Guest post: Why is porn different?

Originally a comment by morganmine on Why no outrage?

If this was a discussion about how, say, factory workers were exploited (low pay, long hours, dangerous working conditions, etc.) would the “choice” argument still come up? It seems pretty uncontroversial to talk about the exploitation of people working minimum-wage jobs among the left. There seems to be a pretty good understanding that these people are working in these jobs because their options are limited; that having limited options shouldn’t condemn one to unsafe working conditions (because you always have the “choice” to quit, right?); and that these industries should be criticized and held accountable for the way they treat their workers. Why is porn different?

Adult film actresses have talked about the brutality they have been subjected to during film shoots. They have talked about signing up for one sex act, then when they get to the set they are expected to do something else entirely, something they absolutely did not want to do. And it’s either do it or walk off and not get paid. They have talked about their clear “no” being ignored while the film was rolling; about being held down against their will; about having to do drugs and alcohol in order to get through a scene. They have talked about the damages done to their bodies and the diseases they have contracted. If workers from any other industry were talking about this, would we still be talking about those workers “choice” to work in that field, or would we be asking questions about the way the industry treats its workers?

The thing is, there is very little in the way of regulation in the porn industry. Some of the larger producers and distributors seem to be a little better about the way they treat their performers, but they are not the only ones making porn. There is also the “amateur” and “professional amateur” categories, and there seems to be precious little oversight in these categories. These are not niche porn categories sought after by only a few individuals. And the thing is, because there is so little oversight, no one knows whether the “amateur” porn they’re watching is something that the performers consented to or not. There is no way to know whether we are watching a filmed rape. Even something as “mainstream” and “tame” as “Deep Throat;” as the star of that movie, Linda Boreman, said she was forced into porn and prostitution by her abusive boyfriend.

Even if it is only a small percentage of porn that contains the rape and abuse of women, does that mean it is acceptable? Do we shrug our shoulders and say those women “chose” to do it, or do we take a good long look at the industry and how it operates?

And that doesn’t even get into the issue of depictions of violence against women being portrayed as sexually arousing. Why is critical analysis of porn and its depiction of women so controversial? Any other medium, any other genre, there may be a a disagreement about whether those depictions of women are sexist or not, but no one ever makes the argument that because an actress “chose” to play that character or the writer “chose” to write that character that way, that the argument is invalid.

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