I am a very confused feminist. I believe that pornography degrades women, positioning them into an object of a male’s desires. I also believe that a woman should be able to feel empowered in her sexuality by engaging in pornography. I think that women can embrace their body and its power and that, in and of itself, is empowerment. I also think that a showcase of a woman’s body, despite the woman’s choice in its display, can be very degrading. My beliefs conflict: a woman’s body can provide both empowerment and degradation.
Sheila Jeffrey’s article, Keeping Women Down and Out, helps navigate this conflict. I believe that finding empowerment in your own body and its display/use is only possible if you are in a privileged position within society: one where you have a choice to display or cover the body. This choice can only come from a socioeconomic privilege that, unfortunately, most women engaged in sex work do not have. Jeffrey says, “Women had to engage in activities they found repugnant if they were to make a living from their work in the clubs, because their income was ‘entirely dependent on compliance with customer demands in order to earn tips’ (Holsopple 1998, 3)” (163). These women do not have a choice in using their body; they must in order to survive. It’s not empowerment; it’s objectification.
That’s the inherent problem with the sex industry: bodies are commodified, but the only bodies willing to be commodified are the ones that have no other options. My idea of sexual empowerment through one’s body is only valid in social spheres of privilege, where bodies don’t have to be displayed in order to survive.