Pornify this revisited

17 Oct

“The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.

Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn.” 

This is an extract from a piece written by Dr Abigail Bray in the Sydney Morning Herald last week on the dangers of pornography. Dr Bray is co-author with Melinda Tankard Reist of the latest Australian collection of anti pornography stories.

On reading this piece I was immediately reminded of a series of articles on the Drum written by Tankard Reist to which I responded with a contrary point of view. Given the publication of their book, and the spate of extracts from it recently, it seems timely to put up my Drum piece again.

One of the big problems I have with many anti porn activists is their apparent inability to distinguish between the rage they feel at the sight of an actor’s cleavage and the rage they feel at violent porn. If you happen to be someone who doesn’t care much about people showing cleavage and do care about violent criminal porn they can’t hear your point of view. It’s all or nothing with them. Problem is, when they get apoplectic about pole dancing and knickers, they’ve undermined their credibility when they come to protest the hard-core sadistic stuff that I’m sure is out there.

Pornify this

The recent Drum articles by Christian sexual conservative Melinda Tankard Reist are based on appeals to presumed universal truths and values. Melinda is in the business of creating totalising cultural narratives, rather than finding solutions to concrete issues women face.

Totalising narratives quite rightly arouse the healthy ire of thinking people, even more so when they are sexually proscriptive. Faced with these attempts to legitimise as universal the limited authority of one particular perspective, a thinking woman has to lodge her protest. So, Melinda, pornify this.

Censor and ban, ban and censor

It seems there is little in popular cultural representations of female sexuality that escapes Melinda’s disapproval. Even, I see on her website the US underwear company Victoria’s Secret,and twenty something TV star Lea Michele appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine showing cleavage, offends her conservative values.

The latter incurs wrath because Michele is, in Melinda’s terms, “sexifying” herself, and in so doing setting a bad example to the teenagers who watch Glee in which she plays a considerably younger character.

Christian sexual conservatives seem to have embarked on a mission to pathologise the entire world, rather than realistically deal with inevitable and at times large pockets of dysfunction. Their solution? Censor and ban.

The problem with the censor and ban approach is that it addresses the symptoms while completely ignoring the cause. It’s the easy way out. Just have the offending song, video, advertisement removed from the public gaze, and then pretend the forces that led to its creation don’t exist anymore.

They do. They’ll erupt again. Repressing them will not make them go away. We have always known this.

The Patriarchy did it

Tankard Reist is about to surpass Derrida in her creative use of neologisms such as sexification, adultification, childification, and pornification, all terms she uses to describe what men are doing wrong to women, and what women are letting men do wrong to them.

Infantalizing women (a psychological action, as opposed to childifying us, which is sartorial) is part of the sexual conservative’s strategy. Women are acted upon. Even when we think we’re exercising agency we aren’t really, because our actions are predetermined by the overwhelming influence of the patriarchy.

This is where Christian sexual conservatism intersects with radical feminism, resulting in, dear God, I don’t know what. Every act of heterosexual intercourse is an act of rape unless it results in a baby girl?

If we follow this infantalizing to its logical conclusion, women aren’t responsible for anything. The only other human beings not required to take responsibility for themselves are babies, and those without the capacity.

Of course, women are also responsible for everything, which makes us goddesses. There’s no middle ground in these metanarratives.

Sexified, pornified women allegedly aren’t politically sophisticated or intelligent enough to recognise their collusion in their own process of -ification. Only unsexified women know what’s really going on. The process of sexifying yourself destroys your brain.

As with all lies that work, there is some truth in it. I recall occasions when I’ve severed contact with my mind and made decisions from another part of my anatomy entirely. But I fought my way back, and I can’t remember what I was wearing.

This attitude puts MTR in bizarre alliance with factions that hold beliefs such as: blondes are brainless. You can’t be a pole dancer and have a PhD. You’re being exploited and you’re only happy in your thong because you’re too ignorant know you’re being exploited. Female sexual power is an illusion, and the notion that it is an expression of assertiveness is false.

Well, if it is such an illusion, why the struggle to keep it in chains?

That which we most fear becomes our obsession, observed Hélène Cixous.

