Thursday, July 26, 2007

Excuse Me While I Spit A Few Feathers!

I've just read the worst article I've read in years. Zoe Williams explains in the Guardian why hotels shouldn't stop offering pornography to guests. I think I'm going to have to do a full autopsy on the piece.

Firstly let me explain the news in the article: It's about Travelodge (cheap hotel chain) ceasing to offer pornography in their hotel rooms. They say they will lose some revenue in the short term but hope to attract more family visitors. Sounds like great news to me.

Starting with the title "The market beyond porn". Beyond porn. I don't really know what that means. Does that mean in a world where we no longer have porn? Clearly we live in no such world. Or a world where we have all accepted porn and stopped being concerned about it? Clearly if you read the feminist blog-o-sphere you will see that is not the case. Furthermore we can never disengage from discussing porn because there will always be an issue of how much we can show. I have spam e-mails in my inbox this morning with the title "real rapes - hidden cameras". It's not just feminists who are uncomfortable with that - it's everybody who doesn't deserve to be lined up and shot.

Quote one: "... Apparently it will cost the company millions in lost revenue, but it is thought to have weighed this against all the crystal meth, sorry, knitting patterns it'll flog to the new influx of mothers, and decided it was worth it."

That paints a portrait of mothers that I am not familiar with. Knitting and/or crystal meth? That's just insultory to mothers isn't it? Lets try the racism test - if "humourously" I wrote that a company was trying to appeal to the black community "in an effort to sell more crystal meth, sorry, knitting patterns" would the Guardian publish it? Nope! But as the Travelodge has clearly worked out, there are plenty of mothers (could even be some fathers too!) out there who are interested in taking their children on holiday and staying somewhere where those kids won't be exposed to porn. Great news.

Quote two "[on porn] Did lad culture make it funny? Does objecting to porn mean you have no sense of humour? At what point does it cease to be ironic? If the irony is in the mindset of the beholder, does that make it a thought crime (you are not appreciating it ironically enough), and if so, is protest dated, insanely authoritarian, to the point of being meaningless?"

Looking at Lad Mags I see the only joke seems to be how stupid they can make women appear and how insultory they can be to women in general. I'm not into homophobic or racist humour either. That's not because I lack a sense of humour - come see one of my shows - but there are plenty of funny things that aren't insultory to women/gay people/other ethnic groups. Just because its supposed to be funny, doesn't stop it being offensive. And nor does it make it somehow"insane" to protest against it.

Quote three "(1)Feminist remonstration has its own grey areas to wrestle over. The rhetoric of objectification relies on the idea that it's one-way traffic, that only men objectify, and only women are objectified. Before you even consider where this leaves homosexuality, (2) you can only accept this model if you take as a starting point that women have no physical imperative - or if they do, it's an imperative for cuddles - (3)and while there is an alarming number of people calling themselves feminists who persist with such ideas, this area is at least now open to debate."

(1) No - the point is that pornography normally only objectifies women. Everyone is capable of objectifying and being objectified. But the vast majority of porn is about women being made to look stupid and powerless. That objectifies them. I don't know many feminists who would argue with that.

(2) No-one is suggesting women don't have a "physical imperative" - which I think means sex drive. But we're being drawn in here to the idea that porn is about sex and it's not. Women like sex and so do men. If that sex drive is what generates porn, then we would have to assume women DON'T like sex because where is all the male porn? Demand for porn has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with misogyny.

(3) There are very few feminists who believe that women don't like sex. There are those that believe modern sexual standards - heavily influenced by porn - have standardised forms of sexual behaviour that are more centred on male pleasure than female. There are even super-extreme feminists who believe that the best way for women to escape male oppression is so give up sex or have only lesbian relationships. But no-one I know is saying women don't like sex, jeez it was us feminists who first explained to the world that women DO like sex. And we had a hard enough time getting out point across then!

Quote four: "(1)So, say women do objectify men to the same degree, on the same grounds as they themselves are objectified. How degrading is porn, then, and for whom? (2) Besides which, we can't ignore the way the mainstream has embraced pornographers themselves; the fact that the most despised aspect of a man like Richard Desmond is now his personality. (3) Suffice it to say, a discussion about the flaws of the business is mainly now about working conditions - are the participants willing, are they paid properly, does the taboo around the industry leave them unprotected by industrial standards? The discussions are no longer about the ethics of the business itself. That's where the cultural curve is now."

(1) The last paragraph suggested women could objectify men too. Now we are asked to assume that they do and that they do to the same degree as men objectify women. In any case it isn't men who objectify women - it's porn that objectifies women and that's why it's degrading. TO WOMEN. Doh!

(2) Richard Desmond bought his way into the mainstream. I can't really distinguish between hating the fact that he publishes a magazine called "Asian Babes" and hating the bloke himself. Everyone close their eyes and count to 100 and see if when you open them Zoe Williams has a brand spanking new column all of her own in The Daily Express ... two ... three ...

