Emotion and anger

“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore…” –The SCUM Manifesto

It doesn’t really matter which row inspired me to finally write this post. It follows the same pattern every fucking time. Privileged person nakedly articulates something privileged or wrong or harmful. It pisses off those who are harmed by it–or those who know just how harmful such naked articulations of privilege can be. We express this. We are told not to be angry, or rude, to be rational and logical. It is all derailed. The privileged person fails to learn, change, grow, be better. They act as though they are the victim of some unreasonable mob, never giving a second’s thought to why people are angry.

To the privileged, an expression of an emotion in an argument is a sign of weakness. Being angry or sad, and showing it, is seen as a sign of having lost the argument, of being not worth talking to, of somehow having failed entirely as a person.

We are taught that debate must be calm and sterile. This position only benefits those who have the luxury of feeling nothing. It benefits those who have the luxury of disengaging and switching off. It benefits those who have the luxury of viewing oppression as an intellectual exercise rather than a grinding, frustrating, infuriating reality.

This society is shit. The system is shit. The future is fucking shit. It is perfectly normal to be angry about it, to scream and shout and swear. It is perfectly normal to cry tears of frustration or sorrow. It is perfectly normal to want to bellow a “fuck you” rather than try to reason with someone who is content with the way things are.

We are taught this is unreasonable because it is easier to maintain this system if we do not express these emotions, that we go on pretending that everything is up for debate in a manner which is often only accessible for those privileged enough to disengage. We are told that our frustration and fury is just the same as hate speech, when in fact it is not: it is frustration and fury against hate and oppression.

There is a gulf of difference between the anger felt upon having one’s privilege challenged, and the anger felt upon witnessing an expression of privilege and a replication of the power systems which have existed all along and nothing is changing. In both cases, these angers are legitimate. However, the former can go and fuck themselves in the eye for perpetuating this bullshit. Sort yourself out and try to be better. That’s what I did.

And yet we are stuck with, at best, these two responses being equated, when in fact they are nothing alike. At worst, the former is validated, and it is considered far worse to be called out on one’s privilege by someone who is rightfully pissed and not afraid to show it than to replicate oppressive power structures. This is the wrong way round, and you know what? It pisses me the fuck off.

Far from moaning about it, the privileged ought to understand why others are expressing emotion and not engaging on their terms. It is they, not us, who must learn to control themselves. It is they, not us, who need to improve.

We all need to learn that it is all right to feel the things we are told we ought not to feel and express the emotions we are told we ought not to express. That it is not a sign of weakness to snap in the middle of that same fucking conversation you have had a thousand times before, and this time is going as fruitlessly as the last. That this world sucks, and you’re paying attention, which means you have a panoramic view of the dimensions of suckiness.

Yes, you might not win any rows, and you certainly won’t win any friends, but you were unlikely to win these sorts of fights in the first place. That belief that everything is fine and dandy held by the privileged is unreasonable and impolite, and therefore reasonable, polite debate was never likely to persuade them.

What is certain is that we will win no wars through tone policing, and that emotion is a strong tool. This is precisely why those in power are so eager to suppress it.

There’s no such thing as free choice, so why single out sex workers?

There is no such thing as a free choice.

Everything is informed by our environments. Everything is manipulated and shaped and squeezed by what is happening around us. It is easy to think that we made a completely free choice. Economics completely depends on this notion.  Yet, even with perfect information, we are moulded like clay by the society that made us.

To work is not a free choice. No work is. Work is a product of capitalist patriarchy. You may like your job. You may hate your job. You may feel that your job changes the world. You may feel as though your job is pointless. You may work at home as a parent, or you may work in an investment bank. Maybe you think you chose your work, or maybe you feel as though you’re just trying to make ends meet and wish you could be a doctor rather than an accountant.

For most of us, work is a necessity to survive. It is doing something we would not normally do–no matter how much you like your job, would you do it for eight hours a day without any pay?–in exchange for the means to live. Ultimately, we are all being coerced into work: sometimes gently, and sometimes forcibly, as is seen in workfare programmes. To work is not a free choice, and it is a travesty that after centuries of capitalism, many simply cannot imagine a future without work so invent fairy stories about the glory and honour in work.

