Show blog for Too Fat for Our Pants on Radio One, 91 FM, Dunedin, New Zealand. Airs Mondays 10 am - 12 pm.

If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Monday, 13 February 2012

Critique of "Sex, Bombs and Burgers" by Peter Nowak

This is a response to a book called Sex, Bombs, and Burgers: How Porn, War, and Fast Food Created Technology As We Know It by a Canadian journalist named Peter Nowak.  I discussed the book and interviewed Nowak on the weekly radio broadcast of Too Fat For Our Pants on Radio One, 91FM, which you can listen to here.  Because of the constraints of radio interviews, and because it is so much easier to address questions when you can write and think and take your time, I have invited Mr. Nowak to respond to the critique on this blog, if he so wishes.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Darwin Economy with Dr. Robert H. Frank

For the whole interview with Dr. Robert Frank, you can go to Radio One or Facebook.  What follows is my commentary on certain aspects of the book which I wasn't able to fully address in the interview itself.  Please read the book for yourself, here.

So I did take some issue with some of the smaller points made in the book, and though I brought some of them up in the interview I really do agree with his main point, which is that individual and group interests often diverge, and that we should find fair and progressive ways of guiding individual behaviour so that it cleaves as closely as possible to the interests of the group. That sounds like social engineering, of course, which is always what neoliberals start shouting as soon as  you mention prescriptive taxation, and it is.  But everything is; every tax policy influences behaviour, every single law is meant to prescribe acceptable behaviour and discourage negative, harmful actions – there’s a definite tendency to assume that the way things are is the way they should be, that there’s something inherent or natural about the status quo, and that messing with it or trying to change it is social engineering.  This argument comes up all the time in discussions about gender – remember that family in Toronto who are bringing up a child without announcing the gender publicly?  Though it’s obviously not a perfect model, some of the least coherent arguments were that it’s cruel and inhumane to experiment on a baby – so the experiment is not assigning the child to one side of a gender binary, but assigning a child to one side of a gender binary is somehow not a social experiment.  It’s natural that girls like pink and boys like blue, and not telling your child which one he or she prefers based on what their chromosomal sex is, is a dangerous social experiment.  

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Deregulation and the Culture of Overwork

Go to Radio One to listen to the full show, find podcasts of interviews, and check out musical playlists.

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay called “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, in which he referred to the Great Depression as “a bad attack of economic pessimism” and predicted that by the time a century had passed from when he was writing, “the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day”. He foresaw an Age of Leisure, in which at least in Anglo countries, we would have solved the “economic problem”; that is, the problem of ensuring that everyone has adequate food, clothing, shelter, which he called “absolute needs”, and once this point had been reached, we would be free to turn our energies to non-economic pursuits.  Presumably things like art, leisure, family time, etc.  He was certain enough of this – even in the midst of the Great Depression, which was gripping England while he was writing – that the bulk of his essay is taken up with worrying about how we will fill our time, once we have solved the economic problem, and the kind of existential crises humankind could fall into once we have solved our economic problem.  He thought that at least in the “progressive countries”, by which he meant, presumably, England, Canada and the States, Western Europe, and Australia and NZ as well, we would all suffer a collective “nervous breakdown” from living the lives of wealthy wives with nothing to do.  As it turns out, obviously, he was wrong about everything except for the insight that “we have been trained too long to strive, and not to enjoy”.  And that’s what I want to talk about today – I spend a lot of time on this show talking about specifically marginalized and dispossessed groups of people, but today I’m going to focus on another group.  Namely, the class-formerly-known-as-middle, which I’ll just call middle for now, and the problems faced by people who are employed in white-collar or service jobs in the public or private sector.  Just like so many things, our favourite brand of capitalism is not only harming those people who cannot fully participate in it, disabled people, unemployed, single mothers, people of colour, but it also harms those people who are participating, as the price of participation rises and the returns diminish. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Reclaiming Domesticity - the Long Play

