Notoriously outspoken columnist and radical feminist Julie Bindel is a woman of fearsome reputation. She agreed to talk to The Oxford Student about some of the most recent hot-button topics in feminist circles, the first of which was the mistreatment of women by the porn industry – an issue against which she has rigorously campaigned.
For Bindel, what happens in porn does not stay in porn. “Men are masturbating to women being strangled and gagged. Real women are being abused by men on the porn set; men ask their girlfriends to replicate it. Somebody has to be the powerless bitch. It genders it in a way that is highly relevant to the subjugation of women.”
Statistics from a survey of 487 male college students by researchers at the University of Arkansas revealed that the more young men watch pornography, the more likely they are to be influenced by the acts performed and request it from their partner.
Bindel attended the Pornography Awards in Los Angeles last year, and expresses disgust at an industry where women are “masturbatory aids for men, used and spat at.” Her disapproval is spurred by the fact that the awards were financed by a company called Fleshjack, which manufactures sex toys based on the body parts of “the hottest porn stars.”
According to Websense, a company specialising in online security and filtering of explicit content, the online porn industry has experienced staggering growth in recent years. It went from 88,000 pornography sites in 2000 to nearly 1.6 million in 2004, and has only grown since. Bindel also questions the willingness of female porn actors: “Many are pimped, pressured and coerced into porn.”
The discussion becomes more intense as the conversation moves onto the socio-economic implications of women’s “free choice” to make porn. “It is a neoliberal point of view that it is their choice. If you were given a choice between cleaning McDonald’s toilets or being penetrated by ten different men for money, being told to [perform sexual acts] that you have no desire for, the way your body is being used is very different. Scrubbing toilets is not as horrendous as having to open up your body to be invaded and used as if you were unconscious.”
Some might argue that there are positive aspects of porn, too. A survey of 8,000 girls and women from India revealed that 49 per cent said they learned about sex from watching pornography. Is it pornography itself we should be criticising, or the horrible attitudes it represents and perpetuates?
When Bindel criticises society for enjoying the spectacle of women performing demeaning acts, is it really a chicken and egg situation?
Discussing the direction of the feminist movement more generally, she addresses some of the perilous paths she feels it has taken recently. There appears to be a growing trend of avoiding debates on sensitive topics for fear of causing offence; Bindel herself has been no-platformed at a number of British universities. “It’s silly. We should have good and proper debates. This is how I learnt my politics. It is also how those we find offensive learn from us. So let’s scrap all this safe-space nonsense.
“There is no such thing as a safe-space. Women walk around seeing images that tell them they are lesser than men on a regular basis. What is a safe-space for women? Our own bedroom with the door locked? It just doesn’t exist and its simply babyish. I just think they should pack it in and get back to some proper debates.”
Bindel wants to create gender equality in her own ways, as disputed as that may be. For her, it is the duty of the revolutionary agitator to convince the opposition of their argument and attempt to change their mind. Bindel is attempting to do this through feminist action group Justice for Women, as well as raising awareness in her writing for The Guardian and other media outlets. Her works discuss the most important issues of the day, including gay rights and mental health, and how they relate to feminist topics.
In Bindel’s view, thanks to no-platforming and attacks on individuals, the work of activists such as herself does not translate into material, progressive change. She argues that we should take every opportunity to challenge opposing viewpoints.
Bindel is seldom heard. She proved to be a confident and outspoken individual with a very admirable integrity. There is much to agree and disagree with her about; say what you will about Bindel, she has never been afraid to speak her mind. We are left with a question: are we really devoting enough energy to helping disempowered and disenfranchised women outside of the ‘Oxford Bubble’?