Sexual consent is not a free choice. Not completely, not 100%. We have all absorbed some of capitalist patriarchy, and may feel obliged, or feel pity, or feel horny or drunk or any of the other emotions that may lead to sex which under other circumstances we would not have had sex. There are power differentials under patriarchy: in heterosexual sex, the man will have more power. Sex which rejects this power differential–for example, political lesbianism–is still shaped by patriarchy. It is not a free choice, it is a rejection of another norm. Even celibacy falls prey to this. We are mired in social relations and power relations when it comes to sex, yet we are able to make choices which are adequately consensual.

Sex and work are full of problems which require addressing, which require criticism and discussion with an eye to radical, revolutionary solutions. Yet at present, we must know that these things are full of compromise, and we are not making completely free choices, but merely the freest choice possible. Many are not thinking this broadly, which is precisely why there is so much nonsense levelled at sex workers.

The fact is, the work we do and the sex we have (or do not have) is a compromise under capitalist patriarchy. Every single one of us makes a compromise. It is not a truly free choice, but it is as free as possible. Some people choose sex work.

Likewise, there are many of us who definitely do not choose the work we do or the sex we have. Human trafficking extends far beyond forcing people into sex work: there are people forced to work for long hours in sweatshops or to fight in wars. Rape affects a frighteningly large number of people, and the majority of people affected are not sex workers.

To attack sex work without any broader critique of capitalist patriarchy is both nonsensical and harmful. Yet this is precisely what is being done. We are seeing a shift from criminalising the sex workers themselves towards criminalising clients of sex workers (the “Nordic” model), a move which solves precisely nothing as it is failing to address any of the root problems with work and fucking under patriarchy.

From a revolutionary perspective, merely turning our focus on sex work and treating it as having exceptional inherent problems which makes it somehow distinct from the rest of capitalist patriarchy means that we can never make any progress. Perhaps it feels easier to attack a kind of work we do not do or a kind of sex we are not having: it is easier. It’s a Herculean task clearing up the mess of capitalist patriarchy, and it sucks to have to be critical of everything. Yet if there is a genuine interest in liberating humans from exploitation, we must think big.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that the blinkered analysis of sex work is harmful to sex workers themselves. It is not pleasant to be told repeatedly that the work you do should be illegal, or that you are a victim of false consciousness, or that the work you do is devastatingly immoral and is harming everyone else.Yet this is something sex workers put up with from people who are claiming to be saving them. Even the precious Nordic model, held up to be something which is definitely not attacking sex workers has actually been found to increase violence against sex workers, to the point that Norway are considering doing away with it.

Sex workers survive and negotiate life under capitalist patriarchy, yet get an extra heap of bullshit from both the side which chooses to maintain capitalist patriarchy and those who think they are doing something to overthrow it.

If we want to get anything done, we must show solidarity with sex workers: just as we should with any other workers. We must accept that it is entirely possible to choose to work in sex work as much as it is possible to choose to work in a sandwich shop or have a heterosexual marriage. We should ally ourselves with any battles to ensure that workers–all workers–have good working conditions as capitalist patriarchy continues to exist. We must not single out sex workers, but resolve to dismantle the entire repulsive system. We must stop harming sex workers with deeds and words born from paternalism, which ultimately serve to maintain capitalist patriarchy rather than destroy it.

It is a big task, unimaginably vast. With solidarity, perhaps it is possible.


Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: why “rape prevention” advice is dangerous nonsense

Following my blog on Caitlin Moran’s dreadful comments about how she lies in bed thinking about how easily she could rape women wearing high heels, I was surprised to see a comment thread where some agreed that she had a point. A similar pattern occurred later in the week, when I came across this ghastly, inexplicably Red Riding Hood-themed advice put out by Durham City Council, which informs women “Don’t make yourself vulnerable by getting too drunk”.

Once again, people were defending this as good advice. This was not just lengthy mansplanations–although I certainly did receive some lengthy mansplanations. Women, some of whom were feminists, saw nothing wrong with putting out this sort of advice. I’d hoped fervently that the archaic “short skirt” argument was a dead horse these days, but it is apparently alive and healthy. And so I cannot believe that, as 2012 draws to a close, and the world might end tomorrow, that I have to write a blog explaining why putting out advice like this is not just nonsensical, but dangerously nonsensical.

