If pornographer and prominent defender of the porn industry Anna Arrowsmith did not exist then the porn industry would have to invent her. Few have worked so assiduously to normalise the product of the multi-billion dollar industry as the former parliamentary candidate. However, if the porn producers did have the chance to design her from scratch I’m betting they would do something about her ability to reason and persuade. Her latest article for The Guardian is a classic in the Arrowsmith oeuvre, full of ludicrous statements and unfounded assertions. Commenting on the breakout porn star “James Deen”, lauded as a “feminist” due to such radical patriarchy-smashing acts as “whispering in the ears of female performers” and “holding their hands” Arrowsmith claims to be surprised by his media prominence since, according to Arrowsmith, the “feminism” of Deen is the norm amongst male performers:
“Despite many people believing male porn stars to be misogynistic, the reality is they tend to be men who enjoy the company of women. The fact porn films sometimes require performances from men that can be perceived to be misogynistic does not necessarily mean that the films, or the actors, are misogynistic themselves.”
In 2007 Robert Woztnitzer and Ana Bridges published an analysis of 50 of the most popular porn videos. 88% of the scenes they analysed showed physical aggression; nearly half included verbal insults or threats; 70 percent of the acts of aggression were carried out by men and 87% of those acts were committed against women. Only 5% of the acts of aggression were responded to by requests to stop – overwhelmingly women were portrayed as deserving of their subordinate status.
Porn producers do not sometimes require performances that can be perceived as misogynist, they almost always require such performances. And herein lies the trouble with arguing that misogyny in porn is harmless fantasy; that claim might be tenable if such material were merely one style amongst a wide variety of popular alternatives but in terms of market share misogyny is pretty much the only game in town. Don’t believe me? Type “porn” into google and see how long it takes you to find material inconsistent with the Woznitzer and Bridges content review.
Then there is Arrowsmith’s claim that male porn stars are typically not misogynist. Firstly, if that is the case, it raises the question as to why these supposedly women-loving men choose to contribute to an industry which so relentlessly portrays women as the subordinate sexual playthings of men. Secondly, while the personal views of the male performers can have serious consequences for their female counterparts, their views are largely irrelevant when it comes to the impact of porn on the broader culture. If a racist Hollywood movie is produced with actors who are not racist in their private lives that does not exonerate the producers of the movie nor mitigate the harm of that particular media product. Male performers could be working in domestic violence shelters in their free time but it would not therefore follow that the product of their day jobs ought not be classified as misogynist.
Arrowsmith approvingly quotes Deen discussing his work for the sado-masochistic porn production site kink.com:
“At [BDSM conglomerate] Kink, this girl and I are having awesome sex and she likes to get slapped in the face. The sex isn’t punishment. It’s BDSM lifestyle, and they make it super clear it’s the girl’s fantasy.”
Kink.com is somewhat unusual amongst porn sites in having a code of conduct displayed on their site. Amongst other rules that its producers must abide by you can find the following heart warming injunction:
“If a model begins crying due to pain, the scene must stop and the model must be comforted ON CAMERA.[emphasis theirs] The scene may continue at a lighter pace to avoid continued crying once the model has stopped crying, the tears are wiped away, and the model has explicitly agreed to continue.”
If Deen and the producers at kink.com can be described as “feminist” (Deen incidentally is on the record as saying that he hates feminism) then this must be a wave of feminism that has passed me by. Perhaps they are part of what we might term the “collaborationist wave”.
Under the alias “Anna Span” Arrowsmith is a producer of supposedly feminist pornography. As I have written elsewhere it seems to me that the production of genuinely feminist porn is a legitimate tactic in the struggle against the overwhelming misogyny of the industry (whether it’s an effective tactic is another question). However, it is impossible to take Arrowsmith or groups such as Our porn, Ourselves seriously as allies in that struggle since they insist on making outrageously positive statements about the mainstream of the industry whilst denying the heavily circumscribed nature of the choices available to performers. For example in her Guardian article Arrowsmith breezily states that:
“Porn stars choose the porn industry as a dream job, often over other equally well-paid job opportunities.”
Not some porn stars, not a small percentage - no, apparently all porn performers are living out their dreams and neither the risks of working for women hating men, nor the dangers of disease, or of being socially shunned can deter them from the single minded pursuit of their goal. This in spite of the fact that they could apparently get paid equally well by other employers, (Deen oddly appears to be an exception to Arrowsmith’s panglossian depiction of the options available to porn performers, since he was homeless in his teens and was working at Starbucks prior to his porn debut).
There are defenders of porn who rise to the minimum level of seriousness that allows for meaningful debate on the topic of pornography. Alas, Anna Arrowsmith has demonstrated once again that she cannot be counted amongst their number.
 Readers interested in Deen’s unusual brand of feminism are invited to read this interview in which Deen ponders the question as to whether or not the late porn director Chico Wang (who kidnapped, beat and probably murdered his porn star wife Haley Paige) was a bad man.