Dear Captain Awkward:
About a year ago I made a conscious decision to stop consuming porn. I stumbled across the basic argument that you can’t be certain whether or not the people being filmed have been coerced. This coupled with recently having realized that I was/am a Nice Guy(tm) (and being mortified) was enough to make me too uncomfortable with porn to continue to consume it.
A year goes by and porn comes up in jokey conversation amongst friends so I admit to not consuming porn anymore and am interrogated as to why. Apparently it isn’t enough to suspect that some of the people being filmed may be coerced.
The gist of the conversation was that since:
- There are women that get rich doing porn
- I still wear clothes and use gadgets that are produced by exploited labor.
- I am a tool and a hypocrite and therefore totally wrong about porn. At least until I go and actually do something about something else that’s more important like disposing of my smartphone and/or swap out all my clothes for those produced by people making what would be a living wage in the US or EU.
I am stuck with limply stating that I have to start somewhere. OK, maybe I’m a little too bitter about this.
I’m still befuddled by trying to fix the Nice Guy stuff, now I have to defend not watching porn? I don’t require that anyone else forgo watching it, I have just found the human trafficking/coercion angle very compelling. I guess that it’s possible I may have implied “…and you shouldn’t either.” and that could explain the vehement resistance, but I really didn’t expect it.
I don’t know if I’m just hurt or really offended by their reaction. Do I try to let it drop or do I need new friends? Or am I just a hypocrite?
I was looking for an analogy that would allow me to write about your question without writing about porn in more detail than I’d like to do under my real name, and then it hit me:
You became a porn vegan.
Factory farming of meat! It is gross and inhumane! There are both ethical and environmental reasons not to consume factory-farmed meat! But there are a lot of economic/class/food security & hunger/cultural issues also, so it’s not a completely cut and dry issue of “Never do that!” (For instance, if we closed all the factory farms tomorrow, it’s not like those animals would go live happily “in the wild.”) What I’m saying is that there are some complex issues here, and people find their own ethical framework for dealing with those issues.
- Don’t know or pretend they don’t know what’s up. And some people have very good reasons for this.
- Some of them, when the topic comes up, get very defensive will present classic derailing arguments about other problems that are worse.
- Some of them (like me) will go to great lengths to eat meat that lived a good life before it became delicious. I’d like to point out that it is expensive to do this and I have a lot of privilege around this. I have a farmer who will drop things off at a Farmer’s Market near me, and if I can’t make it to the market she’ll drop it off at my house.
- Some people decide not to eat meat at all.
- Some people decide that all animal products are off-limits and become vegans.
You can make a case for any of these stances, right? (Please don’t, in the comments section. I know I brought it up and all, but yeah…please don’t.) And a lot of it boils down to personal choice and the idea of “Well, I have to start somewhere.”
So, without meaning to, you hit on a sore spot and a very human way to behave: When someone we know takes a very strong moral stance, we are forced to think about something ethically complex. Inside our dried-up little hearts we kind of know that we should look more deeply at it, but sometimes we’re not ready to do that or to be inconvenienced, so we shoot the messenger. You weren’t trying to convert them to your stance, but when asked you calmly stated what it is, and for a second they had to think about “Jeez, was that hot dirty mom maybe coerced into banging that entire fraternity? No way!” and it was easier to take it out on you than to engage honestly with your arguments. When someone makes you feel guilty and like you might not be 100% a good person for what you think are harmless habits, it doesn’t feel good, so you reflexively defend that idea of yourself as a good person at all costs. That’s what your friends did, and it’s very human, and we’re all doing it because if you live in the prosperous West you can find 1,000 ways that the nice things you enjoy are paid for in some measure by the suffering of others and if you decide to really hold that in your mind, to take in the extent to which that might be true, you’ll fall down on your knees weeping.
Recommended reading: You may enjoy Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good, and it enjoyably grapples with what happens when someone in your life undergoes a total moral overhaul.
Now, listen. I’ve tried to write about this without engaging too much with the idea of porn and coercion. I mean, there is coercion and sex-trafficking and that is very bad, but there’s something reductive in just assuming that the women have not made the choice to perform. I feel it’s important to say that you can be a good feminist and consume/create/enjoy porn and that there is, uh, “free-range” porn out there.
But I totally support you in your decision to not consume porn, just like I’d support you if you became a vegan even though I still eat meat. And you don’t have to defend this decision to your friends. If they keep bringing it up and needling you with it, maybe you do need to find new friends, not because of porn but because they are behaving like jerks. If it comes up again, you’re well within your rights to say “This conversation makes me really uncomfortable, so let’s change the subject.“ But if they let it go, and they are generally not jerks and everyone can be trusted to maintain a “let’s agree to disagree” stance, then let it go.