Sex & Relationships

Readers Write: Pornography, Patriarchy and Power

Our discussion on pornography revisited. Second of two parts.
The comment thread on the article Pornography and the End of Masculinity is tipping the scales at 500+ comments. We already compiled one Readers Write, but because of the proliferation of responses, it seemed unfair to just do one.

Many commenters pointed out that pornography exists within a larger framework. Readers differed on what, exactly this framework was, but a unifying thread of patriarchy, misogyny, masculinity ran through them. Some also used a queer critique, noting the absence of queer porn from the larger discussion. Others commented on the media landscape and the larger system of capitalism. At the center of the discussion were questions about what it meant to be woman or a man in a society where everything, including sex, has been commodified, packaged, and sold.

Posters like athamandia just called out what they saw: "The answer is the same -- men don't like it when women share the power. So, porn that is degrading and humiliating to women solves that problem. Men are still in control and it's still about power and dominance. Love has left the arena." But athamandia was careful to nuance the statement by writing: "And you know, I don't even like saying "men" here. It's that the power structure supports the hyper-male view that dominates the world now. Women's voices are marginalized and ignored. This is just one more example. But it's not just women's voices. It's the voices of all (including some men) who don't share the dominant power structure view that are degraded and marginalized."

The reader bluebirdella was unsurprised and moved from discussing patriarchy to a societal misogyny that inherently saw women as objects. "It's no secret that the majority of men view women as receptacles to be used and tossed aside. It's no secret that we live in a culture that gets high on torture, degradation, and abuse. It's practically enshrined in this country, to treat people badly whenever you're in a position to get away with it. You don't have to watch porn to see that -- all you have to do is watch Reality TV, and the news. Being a woman means being viewed as less than human. This has been true for my entire life. I'm treated like I exist for no other purpose than to provide sexual release for males. I look forward to the day I will be too old to even look at -- although I realize, due to the rapes of elderly women, that day may never come. It seems it doesn't even matter how unattractive a woman is -- sexual harassment never ends.

The reader andiii sees pornography as a reflection "of the social circumstances its consumers are living in: dependence, exploration, abuse, humiliation are natural conditions of our industrial lives, because the structure of companies and administration we are working in and depending on isn't democratic at all." Furthermore, andiii connects the female experience with capitalism:

"My guess is that women appear as objects of abuse because their nature has never been fully compatible to "male" capitalism. Femininity though may be a main force of a dawning new era, but for now has to "suffer" symbolically for the currently dissatisfying circumstances. For this kind of humiliation, which place could be better than the shows of an industry which produces nothing but the pretension of satisfaction?

"Maybe it is the destiny of every upcoming social force, as long as they are not strong enough to rule themselves: Their first role is to play the scapegoat for the failure of those still in power, as at the same time they are constantly told by the old forces: See, you'll never make it!"

The system of patriarchy extends its reach and influence into areas beyond simply pornography, such as mass media in general. The poster thoughtcriminal points out: "In a word: advertising in a consumer society relies primarily on sex. What's really amazing to me is that neither the article nor a single one of the above comments mentions this basic fact." Thoughtcriminal then ends with the advice, "Don't let the advertisers push your buttons, in other words. In fact, you really ought to just notice when someone's trying to push your buttons, and not respond."

Poster daniel347x agreed that there was simply a larger systemic problem of media representation of women. "If we had a world ... in which women in the media were treated with their sexuality balanced with other aspects of being human -- we'd have a world without violent degrading porn. But keep the media culture as it is -- violent porn will be inevitable."

"... When you tell men (or women) lies about the sexual rewards they will obtain if they play by the rules, they will become diseased on the inside. They will want to degrade the women whose own degradation by the media culture -- devoid of balance with other aspects of being human -- has been held up as a shining spotlight of what is the only way to engage sexual desire in the public world, namely by being a responsible, successful citizen confronted constantly by hypersexualized images of women while behaving with them based on a forced illusion that they are exhibiting other aspects of being human besides sexuality. The images of women in the fashion industry and in the media at large strongly act to eliminate or hide every aspect of women's humanity besides their sexuality. I think this latter point is hard to deny."

Reader Camilla Cracchiolo blames "advertising and constant marketing through sex" saying that "society as a whole is much more sexualized than when I was growing up in the early 60s." The advertising is obviously geared towards heterosexual men who are "*constantly* being stimulated. A person can't drive down the street in the U.S., or turn on TV, or read a magazine or a newspaper, without constantly having naked or near naked women shoved in their faces."

Furthermore, Camilla Cracchiolo writes, that people are building a "resistance" to the sexualized advertising. "Naomi Klein and others have talked about how advertising companies are very worried because people have developed a resistance to traditional advertising strategies and so now ads have to be much more creative, they're frantically working on product placement in movies & TV, etc ... I wonder if it's not a matter of on the one hand having the horniness level always on high, while at the same time needing more and more stimulation to get off."

Reader melissazumsteg chimed in saying that "as a woman looking at this I can see that it's easy to blame the newer, rougher, Gonzo porn for taking the industry into more extreme territory. However, I think it's because of the so called "milder" stuff, like simply ONLY showing sex-crazed, plastic-perfect models in submissive sexual positions, that has led men down this wicked path to needing more and more extreme visuals to get off at all."

The reader akp-alternet tackled the contradiction that Americans believe themselves to be "civilized" and yet have an increasing proliferation of pornography and films that are "increasingly more intense" and "humiliate women sexually." Akp-alternet goes on to say that this paradox exists because pornography occupies a realm that is not a part of public discourse.

"Let me offer up an alternative assumption that's wrong: the idea that we, as a society, are open enough about pornography to apply social norms to it. I mean, what's the social vehicle that we could use to keep pornography in the acceptable realm? Where can we say, 'Hey, I think it's ok if you watch this porn that shows good, healthy relationships, but if you are going to watch this kind of misogynist porn then we're going to condemn you for it'? As long as there is a social stigma with admitting to watching and enjoying porn in the first place, then there won't be a way for society to exert influence over what kinds of porn is consumed by those who do watch it."

The sentiment that pornography was not inherently bad was one shared by others. Julia1977 wrote that porn is the "Olympics of sex" and that "just like watching any sport, you become more knowledgeable and proficient by watching the pros." She went on to make a distinction between the "degrading language and violence that's sometimes present" that is an "abomination" and sex itself. Instead pornography should be used as a "learning and enhancement tool" which would allow society to have "a more honest and refreshing way to address human psychology and sexuality in the end."

Writers like scot asked about "gay male porno" saying, "Neither Jensen nor Hazen, I gather, has any inclination to watch it. But if they did, they would find men treating *men* in the same way women are treated in the alternative genre. I don't know what this fact does to the thesis of Jensen's book, but a fact it is and should be acknowledged."

Hobohomo went further and said, "It's the homophobia, stupid!" Or rather, that violent pornography against women was representative of a "male machismo, which closely unites the cause of both women and sexual minorities." He goes on to say that were "heterocentric notions" -- that is the pressure to be heterosexual and masculine -- to disappear, then "men will no longer feel pressured to produce unwanted babies simply to prove to the public, their manliness and non-gayness. They will no longer be coerced to threaten and bash queers to likewise prove their masculinity."

Ending on a positive note, the reader Blue Heron said we can take individual steps to make a difference: "Well, this may seem naïve or oversimplified, but I think we can all do a lot individually to combat uncivilized attitudes in our own lives. There is a lot of hate out there, but porn is just one manifestation of it."

Alex Jung is an editorial intern at AlterNet.
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