Put simply, rape prevention advice targeted at women shifts the responsibility for a rape from the perpetrator to the survivor. We should know by now that rapes don’t happen because the survivor is wearing a short skirt, or a pair of heels, or she has been drinking too much. This should go without saying. Yet implicit in all of this rape prevention advice is the assumption that actually these behaviours displayed by some women are related to them being raped, and if they would just not do these things, nobody would get raped.

And of course, this isn’t true. This rape prevention advice is targeted at a very narrow model of rape: the predatory stranger in the dark alley. The vast majority of rapes do not happen this way–it’ll more likely be a friend, a partner, or an acquaintance, and it probably won’t happen in a dark alley. By reinforcing stereotypes about rape, we help maintain rape culture which benefits greatly from the assumption that rape is only a thing which involves a stranger jumping out of a bush. Were we to take rape prevention advice to its logical conclusion, we would need to put out a campaign informing women not to talk to men, not to go to places where men might be, and for the love of God don’t have a relationship with a man. This is just as nonsensical as telling women to make sure they get a taxi home after a night out if they don’t want to get themselves raped.

The net effect of rape prevention advice, then, is further patriarchal regulation of women’s behaviour. You will notice that rape prevention advice tends to tell women not to do certain things which “good girls” shouldn’t do: wear revealing clothing, get drunk, be independent. A good example of this is the targeting of high heels: why aren’t concerned citizens sagely advising women not to wear flip flops, when flip flops make just as much noise and reduce mobility? You can’t even kick someone in flip flops! There are two major differences between flip flops and heels, and both say everything we need to understand about rape prevention advice. The first is that flip flops are gender-neutral, and the second is that they are not remotely “sexy”.

What rape prevention advice does is develop a climate of fear around something which need not be feared. Rape prevention advice delivers a threat of rape: unless the woman complies with a set of behaviours, and if she does not then it will be her own fault that she gets raped. It’s a potent threat, and it took me years of walking home drunk through dark alleys in silly shoes for the fear to fade.

Some people prefer to defend rape prevention advice by saying it is just sensible personal safety advice, which also applies for protecting oneself against mugging. This would only be true if this advice were also thrown at men, and it isn’t. It really, really isn’t. Likewise, rape prevention advice is not the same as telling someone to lock up their car, or hide their wallet. It is far deeper than that, and rape is very different from theft.

Comedian Nadia Kamil perhaps provides the best demonstration of the difference between rape prevention advice and how other crimes are dealt with in this short sketch, which I recommend you watch.

Transcript here. This sketch absolutely perfectly demonstrates how ludicrous it is for people to hide, not living their lives in the way they choose to because of the threat of drunk drivers. And of course, that is nonsense: we’ve all seen how society deals with drink driving in massive awareness campaigns informing people not to drink and drive. This is exactly how it should work for rape.

The current state of rape prevention advice is unhelpful. It targets the wrong people and manages to further muddy the waters in our thinking about rape. Rape is not about what the survivor has done to bring it upon themselves, but, rather what the perpetrator does to make it happen, and there are still very few instances of mass-scale campaigning to address this. Sure, there’s a few and they have their flaws (see Lambeth Council’s Real Men Know The Difference campaign for an example of this), but we need to build upon this model. Rape prevention advice should–and must–consist of one simple message: don’t rape people.

For fuck’s sake, Caitlin Moran

Trigger warning: this post quotes some pretty strong rape apologism

Once upon a time, we could pretend that despite the fact she’s rubbish on literally everything else, Caitlin Moran was at least on the side of (some) women. Can you hear the record scratch coming? Well, it turns out that she isn’t. In an interview with a blogger, Moran made some utterly terrible comments about rape. In an interview, she said:

Yes. It’s on that basis that I don’t wear high heels – other than I can’t walk in them – because when I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack -clack. And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush. And every time I hear her I think, “Fuck, you’re just alerting every fucking nutter to where you are now. And [that it’s a concern] that’s not right.

Society should be different. But while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do. But again the thing is, so many things you could do instead are predicated on having money. She could come out of a nightclub and get into a taxi, that would be the right thing to do.

No billionaire heiresses are ever abducted and raped and murdered, because they are just being put into a taxi or have their driver waiting around a corner for them. Again, it’s not just a feminist thing, it’s a class thing. It’s a money thing. It’s a problem of capitalist society. That’s why I think often feminism links to Marxism and socialism, I don’t just want to help one bunch of people, I want to help everyone.

