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Pornography, an Essay


The language of sex that is forbidden used to be a language like this:

“Bitch,” he snapped, pulling away from her, yanking his dick out of her mouth. “You’re trying to make me come before I’m ready...” She ate up that kind of talk.

John Stoltenberg, “Pornography and Male Sumeracy - the Forbidden Language of Sex,” “Refusing ... Essays on Sex and Justice.”

Think of some woman in a porn magazine or movie. You probably be able to think of one in particular, so just think of the general notion of a woman in porn.

Here’s a woman, which you probably wouldn’t even think to call a woman, doing whatever the said man in the movie wants her to do, on film, for others to derive pleasure from. Now in general, when men or even women look at her, they don’t wonder about her intellect, her personality, even the sound of her voice. You don’t even wonder if she’s a good cook. When it comes to the viewers of this woman, all they’re thinking about is sex - her body parts and what she does with them.

That’s all you’re supposed to be thinking about when you watch it - that’s the whole point of porn.

Okay, so now you’re looking at this woman and you’re thinking of her as, well, not even as a human being as much as some sort of object with legs and tits and other things. You’re not thinking of her on any other terms, you don’t want to think of her on any other terms. Her express purpose is your sexual satisfaction. You begin to objectify this woman - you don’t even know her name, and you are shown to think of her as and object derived to fulfill your needs.

Now, you watch a porn more than once, you see different porn movies, you see these naked women more than once, you see them in magazines as well as in movies. For your purposes, they could even be all the same person - they’re just legs and tits anyway, right? For all you know, you could have been looking at the same woman on numerous occasions without even knowing it. They have no personality to you in this form, in pornography. And you may even become accustomed to seeing them this way - seeing the women in these videos and pictures as objects of pleasure for the male viewer.

Now tell me, who is to say that on some levels there aren’t men who don’t begin to look at women in general in terms of the images they’re seeing of women - as objects, as sexual creatures? Do men begin to think of all porn stars as women whose personality doesn’t matter to the male, then think of all naked women as objects without feelings, then think of all women in general as tools for men’s satisfaction?

Skin flicks and porn reading matter market women as commodities, denying physical uniqueness, women are presented as “tits and ass” with bulging breasts and painted-on smiles. This caricature of the female body and its reduction to a few sexual essentials is presented undisguised in the “hard core” material and covered up with sophisticated packaging in Playboy, Penthouse, and “soft core” porn films. Whether explicit or implied, the underlying message is the same: women are to be treated by the consumer (the male reader) as pieces of ass.

Michael Betzold, How Pornography Shackles Men and Oppresses Women, Male Bag, March, 1976

This woman in the porn movie, on the pages of the magazine, she’s probably not even the type of girl the average guy would want to take home to introduce to mom and dad. For some reason she is acceptable for sexual purposes, but not for relationships. She’s acceptable for what men, in general, prefer for interactions with the opposite sex, but she is the opposite of what women in general want for interactions with the opposite sex.

Pornography promotes our insecurities by picturing sex as a field of combat and conquest. The sex of pornography is unreal, featuring ridiculously oversized sexual organs, a complete absence of emotional involvement, little kissing and no hugging...

Besides reinforcing destructive fantasies toward women, porn promotes self-destructive attitudes in men. By providing substitute gratification, it provides an excuse for men to avoid relating to women as people. It encourages unrealistic expectations: that all women will look and act like Playboy bunnies, that “good sex” can be obtained anywhere, quickly, easily, and without the hassle of expending energy on a relationship.

Michael Betzold, How Pornography Shackles Men and Oppresses Women, Male Bag, March, 1976

The male viewer is turned on by her, but these men wouldn’t want to actually have to spend time with her. Now why? Because what she does is unacceptable? Why is it acceptable for her to make these movies, take these photos for the pleasure of men, but because of that she is not respectable enough to date?

But how to chart the pressure sensed by women from their boyfriends or husbands to perform sexually in ever more objectified and objectifying fashion as urged by porn movies and magazines?

Robin Morgan, Pornography: Who Benefits

Now tell, me, what is to say that men don’t begin to look at women in general in terms of the images they’re seeing of women - as objects, as sexual creatures, as legs and tits, but as something they don’t respect?

I want the world to know that I have a brain. I want the whole damned world to know that I have ideas, and talent, and intellect, that I’m hard-working, that I’m interesting. But how am I supposed to fight these notions that men have of how women are? Of how I am, or am supposed to be, according to their standards?

