06 October 2006

porn, and a pandagon reading assignment

note: i am cross-posting this to my livejournal, since i just set this blog up and i'm not sure how i feel about the format. i'm going to try it out and see if it's worth making the switch. so i'll be posting the same entries in both places for the next short while.
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there is a
post up at pandagon about pornography as an idea, the violence and misogyny in porn as it actually exists, the divide between feminists who consider themselves for or against porn, and a possible middle ground to bridge that divide. it's a very good, very thoughtful post, and it addresses almost all of the things that i consider important points about porn. i would really like it if people read it.


it does omit a few things that i do think are worth considering about porn.



1. currently a lot of porn hurts women in its production. i don't want to make it sound like by "a lot" i mean "100 films, which is too many, but thankfully not a majority." if you use porn and it isn't drawn or written, there is a good chance your porn is NOT "eco-friendly," so don't kid yourself.
deep throat, arguably the most mainstreamed porno ever, involved rape and abuse, not just in the economic-dependence and emotional-pressure sense but complete with gunpoint and beatings, in case you are the type that needs to see non-sexual violence to convince you of sexual violence. i would hazard a guess and say that MOST porn involves some degree of coercing women, abusing women, and/or taking advantage of the prior abuse of women. MOST porn, for sure, involves a certain degree of exploiting women financially, in that they are generally paid peanuts compared to the profits and are sometimes lied to about the money they will receive. so even if you think that porn consumption has no negative effect on women, porn production very definitely has a negative effect on women. if you boycott shampoo that is tested on animals, you should probably be avoiding pornography.


2. the psychological effects of porn aren't limited to reinforcing misogyny, entitlement and resentment of non-submissive, non-acquirable women -- which amanda does a good job of covering. there's also that really obvious effect, something that i think the conversations i have tend to skip over these days because it's practically passe to talk about this, but anyway i'm talking about the false expectations it creates even in people who aren't outright misogynistic. it feeds ridiculous expectations of what women's bodies are like, of course, and this is something we talk a lot about with respect to advertising and young girls and such; but it affects older women too, and not just our ideas about our weight. breasts, of course, are a big one when it comes to porn; tons of actresses have fake ones, but even the ones on cinemax that might not be fake never--freakin--move, which is nuts because i know MY boobs jiggle when i run, not to mention fuck, so what is the deal exactly? but it's not just breasts; for example it freaks me out that there are cosmetic surgeons out there making big bucks on changing the appearance of women's vulvas, but i guess given that not a lot of us see other, unmodified vulvas that often and that playboy-style porn is becoming more and more mainstream, it's not that surprising that so many women are so insecure about their genitals. i know when i first took a look at mine i was horrified, and how are you supposed to figure out what's "normal"? in the days before all grade-schoolers had internet, that was pretty much impossible. unfortunately my introduction to the internet didn't help right away, either. i found the smooth, pink, bald, rounded versions of girl-parts BEFORE i found the wide variation that actually occurs in nature. way before. i used to worry that the first guy who saw my crotch would be horrified, too. and
what if my asshole wasn't pink? i wouldn't even know!

anyway, but it's not even just the weird expectations about what we're supposed to look like. porn shapes expectations of what SEX is like, and how we're supposed to *behave*. was i really supposed to wail like a siren or shout obscenities during an orgasm? was i really supposed to have an orgasm as soon as a guy shoved his cock in me? was i really supposed to have an orgasm, at all, from penetration? it didn't feel orgasmic when i put a finger in my vagina; actually i didn't feel much of anything in there.. ohmigod was i DEFECTIVE? etc. was i really supposed to get rid of my pubic hair? was i really supposed to go THAT far down on a guy? if i didn't do any of these things, would i be weird -- or would i be letting somebody down?


it's pretty apparent to me that my first sexual relationship included some expectations, or at least strong suggestions for desires, that came straight out of porn. i never said anything -- because what are you going to say? -- but my suspicion put me in a weird position, because i silently felt that if i didn't fuck/suck/pose/whatever like a porn star, sex would be a disappointment. and i didn't want our sex life to be disappointing, did i? i think the exposure to porn (and the absence of honest mentoring about what sex IS like, but that's a whole other post) played a big part in neither of us actually knowing what else to expect when we got around to losing our virginities. this is not to say that the entire sexual relationship was ruined; only that as a young woman i would have been better off not internalizing what pornography suggested women are like in bed ("bed" being almost 100% metaphorical, of course), with my sandbox for finding out what sex is really like already colored by those same suggestions.



