Porn Matters, and Some More

Some thoughts on Ashley Tellis’ article Why Porn Matters:

Ashley opposes the blocking of porn sites, I too oppose the blocking of some porn sites. But I find it hard to relate to certain of Ashley’s approaches here.

Generally in India, invoking the category ‘Dalit’ would silence only a handful of people, given the casteist society we live in. So, without qualification, apparently generalized phrases like “It has become something of a piety to invoke Dalit women or just the category Dalit to silence critics on any given issue. Once one utters the word Dalit or adivasi, the opposition is silenced” come uncomfortably close to the casteist approach of ‘crying casteism’ – where people are falsely accused of ‘seeing casteism where it isn’t there’. I am also not comfortable with Ashley’s definition of the Dalit feminist as a sex-conservative, which he apparently gives in the statement “The Dalit feminist position on prostitution and bar dancing has become clear.” If one understands intersectionality, then one would see that such construction of the idea of Dalit feminism is anti-feminist, since never does Dalit feminism automatically include the stands on prostitution and bar dancing opposed by Ashley, even though certain people identified as Dalit Feminists may take those stands.

Secondly, the ban on the production and distribution of pornography has been there before the BJP government came in power. So Ashley is wrong in saying that this will push the domestic producers of pornographic content underground, because they already are. The recent move involved blocking some popular porn sites, some of which have been unblocked now.

If we are to judge this decision to block porn sites by whether it would affect the viewing of pornographic content by the people of India, then it can safely be said that there would be little success in that. People have DVDs, proxies, numerous other sites that the government has not managed to block yet, the forums and so on and so forth. So, useless in achieving their purpose, such blocks stoke the prevalent anti-pleasurable-sex attitude, which is to be strongly condemned and opposed.

Is access to pornography, which includes various kinds, helping create problematic images of sex in the minds of people? In many cases, yes. If so, is that reason enough to call for a total ban on pornography? No. Bollywood has been the misogyny factory since its inception, few are calling for a ban on Bollywood now. Erotic content needs to be discussed, analysed, criticized and not brushed under the carpet. The rights and plights of the workers involved in the production and distribution of erotic content deserve more articulation, so that the struggle towards a more just society can be waged better.

There is no denying of the fact that a lot of pornography demeans women, men, transpeople, agenders, asexuals, and even harms animals. When we are articulating our stances on erotic content, we must bring this fact into the foreground and think about ways in which the struggle against these can grow. Ashley stresses on the extremely important point of sex education, but does not elaborate on what effects the porn industry in its current state has, given there is no formal sex education. While we are opposing some of the blocks, let us also explore and articulate strongly the problems with so, so many of the porns, the kind of acts, dignity and wages the porn industry subjects to many of their workers, the kind of effects they have on the mindset of the viewers, without falling prey to sexual conservatism. (Ashley does condemn the exploitation in the porn industry.) The opposition to erotic content per se as exhibited by many in the society should be countered, but not with an approach like ‘yay for the porns we have, stop being such spoilsports’. The massive cultural influence of porns that are widely consumed needs discussion. And wouldn’t that be a potent tool to battle the sex-conservatives as well, if we could create an environment where a healthier discourse on erotic content is possible?

by Sutanaya

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One thought on “Porn Matters, and Some More

  1. Thank you for your somewhat more intelligent response to my article than the name-calling and pathetic, ill-informed labelling that I have received from Dalit feminists and upper caste trans people pretending to be feminist and oh-so-holier-than-thou about caste.
    A few clarifications, however, are in order:
    a) I am writing an article in English on the internet. Only the “handful of people” you invoke are going to be able to read it anyway. That handful constitutes several million and there is no real articulation of a Dalit feminist position in terms of writing anywhere else except among this ‘handful.’ So I am addressing the Dalit feminists in this ‘handful’ as this ‘handful’ is the world I move in. Unlike you, I do not pretend to have access to any other world. You merely invoke another world but give no evidence of any Dalit feminist position that is not sex-conservative. I am referring to figures like Asha Kowtal and Anu Ramdas who have articulated positions that are sex-conservative, the former on the Amnesty call for recognition of sex worker rights and the latter in a virulent attack on my article.
    b) Who are the Dalits who have different positions? Don’t just invoke a sexy NGO term like ‘intersectionality’ which means nothing in this context. Where are the Dalit positions that are sex-positive? Show us evidence instead of just sounding like a pious pro-Dalit person, involved in ad hominem attacks on others as casteist based on bad analogies.
    c) My article cites and offers a link to an article by Meena Gopal which shows the middle class, conservative position of many Dalit feminists on the question of bar dancing and sex work. The only counterposition came from devadasis in Maharashtra themselves and that only in relation to police raids and atrocities. It is not clear what even these devadasis’ actual position on sex work is. Dalit and all marginalised groups are infected by uppercaste and middle class sexual ideology since at least the nineteenth social reform movements that produced the ‘good woman’ (the middle class housewife) in relation to a range of ‘bad women.’ Even Nalini Jameela, a sex worker herself, championing the cause and attacking the middle class woman as worse off than the sex worker in her autobiography Autobiography of a Sex Worker ultimately wants her daughter to be respectably married. We need to investigate lower caste internalisation of upper caste sexual ideology instead of making pious statements about some mythical pluralist Dalit feminist space which does not exist.
    d) Nowhere in my article did I claim that the ban on porn only came with the BJP. I am writing a journalistic article to the moment and referring to the present ban (however unsuccessful it will be) in producing a culture of fear which will push the sex film industry, already unregulated and underground, further underground and make it easier to exploit people in it.
    e) I am calling in the article precisely for erotic content to be “discussed, analysed, criticized and not brushed under the carpet.” My whole point is that the porn industry in its current state and its consumption lead to exploitation on the one hand and dangerous ideas of sexuality on the other. That was the whole point of my article which you seem deliberately unwilling or unable to see.
    f) The whole point of my article was to create a context in which “healthier discourse on erotic content is possible” and I gave several ways in which to do so. Nowhere did I say ‘Yay’ to any of the current porn available. Indeed, I suggested that one has to work against and with it to create educational material around sexuality. Having worked with men for over two decades now, I see this as a burning need.

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