Wednesday, November 2

That's right, I said it: Porn is bad

Ezra Klein, chiming in tangentially regarding the Maureen Dowd piece I wrote about yesterday, links to what he calls an interesting study by a couple of researchers: That the editorial copy in Playboy pictorals, by and large, does not use terminology that implies the women (who are usually splayed like filleted meat across hay bales and fuzzy rugs) are submissive or vulnerable. Instead, the research shows, the women are often described as strong, career-oriented, and aggressive.

You see? The feminists won after all! What a relief. And I was beginning to think that we had somehow settled for a counterfeit version of empowerment that sells women's sexuality as the most commonly consumed commodity in the world. Turns out the joke's not on us, after all! The women vomiting up their dinner and paying thousands to have saltwater bags stuffed into tiny holes beneath their nipples so they can be more bouyant when bent over a barrel are powerful and in charge of their sexuality and thus their very existences! You need no more proof than the copy written in reversed type right beneath their waxed, bald labias, which are practically dripping with lust for you, the lucky hundreds of millions of viewers clamoring to get from the mailbox to the bathroom so you can touch yourself to the images of these strong woman.

Sorry. Pornography gets me riled up. I've always had a squicky aversion to porn, but it has always been poorly defined on my part because it hasn't traditionally been a topic I've had the stomach to think critically about. We watched a documentary about contemporary porn in my free expression class a couple of years ago, and, while most people around me seemed to stare at the screen with blank, unaffected expressions, I was busy trying to choke down tears of rage without anyone finding me out. My heart broke when I saw an interview with an 18-year-old girl/woman (woman in age; girl in mentality) who had just moved to L.A. to start an acting career. I can't remember how she got roped into porn -- if she wanted to be a porn actress or if she erroneously thought she could segue into a mainstream acting career -- but she was all set to do her first scene for the "Barely Legal" franchise and was nervous that she was going to have sex with a woman. For the first time ever. On camera. And the director caught himself when he called her a woman and corrected himself to say "girl," adding that he should call them girls because that's what they are: just kids.

So "Barely Legal" makes a killing off of offering up jailbait to the horny viewer. The name of the franchise screams They're practically children! and horny men buy and buy and buy what they're selling. But I don't. I think it's sick.

However, despite my feelings about the vile nature of porn, I still wouldn't want it to be illegal. What adults want to do with their bodies and their vegetables and random household objects is their business and not the business of the government. But in my ideal world, no one would want or "need" porn, and it wouldn't even exist. My ideal man has no hidden porn collection and doesn't spend any time surfing the internet for scraps of pixellated flesh. (Laugh, motherfuckers, but I'm serious!)

But to further complicate my feelings on the issue -- get this -- I enjoy reading and writing (mainstream, mostly) erotica and I don't view it as detrimental to women or society. And I am an enthusiastic supporter of vibrators, and, therefore, all sex toys. So that makes me one of those rare sex-positive, anti-porn feminists with a dash of hypocrisy thrown in for good measure. Wouldn't you know there's not a lot of public support for my position? Still, it's the only position I can square with the feeling in my gut that porn -- in print and on video -- is more of a sinister nuisance than anything else in the commercial sex world. And finally, after years of trying to figure out why I feel this way, I've got a working hypothesis. Hang with me.

It hit me while watching The Fog, that mediocre horror movie I mentioned a couple of days back. There's a scene in the film in which two young men take two young women out on a boat for a little partying. They're drinking and dancing, and one of the men is filming the two dancing women. And he is up in their grills with the camera, capturing every undulation of their bodies, every drunken giggle, on film, encouraging them to shed their inhibitions and let the alcohol take them wherever they want to go. He's not interacting with them in any way -- he's just filming them and watching what they're doing through the viewfinder, even though he's RIGHT THERE with them. That scene got me to thinking about the postmodern mediation phenomenon Thomas de Zengotita writes about in Mediated, which I enthusiastically recommend. Anyway, one of de Zengotita's theses is that in our modern mediated society, we are no longer concerned with the self so much as we are concerned -- obsessed! -- with the representation of the self and, most importantly, the inherent flattery that comes with that representation.

It's common for modern media to address the viewer/reader/listener as the sole occupant of the universe. And if not the sole occupant, then the most important. This mentality is also the very notion on which sex work operates. Prostitutes, strippers, porn actresses, models posing in Playboy: They all exist for the pleasure of the viewer. It's all about what they can do for you, dear john/patron/viewer/reader. And there is no more intimate mediated experience than getting off on a digital image of a woman pretending to be getting off on you getting off on her.

As that guy in The Fog was filming the young women dancing, he had removed himself from the equation and, just like a "Girls Gone Wild" cameraman, was simply hoping to capture the women shedding their clothing along with their inhibitions, which would provide him with plenty of masturbation material to add to the trunk under his bed. His contact with the women, which only occurred through a camera lens, was all about capturing their images to use later for his own private delight. And then to use again and again at his disposal. He had effectively turned these two young women into tools by which to fulfill his own private desires. Mercifully, the fog comes and kills them all before he coaxes the women into making out.

