January this year. A copy of Penthouse was at my place. When I say that I bought it for the articles I’d be stretching the truth slightly: I bought it for one article; I was quoted and I was curious. The free calendar was just a bonus.
January this year. The man I was seeing at the time was seated on my couch flicking through the magazine. Seated next to him I was looking at him looking at naked women. Right up until the moment he opened his mouth I was fine with the whole spectacle. I’m not very visual – I want words and sounds and a bit of narrative and can usually do without the bouncing and thrusting – but I accept the spectrum of tastes.
And then the bloke spoke.
Pointing, he turned and said, “Could her boobs be any smaller?”
Women’s Studies professor, Gail Dines, recently wrote an article about how porn “ruins” young men’s lives. Of men being ashamed of watching, of women being exploited, of relationships being ruined.
I read her article and I was immediately reminded of the ex. Reminded of the couch episode and reminded that Dines marked my PhD and passed it without amendment. Perhaps a rebuttal might be uncouth.
Ah, but couth really isn’t my strong suit.
I respect Dines and still think she’s wrong. I’ve felt insulted in the vicinity of porn, and still think she’s wrong.
There have been some significant milestones in my intellectual maturing. That time, for example, when I realised that Mount Rushmore wasn’t really a naturally occurring rock formation. Or that colour wasn’t invented when television became chromatic. A big one was my epiphany that being a good feminist didn’t mean I had to rant and rail against porn. That I could tolerate, accept and perhaps even embrace it and still champion women’s rights. What an orgasmic epiphany!
Like music, like cinema, like video games, like literature, the term porn is a miniscule word used to describe an enormous amount of material. That porn – in all its inconceivable diversity – is considered by Dines as always exploitative, as always about anger and as always motivating shame is inflammatory and works to make abolitionists sound uninformed and fringe.
Anybody forced to do anything against their will is intolerable. Unacceptable. There are no exceptions. Cherry-picking outlier scenes of forced and violent porn however, and then using those images to speak on behalf of the entire category is like me claiming that those runners made by exploited orphans exemplify all clothing and footwear. That that chocolate bar made by trafficked slaves is indicative of all foodstuffs.
Nobody calls for blanket bans on apparel and confectionary and nobody make the kinds of sweeping assumptions about the consumers of these products the way Dines does about porn users.
Despite the often-repeated claims of some radical feminists, porn isn’t everywhere. Consuming it remains a choice. Sure, we can look to advertising, to fashion, to the sex we’re having and identify examples of the way porn has impacted on our culture, on our appetites and on our bedroom theatrics. And yet, with even less effort we can look to advertising, to fashion, to our sex lives and point to the influences of postmodernism, the cult of celebrity and the successes of feminism. None of us live in a vacuum.
I don’t doubt that porn is an influence. Some men may watch it and find themselves aroused by waxed and willing women with back-ache sized breasts; some women may watch and drool over men with size and stamina they’ve never experienced. Some heteros, without any inclination whatsoever to practice gay sex will get aroused by images of it. And some thoroughly vanilla folk will pant over the kind of kinky and messy stuff they’d dream of doing.
This is the nature of the beast.
But what Dines’ neglects to note is that most people have the ability to separate fantasy from reality and that intervention from the thought police is unnecessary. Most people don’t become addicted, most people don’t forget to go to work because they’re home masturbating and most people don’t get into bed with their real-life lover and wish they were more of a porn-star.
Back in January I got quietly angry at the bloke on my couch because I – I in all my neurotic glory – thought he was having a dig; the model he considered flat-chested looked like Dolly Parton compared to me. But it wasn’t about me. His comment pertained to the kind of women he wants to see in porn.
There appears a strange disconnect between the radical feminist understanding of the effect of porn as compared to the effect of other media. If porn can negatively effect, why are other media products considered unable to do so similarly? To counter? To even neutralise?
The idea of any one media item serving as a tool of brainwash was discredited back in the 50s.Porn is nobody’s only cultural influence, it’s rarely anybody’s sole source of stimulation and it is most certainly not the only sight or sound a person is exposed to.
Telling people that porn’s exploitative, that it’s degrading, that using it is shameful, does nothing to quell the yen for it and does everything to perpetuate guilt and embarrassment about masturbation, about sexuality.
Dines’ naïve, restrictive and thoroughly conservative notions about “normal”, “healthy” and God forbid “love making” are concepts thoroughly inapplicable to those of us who not only consider ourselves informed and educated but are hardly cultural dupes uncritically swallowing the legal porn we’ve willingly sought.
May 23, 2011
© Lauren Rosewarne