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A brief evaluation of some feminist activity against ‘Red Hot Video’ stores: An Unfinished Business

Our campaign against Red Hot Video was initiated at an annual convention of the British Columbia Federation of Women in 1982. B.C.F.W. is an umbrella organization of 36 women’s liberation groups. A motion was passed at convention to close down Red Hot Video (porn video chain) in one year, and a committee was struck to get the job done. The committee consisted of representatives from several women’s groups. At first we floundered, then we really had to get our act together when a group calling themselves the Wimmin’s Fire Brigade firebombed 3 of the video porn outlets. There was a lot of media attention, and public outrage about the issue of porn. Many women had been actively lobbying the government (at various levels) to enforce existing legislation to control the kind, sale, and proliferation of pornography. B.C.F.W. released a statement before the firebombing announcing the formation of the committee to shut down Red Hot Video; and the day after the firebombing we released a statement saying in part “Although we did not participate in the fire bombing of Nov.22, 1982…we are in sympathy with the anger and frustration of the women who did”. The combination of the two releases and the firebombing meant that we got a lot of media attention, and as a committee had to get on it…not only to get our analysis together… but to actually get some tactics going on this campaign.

Mostly we organized – with other women’s groups – provincial pickets of all the Red Hot Video outlets. We organized press conferences before the pickets where we would show clips of the videos sold at Red Hot. We had a lot of successful pickets; success measured by the number of people who turned out in support, by the number of men we stopped from going into the shops, by the amount of media attention we got for our analysis on pornography, by the number of small groups that formed to organize against pornography in their area as a result of contact with us, by the one video store owner who gave us his 52 tapes, and refused to sell porn. But in the end, after more than a year and a half of working together as a committee, we didn’t shut down Red Hot Video. Sure, a few of the stores closed, and the ones that didn’t had their profit margins cut into because they had to buy more fire insurance, and more security equipment; but that was more in response to the Wimmins Fire Brigade action than to any of ours.

In the end the committee was dissolved; by that time there were 3 of us left still working on the committee, of an original 6. Looking back on it I think there were several factors for me that contributed to my quitting on that campaign. Mostly, I think that it was very difficult to keep up the campaign without a daily practise, by which I mean something we could all do every day.

I think that the women in WAVPM in San Francisco had the right idea in terms of a regular practise. They opened up an office right in the middle of the porn district, and did tours.

They initiated regular letter writing campaigns about sexist ads, record covers etc.. They put out a regular newsletter, and they just kept it up. They built up quite a repertoire of tactics and a long list of small victories. We never developed a regular practise, although looking back on it, I think we could have, and we could have encouraged all the 36 groups in B.C.F.W. to join us in the tactics that we initiated and put the weight of B.C.F.W. behind the tactics.

We weren’t operating in the ‘Tenderloin’, but in a neighbourhood, and anti-porn work was not the only thing any of the three of us were doing. Nicole and I worked full time and then some at Rape Relief, and Pat worked full time at the Status of Women. None of the three of us were willing to work against Red Hot Video full time, nor would our collectives agree to that. After a while we came to the understanding that pornography is not violence against women; that it is in fact the depiction of prostitution, and only rarely actually the depiction of violence against women. These were images we were fighting, and none of us were in direct connection with any woman who was working in the porn industry or who had. I think we should have done more:

research on the distributor (where did the stuff come from) and develop tactics to interfere with that
research on the individual men who bought the franchises and find ways to shame them
tours through the shops – find a place to organize those tours. I think initially we were naive, and blown away by the porn we actually saw, and we didn’t use effectively enough the momentum that women’s groups’ had built up against pornography and the porn pimps.
When the committee first disbanded, I was initially relieved. I didn’t want the responsibility anymore. When I look back on it now, I am embarrassed and sad. I can see what we could have done and I am regretful for the missed opportunity. N and I have not, to this day, really talked about that time; nor have we evaluated together that campaign really. Pat has gone on to making videos (creating images to counter the ones in the porn) , and speaks at con conferences as an anti-pornography activist. But she is not organizing any actions. N and I are still working at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, fighting violence against women on the front lines. The Attorney General of this province is passing laws that regulate the sale and rental of porn videos, and a few of the lobby groups are still active on that front.

….and Red Hot Video is still selling around the corner, with all their security equipment that make any spray painting a sure bust.. .and that goddamed Dave Stoveman who owns the place is still raking it in hand over fist.. .open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.. just like our rape crisis centre and women’s shelter.

I think I’ gonna do a little research…

R, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

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