Pornography in the Public Eye comes to fruition

It’s been a busy week. Pornography in the Public Eye finally comes to fruition!

We are excited to be launching this new website, Sexual Politics Now. On Friday our exhibition A Different View: Artists address pornography opens, and on Saturday we kick off 8 weeks of public events. And as if that’s not enough The Porn Project, which is an independent fringe art campaign that we have links to, just closed this week after an intense ten days of art, activism, spoken word, performance, and panel discussions about pornography, misogyny and racism.

The whole point of Pornography in the Public Eye is to put the issue of pornography in the spotlight – to create spaces for thinking critically about what is going on in and around it. And spaces for figuring out creative collective responses to it.

The idea for the project was seeded 3 or 4 years ago. Students in my gender and psychology course were picking pornography as a topic to research, and their presentations pointed to the persistence of misogyny and sexism within everyday porn. Denise Ritchie, founder of local NGO Stop Demand, was starting to talk about pornography and draw people’s attention to new norms in what it depicted. She argued that those of us interested in sexual violence prevention couldn’t afford to turn a blind eye to this whole slice of contemporary sexual culture. But at the same time, the topic was getting no traction in the media and other arena for public discussion. A local pornographer’s flimsy claim that pornography was linked to a reduction in sexual violence could go pretty much unchallenged. And when there was a mini-scandal involving pornography and a prominent public figure the issue quickly got wrapped up as one to do with mishaps around money. Any opportunity to probe into questions of sexual ethics and gender politics was steadfastly averted. The whole issue was dropped like a hot potato.

In picking up the issue of pornography and putting it on the table for discussion, we know it is complicated and delicate. We know there are risks of offending and embarrassing people. We know there are risks of missteps and oversteps. But when the sexual humiliation of women runs through everyday mainstream pornography, and it houses racist stereotypes of women and men, it seems precious to ignore this for the sake of politeness or out of fear of putting a foot wrong.

We are trying to tackle these issues in a way that keeps the critical focus on sexism, misogyny and racism – while trying to remain noncommittal about pornography more generally. We are doing this because we want to talk with anyone who values equality and respect for all, whether they love, hate, or are indifferent to porn. We are working with words, with images, and with performance – seeking to spark conversations and possibilities for new ways of seeing the issues within and beyond pornography. We are working with people who have different views on and relationships to the genre – trying to balance inclusiveness and open-mindedness with care not to end up reiterating the very things we are trying to unsettle. This creates spaces that can be uncomfortable and challenging – probably touching all of us at times, from one angle or another. But we do know already that people are ready to talk about these issues. Over 600 people directly engaged with The Porn Project events over the past couple of weeks. People are starting to talk. Let’s keep the conversations going and expand the spaces for constructive dialogue around pornography, sexism, racism, and misogyny.

Nicola Gavey