To Each Their Own


Let’s begin with a performative statement. Or, if you prefer, an account of the bleeding obvious.

Voila: I am typing.

For the most part, typing is a blameless act. It most commonly fulfils the sacrament of great boredom in workplaces. Persons press their keyboard into the service of curt, CCed self-aggrandising memos and requests for office supplies. Gainfully underemployed individuals, such as your correspondent, use less sanitary keyboards to write curt, self-aggrandising Op Ed. In most cases, typing is an innocent work. But not today.

I am typing and as I survey the clumsy collision of fingers with letters, all I can think of is filth. In fact, I am reminded of an entertainment I viewed last night. As bratwurst digits fail and occasionally succeed to meet their chosen target on a delicate instrument, I can think only of the glowing Hindenburgs that crashed into Jenna and Tyler. These ladies, incidentally, appear in Down and Dirty with Jenna and Tyler.

Yes. I am a moderately smutty person with a modest pornographic collection.

Unlike fellow Matildas, David Corlett and Maree Crabbe, I have no dispute with most pornography. Unlike fellow Matilda Jessica Friedmann, I have discontinued my subscription to the scopic airs of The Suicide Girls. (Really. There are only so many pierced labia one can take in a single afternoon.)

I enjoy my modest pornographic collection. And I do so not because I regard it as a radical gesture. Unlike the refined authoress of The Porn Report, it is not my hope to subvert the dominant hokum. I do not suppose that in calling myself a "grrl" or similar pop-feminist designation I am somehow elevated from my authentic intention: to masturbate productively.

It seems to me there are two dominant leftist views on porn. Neither of which adequately addresses the important topic of productive masturbation. In short, these are (a) the Corlett and Crabbe view wherein pictures of vaginas and sundry pleasure parts are best reserved for medical journals and (b) The Catharine Lumby-esque standpoint that holds: You Go Girl. Ugh.

Personally, I’m intimate with the chastity belt of second wave feminism. Once, I genuinely believed that rape was the inevitable by-product of pornography. And I believed that pornography was, in turn, a document of rape.

In fact, as a peppy young militant, I would wear the dungarees reserved especially for Action and attend my local newsagent. I’d amass a veritable rainforest of porn, take it to the counter, wait for it to be rung and then say, "They’re not for me. I refuse to pay for the violation of my sisters."

Ken the newsagent, an old friend of my family, became quite used to my ritual. If things weren’t too busy, he’d stockpile a stack of Juggs, Knocked Up and Horny et al, hand them to me and say, "There you go, young Helen Pankhurst. Strike a blow against the patriarchy." This diminished the radical savour I took, of course, in seeing Ken hit the No Sale button. But, I told myself, I was doing my bit against the naturalised and systemic violence against women. Because, surely, pornography was the training manual of rape and brutality.

Then, for a brief flutter in the 1990s, I became a Pro-Porn Third Wave Feminist type. I’d like to tell you this shift was motivated by intellectual rigour. It was not. It was my libido that presented itself in an odd and embarrassing way.

Perhaps you have heard of Andrea Dworkin. The departed radical feminist, I’d argue, had a great deal that was good to say. It troubles me that her appearance, which I personally regard as quite striking, has become the register of her work. (And, yes, I know. Here I am about to defend my right to masturbate within the visual economy while decrying the primacy of the visual. But, whatever, really.) Dworkin did more than provide a punch line to a joke by wearing her formless dungarees. She gave some of us some useful tools for decoding a gendered world. But she also gave us this really annoying book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women.

As an upright sister, I read this joyless polemic and tried to believe every word. But I found that the passages that aroused my attention most were those that explicitly "unpacked" literary pornography. Vast tracks of Dworkin’s work dealt critically with texts by Bataille, de Sade and The Story of O author Anne Desclos. "Isn’t it terrible?" Andrea asked as Bataille inserted goddess knows what into a lissom, young French cyclist. "Isn’t it violent?" she demanded of her reader as de Sade tied up Justine again. "Isn’t this the document of our oppression?" she wanted to know.

I tried to answer yes. But I was far too busy strumming, ahem, my flesh mandolin to make any sound other than "euugghrh".

By the reading of my own adult libido, it was feminism that led me to pornography. Pornography did not lead me to participate in violence or abasement. It led me to (a) French literature and (b) efficient and more productive masturbation. And despite an early penchant for the wonderfully dark and beautifully structured perversions of Bataille and de Sade (how can I ever thank you, Andrea?) I’ve never wanted to insert an egg into anybody’s anus nor engage in water sports. Polite spanking and aesthetic, gentle bondage remains my connubial limit.

I am, of course, plainly very sane. Further, I’m white, middle class and have seven eighths of an arts degree. Our sort can be trusted with everything including Jenna, Tyler and de Sade. And branded Jeff Stryker lubricant. Anyone darker and less educated cannot be depended upon to maintain self-possession in the face of PORN.

Dressing the brutality of censorship up doesn’t convince me that porn is wicked. Claims that the consumption of visual material will end in violence doesn’t convince me that porn is wicked. Clive Hamilton’s brisk research, which I believe to be mired in prejudice, doesn’t convince me that porn is wicked.

And claims made by other thinkers that the production of porn is by nature exploitative still don’t convince me that the genre will send us to hell. (If one views entertainments featuring drug free white European adults, which I do at least weekly, the question of exploitation is fuzzy. Most of my X collection does not depict any worker getting anymore resolutely f-cked than they would in, for example, a call centre.)

Pornography, as you’re doubtless aware, is a multi-billion dollar business. Further, it’s delivery innovations continue to buoy the digital economy. Plainly, a lot of people watch it. A LOT. While I’m not particularly proud to be among this self-groping assortment, nor am I particularly ashamed

As our Government’s forlorn experiments with internet filters demonstrated, the censure of pornography is a rather Sisyphean task. Jenna and Tyler are not to shortly disappear. (Unless it’s to see the pizza delivery boy.) A strict regulation of the production of porn is needed to address the potential for exploitation.

And a liberal regulation of its consumption is needed so I am no longer forced to visit Canberra to make legal purchase.

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