Overheard on G-chat...
by Jordan Kisner
I was prepping for one of my finals the other day by re-reading an article titled “Sexuality, Pornography and Method” by Catherine MacKinnon. In it, MacKinnon makes the argument that sex is little more than a forum for men to express their innate tendency toward dominating and subjugating women, and she attacks porn as an example and enforcer of this power dynamic. It’s a pretty controversial article, and it inspired a long g-chat conversation between myself and Molly Borowitz. We decided it would be fun to post part of it, and see what all of you think! In the following excerpt, we’re throwing around some ideas about porn and sexual violence:
Molly: wait do you think that porn encourages rape? i haven't decided for myself
Jordan: i think it has done a lot to put the degradation of women at the forefront of people’s notions of sexuality. i think it has done a lot to introduce violence as an acceptable factor in a sexual encounter, even if simulated, and even in scenarios that are portrayed as specifically not rape. it's kind of odd- it's sort of created this notion that an undertone of violence or slightly violent acts are totally acceptable in a sexual situation, even that women LIKE them. which, while not promoting rape, sort of creates a tricky framework to negotiate
Molly: i just wonder whether people are a little less suggestible than this framework assumes.
it's the same thing with video games. of course they create problems for unstable teens—that is certainly a given— and i think that's probably true for porn as well, but part of me believes that people are better able to distinguish between spaces of fantasy (video games, porn) and the spaces of reality wherein it's actually not appropriate to replicate those "imaginary" behaviors.
Jordan: to a large extent i agree with you, demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands of men who watch porn and do not aggress against women sexually or otherwise. but, i just read this in the article: "Normal men viewing pornography over time in laboratory settings become more aroused to scenes of rape than to scenes of explicit but not expressly violent sex, even if the woman is shown as hating it." the footnote is court testimony based on about 12 studies.
Molly: 1) that's super scary; 2) i wonder whether that has something to do with the equation of sexual pleasure and power, which i do think men rely on increasingly in a culture where women are asserting their power more and more. one of the articles i read for my porn paper presented this really interesting theory about how female aggression -- especially laughter -- is really threatening to men, kind of emasculating.
Jordan: the other thing that i just read is that 'normal' men, when shown video of violent interaction between a man and a woman, thought it was sexual even if no sexual activity happened. But, in response to your points: 1) yup. it's terrifying; 2) i think that might be exactly right. i think in a culture where sexual taboo is increasingly passe and women are becoming more and more powerful economically/socially/politically, there is a male fantasy of 'putting women back in their place' through this sexual violence. and all of a sudden it's appropriate to express that fantasy, even to make it widespread. porn allows it to be collective, ridding that fantasy of the shame it might carry if it were kept private
Molly: yeah, which is not to say that all men are power-hungry jerks, but rather that they've been socially conditioned to "be in charge". and in fact sexual interactions really support that in some ways, because women -- especially "sexually liberated" ones -- often expect their men to be experienced and skilled, which requires a sexual initiative that might lead to...i don't know exactly what to call it, but maybe "alpha male" behavior?
Jordan: totally true! and the ones who have been brought up in the culture of porn have been conditioned to think of these violent fantasies as inherently sexy rather than an outgrowth of some other kind of social anxiety. or, rather, that social anxiety has become much more subconscious because they are taught by this porn that this is what idealized sex looks like, this is what men are supposed to secretly want, rather than having it be an organic outgrowth of their own experience
Molly: right, so that sex becomes the appropriate outlet for this social frustration. instead of...social change, maybe?
Molly: oooh i like that we've reached this point. let's send it to equal writes!
So what do you all think? Does porn incite rape? Does violent porn enact a widespread male fantasy that finds its roots in social issues? How does this translate to real life sexual encounters/ Is anti-porn feminism absolutely right, or completely off-target?