Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Feminism vs. Pornography: An amateurish look on contemporary feminine politics

Sociological scholars have termed feminism and politics in the western context as too ambiguous and difficult to define. A very crude definition of feminism could be “The recognition that, virtually across time and place, men and women are unequal in the power that they have, either in the society or over their own lives, and the corollary belief that men and women should be equal; the belief that knowledge has been written about by and for men and the corollary belief that all school of knowledge be re-examined and understood to reveal the extent to which they ignore or distort gender” [1].

Since the beginning of the concept of Feminism in the early 17th century, it has undergone major changes in its philosophy. The first wave dealt with the voting rights of women, the second wave with the inequalities of laws and culture, and the third wave was the continuation of the second wave and deals with the perceived failures of the second wave as well. Feminists often differ in opinion over the sources of inequality, how to attain equality, and the extent to which gender and gender-based identities should be questioned and critiqued. Modern feminist political activists commonly campaign for a woman's right to bodily integrity and autonomy on matters such as reproductive rights, including the right to abortion, access to contraception and quality prenatal care; for protection from domestic violence; against sexual harassment and rape; for workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay; and against other forms of discrimination.

As described in Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the word pornography is derived from Greek words pornè (prostitute) and graphein (to write). Thus, pornography literally means any piece of work which describes the lifestyle and trade of prostitutes. It is to be added that by definition, pornographic works have no sense of aesthetics or art. On the other hand, erotica has been described in literature and dictionaries as more acceptable and egalitarian and is also considered to be artistic while causing sexual arousal in parallel. Sociological literature available in print and on web since the last decade of the previous century indicate that radical feminists have been discussing on the effects of pornographic literature on society in general and women in particular [1,2,3]. Kathleen Berry reiterates that “pornography no longer describes only the sexual activities between prostitutes and their customers. Sexual liberation has brought into the home many of the bizarre sexual activities that men have demanded of prostitutes. Pornography depicts not just what one can do with a whore but with one's lover, one's wife and even one's daughter. Through pornography, time honoured distinction of the society are now blurring and the gap is quickly closing between love and violence, madonnas and whores.”[4].

The feminist theory of pornography is derived from the feminist theory of sexuality; pornography reflects and reinforces the subordinating nature of male sexuality and power. More radical feminists construe male sexuality as predominantly, or even totally, subordinating, whereas less radical feminists draw distinctions between humanistic (egalitarian) and non-humanistic (subordinating) male sexuality as well violent and non-violent erotic variations. It is due to this duality of the understanding of feminism that events like sexual harassment at the workplace, pornography etc. have been a cause of prime concern for men as well women personally as well as politically.

Let us look at some scenarios/examples where we should agree with the feminists [5].

  1. A teen sex movie clip wherein an eighteen year old Russian girl in the best of her clothing turns up for chatting up with two men. The men in turn use their camera to film her body and taking the brief chance to feel and play with the girl's twin assets. Subsequently, the other man undresses the girl, and then the two take turns in gratifying themselves almost simultaneously. While this description and the enactment of the scene would have aroused most of the men, it is to be noted that there was no feeling of pleasure on the face of the girl. I felt as if she was forced to be a part of the clip and as if she was silently crying inside herself while letting the two men enjoy her body.

    This film does many things together. It signifies that the teenage girl (from Russia) is of loose character or rather a prostitute, it objectifies the girl and also it could give a signal to the viewer that Russian girls are of similar nature. It is to be mentioned here that the same scenario is replayed in many clips wherein emotions and bodies of females from countries other the particular country where the clip was filmed, were played with. This could rather conclude that the females from the rest of the world are whores while that certain country enjoys.

  2. A woman enters a bar and sees a man with a high class SLR camera, whose arms are full of tattoos. She asks the barman for a drink and some snacks and tries to chat with the man. The man however misbehaves with her and does not talk with her properly. A few minutes later the man leaves the bar. Another few minutes later, we see the girl at the man's place. The man asks the girl for an explanation as to why she was following him. She replies that she found the man attractive. A few minutes later we see that the woman is tied up, bound, gagged and naked. The man is enjoying himself hitting the woman as well as inserting objects into her private parts, while the woman shouts with a mix of pain and pleasure.

    This film indicates that women love pain. The stronger the man, the more the pain, the more the pleasure. This film clip could aggravate the cause of rape in the society forcing psycho criminals to believe what they saw in the clips. It could also indicate that sporting tattoos and earrings were cool whereas normally most of us would not find such a person attractive.

