Respect women’s right to reasoned, free choice

Those Yalies who attended the Sex Week porn debate for Nightline saw firsthand an attempt by the religious right to disavow pornography, without any admittance that the reason, came judgment and not concern.

Together, we watched as two men, a pastor and a reformed porn director, claimed that porn creates unrealistic fantasies and expectations about sex. Their faces were powdered every five minutes, but they missed the hypocrisy in creating a fantasy of their faces. We watched as they claimed that the porn industry was universally and inherently demeaning to women. And we saw Monique Alexander, the actual porn star seated to their left, waving her arms, stating quite certainly that she was not demeaned. Clearly, they knew something she didn’t.

The idea that jobs in the porn industry are universally demeaning forces a victim status on women who don’t want it and who aren’t asking for it. This is not to deny that porn has the potential to be demeaning, or that some porn stars do feel oppressed. Rather, it is to state that the proclamation, even when made by feminists, is in itself demeaning. We weaken women when we deny their power of choice and when we make sweeping and moralistic judgments on the choices they do make.

The arguments of both men were logically defective. But even that became irrelevant as their opinions were based on one thing: moral distaste.

It is moral distaste that causes many people to claim that women working in the porn industry are demeaned or forced into it. It is easier for them to justify a woman’s choice to work in porn if they believe that she didn’t actually make a choice at all — that she was somehow forced into it by economic circumstances, by single motherhood, childhood abuse … or by any of a list of “poor-her” stereotypes. Yet, economic factors also lead people into jobs that are not always considered ideal, such as fast-food jobs or tough manual labor. (People ask retrospectively: “Is that what you hoped to do when you were a little girl?”) The difference between a fast-food job and a job in porn is that the latter is subject to moralistic judgment. But often, women are not forced into porn any more than they are forced into putting on a hairnet.

This same “lack of a choice” argument is widely used when discussing sex work, an occupation that many still resist labeling it as such. We are a sex-saturated culture that remains largely uncomfortable with sex. For many, it is difficult to stomach that a woman would willingly choose to sell sex, and many feminists will argue that prostitution is not a choice at all. The hidden undertone to this argument, of course, is the question, “Who would ever choose to do such a thing?”

Gov. Spitzer’s infidelity has given sex-work an avenue to the front and center of the media’s consciousness. And we can see how sex workers are portrayed — either as morally bankrupt whores or as poor souls who were, whether out of need or ignorance, forced into this occupation.

Now, after the Spitzer scandal broke, we look to the plight of Silda Spitzer, who not only has to deal with a public scandal, but is faulted, by feminists nonetheless, for making the decision to stand beside her husband in his public admission of infidelity. The problem here is that her power of choice is being questioned, just as was Ashley Dupre’s and Monique Alexander’s.

Regardless of intention, the message that the critics send is that these women are not competent enough nor self-aware enough to make the “right” choice. It is time to recognize a woman’s ability to make well-reasoned decisions and to respect those decisions without letting moral distaste masquerade as compassion.

Molly Green is a junior in Pierson College. She is a regular columnist for scene.

Comments

  • Cordelia

    "The difference between a fast food job and a job in porn" is that the occupational hazard is higher in the latter. HIV is only a pin-pricked condom away. This article seems to argue for women's right to break the glass cellar-floor. Hail egalitarianism and the triumph of vulgarity. "Let copulation thrive" (even post-reproductive copulation).

  • John

    This was an excellent, well-written piece. Ironic that the first poster used a typical sterotype to dispute it. There have been numerous studies showing that high-end" call girls have a lower STD rate than the general population. More education and confidence is needed to achieve this same result for the "lower-end" (and I hate that term) workers to get the same result. Once again, thanks to the author for making such good points.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but pornography is degrading. The women are deluded if they think they're fulfilled. They have sex so much it no longer becomes something beautiful to be shared with a loved one but a "job" in order to satisfy other people's lust. I'd pick love over lust any day.

  • Unfeminist woman

    Reality check for you ivory tower inhabitants: most people work because they have to at jobs they do not enjoy. Very few people have the choice to pursue a career solely for personal fulfillment. And yet most people find employment outside of the sex industry.

    Not going to stop women from behaving like immoral sociopathic nymphomaniacs for cash. But I willnot 'respect' them and I will not tell them I think it is OK for them to make that choice. It is more moral to be on welfare or homeless than a prostitute/porn star/centerfold.

    What the feminist don't understnad: they have caused women to give up the one area wherein they had the upper hand over men: married monogamous family life . If women act like prostitutes they will be treated like men have historically treated prostitutes. You can't socially engineer biology and gender into androgeny.

