Debating porn: where overactive hormones meet freedom of expression 2

29 Sep

My speech to the rowdy youngsters:

I’d like to begin by reciting you the lyrics of a song many of you will be familiar with:

“She’s nothing like the girl you’ve ever seen before, Nothing you can compare to your neighbourhood whore, I’m tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful”

Well, at least he’s trying his best. Though I’m not sure how I’d feel if I were the neighbourhood whore. As the song reaches the chorus the male singer finally lands on a term he feels is respectful enough to the female he is trying to woo. “Damn you’s a sexy bitch, a sexy bitch,” he sings.

The fact that the protagonist in this love song has searched the English language trying to find a respectful term and ultimately, out of all the possible alternatives he has to choose from, decides to call her a ‘sexy bitch’ is central to my perspective in debating porn, pleasure and pain.

The attitude exhibited in David Guetta and Akon’s song, inspiringly titled ‘Sexy Bitch’ shows the level to which pornography has permeated our society, moving from the margins into the limelight. This song that is played on daytime radio, performed at music award ceremonies and generally accepted as a catchy pop tune illustrates a concerning development where language previously contained within pornographic discourse has entered mainstream. Where the fantasy of attracting a woman by degrading and insulting her has consumed popular culture. For the record, no woman I know would be endeared to any stranger who called her a bitch, affectionately or otherwise.

As the line between pornography and real life begins to blur, so too do our expectations for what is and isn’t appropriate sexual behaviour, what’s real and what’s fantasy. Pornography so rarely exhibits reality, in particular the reality of a variety of women’s sexual expectations and desires. Rather than creating a film where the synopsis reads like a realistic sexual encounter, the narrative is more likely to cast women in stereotyped, narrow and predictable roles. If the woman is not a teenager, she is a secretary, a nurse, a schoolgirl, pregnant or a housewife. She is very rarely a doctor, CEO or successful businesswoman. The role of the female character in pornography is almost entirely a subordinate one and rarely exhibits her own desire, most often being an object for her male partner to do with what he wants. Furthermore, women must either embody the virgin role, innocent and subdued, or the dirty whore in need of re-education. There is no middle ground.

The expectation on women to either be, as one Australian feminist coined, ‘Damned whores or God’s Police’ is one that has been going on in feminist circles for decades. In porn, more often than in life, this expectation is magnified. Herein lies a particularly negative side of porn. The narrow view of women propagated by pornography has had hugely damaging consequences on women whose feelings of physical inadequacy are leading them to sign up for genital surgery to make themselves look more like the women they see in pornography. Furthermore, men are disadvantaged by a life in which their self-esteem has grown intrinsically entwined with sexual performance, where not only does sex become almost the only means through which many men can feel intimate and close, but also the way in which they find validation. But sex itself, of course, cannot possibly satisfy such demands.

It is this unfortunate situation that porn has openly exploited. For in pornography, unlike in real life, there is no criticism, real or imagined, of male performance. Women are always, in the words of the average porn site, “hot and ready”, eager to please. In real life, by contrast, sex is not so straightforward. However, with the convergence of porn and pop culture, this dichotomy is becoming more and more difficult to discern

One male writer on pornography states, “The illusion is created that women are really in their rightful place and that there is, after all, no real and serious challenge to male authority.” Seen in this light, the blatantly ridiculous typical porn scenario of the pretty hitch-hiker, nurse or secretary who is happy to let herself be gang-banged by a group of overweight, hairy-shouldered couch potatoes makes perfect psychological sense to the porn consumer.

Hardcore porn is an industry predominantly driven by men, funded by men, managed by men, directed by men and targeted at men. Hardcore porn tends to have one worldview, stating this is the way sex is and should be. And while previously porn was difficult to access, embarrassing to admit to watching and clandestinely circulated by magazines after school, today’s porn consumers access to pornography has never been easier, and its users never younger.

With the advent of the Internet………….. porn has become so easy to access that one can accidentally stumble upon seriously hardcore porn without meaning to. In an internet search for ‘porn, virgin, whore’ that I did when researching for this debate, I was directed on the first page to a website called rapescan.com which openly advertises its rape fantasy films including the titles “virgin girl brutally gang raped”. “Hot blonde teenager drugged and raped”, “sexy whore assaulted by two bastards”. This page is not just available to me as a 22 year old actively seeking information on the painful side of porn, but also to far more vulnerable characters in our society. In particular children are becoming more and more exposed to pornographic imagery, with the average age of first exposure to porn being 11 years old. Kids have also been subtly engaged in curiosity about pornography whether through music video clips or television programs with explicit sexual content. Perhaps the most disturbing thing I found in my research is that the fourth most popular search term for 7 year olds, after facebook, YouTube and Google, is porn.

This is where fantasy meets reality. Where pornography is no longer just about satisfying adult sexual desire, but where children are seeking education from something that is so damagingly misleading.

We currently live in a culture of Puritanism and double standards, where people believe abstinence-only programs will extinguish teenage pregnancies and rising rates of STD’s, where parents are too embarrassed or afraid to discuss sex with their kids, and where high schools and colleges are vilified if they decide to introduce comprehensive sex education programs. Hardcore porn has become by default the sex education of today.

Ultimately this is my greatest concern and perhaps the most compelling argument against pornography. As a feminist woman who has seen first hand the pervasive influence of porn on contemporary society, I can say that indeed pornography has the capacity to cause far more pain than pleasure. However, in saying this I am not trying to deny the importance of sexuality and sex and also recognise that all attempts to stifle human sexuality have thus far failed. Furthermore, I could not say that all depictions of sex are negative; erotica as distinct from pornography can in many ways stimulates sexual imagination, and more often promotes both sex and love where pornography enforces domination and control. Sex ought to be interactive, not a one man show.

I do not believe that my musings on the more detrimental aspects of porn will convince those of you who regularly watch porn to switch off your computers and throw away your magazines. However, as the new generation of politically active members of society, I would encourage you to move away from blending fantasy and reality.

The reality, I can undoubtedly tell you, is that you will have great difficulty finding the female porn character in real life. Trying to turn a real woman into a porn star, or trying to turn yourself into one, will most definitely cause you more pain than pleasure.

Finally I will leave you with a message from a prominent feminist that I hope will influence your behaviour next time you have the desire to reenact a fantasy you viewed online. Remember, ‘make love, not porn’
Thank you

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