“Porn-No! Toxic Waste for the Soul” by Nancy Marquez

Posted: June 2, 2014 in Vol. 5: Spring Essays 2014

The topic of pornography yields a divisive chasm amongst feminists of all persuasions. If one were to be uninitiated to the arguments surrounding pornography and feminism, one would never know that there are deep wounds dividing women. There are feminists that fight for the right to be pro-sex and pro-pornography and feminists that fight to stop the production of pornography, not by censorship, but by education. After serious research into this world of feminist conflagration, one can only conclude that an agreement will never be reached. In coming to terms with this, it is my intention to explain the different views on pornography including the salient points expressed by the main feminist camps. An attempt will be made to explain the ultimate conclusion drawn from my research that anti-porn feminists are anti female oppression and pro-pornography feminists are really anti sexual repression. And finally, it is my intention to argue my philosophy that pornography is harmful to a society that needs to move away from patriarchy and establish new systems that include equality for all citizens.

no porn iconThere are three distinct views on pornography that have led to feminist discourse in the modern age of a “post-feminist” society. According to self-proclaimed feminist anarchist Wendy McElroy for Free Inquiry Magazine, there are three feminist views that are clearly defined. The most common (at least in academia) is that pornography is the expression of male culture that creates the avenue for exploitation and commodification of women (anti-pornography feminists). According to Amy Allen’s peer-reviewed article “Pornography and Power,” written for the Journal of Social Philosophy in 2001, the anti-pornography stance taken by feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin maintains that a major theme of pornography as a genre is male power, and the degradation of the female is a means of achieving power (513). The second view, the liberal position, combines a respect for free speech and the ideology that a woman’s body is a woman’s right. Although this group does not celebrate pornography and in fact disapproves of it, they feel it is everyone’s right to consume whatever textual material they want. Their views overlap with both extremes of the argument, and they are seen as passive feminists. The third view, according to McElroy, is a true defense of pornography. It is held by women who are defined as pro-sex (or radical sex feminists) and argue that pornography has positive benefits for women (1). McElroy states that pornography gives a panoramic view of the world’s sexual possibilities, allows women to safely experience sexual alternatives and satisfy curiosities, and lastly offers the emotional information from experiencing something either directly or vicariously (4). According to Ann Ferguson’s article “Sex War: The Debate between Radical and Libertarian Feminists, the radical (anti-pornography) feminists’ views on sexuality are that heterosexual relations are characterized by an ideology of sexual objectification that supports violence against women. Feminists should renounce any sexual practice that supports or normalizes male sexual violence, including pornography. Feminists should reclaim control over female sexuality by developing a concern over our own sexual priorities (more intimacy, less performance). And finally, the ideal relationship should be between two fully consenting partners who are both emotionally involved and are not in polarized roles. Ferguson then explains that the pro-sex feminist paradigm can be summarized by the idea that heterosexual sex practices are characterized by repression. It stigmatizes minorities and keeps the majority pure and under control. Feminists should repudiate any theoretical analysis as well as legal and moral judgments that stigmatizes the sexual minority. Feminists should reclaim control over female sexuality by demanding the right to practice acts that bring pleasure and satisfaction. And finally, the ideal sexual relationship should be between fully consenting adults and equal partners who negotiate and maximize sexual pleasure by any means they choose (108-109).

Ferguson does take into account what McElroy coins as the liberal feminists: feminists that are uncomfortable with pornography yet have greater objections to censorship and infringements on any rights that may further impugn the women’s rights movement.  McElroy defines herself as pro-sex and pro pornography and states that there are women such as Nina Hartley that are current or former sex workers who claim to know firsthand that posing for pornography is a non-coerced choice that can be enriching (2). More currently, Duke University student Belle Knox has made waves as a rich girl porn star who is doing porn to pay for her education and, according to Ms. Knox, testing the patriarchal systems by having control of her sexual journey. Many of her fellow students are appalled that someone so privileged can be a porn star. It is comforting to know that the millennial generation has an understanding of female oppressive forces and that pornography is not the answer to counteract those forces. McElroy does have a valid point in acknowledging that Japan has pornography depicting graphic and brutal violence readily available, yet rape is much lower per capita than in the United States, where porn is severely restricted (4). The main feminist camps are so divided in their views on pornography that the war on women has created internal factions of wars on women by women. These groups steadfastly believe that they are right and the others are wrong and yet, all aim for what seems to be a common goal of female equality and equanimity. Ultimately, the end is clear but the means are very different.