Do you have any idea how sick it makes me feel when I see some guy leering at me in the street? But you have no idea why. No, the typical male response of “She just doesn’t want to be flattered” doesn’t make sense, because you’re not flattering me by reducing me to something you can abuse. To tits and legs. To something like an object in a porn magazine or movie, someone who wants to solely be a vehicle for the man’s pleasure. No, I don’t think finding someone attractive is a bad thing, in fact, it’s a very good thing. But that isn’t all there is to a human being, and that surely isn’t all there is to me. If someone is going to stereotype me into one category, I would rather be thought of as smart, or hard working, than a potential fuck.

Every time I see a pornography magazine, I wonder if the owner, or the men looking through it, expect me to look like that, or expect me to perform like that for them. Or if they think I like the submission and degradation. I don’t. Most women don’t.

Janet Kuypers, How Pornography Affects Me, 1994.

“But the women who are porn models and actresses like it, I mean, they’re not being degraded, they’re being paid for it.”

Would you enjoy having a photographer take pictures of you so everyone could fixate on your penis? (maybe you would.) Let me put it this way: would you like it if every interaction you had in the world related and depended only - and I mean only - with your penis? That the only way you could achieve anything in life was only if you exploited your sexual organs? If your brain didn’t count? If your abilities didn’t count? If you as a person didn’t count?

Would you enjoy it if you were trying to apply for a job and all through the interview your potential employer was more interested in how you looked naked than your skills applicable to the job? It would be so frustrating, because that wouldn’t matter to the job, and you wouldn’t be able to prove to these people that you are qualified for the job. It would be so frustrating, because there would be nothing you could do to make these people see you as a person.

You probably think it sounds funny, but in all honesty, these things all relate. Pornography objectifies women, and these views of objectification translate to other parts of society, from looking for a job to walking down the street. And in my opinion, it’s just not fair that women should be treated that way, simply because that’s the way it is, simply because that’s the way men and women have been taught in this society think.

Many men, knowing intimately the correspondence between the values in their sexuality and in their pornography - share the anxiety that the feminist antipornography movement is really anattack on male sexuality. These nervousand angry men are quite correct: the movement really does hold men accountable for the consequences to real women of their sexual proclivities. It is really a refusal to believe that a man’s divine right is to force sex, to use another person’s body as if it were a hollow cantaloupe, a slap of liver, and to injure and debilitate for the sake of his gratification.

When one looks at pornography, one sees what helps some men feel aroused, feel filled with maleness and devoid of all that is non-male. When one looks at pornography, one sees what is necessary to sustain the social structure of male contempt for female flesh whereby men achieve a sense of themselves as male...

John Stoltenberg, “Pornography and Male Supremacy - the Forbidden Language of Sex,” “Refusing ... Essays on Sex and Justice.”

“But women like porn movies, too, and there’s naked men in the pictures. It’s eroticism, it turns everyone on, not just men. What’s wrong with that?”

First of all, the way pornography depicts sex is different from eroticism - the one difference is that pornography is by nature degrading towards women. How? By her submissiveness, her subservience. Is she tied up? Is her aim to please the man? Is rape a common fantasy in pornography, or physical pain, or very young women (even more weak that full adults), or more than one woman serving a man? Eroticism does not rely on one sex submissive and subservient to the other. Pornography relies exactly on just that degradation of one sex.

statistic: 75% of all women involved in pornography were victims of incest.

Think about this, which is one of the most common fantasy scenes when the tables are turned: would you, as a man, like to be naked with another man, the both of you working to satisfy one woman? Would you really feel comfortable being with another man in that situation? No, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to compete. And I’m sure you’d want to know that you are capable of bedding a woman and don’t need to share the responsibility of satisfaction with another man. Would you want the woman deriving pleasure from another man while she was with you? No, I’m sure you’d want to know that she was dependent on you, and not someone else, for her satisfaction. Imagine that situation, really think about it, and tell me honestly that the fantasy of two women having sex with one man is fair, or accurate, or considerate, or even enjoyable for women.

Both law and pornography express male contempt for woman: that have in the past and they do now. Both express enduring social and sexual values; each attempts to fix male behavior so that the supremacy of the male over the female will be maintained.

Andrea Dworkin, Pornography and the First Amendment.

