The woman and the octopus, or how anti porn activists sabotage their own message

20 Oct

This article was first published in On Line Opinion

It ought to be de rigueur for anyone warning society about the perils of pornography to first state what they consider to be pornographic. As it is, the word is used to describe everything and anything to do with the public display of sexual behaviours, from the most innocuous, to the most stupid, to the most alarming, violent, and frightening. In fact, the word is rapidly becoming meaningless as anything other than code for “here come the wowsers,” and activists have only themselves to blame for this. They are heeded largely by those who already agree with them, which is useless in terms of getting any serious action going against the kind of pornography that damages people. They refuse to see that in tarring all pornography with the same brush they are sabotaging the message with generalizations and stereotypes, and that this deafens people.

In reality, many of those who dispute the anti pornography position are decent people, highly indignant at the activists’ lack of discrimination in determining the pornographic, and understandably resistant to having someone else’s moral perspective imposed upon them. One person’s sexually objectifying and degrading music video is another’s reference to surrealism and the politics of race, yet it could likely be that both are in agreement on the undesirability of violent porn.

From the outset the activists are frequently defensive, oppositional, and cult-like in their fervor and insistence that their interpretation is the “right” and only one. This is no way to get a message out to anybody other than those who already agree with you.

Agreeing on the pornographic

While what is considered pornographic can be very subjective, there are some criteria which most of us would agree could be used to set a community standard. Government regulation is already in effect in every medium other than the Internet, and I think, outdoor advertising. The Internet is a rogue beast. I would agree with the same restrictions on Internet content as are in place in every other medium. The problem is technical: how do we do that?

It’s likely true that since the advent of the Internet, public tolerance for sexually explicit images has risen as they are more easily accessed than ever before by greater numbers of people. The anti pornography crowd can rail as much as they like, they aren’t going to stop the production of these images, and they aren’t going to stop people viewing them. The very best we can hope for is enough restriction to protect children and limit access, safeguards we already have in place for other media, and that should be in place for outdoor advertising as well.

Woman with octopus

There is also no reason to oppose all sexually explicit images, as if the sexually explicit in itself is dangerous and anti social. This past weekend, for example, I visited the Queensland Art Gallery and came upon a work by Japanese artist Masami Teraoka called “Sarah and the Octopus/Seventh Heaven,” in which a woman is being pleasured by an octopus. (Yes, I would have laughed if someone just told me about it. Seeing it was another thing altogether.) In Japanese erotica images of women enjoying sexual pleasure with tentacled sea creatures is nothing remarkable, though the images are often interpreted in Western culture as being pornographic depictions of rape.

I found the painting erotic, and could see no signs that the female subject was feeling anything other than intense pleasure. I did wonder momentarily what Gail Dines would say about it, and assumed her comments would likely be stridently negative. As I gazed at the painting I thought that there are people who would like to stop me looking at an image such as this one, because they believe it will do me and the wider society psycho-sexual harm. Such people see sexual violence in every pornographic image. They see pornography itself as an act of violence against women, and they want me to “see” as they do.

Their vision casts images such as this painting in a negative and destructive light. I would never consider Teraoka’s work as dangerously pornographic unless that had first been suggested to me as a lens through which I ought to view it. So it is that the careless manner of speaking negatively about all pornography causes everything to be viewed as dangerously pornographic, and we are left with no other possible or legitimate ways of seeing. This is a tyranny and oppression we should resist.

For example, Clive Hamilton argues in his essay on photographer Bill Henson’s controversial images of adolescence that:

It is tragic that those who are responsible for sexualising children have robbed us of the ability to see Bill Henson’s photographs the way he intended. In destroying the sexual innocence of children they have destroyed the innocence of innocence.

Those who are responsible for “sexualising” children have not robbed us of anything in my opinion. On the contrary, those who like Hamilton and Dines demand that we relinquish our “innocent” gaze and replace it with the gaze of, in this case, the paedophile, are those who are responsible for attempting to if not rob, certainly alter for the worse our ability both to see innocence, and to see innocently. Henson should have known better, Hamilton concludes, and he should have realized that in today’s world photographs such as his cannot be “innocently” viewed. Therefore they should not be offered for viewing at all.

Personally, I will resist to my dying breath the efforts of anti pornographers to make me view the entire imaged world through a sexually dangerous and dysfunctional lens, whether I’m looking at Henson, music videos, Japanese erotica or Cosmopolitan. To look in innocence means to look without prejudice and preconditions, and to trust in the integrity of one’s own gaze. Hamilton’s ability to innocently gaze may well have been irrevocably damaged by those who seek to “sexualize” children. Mine has not, and I do not wish to join him in that trauma.