The effect of pornography on the lives of people raise many eyebrows. A friend of my acquaintance who lived in and loved India, was married to a non-resident Indian male. The NRI forced his wife to watch pornography, forced her to pose nude for the camera while clicking many indecent photographs of hers and further, he drew ultimate sexual pleasure in beating up the woman, causing permanent physical injury to her backbone. Although this is only a single instance in my knowledge, the sexual frustration of males must have caused similar troubles and problems everywhere. Mackinnon, like many other radical feminists maintains that pornography is harmful in itself, not only because it may trigger specific sexual violence or harmful attitudes; pornography also constitutes an ideal instrument of male domination that generates and reinforces subordination and discrimination against women in a broader systemic sense. [2]

“Sex” as a topic for discussion is considered as a taboo in India. Let us digress a bit and have a look on the outlook of the common Indian woman towards sex and related discussions. According to my survey made over the last few years on women, 98% of the internet chats seeking information on sexuality were responded with “Chhee! Kitni gandi baatein karte ho! Saare mard ek jaise hote hai (Gosh! What filthy talk! All males are equal!)”. But what does that mean? Don't women like the concept of sex? Or is it that the concept of sex is such a taboo in our country, that talking or discussing about sexuality would label women as whores? It is probably the third opinion which moves in everybody's minds. However, it was observed that if the words were “well framed”, the women would readily respond to the questions. This is well confirmed by a testimonial of a girl in Orkut, “...she likes adult jokes but only when presented in a nice way ...”

The curiosity of women towards sex, sexuality as well as pornography can be well established by evidences of my internet chats with several girls in their early twenties (assuming that they were females with whom I chatted). Some accepted the fact that they have watched pornographic clips and enjoyed self gratification whereas some just bypassed the question as if they did not read the sentence at all.

Suddhasheel Ghosh [6] graphically illustrates the fact with concrete examples that how women try to take personal and undue advantage of situations and use men. They also use their assets and other skill sets like tears, cajoling and scolding to the fullest advantage. For example one of my friends was on the train from Ranchi to Delhi. The train was late by 4 hours and it was midnight when the train halted at a remote station. A couple of rogue engineering college students started drumming the body of the train and woke everyone up. A newly married couple, who appeared to be college students as well, got inside the train along with lot of baggage. They were on the side seats. At half an hour past midnight they started discussing the administration of Windows XP without any concern for the other passengers. At around one o'clock, they thought that they should retire to the berths and hence started pushing their baggages under other people's seats except their own. My friend seriously objected to this. The girl approached my friend, started shouting at him and caught hold of his hand. My friend retorted by twisting her finger. The accompanying passengers started criticising the female for her indecent behaviour. The girl came up with her crocodile tears. In the morning, my friend was pulled out of the train at Allahabad station and beaten up for giving a bad name to the girl. On hearing the story and thinking about it again and again I have not been able to conclude as to whose fault it was inside the train. Many a female would sympathise with the girl, I certainly do not.

Although I agree to the fact that pornography is demeaning to women to a considerable degree, it does not necessarily categorise the male species appreciating pornography as devoid of humane qualities However, hardcore feminists have appeared to take political advantage of this. As mentioned earlier, they have labelled the male sexuality as subordinating. Males can always opine that actresses in the porn industry are highly paid, well respected and therefore their conscience is clear. It however seems here that the context in which the feminists argue, is more biblical (watching is as good as endorsing it!). They would also add that working in a porn industry may have been the last choice for the actors.

It isn't very surprising to observe that feminists have not been able to establish unanimity over the possibility of achieving equal sexual relations. The more radical the theory, the less sanguine the assessment. According to Andrea Dworkin, “terror issues from the male, illuminates his essential nature and his basic purpose.”[2] However radical the feminists may turn out, they have not been able to establish basic guidelines on having equal sexual relationships. As a result, women would continue to take advantage of men politically and personally as the need arises thus labelling men as dominating physically and sexually. We men, yes the poor men, would continue to suffer the brunt of radical feminists along with the heat of global warming.

  1. Arneil, Barbara (1999), Politics and Feminism: An introduction, Blackwell Publishing
  2. Downs, Donald Alexander (1989), The new politics of pornography, University of Chicago Press
  3. Juffer, Jane (1998), At home with pornography: Women, Sex and everyday life, NYU Press
  4. Berry, Kathleen (1984), Female sexual slavery, NYU Press.
  5. Slade, Joseph W. (2000), Pornography and sexual representation: A reference guide, Greenwood Publishing Group
  6. Ghosh, Suddhasheel (2007), Women's liberty: Is it how we think about it – I?, http://shudh.blogspot.com/2007/08/womens-liberty-is-it-how-we-think-about.html

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