Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Porn again

I'm so going to make up T-shirts that say that.

Anyway, there's an article on Alternet today about "revisiting" the porn debates, trying to find a middle ground between the right-wingers, who view banning porn as a larger part of creating a hostile enviroment to sexuality, women's in particular and criticizing the porn industry as it stands for its rampant misogyny. Okay, I'm game. After all, as the article points out, there is some really upsetting and vile porn out there, and a lot of it is really popular.

One of the most popular booths at the expo was for the BangBus, which consistently drew large crowds of almost entirely male fans. What's the BangBus concept? One of the producers explained that the videos show men in a large van, picking up what appear to be women on the streets, talking them into having sex, and then degrading them in some way – dropping them off in desolate places, not giving them money promised, or throwing their belongings out the door.

Yeah, those videos are awful. I saw one once and I was pretty upset at the glee the actors took in degrading the actress. I thought it was particularly stupid, too, because the whole point of the fantasy to most of the people who like these videos is the idea of anonymous, no-strings sex. There's nothing inherently degrading to women about the fantasy of anonymous sex, but the producers seem to think that they might as well toss the degradation in, probably because the average porn consumer will tolerate it.

But in the end, I was just as frustrated with this article as I am with nearly every feminist critique of porn that I read. I just don't buy that sexual explicitness somehow creates a favorable atmosphere to misogyny. Yes, women in much of porn are portrayed as mere objects to be bent to men's will, and yes the only emotion they show is their delight in being put through whatever rigors fulfill the male fantasy, even if it's actually painful or unpleasant for women. But so do many movies of any genre.

Action films are particularly repulsive in their misogyny, and I would say that a far greater percentage of them have misogynistic themes than porn. For instance, take the popular scene in many an action film where a woman with some position of authority is challenged by our hero in front of a large group of people that she's speaking to. It's not enough, generally, to offer his opinion. No, there's a large dollop of humiliation and ridicule involved. Her reaction? Yep, she fucks him. Top Gun is the prime example of this fantasy played out in a movie and offered up to children as entertainment.

And don't get me started on the huge numbers of Michael Douglas movies that make me want to barf. How many movies has that man been in that demonstrated that women really are predators looking to suck the lifeblood out of innocent men? One could even argue that regular movies with sexist themes have more of an impact, because the audience of regular movies tends to read them as a whole whereas the porn-viewing audience is remarkably good at pulling out what they like and ignoring the rest. (Yea, fast-forward button!)

My concern is this--by singling out misogyny in porn without basing it in a larger context where misogynist themes are coming at us from all angles, it seems like, especially to average readers not well-versed in feminist thought, that the writer is saying that somehow sex and sexual explicitness are inherently degrading to women. I always feel that way when I read articles like this one, and I'm personally very insulted. The writer, Chyng Sun, says that she wants an avenue where porn is singled out for criticism without joining the ranks of those who would squelch ordinary people's sexual rights, but how exactly would that work?

I think that the only solution is to create sexually explicit work that portrays female sexual agency and desire. Which of course lots of people are doing. (Go Trish!) Simply criticizing porn without offering alternatives is pretty much going to be interpreted by a larger audience, including myself, as censorship of people's fantasies and desires. Maybe I come from this from a different angle--I keep thinking of how women in rock music when I was a young teenager rebelled against the stifling sexism of the punk scene and, instead of just writing off rock as inherently sexist, created their own product. There was a genuine ripple effect from that and now there is significantly less resistance to women in music than there was when I was a teenager.

Update: After finishing this, I saw that Lauren at Feministe wrote about the subject, too.

64 Comments:

Blogger jeff said...

I think your analysis is right on the mark. This can be complex stuff, and the tendency to simplify it doesn't do anybody any good, I think.

Clarify, yes, but simplify, nah. You're good at doing the former while avoiding the latter.

1/28/2005

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Amanda, I hear you when you say that misogyny is found in many places other than pornography. I'd argue that the kind of porn we have out there now is symptomatic of a larger problem. But from a spiritual perspective, I have trouble with the notion that we can view endless images of bodies in various positions without, in some sense, being numbed. This is going to be true regardless of who it is who is exercising agency in the images, though I admit, a female-centered narrative would be infinitely less objectionable than "Bang Bus."

I am a great believer in fantasy. I think porn is the enemy of fantasy, not its enabler. We are born with wonderful imaginations and libidos! Why must be buy what we ought to be able to create for ourselves? Porn isn't just misogynistic, it's "a commodification of intimate imagination" (a phrase I made up, so deal with it) -- and I think that's sad.

1/28/2005

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Um, that should be "we" not "be" buy...

1/28/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't take porn seriously, ya gotta look at it as a bad joke. Laugh at the positions, facial expressions, & the cheesey actors. Most people haven't had any fantasies until they've watched porn, it influences everyone differently. And who say's we are purchasing it.
-M2

1/28/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really have anything insightful to add to the discussion. But I do love your Porn Again t-shirt idea. :-)

1/28/2005

 
Blogger Trish said...

"But in the end, I was just as frustrated with this article as I am with nearly every feminist critique of porn that I read. I just don't buy that sexual explicitness somehow creates a favorable atmosphere to misogyny."

