A Debate on Pornography from Feminist Perspective
“Many radical feminists nowadays with a modern/contemporary view believe that the pornography industry that has been created on a sexist and patriarchal bias can cater to a more feminist view. I think that it’s a hard argument to make because there is a foundation of patriarchy happening in porn, and the repercussions we see in social dynamics and personal relationships are very relevant, however I think it is something interesting to examine, because it very well could be manifested within the industry. In this paper, I argue that the pornography industry limits the feminist movement and perspective by feeding into a patriarchal system and male dominated view creating unhealthy social dynamics and personal relationships for feminists. The industry and view that pornography has created feeds into the oppression, disrespect, and exploitation of women. In turn, this inhibits their rights.
Before dissecting, the pornography industry and why feminists find it to be so patriarchal and male dominated, understand not only the sexual politic but the feminist one to understand why feminists feel as if this industry has such a strong effect on their rights. Often, in this paper I speak of the industry expressing a male’s desire and terms as what’s considered central but systemically and historically it has not only been women conforming to men’s attitudes and desires in the bedroom but in the workplace, household, etc. hooks bring up so many important points in “sexism is for everybody” by taking away from a falsified feminist movement which says “hate men” “all men are bad” and goes on to express that anyone can be sexist and patriarchy is not something created and upheld and dominated solely by male bodied people. Once we come to this understanding of feminism and sexism entirewhole, we can come to understand that it’s not about the blame we put on men, or their jobs to change the system or for porn in particular to make it less male dominated, it’s equally about women’s involvement and taking initiative to go into the system and take the places that men have withheld to make the change. Considering the pornography industry for years has been primarily male dominated, sexist and even racist at times I think it is an interesting point to raise, how might it look different or cater to a more feminist view. A lot of hooks views on sexual attitudes and roles play a big part in her view on the porn industry. I think a healthy sexual attitude has a lot to do on our views towards healthy sex and these were not brought to awareness before the feminist movement. A lot of women had little to no understanding of their bodies and sexual organs, going along with the idea that women were at disposal for a male’s sexual desire only. There is a paradigm of the “madonnas” and “whore’s”. We put women into this box, making it harder to enable healthy sexuality.
While the image of the whore was looked at as dirty, there was also a male desire to have a woman like the “whore” who exemplified being “easy” or ready to jump into bed with. The madonna on the other hand was considered the pure and untouched one, often associated with younger looking girls but this was made dirty by the desire to touch the “untouchable”. The feminist movement not only challenged these stereotypes but the stereotypes of those who might be dominant or submissive, tops or bottoms. Bell hooks also mentions how the feminist movement skewed the idea of sexual liberation in ways by saying women are liberated in their bodies by doing whatever the want sexually, being with whomever and with as many people they desire. While this sounded like sexual freedom and liberation it was still a way to deny the needs of their bodies, desires, not to mention safe and protected sex, and mutual respect within an encounter. There then started to be questions of if one could participate in sadomasochism and still be feminist which led to the topic of patriarchal or male dominated pornography. hooks mentions how the concept of male performance, fixation on penetration and the satisfaction of male needs tie into sexist thinking, a lot of these images are shown within the porn industry. Based on bell hooks ideas of radical feminism I think her definition of acceptance of the porn industry would look like women having a right to do whatever they desire with their bodies with whomever, however while also upholding feminist notions of mutual respect, and safe and liberated sexuality.
I think hooks would be able to find ways to come to pornography in this respect, however one of the biggest things she focuses on is gender and race. In order for hooks to accept the industry not only would it have to work on erasing sexism as well as racism. It would not only require feminists to be behind the scenes but women of color as well. I believe for it to be acceptable for her not only would it need to have a portrayal of women liberating their bodies but to set an example of women or people of color decolonizing their bodies. This is a huge idea that I won’t expand on for this paper, but important one as it too contributes to social dynamics and personal relationships by often stigmatizing how we view a particular culture by the few views of it we see portrayed in the media and or industry. It also speaks to my idea of how hooks might view and come to accept the industry. Another interesting concept to me is that hooks was advocating and contributing to the movement during the very time that women were finding freedom and liberation in their bodies and sexual practices. During this time the porn industry shifted to this mindset however hooks critiques the age of “free love” by expressing that many females found freedom in promiscuity and men found pleasure in a new generation in which females had “the least amount of fuss, asserting no demands, particularly emotional ones” this part of the movement was skewed into thinking that female sexual liberation meant women running around doing whatever they desire but still often based on male’s desire because as hooks describes real liberation is expressing sexual desire on both parties terms and having mutual respect within that.
