published at Rain and Thunder: A Radical Feminist Journal of Discussion and Activism, Winter 2010, Issue #45
“Hi: I’m a writer at The Oregonian in Portland, working on a story about the sex culture in Portland and Oregon. I’m trying to find someone who can talk a bit about the anti-porn movement in the region.”
Three hours later we began a tense conversation. In between his email and the agreed-upon time for me to call I jotted down a few bullet points, then promptly forgot to reference them once our conversation found a lively cadence.
He began appropriately enough by probing my credentials. A true radical, I hold no pornstitution-specific degree and work an unrelated day job. His dissatisfaction oozed through the phone. As usual, I referenced loved ones whose lives were ruined (some lives ended) while intimating a reluctance to go into grisly detail and reiterated my years doing on the ground activism.
His first question took the well-worn, “See, she likes it” approach in which a local stripper celeb of the alternormal weekly scene was mentioned and I was asked to catfight respond to Viva Las Vegas’s porn approval. Fortunately, I don’t need bulleted notes to keep men’s demand for pornstitutes front and center, so I flew over Vegas with a prelude about not caring if every employee of Fox News loves their job when the social content of their media is harmful. “Viva Las Vegas”, I said, “is a rational actor making the best decisions for herself. Men who take her picture and choose to caption it, “Dumb cumslut whore” are irrational.”
That’s unprintable in a daily newspaper. The portion of my answer I presumed might make it to print was, “It’s easy to talk about sex, everyone wants to write and talk about sex and the results are all around us. People don’t like to talk about rape for very understandable reasons.”
Moving on from me countering one woman’s opinion, he tells of the time he covered a BDSM conference and spoke to lots of women attendees. He wanted to know what I thought of that. What I thought was he had stopped talking about pornography and was asking me to judge women’s private behavior. From his first question to his second, the logic was a woman-centered loop where so long as some of three billion women can be found to disagree with some other of the three billion women then postmodernist subjectivity wins over the historical miasma of misogyny.
But what people do in their bedrooms is very different from the content and effects of public masturbation media. Once pornographers film, package, market, and put those images into my world I have a responsibility to engage the messages they send.
As if he didn’t hear me, he went on describing how women lined up around the corner for one of the BDSM workshops and when he talked to them they unanimously claimed to love it. Politesse went out the window as I tried to pop him out of his man-invisibilizing rut, “Did you ask any men attending the conference why they liked BDSM?” A slight pause, then a quiet “no” whispered into my ear.
I continued, “Did you ask any man, ‘Why, when you call a woman a bitch, does it give you an erection?’” He guffawed with thick aspiration at the preposterous question, and I kept clinically serious as I drove though his nervous laughter to remind him that BDSM relies heavily on gender-based insults as abuse.
Here he interjected that he has read some Dworkin, and I gave kudos for going where few men are bold enough to go. Dworkin was his segue into devil’s advocating that maybe sex is supposed to be about letting go of conscious thought and giving in to politically incorrect instincts. I made a joke about unexamined lives and the purported quality of living them before sliding into a somewhat froufrou answer about whole person integration and ethical responsibility not ending at the bedroom door. My aim was to give an answer affectedly pretentious enough to squeak into the final article.
By this point nothing unpredictable had occurred. Nothing unpredictable would continue. He brought the conversation back around to pornography by asking a question you dear readers have undoubtedly heard too many times, “What if it’s just a man and a woman having sex, no violence and both were consenting?” From there we hit all the classics:
“What about woman-directed, non-violent porn as an alternative?”
“I can’t name any woman-directed porn, but then I also can’t name any regular porn.” (über-defensively offered after I asked for an example of feminist porn, and a lie because everyone knows original girl gone wild Debbie did deep throats in Dallas).
“You’ve seen some terrible porn, but that’s not what most people see.”
After that last one he asked for my age. I didn’t like the dismissive tone in his voice or what the timing of the question implied, so out of my mouth fell a recalcitrant “early 30s.” Looking back, the answer was as combative as the question and I wish I’d answered differently.
He asked how and when I first saw porn; “Same way and age you did, by finding your dad’s stash of Playboy as a pre-teen, right?” His confirmation was forthright, and I used the shared embarrassment to create a moment of good-natured levity with the reporter who had willingly entered emotionally vulnerable territory, “You weren’t the only one, Peter, the rest of us kids found it that way too!”
Sticking to the script, he gave the obligatory defense of Playboy. I mentioned an article of mine that talked about jokes in Playboy, jokes I read as a kid but didn’t comprehend as jokes about rape and incest until revisiting the magazines with conscious, critical eyes. Only then did I see the inhumanities my lizard brain glossed over when titillation was the goal, and he didn’t scoff at my suggestion that everything about porn he needed to know could be learned the same way.
Poor guy, but he was almost done. No more direct questions were coming and he was barely talking anymore, so I decided to redirect and wrap up with pornography’s harmful influences on the lovely liberal city we both left New York City to adopt as home.
Portland’s vast legal sex industry is intertwined with illegal prostitution. I asked him to imagine himself as a pimp with two girls looking for paying customers by saying “put your pimp hat on” and he chuckled his first genuinely non-nervous laugh of the interview. A recent study of johns’ license plates found 20% of johns come all the way across the Columbia River from Vancouver, Washington to get prostitutes in the largest prostitution stroll of a city with several. The legal strip clubs and porn stores along 82nd Avenue are where pimps know to go because men who travel to consume the live sex shows and pornography clustered there are more likely to monkey see, monkey do it themselves with a prostitute.
With both of us entirely mentally fatigued, we said fond adieus and I immediately emailed him links to research on modern pornography I had promised. Since then I’ve been checking every other day or so for the article to appear, and one of my internet searches revealed a book launch event the reporter held after our interview for his new book about Paul McCartney. Viva Las Vegas was a featured musician and I didn’t get an invitation.
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