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pornography, feminism and my response to the 2013 film, lovelace

Image: Dolores116

Image: Dolores116

While the second wave feminist movement made considerable achievements for women in the second half of the 20th century, a tension arose in the late 1970s, which caused feminism to split into two: radical and liberal feminism. In the late 1970s and 1980s particularly, radical and liberal feminist groups took part in a number of heated debates, all relating to sex and sexuality issues. While radical feminists viewed sex and sexual acts as part of a patriarchal institution that oppressed women, liberal feminists asserted that it was a woman’s right to be liberated sexually.

One of the most well-known debates between the two groups was on pornography and the porn industry and developed into a debate that is still ongoing today. On one side of the debate, radicals such as Andrea Dworkin and Adrienne Rich in the United States asserted their view that pornography is part of society’s heterosexual institutions, which oppress women. They proposed a link between pornography and male power and violence against women and argued that it was in women’s best interests for the state to ban the porn industry.

On the opposing side of the debate were liberal feminists, or “pro-sex feminists”, such as Gayle Rubin, Camille Paglia and Naomi Wolf. In response to fadical feminists’ criticism, liberal feminists argued that it was a woman’s right to be involved in sex and pornography. They emphasised that many women enjoy both activities and argued that there was nothing inherently oppressive about pornography or heteronormative sexuality.

Although the debate on pornography is one that still occurs between feminists and non-feminists today, the Feminist war was particularly heated in the ’70s and ’80s. At this time there were many political debates and protests over whether the porn industry should be more strictly regulated or made illegal in America.

In 1976 for example, the feminist group known as Women Against Violence Against Women organised several protest demonstrations against the pornographic film Snuff. This group was founded by Andrea Dworkin who was, with the help of co-feminists such as Catherine Mackinnon, particularly successful in getting the issue of female oppression in pornography on the political agenda. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Dworkin and MacKinnon discussed civil rights litigation as a possible approach to combating pornography. They argued that pornography inflicted on women’s rights, and rallied for an amendment to the laws on pornography to allow women to sue producers and distributors.

While the legal banning of pornography does seem extreme when considering the liberal feminist point that both porn and sex are indeed enjoyed by women, I personally do take issue with the porn industry when considering the arguments of radical feminism and reading individual women’s narratives, which detail oppression and abuse at the hands of the porn industry.

Linda Boreman’s autobiography Ordeal, for example, details the horrific abuse she endured at the hands of her ex-husband, Chuck Traynor, when she was involved in the porn industry. Boreman details how she was coerced into making Deep Throat and other films in the 1970s and into presenting herself under the name ‘Linda Lovelace’ for the marketing purposes of the porn industry.

In the 2013 film Lovelace, Boreman’s experiences are well represented. Although I do not align myself with neither radical nor liberal feminism, I well understood the argument that pornography oppresses women when made privy to Linda’s horrific treatment. Despite being forced into film by her controlling and abusive boyfriend, Boreman continued to appear in pornographic films as a “liberated” and self-contented individual. By continuing the filming process, the industry habituated her abuse and communicated to the public that it was somehow okay to objectify women and use them for men’s sexual pleasure.

To me, the film Lovelace clearly highlighted the way in which the porn industry could be used to oppress and exploit women. While it is true that many women do claim to enjoy pornography and heteronormative sex, I wonder how many of these claims are influenced by the social institutions under which they oppressed. Lovelace revealed that Boreman was being forced to present herself as a sexually liberated porn star by a boyfriend who wanted the money. Personally, the film makes me wonder how often women are forced into porn by men or by poor economic circumstances, which give them little choice but to work for the money.

While I would always consider the liberal feminist view when analysing the implications that pornography has on the welfare of women, I do wonder about the real validity of their claims. Does claiming freedom really equal liberation? Or is it just a mask for a deeply entrenched form of oppression that is maintained by heteronormative social institutions?


12 thoughts on “pornography, feminism and my response to the 2013 film, lovelace

  1. “While it is true that many women do claim to enjoy pornography and heteronormative sex, I wonder how many of these claims are influenced by the social institutions under which they oppressed.” -

    Couldn’t the same logic can’t be applied against you? Perhaps your opinions on pornography are a consequence of your academic background and the feminist circles you move in, and also a consequence of your lack of experience within the porn industry? One assumption for another.

    Certainly, I wonder whether using Linda Boreman as the only example to your claim that all porn actresses are probably coerced, pressured and oppressed might seem make a few porn actresses feel a bit patronised?

    The only way, I think, to navigate the difficulty territory of assuming you know a group’s interests better than they do is to cite objective data that validate your confidence – statistical correlation between dysfunctional relationships and entering the porn industry, for example, or socio-economic backgrounds of porn actresses, or number of civil workplace dispute claims, or.. anything other than just Linda Boreman.

