Sunday, December 28, 2008

The porn myth

by Beverly Nwanna

The Porn Myth, an article written for New York Magazine in 2003 by Naomi Wolf, has been listed as the most read feature on the publication’s website just a few days ago – December 25, 2008.

Don’t ask me why.

But this is the sort of thing I love about the internet: nothing is ever truly “filed-away” or lost forever in a digital archive. Here’s what I think happened: the article came up in a search, went on the site’s “Recently Viewed” list, and then – likely due to its provocative title – managed to attract enough readers to land itself on the “Most Read” list. Et voilà, a five-year-old issue is dragged out into the light once more, a Christmas gift (I think) for me and my fellow Equal Writers!

But back to the subject at hand: in the article Wolf addresses the belief held by one “feminist warrior” (her words, not mine) that:

If we did not limit pornography…most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory…rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.

Wolf counters that far from “making men into raving beasts,”

The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

One of the bad (and sometimes great) things about opinion articles is that one is often at liberty to ground their arguments in personal experience. I can accept this most of the time, but not in an article which ventures to make such generalities about the “deadening male libido” and further, to support this claim through interviews on college campuses (was this a focused study or just conversations?). One wonders why she went through the trouble at all when she’s not saying anything new – yes, women today must compete with porn stars… and apparently movie stars…and models…. In truth, her opinion is no more valid the “myth” she is arguing against – it is the same kind of “fluff” that women throw around in everyday conversation.

We have here two different schools of thought in the pornography debate: porn leads to the objectification of women and overly aggressive sexual behaviour, or porn leads to the diminishment of the male libido. And into this pool, I wish to throw in my own two cents and express an opinion one may not expect to find on a feminist blog: this is not entirely fair to men.

[Hetero] women couldn’t truly believe in either of these arguments. If all men were this shallow, if all men assigned greater value to the breasts on screen than real ones, if all men could be driven by mere images to “rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem,” how then could we still want them? I like to think that there’s a little more depth there, that men are capable of thinking for themselves, and judging from the diversity of couples that I see everyday, reality seems to reflect that. I believe this is something that I could reasonably generalize about: men, like women, are more than capable of having their own preferences.

Yes, there is a popular standard which competes with one’s individual tastes, and this exists for women too: personally, I wouldn’t mind if the men who approached me looked more like Taye Diggs or Clive Owen, but I don’t expect them to live up to this standard, and I’m not too broken about this either. I like to think that most men are capable of seeing things in the same way, and in saying this, I don’t feel that I’m being overly optimistic or naïve – I’m being realistic. Men are smarter than this.

The fact that Wolf is able to support her claims through interviews with college students is not a reflection of the real-life situation but the real-life perception. [Hetero] women want to know why they’re being rejected and, as I said earlier, porn is just another in a long list of reasons. Herein lies the problem with the media: Wolf is not so much confirming a fear as she is introducing one – stating her opinion in a language which posits it as fact, because in our constant search for negative reinforcement (honestly, why do we put up with such abuse?), we willingly take in these things, conveniently glossing over the fact that Wolf couldn’t have reasonably conducted a study of the libido of the college-aged male (make what you will of that last sentence). I believe that for the most part, it’s women who reinforce these beliefs – when was the last time you heard a man admit to preferring porn to the real-life experience?

Wolf talks about porn introducing new pressures into the arena of courtship.

…starlets in tabloids boast of learning to strip from professionals; the “cool girls” go with guys to the strip clubs, and even ask for lap dances; college girls are expected to tease guys at keg parties with lesbian kisses à la Britney and Madonna.

I don’t wish to judge the sexual choices of others, but I believe that these pressures only exist in the minds of certain personalities (both male and female) who should not be taken for the majority. I’ll offer an anecdote of my own: when out with a friend one night who was being pestered by a drunk, overly-persistent young man, we devised a plan to scare him away: we told him we were dating (yes, I know lying isn’t nice, and we don’t use this excuse anymore). Rather than leave my friend alone, however, the young man suggested a three-way, and what’s more, re-approached us several times throughout the night to see if we’d “reached a decision about it”, at one point even asking if he could “just watch” as he pleasured himself. What he was after, clearly, was a real-life porn experience. What he got, however, was notoriety among my friend group for being a creep. But the point here is not that this is normative thinking. The very fact that we have designated him as such should indicate what all women should (and likely do) understand: he is an anomaly, and most men would never have such an expectation (a desire, yes).

And if we’re going to discuss how porn gives guys unrealistic expectations about sex, we may need to discuss how movies and books give women unrealistic expectations about romance. We can’t all measure up to porn stars. And men can’t take us out on magic carpet rides. And both sides are, for the most part, reasonable enough to get over it.

1 Comments:

At December 28, 2008 at 2:41 PM , Blogger Franklinster said...

I just wanted to point out something regarding your last paragraph, in which you compare the way in which male expectations of physical sexuality are shaped by pornography to the way in which female expectations of romance are shaped by various other media.

Not to say that you wanted to imply otherwise, but men also have experiences of romance and women also have experiences of sexual physicality. I certainly don't want to deny that pornography treats men and women differently, but it would be a shame to ignore the fact that men also have experiences and expectations of romance. And of course, women have experiences and expectations of sex.

I think it's easy to set up a binary of sex/romance and link it to male/female. I think it's also important to resist that. Pornography is only a part of a broad culture of sexuality that contributes to the formation of our sexual experiences and expectations. To think about pornography as if it were only viewed by men, or as if only men were affected by it, or as if men had only one response to it is a real error. I appreciated that in your article you handled this issue appropriately, criticizing the generalizing tendencies of typical discussions of men and porn. I think it's also important to stop repeating the cliche that only women have romantic expectations.

-Josh Franklin

 

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