Far from being the sort of comment from someone whose general feminism-lite attitude can at least be viewed as some sort of primer to feminism for the privileged, these remarks are a simple rehashing of that tired old rape myth: that what a woman wears can get her rape.

According to Moran, high heels function as some sort of rapist cowbell, advertising that there is a lone woman wandering abroad, ripe for the picking. I’ve never lain awake listening to the sound of heels and thinking about how easily I could rape that person, and I’m pretty sure vast swathes of the population share this nocturnal activity because we don’t believe the problem is what a woman wears.

Perhaps Caitlin Moran has been listening to some of the criticism levelled at her, though, by her attempt at a dimly intersectional analysis, over which the wail of a sad trombone sounds. Rape culture, unfortunately, will not be solved by Moran’s clever manifesto of All Women Shall Have Taxis. What if the taxi driver is a rapist? It’s not unheard of: recall, for example, the Black Cab Rapist who earned his moniker after raping women who had got into his taxi.

Moran’s comments ultimately do not resemble a feminist talking about rape at all. It’s the same old tired societal tripe, blaming the victim of rape. All Caitlin Moran has done is reheat it and feign concern for these women without offering any solutions other than “so be careful out there, or you’ll get yourselves raped.” This is not what needs to happen, and it is not what the young women new to feminism–Moran’s apparent target demographic–need to hear.

The problem is, of course, that society isn’t doing anything to change these beliefs which allow rape to happen. Rather than attack this, Moran contributes to it, repeating these beliefs and adding an air of legitimacy to them through the means of her status as a feminist role model. This is a dangerous path, and one which will ultimately prove to be an obstacle in the journey towards genuine social change.

I cannot believe that, as the year 2012 draws to a close, we are still having to fight on this front. I would have thought–almost certainly wishfully–that perhaps we would have won this by now, and that we would have laid down our floggers and interred the corpse of the “short skirt” horse. Perhaps it’s due to a desire to feel in control: it’s not nice to believe that there’s nothing we can do that will stop us getting raped, so the pervasive belief in wearing sensible shoes and getting a taxi home functions as a placebo button. Perhaps it’s so intrinsically linked with other rape apologistic beliefs that we cannot just throw that one on the fire by itself. In either case, this is no excuse for the repetition of these myths.

They’re just that. Myths. Stories. Everywhere we see the myths and lies about rape, we must attack them if we are to have any hope of success.

In her own way, perhaps Caitlin Moran is doing her bit for improving the state of feminism by being so consistently crap. It makes us think, it teaches us where we need to build and where we need to improve our thinking by the nigh-on perpetual onslaught of thought that’s ostensibly from our side but wrong, wrong, wrong.

Further reading:

It’s Just A Hobby– further unpacking Moran’s words
Sian and crooked rib– a robust fact check
Perestroika– unbridled, glorious ire

In which I provide better advice than Mariella Frostrup

Today in the Guardian/Observer, some terrible advice. A woman who had survived a torrent of emotional and sexual abuse from a partner finally managed to leave, but her friends have behaved absolutely appallingly by blaming her for the abuse, telling her to get over it, and rallying around the abusive ex partner, with one of them even having sex with him. The woman feels angry about this and asks how she can get through this continuing ordeal and whether she must lose her friends.

Enter Mariella Frostrup, who is famous for something, but I can’t remember what. Mariella Frostrup advises this woman to stop “sounding petulant” because that won’t get her any support, saying she “cannot take sides” and that the sense of outrage may be due to the break-up. She advises the survivor to be “dignified”  and be “independent” following this “unhealthy liaison”. All in all, fairly awful advice, completely trivialising the woman’s experience and legitimising the position of the friends and abusive ex-partner.

I have no idea if the woman presenting the problem actually exists in the world, or is a conceit for Mariella Frostrup to frame a column around. I hope it’s the latter, yet, just in case it is the former, here’s what I would have said were this someone contacting me:

Dear writer,

Let me start by saying that I believe you. Now, I’m not qualified to give any advice, and neither is Mariella Frostrup, but I’ve had a remarkably similar experience which I got through. It sounds like this is totally shit for you, and you might find it helpful to talk to someone with greater qualifications and experience in helping you through it than me; this is a good place to get started. Remember, there’s no shame in seeking help, and after what you’ve been through there is a great deal of things that you will need to unlearn and unpack in order to heal.

