Porn Goes Mainstream…and “Female-Friendly”.

A fun part of this series (click to catch up on some of the excellent previous posts!) has been getting to collaborate with such brilliant writers. An old Uni acquaintance, Sarah, got in touch about the series and after a bit of dialogue, agreed to write this post on the pornification of culture, specifically in relation to “female-friendly porn”, today known as 50 Shades of Grey and company. Sarah McCloskey is a 22 year old English teacher who hails from County Derry in Northern Ireland and is interested in how culture affects society. She blogs here.

Porn’s been in the news/media a lot these days. Between 4thought’s “Has The Internet Ruined Sex?” series, the top selling novel “50 Shades of Grey” dominating the book charts and Louis Theroux’s “Twilight of the Pornstars” documentary.

We are breaking down the barriers and discussing, consuming, reading and experiencing porn – sometimes against our will – because it’s everywhere. In a bid to compete in this internet era, musicians have been making music videos that I can only call soft porn, which increasingly push this line and get racier from year to year. TV Dramas are increasingly explicit in their sex scenes. Born in 1989, most of the music videos I’ve seen have always had sexual suggestions, but today’s videos are competing in a different forum, fighting for airtime amongst the vast catalogue of internet videos and wanting to appeal to emotions and, well, er… genitals.

This kind of video has become the standard, which, yes, you’ve guessed it, has become the standard fashion for women. Take Beyonce’s “Why Don’t You Love Me?” video. Now, this woman is a born entertainer, an exceptional singer and I don’t know anyone who would disagree with me when I say she’s an aesthetically pleasing woman…

For anyone who hasn’t seen the video, B vamps up the role of domestic goddess circa 1960. There are enough perfectly complimenting colours , cute outfits and love-to-hate-them man bashing sentiments for women to enjoy but also a lot of lunges with the mop, sensual dishwashing and suggestive moves with a rolling pin which create a false image of the woman at home. But there’s a message lingering beneath this song – why am I not enough?

I was cleaning last week during my annual clearout – the reality was no make-up, bleached trackie bottoms, a pair of Marigolds and hair scraped back. It has struck me that other bloggers in the series, male, have questioned what young men expect of women because of the media they are surrounded by. Are real women enough? Like I say, male bloggers have brought this to my attention so I am not man-bashing. If anything women are letting this happen to themselves. Sure we all like to look our best, but 24/7 music video perfect is not obtainable if we’re getting on with the general business of life.

It’s always been a stereotypically male thing, the whole porn business. But now women are saying, Hang on, we’re sexual beings too! Let us have our fun! Your porn degrades us – making us look like we enjoy things we’d never even dream of…so we’re going to have our own sexual fantasies! HA!

I’ve read this argument in a few women’s blogs, books and columns recently. As someone who feels porn is a damaging force in our society, I would not advocate female porn. On some scale, however, I thought we might find a lesser-of-two evils scenario. We will have women being writers and producers of novels and films that feature well rounded characters with caring romantic qualities at their core. Surely that’s the stereotypical female fantasy? That’s what’s been missing from male-directed porn all along?

Ideally, the women would take up their pens and do a Queen Victoria, tell us all the romance with just a hint at the physicality, to preserve some intimacy of course. (Queen Victoria wrote a little about her wedding night- quite lovely if you disregard the fact that she married her first cousin).

Alas, how very utterly wrong I was. Obviously I wasn’t quite expecting the above from yesteryear but shades of it, perhaps with a few bum slaps here and there. What we got was shades of something else.

I must admit I haven’t read “50 Shades of Grey”, but the phenomenon is worth commenting on. My reasons for not reading :

i) The prose is shocking. The quotations I’ve encountered repulse me as an English teacher and reader.

His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.
Description 101: if you need to qualify your simile with the phrase “or something”, it probably wasn’t that good of a comparison to start with.” (Thanks Cassandra Parkin!)

ii) Upon inquiring about the plot, I have gathered the following :

Young female virgin gets city job. Company CEO says “Sign contract and be my sex slave”. YFV accepts. (??) YFV is gagged and possessively “played with”. Big boss man can’t get enough of her after all the kinky BDSM in “The Red Room of Pain”.

