...sorta. (sounded like a better title for this entry in the series than "Sex-Positive Feminism: It's Back And It's Mad." or, not).
Over at paleofeminist, we'd been discussing these issues (again, surprise); and among the questions that came up was this, posed by antiprincess:
But I wonder why porn and BDSM are inextricably associated..
In other words: why do porn, prostitution ("pornstitution," how I loathe that portmanteau) and BDSM seem to be the Big Three in the revived "sex wars" (if that is what they are) between the radical feminists and the sex-pos/sex-radical camp? regardless of which perspective you're coming from?
While in the process of trying to address something else, I stumbled across this, which I think goes a fair way toward answering that.
The following is from a transcripted interview between Amber Hollibaugh, Deirdre English, and Gayle Rubin, circa 1980 (at the height of the "sex wars").
(from My Dangerous Desires: a queer girl dreaming her way home, by Amber Hollibaugh)
AH: What is pornography? What do we define as pornography?
GR: I have a three-part definition. One, the legal definition, is that it's sexually explicit material designed to arouse prurient interest. I think that definition, at least for this historical time and place [1980, U.S.], is the most useful one. We should remember that porn is not legal; by this definition material that has no focus but to arouse is not legal. [referring here to obscenity laws, I believe]. In other words, a sexual aim is not considered legitimate in this country [emphasis mine].
But we also need a historical definition; that is, porn as we know now it is widely available, commercial erotica as opposed to the older erotica that was hand produced and was mostly something that rich people collected. In the middle of the last century, mass production of erotic materials started to take place, resulting in the cheap, printed dirty book.
Third, I have a sociological definition: pornography is a particular industry located in certain places, with certain kinds of shops which tend to put out a product with certain conventions. One convention, for example, is that the man's orgasm never happens inside the woman. Pornography has a concrete existence that you can define sociologically. But that's not the current, so-called feminist definition of porn.
AH: What's that--"what we don't like is pornographic?"
GR: The definition used in the antiporn movement is that pornography is violence against women and that violence against women is pornography. There are several problesm with this. One is a replacement of the institutional forms of violence with representations of violence. That is to say, there's been a conflating of images with the thing itself. People really don't talk about the institutions; they talk about the images. Images are important, but that's not the whole thing.
Actually, if you walk into an adult bookstore, 90 percent of the material you will see is frontal nudity, intercourse, and oral sex, with no hint of violence or coercion. There are specialty porns. There's gay male porn; that's a big subgenre. There used to be a genre of porn that featured young people, although that's now so illegal that you don't see it anymore. And there is a genre of porn that caters to sadomaschoists, which is the porn that they focus on when you see a WAVPM (Women Against Violence is Pornography and Media) or a WAP slide show. They show the worst possible porn and claim it's representative of all of it. The two images that they show most are sadomasochistic porn and images of violence that contain sex. For instance, the infamous "Hustler" cover with the woman being shoved through a meat grinder. An awful picture, but by no means a common image in pornography.
DE: It was self-parody. It was gross, but it was actually satirical, a self-critical joke, which a lot of people didn't get.
GR: They include images that are not pornographic that you cannot find in an adult bookstore. For instance, the stuff on billbards, the stuff on record covers, the stuff in "Vogue." None of it has explicit sexual content. At most, it's covert. And what they do is draw in images they consider to be violent, or coercive, or demeaning, and call that pornography. That definition enables them to avoid the empirical question of how much porn is really violent. Their analysis is that the violent images come out of porn and into the culture at large, that sexism comes from porn into the culture. Whereas it seems to me that pornography only reflects as much sexism as is in the culture.
The existence of S/M porn enabled this whole analysis to proceed. It's very disturbing to most people and contains scenes that most people don't even want to encounter in their own lives. They don't realize that S/M porn is about fantasy. What most people do with it is take it home and masturbate. Those people who do S/M are consensually acting out fantasies [emphasis mine]: the category of people who read and use S/M porn and the category of violent rapists are not the same. We used to talk about how religion and the state and the family create sexism and promote rape. No one talks about any of these institutions anymore. They've become the good guys!
...GR: When I went on the WAVPM tour, everybody went, and I stood in front of the bondage material It was like they had on blinders. And I said, Look, there's oral sex over there! Why don't you look at that? And they were glued to the bondage rack. I started pulling out female dominance magazines and saying, "Look, here's a woman dominating a man. What about that? Here's a woman who's tied up a man. What about that?" It was like I wasn't there. People said, "Look at this picture of a woman being tied up!"
AH: Another example in the WAVPM slide show, there will be an image from a porn magazine of a woman tied up, beaten, right? And they'll say, "Hustler" magazine, 1976, and you're struck dumb by it, horrified! The next slide will be a picture of a woman with a police file, badly beten by her husband. And the rap that connects these two is that the image of the woman tied and bruised in the pornographic magazine caused the beating that she suffered. The talk implies that her husband went and saw that picture, then came home and tried to re-create it in their bedroom. That is the guilt-by-association theory of pornography and violence. And I remember sitting and watching this slide show and being freaked out about both those images and having nowehere to react to the analysis and say, What the hell is going on? I found it incredibly manipulative.
GR: Some of the antiporn people are looking at material that is used in a particular subculture with a particular meaning and a particular set of conventions and saying, It doesn't mean what it means to the people who are using it. It means what we see! They're assuming that they know better than the people who are familiar with it. [emphasis mine]. They're assuming, for instance, that S/M is violent, and that analysis leads to the view that S/M people can't be the victims of violence.
AH: It also discourages anyone from making explicit any sexual fantasy which seems risky to them or from exploring a sexual terrain that's not familiar. It ignores the fact that you learn what you like and what you don't like through trying things out. What it says is that these forbidden desires are not yours but imposed on you. You never experiment sexually.
Yet most people know godamn well that their sex lives are wider than those standard notions let them play in. They may feel guilty about it, but they know it. So they don't need one more movement to tell them they can't play.