Arwan at Pandagon describes herself as pro-sex, anti-porn, opening up a discussion on the boundaries of pornography and how individuals interact with (or choose not to) those boundaries. I left a long comment responding to two of the commentors’ posts, both of which concerned me for their projection of assumptions about the nature of porn onto those who produce and consume it. The comment is in the moderation queue, and I don’t know how that works over there, so I figured I’d post it here (plus, I make some points I want to come back to someday, and this site is for storing ideas I want to come back to someday):
eponymous wrote:”I will agree with you that violent porn, underage porn, exploitative porn, or certain fetish porn are certainly damaging to the women involved in them.”
How do we know that? The women involved in porn are actors performing under pretty highly controlled situations. I’m sure abuses happen in the porn industry — abuses happen at Wal-Mart, which is far more in the public eye, so they’re bound to happen in the porn industry, which almost unexplainably isn’t in the public eye — but the possibility of abuse doesn’t mean we can simply assume abuse across the board.
Lorenzo is right to situate his (?) critique in the consumption of porn imagery, although I have reservations about a critique, even a “structural critique”, that writes the actors and agents involved out of the picture. “The problem with the sex-work industries, from a broader perspective, is that they are premissed on the social construction of womenâ€™s sexuality as consisting primarily or solely of performance to satisfy male sexuality.” Again, though, how do we know that? How far can an analysis of the imagery take us? How much is Lorenzo assuming about the women and men involved in making and consuming porn? And how much of that assumption is based on his own consumption of pornographic images, rather than on personal interaction with the people involved? (I don’t mean to single Lorenzo out here; the argument is an ubiquitous one, he just happens to be representing it in this forum.)
What concerns me is that, if porn is supposed to be so empowering to men and so disempowering to women, if porn is supposed to be so reflective of the male gaze and of male power-fantasies, why are men so intimidated, so uncomfortable about porn? In the (very) few accounts I’ve read based on actual interaction with viewers of porn, one of the recurring theme has been the shame and discomfort porn engenders. Buying porn is, in most cases, done secretly or anonymously. Viewing porn alone, the same. Male homosocial bonding experiences like stag parties and the like in wihch porn is viewed collectively are rife with embarassment and homophobic panic. As I mentioned above, the production and distribution of porn is veiled in secrecy (hence the greater potnetial for abuse), despite the fact that the biggest players in the industry are megacorporations like Marriott and News Corp. For something that’s supposedly so imbrecated with male power, male power sure seems to go to great lengths to dissociate itself from porn!
The question that rarely gets raised is “why do some people consume porn?” One of the reasons it’s so rarely raised is because it’s so hard to do the empirical research that would be needed to answer it, precisely for the reasons I just described. It’s hard to get people to sit still for an interview on their porn viewing habits, and harder still to locate all the people who consume it anonymously via the Internet. So we’re left to fall back on assumptions, whch reflect our own personalities and positions far more than they do those of people who watch porn. And while that may be satisfying, somehow, cutting out the actual subjectivities of the people we’re discussing is a far cry from feminist analysis.