yet if I relied solely on the money I've made from my book, I'd be homeless if not dead. I've worked for major publications on both sides of the Atlantic and yet I still have to supplement my writing work with private tutoring, care work and renting my spare room out on Airbnb in order to stay afloat. Where are the campaigns to save me from the evil, misogynist writing industry?!

I'm being facetious, of course -- I love what I do and I enjoy many privileges that mean I can manage to do it despite the insanely insulting remuneration offered. So why is it such a leap of the imagination to think porn performers -- who I would wager are HELLA better paid than care workers or writers - might feel the same? So it might not be a long-term career choice - so the fuck what? Neither is being an athlete, a dancer, a model, a racing driver, or indeed various jobs that require masses of energy and physical fitness, but we don't discourage children from aspiring to these jobs.

Ultimately what this misleading, mistitled, manipulative article is saying is "I don't like or understand porn, I don't see the appeal, and therefore I'm going to dress this personal distaste up as a moral fact." Did this lawyer ever ask the porn performer who came to her for a legal service how she actually felt about her job? Or did she just hijack her client's story to fit her own personal judgment on what is a legal industry? If a male boxer came to her for legal advice on whether he was entitled to any job protections while out of work from having been injured in his line of work, would she use that as an excuse to go on a protracted rant about the evils of the boxing world, portraying this man as a victim of an evil misandrist industry that preys on those too stupid to see the harm it's doing to them? Come on. You can't have it both ways. As feminists, we believe women are smart enough to make their own choices; a freedom enjoyed by men for millennia. You can't believe that and then simultaneously write off hundreds of thousands of women as moronic brainwashed children, preyed upon by an evil, male-dominated industry. You especially don't have the right to do that when your "evidence" that this industry is harmful amounts to nothing more than two unrelated anecdotes that deliberately use the old "won't someone think of the CHILDREN?!" tactic to manipulate readers into conflating non-consensual sharing of explicit images, rape and abuse, with consensual adult erotica, and one innocent legal enquiry by a worker who has made no complaint against her industry. 

So yes, please do fight against bad working conditions.  Absolutely fight against lack of job security. Fight against the fact that the industries in which work is shitty and low-paid are often disproportionately staffed by women and immigrants. Hell, come and help me fight for care work and writing work to be remunerated to a level that actually shows some bloody respect for those two jobs. But don't take your personal crusade against depictions of sexuality that you dislike (or which, more likely, you haven't even actually seen but have just heard about, clutched your pearls and then written about graphically for the purposes of nothing other than hyperbole) and hijack other people's stories to bolster that. It's cheap, manipulative and does nothing to improve anyone's job. That's not "cleaning up a mess," it's fighting an enemy that doesn't exist and then wanting a pat on the back for it.





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