How to pornify yourself

A woman doesn’t have to do much to sexify and pornify herself in the world of MTR. Just wear lacy panties and an uplift corset from Victoria’s Secret, and you’re in.

If childification is more your thing, pull on a pair of white knee socks and suck on a lollipop while tugging at your t-shirt. You can also sit on a bench and show your panties. Either of these looks (and many others shown on her website) will incur MTR’s pity, and her undisguised contempt.

You may like these looks, or you may find them silly, but are they really part of an orchestrated patriarchal attack on women’s human rights? Think about the real attacks on women’s human rights round the globe, rarely mentioned by MTR, by the way, and only when they comply with her ideology as an anti choice feminist, and then answer that question.

The beast in them

The message I am taking from these articles is that for MTR there is no acceptable public representation and expression of female sexuality.

In holding a belief shared by, among others, the Taliban, she seems to feel that public (I don’t know why, but I hardly ever type “public” without leaving out the l) displays of female flesh lead inevitably to a culture of exploitation and rape, turning sane men into the beasts they all secretly are.

The beast in me, is caged by frail and fragile bonds…

Ergo, women must not reveal their flesh, or not the bits that could be seen as erotic. That’s pretty much everything, if you’re imaginative.

All those KanYe West and Brian McFadden lyrics churning round in men’s animal minds, causing them to lose what little sense of decency they might just have been born with, if they were lucky, and then, dammit, a woman in a sparkly thong hoves into view, and she’s not wearing it on her foot, either.

In the world the conservatives inhabit, not only are all women too stupid to know if they’re being exploited, all men are too base to think about a woman as anything more than a root, a drunken root if possible, or if it’s KanYe West we’re talking about, a dead root.

The discourse of sexual conservatism, like that of radical feminism, depends on stereotypes and generalisations. Without them, they both implode.

The contempt these attitudes reveal for humanity in general is disturbing. Add to that the conservatives’ insistence that young men in particular have no capacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality, learning from the lyrics of pop songs and videos to behave very badly towards women, and the sexual conservatives are unmasked as religious and anti modern fascists.

As a mother of young men who negotiate popular culture and emerge with loving and generous hearts, I find their attitude offensive.

So, tell us the right way to show off our tits

If I’m doing you sexual conservatives wrong, just tell us what kind of public (oops, that wretched l again) representation and expression of female sexuality you do approve of. Show us a picture. You’ve shown us plenty of pictures of what you don’t like. Now show us a picture of something that fits your criteria. If you have a positive vision of how a woman can express her sexuality, now’s the time to share it.

This is important because it isn’t enough to tell young women what they shouldn’t emulate. You need to be able to offer a positive alternative model. So far, all we’ve heard is unrelenting negativity, and the ongoing, indiscriminate blaming of all men.

Are your husbands, sons, brothers, dads, uncles, cousins, boyfriends, lovers and friends included in the generic “men,” by the way? Or are you lucky enough to have scored the only good ones on the planet, and the rest of us copped the duds?

Some women want to show their bodies, and I can’t see a single thing wrong with that. The human body can be glorious. Breasts can be wondrous. Read the Song of Solomon. In itself the body is always wholly innocent, and tainted only by the perceptions and judgments we inscribe upon it. Prove me wrong.

Decades of feminist rage against men and the patriarchy has not solved our problems with each other. Rather than continuing to rage about what men shouldn’t do and should be, can we focus instead on what women can do and can be, and leave perceived male failings aside for a while?

It will take the whole village, rather than an individual sarcastically demolishing a hapless male writer of really stupid songs. But such a redirection of energy might just lead to empowerment in a way that victimology, complaint, ideology and blame never can.

This piece resulted in some 472 comments, the majority of which were in whole or partial agreement, except for someone hiding behind the screen of anonymity who pursued me round the blogosphere for weeks, and I finally figured out just who she is. Ha ha!

