>On Pornography and its (ill?) effects

>(REPOST FROM Sunday, February 19, 2006)

Ok, nothing mind blowingly incriminating here on the issue of pornography, but I just have an observation.
Actually Pamela Paul, author of “Pornified”, has an observation, which she acquired secondhand from a somewhat famous study done in the 80s on the effects of porn conducted by social scientists Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant. Male and female students were exposed to a certain amount of hours of pornography, then questioned, to see what kind of effect it had.
Some of the more controversial “results” of the study show that men and women who viewed pornography were more lax in their outlook on the punishment given to rapists. This does seem unlikely, and somewhat alarmist.
But another less often mentioned outcome of the experiment was that the students, when questioned, said that they would prefer to have male children when the time to consider having kids was at hand. BEFORE the viewing, they were more open to the idea of raising a child of EITHER sex. And after viewing hardcore pornography for an extended period of time, who wouldn’t prefer to not bring a woman into this world, only to be pushed and prodded around like cattle, forced onto her knees execution style, and basically treated like a salmon tossed into a cooler by a couple of redneck boaters?
(Ok, they’re not REALLY forced, but it’s theatre, and that’s what is being acted out.)
I know, I know, as long as its consensual. Libertarian and all. But I’m not calling for any legislation, only pointing out what I believe to be a negative side effect of mutually beneficial sex acts between adults on film.
I remember watching a documentary some time ago, maybe on HBO or something, that followed a group of teenage girls in a low income neighborhood for a year. One of them had a baby, and it was a girl. She regretted that she hadn’t given birth to a boy, because her little girl’s life was going to be a shitty one in the machismo infested world she had to live in. Patriarchy sucks.
Choosing to have fewer girls because too many gawking, unintelligent, fucked up men are predisposed to disrespecting them is a tragedy. Call me crazy.

Currently reading : Pornified : How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families By Pamela Paul Release date: By 11 August, 2005


If I may, I’d like to say a few words, as someone who does work in the sex industry – I’m specifically an escort living and working in San Francisco. Essentially, I think there is a great deal of ugliness and sexism in the culture of pornogaphy and the larger sex industry. But I’d also like to be careful that what is being objected to doesn’t end up becoming the erotic depiction of human sexuality per se, or any degree of explicitness in that regard. I applaud you for supporting free expression and opposing patriarchy, but I would like to voice a feminism which is strongly sexually liberatory, not in a shallow sense that ignores inequities in our sexual culture, but in a sense which draws on, reclaims, and celebrates a vocal sexuality whose origins and essence are not patriarchal.I usually agree with radical feminist critiques of sexism within porn, which is extremely pervasive, but it does not logically follow that sexism is inherent to pornography. I personally find human sexuality beautiful, and would precisely like to see more unashamed portrayals of desire that partake of neither power relations nor the general cheap, sleazy, sniggering attitude of most pornography. But for this reason I’d precisely like to see better porn- better both politically and artistically. Some of this already exists to some degree, in the work of pro-sex feminist pornographers such as Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle. Here in the Bay Area there is a larger pro-sex feminist and sex worker activist subculture which produces a wide variety of erotic art which any logical definition must consider pornography.Condemning porn as such annuls this reality and possibility, and only plays into the hands of mainstream pornographers who claim to represent the unchangeable reality of (men’s) sexual feelings. This is something we should not be willing to surrender to them. It lets the pimps define the terms, and then goes after the pimps while accepting their status as the kings of sexuality. That is a war they will win. [The grey market status of pornogaphy helps enforce this, as a pornographer who does not follow mindless (and sexist) set formulas is vulnerable to community standards lawsuits from any court in the country. Ugly conformity promises safety.]Sexual desire is a power that is not going to go away, and I believe the nasty, dehumanising stuff that people call ‘smut’ is only the flipside of anti-sexual moralism. When sex is condemned as a vicious evil that men who fail to restrain their selfishness impose on asexual women, it is not surprising that the cultural representations of sexuality that do surface conform to the Satanic image mainstream moralism damns. The mainstream moralist and the bottom-feeding pornographer, seemingly enemies, concur precisely on the nature of sex- the only difference is that what one damns and drives to a grey market, the other profits by delivering. Both share a vested image in an ugly, demeaning view of sex, and each feeds off the power of the other. Dworkinite feminists who condemn porn as such only contribute to the problem, and effectively reproduce the patriarch’s morality in order to save us from the pornographer. There is no way to break the cycle except to refuse the cultural conception of sex as something offensive, dirty and smutty.I don’t think sex is inherently like that, and I don’t think an explicit theatre of sexual desire has to be like that. But condemning pornography as such attacks all sexual depiction alike, and so reinforces the very schema of values which sustains pornographic sexism. As I said, sexual desire or any of its byproducts is simply not going away- much like the demand for ecstatic experiences with drugs- and condemning all porn alike only gives the market over to control of the worst elements. I fear greatly that Dworkin-style critiques of pornography as such only deepen sexual repression, which is particularly damaging to women insofar as patriarchy uniquely sexualises all women’s bodies and our culture’s judgement of sexuality and women are tightly linked. And such repression need not be enforced by law (tho’ it often is)- anyone who sends a message that explicit sexuality is sexist immediately brands men who enjoy sexy pictures as pigs and predators (and the women involved as voiceless whores). This will not reduce interest in pornography, but it will encourage an ugly, sexist self-concept in men whom there might otherwise be nothing wrong with. It encourages the coding of sexual desire as repellent, exploitive, and male. It encourages men to think of themselves and the worst in the industry want them to. This is good for the sleazes, bad for women, and incidentally bad for men.My experience is that most women are more sexual than people think and most men are less sexist in their desires than they know themselves- but that most people pick up their sexual ideas and images from an impoverished public sexual discourse. I think what we most need to do is open up this discourse by encouraging new forms of sexual expression, not condemning the entire concept of sexual representation. Yet this is what an politics that is against ‘porn’ as such effectively does. I say there is nothing wrong and much good with sexually exciting visual art. I say ‘porn’ is something valuable which patriarchy has done terribly wrong. To attack ‘porn’ is to dismiss everything, actual and possible, good and bad. Might there not be a better way?


Wow. Look at you stirring up controversy over here.
Well, my concern about your argument is more that I suspect you are confusing symptoms with the cause. Porn–SOMETIMES–provides very succinct evidence of sexism. Of course, there are exceptions–e.g. real dyke porn–but I’m assuming that’s not the sort of thing these students were watching. I imagine they were shown garden-variety mainstream or amateur porn, which often–but still not always–depicts women in anything but a position of power.

I can see how seeing that social reality played out can make someone squeamish about having female children. But I imagine someone would feel the same way, if not more so, after watching “North Country” or “The Accused”–both of which are non-pornographic films. In fact, I imagine that anytime anyone is provided with more evidence of how women are all-too-often attacked, exploited, demeaned, and discriminated against, they might think twice about whether or not this is a world they’d want to raise a daughter in. As you put it, patriarchy sucks.

But in condemning porn for the reasons you stated, you are actually condemning it for merely mirroring a social reality. Porn is not the root cause of sexism, it is only a symptom. Certain kinds of porn represent and perhaps even reinforce sexism–but it is not responsible for the prevalence of rape and other forms of misogyny, despite what Catherine MacKinnon wants you to believe.

In cultures where porn is heavily censored, women are still oppressed.
The solution is not to condemn porn. (And certainly not to avoid having daughters!) I’m not sure exactly what the solution is, but it’s probably more along the lines of systematically exposing and attacking the ideologies and attitudes behind sexist behavior.

-Hey, Hey, Hey


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