(3) Working conditions are awful, the participants often coerced, pay unreasonably low and protection for participants virtually non-existant. Those are all good reasons to add to the list of why Travelodge is quite right not to support the industry by selling on it's produce. Actually it's unlikely Travelodge could vet the pornography they circulate to the extent that they could guarantee none of those problems were present. Even if they could, the debate is still very much out there on how best to keep porn away from children. There was a motion in parliament only this time last year on the issue.

You would think the supposedly left-wing (at best centrist) Guardian would look for gender issues page contributors who had at least a cursory knowledge of basic feminism. Or who bothered to do any research.

Oh and well done Travelodge.


Iceman said...

I don't really get the economics of the whole thing - why porn is so important to these hotel chains. Talking in very rough terms here, if each hotel room is $200 per night, and 1 out of every 20 customers (and even that sounds high) gets a porn movie for $10, that would be a whopping 0.25% of the chain's revenue.

Looking at Lad Mags I see the only joke seems to be how stupid they can make women appear and how insultory they can be to women in general.

I think they make men look stupid also - they are written at a very low level, and assume their readers have no interests or concerns beyond sex, cars, trashy movies, sports, and female celebrities in bikinis.

No - the point is that pornography normally only objectifies women. Everyone is capable of objectifying and being objectified. But the vast majority of porn is about women being made to look stupid and powerless. That objectifies them.

I think porn is dehumanizing to all of the participants, but since 99% of the viewers are straight men, the end effect is that those viewers are objectifying the women in the scenes. And when a man's image of a desirable woman is a size zero porn star with huge breasts who is only concerned with pleasuring men, real life women will never be able to compete with that.

Stan said...

Hotels are complicit by disguising the nature of the purchase on the bill. This makes it possible for the consumer to claim this stuff back on expenses - I'm sure consumption would drop if the name of the film had to appear on the VAT invoice by law.

True story : I was once stuck in a long check-out line at a fairly fancy hotel in Germany. The line wasn't moving because an American man was loudly disputing the charge for a skin-flick on his bill. His defence :-

"I didn't order it. And anyway, I don't speak a word of German, so I couldn't have understood it.".

Cruella said...

Hotels, not unreasonably, consider it good service to allow their business customers to expense items which they probably shouldn't expense. When I was a business woman living in Japan and making business trips back to the UK, I generally stayed at the Landmark Hotel in Baker Street. Of course I paid business prices (my employer paid them) and I often stayed for several weeks at a time. They left me choccies and champagne every few days and overlooked my occasional mini-bar bills.

That's great service, and it worked - I always requested that I stay there. So I can well believe they go the extra step and smuggle porn viewing charges in there too.

Derek said...

the vast majority of porn is about women being made to look stupid and powerless.

Ya think? How much porn have you watched, that you could make such a sweeping statement about the "vast majority" of it? I have only seen maybe eight or 10 pornos, but the women being portrayed certainly weren't stupid or powerless. Actually they were very assertive.

You also write that the pay in pornos is "unreasonably low." Can you provide some evidence? I always thought it was very lucrative for the women. (The men, not so much).

Cruella said...

I've seen a fair amount of porn. That's partly because I write this blog and I consider it my job to find out what is out thereI have - for instance - been through all the Lad Mags, when I was researching them prior to appearing on TV talking about them...

I've also been covering issues like Girls Gone Wild:

And YouPorn and PornTube:

But also because you just can't avoid it in our modern society. I go on holiday - there's porn. It appears in my inbox all the time, and it shows up on websites that are not even supposed to be showing it.

And you wanted some info on women in porn and pay?

Jennifer Ewing said...

A lot of Zoe Williams' columns recently have been about how the only remaining oppressed women are the stupid ones. It's the most despicable, overprivileged attitude ever.

As for pornography, a lot of the stuff I've seen I don't have a problem with, but it was mostly fairly mild and generally involved regular movie plots, except they all seemed to steer towards large amounts of vigorous fucking. But there is lots of nasty stuff out there. I don't agree with restricting what's depicted in movies, but I do think the actors should be much better protected, and of course it goes without saying that filming and selling actual rapes is... er, well, to be honest I'm not finding a word that does it justice, "despicable" doesn't seem to cover it.

Anonymous said...

Not all feminists think porn is wrong.

Working conditions are awful and pay is low for a lot of jobs. Would you tell a hotel maid she should quit her job because you wouldn't do it?

Cruella said...

That's a classic! Although I'm clearly saying I think there should be more legislation covering what can be published as porn, I am not criticising women who choose to participate in porn. So no, I wouldn't tell a woman not to work as a chamber maid and nor would I tell a woman not to work as a porn star. I would like to encourage a society in which (a) chamber maids were well paid and (b) porn stars were able to get well paid jobs in other industries. Still I fully accept that for individuals the choice of work is rarely about moral principals and often about life!!