15 Responses to “Pornify this revisited”

  1. paul walter October 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    The plot thickens, this is getting complex, am going to sleep on it all before I go too far tonight.
    It does seem as things develop that there is a distinction emerging between two issues.
    One involves consumerist reinforcement of gendering, producing good little consumer units; some less, some more, troubled with identity than others ( cover of woman’s mag in supermarket this morning had a photo of an emaciated Angelina Jolie, now well into a diet that includes appetite suppressants and little else, by the brief account I scanned). To understand commodification, a more sophisticated analysis is required (at least more than that offered by the MTR forces), but now’s not the time, although I agree with Jennifer that likely, critics may underestimate both the resilience of young people and the knowing complicity of people in general as factors.
    The other and more obvious issue is that of gonzo porn, highlighted in the wake of that shattering 4 Corners which parallels in sex slavery the repulsiveness described in the quotes from the Bray piece you included.
    For my part at least the situation in Victoria was a shock, unless Neighbour was exaggerating. I thought they had done prostitution reform there, things were overt and properly regulated-silly me- and exactly the excesses shown in the show had been consigned to the dustbin of history. But apparently, not so- what’s more Baillieu wants to do “tough on crime”, recriminalising the oldest profession and sending it back underground where it would be even harder to police than now.
    What I couldn’t understand was the absolute impunity with which the worst pimps could get away with murder- literally- with authorities unable to or unwilling to act with resolve on even the most blatant and sadistic of crimes.
    The worst of the Bray piece seemed to be the gratuitous implication that because civil libertarians oppose hair trigger censorship and seek instead to understand socio-cultural phenomena the better, to understand and deal with deviant tendencies and behaviours the better, that we are some how lasciviously in sympathy with kiddie rapists and bikie gangbangers, as if we would find the worst of it any less repulsive than them: that, I find offensive and despicable.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 18, 2011 at 6:26 am #

      Your last paragraph says it all, Paul. The anti porn activists make no distinctions between a movie actress revealing some cleavage, which they find offensive, and the horrific acts they describe as occurring in the porn industry. In so doing they destroy their credibility, and deeply offend those of us who don’t care about cleavage, but do care deeply about violent and degrading porn and sexual slavery.


      • Sam Jandwich October 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

        In any case, hardcore sadism is hardly the “new porn zeitgeist”. It’s out there for those who look for it, and is, I would argue, too accessible to kids, but untill we have quantitative studies showing that the majority of porn websites are concerned with the kinds of subjects Bray describes, and the number of hits they get is greater, then that’s a pretty wild-eyed claim.

        But why has it become so widespread? I have a theory on that: Well firstly I would say this sort of thing has always existed, in people’s minds, and in subcultures. And here’s a fairly personal declaration: I remember when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, having fantasies, not strictly sexual but definitely tinged with a kind of sexuality, but which involved me and my imaginary girlfriend being subjected to such bad corporal punishment that we had to be hospitalised. I have no idea where it came from because I certainly never experienced anything remotely like that, but from that personal example and many other such stories I’ve heard from other people I’m pretty certain that sort of exploration of the limits of experience is a pretty natural human characteristic – and like many other things, the internet has allowed people with an interest in exploring that kind of idea to come together.

        And secondly, I sort of wonder whether what people are most looking for in pornography is authenticity. Mainstream pornography, for whatever reason, became so staged, so idealised, so outlandishly unrealistic, that any sense that the actors were actually feeling the things they were acting out became obliterated… But because we human beings are empathetic, it is the depiction of authentic experience which we find most affecting – and one place (though not the only place) where you *can* find authenticity in pornography is in the involuntary reactions the actors have to sensations of pain . And it’s kind of the same thing with the mainstream media vs blogs, for example, or with art even. Art had its “authenticity crisis” more than 100 years ago, when people started exploring impressionism and abstraction as more authentic, accurate, complex forms of expression – and changing our idea of art ever since. Maybe pornography’s going through something like that at the moment.

        So actually, I guess I’ve repeated again Paul’s last paragraph: while I have no objection to the argument that it is unhealthy that real people, for example disempowered women forced into sex slavery, are harmed by the sex industry, I think the best way to prevent this is to explore different sexualities in a frank and honest way, rather than to suppress them- because by doing so we will simply cause the worst abuses to become even more obscured than they already are. Filming something and making it public is, after all, a very effective form of transparency.

