A very UN-glossy look at popular culture... and whatever else takes my fancy.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

So, the government has finally outlawed the possession of (in addition to the making and distributing of, which is already illegal) ‘extreme adult images.’ This apparently includes necrophilia, bestiality and ‘extreme violent sexual acts.’

I have to say that, as a feminist, I’m yet to make up my mind entirely as to whereabouts I stand in the whole pornography debate. I have watched pornography, and a lot of it did unsettle me in the way it served up women’s bodies as objects, dehumanising and degrading them for the pleasure of the male viewer. I have seen pornography in which the female performer has clearly been in pain and discomfort, where she looks as if she finds the experience anything but enjoyable. But I draw the line in claiming that women are raped and abused regularly in order to make these films; I do not work in the industry, I do not know these women, and I do not feel it is my place to dictate whether they are being raped or not, whether they are consenting or not. I do not wish to speak for them on their behalf and I think it is insulting and demeaning to paint them all as victims when we do not know them and we do not know their truths. We cannot make generalisations about these women; their stories must be heard by us on a case-by-case basis.

Therefore, when it comes to ‘extreme adult images’, I am again hesitant about tarring all images that depict violent sexual acts with the same brush. I have not seen any particularly violent pornography, nothing that would perhaps class as ‘snuff’, nor anything depicting violent torture and rape (whether real or simulated), but if women really are being raped and tortured in order to make these films then it makes sense to try and stifle the demand that leads to their production. However, I do not want to consider all such material as morally repugnant. Even though it may not be what I choose to do in the bedroom (or the living room, or the kitchen, or the garden...), I have met plenty of couples (mostly in fetish clubs, where people are more willing to talk about the subject) who enjoy painful and violent sex acts. They still have wonderful, healthy relationships that most people would be envious of. If they chose to film themselves carrying out these acts, is it now illegal to posess this material? As I stated earlier, although I'm sure many actresses in violent pornography have been abused, we must be open to the idea that there are some who genuinely enjoy carrying out these acts. Human sexuality is beautifully diverse and varied in its colours and themes, and I believe it is unjustifiable to try and tell two consenting adults that any sex acts they choose to carry out with each other are ‘wrong’ and should be banned. In fact this is one of the main gripes I have with the majority of pornography that I have seen; it serves human sexuality up in one extremely narrow and restrictive mould. It is not ‘liberating’ in the slightest, despite its makers’ claims, as it teaches that sex is something that should be performed in a certain way, that certain acts are what all men must get aroused by, and that both genders should play certain roles. Likewise, it is not our place to tell grown adults who like to engage in sex acts involving pain and degradation that their tastes are morally wrong. I know that this law may apply to only the most extreme of images, but I still object very strongly to the idea of authority figures dictating to us just what is normal, natural human sexual behaviour. As a woman, I know that my sexuality has been dictated for me over centuries by those in power, it has been denied to me and forced upon me depending on what suits their needs at any given time. I am therefore wary and suspicious of any laws seeking to define ‘acceptable’ sexual behaviour.

As for the argument that watching extreme material will lead the viewer to harbour such desires, and eventually tempt them to act upon them, I am inclined to believe that there is some truth to this. However, I do not think that banning extreme pornography is the answer. I believe that the root cause of this problem is the lack of sex education and open discussion in our society. We have an abundance of skewed, unrealistic portrayals of human sexual behaviour, be they in the media as a whole or pornography itself, and no sensible discussion and education to balance it out. Young boys turn to pornography to learn about sex when they are curious, and girls look at the figures on the cover of FHM, learning that this is the role they should take. I agree with radical feminism’s analysis of pornography; I do indeed see it as violence against women, I see how it carves women’s bodies up for male pleasure, how it teaches men that their right to orgasm is paramount to any of the woman’s rights. When you consider how men are fed this material from an early age, and that 1 in 20 women in the UK have been raped, we cannot take the issue lightly. I am not saying that there is necessarily a direct link; I understand that the relationship with rape is very complex and that not every man who watches pornography will grow into a rapist. But when women’s lives are affected on a daily basis, whether through the experience of rape itself or other, more low-key forms of harassment, the fact that material which degrades them and glorifies violence towards them, that attempts to control and display their bodies for the pleasure of men, is widespread and almost mainstream in its use cannot be ignored. However, I don’t believe that censorship is the key. What we need is real options in the first place so that the young do not have to resort to pornography to learn about sex. We need open discussion of the subject and representations of sex that do not serve women up as playthings for male pleasure. I do not know what this material will look like yet, or how we can go about creating a culture of respect for women’s bodies rather than degradation and objectification, but I’m hopeful we can find it. I believe we can change this.