And they say romance is dead….

Ladies who are reading this book, please tell me why you are reading it and why you are buying into a phenomenon that gives men the message that you want this?! Do you want this? To be stripped of who you are and reduced to a play-thing? I had contemplated reading the book for the purpose of this post but I am ultimately reluctant to buy into such a phenomenon. Please let me know what I haven’t picked up on.

The reason I am commenting about a book I haven’t read is because I find it strange that suddenly it’s acceptable for women to consume porn. It’s as if this book has signalled that it’s O.K and it’s the must-read right now. Not a cult underground kind of acceptance but a No 1 selling –everyone’s –talking-about-it acceptance. Look at the book – the title is boring, suggesting that it’s a Dulux colour chart and the cover is not top shelf or even Jilly Cooper-suggestive. Women don’t want to be seen to be reading erotic fiction. Is this because the taboo hasn’t been overcome or is this because we know that we should be more wholesome in our literary choices? I thought that with such a hype everyone would know what the book was and it would put readers off, but everyone I talk to says their workplaces and friend groups are united over their love for this book / sadist protagonist.

It’s interesting that the author originally wrote it as Twilight fan fiction. Remember last year’s Vampire obsession? (Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter probably signals the death of that.) Women want these unobtainable men as well. Men who make it the purpose of their existence to express love obsessively in ardent whispers, with fangs acting phallically.

An opinion recently expressed by a friend suggests that women want “real men”, and it’s hard for men to be physical men in this world of mortgages and meterosexuals, office jobs and computers. So we have this warped dominance in the arts to compensate. Acts which don’t involve female participation. Well, there’s a reversal of the female emancipation! How can a woman enjoy a vampire draining them of blood? A man gagging them into silence and performing whatever selfish act he wants?

It is often said that life imitates art. If we allow this cultural acceptance of sadism and allow people to be reduced to sexual objects, reality follows.

Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve recently read a letter from a young man to the Irish News arguing that we might as well make prostitution legal, so that women aren’t treated so badly. I was very upset.

No woman, if she is honest with herself, fancies a life of prostitution, no matter how “good” the conditions are. Take Pretty Woman, for instance. Julia Roberts plays a sassy ‘prossie’, who seems to embrace it all, but as the layers are removed (eh, the emotional ones) we see a broken character who just wants to be rescued. Even when she’s staying at the Plaza, offered a condo and given free rein on a billionaire’s credit card on Rodeo Drive, she says “I want more”. It’s not more things she’s after, it’s an escape from what she has been reduced to. Edward eventually does just that for her. And doesn’t every woman hail this as the epitome of chick flick? I fathom that what made Richard Gere and Sting so appealing to women in the past was their art (Pretty Woman, Roxanne) ; it depicted men who saved women from “selling their bodies to the night”.

‘(Vivienne and Edward – Pretty Woman)

Prostitution is a final resort, it requires a desensitization and you cannot put a price on your body. Women are trafficked everyday against their will or have been brainwashed by traffickers to consider this the only means of survival.

Just this week the PSNI issued a report about this organized crime:

“During the past year, 33 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued in a series of police raids.”

BBC NI NEWS Online, 05/07/12

…and these are only the instances that have been dealt with. 17 of these 33 were women being forced to work as prostitutes and 8 were minors trafficked for sex work. The other 8 were used for exploitative labour. People are being used. And it’s not far from home.

So that’s my short response to a man advocating the legalisation of prostitution…what about a woman? Women are most often the victim in this scenario, so why would another back it?

Above : Caitlin Moran, Times columnist

Caitlin writes a lot about being a modern woman and for that I salute her. Caitlin writes about being a feminist and for that I say I’ll take the good stuff like equality and realistic grooming expectations and leave out some other things, especially the pro porn and prostitution sentiment.

Now, if a popular mainstream pro-women’s’ rights writer is able to get a column published in the Saturday Times about how prostitution should be legal for the Olympics, instead of there being a recent crack down on brothels, I would worry if I were a full blown feminist.

“So, in the 21st century, it is odd that we are still confused and panicky about women being paid to have sex. Banishing them to industrial estates at 4am, out of medieval strain of fear, or spite…For the first time in mankind’s history, sex has no overtones of death disease or pregnancy. Sex is just sex.”