Pornography supports, encourages these situation if submissiveness, like multiple women, or bondage, or rape. And in my opinion, any medium that eroticizes rape is completely inaccurate.

Women don’t like it. No women do. A woman may fantasize about rough sex, which could be played out in the bedroom like a rape scene with a trusting partner, but that is definitely not rape, and it doesn’t feel like rape. Why would men want to fantasize that women actually enjoyed an actual rape? To feel secure that women enjoy their oppressed place in the society? Because the men want to rape someone? That’s hard to believe, but if that’s really a possible answer, then where do they get the fantasy of raping a woman? Pornography.

statistic: it icurrently is legal to sell tapes of real rapes in this country.

And if women like pornography, it might be because they have grown to like it. It is one thing to be sexual, and it is entirely another to support this kind of degradation toward women. In our culture, pornography exists, but eroticism barely does. Women don’t have the choices for pleasure in this society that men do. Playgirl and other similar magazines are designed mostly by men - and revolve around the same fantasies that men have. It is assumed that women enjoy the same fantasies. No one questions whether or not they do. And in fact, the vast majority of readers of Playgirl are gay men.

Pornography contains hidden messages. For example, the recent surfacing of sadomasochistic material in more respectable publications such as Penthouse illustrates how reactionary sexism gets mingled in with the turn-on photos. The material suggests that women should not only be fucked, but beaten, tortured and enslaved­triumphed over in any way. Penthouse gets away with this murderous message by casting two women in the S/M roles, but it’s no problem for a man to identify with the torturer­the victim is provided.

Michael Betzold, How Pornography Shackles Men and Oppresses Women, Male Bag, March, 1976

Does pornography produce these subservient, submissive, sexual, non-human notions about women in men, in all different levels in society? It may be one of many forces that produce these notions - and all these different factors feed upon one another. Sexism pervades every pore of our culture, and pornography reinforces these barriers, as do other forces in our day-to-day lives.

There is little understanding that pornography is not about sex but rather is a fundamentally misogynist expression of patriarchal rights...

Gary Mitchell Wandachild, Complacency in the Face of Patriarchy, Win, January 22, 1976

Women are portrayed as sexual objects in almost every form of media today. There are so many more strip joints for men than women, and there are so many restaurants and bars with female employees wearing next to nothing. Women make 63˘ for the man’s dollar in the work place.

Women are abused in marriages and relationships, physically and sexually. A single 30-year-old man is considered sexy while a 30-year-old women is considered a hag. One in three women in their lifetimes will be raped, one in four before they even leave college. Over 80% of the rapes that do occur are committed by a man the survivor knew, a friend, a relative, a boyfriend - someone they trusted. Playboy and Penthouse outsell Time and Newsweek twenty times over.

And the word misogyny exists - it means “to hate all women” - and a similar term does not exist for hating men.

No, I don’t believe that pornography should be banned - I also believe in the First Amendment, and I believe in freedom of expression. I just wish that people didn’t support it so much. I wish that these notions weren’t forced on to me by men I interact with, by society in general.

No, I suppose I can’t change the world, but I’ll do what I can to make people understand me.

Because every day I have to live with these notions in society, these stereotypes about me. And I don’t like them, and I don’t want to live by them. Most women don’t want to live by them, but they figure it’s easier to go along with it than fight the system. I can’t go along with it. That is who I am - a person who cannot be submissive, who has her own thoughts, her own brain. And if these notions are in my way, than I’ll do what I have to to get rid to these things. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t.

Janet Kuypers, How Pornography Affects Me, 1994.

The rallying cry of porn dealers is freedom of speech and the press ... Yet we would be appalled if movies showed blacks being lynched or castrated, Chicanos being systematically beaten and tortured, and we would quickly protest. But we say nothing when the same activity goes on with women as the victims.

Michael Betzold, How Pornography Shackles Men and Oppresses Women, Male Bag, March, 1976

“Women don’t like pornography because they’re afraid to say they really like it. Women are just jealous of better looking women being sexually active, doing what they think they cant.”

Women don’t like pornography because as human beings they don’t like being reduced to an object for men’s pleasure, a receptacle for a man’s penis. They don’t like being reduced, and in such a graphic way, to a non-thinking, non-feeling pile of rubble. And they don’t like the fact that men can go into many newsstands or video stores and get something commonly sold, or even popular, that supports this. That harbors this. That encourages this.



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