the re-emergence of feminist anti-porn activism in the UK

Julia Long Research Student, LSBU
Porn Cultures: Regulation, Political Economy and Technology Monday 15 June 2009

Voices of Resistance:

Outline of presentation

  

‘That’s all gone’, ‘times have changed’: what happened to feminist anti-porn activism? My research: rationale, aims and design Context: ‘pornification’ Interviews: emergent themes
– – – –

Motivation Influences Experience of activism Impact on personal biography

‘That’s all gone’

I went through a period, this would have been in the 90s, where the feminist movement were blockading just about everything, and I remember going into the offices where I worked and it being picketed by the feminists and things. Now, that's all gone... I think everybody accepts now that women will always be thought of as sex objects by men, but the thing about 'well, don't treat me as a sex object' - well, I'm sorry love, everybody is going to - that is life.

Deric Botham, Trojan Publishing, Euroticus Publishing (R4,2008)

‘Times have changed’

‘I wasn’t comfortable with it but times have changed. I asked the young people [sic] we work with on the programme and they all said they’d kill to be offered the chance to do a sexy photo shoot for FHM. Women feel empowered by doing them now. Some people say it’s a men’s con trick to get them to take their clothes off but it isn’t. Young women on the programme said they’d do it to show off to their female friends. Judy was a bit less comfortable with it as she’s been a feminist since the 1970s but even she could see it was all right. I thought Chloe looked lovely.’ Richard Madeley, Metro 20 October 2008

FHM magazine, July 2008

‘It made me feel sexy and girly’ Chloe Madeley

Research background and rationale

Disparity between discourses of ‘gender equality’ and what was happening in the culture: normalisation of porn and sex industry - pornification Prevailing discourses of ‘empowerment’, ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ 2006 - started to hear of new anti-porn groups emerging

Pornification
     

‘Striptease culture’, ‘sexualisation of society’ (McNair, 2002; Attwood et al, 2009) ‘Cultural mainstreaming of pornography’ (Sorensen, 2003) ‘Pornification’ (Paasonen et al, 2007) Expansion of global sex industry (Jeffreys, 2008) ‘Re-sexualisation of women’s bodies’ (Gill, 2009) Non-academic accounts: Levy, Paul (2005); TV and news features – ‘Online Damage’ (R4), ‘The Sex Education Show v. Pornography’ (C4)

My research aims

To investigate feminist anti-pornography activism in the UK since 2005 To offer an analysis of the impact of feminist anti-pornography activism since 2005 and its political significance

Research questions
      

What kinds of activism? Locations? Resources? Who are the activists? Motivation? Involvement in other kinds of activism? Analyses and understanding of pornography? Aims and visions? Strategies? Campaigns and activities? Experience of activism? Perceived effectiveness of their campaigns? Impact? Political significance? Implications for a broader feminist movement? How does it relate to other forms of feminist activism in a global context in the 21st century?

Research design
 Mapping

feminist anti-pornography activism across the UK  Two ethnographies:
– –

Anti-Porn London Object

 24

interviews with activists

Interviews
 24

semi-structured interviews with activists from case study groups and other groups across the UK  Topics covered: motivation; influences; understandings, feelings and perspectives on porn; experience of activism; impact of activism (includes impact on biography)

What kinds of activism?
 Campaigns,
– – –

eg:

‘Bin the Bunny’ (Anti-Porn London) ‘Stripping the Illusion’ (Object) Lads mags protests (EM Fems, Object)

Anti-Porn London
 ‘Bin

the Bunny’ campaign

Object
 ‘Stripping

the Illusion’ campaign to relicence lap dancing clubs as SEEs

Object: ‘Feminist Fridays’

Anti-lads mags campaign, WH Smiths, Liverpool Street

What kinds of activism?
 Events,
– – –

eg:

Fem08, Sheffield Feminism in London, October 2008 ‘Challenging Demand’ conferences, Glasgow

 ‘Individual’
– – –

activism

Blogs, signing petitions, writing letters to MPs ‘Riot Showgrrrls’ – anti-porn cabaret! Stickering, direct action

Emergent findings (interviews)
 Three
– – –

activists:

Nadia, 32 Roberta, 28 Jenny, 17

Active in: Object, Anti-Porn London, London Feminist Network; Nadia and Roberta also involved in Fawcett Society

Interviewees

Nadia: 32, university educated, professional, heterosexual, in a relationship,mixed heritage, no children, no disability Roberta – 28, university educated, professional, heterosexual, single, white British, no children, no disability Jenny – 17, final year A levels, white British, no children

Motivation

Objection to pornification

music videos, newspapers, lads mags, lap dancing clubs, boyfriends’ use of porn ‘ what it really was for me was music videos…which show the women completely naked almost: dancing for men, being sexual for men, being there for men, not even singing or having any place in the video in their own right.’ (Jenny) ‘I just used to get so angry going into a newsagents and being surrounded by these images of naked, airbrushed women’ (Nadia) ‘The whole dehumanisation of women – we’re just objects’ (Nadia)

