Culture, Sexuality — June 8, 2012 7:50 am

Why success for the online porn industry also means success for female writers

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This article starts out the way all good stories do: The other day, I was watching Dateline’s To Catch a Predator with my mom. (Hash tag unemployment).

Anyway, To Catch a Predator is a reality show on NBC. The host, Chris Hansen, teams up with an organization called Perverted Justice to catch would-be pedophiles and send them to prison. The whole scenario is a bit of a bait and switch. Employees of Perverted Justice spend time in online chat rooms pretending to be underage girls, flirting and arranging “meet-ups” with older men. Of course, at the meet up location Chris Hansen intercepts, interrogates the men for our viewing pleasure and then releases them to the police. While watching I made a comment to my mom about how young all of the pedophiles were. Most men in this episode were younger than 30. Call me old fashioned but I just assumed pedophiles are old men, in windowless vans, selling something. My mother didn’t seem surprised at their age, or at how many of them there were. She blamed the rise in numbers of sexual predators on the accessibility of porn on the Internet. And she may be right.

Before the Internet, pornography wasn’t the easiest thing to get your hands on. It involved effort, candidness. It involved either showing your face to the store clerk while you purchased your magazines, or wearing a trench coat and a disguise (Actually, I don’t know much about what exactly it took to buy porn in the 80s, but I imagine it involved one of these).

But I do know that, however it went, the Internet has revolutionized it. The Internet has made pornography readily accessible and its use virtually anonymous (with the exception of your browsing history and those pesky IP addresses…). But for all the damage the free-for-all pornographic portrayal of women on the Internet has caused, I would like to argue that the Internet has also served women pretty damn well. In the same way the Internet is a wild western frontier for things like the pornographic objection of women, it also serves as a free, available-to-all platform that many strong female voices are using to speak up. And, actually, the same elements that have led to the success of internet pornography– namely an anonymous audience and exposure, have also lead to the success of female writers in the 21st century.

Anonymity

The Internet gives women a medium, a platform for communicating. The Internet also provides an anonymous audience. This audience is diverse, made up of all kinds of individuals, some who went out looking for what they’re looking at, as well as some individuals who aren’t sure how they stumbled upon this website and god please do not tell their pastor.

The same anonymity that has led to the success of Internet pornography has also contributed to the success of female writers. Readers can explore new and controversial subjects in the privacy of their own homes, in their bedroom, with the door locked, without their Mars Hill Seattle small group finding out that they are entertaining thoughts that maybe “submission” wasn’t exactly what the Apostle Paul meant…

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Christian author Rachel Held Evans describes the Internet as a

“blessing”: “As a woman, I may be forbidden from preaching at a Southern Baptist church on a Sunday morning, but when I blog, people listen.”

Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans is author of Evolving in Monkey Town, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (October 2012) and, perhaps more importantly, her self-titled blog where she often discusses topics of female ordination, gender roles in marriage, and LGBT congregants in churches, all uncommon topics for most evangelical wings of Christianity (only uncommon, that is, because Held Evans is promoting female ordination, questioning “traditional” gender roles and encouraging Christians to be loving, inclusive brothers and sisters to people of all sexual orientations).

Thirty years ago Held Evans’ opinions and theologies would have had a difficult time being heard because in order to be heard they would have required a publisher. And many Christian publishers won’t volunteer for the sort of backlash that the evangelical community is sure to spew in response to ideas like Held Evans’. Remember the whole Love Wins debacle? And that author was male. And that subject was the afterlife. In my experience, Fundamentalist Christians get angrier at the suggestion of the intrinsic equality of women and gays than they do the possibility of an allegorical hell.

But now? With the Internet? Well, the Internet changes everything.

On the Internet Rachel Held Evans can say whatever she wants because her blog is her blog and she doesn’t need a publisher in order to hit “Post”. And people are able to read whatever she posts because it’s a free country and well, because her blog is free and accessible and reading it can be a secret. Readers can safely entertain ideas much different than their own. In this way the Internet has democratized ideas. And though online anonymity can result in definite trolling and general douchebaggery in the comments section, it also provides the opportunity for genuine discourse (imagine that, Amercia).

Exposure

But the Internet’s not just awesome for women up against institutions like the Church. It’s also awesome for women up against more subtle societal dynamics that oppress and subjugate women all the same. Comedian, fashionista and badass mom, Kelly Oxford has become internet-famous because of her online presence. She keeps a Tumblr, tweets her thoughts, and has written for publications such as GQ (her article on sexual favors as marital currency is classic Oxford). Her Internet dealings have been so successful that she’s currently writing a book and rumor has it that she recently sold a TV pilot to Fox. While the subjects of her posts and tweets are slightly less, uh, Christian than Rachel Held Evans’, the success Oxford has seen because of the Internet is just as significant in the world of gender-equality as Held Evans’.

I grew up surrounded by guys who claimed women aren’t funny, can’t be funny, as if humor was some kind of gender-determined predisposition. Have a penis? You can be funny. We will all laugh. Have a vagina? You can never be funny so don’t try. Try instead to look cute. This got me down until one day I realized that one of the “funniest” guys in our group was recycling all of my jokes. It would happen like this: the group would get on a subject. I’d say something wry, sharp and witty on that subject (quietly of course, because if you hear “women aren’t funny” constantly you get a little shy) and then my friend would say loudly to the group what I had said quietly to myself. The group would erupt in uproarious laughter and my friend would get credit for being funny.

In a lot of ways, the same thing has been happening in popular culture for years, on a bigger scale. A TV show, movie line or SNL skit is hilarious but because of the nature of the mediums of TV and film, it’s easy to ignore the women quite literally behind the scenes who wrote the stuff. Thus our male-dominated society can keep up this “women aren’t funny” bit while simultaneously using all of the original, hilarious material it’s jacking from women.

But then there’s the Internet. In this case, the same kind of exposure fueling the online porn industry is also fueling the success of funny female writers like Kelly Oxford. The Internet lets women be funny and get credit for it. The Internet lets women put it out there and be recognized.

Thanks to the Internet Kelly Oxford’s tweets get the same chance as Rob Delaney’s. Rachel Held Evans’ blog is just as accessible as John Piper’s.

Hate Internet pornography all you want (no, seriously–please do) but also recognize that the things that have made it successful are the same things that allow female writers to be successful in the twenty first century.

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