The twisted logic of empowermentism

The twisted logic of empowermentism March 14, 2014

I am in full agreement with Ruth Marcus, who vigorously challenges the idea that porn is “empowering” to women. Marcus writes specifically to address recent comments by a young Duke University freshman who has revealed her identity has a prominent pornographic actress. The young woman was quoted as saying pornography was a source of “joy”, “empowerment,” and “artistic outlet.” The actress is not just a passive model but a participant in hardcore movies, becoming the object of explicit and graphic sexual behavior.

[The actress’s] argument is that pornography is good for women, a jujitsu move against the patriarchy, because it takes back their sexuality from male-imposed stigma. “A woman who transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body — because that’s exactly what porn is, no matter how rough the sex is — ostensibly poses a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society,” [she] wrote.

This is actually not an uncommon argument from the wings of worldview feminism. It is no less twisted for having become more common, yet it is worth noting that the ideas of the girl from Duke are not novel or invention. It is likely she picked them up in her university gender studies, which would be a painfully ironic episode for the Methodist Duke. 

But that’s not all. Later, the actress confides that  “[she]  felt more degraded in a minimum-wage, blue-collar, low-paying service job than I ever did doing porn.” 

That is a remarkable instance of economic nihilism. One is curious whether a rebuking from the public sphere would be more imminent if it were a corporation or politician claiming that entertainment prostitution is better than the working class. Nevertheless, I am confident that these ideas are much more widespread than we would want to believe. They represent, in my opinion, the logical conclusion wrought by empowermentism. Empowermentism is not a philosophy proper, but the general orientation of cultural worldview that teaches that self-fulfillment and contentment is the truest measure of an activity’s worthwhileness. 

I think Marcus is exactly right to correct this young, confused girl: She is NOT being empowered by the porn industry, even if she feels like she is. The financial benefits of a career in porn do not amount to fulfillment or flourishing. The fact that she is content to do (and have done to her) gross sexual voyeurism does not mean she has discovered her true self or has given her life meaning. If this constitutes the dreaded social sin of “judging,” so be it. The alternative is a wholesale jettisoning of moral sense. 

Empowermentism finds its most enthusiastic expression in gender and social studies. If a Duke university student can justify a pornographic career by appealing to empowerment, we would do well to ask serious questions about what higher education teaches is an “empowering” profession. Whatever that answer is, I would be willing to bet most of Duke’s professors would not want their daughters thus “empowered.” 


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