The Porn Myth and gender politics

From The Porn Myth by Naomi Wolf:

At a benefit the other night, I saw Andrea Dworkin, the anti-porn activist most famous in the eighties for her conviction that opening the floodgates of pornography would lead men to see real women in sexually debased ways. If we did not limit pornography, she argued—before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility—most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

In the article, Naomi Wolf argues that the ability for men to have porn on tap and society’s acceptance of it has left men with better things to do than sleep with women. The porn stars become men’s sexual outlets and the real women in their lives can’t live up to that standard.

This puts women in an new position (sorry) of having to not only pursue their own sexual interests, but also compete with the hyper-sexualized prurient media. The media that decries the obscenity of Janet Jackson’s nipple while at the same time running that pixelated 3 second video clip over and over and over. The newspapers should have just ran the headline What is so fascinating about my forbidden closet of mystery? It certainly isn’t conveying the message that real women offer things that pr0n can’t anymore than Flatlanders are extolling the virtues of three dimensions.

The interesting consequence of this, is that it flips sexual politics on their head:

When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up. Your boyfriend may have seen Playboy, but hey, you could move, you were warm, you were real.

Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough. Now you have to offer—or flirtatiously suggest—the lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene. Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax—just like porn stars.

Suddenly women aren’t the sole gatekeepers to the sexual progression of a relationship. A man might present sex as an option slower than he wants to his woman because he’s afraid of appearing oversexed. Now a woman might also have to compromise sexually because she’s afraid that her man might become bored or have unrealistic expectations.

Obviously these are caricatures of men and womens’ roles in a sexual relationship and as such have a great number of counterexamples, but they are the roles that our culture enforces. There’s no terms in our culture for a man being a slut or frigid. Men are expected to be sexually voracious and women are expected to tell their men to cool down. There are exceptions (Married With Children being the first one to mind) but as a culture this is how we view the genders.

There are also implications beyond normal sexual relationships; consider the case of computer generated child porn. Pornography that depicts a consenting adult that has been manipulated to appear to show a minor is as illegal as if it had been made with a minor. The argument here is that anything that feeds the appetites of pedophiles – whether it harms a child or not – is harmful to society because it will increase their desires. If adults’ porn is decreasing their interest in other adults, would virtual child porn decrease pedophiles interest in children? I wouldn’t want that law changed without a lot of science to back it up, but it’s still something that flows from the article’s premise.

I’ve tried to avoid value judgments up until this point, because I wanted to get some commentary in before injecting my own beliefs. I don’t think porn is bad, but excesses of anything will produce negative results. Speaking of excesses, it’s hard to argue that porn exploits women when you look at where Jenna Jameson lives. I think that this is an interesting example of the invisible hand of the free market in action, but I’m not sure that forcing women to compete with porn stars is good for anyone other than horny teenage boys.

One thought on “The Porn Myth and gender politics

  1. “Men are expected to be sexually voracious and women are expected to tell their men to cool down. There are exceptions (Married With Children being the first one to mind) but as a culture this is how we view the genders.”
    Most men in my experience are sexually voracious relative to most women, and I don’t think it’s entirely that they are trying to live up to societies expectations; it’s simply biochemical IMHO (Coming from first hand experience.). Men just think about sex, anytime. Usually for women there has to be a reason. Not always, but usually a good reason… Seeing something, hearing something, reading something; it’s a bit more “relevant” in my opinion.
    I think the arguement for porn sating a person appetite is bunk. Paz looks at more porn than I can shake a stick it (I like to read erotica), and it doesn’t sate her… I think it gives her ideas, and takes her in new directions.
    As far as value judgements, I don’t think anyone should be attempting to force their values on me. If I desire to look at porn, then I should be able to do it, as long as it’s legal; and I don’t need anyone telling me it offends their sensibilities. Paz has to deal with this kind of thing all the time. Her weekend Xanga protected posts are laced with porn(mainly fetish and S & M) , and she gets quite a bit of flack from people ala:
    “Bondage porn makes me threatened & uncomfortable. Which I suppose is the point. And that people get off on it threats me even more. I just feel total abhorrence. I’m sure my status as “sexual assualt victim” (I prefer ‘survivor’) lends into it. but to think that someone would fantasize that about me: gagged, dismembered, forced into submission. I just… shiver. And not in a good way. It taps very deeply into my personal fear of posession, I guess.”
    And it’s like.. Hmm.. You came to site, asked to get added to a protected list of a known pervert, and BDSM scene member, who only has a protected list to post porn for people that want it, and you have the nerve to bitch? Jeez. I have the same attitude about porn. People that rail against it don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s not like people are walking by on the sidewalk and sayin “Hey, want to see something?” and flashing a hustler in your face. If you don’t like it, don’t expose yourself to it.

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