Panic on the streets of Amsterdam, I wonder to myself…

Could life ever be sane again? […] Hang the blessed DJ because the music they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life…

Panic, The Smiths

I wrote last week, while still on holidays (incidentally, sadly over today) that my more combative self was emerging as I read in and for leisure. What has become clear to me these days is that I can no longer support or subscribe to much of the current mainstream feminist rhetoric. A rhetoric that dangerously resembles “Moral Panic” more than anything else. A rhetoric based on concepts that might be partially true but promote a sociopolitical vision I find repressive, restraining and binding.

Take this article on Jezebel and the subsequent comments, for instance, “Advertising that will make you want to shut your legs”. The ad, for Dutch company Suit Supply is described as “porno-like”. Ah yes, tasteless = porno-like. The moral judgement that deems it inappropriate, objectifying, a set back for all women. However, here is what lazy rhetorics do: remove all context and personal agency from the woman who actually is the supposedly “porn-like” object. I so happen to follow her on Twitter, her name is Chantal Hanse and she is a former Playboy playmate who seems to be making conscious and very controlled (and autonomous, I would dare say) career choices. She uses social media to be in touch with her fan base, she engages in conversations, is active in the public arena, etc. However, she is now being singled out as a “set back for female representations in media” or a “porn like model”.

Another example is this video, posted by Sociological Images on the sexualization of women and girls in the media and its effects on young women. Yet another excuse for more moral panic. The testimony of the high schooler who talks about her school mates who she believes to be promiscuous is a textbook case of slut shaming. And this is what is presented as “feminist media analysis”. Agency, autonomy or personal choice be damned. “They don’t know what they are doing!”, “They cannot possibly be doing this out of their own free will, it MUST be the influence of porn like representations!”. Not a word of these women’s agency and autonomy or their choices. This discourse presents the choices these women make as “bad” or “damaging”. Again, nothing is said of feminism’s basic tenet of giving women choices. It seems that there are approved and non approved choices. The non approved type is a free for all in terms of moral judgement. 

Yet another example are the comments in this article at Tiger Beatdown about sex work (and here I must commend both Sady Doyle and Garland Grey for their patience and restrain while dealing with these trolls). The comments are plagued with the kind of moral outrage that one would expect at Fox News and not on a feminist forum (if you legalize sex work it’s like legalizing child abuse and rape! porn should be banned! No sex worker in the history of ever has freely chosen to enter the trade! All sex workers are doing so out of coercion! and so on and so forth). At the same time, Object UK is actively lobbying in the UK (and being heard all across the EU) to ban all sex work and pornography. Even a progressive newspaper like The Guardian regularly lends space to these campaigns (the latest one being “Men against pornography”).

So when I see an article by no other than Amanda Hess about “Why sex positivity is bad for feminism” I am already in a state of toon-like rage. Sure, the whole sex positive schtick can be passe for many urbanites that have already tried everything and have had access to many options. However, when slut shaming is given space in the media as a valid representation of feminism, I think I will take a “Bondage 101 seminar” over those who are supposedly speaking on my behalf about objectification and pornification while at the same time they deem the choices of those women who willingly participate as invalid or wrong.

I often wonder about many of these organizations or individuals that wholeheartedly support what they call the Swedish model in terms of sex work: punish the consumer but not the worker. I would take this model even further: why are we not going after the millions (even billions) of women who consume the media that supposedly objectifies and degrades us all? If millions worldwide weren’t buying Vogue or Cosmopolitan every month, there would be no need for this moral panic. However I find the absence of judgement towards consumers of these images quite telling. What does it say that we are casting a moral eye towards media but we say nothing of the people who actively consume this media? Why do we see so little analysis of this phenomenon? After all, in today’s world, consumer power is one of the few tools left to actually push for change.

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