And this, I think, is why I have such a problem with pornography and the driving force behind it. It commodifies women and turns their sexuality into a tool by which men* can get off more easily. Women's sexuality becomes disposable and convenient. In a pornographic video or image, a woman's sexuality is nothing more than a performance to be viewed over and over again any time a man wants to lighten the load, so to speak. At his convenience. Then he can tuck you back under the mattress where you belong. Until next time, of course.

Where it goes from creepy to scary is when you consider the pornification of the culture and what that means for women's sexuality here in reality. You've got droves of young women who feel that emulating porn stars is an empowering way to express their sexuality. They find empowerment in objectification, apparently. But this strikes me as a perversion of empowerment, because feminism, in its push to win legal and societal rights for women, has struggled against the notion of woman-as-lust-object because as long as women are viewed explicitly or subtly as objects, they will never be afforded the respect and the rights they deserve as humans. And as long as women acquiesce to this currently fashionable notion of female sexuality as performance, we will never be able to make any progress against the notion that woman is inferior in almost every way. Except, you know, for her ability to give you a boner.

*I realize that I'm defaulting to "men" here when there is a diverse community of lesbians, not to mention straight women, who enjoy consuming these images. I assure you this has not slipped under my radar, but I'm not quite ready to afford it the same consideration because it is a vastly less common phenomenon. Men are still the No. 1 consumers of porn. That much has not changed radically. That doesn't mean I'm not actively thinking about the implications of women getting off on what I feel to be degrading imagery; I just haven't come up with something to say about it yet. And this post doesn't need to be any longer anyway.

4 Comments:

Blogger nashgirl said...

Say it, sista. Porn is one of those tricky things that I'm for in theory, but can rarely find that doesn't turn me off.

Thu Nov 03, 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Kleinheider said...

But to further complicate my feelings on the issue -- get this -- I enjoy reading and writing (mainstream, mostly) erotica and I don't view it as detrimental to women or society. And I am an enthusiastic supporter of vibrators, and, therefore, all sex toys. So that makes me one of those rare sex-positive, anti-porn feminists with a dash of hypocrisy thrown in for good measure. Wouldn't you know there's not a lot of public support for my position? Still, it's the only position I can square with the feeling in my gut that porn -- in print and on video -- is more of a sinister nuisance than anything else in the commercial sex world. And finally, after years of trying to figure out why I feel this way, I've got a working hypothesis. Hang with me.

Hmmm...wouldn't reading porn and using sex toys have a similar effect to women as visual porn has to guys?

Men are much more visual when it comes to sex where as words and romance get women going.

Few guys are going to have the imagination to live up to the stories you read. In written erotica the men act how you want and say all the right things. Just as the woman in porn look how we like and do what we want.

Both are unrealistic sexual crutches that are easily stashable under the bed.

Sex toys would seem to exacerbate this. The tendency would be to get toys larger than the average man and no man's tongue or genitals can quite keep the same pace as a vibrator.

How is this all that different than guys getting hooked on masturbating to porn images of young submissives with big artifical boobs and an unrealistically small waists.

While not directly analogous, it seems to me that written erotica and reliance on sex toys can be just as destructive to normal, healthy sexuality in woman as video is for men. Or am I wrong?

Thu Nov 03, 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

A.C., I'm glad you raise this point, because as soon as I hit "publish," I started working on an addendum about how it is I square my views on erotica vs. porn.

I should probably make it clear here that I prefer written short erotic stories to the softcore crap Showtime puts forth every night. You say: "In written erotica the men act how you want and say all the right things." By "erotica" I DON'T mean romance novels. There's a difference.

I guess my reasoning goes back to the specificity of the representations in porn: Where porn movies are actual portrayals of real people having sex, erotic literature is more generic and isn't hinged on disposable visual representations of actual people and their sex acts.

And even if people in porn movies are playing characters in a fictionalized setting, they're still actual people actually having sex. It actually occurred and you are watching a filmed version of the act in real time; there's no real fictional element, other than the fiction going on in your head that lets you involve yourself in their story enough so that you can get off.

As for printed porn, again, it's about the disposability of it. Here is a woman. Here are her genitals. Use them. They're all yours. Now put her back under the bed where she belongs.

How is this all that different than guys getting hooked on masturbating to porn images of young submissives with big artifical boobs and an unrealistically small waists.

Because those people are people used as objects. Sex toys are objects used as objects. There's an ocean of difference between the two.

While not directly analogous, it seems to me that written erotica and reliance on sex toys can be just as destructive to normal, healthy sexuality in woman as video is for men. Or am I wrong?

I'm not advocating a reliance on one over the other; I agree that a reliance on any of that stuff to get off probably indicates sexual health problems. But I'm just pointing out that as porn imagery becomes the standard by which we measure female sexuality, it will have a destructive impact on society's ideas about women's sexuality and who women's sexuality exists for: women or men.

Thu Nov 03, 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

What?!? Porn is bad?!? :)

I do agree that it's an industry that seems to be glamorized a bit. I'm not quite sure why exactly. I think it's one of those things we (as men) would hope our sisters or mothers never went into the industry.

Plus it give you a distroted view of sexuality...case in point: The Freinds ep where Joey and Chandler get all the free porn.

Thu Nov 03, 03:13:00 PM  

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