Pornography is incompatible with consent
The recent allegations made against the grotesque wire-haired bulk of the popular exhibitionist Ronald Jeremy Hyatt — "Ron Jeremy" to his fans — are the least surprising news to have come in the middle of our national reckoning with sexual assault.
To describe all the crimes of which Jeremy has been accused in an article recently published in Rolling Stone would exhaust the space of a single column, and any detailed account of them would be emetic. One actress claims that she was invited to meet Jeremy at his home, where he proceeded to lock her in a bathroom and sodomize her. "I need to look at your ass so I can get hard for the photo shoot," he is said to have explained. Another recounted an incident in the back room of a Las Vegas convention center for a private photo shoot. "I was saying, ‘I'm not comfortable with this.' And before I know it I feel the tip of his penis inside me," she said.
In a vaguely worded statement submitted to the magazine, Jeremy appeared both to deny and corroborate the claims of his accusers. "I have never and would never rape anyone," he said. He did not deny what he referred to as "the charges of groping":
I say yes, I AM A GROPER. And by groper, I mean I get paid to show up to these shows, events, and photo shoots and touch the people and they touch me. I'm not the young stud I was, but I still draw a crowd. And we are talking about things that are within reason, in front of police officers and security that are always there as well as the tons of cameras. And the general public. But seriously, if you were going to be around Ron Jeremy, wouldn't you assume that I'd be a little bit touchy feely? [Ron Jeremy]
It is inevitable that more women who have worked in the porn "industry" will come forward with similar stories. The question is whether we are going to draw any worthwhile conclusions from their painful testimony or dismiss their anguish by imagining that they are talking about isolated incidents. The only prudent response is to question the legal availability of pornography.
It is impossible to observe the shaky ethics of consent in a world in which women are expected to appear in a state of undress and make themselves subject to groping, sodomy, and other indescribably disgusting acts at the whim of directors who are also frequently performers and random "fans" who have paid for the privilege of doing exactly those things at so-called "conventions" — one in which, indeed, they are often paid (negligible) wages to have sexual intercourse with men who are "pretending" to rape them. All of this is undertaken in an atmosphere in which drug use and the abuse of alcohol are ubiquitous.
Pornography cannot be tolerated in a society in which women are legally protected against rape and harassment. Pornography is incompatible with "consent," that bandage word we use to cover up so many other crimes. Pornography is violence. It is an act of aggression against the bodies and the souls of the women who are photographed. That women in pornography have been routinely assaulted by their male counterparts on and off camera is a fact at which we have been shrugging for decades. More than a decade and a half ago, Martin Amis reported on the industry for The Guardian; one female performer described her experience working with a producer whose moniker is John Dough on a series called Rough Sex:
"I got the shit kicked out of me," she said. "I was told before the video — and they said this very proudly, mind you — that in this line most of the girls start crying because they're hurting so bad. I couldn't breathe. I was being hit and choked. I was really upset, and they didn't stop. They kept filming. You can hear me say, 'Turn the fucking camera off,' and they kept going." [The Guardian]
In 2010 the feminist researcher Gail Dines found that the most popular acts in internet pornography are "vaginal, oral, and anal penetration by three or more men at the same time; double anal; double vaginal; a female gagging from having a penis thrust into her throat; and ejaculation in a woman's face, eyes, and mouth." It is not possible to "consent" to such disgusting acts, whether they are photographed or videotaped or done in a dark room in a highway motel, any more than it is for a child to consent to working 80 hours a week in a sweatshop in Southeast Asia or a teenaged girl to sell herself into slavery.
Meanwhile the political economy of porn should be enough to make any person of left-wing sensibilities blanche. Women in pornography are recruited almost uniformly from impoverished backgrounds, sold dreams of glamor and stardom that quickly give way to the sordid reality of entreaties from Jeremy and his cohorts to make themselves available to perform the most repulsive acts for the benefit of spectators or otherwise. By their mid-20s, they find themselves washed up, frequently broke, often addicted to drugs, and incapable of finding other work. Many drift into prostitution. Stripped, degraded, their lives ruined for the enjoyment of hundreds of millions of men hunched over screens in the hope of generating online advertising revenue, they undergo a systematic exploitation without counterpart in any other industry. It is organized cruelty for profit.
Why do we allow it? The most telling part of Jeremy's statement to Rolling Stone was his rehearsal of his legal record. "I was only arrested 20 years ago when I was fighting for freedom of speech with Hal Freeman," he explained. For half a century now, men like Jeremy have traded on the base currency of "freedom of speech" in order to justify their exploitation of women. Maybe Jeremy's vast filmography spanning from The Good Girls of Godiva High (1980) and Homo Erectus (2008) is your idea of contributing to a thriving public discourse about art and ideas necessary to the flourishing of a democracy. Sure. Maybe child labor is "the economy."
Pornography is not cool or titillating or okay if there is "consent." It is not "free speech" or somebody's "right." It is slavery.