How to stop people wanting and making violent porn

The only way people will not participate in violent pornography, either by producing it or as viewers, is if they have a sense of self-worth that prevents them demeaning and abusing others or allowing themselves to be demeaned and abused. How are we going to produce human beings like that, given the culture in which we live and raise our young? The degradation of human beings is endemic in Western capitalist society indeed it’s a necessity if this form of society is to survive. Violent pornography is but one expression of this degradation. Like drug trafficking and people smuggling, it will never be “stopped” because there’s too much money and too much corruption involved in its production and distribution.

The best we can do is to educate our young to care for themselves and others, with the goal of creating a society in which degradation isn’t inherent. The rest is just sound and fury, unless the activists open their minds and hearts enough to engage with those who might not entirely agree with them, but who may well be on their side in some aspects of their battle.

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19 Responses to “The woman and the octopus, or how anti porn activists sabotage their own message”

  1. AJ October 20, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    The problem isnt so much the portrayal of sexual imagery (whether pornographic or not). It’s the “in-your-face” insistence some members of the art community seem to harbour. I dont have any particular need to see this type of material but nor do I condemn others that choose to view it. Taste is subjective in these matters. What is of concern though is public displays on public money of some often questionable material. An exhibit of vaginas in Hobart recently was such an example. Probably of interest to the hard up or horny, of little value to the average fella or sheila I would have thought….and their point was?

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  2. paul walter October 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    OLO says it’s archived there. The postings were reasoned compared to some other threads there, on this sort of issue
    One or two were very perturbed about bestiality: it is true Dr.Wilson’s example certainly DID seem to indicate that the tentacles of p–n were indeed reaching into some most unexpected locations.
    I did appreciate the depicted woman’s enthusiasms, not mere foreplay here, but real bang for your buck…eight-play?!
    Any way, a quick kick in the tentacles would have solved the problem, had the lady had been so outraged by these gentle cephlapodic ministrations, she would have had the the right to energetically call , “sexual mollusc-tation”.
    I did agree with suzeonline’s reiteration that porn or erotica are beyond the pale when people are coerced or bullied into participation, especially with kids. The 4 Corners show on the related issue of slave prostitution demonstrated how difficult it can be infiltrate organised crime to dampen some of the less compassionate types of gonzo sexuality manufactured and proliferated from these- much of it both in the flesh in porn form is about thuggery rather than erotic play between mature people at their leisure.
    Sad to see the straightlaced again failing to engage with the article- protecting “brand”?
    I’ll just finish on this brief anecdote.
    At the blogsite Web Diary, I was invited to put up a thread starter on Henson, when that was “on”. I tried to be objective, but the piece induced a genuinely ill-tempered and adversarial stoush carrying on over several months, over several more threads from different people.
    The acrimony badly damaged the site: some good friends ended up becoming bitter enemies and I’ve often looked back with regret at the way it eventually got out of hand.

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    • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

      They rarely engage with anything I write PW – The thing anti porn activists never mention is that we do already have laws against sexual violence,kidnapping, false imprisonment, coercion etc. Why aren’t they demanding better policing instead of demanding censorship and banning I wonder.

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      • AJ October 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

        Some people would rather complain than act, complaining of itself when accompanied by a report to various agencies when something at of orer OES happen is good enough action for me. Merely complaining is a lazy way of saying go away, dont bother me…and is really a sign of apathy. Censorship and banning are appropriate in some circumstances too

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        • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

          I’ve no argument with censorship and banning when it comes to child pornography. For adults, I don’t mind a ratings system so people know what they’re going to see and can decide if they want to or not. I understand that most Australian ISPs have voluntarily adopted a filter system to prevent access to child porn, but Matthew, who I learn a lot about this stuff from the comments he leaves here sometimes, explained once that people who want it just go through overseas servers instead.

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      • Matthew October 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

        Jennifer, if you have a look at the AFP press releases, child porn is mostly traded via peer to peer and not via websites. I think my original comment had to do with normal commercial porn and Australia’s current daft laws (i.e. you can’t host anything above M15+ on servers hosted in Australia). According to the recent senate estimates, the AFP report that Telstra has blocked 84,000 attempts to child sexual abuse (average of 785 hits per day) http://www.itnews.com.au/News/277167,telstra-logs-84000-filter-redirects.aspx . But the figure is highly misleading. It doesn’t mean that Telstra has 84,000 paedophile customers. The problem is what exactly on the lists that Interpol has supplied to the AFP for ISPs to block. For a start the Interpol list is domains, not individual URLs. For example if this page had child porn on it and no other page, noplaceforsheep.com would be blocked in its entirety. The figure could also contain hits from malware and automatic web crawlers, in fact the figure is probably mostly from these things and not customers looking this stuff up.

        I missed the Four Corners Sex Slavery episode, but I note that in the UK at least, a recent crackdown found practically no one who had been forced into prostitution; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/government-trafficking-enquiry-fails Not saying it doesn’t happen, but the figures for sex trafficking are incredibly inflated.

