The Maria Blog has a really interesting post about pornography.
At the time, within leftish feminist circles, there was a clear distinction made (or at least debated) between erotica and pornography and WAP was definitely pro-erotica and anti-pornography. Talking to a few younger women recently this distinction seems to have been almost entirely lost.I know I write a lot about language. I also know that the pornography debate within feminism is a substantive one, and language isn't the major thing that divides people. But reading what Maria wrote, I do think language is part of the problem. Maria uses the word pornography in a very specific way:
I think the distinction is useful and powerful. If all images or depictions of sex and sexuality are lumped under the title of pornography then everyone who challenges any of those images or depictions are also lumped together. So a homophobic christian objecting to a picture of two naked women kissing is lumped in with someone who objects to an image of a woman with a knife being pushed into her vagina. Or someone upset by an erect penis is lumped in with someone upset by picture of a woman dressed in pigtails and in a school uniform surrounded by a group of older men. Or someone morally disturbed by consensual threesomes is the same as someone disturbed by the endless repetition of women shown always with her legs apart, always on her back, always skinny with large breasts. All of us can be dismissed as prudish and uptight and anti-sex.
The analysis I hold to is that pornography is stuff which depicts sex and sexuality and that involves a power imbalance or objectification. This can be through the eroticisation of pain or the eroticisation of lack of consent. Or it can be through focussing on a particular aspect of a woman's body, and objectifying a part of a woman. Or through promoting the idea that when women say no they mean yes, or promoting the idea that children want adult sexual attention.But the thing is that's fine, but there are actually very few people who use the word 'pornography' in the same way Maria does.
Of course you can use a word to mean whatever you want it to mean (you just have to pay them extra), but I think we're fighting an up-hill battle if we're trying to redefine a word, as well as win the argument. Words have meanings and resonances, and you can use a word specifically as you like, but it doesn't mean anything unless the people you are talking to have the same specific understanding.
I think there is another way we could talk about sexually explicit material, and that is name what we object to, and not expect the word pornography to do the work for us. When you say pornography most people think of anything with nudity. So a debate over pornography quickly becomes an all or nothing venture about sexually explicit material. It doesn't become a debate about sexism, misogyny or objectication.