Liberalism and porn

‘Where and how does pornography fit into Liberalism?’ is a question that I asked myself when I was being filmed for a Channel 4 documentary. The three-part programme features five mothers, including me, who are introduced to the problem of easily available online porn for children to watch. While the impact on children was my primary concern, the content that I was viewing was disturbing for another reason. 

Much of it was highly dehumanising and derogatory of women. I found it distressing. Scenes of women being violently grabbed, slapped and shoved raised my feminist hackles. Teenagers were the favoured category of content on these porn sites. Women of colour were stereotyped and highly racialized. 

I saw an inherent immorality but I am mindful that porn, to many others, is recreational.

Porn is watched by women. Many women choose to watch porn either on their own or with their partners. If porn dehumanizes women but women are consumers of porn too what should a Liberal’s conscience dictate? Feminist friendly or ethical porn, as it is also called, could be situated as an acceptable middle ground but these are niche productions. Most people view porn on mainstream hubs. The commodification of the female body in porn is linked to the male gaze. Let’s face it, most of porn is made for men by men. 

My conscience was also pricked by wondering about whether the female porn actresses had consented to being manhandled. Male porn actors, allegedly, are often forced to do things against their will too. Their choice to become porn stars cannot always translate into consent for everything that they are told to do. There is also the question of authenticity. After having been on a real-life porn set, I can say that what people watch as consumers is half the story. 

It would be naïve to attach free will to everyone who works in the industry. If you do that you are choosing to exempt them from your conscience for your viewing pleasure. Thus, the concept of choice is an inherent paradox in Liberalism.  A concept of choice which disregards the reality of people’s social context, like austerity, is a false God. When students turn to sex work to fund their studies and mothers see the sex industry as a way to earn a living, then ‘choice’ becomes something between the devil and deep blue sea. 

My take-away from my involvement with the show is that my version of Liberalism is a form of social liberalism, mooted in community. I cannot separate porn from issues of ethics and morality like freedom from coercion, sexual discrimination and bodily force. If there is one thing I want to do it is to make people aware of these issues associated with porn. 

The first episode of ‘Mums Make Porn’ will air on Channel 4 tonight (20 March) at 10pm. Watch me and four mums navigate the industry. 

* Jane Chelliah is a LibDem member and blogs at https://www.ambitiousmamas.co.uk/

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4 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Mar '19 - 2:38pm

    A very sensible and insightful article.

    The very title of this programme and advertising of the same, belies the obvious intelligent point of it and panders to the sense of silliness in television reality shows. This is a shame because as with the diligent and committed author of this article, Jane, it seems, that she and her fellow participants are trying to understand a very important subject.

    I work, and in leisure too, live and breathe culture, and thus as someone involved in the arts, media, etc., these issues interest me a great deal in my involvement in politics .

    The views and discussions of party members on these things are often far more vital, nuanced than in other parties. The sort of Liberalism which Jane conveys to is one grounded in a morality that recognises liberty but is not defined by it alone.

    John Stuart Mill, is not, to Liberals, what Moses is to all followers of the three great book based faiths. The book On Liberty is no more the Ten Commandments than is the oft alluded to Preamble to our party constitution. Yet the Harm Principle Mill proposes as will power and responsibility, combined with awareness of the will or otherwise of other people, and the social responsibility thus at the essence of it, means we must tread carefully, as individuals in society.

    Pornography is first and always, like all media, too often merely a very big business. My criticism of much in culture is the vested interests.

    The equation of porn with entertainment, however gratuitous, is more accurate, than only with, what is too often called, the sex industry. Strippers, are naked entertainers, the one or two I have had good conversations with , see it as an art form at best, a sideline at worst. Whether the burlesque cabaret dancer who is an Equity member and professional, or the International relations recent graduate I knew who was paying off student debts, these are not, what are referred to now as , sex workers, far , very far, from it.

    Similarly people who are paid well to have sex with each other and be filmed , are not involved in the same transaction as a drug addicted woman on the street and her client that evening.

    And the five hundred pounds a session escort and the businessman she is seeing that hour is not the same either.

    Entertainment has less to do with power.

    Sex can be empowering.

    It is the blur in where one is or the other, that calls for concern and the subtle contribution of mainstream Liberalism.

  • “What the knock on effects of that are on the men who do this, whether it encourages them to degrade and rape women is hard to say.”

    A recent piece of work on this:
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1359178918302404?via%3Dihub#as0020

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