November 09, 2007

Fucking, hell.

I'm 41 pages into Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity by Robert Jensen and the only feedback I can think to give the author is, in fact, "Deeper!" For a serious feminist scholar he seems to have an awfully superficial analysis of his chosen subject.

The problem I'm having with his arguments so far is this: a lack of distinction between "X" and "A particular dominant form of X which I am going to use to make arguments about X in its entirety". He defines masculinity as entirely composed of machismo, necessarily constructed of violence and anxious striving for dominance, and he dismisses without consideration the very idea of alternate masculinities not based on such exploitation. When he calls for an end to masculinity, therefore, he is requiring that the male half of the species forfeit its collective gender identity as well as all possibility of obtaining a new one (because, of course, the only male collective identity possible is the unacceptable masculinity).

Likewise, he defines pornography as entirely composed of the current body of mainstream pornography in which men dominate and humiliate women, and for all that he has clearly watched a truckload of porn in the process of this writing he seems entirely unaware that there exists on the fringes of the porn industry material which skips the patriarchy and abuse and is just, you know, hot stuff about sex. So he calls for an end to porn in the same way that he calls for an end to masculinity, without entertaining the idea of reform and without consideration of the notion that the corruption of these things into institutionalized violence may be an effect of the larger problem of patriarchy and not evidence of the inherent evil of masculinity and porn. Jeez.

He also seems unaware of the fact that women are consumers of porn as well as (hand to forehead) helpless victims of the violence inherent in its production and popularization. Robert! You are not an anthropologist but will you please try to identify the agency of your subjects instead of simply running off at the mouth about their structural exploitation? Again, jeez.

I'm thinking that he could still pull this thing off if he were to give some serious time and thought to the fact that the primary intended use of pornography is solo sexual self-gratification, and since women are consumers it is therefore part of the paraphernalia of a personally-owned sexuality not tied to men, relationships, and reproduction. And therefore the exploitation depicted and encouraged by the increasingly creepy body of mainstream porn (I will of course grant him that it is, indeed, extremely creepy) is a conundrum and a contradiction deserving of some actual nuanced analysis. I hold out hope for such analysis, but the table of contents is not encouraging.

Besides, his agenda appears to be entirely self-defeating. If he succeeds, as he appears to be attempting to do, in persuading men of the feminist-criticism-reading population to become ashamed and eschew pornography, he will have done nothing but leave the enterprise to those who have no qualms about the exploitation of women. That's called turning your back on an incredibly influential medium and allowing it to become even more scary and extreme. It's not like porn is going to go away if sensitive progressive men convince each other to wash their hands of it, and they are deeply unlikely to convince the rest of the male population (or female, damnit) to do the same. It is still going to be there. 12-year-old kids of both genders are still going to sneak looks at it with great joy and excitement and fairly enormous influence on their developing ideas about sexuality. So knowing that, do you call it an unredeemable evil and drive it underground where it can continue along its present trajectory of increasing objectionability, or do you drag it into the light and point out how that trajectory is making a damaging mockery of its basic goal of being sexually pleasing and try to create a demand and a desire for a form of it that doesn't validate and perpetuate violence?

Trying to abolish porn because it perpetuates violence strikes me as like trying to abolish sex because it enables rape. The medium is not the message. Just as rape is not about sex, the violence in porn is not about the porn; they are both about a manufactured but thoroughly entrenched gender war that people have been convinced can be won by forcible domination, and that war has permeated so many aspects of human culture that if you go around eliminating everything that highlights it you will have nothing left. For instance, no one will be allowed to wear shoes anymore.

For fuck's sake. Literally.

(Fact: I am actually posting this way too late on Saturday night, rather than the time listed for the entry, but I wanted to keep my zoo pictures at the top of my page for a while longer. They're fuzzy!)

Posted by dianna at November 9, 2007 01:18 AM

Nod to this.

More or less unrelated: David Foster Wallace has an interesting essay about attending the porn awards (what are they called, the Pornies? My Little Pornies?) in his book Consider the Lobster, which then extends into a thoughtful piece about some of the less savory aspects of the modern porn industry. It's a fantastic, fantastic book, if you're looking for something else to add to your forbidden Powell's list.

Posted by: didofoot at November 11, 2007 09:15 AM

Ooh! Wait, I have picked up that forbidden book and I have begun to read that essay! I made myself put it back down and leave the store, but now I am reminded that it is indeed on my list. Which has gotten so long that despite its forbidden nature I am going to have to write it down before I start forgetting things again.

Also, in trying to find the name of the porn awards I stumbled upon the Feminist Porn Awards, a.k.a. the Emmas. That's simultaneously awesome on principle and handy for the discerning shopper.

Posted by: Dianna at November 11, 2007 11:35 AM

Yes, get it, really. I think you'd love it. And I can assure you in advance: no unicorns on the cover. =)

I actually just bought and read yet another unicorn-cover book. Sigh.

Posted by: didofoot at November 12, 2007 09:09 AM