Many feminists would disagree with the porn industry entirely saying that is degrading, exploitation of women and caters to a mostly male view, showing women as objects and commodities. While this is true for most porn, there are other feminists who raise the idea of what might it look like to have women behind the scenes or making the films, specifically feminist women focused on education and healthy sexuality. Creating these films that might be able to defy standards, roles, and patriarchy allowing room for a feminist kind of porn. hooks wrote “feminism is for everybody” during a time when some self proclaimed feminists were disagreeing on the topic of liberated sex or even talking about it for that matter, they were promoting celibacy or waiting until marriage; conversations that took away from the important ones talking about safe and respectful sexuality. However at this same time or within the span of a decade were feminists promoting these conversations on healthy sexuality and talking about what a more feminist pornography industry might look like. From 1983-84 there were feminists making it into the industry, discussing and creating films that “celebrated women’s sexuality” and “taught men how to be better lovers” as well as including women of color and older women which spoke to hooks on her issues of gender and race and women of color being unrepresented in the media, as well as eradicating the paradigm of the “whores” and “madonnas”. In the early 90s feminists started arguing sexism wouldn’t end in porn by taking women out of it by putting them in as “producers, writers and directors” which correlates to when I speak of women taking the initiative to change the movement and fight for their rights. Relationships are not only affected by continuously watching patriarchal porn but by standards and expectations that had a place before the sexual revolution.
A lot of pornography does not portray safe sex or the use or protection and from that there has been an increase of teen pregnancies and unsafe sex. Many people in long term marriages are experiencing little to no sexuality and if so it does not appear to be liberating. Another sexual relationship dynamic created by this line of sexist thinking was the expectation that a female be ready to “give and share pleasure” at all times yet under the male’s circumstances and desire. Based on this paradigm if a female is in a relationship in which she does not desire to be sexual at all times or based on her terms, the male looks elsewhere to receive that satisfaction. hooks brings up issues with this by saying “In a liberatory heterosexual or homosexual relationships both parties should be free to determine when and how frequently they want to be sexual without fear of punishment” but this will never happen until mass media portrays an image of not only safe sexuality but one in which desire becomes a two way street and action, this is where the notion of mutual respect comes into play, and the question arises, if feminists were behind the scenes what would this look like and how might it change sexuality as a whole, as well as dynamics within sexual partnerships. The feminist movement started during a time when media was not a main outlet for information and learning and it was already hard enough to fight for rights. While a lot has changed just based on time and generation what’s scary to me is we now live in an era where media is the biggest form of information intake and if these sexist images are consistently being portrayed within that it adds a whole other layer of perpetuating the system. This alters social dynamics on a day to day basis based on the way the male eye has been conditioned to view a female bodied person and because of this alteration when something happens to a woman it is that much harder for her to fight for her right because of that oppression and exploitation that is that much more enhanced from media and the ever growing pornography industry. Hooks as well as Simone de Beauvoir speak on the notion of femininity and how upholding this standard can also contribute to patriarchy within pornography and personal relationships. The idea of youth is so sought after and desired within this system for females. As a result, many women of older generations find themselves trying to conform to this idea of femininity. This creates unhealthy dynamics within personal relationships based on the fear that they are not desired.
In conclusion I think the debate of whether the pornography industry is interesting and has a lot of aspects to it. When thinking about it you have to dissect everything that goes into the feminist movement, what women have built from it, and the repercussions women have had to face. We must look at not only the feminist political and sexual politics, but how it affects social dynamics, personal relationships and ideas on femininity. I think it will continue to be a debate among some. I believe those who have undergone years of trauma from the system and patriarchy can hold resentment and bitterness which leads to the comments we hear like “all men are bad” and “crush the patriarchy”. Yet those who can also hold that trauma and understand that feminism is for everybody, that equality is not so black and white, that we find power in surrendering to the way things have been built but stepping up to make the change and be right along male’s to do so, I think these are the feminists creating the healing for the masses and initiating these more profound conversations.”