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Friday, February 24, 2012

Pornography's Influence on the War on Women

I've been wondering lately about why the Virginia legislators thought it was acceptable to legislate transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions (or, in other words, demand the state sanctioned rape of a woman with a foreign object in response to her asserting her right to reproductive freedom) and why women expressed so little outrage about this. Maybe you think we've expressed lots of outrage. I don't think we've come close to expressing enough.

Today, my thoughts are on how pornography has both become part of the war on women and affected our response to it. 

About a month ago, I was at a fundraiser for a local sexual health organization. They were showing the documentary Miss Representation. It describes the portrayal of women in popular culture. It's a good film. I recommend seeing it. It doesn't go as far in its analysis as an earlier documentary (actually a series of four documentaries) by Jean Kilbourne called Killing us Softly. I recommend seeing these films too. Kilbourne, who is also interviewed in Miss Representation, has a much better take on pornography and makes the links between the portrayal of women in advertising and popular culture and the portrayal of women in pornography much clearer. Miss Representation soft pedals this a bit. I thought a lot about why as I was watching.

At the end of the film, there was a Q&A session in which a young woman announced herself as a "pro-pornography feminist." Ahhh, I thought. That's why. The creator of Miss Representation knows her audience, knows what young women today are thinking. She knows that there is this creature out there who calls herself a pro-pornography feminist. Pornography has gone mainstream, much moreso than in the pre-internet days when Kilbourne was making Killing Us Softly.

I'm generally not absolutist about much, but seriously, anyone who calls herself feminist and pro-pornography is confused about the basic ideas of feminism, or possibly about the meaning of pornography. Perhaps they are confusing pornography with erotica or with the notion of being "sex-positive."  Definitions are important here.  The word "erotica" is rooted in “eros” or “passionate love." It inlcudes positive choice, free will and the yearning for a particular person. It leaves open the question of gender.  There is no power imbalance in erotica – not even in the power of the gaze. In erotica, sexuality is celebrated. There is power with, not power over. There is mutuality, desire, respect.

Pornography lacks this. The word pornography is rooted in prostitution or female slavery. There is always a power imbalance, either explicitly depicted or in the gaze of the viewer/consumer. The word ends with the root meaning of “writing about” or “description of” which puts still more distance between the subject and object and replaces a spontaneous yearning for closeness with objectification and voyeurism. Pornography takes power away from women in sexual expression and asserts male supremacy. It is the outward expression of patriarchy and misogyny and turns women into objects to be fucked, existing only to enable sexual gratification. To be clear, in pornography, other men can also exist for men's sexual gratification. Anyone can be objectified and dominated. (And women can objectify others too.) But this is the key: pornography makes people into objects. It creates "the other" and the other's needs, wants and feelings are of no concern. Neither is their safety, psychologically or physically. In pornography, someone is always being exploited. That's what makes it pornography. Pornography is patriarchy and misogyny in action.

Feminism, as I've always understood it, is broadly about women's empowerment. So how can anyone call themselves a pro-pornography feminist? Similarly,  how can anyone be anti-choice and feminist? You can't claim feminism and at the same time claim that it is acceptable to impose your will over another woman.

As I was thinking about this, I read a timely post from "I Blame The Patriarchy" about pornography. I could direct you to the works of Andrea Dworkin and other feminist theorists, but if you want the short version, read this post. And I do urge you to read it. To quote the Spinster Aunt:

"Pornography is the graphic representation, not just of violence against women, but of male supremacy. It degrades all women. It erodes the humanity of all women. Porn use fetishizes violence and supports male supremacy. Porn is the expression of patriarchy. Porn use is the practice of patriarchy."

Spinster Aunt describes how we've been sold a terrible bill of goods. She writes:

"Convincing women that they are being unreasonable, that dudely porn use is natural, normal, and even necessary-for-his-health behavior, and therefore you should support his porn use, and by the way you’ll never even find a dude who doesn’t use porn — this is one of the most successful misogynist campaigns of the modern megatheocorporatocracy."

Our misogynist abusers have succeeded in convincing a generation of women, even women who call themselves feminist, that pornography is okay, it's natural, every man uses it, it's unreasonable to expect them not to, that women are empowered by using it too, and if we do expect something better, that is our problem, not theirs.

I'm wondering how thirty years of the pornification of our culture has aided and abetted the war on women and brought women onside in a war against our own selves. It's like the Stockholm Syndrome. Are we so accustomed now to being pornified, so coopted into believing that we must go along with our abusers, that we can no longer speak up against state sanctioned rape? Pornography is a tool of the oppressor. It is used to beat us into submission. Now we have elected officials saying it's okay for the state to rape women who don't behave as they think women should. These things have to be related. To quote Robin Morgan, "Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice."

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