This is the longer version of a response I dashed off to a blog by Emily Matchar in the Washinton Post, and a reply by Jamie Stiehm in US News, which struck something of a nerve for me.  Matchar writes about the “new domesticity zeitgeist” which she sees sweeping up her female friends: women learning to knit, sew, bake bread, grow vegetables, keep bees.  Stiehm’s concern is that the revival of traditional skills and an appreciation of homesteading is fetishized nostalgia and a glorification of domesticity, and that the renewed valuing of those skills also necessitates a return to the slightly-more-extreme gender imbalances that accompanied them.  She worries, I guess, that women will run back into the kitchen, thinking it’s all a bit of fun, and will unwittingly wind up trapped their just like their grandmothers.  She worries that any return to performance of those tasks will also initiate a return to defining women by those tasks, to a cultural acceptance that women aren’t good for anything outside the kitchen.  Maybe she’s right to be skeptical – lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time oppression was sold as empowerment – but I think mostly she didn’t think very deeply about what she was saying.  

This happens to be a subject about which I have thought very deeply, in fact; I think about it a lot, lately.  After Slutwalk started being a thing and I was hearing everywhere about reclaiming the word slut, which you might remember I totally hated, it occurred to me immediately that the word I really thought needed reclaiming was housewife.  I think that the status of women globally would benefit a great deal from the conscious application of feminist ideas to the domestic sphere, from the redirection of the conversation away from getting women out of the home, and more towards promoting the value of the work done in the home, and done, still, mostly by women. This is my little pet feminism, domestic feminism, and it’s getting more and more of my attention lately.  I think this is a great time to start talking about resituating discursive power in the home, so that the work itself is valued, no matter who’s doing it. 

At the heart of Stiehm’s disapproval of Matchar’s article is her unexamined and unstated assumption that being in the home is bad for women, and that returning there is against our best interests.  I’ve often thought that this was an oversight of second-wave feminism, which, instead of rejecting the notion that domesticity is exclusively woman’s domain, or that women are best suited to domesticity, rejected domesticity itself.  What should have been - and started out as - a conversation about the undervaluing of the work performed in the home (think of the Wages for Housework Campaign), and the relationship it bears to the undervaluing of the gender doing most of that work, became instead a conversation about getting women out of the home and into the workplace, which has from there turned into a conversation about women struggling to balance work and family.  Now, I am in no way suggesting that women should leave the workplace and return to the home.  But that work is still performed primarily by women, and women being a lesser social class than men, the work they do is also seen as lesser.  If we can bring some value to the work women are doing while we’re also trying to simply value women as a social class, that makes it easier for that work to stop being so gender-segregated.  If we can acknowledge that the work itself is necessary and important, then the workers also become so, and it becomes easier for men to take on more domestic tasks, which makes it easier for everyone to balance work and family. 

First- and second-wave feminism fought to break down gendered barriers to entry in the work place and offer women the choice to work or to stay home. Not to rehash all the compelling and obvious arguments against the mantra of "personal choice", but the ability to choose represents a level of privilege which is simply not available to most women: a proliferation of various options is, itself, a privilege, in addition to indicating membership in a particular social class.  And this particular conversation is doubly let down by a narrative of personal choice because it was very clear that the only truly feminist choice to make was to leave the home, which was the seat of oppression, and enter the workforce.  Rather than trying to bring power to the work done by mostly women all over the world, rather than acknowledging that the problem wasn’t the work, but the lack of value assigned to it specifically because of the gender doing most of it, the work itself became symbolic of that oppression.  Escaping the oppression of being confined to the domestic sphere meant escaping domesticity altogether.

