A lot of men I have met confuse the feminist critiques of porn with the notion that feminists hate sex, hate pleasure, and hate beauty. They believe that we want them to feel guilty every time they look at a picture of a beautiful naked woman, or admire a woman's body. Indeed, there is a strong strain of prudery in our culture that sometimes affects feminist thinking about these issues. However, critiquing porn is not the same thing as telling men they are bad people for wanting visual sexual stimulation.
I do not believe that sex and nudity are inherently degrading. I do not even believe that sex and nudity on camera or for money is inherently degrading. I believe that women who pose nude or who engage in sex work should be viewed as fully-fledged human with hearts and brains and souls worthy of respect.
The problem is that so much of the most popular soft-core and hard-core porn in our culture does seem to be predicated on reducing, degrading, or pulling one over on women. I am not even going to get into hard-core in this post (mainly because I don't have the stomach or the time to do any, um, research). But consider two of the most popular, socially acceptable, and allegedly "wholesome" versions of soft porn -- Playboy and Girls Gone Wild. Playboy, while preaching a philosophy of sexual liberation for both sexes, is all about infantilizing women. Posing naked is not inherently degrading. But walking around with a cotton-tail on your ass and bunny ears, while gushing about how doing so is the greatest honor of your life, is a bit degrading. Having the nude picture of you posted with a little cutesie yearbook entry about your likes and dislikes written in bubbly handwriting is all about portraying you as unthreatening and powerless as possible. Being one of three girlfriends fawning over 80-year old "Hef" while begging him to put naked pictures of you in his magazine and struggling to abide by the curfew he sets for you -- also degrading.
Girls Gone Wild, like Playboy, is marketed as good, clean fun for the red-blooded American male. What young (or older) man wouldn't want to see pretty young women appearing to spontaneously flash the cameras or engage in other sexualized behavior in the heady exuberance of the moment? But, as noted in one of my recent posts, newspaper accounts establish that Girls Gone Wild founder and his cameramen are routinely engaging in very bad-news predatory behavior on very young women whom they encourage to become intoxicated, and Joe Francis is a first rate misogynist.
Amanda, in a first-rate post on Francis a couple months ago, perceptively describe how the whole concept behind Girls Gone Wild is inherently both prudish and misogynist:
But more than that, it appears that the pursuit of unwilling women is not just done out of need, but it’s actually the whole point of the enterprise to Francis. This little throwaway part [from Claire Hoffman's piece on Francis] was extremely telling to me.
But the women are changing, Francis tells me, and that makes him sad. In the beginning, when “Girls Gone Wild” cameramen first popped up in clubs, the women who revealed themselves seemed innocent—surprised, even, by their own spontaneity. Now that the brand is so pervasive, the women who participate increasingly appear to be calculating exhibitionists, hoping that an appearance on a video might catapult them to Paris Hilton-like fame.
To rephrase this bluntly, Francis doesn’t like working with women who are getting something out of it . . . The fantasy is not just regular girls getting naked, which is something I have exactly zero problem with. It’s a little more complex than that. The idea is to bend a usually unwilling woman to your will and enjoy the submission. Women who march up to the camera and say they want to be filmed in sexual situations are not bending to anyone’s will and that takes the fun out of it. Very, very telling.
It’s funny to me, how “Girls Gone Wild” is supposed to be hedonistic and yet is, at its core, prudish. Always hovering over the whole enterprise, as is indicated by that quote about how the women have changed, is the notion that the women should be ashamed of wanting to get naked and have a wild night of partying. Their shame is the focal point for Francis and probably a lot of viewers.
The problem isn't nudity or sex. The problem is that these publications promote and are motivated by a demeaning view of women.
In the late '80s or early '90s, I bought into the reaction against anti-porn feminism of that era, which seemed to me to be prudish and excessive and authoritarian. I even bought a subscription to Playboy, making me perhaps the only subscriber to buy the magazine for the articles. But I slowly came to loathe the magazine and its cheesecake portrayals of women. And I began to see where the radical feminists had a point that, in a society predicated on views of the sexes as unequal, sex and porn are inevitably going to be demeaning and degrading to women, which certainly seems to be the case.
But I don't necessarily see porn or sexualized images of women in our society as the major problem women face as women. I see it as a symptom of a larger issue in our culture, the fact that a lot of cultural views and assumptions about women in a variety of contexts have not caught up with our legal equality, and are thus still demeaning.
I will admit my views on this are very much evolving, which is one reason I have pretty much kept my mouth shut on porn over the year or so I have been blogging. There are a lot of articulate bloggers (and I am thinking of Laurelin in particular although I can't seem to find the particular post of hers that I liked so much) who write beautifully about the effects they perceive that porn and "lad mags" have on the treatment and self-respect of average women. While I favor full freedom of expression, I think as ethical consumers feminist men and women can work to promote more egalitarian views of women in all areas of expression, including but not limited to pornography.