Saturday, June 18, 2011

Porn and feminism continued...


I have been meaning to get back to the porn issue ever since my previous post sparked so many thought-provoking comments (and great links - see here for those interested).

And today being a day that I've only had to reheat my cup of tea once (so far), I am finally getting on to it. That said, I started this post at 10am this morning and now it's almost 7pm, but we get there in the end, don't we?...

Some of you may have since watched this fairly heated discussion on SlowTV between Gail Dines, Kate Holden, Catharine Lumby and Leslie Cannold. It's worth reading the comments as much as watch the debate.

Among the responses to my post, were these questions from Damon Young: Can women dress in lingerie and not be objects of a 'male gaze'? And when they dress in slacks, blouse and jacket, and grow their pubic hair, do they necessarily avoid this 'gaze'?

I think what he's asking is: Can anything or anyone avoid some objectification? And can banning porn fix this inevitability? (Am I right?!)

Not being an academic, I come at these issues from more of an intuitive/experiential position, and so perhaps using Mulvey's term was a bit throwaway and lazy of me, though the idea of girls being raised to be conscious of the 'male gaze' (and even exploiting the supposed power that this gives them) has always made sense to me...

Is there anything wrong with a woman wearing lingerie with her partner because it's fun to play a role, to play with the 'objectification' or 'distancing' this creates? No. That's not what I'm saying.

But surely there is a big difference between that and an anonymous woman in lingerie being spread across a billboard to sell soft drink...

And another big step away again to a porn video in which a woman is exploited and abused for the sake of turning people on.

And I don't think the issue is whether the actors involved feel empowered or not; perhaps the porn model is happy in her work and perhaps she's getting paid squillions for it, who knows. The point is - if there is a narrative of vistimisation and degradation, do we want this to go unquestioned?

More to the point here, shouldn't parents be aware of the increasing need to help contextualise the sexual content our children might be coming across on the internet?

I don't agree with all Gail Dines says, I sometimes feel repelled by the way she says it, and I'm not sure that all of her proposed solutions are workable. But I respect her concerns that young people might be coming across complex sexual material before they have the maturity or experience to process it or put it in perspective regarding what's 'normal', or real.

I'm not anti-porn as a whole, but I do sympathise with Dines' broader concerns about the 'pornification' of mainstream culture - that is, the way the pornography industry has influenced pop culture and risks distorting our concepts of sex and sexuality.

I think there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the normalisation of hardcore sex acts, and the promotion of unrealistic expectations about how we (especially women) should look, is a growing problem. This, to me, is a matter worthy of our concern and people shouldn't be dismissed as prudes or wowsers for raising the matter.

But mostly, I see it as part of a general drift away, culturally, from what's real; from the joy of blindly feeling our way into things, no matter how clumsily, from a place of curiosity and self-discovery.

The ready availability of extreme porn, and the impact that seems to be having on some people, I see as part of the general problem of internet-induced distraction and dissatisfaction (as you, Damon, discuss so well in your book) - a lack of genuine connectedness and integrity about the way we live.

I don't know the answers, or where this leaves us. Except perhaps with the question: How are we, as individuals and as a society, going to learn discipline and self-restraint in an era of all-too-instant gratification? And I'm not talking about real-life sex here!

4 comments:

Damon Young said...

Thanks, Rachel. I might rephrase (and by 'rephrase', I mean write a long, wordy comment).

The 'gaze' is a particular kind of relationship, prefaced on a subject (man) and an object (woman). The gaze - or 'look' in Sartre - is something that robs me of freedom. I lose my own world, with all its possibilities - and become part of another's world; a 'thing' amongst other things. The gaze is Medusa's head: it turns what's living to stone.

Mulvey seems to think this is essential, i.e. men as gazer and women as gazed. Others disagree. The basic thing is the relationship of subject to object. I'm not sure it's a watertight theory, but let's run with it.

Now, in reply, what I'm asking is this: If what's at stake is freedom, does it matter what you wear, as long as you do so freely? This doesn't mean doing whatever you want. It means being responsible for your own consciousness and its development (insofar as you can). In short: being a subject, not an object.

What clothing does freedom wear? And which sex acts does freedom perform? With whom?

Elisabeth said...

Hi Rachel

I heard the discussion on radio and the one thing that stays in my mind is the comment - Gail's I think - that porn is to sex, as food is to McDonalds.

It's perhaps about quality and degree.

Another thing that has long troubled me, too many sex workers seem to be vulnerable and damaged, via drug addiction and oftentimes with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Their occupation is not determined it seems to me not by choice and desire as far as I can tell but by desperation.

Thanks for tackling this difficult topic.

Amigos de Cuba said...

I agree with most of what Gail Dines said on Q&A but as you say Rachel, her delivery doesn't always do her service. She wasn't well received by those less educated on gender politics on her Q&A appearance recently, for example.

As someone with three daughters yet to reach their teens, I have serious concerns about pop (not to mention porn) culture and the way young children (and women) are objectified in the media. As Damon suggests, it's natural that men will "look" at women (and vice versa actually).

What's morally repugnant is that this innate behaviour is exploited by capitalists who, in the main, have no concern about the effects of their actions vis-à-vis the self-esteem of young women and the innocence of children.

On the question of porn - what I have seen of it is pretty bloody tasteless and banal. I can't imagine how people get their thrills out of watching women having their cervix's pummelled at light speed but obviously it does it for some.

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