Friday, July 21, 2006

So Jo on Witchy's blog brought this up in a comment:

"how do you reconcile this with the fact that these industries (pornography and prostitution - H.) were built by limiting women's choices?"

which got me wondering about the history of prostitution.

And Belledame wonders about the origin of the term "pornstitution", which I also wonder about.

Is it possible (or desirable) to de-couple those terms? when did it become desirable to create a new word and under what circumstances? Is it just a sort of shorthand?

Any thoughts?

unlike Belledame, I won't hit you with a halibut...I oppose fish/human violence in all its forms... :)

Were they, though? built that way?

I mean--well, certainly yes as *industries.*

But when you talk of "porn"

--well, again, and it does seem like at least some of the posters here have come down pretty clearly on "why d'you even need that stuff anyway?"

--regardless: people have been drawing pictures of people having sex since before the use of money, much less the porn industry in its current form.
Yah, that was pretty much my reaction too.

You'll get no argument from me that plenty of what's churned out by that megalith The Porn Industry is awful and tasteless and anti-progressive and soul-crushing for all parties involved.

Nonetheless: When you discover that the fishing industry is killing dolphins, do you try and convince everyone everywhere that wanting to eat fish is Bad and Evil, or do you push for dolphin-free tuna?
Of course, now I see Amber says the same thing, only much better.
well if you're PETA...
I thought that the reason for the word was that they wanted maximum impact. To those who might see one as acceptable, putting them together would force them to deal with them together.

They see them as together, radfems, anyway.

You know, like you can imagine someone saying porn is ok, but prostitution just sucks because I think it's easy to point to the horrible lives led by street prostitutes to force the discussion to that.

I don't know if I'm making sense.

They also mock us for using sex worker instead of prostitute. The word has nasty connotations. It has an ugly vibe. I think I read this on someone's blog once, too. Cant' recall where.
Oh whatsername who mocked stroppybird, she had a thing about the real meaning of "prostitute" as being about "vile whores."

where she gets that i've no idea; it's certainly nothing i've heard. particularly the "vile" part.

Some people mock "sex worker" because there is a resistance to the notion that anything having to do with sex is "work;" otherwise we might start having to allow as to how unions and so forth might actually be helpful.
I thought it was the real meaning of the word "pornography" as "the depiction of women as vile whores".
Yes, but is that correct?

...apparently the "vile" appellation, which is the part I was most wondering about, comes straight out of Dworkin. Here's another take on this from a self-admittedly biased but also classics-trained scholar:

"The authors inform us that the Greek term "pornographos" referred to courtesan biography, "which may not contain any obscene material at all," and that sexually explicit texts -- sex manuals -- were written by "an-aiskhunto-graphoi, 'writers of shameless things'" (Parker, 91). "Pornography" was introduced into the English language in the nineteenth-century, in reference to the erotic wall murals discovered in Pompeii (Shapiro 53). Therefore, these are actually two different words, which in itself should require clearly demarcated critical parameters for the discussions of "pornography" in Greece, in Rome, and in contemporary Europe and the U. S. Why, then, do the same scholars who provide this information, repeatedly defer to Dworkin and Kappeler for the "real meanings" of ancient pornography? Kappeler insists on the continuity of the term, since women in pornographic scenes are treated like prostitutes (Kappeler 152). Shapiro cites this with approval, even though his own account of the English history of "pornography" had already rendered Kappeler's claims superfluous (Shapiro 72n.1). Dworkin's semantic fantasies are also quoted and/or referred to without challenge or adaptation to totally alien cultural contexts: "'Contemporary pornography strictly and literally conforms to the word's root meaning: the graphic depiction of vile whores... The word has not changed its meaning and the genre is not misnamed" (Dworkin, qtd. Rabinowitz, 37). In relinquishing definitional authority to these writers, the classicists abandon their intellectual responsibility to their own philological and historical training. "
...and I note that any number of reactionary authors/sites, from William Safire to "Modestly Yours," have picked up the Dworkinesque take and run with it.

another, less academic link:

Most texts on pornography start with a definition of the word, but unfortunately pornography is a hard thing to define. It is particularly common, as Andrea Dworkin (1981) does, to provide a limited and very specific definition of pornography, then widen the discussion to include almost any commercially produced erotic material. Worse still, many writers (again including Dworkin, and Steinem (1991:53)) argue that pornography means "writing about vile whores", from the Greek pornos, a fairly common case of confusing etymology with meaning; what "pornography" may have meant to the ancient Greeks is of little relevance today.