It’s a racist narrative because the women who have the least options open to them, the women who couldn’t possibly decide not to go to work once they had children, or who have jobs with less security and less flexible hours and lower pay, are by and large black, Hispanic, Aboriginal peoples all over the world, Maori and Pasifika people here in New Zealand, and globally in general anyone who’s not white.  So framing the decision to return to domestic skills and knowledge as a step backwards for women, as is so often done, marginalizes and silences all the women who never had the choice to leave the home or return to it in the first place.  More than that, it paints them as the kind of women we shouldn’t want to be: if being empowered is wrapped up in the ability to exempt oneself from the tasks of cooking and cleaning and growing food, the implication is that all those women who do perform those tasks are not empowered, because the tasks are not powerful.  And I think that contributes to the harm being done to those women, and therefore the harm that’s done to everyone who identifies as a woman.  

 The idea that domesticity is anti-feminist was seized upon and perpetuated by marketers of products like processed food, which were meant to be freeing women from the tedious drudgery of cooking, at the same time that women were continually being told that keeping house was the greatest possible achievement for a woman.  Housework is both anti-feminist and the pinnacle of femininity: we’ve always been good at conflicting narratives.  And certainly some women were freed from tedious drudgery, but it happened not by sharing a workload more evenly or valuing the work so that it’s less drudgery, so that both parties in the household appreciate the importance of dinner and what it takes to make, but by outsourcing the tasks to McCain and Betty Crocker and everyone to whom they outsourced.  It’s like an STD ad from the 90s – you’re having sex with everyone he’s had sex with.  Food companies created a market by selling specifically women on products which were unhealthy, which were economically, environmentally, and socially expensive, and they specifically used the language of female empowerment to do so.  Feminism became another market, another avenue for capital absorption, part of the post-war spatial fix defined by suburbanization.  I think there’s a whole other show in there, a feminist reading of the second spatial fix.
Just as an aside, many of those products which were meant to make the keeping of a house a simpler, less labour-intensive task in fact had the opposite effect.  Things like dishwashers and vacuum cleaners are time savers, to be sure, but they also raise the bar on the acceptable level of cleanliness for a house.  So less and less dirt is tolerated anywhere, to the point that now we’re being sold anti-bacterial disposable counter-wipes which eliminate 97% of germs, like we can’t even have microscopic dirt.  Your house now not only has to be clean, it has to be sterile.  That’s not liberation from housework, that’s a company manufacturing a market for a product that isn’t needed  and co-opting the language of either feminism (“you don’t have time to do housework, you’re a high-powered woman on the go!”) or motherhood (“we know you care about your family too much to let them anywhere near germs!”).

Though I don’t see the feminist analysis used often these days, there is most certainly an aspect of political resistance to this domesticity zeitgeist.  Partly it represents a growing awareness that our way of life is finite, that we do not exist in a post-industrial economy but have simply outsourced our industry to poorer countries.  One of the side effects was that we ceased to value those production skills in favour of consumption ability, which is of course a highly class-based project which excludes huge numbers of people, the majority of whom are female.  Part of the political aspect of adopting more traditional ways of life, like homesteading and small-holding and more ethical and local eating habits, the resurgence of farmer’s markets, is an acknowledgement that being able to live in any other way is a luxury and an anomaly in human history, and one that is subsidized by people, mostly women, mostly in poorer and browner places.

It’s also an acknowledgement that even aside from the exploitative underpinnings of the entire western way of life, the financial crisis is alerting people to the flimsiness of a consumption economy and the inherent problems with the perpetual growth paradigm.  I think this has prompted people who are able to begin learning skills to survive in an economy which requires less consumption and greater production, as well as an environment which necessitates it. Some of this renaissance of domesticity is simple survival; this way of life has always been expensive, and many people who were previously able to afford it are now not, and so are being forced to adapt.  Sometimes that adaptation takes the form of making more and buying less.

