Kink in exile

Notes from a kinky nomad

Lets talk about porn (and feminism)

Pornography is one of those hot button issues that probably looks very different in person than it does in political debates.  Politicians love to hate it.  Religious crusaders are quick to point to Sodom and Gomorrah, which any rabbinical student will tell you were destroyed for their lack of hospitality rather than their promiscuity.  And feminists from the Dworkin camp insist that it is more harmful to women than pollution, globalization, and simple carbs combined. 

Contrast that with the fact that the sex industry has higher annual revenues than ABC, CBS, and NBC combined, and I have to guess that either there is a handful of very wealthy perverts or the use of pornography is a lot more common than people like to believe. 

The book Sex Exposed edited by Lynne Segal is a collection of essays about the feminist porn debates primarily in the UK.  There are a couple of essays that I find particularly interesting and I’d like to look at one of them now.  So long as it’s not sex and violence [sic] by Harriett Gilbert compares Andrea Dworkin’s Mercy with the Marquis de Sade’s Justine.  Gilbert draws this comparison for two reasons.  The first is to demonstrate that Dworkin’s own work is significantly more explicit than that which she would like to see banned, and the second is that Dworkin’s Mercy can be described by her own prescribed definition of pornography as being exactly that. 

The first fact I do not find surprising.  Sade was writing in the 1700s – the standard of what was considered shocking was considerably different.  By the 1900 Dworkin had to work significantly harder to up the ante as it were.

The second point however is one I hadn’t considered though, and I find it very interesting.  Consider the following excerpt:

He holds my head still by my hair and pushes his cock to the bottom of my throat, rams it in, past my throat, under it, deeper than the bottom, I feel this fracturing pain as if my neck shattered from inside and my muscles were being torn apart ragged and fast.

I will tell you that this is a fictional account.  Can you see someone being turned on by this?  If they were not familiar with Dworkin and her legacy; if they knew this was a fictional account, could they be turned on by this?  Of course this is an excerpt from Mercy, and Dworkin is the mother of anti-sex feminism.  She is the woman behind the sentiment that all (heterosexual) sex is rape.  The very fact that this passage is found in the woman’s studies aisle makes it nonpornographic, but what if you didn’t have the context?

To what degree is pornography dependant on the reader?  On context?

For the most part I choose not to engage with Dworkin’s discourse.  This is not to say that I would like to remove myself entirely from the pornography debate, but I have a difficult time taking Dworkin seriously as an academic except in a very narrow historical context.  Don’t get me wrong, violence against women is wrong and in the 1960s and 70s we needed strong and radical leaders to bring this issue to public discourse.  However, I can’t help but see Dworkin as a traumatized person who made the violence in her own life the central focus of her political stance.  This is one of the ways I think Dworkin failed the feminist movement.  Her anger was too personal and too raw.  She was blinded by her own trauma and unwilling to accept the diversity and nuances of women’s sexual experience.  Hell, Dworkin was so blinded by her political views that she went as far as to disregard her personal experiences hiding her marriage to John Stoltenberg from the press because it conflicted with her political stance and proclaimed lesbianism. 

The radical activists of the 60s and 70s caused the strife and segmentation of the 80s sex wars.  Dworkin and her contemporaries did women a great disservice by asserting that sexuality is solely men’s domain.  In doing so they undermine women’s sexuality, and grab on to an outdated model of gender relations.   The assumption that pornography hurts women assumes first and foremost that women have no interest in consuming pornography.  Dworkin would agree with that assertion arguing that women who watch pornography have been duped by the patriarchy.  However, I find this to be a very sophomoric analysis of women’s desires, which robs women of self-determination.  Furthermore, I am outraged that anyone would presume to tell me that my sexuality is incorrect be that my local pastor or my local NOW branch. 

I find Dworkins separation of men and women to be sexist in its own right.  Dworkin’s work on anti-pornography legislation in Minneapolis focused on using civil rights ordinances to allow women who felt they were hurt by pornography to sue makers and distributors of pornography.  I have one question for Ms. Dworkin; can men who feel they have been hurt by pornography sue the distributors?  Can a man press charges blaming a porn manufacture for his divorce because watching pornography caused his wife to have unrealistic sexual expectations?  Can Harry Brod sue pornography manufactures because, as he asserts, pornography turns men’s bodies into machines thereby robbing them of their basic humanity as understood through a Marxist analysis?  Further more, Dworkin argues against pornography that depicts women as abused and oppressed.  Am I to understand that pornography that depicts men as abused and oppressed is acceptable to the new world order?  Or are men not worthy of being considered human beings.  Are they so high on sex and violence that they could not possibly be hurt by unrealistic expectations?

Along time ago I heard an argument that images of sexually dominant women were as sexist as images of sexually submissive women because both are made for men’s pleasure.  The underlying assumption then must me that either women do not enjoy images of sexuality or women only enjoy completely egalitarian images of sexuality.  This essentially tells me that I do not exist.  This tells me that my sexuality simply does not exist.  Or perhaps in a more nuanced fashion it tells me that my sexuality does exist, but only vis-à-vis deeply engrained systems of oppression of which I am a victim.  I would suggest that such a message coming from a feminist platform is more harmful than all the ideas on chastity and whoredom that mainstream, patriarchal culture would have me swallow. 