PORNOGRAPHY is in fact a complex and fuzzy category, involving prototype effects and implicit value judgements. Adopting the type of extended definition used by Anna Wierzbicka (1992), we might propose the following:

It is words or pictures;
Someone makes it to make people feel something;
This something is like wanting sex;
Because of this, people pay money for it;
[I think this is bad].

The third element is somewhat confusing; "sexual arousal" might seem more specific, but this term, like its "folk" equivalents such as "feeling horny", is also, I believe, a cultural construct, and probabaly less specific than it appears. The final point, "I think this is bad", does not always apply, but in general, the words "pornography" and "pornographic" have negative connotations, whether these are moral or aesthetic. If a more positive term is wanted, the words "erotica" or "erotic" are usually used instead.

EROTICA can be defined in the same way as follows:
It is something people make;
It can make people feel something;
This something is like wanting to have sex;
It can also make people feel other things;
[I think this is good]....


The most "neutral" etymology i was able to find has this:

1857, "description of prostitutes," from Fr. pornographie, from Gk. pornographos "(one) writing of prostitutes," from porne "prostitute," originally "bought, purchased" (with an original notion, probably of "female slave sold for prostitution;" related to pernanai "to sell," from PIE root per- "to traffic in, to sell," cf. L. pretium "price") + graphein "to write." Originally used of classical art and writing; application to modern examples began 1880s. Main modern meaning "salacious writing or pictures" represents a slight shift from the etymology, though classical depictions of prostitution usually had this quality. Pornographer is earliest form of the word, attested from 1850. Pornocracy (1860) is "the dominating influence of harlots," used specifically of the government of Rome during the first half of the 10th century by Theodora and her daughters.
it was the "vile" that tripped me up, too.
hmm. this is slightly OT (ok, it's totally OT, don't hate me, antip), but reading all this sex-pos/anti-pos stuff recently, this is what comes up for me:

i generally think that performer-type people have to be awfully careful about their judgments of sex work (not that anyone here is necessarily a performer-type person), given that many performer-types engage in "sex scenes" with their fellow actors.

and that if acting and performing are acknowledged as work, if simulated sex is part of that work (not all the time, but sometimes), why is it then difficult to view sex itself as work? if we acknowledge that folks perform for the entertainment of others on a regular basis, why is sex not acceptable as part of that performance?

i know this applies more to porn than to, say, sex in a room that isn't being observed by anyone else, but you get my drift.

what's the difference between depicting sex as part of a story and actually having it?

does anyone remember that dreadful angelina jolie/antonio banderas movie...erm..."original sin?" remember that sex scene?

for folks who didn't see it: there's a rather extended scene of the two of them rolling around naked in bed together. they're kissing and rubbing and humping rather vigorously. on the DVD that i had, the scene went on for several minutes, covering different positions and finally ending with a.j. with his finger (or her own finger?) in her mouth.

well, good gravy, there may have been no actual penetration in that scene, but in my world, what they were having was SEX. real sex. with naked rubbing and all.

i dunnow how relevant this is to the discussion...just tossing it out there that for me, part of developing my thinking on porn and all this stuff was thinking about it from a performance perspective.
Funny you should mention. I had been thinking about theatre/performance wrt BDSM/ erotic roleplay; particularly was thinking of conversations that started to go in that direction with Violet Socks, who, while understanding the difference between BDSM and abuse, supportive of other peoples' erotic choices, etc., doesn't, i sense, really get why anyone would do it outside of a i guess patriarchal framework. and is a former circus performer.