There is no paucity in the amount of literature explaining the different feminist views on pornography. The most one can ascertain is that anti-porn feminists are anti female oppression and pro-sex feminists are really anti sexual repression. According to Ilene Philipson’s peer-reviewed article “The Repression of History and Gender,” “one must carefully monitor her words or actions these days in order to avoid being seen as an enemy of the women’s movement or, conversely, a moralistic defender of vanilla sex” (113). The anti-pornography feminists such as Mackinnon and Dworkin view gender differences as a function of male domination, and it is the costs and benefits that are unjustly attached to those differences that are cause for concern. Therefore, for anti-pornography feminists, the goal of activism is not to grant women equal access to power but to eliminate and dismantle the system of domination. Both Mackinnon and Dworkin believe that pornography provides a window into a hierarchal and heterosexual realm that tells us what men really want sexually as defined in a male-dominated culture (Allen 514). According to the anti-pornography feminist viewpoint, patriarchy is an unchanging force throughout history that is expressed as systematic and unrelenting violence against women from rape to foot binding in countries like China (Philipson 113). According to Philipson, ours is a society marked by male domination, and it is impossible to want for both freedom and protection: As long as women are routinely raped and battered and such images are glorified in pornography, and as long as women are systematically denied equal access to jobs, earn less than men, and have the primary role in child-rearing which often causes one-sided poverty, pro-pornography feminists should seek to reevaluate the need for sexual freedom over protection from the systems that continually oppress women (118).

The sex-radical, pro-pornography feminists’ aim is to open the discussion of sexuality among feminists and to free feminist discourse from moralistic taboos (Philipson 113). These feminists also believe that not only does pornography no harm, it actually helps and has positive social benefits for women. Their view is that pornography is good for us and sexual repression is bad for us and that sexual repression is an incontrovertible fact of our culture. Amy Allen’s issue with the claim that pornography functions as liberator to repressed sexuality is that Westerners are not sexually repressed. She takes Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality and dissects sexual repression. Foucault argues that if we were so sexually repressed, why then do we talk about sex so much and so often? Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis is that “power does not function solely negatively, instead, power functions both negatively and productively, and does so at once, producing the very subjects that it constrains” (520). The pro-pornography feminists believe that male domination of women changes over time and across cultures and classes. They consider themselves liberated thinkers that pit themselves against those that are self-righteous and support purity movements (113). The pro-pornography feminists have managed to create a dichotomous platform of a “good girl” versus “bad girl,” the good girl being an un-rebellious and repressed prude and the bad girl being sexually fulfilled and liberated. Philipson does an outstanding job of calling out the pro-pornography movement for fallacies entwining pornography and the feminist agenda of female equality. She raises several salient points regarding the repression of female sexuality. First, there is an assumption that society is just as sexually repressed at it has been in the past. Clearly this is not true. With magazines such as Maxim and FHM on the newsstands with covers of scantily dressed women and with pleasure parties replacing Tupperware parties, society has overcome its Pollyanna views on sex. Authors who defend the enjoyment of pornography as a form of resistance to “no sexual pleasure at all” can seem anachronistic. Porn is a billion dollar industry in the United States and pornographic advertising is omnipresent especially on the Internet. Next, Philipson begs the question of who actually enjoys pornography and can do so to resist a repressive culture. Pro-sex feminists claim that both men and women should and could truly enjoy pornography; however, a trip to any porn store would prove otherwise. Most materials do not have women’s liberation and sexual enjoyment in mind. They are really made for men. And lastly, pro-pornography feminists make it seem as though there is something wrong with women who crave emotionally fulfilling intimacy that does not involve explicit sexual imagery (116). Pro-pornography feminists have created the notion that depersonalized sex is normative and thus women’s sexual desires, often distinguished by an aversion to depersonalized sex acts and the need for intimacy and closeness, are seen as inadequate (117).