Finally, though the first two points are reason enough for me, there is the simple fact that all these systems of food transport, factory farming, processing, outsourcing of labour, all the systems which have granted some women freedom from the work of sustaining themselves, are based on the assumption of cheap and abundant fossil fuels.  And those are just not going to be around anymore.  We are absolutely going to have to start performing domestic tasks, whether we like it or not, and so we might as well begin to talk about how necessary and valuable those skills are.  And if we can do that, we can also begin to talk about how necessary and valuable the (mostly) women who perform them are, as well.  If anything’s a step backwards for women, it’s an absolute refusal to see worth in the work that is done by women all over the world, to insist that domesticity is “nostalgia”, that it is distasteful, or that it is something to be avoided.  Steihm and those who agree with her are only succeeding in favouring their own privilege over the pursuit of true gender equality, for all women, everywhere.

Many women are relearning tasks their grandmothers knew, but as this return to domesticity has roots and ties to political resistance rather than simple nostalgia, there are also many men.  The trendiness of homesteading is useful for prompting discussions about the value of this work which has always been performed almost exclusively by women, and by extension therefore the value of women as a social class.  And I recognize the problems with what I’m saying, here: like it took men’s interest in domestic chores to start talking about them as valuable, productive work, and I don’t at all want to encourage that.  But I do think that an increased awareness in the male social consciousness of the energy, intelligence, and skill required for this kind of voluntary labour can only benefit the class which most often performs that labour.  And I also recognize that I’m attempting to raise the worth of women through their connection to an increasingly valuable skill set, rather than raising the value of the skill set through an increase in the value of women, but I’m not sure they’re so different – or at least, they’re not incompatible.  Either way, what interests me is a shift in the way we value work altogether.
Because it’s not enough for me to have women and people of colour succeed in a system which was created with only one social class, white men, in mind, which is what we’ve been aiming for; I want a system which is designed to be equal.  I don’t want us all to agree to only value the same things that the economic system values, as those are not representative of the full range of human experience, and success means embodying and exemplifying the traits that the economic system values – selfishness, cold rationality, efficiency.  I don’t want to try and fit into the parameters of the market; the market is a human construction, its parameters should include all of humanity.  I don’t want women’s success in a man’s world, I want a new world which is for everyone.  I know that sounds idealistic.  But listen, we’ve been ten thousand years with more or less the same power structure, as far as gender relations go, and a good few millennia as far as race relations go, so it’s ridiculous to expect that everything would be equal after a century’s work.  Social change takes time, and it’s ok that we’re not there yet, but it’s only ok as long as we keep talking about getting there. 


The Economics of Betterness

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Today I’d like to introduce one of the many inroads being made into discussions about economics done differently - specifically, economics which focuses the well-being of human beings, as opposed to the maximization of industrial output.  Umair Haque is one of a number of people contributing to a definition of economy which places the promotion of human well-being at its centre; an economics of better, as opposed to an economics of more.  That’s what consumer economy means – people buying stuff.  The point is the stuff, whether or not it makes your life better or happier; but maybe making lives better and happier should be the point instead.  

Monday, 5 December 2011

Reclaiming Domesticity

 Jamie Stiehm posted this blog on the US News in response to Emily Matchar’s Washington Post article about the “new domesticity zeitgeist” which she sees sweeping up her female friends: women learning to knit, sew, bake bread, grow vegetables, keep bees.  While Emily Matchar sees this as a “continuation of feminism”, Jamie Stiehm’s article begins “Reader: beware”.   Stiehm’s concern is that the revival of traditional skills and an appreciation of homesteading is rooted in nostalgia and a fetishization of do-it-yourself-ness, and that the renewed valuing of those skills also necessitates a return to the slightly-more-extreme gender imbalances that accompanied them.  I could not disagree more strongly.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Big Porn, Incorporated

