Monthly Archives: March 2010

Updates and Things

Hello there, fellow bookworms! I’m running off to Cuba tomorrow for some much-needed rest and relaxation (as it turns out, being an administrative assistant is no fun at all) so I’m going to be neglecting my duties as a blogger even more than usual for the next little while. Not to worry, though! I have several more posts planned for when I get back. And in the meantime, here’s some stuff you may or may not care about.

Things have been pretty crazy lately, in both the internet and non-internet worlds. Radical Bookworm is growing, slowly but steadily, despite my apparent inability to post consistently (I blame my job). It’s even developing something of a Google presence. I don’t know what exactly people expect when they search for “gender proportion usa historical” or “why canadians enjoy olympics”, but this is what they’re getting. (On a more sincere note, I was pretty psyched to find that my post on forced sterilization had been linked by FWD/Forward, which is an awesome blog that you should start reading, if you haven’t already.)

In other news, the University of Toronto’s undergraduate history journal is publishing one of my papers! Exciting, I know. Granted, those journals are pretty much just for nerds looking for something to put on their grad school applications (I admit nothing) but it’s still pretty damn cool. Fellow U of T nerds, take note: the journal is being released at the faculty-student social being held in the JCR at University College this coming Thursday. I will not be there, as I will be too busy lying on the beach drinking unlimited quantities of beer, but my sister has promised that she will go and pretend to be me. She’s tall, has short brown hair, and will probably be saying things like “Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome I am” because that’s how she thinks I talk. If you see her, say hi and remind her to record Supernatural for me.

Finally, you may know that March is Women’s History Month. I haven’t done much about it, since pretty much every month is Women’s History Month as far as I’m concerned. I have, however, been looking for an excuse to link to the Annales historiques de la Révolution française, which is an extremely old-school Marxist French historians’ review, whose archives, I recently discovered, are all available online. Even more awesome is the fact that back in 2006, they did an entire issue on women’s public political roles during the Revolution: La prise de parole publique des femmes. Unfortunately, it’s all in French, which I realize probably excludes the majority of the readership of an English-language blog, but it’s still pretty great to see real historical scholarship made available to the public.

Similarly, Robert Darnton and the American Historical Review have set up an interesting little site on news and media in eighteenth-century Paris, which includes an article summing up a lot of Darnton’s work on the subject as well as a number of primary documents he references. I realize that I am probably the only person who’s interested in this kind of thing, but it’s still great that it’s out there. Since leaving school, I’ve become incredibly frustrated at how elitist and inaccessible academic publications can be. This, if you ask me, is exactly what the internet is for, and it’s great to see it being used in that way.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I doubt I’ll post at all this week, but come back next week for more geekiness, exclamation points and righteous feminist rage.

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In Defense of Pornography

As a feminist who likes porn, I often feel like a bit of an outsider in the feminist blogosphere. When I say I like porn, I don’t mean that I tolerate it or that I don’t believe it should be censored. I watch, and read, a significant amount of porn. I’ve written porn. I once wrote a thirty-page paper on eighteenth-century porn. I really, really, genuinely enjoy pornography. Which isn’t to say I like all of it, of course. That would be ridiculous, since a) pornography is a huge, diverse and hugely inconsistent genre, and b) most of it is terrible, and a lot of it is horribly misogynistic.

But neither of those characteristics – poor quality and gross misogyny – is inherent or necessary. Porn is defined simply by explicit depictions of sexual activity, and no one could legitimately argue that sex itself is demeaning to women. Porn, like all other forms of media, exists within a capitalistic and patriarchal culture; unfortunately, this means that the vast majority of it will be produced purely for profit, with no consideration for either quality, tastefulness or social justice. The problem is patriarchy, not pornography, and the solution to bad porn is good porn, not no porn at all.

All media has the potential to perpetuate stereotypes and oppression – in fact, most of it does. No one is immune to culture, particularly culture spread through mass media. But porn isn’t special. It reinforces sexist norms and gives people unrealistic ideas about sex and relationships because, in the age of television and the internet, pretty much all media does that. Chuck Klosterman made this argument in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: when we model our real-life experiences on those we see in fiction, life becomes an imitation of an (artificial, incredibly skewed) imitation. This is a problem, and porn is part of the problem – but so are sitcoms, and I don’t see anyone arguing that we should do away with those.

We need to acknowledge the difference between reality and fiction. We need to provide kids with adequate sex education, so they don’t have to get it from Slut School 3. We need to give help to people who suffer from porn addiction, just like we should help people with any other addiction. But most of all, we need good feminist porn.

Porn doesn’t have to be sexist! It doesn’t even have to cater exclusively to the male gaze! Pornography in previous centuries was actually comparatively woman-positive: the earliest pornographic texts, while they were still largely created by and for men, were almost always centred exclusively around woman. The most common format was that of a dialogue in which an older, more experienced woman recounted her sexual history to a younger, naive one. Thérèse philosophe, the most well-known pornographic novel of the eighteenth century, was the story of a young woman who discovers sex (and philosophy!) through masturbation. These books weren’t great literature, but the women in them had agency. Sex for them was empowering and fun, just as it should be in real life.

Porn may have gone downhill over the past 200 years, but I’m not giving up on it yet. As women are becoming more open about our sexuality (thanks, feminism!) more and more of us are watching, writing about and creating porn. Women like Belladonna and Tristan Taormino are starting to break into the mainstream. Toronto’s amazing co-operative sex shop Come As You Are even has a section on their website dedicated exclusively to female directors. The Fifth Annual Feminist Porn Awards (also check out their facebook page here)are coming up in a few short weeks (yes, I will be there, and will most certainly blog about them). Feminists may still be on the margins of porn, but we’re there, and we’re not going away.

Porn is like any genre; it’s not good or bad by definition. It can be done well, it can be done badly, and it has a tendency to reflect the norms and ideologies of the dominant culture. As anyone who has ever watched late-night TV knows, porn has the potential to degrade and objectify women – but it also has the potential to break down the silence surrounding sex, to encourage openness and to reduce guilt and shame. Which is pretty damn feminist, if you ask me.