it's performance. it's catharsis. it's drama. it's playing roles you don't normally play in real life. it's getting to dress up in pretty or funky outfits. sometimes there's even an audience.

the only difference is in this case some people might be having orgasms.

for that matter one of the main attractions of theatre for me was always the erotic charge.
right, for me, too.

that's a great way of talking about BDSM, belle. and honestly why i'm more kink-curious than seriously into it, i think. i've thought quite a bit about role-playing and i'm just not very good at pretending when i'm offstage. it just doesn't work for me unless there's an audience that i'm catering to, and i'm not at the point where that would be comfortable for me re: sex.

but yeah, i'm just seeing RMildred's assertion that porn is inherently exploitative because there's money involved, which...well...does that mean every transaction in which there's money is inherently exploitative? i mean, is going to theatre inherently exploitative because the audience member is paying money to see people dance about or be sad or just in general make delightful fools of themselves?

maybe i don't get it because i'm not a marxist. i dunnow.
this also brings to mind a show that i saw a few years ago - some richard schechner atrocity at lamama, i think (though the man might have had theatrical value at some point, he sure creates righteous messes now).

though the rest of the show was, frankly, wretched, there was a scene that was probably the most potently erotic scene i've ever witnessed on a stage.

a man and a woman sat on a bench with their back to the audience while three women faced the audience and washed their own feet.

that was it. it was supposed to be jocasta and oedipus taking a bath together.

anyway, that scene elicited a stronger response from me than any porn i've ever watched. it was fucking hot. the sound of the water, the sound of the actors' voices - no person touched anyone else and i was all hot and bothered.

i don't know if the intent with that scene was to arouse folks in the audience, but i suspect it wasn't just about showing the desire between jocasta and oedipus. (and i must say, thinking back to other productions about oedipus, i've been unable to get past the whole mother/son thing and see the two of them has anything but a horror. even knowing that they weren't aware of their biological connection when they were together. watching such a sexy scene like the one in this particular production brought home that before they found out that they were mother and son, they were *totally* hot for one another. made the whole story more tragic for me.)

where am i going with this...right. so those actors were in a scene that, though it didn't depict The Act O' Love, did portray two people being highly aroused. The women washing their feet could have been foot fetishists, and the actors might have been doing voiceovers for porn films. no one put their genitals to use in the scene, but it would still, in my mind, count as erotica.
well if you're PETA...

There you go.

@mwt: Your points about performance are right-on, I think (at least, as a performer-type person myself, I find I'm nodding in agreement). But - and this is completely subjective and unsubstantiated, little more than a nagging feeling on my part - it seems to me that radfem looks on all kinds of performance as suspect anyway, if only because so much of our culture's entertainment is at The Patriarchy's beck and call. And while that critique is not uncalled-for, I think there's definitely a strain of thought there that doesn't give people enough credit for being able to distinguish between fantasy and reality on any level, not just the sexual. There's a distrust of fiction that isn't polemic, and a distrust of the consumers of it to be able to figure out anything for themselves.

I wonder sometimes if the Radfem Utopia, should it come to pass, wouldn't look just a bit like a Sapphic version of Plato's Republic - Philosopher-Queens as strong shepherds ruling the sheeplike populace, and the theatre banned.
yeh. Calvinists of course are pretty down on theatre, sparkle and glitter and pretty clothes, and of course teh sex in most of its forms.

but of COURSE the people who go 'round telling us and telling us and TELLING US to "examine" why we think and feel and like thusandso have completely done all their homework in this regard; of course they themselves are not influenced by any sort of (patriarchal? Calvinism? nahhh) hangover in this regard themselves. no; they have torn free of all that; the fact that the conclusions they come to resemble those of some of our dourer cultural ancestors in many regards, well....a coincidence merely.

uh huh.

as it is that the most fervent of these little born-again Dworkinites have or had (in at least several cases that i am aware of) dour disapproving WASP-y and/or soppy-stern/abusive fundamentalist parentals.
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