None of this was your fault. I don’t doubt that your ex-partner told you it was, and I don’t doubt that he’s frantically applying his spin on your friends. Your friends’ attitudes are not informed by anything you have done: it’s not the way you’ve acted that has led them to blame you and rally around your ex. Unfortunately, we live in a society where there are a lot of unhelpful myths about abuse, violence against women and rape. What you experienced does not fall into the generally-accepted belief about what domestic abuse looks like: he didn’t hit you, so people find it harder to identify it as abuse. Frankly, I applaud you for being able to see through the veil of lies that he created and see what he was doing for what it was. It’s a pity your friends don’t understand this.

When someone has the misfortune of being abused by someone well-liked, unfortunately society has a hard time accepting this, too. We’re taught that abusers are evil monsters that we can spot immediately, but that simply isn’t the case. This powerful combination of circumstances: your ex’s spin, and how it maps on to widely-held beliefs has created exactly what they’re doing to you.

This is not to excuse their behaviour. I think you’ve been far, far too kind to them if anything. You continue to consider them your friends, despite their complicity in your continuing abuse. Ultimately, that’s what they’re doing, and no wonder you’re angry. It’s frustrating not to be believed. It’s frustrating to see people who you thought you could rely on taking sides with your abuser. It’s frustrating to be blamed. And it’s utterly infuriating to have been abused in the first place. It’s completely legitimate to be angry about this, and it is one of many perfectly normal reactions to having been through something so agonisingly awful.

There’s very little that can be done from your position to turn your friends around into the social support network you need in order to heal. What you need is people who will believe you, and people who are OK with you expressing your feelings. You need people who get it. This is why I started by advising you to talk to a professional who will get it: I was lucky enough to have some friends who understand. It doesn’t sound like this is the case for you. You can also meet new potential friends who are more likely to have a better understanding of your situation: feminists are often far better on this than non-feminists, for example. Are there any feminist groups in your area that you could join?

Whatever you choose to do, remember that none of this is your fault. I cannot stress this enough. They’re in the wrong, not you. Do whatever you feel you need to in order to heal.

In solidarity,


Ched Evans fans are not a problem with Twitter, but a problem with rape culture

The story of Ched Evans, the rapist footballer, continues to find its way into the news as yet more foul behaviour is unearthed. The survivor of this rape was named by rape apologists and bombarded with vitriol and death threats, all because there continues to be a culture which supports rapists.

The survivor has been forced to leave the country due to the shit she has been getting, which is, ultimately, the endgame for rape apologists. They want rapists to continue to go on raping, and part of this entails making it as awful as possible for survivors to come forward. Meanwhile, a prominent rape apologist remains unrepentant, refusing to acknowledge that naming and smearing a survivor of rape was wrong, and that paying compensation was the “last thing” she wanted to do, putting it behind such horrors as genocide, war, poverty, and, you know, being raped, to name but a few things that paying compensation to a rape survivor you smeared and hounded out of the country is worse than.

This is a grotesque picture of what rape apologism does and the sort of people who engage in this to a stronger-than-average degree.

And of course Twitter and Facebook are being blamed for this, particularly by the Star and Telegraph, but this is missing the point entirely. That was just the medium through which this viciousness occurred. We don’t see people queuing up to ban conversations when a death threat occurs verbally, nor do we see vociferous calls for regulation of the postal service if someone receives a vicious letter.

The fact is, this shit was always there, and unless the root problem–rape culture–is tackled, it will continue to be there. One can close down Twitter, and they’ll continue to perpetuate their beliefs in words, and in deeds, and they’ll keep on writing shit that contributes to it in newspaper columns and the powerful will use the legal system to keep survivors silent.

Because that is the problem. There’s a culture that defends rapists, and it’s not going anywhere unless it’s challenged.

What we need to talk about is not “how should Twitter be regulated, and how shall we punish people?” but, rather, “why do some people defend rapists? Why do some people defend rapists so vociferously that they hound survivors out of the country? What can we do to overturn this culture of violence?”

