How Sweet It Is: Pro-Porn Feminism and Karo Syrup

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Years ago someone told me Karo syrup helped infant digestion and colic. With zero wisdom about how to take care of a baby, I decided to try this. In a mere month my baby girl sucked down an entire bottle of Karo syrup with milk and ballooned to a tiny pumpkin. When it dawned on me that Karo syrup was the base of pecan pies and a bottle typically lasted a few years, I freaked out and rushed to the doctor. I learned a lesson that day: The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.

This calls into question pro-porn feminism. It’s not an oxymoron. A field of feminist thought, pro-porn feminism views pornography as a challenge to gender norms with the potential to sexually liberate women. The claim of the pro-porn collective is that pornography empowers women if women choose to use the body in porn or watch the material as a mechanism to explore female sexuality. Rather than labeling pornography as exploitation and objectification, pro-porn feminists see it as purely sexual material that can increase knowledge, enhancement and control of their own sexuality. It is also a way of exploring sexuality in what pro-sex feminists consider a sex-negative culture. Like Karo syrup, this seems pretty sweet, but too much of a good thing can make you sick. Consider the history of censorship related to sexual material in the United States…

Historically, pornography was criminalized under the Comstock Law of 1873. The law made it a federal crime to send via the mail erotica, contraceptives, sex toys, letters containing illicit content or elixirs that induced abortions. If convicted of using the postal service to send any of this material, the penalty was hard labor or 6 months to five years in jail.

Chief among the targets of the Comstock Law was birth control. Margaret Sanger, mother of the modern birth control movement, was arrested in 1916 for violating the Comstock Law in her work among immigrants, a population that swelled to 25 million between 1880 and 1920. A eugenicist, Sanger aimed to curtail the number of children produced by immigrants living in slums and struggling with issues like alcoholism and poverty. At the same historic moment, sterilization to control undesirable populations (eugenics)was widely supported. By the mid 1920s, every southern state with the exception of Louisiana passed laws that required forced sterilization of inmates in prisons and state hospitals, home to the disabled, mentally challenged, criminally insane and socially misfit. With predominantly African American prison populations and racialized laws as the basis for incarceration, this process was considered by some a form of genocide, by others social engineering. Seen as a solution to social problems, this practice lasted into the 1970s. In 2016 the state of Virginia compensated former inmates at a Lynchburg hospital $25,000 each.

In a modern context these ideas are far less sinister because they are framed in the politics of choice rather than force, a conduit for my critique of pro-porn feminism. In a privileged, first-world context, pro-porn feminism is about power, pleasure and choice. But in a global context, it is about victimization and disempowerment of women. The United States is the number one consumer of the sex industry in the world. Human trafficking includes prostitution, child exploitation, forced labor and organ harvesting and intersects with immigration, the consumer sex industry and tourism. Approximately 15,000 to 18,000 persons in the United States are held in bondage annually. In the United States North Carolina ranks number 8 in human trafficking and 11th in illegal immigration. As advocates of pro-porn feminism support pornography, it is critical to recognize the intersections of porn, trafficking, enslavement and abuse in a culture of consumption where pleasure via porn is likely at the expense of women who have no choice in their oppression, exploitation and abuse. In a myopic culture, privileged feminist collectives overlook the conditions of all women in their pursuit of knowledge and pleasure in a world where many women lack potable water, shelter and food.

So next time you pass a bottle of Karo syrup in the cooking aisle, what may seem sweet might best be overlooked.

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