Porn and Power

Chick with hairy pussy
Above: chick with a hairy pussy…

I guess the argument goes something like, since porn objectifies women, in any society where the sexes are to be truly equal, pornography must be eliminated. Well, of *course* pornography objectifies women in this society. What *doesn’t* objectify women in this society – or portray them as weak, or childish? Women are objectified by shampoo commercials, for god’s sake. (Remember that the next time you enjoy that totally organic Herbal Essence experience.)
(Source: ZNet)

Like 99% of all men I know, I love porn and use it regularly. Unlike most of them, I don’t lie about it to my wife or female friends.

Eric Patton’s article, quoted above, is a thoughtful, measured piece. But I feel it falls into some of the standard traps encountered when people discuss pornography. It doesn’t even mention gay or lesbian porn. Are women being objectified in gay porn, where they don’t even appear? Is lesbian porn as exploitative and sexist as hetero porn? If not, why not? It can’t just be because of the absence of males as “lesbo” (more properly bisexual) porn has always been hugely popular with straight blokes.

Okay, let’s just concentrate on “average” porn. Surely what’s crucial is whether the porn conforms to Mulvey’s notion of The Male Gaze? If so, does this automatically mean than women are reduced to sexual objects in this kind of porn? Anti-porn feminists like Andrea Dworkin would shout ‘Yes!’ For them, pornography is the primer, rape the reality. Pro-porn feminists like Linda Williams would disagree.

Let’s say that all hetero, Male Gaze-based porn is bad and should be banned in modern society. Hey presto! No porno DVDs, no Playboy, no Razzle, no porn on the net. Let’s go further and ban any depiction of women that places them within a sexual context that would arouse some hetero/bi male somewhere (is it “wrong” if bi/lesbian women are aroused?).

As I’ve said before, if you do this, what message are you sending out about women’s bodies and their sexuality? Are you making heterosexuality itself a taboo? In censoring any portrayal of women as sexual objects aren’t we also destroying all portrayals of them as sexual beings?

As you can tell from the amount of question marks above, I’m unsure about porn. I know that a lot of fringe porn exploits women and preys upon the vulnerable. But so does all capitalism, surely porn is just another part of that greater exploitation?

Ultimately, I’m reminded of an anecdote my old economics teacher told me. She was talking about monetarism and the arguments about inflation. It’s nearly twenty years ago but I think what she said was that, “Blaming inflation on wage increases is like blaming wet pavements for rain.”

There is a lot of bad porn out there, no doubt. But surely it exists as a result of the sexist society around it. It didn’t create that society: like a wet pavement, it’s the product not the cause. In Britain, real porn isn’t available in normal shops, you have to put on a dirty mac and furtively dodge into a licensed sex shop. You have to seek out porn, unlike non-porn sexist images of women which are everywhere, thanks to advertising.

Given that humans are a hypersexual species who are constantly in heat and would shag all day long if permitted, we will always seek out representations of sex.

Perhaps unionising sex workers in the porn industry would start to reduce exploitation? Surely if more women owned and controlled porn firms, it would be less exploitative? Then again, just being a woman doesn’t guarantee anything – Margaret Thatcher ring a bell?

Ultimately, I agree with Patton’s article in that I think we need to increase the amount of “good” porn and reduce the harmful variants.

But maybe I would say that, being a male heterosexual? Perhaps I’ve just been too indoctrinated by sexist society and can’t see past my own selfish sexual desires?