Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why pornography perpetuates sexual inequality

by Lauren Brachman

Last week I was having dinner with a few of my friends in Wu Dining Hall. We were sitting around eating pasta and corn on the cob and so, of course, the conversation turned to porn. I forget how it came up, but I immediately mentioned how uncomfortable I felt after watching the first 2 minutes of Who’s Nailin’ Palin, the only portion of pornography I’ve ever seen. My friend countered that while she might not watch it everyday, she liked porn and it never made her uncomfortable. I immediately reacted by jumping down her throat: “How can you, a self-proclaimed feminist, be okay with porn?! It’s entirely predicated on the objectification of women!”

While my response might be more common, is there something to be said for my friend’s opinion? She believes that, as a sexual being, she has a right to like and be stimulated by porn. It’s an interesting way to look at it, from a raw, sexual perspective. And frankly, I can’t see any feminist, a believer in women's sexual liberation, taking offense to her logic.

But after some thinking I realized that that is only the case when ignoring the actual practice of porn. Yes, in theory, allowing both men and women to look at porn maintains equality. However, the production of porn only intensifies gender biases in our society, biases that run much deeper than the simple objectification of women or men on film.

A more thought provoking, yet less discussed, aspect of porn is the differences generated when marketing to men vs. women. Directors create different films for men than they do for women, and these variations reflect outdated gender stereotypes. The idea that porn for women has to have a romantic story arc, that women cannot enjoy sex without love could have been pulled right out of the 1950’s. And it is not just women who suffer from these gender stereotypes. When male porn focuses primarily on sexual acts it assumes that men only use sex to satisfy basic, animal needs. I would go so far as to say it upholds the stereotype of men as animalistic, sexual predators. Both types of porn reinforce the idea that a man’s sexual prowess is stronger, more intense, and more natural than woman’s.

So even though my friend’s point was interesting, I’m not convinced. In my opinion, partaking equally in a system that is inherently unequal does nothing to promote gender equality.

6 Comments:

At April 19, 2009 at 9:41 PM , Anonymous Emily said...

But there's a whole subindustry of porn made by women for women, featuring actors and actresses who look like real people and a lot less mysogyny. It's not fair to dismiss the entire industry--even art form--when only some aspects of it are negative and harmful.

 
At April 19, 2009 at 11:17 PM , Anonymous Anony-mouse said...

If it makes the majority of women uncomfortable, I think that's pretty good evidence that it's anti-feminist and needs to be banned.

 
At April 20, 2009 at 1:48 PM , Blogger Courtny said...

Much of mainstream porn is problematic and created exclusively for a male gaze - one where the director assumes all men think alike, all 'hot' women look alike, and female pleasure is faked or neglected. Personally, I find it incredibly dull.

Feminists, male and female, can avoid this by looking into alternative porn, stuff made by women for women (as Emily says), and free videos and photos that non-industry kinksters post of themselves on the internet.

Anony-mouse, just because something makes someone uncomfortable doesn't mean it should be banned! What a terrible argument...

 
At April 20, 2009 at 9:59 PM , Blogger Franki said...

Mainstream porn is made for men. Emphasis the body parts men ostensibly find sexy, the act of penetration, and the act of ejaculation. It's a lot of "Hey! CHICK 4 U 2 BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!" (or "DUDE 4 U 2 BANG!" and "DUDE 4 U 2 BE BANGED BY!" in gay porn) and very little else. Sometimes I find that hot. Most of the time I find it boring/disgusting/disturbing, depending on how obvious the objectification is.

That doesn't mean that all porn is like that. Mainstream porn is because it's a formula that is easy to replicate from vid to vid and makes tons of money. That said, there are smaller studios that focus more on women's pleasure. abbywinters.com, for example, is all about the pleasure the women in the video are experiencing. Granted, this is easier to do since the site focuses on solo videos and lesbian scenes, but it's still possible to do when there's a man involved. There are plenty of amateur vids out there that focus on the pleasure the couple is experiencing (or insert group size here, I'm sure, if that's what you're into), you just have to look for it and understand that mainstream porn isn't all that's out there.

 
At April 21, 2009 at 11:51 AM , Blogger Jordan Bubin '09 said...

The fact that Lauren's only ever seen two minutes of porn, but is comfortable expounding upon the problems with it, is kind of indicative--to me--of the typical feminist view on porn: Never seen it, but I know it's a bad thing!

I'm not saying that porn is good, or even neutral. But I do think we might feel somewhat skeptical of someone's opinion on classical music, if they've never listened to it. Why do we feel opinionated on matters we directly know little about?

I can agree that porn sucks for gender equality. But knowing your enemy might help a little bit--I remember when EW had an attempt at a feminist porn viewing, and a very small portion of the people present had any thing to actually measure it against.

 
At April 21, 2009 at 2:13 PM , Blogger LSG said...

I agree that two minutes isn't really enough to judge an entire diverse genre, though I disagree that this is a typical feminist position - there are giant camps of both pro-porn and anti-porn feminists.

I also want to point out the Nailin' Palin is a particularly disgusting example of the problematic porn Courtny and Franki described. After all, the whole point is to sexualize and degrade a female public figure because she has the audacity to be female and attractive. (And socially conservative, which makes it more titillating -- and probably in some people's minds more morally justifiable -- to sexually humilate her.) It's wrong on so many levels.

 

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