DJ bios, playlists, podcasted interview with Dr. Abigail Bray, editor of and contributor to Big Porn, Inc, and links to stream the full show here.
So today I'm wading into the seething morass that is the debate around pornography, both as an industry and as an increasing presence in our day to day lives (hint: they're related! Gasp!).  Just to clear a few things up first:  Pornography is prostitution.  It’s the sale of sex in which the customer purchases a video of the sale of the body, instead of the body itself, which some have argued makes it infinite prostitution, prostitution that lives on after the performer is no longer a performer, or even no longer alive.  Secondly, while heterosexual porn for male consumption is certainly not the only form of porn, it is the overwhelming majority of what is consumed, and so much of my language, though I try to be inclusive, will reflect that.  Many of the studies in the book Big Porn, Inc, which was the impetus for this show, deliberately access the most mainstream selections as chosen by the Adult Video News’ bestselling and most-rented lists (So I can't access or link to AVN from my computer because I'm writing from work, and it won't let me at porn sites. Obv. But I could access CNBC, which has a slideshow of the top selling adult videos of all time. CNBC! If that's not an example of pornification, damned if I know what is). So no complaining that sometimes the woman is the dom and the man’s the sub; that’s true, but it’s not what most people are watching.   

Also, this is not a discussion about sexual morality, it is about human rights.   And for that reason, this isn’t about being sex-positive or sex-negative, those are nonsense terms that are used to often to silence or undermine arguments against prostitution.  No one is suggesting that sex is bad, or that women shouldn’t be sexually liberated; this isn’t about sex, it’s about power and violence and poverty, and the conception of women’s sexuality as a commodity.  The third largest illegal trade in the world after arms and drugs is the sale of women (if you include all human trafficking, it becomes the second largest), and the legal trade in women, the global porn industry, was worth $96 billion in 2006 (1). Apparently that legal trade is seen as being valuable enough to the global economy - which it is, at 96 billion - that the US government gave its domestic porn industry a 5 billion dollar bailout in 2008-9. For real.  That’s the argument against prostitution and pornography, that the sale of women’s bodies is something we should be talking about ending, which involves having some uncomfortable conversations about the socio-economic circumstances that encourage women into prostitution, which includes pornography.

Also, Occupy Vancouver just released a list of demands which included, at #39, the legalization and regulation of prostitution, like in New Zealand, which is specifically mentioned.  And though it’s too big a topic to cover in one show, I will at some point talk about exactly why the legalization model we have here doesn’t meet the needs of the women in the industry, and in fact can do much more harm than good - in the meantime, read everything by Meghan Murphy at the F Word.  But I can see why demanding the legalization of prostitution, as an unexamined presence, would have made it onto a socially progressive wish list.  Porn and prostitution seem like the kinds of thing that should be legalized, you know, like drugs – like it’s the kind of thing you can’t prevent people from doing and any attempts to regulate it seem like religious moralizing at worst, and at best, an infringement on the rights of free speech.  I have two things to say about that: the first is that when we talk about decriminalizing drugs, our concern is with the health of the users of the drugs, not the drugs themselves.  With porn and prostitution, what’s being sold isn’t a substance, they are human bodies, usually female human bodies, and that makes it qualitatively different than talking about the needless regulation of substances.  And accordingly, much of the legislation to date is, primarily, concerned with the patrons of sex workers, not the workers themselves.  

And secondly, let’s just talk about free speech for a second. I’ve for sure fallen for this argument before, that it’s the rights of free speech to make porn, but maybe free speech doesn’t mean the right to say whatever you want whenever with no consequences, just like freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you want with no consequences.  And I think – or rather, I agree with Betty McLellan, who also thinks – that it would be more useful to think of free speech in the same way we talk about free trade, and that fair speech, like fair trade, is a more worthwhile goal.  Because free speech, like free trade, favours the powerful, entrenches inequality, focuses on the individual, and ignores quality of life.  Conversely, fair speech, like fair trade, means not oppressing anyone, it decentralizes power, focuses on the common good, and fosters justice and respect (2).   Applying the laws of free speech to the creation of porn ignores the fact that “those with more power in society have much greater access to speech than those with less power, and that the powerful can subordinate and exploit the powerless with impunity in the name of free speech” (3).  Basically, the right to film, distribute, and watch the exploitation of actual women trumps their right to not be exploited.

