Porn Part 5: The Other Half of the Big Picture

In the vast majority of porn, to quote Robert Jensen, “women are reduced to three holes and two hands. In pornography, women are reduced to the parts of their bodies that can sexually stimulate men. Women are not really sex-objects (which at least implies they are human) but more fuck-objects, simply things to be penetrated.” Anyone who doesn’t believe that such a message, when communicated repeatedly to a huge proportion of the population and coupled with the world’s most powerful conditioning mechanism (orgasm), doesn’t have an effect on our society is a fucking fool. By coloring people’s perceptions of women and their relative humanity, porn has directly contributed to the growing (yes, growing) misogyny in our popular culture, it has directly hindered women’s progress toward financial, social, and legal equality, and it has directly fueled the increase in sexual assaults across the country, especially the lesser discussed kinds of sexual assault that are becoming so common that they are almost no longer deemed noteworthy.

Not to bring up Robert Jensen every three sentences, but he’s made a point that I find extremely salient when it comes to how porn affects women’s lives. If I have to go to court tomorrow, or I have to go discuss my career with my boss, or I have to work on a project at work or school with men, or I have to deal with a cop, or I have to rely in any way on a man in a position of authority to treat me fairly, shouldn’t it worry me to think he might have been watching a film the night before in which a woman has her head shoved into a toilet while someone uses her like a piece of toilet paper? I know some of you may say that the authority figure in question probably wouldn’t be equating me with the woman he jerked off to the night before, but can someone really suspend their sense of empathy long enough to jerk off to an image like that and then see me as an equal human being the next day? Doubtful. And men get together every day to make decisions that affect women’s lives. Men decide whether to promote women, whether to give them raises, whether to hire them, whether to take their claims of sexual harassment seriously, whether to pass a law that hurts or harms their rights to equal pay for equal work, safe and effective health care, etc.

At issue in all of the controversies surrounding porn seems to be whether men can separate porn from reality. Is that really the question to be asking? How about asking why we need to do that? Why do we need two sets of women, one that can be abused for the enjoyment of a wanking audience, and one that should be treated otherwise (but not necessarily like equals)? Isn’t the argument that one can separate porn from reality a tacit admission that something is wrong with what’s going on in porn?

As interesting as that entitled assumption might be to analyze, it just isn’t possible to make such a firm distinction. I know that men are capable of differentiating between what they see in porn and what they can expect in real life, but I don’t believe that their view of women and their character and nature escapes the influence of pornography unscathed. Pornography is anti-woman propaganda, and its delivery mechanism is one of the most effective there is. Every man who uses porn ought to ask himself whether porn has had any influence on the way he understands women and the way he thinks about them, especially when he’s angry with them. Be honest, if only with yourself.

But fuck that. I don’t need any dude to be honest with me about that concept, because the proof is in the assault statistics. I don’t suppose I’ll be shocking anyone when I say that rape and sexual assaults have risen across the board in tandem with the exponential increase in internet porn and in tandem with the ever-increasing violence and degradation in porn. One of the most stentorian messages communicated by pornography is that women are hyper-available, that they are here to be used by men for what purposes men choose to use them for. I know plenty of men are smart enough to realize that isn’t the case, but plenty of others aren’t. Do I have a SINGLE female reader who hasn’t been assaulted (if one includes uninvited groping as well as date rape and stranger rape under the umbrella of assault, as one should) at least once? I doubt it. When men come to see women in the way that porn portrays them, there is nothing that seems out of bounds. Grabbing a stranger’s ass at a party? Yelling obscene shit at a woman on the street? Asking a stranger to “show us your tits”? No problem. In fact, younger girls are so used to it that most of them don’t even take offense anymore. Some even take it as a compliment. How slippery is the slope from these kinds of behaviors to date rape? Porn tells boys and young men that they need not respect women’s physical and emotional boundaries, and the message is clearly getting through. Surveys of young men these days show that a shocking number of them don’t think there’s anything wrong with having sex with a girl who is unconscious, and that a woman cannot be raped by her partner.

Lay estimates (meaning common wisdom) tell us that almost all men use porn. I believe that, and I believe that nearly all of the men who use porn have unwittingly absorbed some of its messages about women and their place in the world. How are we ever supposed to expect any kind of equality to develop when most men don’t see most women as full human beings, but rather as conglomerations of sexualized body parts and undesirable personality characteristics? No one can honestly claim that porn doesn’t affect the way men view women, and thus no one can claim that pornography doesn’t negatively affect the way women are treated in our society and women’s chances of ever achieving social and legal equality.