        As for the Collective Shout supporter; “So a little censorship would empower me sexually.”. That’s friggin’ sad. Do these loons really believe that or not? How does censoring something unrelated to you actually empower you? Then again I see Wendy Francis has joined them. That speaks volumes. The whole site is a car crash, especially the rambling posts in the member’s blogs and the forum. You’ll note that despite claiming to be a grass root organisation, MTR runs the show and decides to take action on whatever she wants, like the recent re-banning of “A Serbian Film” or the current harassment of Diva over their range of Playboy accessories.

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        • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

          Wendy Francis who keeps trying to have safe sex ads taken down – well that’s a coup for MTR

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      • Matthew October 22, 2011 at 8:34 am #

        Just found this; http://www.securitynewsdaily.com/anonymous-hackers-child-porn-sites-1260/ If Anonymous can take down these sites, why can’t Interpol? Why even have a blacklist in the first place?

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        • Jennifer Wilson October 22, 2011 at 9:44 am #

          Yes, well that indicates to me that the agenda goes way beyond blacklisting child porn sites, and is likely primarily to do with moral control of the internet.

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  3. Beste October 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    This was the response from a collective shout supporter who was asked to explain what womens sexual desires were.

    “I probably should take some time to think about this being that this is a public forum…. but for a start I don’t need every man I pass to look at my breasts, or make a comment, or look to his mates and make comments. That doesn’t make me feel sexually empowered. I do want my partner to look at me! Indeed I want him (and this could be delusional thinking) to think that I am adorable, the only one for him. I want to feel special, now that’s a turn on. I don’t want to think that he is looking at every other young thing presented before him. So a little censorship would empower me sexually. I don’t want to feel compared, judged etc. I do want to feel good in my own skin. I want to be able to express my sexuality with my partner, it is for us to share in and enjoy. I am not a commodity and I don’t feel that sex should be a commodity – used to sell products…. I think most women want a man to want them and not anyone else. That for me is sexual empowerment. We are not replaceable, substitutable, sex objects, we are real people, individuals and that should be celebrated. This is off the top of my head, it may change?”

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    • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      Wow, that’s interesting. Where’d you get it from?
      Love how she is asked to explain what “women’s” sexual desires are and answers by revealing what one woman’s (hers) sexual desires are!

      That not wanting her partner to look at every other young “thing” is interesting terminology! Not young woman, or girl but “thing!”

      You could look at that another way altogether – that even if you partner does look at other women, he presumably still chooses to be with you, so you are “special.” And the assumption that looking is automatically comparing – I wonder if that’s true? Do men just look, without making any comparisons? I suspect they might. It seems to me if comparisons are being made by either party about anything, there’s a level of discontent present that might or might not have to do with physical appearance.
      Maybe women need to learn how to feel good enough about themselves so their partner appreciating another woman’s appearance isn’t read as anything more than that, and isn’t instantly interpreted as a threat. It probably usually isn’t. And if you’re stuck with a crass tosser who thinks or says ” why don’t you look more like…. ” then give him the flick! His discontent is his own problem!

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      • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

        I didn’t mean you, Beste, I meant the collective you as in we! Sorry.

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  4. paul walter October 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    I agree, Beste’s comment is intriguing and points to the limitless quirkery of human emotions, feelings, desires and relationships, subjectivity and objectivity, we ARE definitely a weird mob.
    As a bloke, I think Jennifer’s explanation is spot on.
    And kid women don’t perv on blokes too, when they think they aren’t being watched..

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  5. paul walter October 20, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Ps, Middleton really rocks, on twitter.

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    • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

      Is that Karen or Kate or is this a totally dumb question cos I don’t know something I should?

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  6. paul walter October 20, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    Cannold firing up, this the Cannold of old, from AGE opeds ten years ago and to the specific point, it’s actually something I’ve quite often pondered myself.
    No body LIKES abortions, least all the women undergoing them, I’d feel sure.
    But the inability of anti abortionists to come to terms with the possibility that there are certain situations at least where it maybe both better and more desirable; in fact absolutely necessary for the well being of the woman or the sake of a profoundly damaged foetus, for the procedure to be performed, rankles in its obstinancy.
    The freedom of choice arguments are a different issue, personally I go with Singer’s position that it is most likely that infants don’t acquire meaningful consciousness till after birth, which if true would obviate the worst of the objections to it, if not in a rare last trimester procedure, then surely the first two.

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  7. paul walter October 20, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Well, it’s your Twitter… Karen Middleton the journalist, a quiet meditation on Abbott’s social conservatism, if I’m not wrong.

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    • Jennifer Wilson October 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

      Ah, I don’t follow Karen M. but maybe I should? So many people to follow! So little time! I’m beginning to think in 140 characters!

      Like

  8. paul walter October 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    As for Kate Middle-class, the opposite trait, isn]t inertness more than the hippo in the room, here?

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