    Still think we've come along way?

  • Anonymous

    If "occupational hazard" were really the reason we focus so much on the porn industry, then we would view crab fishing and mining with equal objections.

    Molly is absolutely right when focusing solely on the porn stars themselves…we can't say that porn is bad because it demeans the stars. That said, this logic does not mean that pornography doesn't promote a demeaning notion of sex. It's not the reality of the stars that makes pornography demeaning to women, it's the manner in which sex is portrayed.

  • A.C.

    Great piece, Molly. As always, you strike a well-written blow for those of us who favor reason and freedom of choice over the fear-mongering puritanism of your first commenter. Yale (and society at large) needs more women like you who are willing to speak out against those old feminist standbys of declaring anything and everything demeaning to women; all it does is weaken the argument against the things that truly are.

  • Cordelia

    #2 and #5

    Am NOT focusing on the porn industry. And as Mark Twain said:"There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics". Do you really think there is less proximity to HIV working in a fast food shop than on a movie set with naked bodies producing bodily fluids for public visual dissemination (so to speak)? Come now.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, we're such an open and rational society that not a single girl at Yale would ever consider becoming a prostitute even if it paid ten times more than alternative careers. Moreover, somehow it just so happens that porn stars and prostitutes border on illiteracy. Maybe it's time to advance beyond liberal idealization of the poor to make socialist pipe dreams more colorful and restore a measure of social pressure to prevent people's worst vices.

  • A.C.

    Cordelia,

    People who work in a fast food place are probably less likely to be infected with HIV, not by the nature of their jobs, but because they are usually low-income, low-education level people…and there is definitely a correlation between those two groups and HIV rates. On the other hand, the porn industry (for the most part) places a premium on sexual health and safety -- this is the truth, whether you want to believe it or not. Moreover, porn actors, male and female alike, are surely less likely to engage in unsafe sex in their personal lives because (again, mostly) they are better educated about safe sex practices than you will ever be, not to mention that getting any STI would severely endanger their careers.

    Also, I'd love to see those stats on porn star illiteracy. That sounds like the type of "all strippers were molested as children" mythology created to suggest that there must be something psychologically wrong with women who choose to use their bodies to make money. The porn industry puts together a fantastic awards show and all those "illiterate" stars manage to at least read from the teleprompter. Also, I'm willing to bet I could find you a dozen Yale women who would consider prostitution…and a dozen is a conservative estimate.

    Having sex for money (be it porn or prostitution) is probably a cleaner, safer, less degrading job than working the deep fryer at Burger King, and I think if you asked anyone who's done either or both, they'd agree with me.

    Your objections to the sex industry obviously stem (as Molly explains in her piece) from your own moral code, one probably tied to your religion. You, and your "friend" who called porn stars "immoral sociopaths" are the worst kind of ignorant imbeciles, intent on judging anyone whose views and actions go against your world view and who say incredibly dumb, unfounded things like "I'm sure nobody at Yale would do this" because your stupidity and naivete do not allow you to consider the possibility that your friends and contemporaries would ever do something you think is so…icky!

    Pathetic.

  • A.C.

    My apologies, I realize I conflated comments 7 and 8 and attributed both of them to Cordelia. Nevertheless, pretty much everything I said still stands, and the authors of comments 4 and 8 can consider my post directed towards them as well.

  • I Am Curious Blue

    I suppose porn is a kind of fast food for concupiscence like televangelism is a kind of fast food for the soul

  • Cordelia's hang-up

    AC:

    Cordelia resists your haughty acdemic moralizing. Her only hang-up is Lear, not pornography. What people want to do with their bodies is their business, as long as they don't infect or traumatize themselves or others. Let fast or slow food thrive.

  • Molly

    Rock on AC.

  • Old Blue '73

    #8 said: "Yes, we're such an open and rational society that not a single girl at Yale would ever consider becoming a prostitute even if it paid ten times more than alternative careers."

    How can you be so sure there isn't one already making some cash on the side this way?

  • Anonymous

    #8 claims:
    "Moreover, somehow it just so happens that porn stars and prostitutes border on illiteracy."

    WHY do people keep saying that, damn it!

    I honestly don't care to bring up the whole "I know someone who…" but even your own precious and *gasp* educated Ivy League friends will and have received money for sexual favors.

    Kindly deal with it.