Because I'm pretty sure it's impossible to disagree with anything Noam Chomsky says: 

Defending pornography as a choice made by consenting adults simply expressing their sexuality is a justification which ignores the fact that for many women, the poverty they face is so great, and their options are so limited, that the sale of their bodies becomes their only recourse for survival.  Also, let’s pretend for a minute that getting into prostitution is a genuine choice, even within the context of a culture which presents sexual exploitation as power and liberation.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t be raped, that you can’t be abused, within the industry itself.  You sign up have sex for money, to take naked photographs, whatever; this does not automatically mean you sign up for being abused, humiliated, degraded, beaten, choked, slapped, raped – it’s a contiguous industry, you don’t step right into hardcore or gonzo porn.  You start out stripping, you’re recruited into porn, which starts out pretty vanilla, but the money’s not as good as you thought, and it’s presented like a promotion, and so you lower your boundaries more and more.  Various studies have put the number of porn stars and sex workers with post-traumatic stress between 75 and 90%.  Ever seen Deep Throat? I have, a lot of people have.  But the actress, Linda Lovelace, has been quoted as saying that she was forced, often at gunpoint, to perform in porn, and that anytime someone watched Deep Throat they are very literally watching her being raped.  She’s not an isolated case, either; a huge number of sex workers were sexually abused as children, they are horribly physically abused; they suffer from dissociative disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and a higher than average suicide and murder rate (see this chart again).  But it is commonly expressed in studies of mostly men’s response to prostitution and pornography that once you have purchased the body, you have free reign to perform on it whatever acts you like, as though a woman is a couch or a table.  That once money has been exchanged there cease to be any boundaries that would make an action abusive or violent.  They just dissolve. We don’t treat animals that way, and yet here we are.

In addition to the economic pressures that might make prostitution of some kind seem like an attractive option for some women, we face social pressures which insist that we are in a post-feminist world in which women are now completely enfranchised, and in fact, have significant power over men, who are completely at the mercy of their sexual desires.  Obviously no genders are fairly represented in this paradigm, but it is there, and it is loud.  In the same way that women bought into the idea that their sexiness was empowering as long as it looked like pornography, so society bought the idea that pornographic sexiness is sexual liberation, when really it’s just another form of sexual oppression. And sexual liberation does not only mean that you love sex and think it’s great and want to have it all the time; it’s about the freedom to figure out your own sexuality without constraints from social scripts which validate one form of sexuality at the expense of others.  In our case, porn sexuality is validated and sold as empowerment, but in order to access that power you must be sexy in this one particular way which often includes breast implants, bleached hair, and high heels. 
This is what is meant by the pornification of society: shirts with porn star on them in sparkly letters, padded bras and thongs in children’s sizes, playboy bunny logos on everything from jewelry to car seat covers, that ten-year-old French model.   The undertone of pornsex is very strong, and it is telling girls and women that empowerment is looking like a porn star, that being a porn star is glamourous.  Later in the interview Abigail will refer to it as the “gentrification of sex work”, which I think is a marvelous turn of phrase, but whatever you want to call it, more and more women are drawn or coerced or enticed or convinced into the porn industry. It often starts through ‘glamour modeling’ or stripping, and those women are often completely shocked by how degrading the work turns out to be.  It’s not fun and glamourous; for most, it’s humiliating.   