Motivation
Pornification seen as priority:
‘to me (pause) the kind of pornification of society and the objectification of women is key - that is the most important battle that I think that I want to be involved in, I mean, that is the key to everything. The battles…to do with equal pay and pensions, I think will only be won when men see women as human beings, not as sex objects…for me personally the thing that I get most worked up about, umm, is the pornification of society really.’ (Roberta)

Motivation

Sexual harassment at work – linked to pornification

Men going to strip clubs at lunchtime; men slapping women’s bottoms; crude sexual remarks – seen as a joke
‘he just made me feel so disrespected as his partner’

 

Boyfriends’ use of porn

Concern for family members

protective of younger sisters – ‘I’d hate them to go through what I went through’ (Nadia) – Facebook page

Motivation

Wanting to meet other feminists
...none of my friends are feminists, they wouldn't define themselves as feminists, so to me it's really important - you know, that's been an important part of it, actually becoming friends with other feminists as well… it's just good for me to feel that I can be myself, because when I'm with other friends, I mean, I love them dearly but if I start going on about stuff then it's a kind of, you know, rolling the eyes and raised eyebrows and (pause) they'll humour me to a certain extent but they just don't connect with feminism in the same way, and so I feel quite constrained in what I can say some of the time so it's really good to have the opportunity to discuss it (Roberta)

Motivation

Trivialisation of / hostility to feminist perspectives
– –

– – –

‘prude’ label ‘culture and society has told them that they should impress boys… and going against that would just be like social suicide. Which isn’t too smart’ (Jenny) ‘I’ve got a lot of hassle for saying that I think [the normalisation of porn] is wrong’ (Jenny) Personal – ‘it’s all about, you’re this, and you’re that…’ ‘I’m always getting told, be quiet, be quiet. I’m fed up of being told to be quiet, I’ve got just as much right to be heard as anyone else - everyone else’s sexist opinions in the media!’ (Nadia)

Influences

Family members
– –

Mother (Jenny) Father (Nadia)

 
 

Teachers (Roberta) ‘I’ve always been a feminist, I just didn’t know that was what I

was’ (Nadia) – ‘feminist since age 14’ (Jenny, Roberta) University education didn’t provide feminist education (Nadia, Roberta); nor school (Jenny) ‘seeing the experience of other women, and the fact that it’s all around us’ (Roberta)

Experiences of activism

Meeting like-minded women, feminists
– –

‘I was just so happy when I found Object!’ – Nadia ‘I think that's been one of the really, the most, many positive things that's come out of it really’ - Roberta

Collectivism and solidarity
– –

‘just the opportunity to feel some solidarity… and not be closed down’ (Roberta) ‘There is that affinity.. they do have your back.. you really do feel like a group united’ (Jenny)

Reactions of public: challenging, intimidating, encouraging
– –

‘sometimes they agree with you!’ (Jenny) ‘you do get told to fuck off quite a lot, and ’you’re only doing this cos you’re ugly’’ (Roberta, on ‘Bin the Bunny’ protests)

Experiences of activism
 Empowerment,
– – –

exhilaration

‘I feel really positive that I’ve made a stand’ (Roberta) ‘I love activism, there’s nothing more empowering’ (Jenny) ‘The protest outside the lap dancing club was fantastic’; ‘I feel so good afterwards… before I found Object I just felt really impotent, that I couldn’t do anything to stop it’ (Nadia)

Experiences: Mixed / women-only

Value of women-only organising

‘I think, umm, it's important to keep LFN meetings women-only, I really, I really do believe in the idea of women-only space…’

Place for / necessity of mixed organising

‘you know I don't think that the battles that we're fighting will ever be won if we just, um, you know, push all men to the sidelines’

Ambivalence:

‘And also, because a lot of women will be in situations [at home or at work] where they'll be overruled by a man or that a man will come in and take over’ ‘bulldozed by men’

Impact – group / campaign
 Stripping
– – –

the Illusion

‘Brilliant at raising awareness’ Strategic: focus on licensing frustrating but important ‘People say it happened really fast, but it didn’t seem to me to happen that fast!’

 Bin
– –

the Bunny

‘huge mountain to climb’ effective at raising awareness

Impact - personal

Personal relationships

– –

‘I was quite naïve… I’d never, ever challenged them [boyfriends using porn]… I am now at the point where I would absolutely not accept any relationship where the guy was using porn’ ‘it’s brought out some conflicts in my current relationship’ ‘I’ve managed to raise awareness amongst my friends; my close friends support me in what I do’ Educational: ‘it does give you statistics, information and arguments’ ‘if I had my chance over I could really sock it to him!’ ‘Object gave me a focus’ ‘It’s made me less inclined to keep quiet, I’m more outspoken’

Knowledge, confidence, empowerment
– – – –

Hopes and aspirations
 Personal
– –

aspirations

To continue and grow the movement! MA Women’s Studies

 Funding

for groups

‘just thinking what we've achieved already, you know, in our spare time, I think if we could all do it full-time, and I think it would be a really supportive atmosphere - it would be great, it would be like a feminist utopia!’

Concluding thoughts & questions
 Relationship

of young women to feminism  How activists develop and maintain a feminist consciousness  Significance of perspectives and experiences of activists
 Email:

longj2@lsbu.ac.uk

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