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reading tiger

Thinky Thoughts on Feminist Porn

A few days ago on FB I posted this link to a letter Gayle Rubin wrote to the editors of The Feminist Porn Book. It's a brilliant letter taking the editors to task for positing a false dichotomy between feminist antiporn zealots and feminist pro-sex absolutists and then positioning themselves as "the reasonable middle."

I liked the letter. I thought the editors' response was sadly wishy-washy and didn't really engage with the critique, and in fact showed a lack of theoretical rigor in general that deeply disappointed me, as in "we've gone from Pleasure and Danger to this?" I'll probably read The Feminist Porn Book at some point because I feel obligated to but I can't say at this point I'm looking forward to it.

And yet.

I think that what really happened is that the editors of The Feminist Porn Book, in their collective heads, were opposing not two classes of feminist thought on porn, but anti-porn feminism versus the porn industry's self-advocacy on the grounds of free speech.

The thing is, this slippage, while v. disappointing in a theoretical text, is rather easy and unsurprising. It happens all the time. I'm not 100% sure why, but certainly I went through my own personal version of it -- and then whipped back, hard, to the kind of crazy old lady feminism that I now espouse today ad nauseum.*

And in that context I am thinking of Gayle Rubin's "Thinking Sex," in which she decides -- if I recall correctly, and all my Rubin is taking a walk right now of course -- that feminism is too narrow to encompass talking about sex, at least in the way that Rubin wants to talk about it. And I think she's right.

And I think that one of the unintended results is the slippage she's decrying. "Pro-sex feminism," for lack of a better term, gets watered down as it makes allies with porn producers and non-feminist sex activists. Much in the same way, btw, that antiporn feminism became co-opted by a larger social conservatism.

I wish I had some big bow to wrap up these observations in, but I don't. This is sketchy and strongly subject to revision. But I do feel as if I am watching both "pro-sex feminism"** and antiporn feminism disappear through continuous multiple dilutions. They both continue to fade away as we watch.

Judging from these two letters, I don't know that The Feminist Porn Book is going do a lot to right this. I guess we'll see.

* fwiw, this personal version is more or less what my "Dear John" essay in Best Sex Writing 2013 is about.

** I think "pro-sex feminism" in its original form is also pretty fatally flawed upon intersectional lines, but I'm still working the implications of that out to my own satisfaction.