What’s striking is the underwhelming characterization of the writer in this New York Times twit.
OnlyFans “offers the illusion of safety and deniability for producer and consumer alike,” Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer, writes in a guest essay.
A lawyer? Catharine MacKinnon? How very modest. With Andrea Dworkin gone, MacKinnon would be in the lead, axe in hand, smashing reel to reel movie projectors in “art film” houses across the nation, because porn is evil.
We are living in the world pornography has made. For more than three decades, researchers have documented that it desensitizes consumers to violence and spreads rape myths and other lies about women’s sexuality. In doing so, it normalizes itself, becoming ever more pervasive, intrusive and dangerous, surrounding us ever more intimately, grooming the culture so that it becomes hard even to recognize its harms.
If you don’t see the evil, it’s only because the evil has blinded you to the evil. That’s how evil it is, which is why motivated feminist researchers have documented why the things they despise are despicably evil, proving through their motivated research that they were not just right, but irrefutably right and everything else is evil.
MacKinnon has come out from under her rock to explain why OnlyFans isn’t really a woman’s choice, an opportunity for those who seek to avail themselves of it, and a safe place to indulge where the buffer of ether allows people to make money, spend money and engage in free and consensual enterprise.
One measure of this success is the media’s increasing insistence on referring to people used in prostitution and pornography as “sex workers.” What is being done to them is neither sex, in the sense of intimacy and mutuality, nor work, in the sense of productivity and dignity. Survivors of prostitution consider it “serial rape,” so they regard the term “sex work” as gaslighting….Pretending prostitution is a job like any other job would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.”
For people coerced into prostitution, whether by force or circumstantial necessity, the idea that others choose to be there is anathema. It can’t be true because no one would make such an undignified choice. For others, their ability to make their own choices is on the line. They call themselves sex workers because that’s what they are. Who is MacKinnon to deny their autonomy and substitute it with her own choice?
“Sex work” implies that prostituted people really want to do what they have virtually no choice in doing. That their poverty, homelessness, prior sexual abuse as children, subjection to racism, exclusion from gainful occupations or unequal pay plays no role. That they are who the pornography says they are, valuable only for use in it.
Maggie McNeil would disagree with this characterization, rather vehemently I would guess. As would many others, including those who have taken advantage of the opportunity presented by OnlyFans. But not through MacKinnon’s eyes, since no woman would willingly choose to do so.
OnlyFans became a household name during the pandemic, when demand for pornography skyrocketed. People started living their lives online, domestic violence exploded, women lost their means of economic survival even more than men, and inequalities increased. OnlyFans, niche pornography as mediated soft prostitution, was positioned to take advantage of these dynamics.
Was this a personal choice, an opportunity for women, or the by-product of evil? While attributing domestic violence to porn might be to ignore the alternative reality that people locked up together for a prolonged period of time could exacerbate conflict between them, was this just another instance of the economic oppression of women, leaving them no option to survive but to bear themselves to “mediated soft prostitution”?
OnlyFans has been to conventional pornography what stripping has been to prostitution: a gateway activity, sexual display with seeming insulation from skin-on-skin exploitation, temporary employment for those with their financial backs against the wall and few if any alternatives. It offers the illusion of safety and deniability for producer and consumer alike.
While men were busy doing the dignified work of driving trucks and stacking shelves with toilet paper, women were left to their own devices. This was bad enough, but as MacKinnon makes clear, it’s not just that women were again being exploited even if they were under the illusion of free choice, but because “stripping” is a “gateway” drug to skin-on-skin exploitation. Prostitution. The real deal, whether as a “high class callgirl” or a “street walking ho.”
The problem, of course, is that there are a host of wrongs involved with prostitution as well as stripping for OnlyFans. There may (and almost certainly are, although it’s not quite proven) be underage woman on OnlyFans. There may (same caveat) by women forced into doing so against their will. These are crimes, and as such, should not happen and should not be permitted. But to MacKinnon, there can be no one on OnlyFans, or engaged in sex work, who isn’t a victim. And if they’re all victims, then what else could OnlyFans be but their pimp?
Equally missing in the conversation is any concern for people who have been forced, pimped or deceived or had their intimate pictures stolen. Much of the commentary on OnlyFans’s once-proposed rule wails that the consumer should have the right to buy what the producer should have the right to sell. Meanwhile, the coerced, violated, exploited and surveilled have no effective rights against being bought and sold against their will. As long as the violated lack effective rights and equality based on sex, ethnicity and gender, survivors of abuse through these sites — including Pornhub and SeekingArrangement and sites adjacent — will be exposed to theft, coercion and all manner of unauthorized expropriation of their sexuality.
Catherine MacKinnon lives in a small world of women exploited by evil, where there can be no woman who gets to make decisions about her own life, her own body, with which her savior, MacKinnon, disagrees. It’s not that there isn’t evil out there. There most assuredly is, and it should be faced and fixed. But to the MacKinnons wielding their axes as they destroy barrels of demon rum, save us from reefer madness, and prevent helpless oppressed women from doing as they choose with their bodies, there are only exploited victims because no women would ever choose to live in a way that fails to meet MacKinnon’s approval.