Written by kinkinexile

September 4, 2007 at 10:43 am

6 Responses

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  1. Good and interesting points.

    Along time ago I heard an argument that images of sexually dominant women were as sexist as images of sexually submissive women because both are made for men’s pleasure.

    While I’m not a pornographer so I can’t be certain, I do believe it is the case that images of sexually dominant women are by and large produced and intended for a male audience. Whether or not you, personally, choose to see it as such or not is more an issue debating artistic intent than political or economic motivation. I watch pornography depicting sexually submissive women, but this does not make me, a man, any less sexually submissive myself, or make me believe that my sexuality doesn’t exist, etc.. I think this point deserves additional clarification.

    That said, I completely agree with you that messages of your apparent non-existent sexuality are harmful and should be unwelcome. I just disagree with your conclusion that since most porn is intended for men and is thus sexist it necessarily means that women only like egalitarian porn and thereby you don’t exist.

    I hope this made sense. I haven’t actually woken up yet.

    maymay

    September 4, 2007 at 12:45 pm

  2. Thanks for commenting May, but I’m not sure we’re on the same page. It was not my intent to say that because most porn is created for men it is sexist. Quite the contrary I see that statement as being part of a feminist legacy that seeks to sweep women’s sexual desire under the rug. I guess what I was trying to say is that if we assert that only men enjoy pornography and all sexual images are exclusively for the enjoyment of men then we strip both women’s sexuality and the pornography debate of it’s nuance and risk becoming zealots on par with the religious right.

    kinkinexile

    September 5, 2007 at 9:01 am

  3. Is your argument here about the concept of pornography in the abstract, or existent pornography in the specific?

    I ask because I agree that pornography need not be damaging to women, in theory. However, I do think that in practice a fair amount of it – probably the majority – is as things stand damaging to women. (And also arguably to men – certainly I think that the view of male/female interaction that mainstream porn tends towards is bad and damaging for everyone concerned.)

    I agree as well that the debate is more nuanced than Dworkin argued, and that denying female sexuality is a repressive step. It’s possible though for someone (male or female) to find something arousing and yet for it to be damaging either to them or in terms of its impact on society.

    Does Dworkin really say that depicting men being abused/oppressed is OK? Or is she just arguing about women being abused/oppressed because that was what she was seeing? I do think that there is often a subtly different slant on female-sub porn as opposed to male-sub porn; but I’m not sure to what extent that’s down to the inequality in society as a whole (i.e. if there would be less difference in a more equal society).

    Thanks for an interesting post 🙂

    Juliet

    September 5, 2007 at 2:21 pm

  4. Juliet,

    I am arguing about both the concept of pornography and the existing pornography. While I am certain that one can find a rapist who will testify that he committed the act after viewing pornography, I am equally certain that one can find a rapist to testify that he committed the act after viewing a poster of a women knitting or attending a political rally. Pornography is about fantasy, rape is about power. Furthermore, like many of our own private fantasies we have no desire to see pornographic images played out in our real lives and in our bedrooms regardless of our gender.

    I am curious, however, as to the damage done to women through pornography. What identifiable and quantifiable damage is done to women through pornography? Is it greater or less than the damage done by censorship. Does lesbian pornography (made specifically for the consumption of lesbian women) damage women? What about pornography for the couple’s market?

    I would argue that a statement such as “Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine.” (Dworkin) is far more damaging in it’s impact on society and heterosexual relationships than pornography enjoyed by consenting adults and featuring responsible and professional models over the age of 18.

    kinkinexile

    September 12, 2007 at 3:56 am

  5. Okay, so domestic violence is an issue I care about and this wasn’t really the point of your post.

    It is impossible for me to believe that many Americans care more about (domestic) violence inflicted against women than they did in the 60s or 70s. It is may be less obvious than it used to be, but it is not less painful. It seems to me that people actively try to ignore it today and i cannot imagine more evasiveness. I still shake when I think about it – I find it unthinkable to believe that anyone (unaffected) can think about it in an impersonal way – both the act and the memories of people actively trying to not see anything.

    patti

    September 16, 2007 at 8:04 am

  6. Patti, I can think of two reasons of the top of my head that domestic violence against women causes sufficient cognitive dissonance that people frequently opt to ignore it: we don’t know what we in particular can do about it, and women subjected to it too often send mixed messages about whether or not they want assistance(because their own feelings on the matter are exceedingly mixed. Police officers have told me that they hate going out on domestic disturbance calls – all too often a woman will call the cops because she is being physically threatened by an abusive partner, only to chase said cops off with a sharp or blunt-trauma object when they attempt to remove the offender because she loves him/her and wants to protect him/her (alternatively she begs not to have him/her arrested, only to call the cops the next night, and the next). One of the aspects of much domestic violence is brainwashing of the victim (set up by societal stereotypes, strongly reinforced by the abuser), which leaves those of us who would help in a very difficult and confusing position.

    In other words, increased awareness is not as important as figuring out how to handle the entirety of domestic violence, the brainwashing aspect as well as the abusive aspect, if we want to stop the cycle.

    Brynn

    September 20, 2007 at 11:17 am


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