And because our regular, not-porn lives are becoming more and more porny, porn itself has to become more and more extreme to offer the same experience. The whole genre of Gonzo porn, which is a type of porn which is exclusively violent and degrading acts committed by men against women, things like choking and triple penetration.  There’s a whole series of violent throat-fucking called “gag factor”, which has won porn awards for best oral series and has spawned a whole genre of copycats (4).  Almost all the porn directors interviewed for these essays agreed with this guy, Joe Gallant, who said “the future of american porn is violence. I see signs of it already … the culture is becoming much more accepting of gang rape and abuse movies” (5).  Compared to equivalent studies conducted in the 80s and 90s, the study conducted for this article “revealed that pornography has become uch more aggressive in both frequency and type of act” (6).  She cites all kinds of stats like the percentage of scenes which feature verbal aggression like name-calling (almost half), the percentage of scenes which feature physical aggression (almost 90%, with only 3% directed against the men involved), the violent gagging which is so hot right now had not been recorded in previous studies but now comprises 28% of the scenes. 

 We talk a little bit, Abigail and I, about the involvement of children in pornography, as viewers and targets.  She makes a valid point about the cultural narrative being very significant; just the fact of kids seeing two people having sex, live or filmed, is going to make them hate women or view themselves as sexual objects. I have a great deal of faith in children’s capacity for critical thought, certainly much greater capacity than they are given credit for.  But the narratives presented in the pornography that kids have access to are enforced and echoed by hypersexuality in the world around them, and us.  It’s impossible not to internalize some of those ideas, which can “lower their inhibitions, discourages empathy towards other, and reshapes their sexual aspirations and expression often in risky, violent, or unhelpful ways” (7).  If porn becomes the place you learn about sex, of course you’re not going to learn anything about intimacy, about complexity, about safety or respect.  What you’ll learn is that it’s awesome to come on a woman’s face, and that she loves it too.  This lack of awareness of boundaries is evident in things like the fact that children are now sexually assaulting other children.  One of the contributors to the book, Maggie Hamilton, interviews counselling professionals who say that the number of primary-school children who experience sexual assault  has shot up, and that many of those assaults are being perpetuated not by older boys or men, as is usually the case, but by their classmates (8).  So children are learning how sex works by watching porn, which explicitly positions women and girls as sexual objects who enjoy being degraded, and they believe what they’re told and act on it.  That’s what kids do; that’s why grownups are supposed to teach them stuff.
This social phenomenon is paralleled by an aspect of porn called pseudo-child pornography.  For me the biggest, problem, as I said to Dr. Bray, is not that we can’t trust the pornographers to tell the truth about the age of their performers, or that 18-year-old women aren't still vulnerable, though that’s certainly true.  It’s that it encourages us to look at children as sexy. It breaks down the cultural taboos which instruct us that children are not for having sex with.  It sort of shifts our ideas of when it’s appropriate for children to start being sexy..  There’s a huge amount of porn that does this, too, it’s extremely mainstream to see young-looking teenagers made to look younger with like knee socks, pigtails and, most importantly, no pubic hair.  That’s a convention that started in the subgenre of ‘teen porn’  and has since spread completely, it’s totally normal not to have pubic hair.  It’s more normal than having pubic hair.  So subtly, little by little, each website that emphasizes the performer’s innocence, her cuteness, her slightness, her youth, the more time spent in a place where the “norms and values that circulate in society and define adult-child sex as deviant and abusive are wholly absent” (9), the more we are told that kids are totally sexy. And the more we believe it.