I continue to be alarmed and disgusted by some of the shit that I see, some of the things people believe and the lengths they’ll go to keep rapists raping. This is why I want to attack the cause rather than the symptoms.

Julie Bindel, please stop

I have a pretty much hate-hate relationship with feminist-identified-feminist Julie Bindel, who I’ve previously been cross with for transphobia and biphobia. Bindel belongs to a certain faction of feminism which, as Roz Kaveney identifies, behaves like a cult, with some fascistic overtones.

Upon seeing this tweet from Bindel, therefore, I experienced that emotion with no name, which is shock without surprise. It was something simultaneously jaw-droppingly horrid, and completely in keeping with her track record:

Those women that proclaim “I’m not a feminist” should be paid less than men, have no maternity benefits, no access to refuges, and no vote.

That’s right. Unless we all renounce patriarchy and come into the light of feminism, we should apparently be immediately immiserated and disenfranchised. While in this 140-characters-or-fewer, Bindel doesn’t spell out a road map for how this goal would be achieved, there’s not a pleasant way of systematically immiserating and disenfranchising people.

Bindel has helped survivors of domestic violence before. Taking her point to its logical conclusion, will she ask each and every one of them whether they are a feminist, and if they say no–and remember, a lot of women do not identify as feminist–would she turn around to them and send them back to their abusive partners? Because this is what she is saying.

There is also the problem of women that Bindel has decided are not feminists: the trans women, the sex workers, the bi women and so forth. Are these women to be systematically immiserated and disenfranchised because Bindel doesn’t agree with them? This is what she is arguing.

It’s hardly a surprise when some women don’t want to assume the feminist identity if we have people like Bindel spouting such rhetoric, advocating not just for continuing oppression of women, but to increase it punitively.

The thing is, Bindel’s strain of feminism is so dated and fails to include vast swathes of women and women’s experience, that the only way to recruit more people into this mode of being is through threats of systemic violence. If you can’t get them to join you, beat them.

I long for a day when Bindel becomes a thoroughly irrelevant voice howling into the void, but that is not yet. The mainstream media consider her a voice of feminism, and for as long as she is marked as a representative of us, this circus will go on. Feminism must not be about replication of oppressive structures, but about their complete destruction.

By that token, Bindel is probably not a feminist. But that doesn’t mean she should be oppressed.

ETA: Bindel has clarified her remark with a further tweet, pointing out it meant exactly the thing I thought it meant. It totally isn’t fair enough.

ETA2: Julie Bindel has replied, using the “it’s just banter” defence. Her Twitter bio may say she’s not a fun feminist, but apparently I’m just humourless:

@stavvers in what way is saying you hate me polite? Not only have you had irony/humour bypass you appear to be getting a bit obsessed w me!

I’m not entirely sure when Julie Bindel started writing for lad mags, but if that makes her happy then good for her.


Anticipating FHM’s response: let’s play stock misogynist responses bingo!

So, after I wrote a letter to FHM which was somewhat critical of their editorial choices to appeal to the perpetrator demographic, and it was crossposted in Independent Voices (albeit less sweary), I’m anticipating that FHM might respond.

Being the sort of tired, humourless misogynists, I can almost see their response through the mists of time, so I’ve prepared a bingo card. If there’s five in a row on these common insults from misogynists to women with opinions, humanity dies a little inside.


ETA: it has just been brought to my attention that I have missed off “man-hating” and “bra-burning”. Consider these bonuses, so if we only get four in a row, but they use one of those two, we’ve still won. Or lost. Whatever.

Dear FHM

Dear FHM,

I get it. I really get it. You’re useless fart-huffing dicknozzles. I know this. You really don’t need to prove this by normalising violence against women.

In your “What Not To Wear” feature, you decided to be very funny by advising your readership not to wear women’s socks. Might I just point out that you’re really missing out here, as women’s socks tend to be a little softer than men’s socks, and if you buy the over-the-knee ones, your legs will be toasty all winter?


Sorry, I wandered off the point, there. Where was I? Oh yes, you are shitmunching chancres.

See, at the end of the little slot, you advise your readers not to wear their “girlfriend/mother/victim’s socks”. You might think this is a light-hearted little joke, a friendly bit of fun. Banter, if you will.