3. similar to that, i think porn stunts your sexual imagination. i think the repeated use of porn limits your own, organic capacity to imagine what sex could be like. you might think that it gives you new ideas, but even when it's doing that in terms of verbs ("i've never seen a girl do THAT before!"), it's drawing a line around "what sex is like", that is, in terms of adjectives, in terms of dynamics. the biggest thing is that pretty much all porn, to a greater or lesser extent, replicates or exaggerates male domination, transfering it onto the sexual encounter in ways that become an unquestioned basis rather than an added element like all the others. and arousal and orgasm are powerful feelings that basically reward whatever you did to get there (not that different from pavlov's drooly dogs); so even if you don't think you are getting off on the patriarchy of it all, you kind of are, on a chemical level, and after repeated reinforcement that is going to have an effect on what gets you off. maybe this is a different point from "stunts sexual imagination," i don't know.



all of this is not to say that i am positive pornography can never be acceptable. i'm not. i think in a much better, much less misogynistic world porn would not be so harmful, though i am not sure if it would be free of all of the various things that make it harmful. i'm open to the possibility, although in the meantime the whole industry is very, very fucked up and i'm not convinced it's worth holding out hope for. amanda's post contains a theory about why it's so fucked up when the majority of men we know do not appear to want to rape women or ejaculate on their faces or fuck them in the ass until they cry.



agh, i have to shower and do some productive things, it's gotten really late in the day. i'll try to come back to this later but i think i've hit the big ones. anyway, i hope you've already clicked on the link above and read the pandagon post, but if not, please do.



UPDATE: oh yeah, i remembered #4. amanda sort of glosses over what exactly the anti-porn feminist activists of the 1980s tried to do. i feel like this is a relatively unknown or misunderstood part of the work done by the anti-porn contingent of feminists and they are often reviled by people who don't even have a grasp of what it is they did that got so much attention. catharine mackinnon and andrea dworkin (this is why their names are linked in tirades) led an attempt to change the framework of laws on pornography, to replace the obscenity-law framework with a discrimination/civil-damages one. most laws about pornography were and are about obscenity, and about how "obscenity" is excluded from the free speech that is protected by the first amendment. obscenity laws rely on "community standards" and a social enforcement of morality, and they constitute censorship of speech that is considered not worth protecting. censorship is a problem for a lot of us, because it's highly illiberal and most of us value the first amendment. a more appropriate way to respond to pornography, these activists felt, was to create laws that classed it as discrimination against women and would allow women who were harmed by porn to file suit against its creators. this seems like a pretty sensible idea to me. if porn is actually harmless like people say it is, then the industry should do just fine. if it isn't, victims can be compensated and try to prevent the harm from being repeated in the future. unfortunately, the movement had some unsavory bedfellows, namely republican conservatives who were not known for their defense of sexual expression, were trying to prevent sex shops from opening in their neighborhoods and attracting a clientele of undesirables, and had been just as much in favor of obscenity laws (as well as zoning laws intended to that effect) as of this latest strategy. the attempt to pass civil-suit laws succeeded in two different cities in the midwest, but i think they might both have been repealed since then. anyway, it sounded like a good idea to me, but even i know that if right-wingers are jumping into bed with you it's time to adjust your strategy. there is some very interesting reading out there about this, i'll try to find my bibliography when i get around to unpacking all those damn boxes.

Comments:
"if you use porn and it isn't drawn or written, there is a good chance your porn is NOT 'eco-friendly,' so don't kid yourself."

Why are you throwing this sentence in about porn not being eco-friendly as you write about porn being misogynist? It could make someone think you're throwing a net at porn hoping you can catch a worthwhile anti-porn argument. It's just that one sentence, and maybe the one about shampoo that is tested on animals. I loved the rest of the essay.

The link didn't work until I took off the "well-the-worm-can-was-just-sitting-there-next-to-the-can-opener/trackback/" at the end. This one works.

By the way, I really dislike fake breasts.
 
"eco-friendly" wasn't to be taken literally, more like semi-metaphorically. i brought up animal testing as a comparison for those who strive to be socially conscious in their consumption -- i.e., if you avoid stuff whose production harms other living beings, you should be staying away from porn. it's about how porn hurts women not only on the demand end but on the supply end as well. does that make sense?
 
ps - why the ps about breast implants?
 

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