On Tera Myers and the Anti-Porn Folk
Philippa Willitts // 12 March 2011
This is a guest blog post by Jennifer Krase, who you can find on twitter at @krasejc.
I always read questions like Charlie Glickman’s ‘Where are the anti-porn folks?’ as ‘Where are the feminists?’. Rather than a call to arms, it’s a calling-out of the hypocrisy of being anti-porn and seeking to end the sex industry, while being totally absent from the defence of women who have voluntarily left the industry when they later face repercussions. Women’s sexual history is not allowed, in Society, to be their professional history. Women are apparently expected (regardless of circumstance or personal ambition) to forever set up camp on a bourgeois moral high ground which is utterly disconnected from the price tags attached to pursuing dreams, goals, financial independence, or sustenance, shelter or income.
I hail from a generation that takes for granted its ability to access all kinds of porn online, for free; that grew up thinking Playboy was first and foremost a girls’ clothing brand; that enjoys an individual sense of equality among peers despite the jaw-dropping numbers I quote regularly at workshops and presentations. I welcome some of these changes. The slow but what feels to me sure change in thinking around sexual practices (kink especially), and the growing acceptance and normalisation of some LGBT identities for another tell me the world, and therefore the fight, has changed.
Still, there seems to be no room for acknowledging the role of anti-porn campaigning in the continued social punishment of women in and around the sex industry. No room for sex workers and pornographers in our efforts to rehabilitate feminism. No room for defending women who eventually buy into our definition of liberation – a life free from the sex industry – only to find themselves turfed out from work as well as feminism’s protective umbrella, once again alongside the teeming masses of other people Society and anti-porn have deemed unfit for service.
So still, in 2011, when the debate for how to ‘deal with’ prostitution and the ‘sex industry’ has supposedly become so nuanced that we now have two possible ‘models’ to choose from: “Nordic” and “New Zealand” (regardless, of course, of what sex workers have to say about what affects them); and we can agree that lads’ mags should be on the top shelf, behind a placard because of their pornographic content (but not because of their violent misogynist recommendations to cut women’s faces up, which is a mere afterthought to the oppression women face whilst standing about in their knickers). In 2011, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day as if anyone has any idea it’s a political day of resistance and action instead of a thank you note to women, and on the very same day a black trans woman in an Arkansas town named after a KKK leader is misgendered by the media and police who are publicising and investigating her brutal murder. Still we’re led, by some, to emphasise the fundamental culpability of the sex industry rather than patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia, whorephobia, white privilege, racism, or any oppression we know full well women face every day worldwide.
So we hear yet another report on “the plight of the ruined woman” in the recent reporting on Tera Myers, a high school science teacher lately of St. Louis, Missouri, who has resigned. This is the second teaching job she’s been forced to leave – and I do think there are social and professional forces at work here – because of her past in adult film. She characterises her own porn experiences as the biggest mistake and worst choice she ever made. But nowhere in any media report does anyone propose an alternative, that perhaps the worst choice a person could make is to murder sex workers, or perhaps to suggest that a solution to jealousy is to slash the face of your ex-girlfriend, or that to cut women out of further education by simultaneously chipping away at support for every possible co morbidity of being a woman – poverty, disability, rurality, parenthood – is an immoral decision taken by a government of privileged liars. No. Instead, according to at least one person interviewed, we should generously allow the Tera Myerses of the world to continue teaching (and presumably live in society near children and pets) if and only if they disavow their terrible choices and hasten to chasten us about the negative influence of pornography in their lives, how porn derailed them and ruined them and they were only redeemed by a post-military education, finding God, and changing their name.
Never mind that the negative influences in Tera Myers’ life were poverty, homelessness, and possibly untreated bipolar disorder. Never mind that this is a woman who had to change her name in order to restart her career. Worry not that the school that fired her in 2006 was worried about the distraction she might cause in the classroom. By all accounts she was a popular and dedicated teacher of science, a post schools struggle to fill effectively, not to mention with women teachers. No, what she should do is apologise for having been poor, in need, ill, and a mother. Now I’m left wondering if Charlie Glickman’s question will go unanswered. Where are the anti-porn campaigners on defending women who buy into their definition of liberation and get screwed? Too busy delivering conferences against porn at Wheelock College and debating Cambridge University students on the merits of anti-pornography work?