If that’s the case, you’re wrong in the way only the true arsenugget can be wrong. Have you thought at all about what a “victim” is, other than the butt of your edgy humour? Did you know that one in twenty of your readers might have raped–maybe more than once–and shared a wry smile upon reading your little joke, while resolving not to steal the socks off of anyone he rapes in the future? Or that one in five of your readers are likely to think it’s all right to hit a woman, and you’ve just made that a little bit more acceptable?

Or maybe you think your little joke is much funnier because all this happens. Perhaps you’re trying to market yourselves to that all-important “perpetrator” demographic by laughing with them?

If so, please catch on fire. I am asking you as politely as possible. Please catch on fire.


Stavvers (no hugs, kisses, and I’m not letting you near my socks)


Picture courtesy of @Seja75


What conclusions can we draw from the “porn performers feel good about themselves” study?

It’s been a while since I’ve got my teeth into a close reading of a paper, and this week has gifted me with a doozy: Pornography actresses: An assessment of the damaged goods hypothesis. The study was authored by psychology academics and former porn performer turned founder of a healthcare programme for porn performers.

The paper aimed to test the veracity of a set of beliefs surrounding women in porn. These attitudes were gleaned from a studies into attitudes towards porngraphy, finding that those with a negative attitude towards porn tended to believe that porn performers had low self-esteem, were drug addicts and had experienced sexual abuse in childhood. These attitudes, the authors point out, are also apparent in anti-porn feminist writing, which is backed up with little evidence. The authors also point out the distinct lack of quantitative research into the women in porn themselves, drawing attention to the fact that while there’s a couple of qualitative studies about why women get into acting in porn, there’s nothing quantitative.

So they decided to examine quality of life, self-esteem, attitudes towards sex, sexual behaviour and drug use in a sample of porn actresses. The headline findings were rather interesting: it turns out that the stereotypes aren’t true. Comparing porn actresses to a sample of women matched by age, marital status and ethnicity, they found that the porn actresses actually had higher self-esteem than comparable women, were more likely to feel positive, felt they had better social support and were more spiritual. There was no difference in current drug use, apart from marijuana (porn actresses were more likely to get high), although the porn actresses reported more drug use in the past. There was also no difference in incidence of sexual abuse in childhood. And finally, the porn actresses reported greater levels of sexual satisfaction, were more likely to identify as bisexual, enjoyed sex more, were having more sex than the women who weren’t in porn (sex as part of their work was not counted: this was entirely extracurricular sex), were more likely to be concerned about catching an STI, and had started having sex a little earlier.

Does this mean that the stereotypes about women in porn coming from some feminists and the general population can finally be put to bed? I’ll get back to that after we’ve had a little look through a few criticisms of the paper.

The sample

The study used a clever sampling method for accessing porn actresses–a task which is usually rather difficult and goes some way to explaining why there is little, if any, quantitative examination of porn performers’ lives. The porn industry requires that performers have regular STI tests, particularly for HIV, so participants were recruited from a clinic where they were tested. The comparison group were recruited from a college and an airport (annoyingly, it’s not specified whether this airport and university were also in California). While it is not ideal that the porn actresses were all recruited from Los Angeles, which might not be representative and generalisable to the entire population of porn performers, it is not as bad as one might think: the authors were testing whether stereotypes about women in porn were true. The majority of porn distributed in the west comes from southern California, which shapes discussion and thought about porn by western people as about this group of porn actresses. They’re not entirely representative of everyone in porn, but they’re certainly the people about whom the stereotypes are formed, and therefore this is a reasonable sample to draw from.

Since the authors were also concerned about stereotypes about women in porn, it’s also not a problem that men were not included in the study. The “damaged goods” stereotype that was being examined exists only about women!

One commenter on Jezebel (yes, I looked at a Jez discussion thread. Yes, I’m traumatised. No, I don’t ever want to go back to Jez ever again) points out that the sample of porn actresses may differ from average in being slightly older and having worked in the industry for longer. However, this isn’t actually backed up by a link to where she got this information from, and her comment is preceded by “I believe”. This might be true, but I haven’t been able to find this information anywhere, so can’t comment on whether this is a problem for sampling. However, it is important to note that the women included in this study were those who were participating in above-board porn which was compliant with the regulations, and there might be differences in women who are working in grey or black market porn. Unfortunately, these women are even harder to access and study.