Caitlin Moran, Times Magazine, 23/06/12

Porn has reduced sex to “just sex”. People, men and women, have been stripped of their whole person and reduced to objects. We pay for objects and services, as Caitlin points out, such as babysitters. But why let people, their bodies and their most intimate expressions become these things? Basic human instinct tells you to nurture a child – whoever owns it. Basic human instinct tells you to express your love freely – not with whoever’s paying. Governments are always considering how to raise self esteem in young people, whilst this disposable-people attitude is the norm in our society. We are worth more and it is the porn culture (one that has trickled into the mainstream) that has allowed us to forget this, allowed many to not even know their worth in the first instance. I am happy I live in a country where prostitution is illegal, because if it were legal what would that say about how women, sexuality and human life in general was perceived? An acceptance of pornography is pushing for this further acceptance of women as commodities. Some women have no choice, they are forced into prostitution or pornography, but I think fighting to end this rather than “make conditions better “is what we should be aiming for. The “use” of people is not tolerable. And porn is the root of the problem. Porn directed at men was the biggest fuel towards this culture, but porn for women will inevitably allow them to feel this is normal and even necessary trade.

Louis Theroux’s “Twilight of the Pornstars” showed us just how men and women struggle in their real relationships because of their on-screen objectification. I was reduced to tears by the testimony of one actor, who wanted a wife and family but the path he had chosen had affected his ability to have emotional connections in his physical expressions. What becomes of the thousands more who consume the pornography? How are their relationships affected?

The art comes to life : the fiction creates a hollow fantasy, the fantasy is filmed and the fantasy becomes the must-have. They say prostitution is the oldest business in the world because there’s always been a “need” for it. I say there’s always been a need for a love that goes beyond ourselves, something that is of course challenging but not worth disregarding.

Whilst we allow the porn culture to grow we allow desire to become need and instant gratification to be acceptable which ultimately feeds the trafficking industry. We have divorced sex from fidelity, passion and the possibility of procreation. Procreation although not always possible is still a possibility of the act, and this is a big reason for us to respect it and the person it is with if we are to maintain respect for humans as a whole.

We need to rediscover the purpose of our bodies, sexualities and ability to authentically love for the sake of another.

I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. We’ve all been fed the lies and at some point. If we are honest with ourselves, we have fallen for it in some way; whether through consumption of porn, objectifying others or objectifying ourselves and our image. It’s practically inescapable in the Western world. Let’s try to amend that by being vocal about the worrying aspects of our culture, being honest about our struggles with getting past what it tells us and generally aim higher with our sexualities to conquer this increasing acceptance of humans as hollow vessels and commodities.

As for me, I share my laptop with my parents, and researching for this piece means I have a very colourful browsing history which I’m off to delete…

// What do you think? How do you see the pornification of culture? Is ‘mummy porn’ a good thing? Does it necessarily lead to prostitution and trafficking? Is the legalisation of prostitution a bad thing? Would love to hear your thoughts. //

One response to “Porn Goes Mainstream…and “Female-Friendly”.

  1. Thank you for another thoughtful and well-reasoned post. I hope you don’t mind if I make 3 points that occur to me.

    1 – I sort of miss “good-old-fashioned porn” – the sort that existed on the top shelf of the newsagent and was sold to over-18s only. The case of the internet-porn-consuming boy who raped a 4-year old backs up the very good point you made about an image being in the brain forever once it’s been consumed.

    2 – Related – in a sense “50 shades of Grey” is “good-old-fashioned-porn”, in that to consume it one needs a degree of literacy and the emotional intelligence to place oneself in somebody else’s shoes. Also, because it’s in book form, there’s not the issues of explicit (picture) images turning off the executive front-brain and being pushed by dopamine straight into the amygdala.

    3 – I reckon that Pretty Woman was a fantasy for men more than women, in that it spoke to the rescue-fantasy many men have. In the addictions sector we always had to watch out for counter-transference, which in the case of treating eg street-prostitutes has been known to push workers over the professional line from therapists to rescuers. Men are especially vulnerable to this “white-knighting”, as somebody once called it.

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