In my own words, if women are to search for equality, is sex the first place we begin? Would it not be with our wombs, or our work, must it be on our backs? How do images of rape and violence against women (which make up most of the porn industry) help all women break the glass ceiling or assist the pro-choice movement? They don’t. They only lend themselves to the vicious cycle in the patriarchal society that keeps men in power positions, to dictate legislation that affects women, and to keep the systems of oppression in place. It is an argument that is very destructive to the best interests of women everywhere. It is divisive and caustic and does not allow women to gather their strength in numbers to make a dent in the war against women. It is my belief that the fight against female oppression (control) is far more important that the fight against sexual repression (freedom). Although they are related, one cannot truly have freedom if one is being controlled.

After much research, my own views on pornography have drastically changed. I would have considered myself a liberal feminist who felt she had to watch pornography in order to be hip and inclusive. I did not give thought to the girl who felt she had to expose and exploit herself to make a living, or the man that got paid more for not wearing a condom, and I did not consider that these images were not about my sexual freedom but about a greater symptomatic disease. I understand now that this is not only a struggle for women but for men as well. According to Robert Jensen’s book Getting Off, feminist Andrea Dworkin reached out to men to actively change and to believe in their own humanity and stop the exploitation and systems of abuse against women. In Jenson’s own quest, he could settle on being a man or he could struggle to become a human being. If he settled, the rewards would be huge but the cost unknown, and if he struggled, then he would struggle but take steps towards women’s liberation. Jenson writes of Dworkin’s principle, ”women matter just as much as men, and men have it in them to recognize that and change.” Jenson goes on to describe the horrific sex acts that take place in a typical porno, most involving hardcore penetration, double penetration in any female orifice, anus to mouth penetration, and penetration with more than one partner. Very disturbing sex acts. The women in these movies are merely objects. MacKinnon captures this in her succinct grammar lesson on pornography and male dominance: “Man fucks woman; subject verb object” (Jenson 65).

Pamela Paul’s book Pornified raises the idea of the commodification of women, children, and all things deemed subordinate in a male-dominated society, and it discusses the power that one can never fully attain when viewed as a commodity. Almost any man who does or does not watch porn will testify to the fact that pornography is misogynistic and objectifies women. Almost any man will tell you that he would never want his daughter to grow up to do porn. Yet in this man’s world, he can watch demeaning images of women and control the will of his children to not participate in something so disgusting. With the age of the Internet, pornography is cheap and easily accessible. However, the implication is that with demand comes supply, and no one is safe from the reaches of the commodification of pornography. If it is okay and profitable to have a voyeuristic aspect to watching two consenting adults have sex, then the limits will always be pushed. It will turn into rape porn, snuff porn, revenge porn, child porn, and that door can never close. At the most sinister margins of porn culture, there is always the commodification and abuse of children. As an advanced society, should this alone not stop the consumption of pornography? The research in Paul’s book Pornified reveals that many consumers of pornography had no problem watching girls that were younger and younger over time. Prominent men in the community that denied any predilection toward pedophilia had no problems watching girls as young as eleven in explicit content. This is disturbing to say the least.

Pornography is a textual artifact of visual media that has been the source of pain and discord amongst the different feminist camps. It affects women, children, and men in vastly unhealthy and negative ways. It would be the best kind of society that would frown upon those that watched pornography as the atypical person, but unfortunately we live in a society where men are expected to watch porn and now women are expecting other women to watch porn as well. Label me a prude and sexually repressed; however, I believe in female equality and equanimity. I believe in the right to birth control of all forms, and I believe in equal work and pay for all genders. I just don’t believe that pornography is helping to get us to that point.

 

 

Works Cited

Allen, Amy. “Pornography and Power.” Journal of Social Philosophy 32.4 (2001): 512-531. Print.

Ferguson, Ann. “Sex Wars: The Debate between Radical and Libertarian Feminists.” Journal of Women and Society 10:4 (1984): 106-112. Print.

Jensen, Robert. Getting Off. New York. South End Press, 2007. Print.

McElroy, Wendy. “A Feminist Defense of Pornography.” Free Inquiry Magazine 17:4 (2004). Page 1-4. Print.

Paul, Pamela. Pornified. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2005. Print.

Philipson, Ilene. “The Repression of History and Gender: A Critical Perspective on the Feminist Sexuality Debate”. Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 10:1 (1984):113-118. Print.

Stoker, Elizabeth. “Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women” The Week. 2014. Web.

 

 

Written for Dr. Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s