I have to agree with you there. I write sexually explicit short stories, and I'm paid for them. I'm working on another one right now. I do know that quite a lot of porn treats women in a very misogynistic manner, but there is also porn that doesn't treat women that way. I read a lot of it and I like it very much. Sexually explicit doesn't automatically translate to "hateful towards women." One of the magazines I write for is aimed at women. Feminists have been very divided on the porn issue since at least the '90s. Susan Brownmiller wrote about the rift in one of her books.

1/28/2005

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Anonymous:

Well, it's a multi-billion dollar industry -- people do watch and pay for it, though some (thanks to the internet) are free riders.

I really can't agree with your claim that:

"Most people haven't had any fantasies until they've watched porn"

That flies in the face of the experience of many folks I know, self included -- and in the face of most research on the subject.

1/28/2005

 
Blogger Trish said...

Someone: "Most people haven't had any fantasies until they've watched porn"

Hugo: "That flies in the face of the experience of many folks I know, self included -- and in the face of most research on the subject."

I know that's true. Maybe the difference for me is that I read porn and erotica, but I don't watch it. I find most porn movies to be boring. They tend to not be aimed at women, and they turn women into objects. I also think that the misogynistic type of porn limits people's imaginations. People become sexually excited by a lot of things, and some porn squelches that to a one-common-denominator type of (boring) thing. The porn I've read and enjoyed is very well-written with great plots and characterizations, not that sludge you see in stuff like Penthouse Letters. I write the well-written stuff, and it's geared towards women.

1/28/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

I like well-written stuff better, too, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that writing is somehow better than movies. (A friend of mine who writes erotica and I like to debate this, but in a light way for sure.) I think that it's easier to get well-written erotica, because people actually put time and effort into it, but I think well-done porn movies are a plausible idea. There's plenty of artful cheesecake photography out there, after all. But the general perception that literature is more artful than film really plays itself out in the porn world. Hell, even the word "erotica" is an example of that.

1/28/2005

 
Blogger mythago said...

Hugo, using your logic, we shouldn't give kids fiction books because that will crush their own ability to dream up stories.

1/29/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What of women in the actual idustry who more often than not have some sort of surgical enhancement? Although men as well as women are judged by their endowments, I suspect (though I haven't a clue, I'm just going on what I've seen) women have to conform to a higher, almost ridiculous standard - spine-breaking breasts, labial reduction et al. I definately agree with you that female agency should be addressed in visual porn, and most female directors do this.
Also I have to say "artful cheesecake photography" conjures up some weird images.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Probably because when it's artful, they don't call it cheesecake and when we call it cheesecake we don't think of it as art. But there are definitely some people who let eroticism inform their work and are just really good at what they do, regardless of what you call it.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger Trish said...

I agree, Amanda. I don't think that stories are necessarily better than movies. If the movies are well-made, they can be very good. I've just never seen one. I used to make movies. The criteria for a good porn movie would be the same as that for a good erotic story - excellent plot line, good characterizations, and good, healthy, imaginative sex. One movie that I liked was "Better Than Chocolate." It's not porn, but it has erotic elements in it. I own that one.

If you want to read some good erotica, try Best Women's
Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, and Best BiSexual Erotica. I'm not sure where to find them - not sure if Borders would carry or order them - but I've see them in erotic stores, some feminist book stores, and sometimes science fiction convention dealer's rooms. Lots of science fiction conventions have erotica panels because some stories written are science fiction, supernatural romance, and dark fiction. Poppy Z. Brite's vampire erotica books are probably still available, but vampire erotica is a bit passe now. Some people have mixed feelings about Suzie Bright, but she's also a good source.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Well, mythago, I should draw a major distinction between written erotica and visual pornography. I am infinitely less troubled by the former. VIsual porn is to erotica what MTV is to real music, I think.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger zuzu said...

Oh, like MTV plays music anymore.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger Dan said...

"the videos show men in a large van, picking up what appear to be women on the streets, talking them into having sex . . ." (emphasis added)

Now that's a whole different genre of pornography . . .
-Dan S.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger mythago said...

Hugo, whether you distinguish between photos and written porn (so where do you classify Omaha the Cat Dancer?), your point was that porn leaches the imagination. If thinking about other people's sex dulls one's own creativity, I'd say that's true regardless of whether you're looking at a photo still or reading a page.

1/29/2005

 
Blogger jeff said...

Not that this is suprising, but I have to respectfully disagree with ya, Hugo. Sounds fairly elitist to me. Not that we can't make distinctions between, say, 'bad art' and 'good art'--but we have to recognize that they are subjective, in the largest sense, and we have to therefore recognize that, for some, porn doesn't dull one's imagination--and certainly not all porn. (Certainly one can prefer reading to movies, but one can also prefer movies to reading fiction...why is reading fiction inherently better?)

Check out the Good Vibrations website--they tend to screen out the boring stuff (boring to me!) and keep the misogyny in check.

2/01/2005

 
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I think that's kind of stupid.
I mean, there's baitbus, but
when I first found it it's for
gay porn.. :shrug: I thought it
was really funny [and of course
it's not really real anyways]..

The guys are getting the same
treatment the girls are ;)
it's equal!

-rick

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