  • At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Phil said…

    The controlling principle of feminism is choice: women should have the prerogative to act as they see fit, irrespective of the whims of Big Brother (or whomever else may be watching). If some women wish to participate in making porn, then to deny them that right would be acutely anti-feminist.

    I would like to advert to what you said about women's bodies being "served up" in porn. Your supposition is that when women's bodies are presented in this way, it dehumanizes them. But what if this action actually ensconces a hypothetical woman more fully in the very essence of humanity? There are few acts more inherently human than sex, a point you note. Try thinking of it as body worship, rather than debasement. A scene with 10 men thronging around a lone woman might seem domineering, but dominance need not equate to menace. Innumerable studies have shown that in consensual intercourse (which is entirely separate from rape, and the division of which should be patent to any psychologically healthy person), many women derive titillation from submission, just as men do from domination. I'm no evolutionary biologist, but I'm fairly sure that's not a coincidence.

    Instead of construing the typical porno's portrayal of the female form as objectification, you might look at it as exaltation. The men congregating around her have come to worship upon the altar of her womanhood. That their devotions may take the form of direct address with words like "whore" is simply a reflection of their sub-culture's expectations; after all, these are guys in a porno, not ordinary men.

    The fact also remains, however, that men are not alone in endorsing this view of sexuality; many woman are turned on by it, as well. There is something very sexy about giving another person the authority to do with you as they will.

    I will also say that a woman wincing in pain is one thing if seen in the context of a porno, and another thing ENTIRELY if it's happening right in front of you, in real life. What may be arousing in one circumstance is alarming in another. There are even those who enjoy staged rape or "ravishment" scenes, but sane people should be able to tell the difference, and accidentally conflating the two ought to be a negligible peril. For example, I happen to like images of rough sex, but I would never be tempted to force it on someone -- in fact, it wouldn't even be sexy if I were to do so. The tableau of dominance and submission is a kind of play, and it's really only enjoyable when you KNOW that the other person is playing along. An unwilling partner would destroy the entire appeal of the act.

    This is roughly the distinction between myself, a normal man, and one actually inclined to rape. What should always be remembered, though, is that the rapist is an entirely different species of person. His motivations and not mine, and vice versa. Rape is like murder: you either have a proclivity for it, or you don't. I wholly reject the idea that a "normal" man could be converted into a rapist by anything other than the machinations of his own inner psyche. The strongest, most perverted porn in the world won't transform a healthy individual into a diseased one. Porn is strong, but it's not THAT strong. ;)

    Even well shy of what most people would consider kinky, there is a significant terrain of submission and dominance that is navigated routinely by ordinary people. As a general rule, the man is usually the more active (even aggressive) participant, and that becomes the orthodoxy of most pornography (and not altogether errantly, either). Obviously, there is a wide swath deviations, right up to women with dildos acting as the penetrators of their male consorts. If you find that all the porn you see is unvaried, vanilla male domination, I would suggest to you that what you need is more and better porn, not less! ;)

    In the case of the young men you mention who watch porn for instruction, I doubt that many of them will call their first partners whores just because they saw it on TV! (Otherwise, you might as well expect them to spontaneously go on a safari to African, because they've seen that on TV, too.) The proportions and prevalences of abuse are small enough out of the whole population that saying "most people don't do it" misses the mark. A more accurate statement would be, "Almost _no one_ who watches is criminal."

    I can also say with certainty that there are feminists who participate in rough sex and domination fantasies, and they don't interpret the exercise as slighting. They see themselves as keepers of a mystic flame, a role with a sacredness unto itself.

    Context is everything, and the crux of the matter lies in how you look at it. In this case, I think the subjective meanings that you bring to your observations outweigh the objective meanings intrinsic to that observed.


Post a Comment

<< Home