Porn and Patriarchy

Posted by | May 14, 2013 | Opinion, Ormondian | No Comments
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Recently, I’ve dabbled in anti-porn feminism and pro-sex feminism, watched porn in a lecture theatre, witnessed the controversy surrounding Masterchef’s sexism, and enjoyed Four Letter Word’s fantastic production of In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). So, I thought I might share some thoughts on sexuality, gender and porn.

I know, right? Groan. I hate it when people doing gender studies talk about sexuality and gender and how women are oppressed, and men are satanists all working to take them down with their genitals. But bear with me.

Society’s position on women and sex seems to be riddled with baffling contradictions. Unlike the nineteenth century women of In the Next Room, who are positively stumped by the notion of an orgasm and have little understanding of their sexuality, today’s women are expected to be, as Lil’ Jon so eloquently put it in 2004, “a lady in the street but a freak in the bed.”

Admittedly, my contact with pornography is minimal to say the least. As a feminist, it’s easy to denounce porn: it encourages patriarchal values, it creates unrealistic expectations for sex, it denigrates women, and some of it is weird and illegal. The list goes on. However, anti-porn feminism is not without its own argumentative flaws. The assumption that porn is only consumed and enjoyed by men is problematic in its own right. While it cannot be denied that the majority of porn is made for the male gaze, this isn’t to say there aren’t women who enjoy porn, although they’re largely silenced by social stigma. In The Next Room’s representation of the uneasiness surrounding women and masturbation remains incredibly relevant. There is no denying that sexuality is more celebrated today than it was then, however whilst most men would comfortably sit around and discuss masturbation, it’s not a topic of conversation amongst women.

It’s not just porn that propagates patriarchal values. Mainstream cinema and popular culture are also culprits. Sure, it isn’t as overtly aggressive, but it’s there. We’ve all heard the Disney princess argument and watched one too many Nicholas Sparks films. And the brainwashing affects men, too. Suddenly, they’re expected to write us 365 letters and find all our flaws ‘endearing’. Moreover, sex in mainstream cinema is all heavy breathing and close-ups of hands on skin. In reality, however, not everyone looks like Mila Kunis or Ashton Kutcher. Some art house cinema tries their hands at unsimulated sex; I suggest you watch Intimacy (2001) to see what sex actually looks like without Hollywood lighting or staged penetration close-ups.

The porn industry has serious issues with health, safety, and the treatment of actors. Legality becomes dubious as race, age and sexual violence enter the equation; not to mention women being paid for the amount of pain they can endure. However, this is symptomatic of a broader societal issue. Women’s sexuality is more complex than Lil’ Jon might have us believe, and as society continues to open up about female desire, I hope that porn might evolve accordingly.