Lydia Lunch and thoughts one whether sex is degrading to women
There's a good interview with Lydia Lunch, of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks fame, over at Alternet. I get a big kick out of Lunch because she doesn't pull her punches and she has a really dark sense of humor. She's also very in-your-face about sexuality and female sexual desire, which makes her my kind of feminist icon. Anyway, I read this article shortly after finding a bunch of emails in my inbox frantically warning me about the dangers of pornography. I should know better than to wade into this debate, but I just can't help myself. So I'm gonna kick off with a quote from Lunch, who says it way better than I ever could:
"I think the problem with pornography is not the pornography itself," Lunch asserts, "but rather the type of pornography that gets the most attention. There are so many different kinds of pornography floating around now, but I still think we need more different kinds of it. Because the kind that gets attention is that made by middle-aged white guys or asshole frat boys for the same audience. We need more diversified pornography made available to us, because people have and want sex. We can't pretend that they don’t. One of my lines in In Our Time of Dying' argued that things were better when we had blow jobs in the White House. A president with a blow job is a happy man. Now we have a man in the White House who wants to butt-fuck the entire planet. It's obvious as hell."
Inevitably when discussing the porn debate with someone who is adamantly anti-porn, they will point to some of the ugliest, most misogynist scenes in porn movies. And I hate to sound callous, but I can't help it. But material created to cater to people's sexual fantasies is going to reflect what those fantasies are, and in a misogynist culture, you're going to have huge numbers of men with misogynist fantasies. Criticize it all you want, but if you do so in the way that implies that all porn is gross and sexist, or that porn is inherently gross and sexist, then you're going to get the question--Why? Why is showing a sexual act inherently degrading to women unless you assume that sex itself is inherently degrading to women?
People who jump all over me about this seem to be under the impression that I've never seen Hustler or watched porn with guys coming all over the actresses' faces or whatever. I've seen it, and stuff that I found far more repellant than all that. I've also seen a lot of "tame" stuff with people just fucking. No degrading context, nothing. Not really male- or female-centered. And it seems to me that if there was just more porn made that was deliberately drained of woman-hating material, then it would give the uglier stuff some competition.
What really upsets me about the urge to censor is this--if in fact we could get the government to censor porn that's "degrading" to women, my money is that our conservative government would interpret that to mean that any sexually explicit material that shows empowered female sexuality is the first to go. Why? Because the vast majority of people think that women who want sex, who are open with their desires instead of buried in shame, are sluts. And it's widely believed that "sluts" are the ones who really degrade women in men's eyes, after all. Remember, most people think that men would be angels if women would just control them. By that logic, the most "degrading" images of women are those that show women taking the most control of their sexuality.
I mean, look at how the conservatives tried to shame feminists into getting all riled up about a consensual sexual encounter between Clinton and his intern. Lewinsky's forwardness degraded her in the eyes of the general public. Sex is degrading to women to many people. End of story.
Of course, as I've said many a time before, my punk rock, rebellious, DIY instincts incline me to think that the best way to rebel against images I find oppressive or degrading is not to censor but to offer alternatives. To my mind, the people who are doing the best work at chipping away at the monolithic, offensive porn industry are the women who are creating space for women to express themselves--there is already a slew of woman-friendly, non-sexist sex toy shops and written erotica. The best way to stand up against a culture that views women as sex objects is to empower women to be subjects themselves.
And I probably need to back off this subject before everyone thinks I spend all my free time watching trashy porn videos.