  2. This article would be a lot more credible if you had bothered to research porn actresses other than Boreman – there are many women who willingly participate in porn and enjoy it as a career.

    Just as many women have felt subjugated or exploited by the industry, many others love their jobs.

    There should have been more substantiation of your argument and less reliance on one, very controversial ex-porn actress.

    Also, I’m a little tired of people conflating ‘porn’ with ‘mainstream or hardcore open’ – there is plenty of feminist porn out there. Might be worth researching before labeling all porn as inherently harmful.

  3. I enjoyed this interesting article and am a little surprised by the other responses. I found it to be pretty balanced, especially considering the title is ‘My response to the 2013 film, Lovelace’ and so I have read it as Heidi’s personal feeling on one movie. To me she acknowledges the differing views of radical and liberal opinions, and has genuine concern for those who may be oppressed as a result of the porn industry. Thanks Heidi!

  4. I know that there are many women who participate in porn and claim to enjoy it. Many also participate in a career. I didn’t write this article with the intention of criticizing porn or to argue that all porn victimizes women. I was merely describing the differential feminist debates and describing my own view. I didn’t use much evidence because I wasn’t trying to convince people to agree with me. I think its a complicated debate, and that people should make their own decisions.

    Also I agree Chris that my view is probably also influenced by my experiences and the feminist networks which I am a part of. In fact, I have no doubt this is the case. As I said, I didn’t write this with the intention of convincing anyone. I understand that I, as well as most people who write about this topic, have a bias view.

  5. ‘Best interests’ – yuck what a horrible concept; the epitome of oppression in my view. People can be liberated when they have the means to make their own choices from real options. It doesn’t happen by trying to decide on behalf of other people what their ‘liberation’ should look like. All sorts of oppressive problems arise in that approach.

    The article does consider both view points but it just has a bit of a patronising tone about it. I especially don’t like the the question at the end “does claiming freedom really equal liberation?”. In the context of the whole article, to me this seems to ask whether women should be allowed to make their own choices about their involvement in porn or whether the state should intervene. As I read I must admit I felt patronised even though I’ve barely watched porn!

    But the article clearly presents a personal opinion and highlights a complex debate that was always going to attract some passionate responses!

  6. Enjoyed your article – I wrote this one after first seeing it, so thought would share.

    As for those other folk commenting who are accusing you of making generalisations about the levels of abuse and coercion that absolutely DO EXIST in the porn industry (an industry that actually thrives on the annihilation and ritual abuse of women) then I’d point them to a UK documentary called “Hardcore” which can be found on YouTube, to Shelley Lubben who operates a charity supporting those who have endured abuse in the industry, and there’s this very recent article as well:

    There are many complex reasons why those in the industry claim it is harmless whilst they are working within it. It is also clear that “mainstream” pornography has now increased in levels of violence and degrading acts. In fact in the 50 best selling porn films there are 3376 acts of violence and 88% of all scenes are of violence. Source here:

    • Thanks for your comments Gabriella, Ellen and Felicity; I appreciate the thanks and am always open to hearing other’s thoughts and opinions. As i mentioned in my first comment I wrote this article on my own views and was not trying to suggest that ALL women involved in pornography are victimized nor was I trying to patronize anyone.

      When I watched the film Lovelace, I found that it raised a lot of concerns for me about the porn industry and made me question the reality of “sexual freedom” – I understand that not everyone will agree with my take on Lovelace or on pornography; which is part of the reason why I tried to consider the opposite view in my article.

      Thanks for the links as well Gabriella! I read your article and enjoyed your review of Lovelace! I too thought it was a very insightful film and was glad that it showed the truth of Linda Boreman’s experience without showing actual violence or abuse. Despite finding it hard to watch I think that Lovelace is a great film. It deals with an important issue and raises question to make people think!

  7. “I’d point them to a UK documentary called “Hardcore” which can be found on YouTube, to Shelley Lubben who operates a charity supporting those who have endured abuse in the industry, and there’s this very recent article as well” – Amidst all these anecdotal arguments is there any statistic that shows, for example, the proportion of porn actresses who report abuse in the industry?

    “In fact in the 50 best selling porn films there are 3376 acts of violence and 88% of all scenes are of violence.” – But what’s that got to do with the contention that porn stars are exploited? Based on that logic one could argue that horror films are more exploitative of women than pornography because they feature more violence (often against women).

    Indeed, I have not yet heard an argument claiming women are exploited by the porn industry that is based on anything more than anecdotes and assumptions that violence in porn somehow ‘prove’ that the actresses, and the viewers, are exploited.

    • Chris I find it hard to believe that you have actually looked at the links or information I mentioned if you maintain that it is only anecdotal. It isn’t.

      Also, violence in horror films is simulated. In porn it isn’t. Therefore there is a real person upon whom violence is being carried out. They are paid to endure this. That is exploitation.

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