Ultimately, this was an impressively large sample for such a difficult-to-access group: data from 177 porn actresses were collected (and, of course, 177 women in the comparison group). Of course, in any quantitative study, no sample is going to be completely representative, but as far as things go, this was reasonably strong.

The design

This study used a matched pair design: data collected from each porn actress was matched with data collected from a woman the same age, ethnicity and marital status. This is a fairly robust design when comparing groups, and means that differences cannot be attributed to these variables. I am even more impressed at the sample size with the researchers using this type of design, as it’s notoriously difficult to collect data for these designs, being massively time- and resource-intensive.

I have beef with the matching criteria, though. While the authors were right in selecting these, particularly as their sample of porn actresses were far more likely to be single than the general population, there’s an important thing missing that wasn’t measured at all and probably should have been controlled for. Socioeconomic status–class–was never measured, so we don’t know at all whether the porn actresses were better-off or worse-off than the comparison group, and if so, whether it was this that was the cause of their general feeling a bit better about life. Perhaps a way of establishing a better comparison group would be to compare porn actresses with TV or film actresses of the same age, ethnicity and marital status. This would likely control for a lot of the noise, although it would be an absolute arse to research.

Rather irritatingly, the authors never mentioned if they asked the women in the comparison group if they had ever worked in porn (or, indeed, if they were currently porn actresses who happened to be at college or at an airport that day). Since the likelihood of them being porn actresses is fairly low, this probably doesn’t pose much of a problem, I’m just a pedant.

The statistics 

Feel free to skip this bit, as it will get a little technical, and is mostly minor statistical nitpicking. The biggest statistical elephant in the room is that this study ran a lot of statistical tests. A metric fuckton, to use the accepted statistical term. The researchers conducted an awful lot of T-tests, which is a statistical test used to check if one thing significantly differs from another: in this case, whether porn actresses differed significantly from women who weren’t porn actresses on number of sexual partners, or alcohol use, or any of the other eleventy bazillion variables which were being measured.

When one conducts a metric fuckton of statistical tests, one increases the likelihood of encountering a Type I error: a “false positive”. Purely by chance, one of the tests came up as significant, when in fact there isn’t really a difference there. This can be controlled for, although the authors didn’t. Luckily, there was enough data present for me to do this task for them. I did a Bonferroni correction, where the threshold for significance is revised based on how many tests are being performed. It’s pretty easy to do. You take the generally-accepted significance threshold, which is p=0.05 (or, a 5% probability that the results are entirely down to chance and you’re seeing an effect that isn’t really there), and divide it by the number of tests performed (in this study, 19 t-tests were performed). So, the significance threshold for the tests should actually be p=0.0026.

All of the p-values reported came up as less than 0.001, which means they’re still significant even with the Bonferroni correction, with the exception of sexual satisfaction, positive feelings and social support. However, enjoyment of sex was still significant, so it looks like our porn actress sample were enjoying sex significantly more than the non-porn actress sample anyway.

What wasn’t examined (and I wish it had been)

I’ve already mentioned how I wished the authors had controlled for class, but there’s a few more things I’d love to have seen addressed in this paper. Firstly, how the variables related to each other. Given that the porn actresses had had a lot more sex than those who weren’t in porn, could this be the reason they seem generally happier and with higher self-esteem? I have no idea, because the authors didn’t check this, and it would certainly be interesting to find out if this was the driving factor, or even just mediated the relationship.

The other thing missing, I feel, was the type of porn the women were performing in, and how that related to the variables. Were the participants who identified as bisexual more likely to be appearing in lesbian or bisexual porn? Do certain types of porn affect the self-esteem of the performers? Again, no fucking idea, I wish it had been measured, and I seriously hope future research addresses such questions.

Feel free to add more interesting questions you’d like to see addressed in the comments!

So what does it all mean?

Ultimately, from a single study, we can never conclude anything concrete, but it is a good thing to see these questions being addressed systematically, and I hope that it leads to future research. Too often, the experiences of those involved in porn or sex work are ignored, and it is genuinely refreshing to see research attempting to examine their experiences and feelings.  This study provides a foundation for further examination and to build upon its flaws so we can better understand what it’s like for women in porn and replace the stereotypes with solid evidence.