Further Comments on “Without Consent, It is Abuse”

I love having such smart and passionate friends, commentators, and critics!

A few responses, with thanks for pushing my thinking:

My working definition of pornography—this isn’t so outlandish as comments on the original post suggest. It may not be in the dictionary, but it comes from years of work in anti-pornography groups. My thinking has evolved so much over the years, and I short-cut it here because I was writing about something else. Essentially, I (among others) have been thinking about the way that defining porn only around sex makes everyone crazy, since our wider culture has a definite thought disorder about sex. When the definition is all about sex, the arguments tend to focus on 1st amendment/freedom of speech. About which three points:

1. As a sister activist from Madison used to point out, the 1st amendment was written by slave-holders, so clearly was deficient in its understanding of the ability of speech to oppress and silence.

2. as Andrea Dworkin used to say, “Take the gags out of those women’s mouths and then we’ll talk freedom of speech.”

3. The porn industry is hardly free, but is a multi-billion dollar industry, so you can bet they do massive market research and hone their message and content just as intentionally as any other multi-national corporation. I don’t think that porn producers are using “freedom of speech” anymore than I think mega-banks or drug dealers (legal or otherwise) are using freedom of speech; I think they are making and marketing a highly profitable product.

But within this understanding I felt an inherent tension about those times when expressing sex and sexuality is a right, a pleasure, a joy, a challenge to the powers that be, a true expression of freedom. So slowly I evolved a way of thinking about porn that focused on the exploitation, the profit, and the shaping of an intentional point-of-view about sex and gender and race. Therefore the definition I used in my original post, and phrases such as “pornography of profit” and “pornography of righteousness.”

About Outing—Thanks, Loretta, for your discussion of this. I agree that the little rush of joy we might get when some gay-bashing politician is revealed to be gay (or to be having sex with men, regardless of self-identity) is probably not our most moral moment. For me, though, the act of revealing these people isn’t about buying into cultural shame around being gay, but is about exposing hypocrisy, and therefore undermining the arguments said homophobe had been making. So I stand by my support of some kinds of outing, but also respect the analysis that it isn’t a good idea, ever. Understanding the moral lines in political battles is never precise, and we all change over time, so who knows where I might land on this issue in five or ten years.

About famous/public people and privacy—again, this is a place where my opinion has changed and I’m feeling my way toward an analysis/explanation. We all “know” that being famous, or being a “public figure” means you give up some right to privacy. But why is that? Why don’t we question that more? Yes, I think we should see the tax returns, court records, etc of elected officials, because we vote for them to run our government. That seems like a valid need. But does that mean that someone who chooses to work as an actor has no right to get coffee in the morning without photographers haunting them, taking photos that are then sold for profit?

At some level, the argument that “being a public figure means you give up privacy” feels a lot like the ridiculous argument that a woman working in prostitution can’t be raped—if you “give it” away, or sell it, then, the reasoning goes, it can’t be taken by force. I am NOT claiming that the use of Dr. Ride’s image is the equivalent of rape in any—of course it isn’t, and I don’t use rape as a metaphor for anything else—but the structural logic of the two lines of reasoning seem dangerously close to me. Is there an inherent reason why people who follow their passion to be musicians or athletes or astronauts must give up rights the rest of us consider to both basic and constitutionally protected?

For me, there’s a moral litmus test here. Even though the Sally Ride Foundation website has many images of her and states that they may be used, how would we feel if those images appeared on some repulsive Facebook ad claiming that “Space Travel is a fake and a lie perpetrated by the liberal elite and the gay agenda”? Or an ad saying “See how masculine she looks? Going into the sciences and competing with men makes women become rabid feminists who divorce their husbands and become lesbians”? We would be appalled, and I’m thinking that Dr. Ride’s foundation would be none too pleased.

If that’s true, is there ultimately any kind of ethical difference between a right-wing organization slapping an image of this woman onto their political campaign within days after her death and a left-wing organization that did exactly that?

One blog commentator suggested that perhaps the organization in question had entered into conversation with Dr. Ride’s partner. If so, there is NO evidence of this on their site, no mention of Dr. O’Shaughnessy anywhere to be found. While I’d be happy for proof otherwise, I most strongly suspect that when the news about her identity as a lesbian came out upon her death, this group, already at work on issues of gay marriage and civil rights, and decided to use her image, and a fact about her life, in their ad campaign.

So here is round two of the discussion. I welcome more thoughtful feedback and conversation. Thinking hard about how images are created and used is urgent in a world driven more and more by highly-manipulated photos and graphics, and the questions we ask about that as feminists or other activists for social change are WAY behind the reality shoved in our faces every single day.