I ask her about her navigation of the pornography debate: she’s of course right that the debate has not always been between radical feminists and neoliberal sex workers, there are whole political and religious aspects that I’ve not dealt with at all, because I absolutely do not want to equate this discussion in any way with religious or moralistic viewpoints.  I'm not against porn because I think it’s dirty or that sex is shameful, it’s because the industry is abusive.  So I just want to clarify the contemporary debate as best as I can to sort of provide some context here – I try to be very careful with my language, but these are tricky subjects, so just know that I’m trying to be inclusive and respectful: it’s not necessarily that some sex workers hold neoliberal beliefs about the value of their own empowerment and that feminists deny this is relevant.  It’s more about the feeling on the part of some sex workers that the tendency of radical feminists to speak about prostitution in a way that depicts the women involved as being brainwashed by the patriarchy and unable to make informed decisions.  Some sex workers feel that the denial of their ability to make a choice is itself degrading and offensive, and that using the term “prostituted women”, instead of “sex worker”, itself makes women sexual objects by undermining their personhood.  The position taken by some radical feminists is that we cannot deny the influence of our cultural narrative, we are all socialized, it’s how we exist as social beings, and that to account for the pervasiveness and the extraordinary influence of our society is not the same as denying personhood, intelligence, or agency.  For this reason even if a woman feels genuinely empowered in her sex work – which again, some do but they are very few, and are by no means representative – the cost of that individual empowerment is the reinforcement of a continuing cultural narrative that sees women as salable goods, as sexual objects that can be purchased. 
But of course the debate is not nearly so binary or distinct, because feminism and sex have a complex history.  Initially, as I pointed out in the interview, female sexual liberation was a highly inflammatory political idea; political enfranchisement and sexual enfranchisement were mutually reinforcing.  If the personal is political, which I think it is, then you can see how taking control and ownership of your own sexuality can feel like an embodiment of political resistance against a culture which represses your sexuality.  Like the young Egyptian blogger who posted a  naked photo of herself as a protest –  sexuality is a very powerful thing. But, as Dr. Bray points out, we are now inundated with female sexuality, we are saturated with it, you can’t look around without seeing some reference to it.  Because porn is everywhere, now we don’t need porn.  And anyway, just like with children, porn is not a good place to learn about sex. 

I agree that sexual liberation is a red herring for feminist issues, but I don’t like the way she frames it, that this issue is more important, so what are you bothering to talk about this thing for ("how can a woman be sexually liberated when she doesn't have a job?").  That argument is used a lot to silence feminists (for example: because some women have to wear a burqa, no woman who doesn’t is allowed to talk about sexism).  We can only ever be talking about the absolute worst thing, as though all those big things aren’t made up of a thousand little things.  But I don’t think that’s what she’s trying to do, and she’s right to bring poverty into the conversation, as very few sex workers are wealthy heiresses amusing themselves by allowing powerful men to spend scandalous amounts of money for the pleasure of pleasuring her (we should entertain the idea that these women are, entirely, a myth).  Most sex workers get into it because they are in bad economic circumstances, and they saw it as the surest way of supporting themselves.  Talking about sex work in the context of liberation overlooks the poverty that almost always accompanies prostitution and erases the struggle of the women engaged in it.

I don't know what I would advocate here: I don't think criminalizing pornography is necessarily an option, because, of course, of the internet.  It's a tricky subject because the real answer is to address ten thousand years of gender inequality and women-as-sex-object, and at the same time (again: they're related!) undo three hundred years of capitalist philosophy which contributes to women having considerably less economic power and forces some into occupations which are deeply harmful and degrading.  In the meantime, I guess we just keep talking.

(1) Hawthorne, Susan. "Capital and the Crimes of Pornographers: Free to Lynch, Exploit, Rape and Torture." 107 - 117 in Abigail Bray and Melinda Tankard Reist, Eds. Big Porn, Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2011.
(2) McLellan, Betty.  "Pornography as Free Speech: But is it Fair?" Summary by Susan Hawthorne in Bray, Big Porn Inc, 113.

(2) McLellan, Betty, in Bray Big Porn Inc, 250.

(4) Sun, Chyng. "Investigating Pornography: The Journey of a Filmmaker and Researcher". In Bray, Big Porn Inc, 171 - 181.

(5) Sun in Bray, 174.

(6) Sun in Bray, 173.

(7) Hamilton, Maggie. "Groomed to Consume Porn: How Sexualised Marketing Targets Children". In Bray, 16 - 24.  Ref. page 17.

(8) Hamilton in Bray, 21.

(9) Dines, Gail. "The New Lolita: Pornography and the Sexualization of Childhood". In Bray, 3 - 8. Ref. page 7.