  • Anonymous

    Molly,
    I enjoy reading your columns, I think they're always a really good read.
    I agree with your general premise, that society should not force victimhood upon women who have made a rational choice to engage in their work.
    But I do think that the article makes an assumption that these choices are all made freely, without societal coercion or the burden of traditional gender roles.
    Take Silda Spitzer for example. She is not the first politico's wife to support her husband through devastating, embarrassing sex scandals. The real question that Silda's feminist critics were asking was simple and reasonable. It is this: why do the wives of slime-ball politicians always stand by their man?
    And that is a question worth asking.

  • Monogamy

    No liberated male or female has courage enough to admit that women are nest keepers and men are nest visitors. We want to romanticize monogamy as a norm when in fact is is an abnorm. Face it.

  • Monogamous

    I romanticize monogamy because it needs to be the norm.

    If we normatize any other foundational relationship or social pattern we will devastate society.

    First comes loves, then comes marriage then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

    Simple, timeless and correct

  • A.C.

    Forgive me if I don't take my social cues from children's rhymes.

    Since you seem to do so, I suggest you spend your time carousing with young sheep, improving the infrastructure of England's river-crossings or wondering about the nature of celestial bodies.

    You would certainly be of more use to society performing any of these tasks rather than trying to contribute in a meaningful way to an adult discussion. You tried and you failed miserably.

  • Moliere

    The Ten Commandments aren't commandments becuause people OBEY them. It is because they don't obey them that they are ordered from on high. Adultery is as old as King Solomon who had 300 wives and 800 concubines. Talk-show Maury isn't making a fortune because women and men are certain of their chidren's genetic patrimony. Moliere didn't make a cuckold a world famous character because the word cuckold had no experiential referent. Take your head out of the sand.

  • grad student

    Pron stars and high-end call girls both have a high level of control over who they have sex with and in what manner. However, street-walkers have less choice, whether because of a pimp, or because their profession forces them to place themselves in a vulnerable position with men who are usually stronger than them. I worked in a job where I talked to many women in that level of the profession, many were sodomized and forced into other dangerous types of sexual acts against their will, including a forced lack of protection. For many, leaving the industry was dangerous. They were physically threatened if they did, and if they didn't. While we advocate for the choice of the 'high-end' women, we must acknowledge that while every woman in the sex industry made a choice to enter it at one point, not all are able to control their lives in the present.

  • Donny Pauling

    Ms Green,

    Unfortunately, during the debate, we didn't have sufficient time to discuss more of the aspects of pornography. And to be quite honest, had the focus been on logical discussion of the issue, rather than entertainment value, I seriously doubt the "cast" for the event would have been the same. You should know, however, that while we are definitely people of faith, neither Craig nor myself are properly represented using such terms as "religious right". I'd elaborate more on that but your characterization of our motivations really isn't the issue at hand.

    When I was a porn producer I'd use many of the same arguments you used in your column to justify my actions to those who looked down on my profession. I'd also those same arguments in my efforts to recruit. Like you, the college girls who worked for me were often idealistic and very opinionated on the way things should be. It was very easy to make the case that pornography and the right of women to eagerly participate in the industry could in fact be a matter of social justice if viewed from the "proper perspective". Telling college aged girls how society shouldn't place a "victim" status on women in relationship to pornography, or telling them that in many cases pornography actually empowers them, was a very useful tool in my arsenal.

    I was once interviewed by the newspaper for the university from which I received the majority of my "new recruits". Surprisingly, the feminists interviewed for the article seemed to take my viewpoints (as mentioned, very similar to what you've just written) and actually stuck up for me.

    But the truth of the matter is that all the political correctness in the world eroded to nothing when a girl came crying at my doorstep talking about how her life had begun falling apart because of the way friends, family, acquaintances, or even absolute strangers have treated her in response to the work she did for me. We can sit here and argue what the root problems are in such instances until we're blue in the face, but try doing so with a devastated girl on the other side of your desk. Eventually, I had to realize all my politically correct arguments were full of shit.

    If I set up shop in New Haven and started recruiting from Yale, your piece would be framed on my wall and I'm sure it would greatly assist me in getting Yalies to take off their clothes for my cameras. I'm not so sure, however, if it would be of any use when your fellow Yalies started losing jobs due to the violation of future employer's morality clauses. And I'm not sure how much tuition it would pay when mommy and daddy stopped writing checks for a daughter they felt had "shamed" them.

    As I said in the debate, simply because we CAN do something doesn't mean we SHOULD.

    It is my opinion that at some point in your life you'll discover, as I did, that idealism and real life don't always go hand in hand. In real life there are human emotions and opinions to deal with. Unfortunately, dear Molly, human emotions are often "logically defective".