        Ultimately, I just can’t get away from the conclusion that people’s stance on controversial, confronting issues originates from a deeply personal, emotional, visceral placeand that’s why people like Abigail Bray won’t ever be made to see the nonsense in what she’s saying. And here I’ll defer to Gilbert and Sullivan: “I often think it’s comical, fa la la la, fa la la la, that nature always does contrive, fa la la la la, that ev’ry girl and ev’ry boy that’s born into the world alive, is either a little liberal or else a little conservataive, fa la la la, fa la la la, is either a little liberal, or else a little conservataive, fa la la!

        Oh yes and Paul, thanks for the heads up on that 4 corners. I found that pretty awful, but actually was more shocked by the episode from two weeks ago about poor kids in Britain. Now that’s the real problem here, and until we can do something about that level of disadvantage, people are always going to be exploited.

        Alright, that’s enough boxing soap for you, Sam Jandwich!


        • Jennifer Wilson October 19, 2011 at 6:56 am #

          Your mention of limits reminded me of a story I read about Foucault who was apparently in some trouble in the US at one point for carting pornographic literature about through customs. Or obscene literature as they say in US law. That reminded me of how he wrote about testing limits, going beyond socially acceptable sexual limits through exploring bondage, S&M. So now I’m going to trawl through all my Foucault The uses of Pleasure, History of Sexuality stuff, no I’m not I’m going to google first and get some guidance.

          I’m especially interested in your thesis that what is really sought in porn is authenticity and the only authenticity left available to us in porn is that of pain. I’m chewing over that. Is it symptomatic of a culture that is increasingly inauthentic in which people strive for a lifestyle rather than a life?


  2. paul walter October 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    The most interesting thing today is buried at the dog-eared little corner called “tweets” and answers my inner most prayers as to further mediation on the thread especially from a definitive thinker whos speciality lies in this sort of discourse.
    Thanks, Leslie…


  3. paul walter October 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    “Boxing soap”?
    Way to go, yo!
    If your comment about Brit poverty is right, It’d make for confronting viewing, the 4 Corners was as nasty as what I’d want to see again for a bit.


  4. Marilyn October 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    I sometimes think Melinda would be happier in the Victorian era where she could put trousers on the piano legs.


    • Sam Jandwich October 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

      Well I still think she just needs a good, oh, you know…:-)


      • Jennifer Wilson October 19, 2011 at 6:29 am #

        I do occasionally fleetingly wonder about the private lives of these people – and then I move on real fast. The trouble with trying to get inside some people’s heads in order to understand them is that one might have great difficulty getting out again.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 19, 2011 at 6:44 am #

      And there was never any cleavage evident, or pole dancing or little frilly knickers. And women were told to lie on their backs and think of England because you had to get through having sex somehow.


  5. Sam Jandwich October 19, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Were women really told that?? My 90-year-old grandfather tells a story (same story over and over again!!) of his exploits going to dance halls in a mid-sized NSW town during the late ’30s, picking up a girl, taking her back home or borrowing a friend’s car for “a cuddle”, then going back and getting another one! He’s too much of a gentleman to go into details, because “you never disrespect a woman”, but it does seem to me that his generation (or what’s left of it) is more savvy and liberated than my parents’ generation, for example.


  6. paul walter October 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Yes Sam, it’s a good point.
    Jennifer, as a woman, can you imagine the unfolding tragedy for a man living in a frilly-less world?


    • Jennifer Wilson October 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

      Oh man, do I really have to go there? 🙂

      You have no idea of the day I’ve had with Telstra over this bloody iPhone I got talked into. Next stop Telecommunications Ombudsman and the fraud squad.

      And Sam, you’re right about the short life of the battery – bloody thing’s on charge all night.

      Hell, what was wrong with pigeons? Somebody tell me that.


  7. paul walter October 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Only figuratively, of course.. that’s my job.
    Thanx for heads up re EYEphones- thank god for copper wires!


    • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 7:21 am #

      The main problem is with Telstra, the only issue with the iPhone is the battery which isn’t a huge problem for me really, as I just stick it on charge overnight. They are actually amazing little thingies, and have an iPod built in with stunning sound, and an excellent camera. I really quite like it and people tell me I will lurve it.
      But Telstra …… mother of god.


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