‘Choose to Challenge’ was this year’s theme for International Women’s Day. Choose to challenge sexist jokes from family members. Choose to challenge the silence on important issues from your male friends or those who turn a blind eye to casual rape culture. Choose to challenge everything — everything except the harmful narrative behind ‘choice feminism’. Internet Movement
The Choice Feminism movement promotes the belief that any decision made by a woman is inherently feminist because they’ve exercised their right to freedom of choice. This may be true for the privileged few however, it fails to consider the ways society has conditioned a lot of our choices, or how racial and socioeconomic barriers limit the number of opportunities available for some women.
“There is not now, never has been, and never will be, a feminist case for men to commercialise the bodies of women.”
With the recent popularisation of platforms like Only Fans and Seeking Arrangements, the movement has spiralled into a web of excuses for sex work under the guise of female empowerment. Rachel Moran, the author of Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, stated, “there is not now, never has been, and never will be, a feminist case for men to commercialise the bodies of women.”
Tik Tok is saturated with snippets of generous wages and luxurious lifestyles, glamorising sex work as a safe and rewarding job. However, influencers glossing over the dangers of social media grooming, on an app swarmed with impressionable girls as young as 13, is anything but empowering.
Illusion of Choice
The industry mercilessly preys on the desperation of vulnerable women. The and migrants who need to support their children. Financial struggle underpins the main reasons why women are tempted into sex work. The Student Money majority of UK sex workers are single mothers Survey found that one in ten university students stated they would do sex work as a last resort — stripping the choice argument of all its merit.
It should go without saying that sex workers should not be shamed or stigmatised, but if we genuinely want to uplift women, we need to start advocating for the 9 out of 10 women who want to leave sex work but don’t have the luxury of choice.
“ Pornography is the essential sexuality of male power”
Andrea Dworkin, an anti-pornography activist and feminist, highlighted the issues of supporting an industry that fuels the oppression of women: “ Pornography is the essential sexuality of male power: of hate, of ownership, of hierarchy; of sadism, of dominance.”
Coercion is Not Consent
The most popularly streamed porn videos heavily feature male aggression and violence towards women, neglecting their pleasure and focusing solely on the man’s. And yet, choice feminism tells us that sexual liberation is to accept the degrading representation of women in porn because one, it’s ‘fantasy’ and two, who are we to judge what a woman chooses to do with her body?
Sadly, behind some ‘fantasy’ scenes lies the brutal reality of a woman who endured physical pain, and there’s a high chance the consent was coercion.
In an interview from 2019, ex-porn star Mia Khalifa revealed the sadistic nature of the industry. Some production companies take advantage of young women’s naivety, purposefully riddling contracts with jargon and intimidating women into consent, first with flattery, then with threats.
Most people are aware of pornography’s detrimental effects on both men and women, yet the billion-dollar industry continues to profit off addiction and vulnerability because of our compliance.
Collective Shout released a collection of recounts from numerous women who’ve been used and abused by the porn industry. Another ex-porn star, Eden Alexander, shared her experience: “ It was all things that I had consented to, but I didn’t know quite the brutality of what was about to happen to me until I was in it.”
PornHub’s site is rife with revenge porn and underage girls. But, with no way of differentiating, pulling the ‘it’s her choice’ card that flooded the replies to Mia Khalifa’s expose tweet is the easiest way to deflect guilt for consuming unethical content.
Despite the numerous warnings from ex-porn stars, popular culture glorifies extreme sex and shames ‘vanilla sex’ as boring. Popular sex podcast, Call Her Daddy, perpetuates this trend by encouraging women to fulfil men’s sexual fantasies by performing the same aggressive and degrading acts from porn.
“We need to stop normalising violence against women”
That’s not to say some women don’t genuinely want to do that, but we need to stop normalising violence against women during sex because ‘men assume that every woman wants this.’ BBC Radio 5 Live reported that more than a third of UK women had experienced unwanted slapping, choking, and gagging during sex, pressuring women into saying yes to things they don’t really want to do out of fear.
Pornography may be sexually empowering for some women but it’s also fueling internalised misogyny and increasing sexual violence, making it explicitly counterintuitive to feminism.
Choose to Challenge
So whilst some of the individual choices we make are not inherently feminist, that’s okay. It doesn’t make us hypocritical or bad feminists. But we won’t liberate women from the oppression of the sex industry by weaponising ‘choice’. We need to challenge the narrative behind the choice feminism movement because the only thing it’s useful for is upholding the patriarchy.
Originally published at https://www.empowordjournalism.com on March 15, 2021.