Here is a book that I can’t wait to read: Getting Off (Pornography and the End of Masculinity) by Robert Jensen. It’s a a book by a feminist male against pornography. What the hell is not to like?

But from Don Hazen’s AlterNet review, I can tell that it’s going to be a tough read. From a book excerpt, here’s Jensen:

First, imagine what we could call the cruelty line — the measure of the level of overt cruelty toward, and degradation of, women in contemporary mass-marketed pornography. That line is heading up, sharply.

Second, imagine the normalization line — the measure of the acceptance of pornography in the mainstream of contemporary culture. That line also is on the way up, equally sharply.

If pornography is increasingly cruel and degrading, why is it increasingly commonplace instead of more marginalized? In a society that purports to be civilized, wouldn’t we expect most people to reject sexual material that becomes evermore dismissive of the humanity of women? How do we explain the simultaneous appearance of more, and increasingly more intense, ways to humiliate women sexually and the rising popularity of the films that present those activities?

As is often the case, this paradox can be resolved by recognizing that one of the assumptions is wrong. Here, it’s the assumption that U.S. society routinely rejects cruelty and degradation. In fact, the United States is a nation that has no serious objection to cruelty and degradation. Think of the way we accept the use of brutal weapons in war that kill civilians, or the way we accept the death penalty, or the way we accept crushing economic inequality. There is no paradox in the steady mainstreaming of an intensely cruel pornography. This is a culture with a well-developed legal regime that generally protects individuals’ rights and freedoms, and yet it also is a strikingly cruel culture in the way it accepts brutality and inequality.

And here is Hazen:

No, I’m not a prude, or anti-sex. Nor do I think there should be a national campaign to snuff out all porn. In fact, I sometimes watch certain kinds of porn. But what has become clear to me is that, under the guise of the First Amendment, a huge and powerful porn industrial complex has grown out of control. And a big part of its growth is fueled, not just by the internet, but by continually upping the ante, increasing the extremes of degradation for the women in tens of thousands of films made every year. I am convinced, although it is, of course, difficult to document, that the huge audiences for porn and the pervasiveness of the themes and behaviors of degradation are having a negative impact on the way men behave and the way society treats women.

I should warn you (er, maybe a little late) to not click on any of the links in this post if you’re not willing to hear some pretty horrific shit about porn. Maybe don’t even read the rest of this post. I mean, I had personally (unfortunately) heard of bangbus and slutbus. And though I wasn’t aware that double-penetration is the new “in,” must-include sex act for porn, I can’t say that I’m shocked. Women being called names and ejaculate landing everywhere we can denounce, but not really be surprised by at this point.

But then comes Amanda’s post about an article from Shalom Auslander at Nerve that just might scare the shit out of you. It sure scared the fuck out of me. Again, don’t click on the link unless you’re prepared to be nauseated by what you read. I hadn’t ever really heard of “choke-fucking.” And I didn’t know that holding a woman down and shoving your dick down her throat until she nearly suffocates and ends up covered in vomit is “hot” now, let alone mainstream. And it does more than just disgust and shock me– it hurts, too.

It wakes me up to the fact that, even though I thought I did, I obviously don’t know jack-shit about porn. I mean, I have admittedly viewed little porn in my life. But I’m not naive, either. I use the internet, I love and actively promote sexual pleasure, I’ve been in sex shops and just like each of the men in these articles, you would be hard-pressed to call me a “prude.” I understand that there are different “tiers” of porn, and quite honestly, I don’t have a problem with the softer-core versions of porn, to the extent that it even exists anymore, so long as women and men are objectified equally.

I thought that I had a wake-up call a few months ago when I went into a mainstream sex shop and found more racism than I could wrap my head around. But that was nothing. I still had no clue about what is actually happening in the world of porn, or what I was defending when I told my parents to lighten up about finding out that my brothers had been looking at porn online. If you actually got through all of those articles, tell me: did you? Because while I certainly don’t represent everyone, I cannot believe that I am alone.

A part of me is glad to have not known it, and wishes that I could go back to the place where I didn’t. I can’t say that I wanted to know that “rough sex” these days means “horrifically violent pseudo rape.” And yet, as a feminist, I think that I should have known. — That really, as feminists and women, we need to know, and not knowing has ceased to become a viable option.

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{ 13 comments }

1 Ann September 24, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Based on the admittedly small excerpt, I don’t believe that Jensen’s resolution of the paradox is supported. That is, if the cruelty line is increasing AND the normalization line is increasing, that doesn’t mean that people “routinely” accept cruelty and degradation. Instead, I think it means that softer-core versions of porn gain more acceptance because they don’t look “that bad” in comparison.
This seems like a common phenomenon in many aspects of social behavior. Even children know how to use this argument with their parents: “You should let me do X because it could be worse–my friends are doing Y!”
It’s hard to work up moral indignation about “mere” pornography when…it could be worse. And that’s how the normalization line goes up.

2 Cara September 24, 2007 at 5:40 pm

I actually don’t think that yours and Jensen’s arguments are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think there’s a good possibility of him arguing the same thing in his book. They go together. If you accept more extreme forms of cruelty, it just serves to reason that you would accept less forms of cruelty.

3 Ann September 24, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Yes, but the converse doesn’t “serve to reason.” (If I’m using the word “converse” correctly? It’s been a long time since college philosophy!)
That is, saying “people who accept extreme forms also accept moderate forms” does NOT prove that “people who accept moderate forms accept extreme forms.”

The author wonders why the normalization line didn’t go DOWN when the cruelty line went up. His theory is that people are accepting the extreme forms, but he doesn’t prove that. The interpretation could just as easily be that people are MORE accepting of the moderate forms because they look, well, moderate now! It’s not the same argument at all.
And no, they aren’t mutually exclusive. But he doesn’t present a reason to prefer his argument over others. At least not, as I said, in this excerpt.

4 Cara September 24, 2007 at 8:36 pm

This is true.

I also think, though, that he is arguing that the more extreme pornography is replacing the less extreme, not that it is being tacked on to the previously-existing continuum of hard and soft core porn. If this was the case, it would make his argument valid. I’m assuming that he makes this argument at some point in his book (as Auslander does in his article), but I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t really say!

5 Anna September 24, 2007 at 9:18 pm

What a world – the normalizing of porn – or the pornification of western society (can only speak for the one I live in) is so disturbing it hurts. The issue is spiraling out of control right in front of our eyes but we fail to recognize it because it is our “new normal.”

Let us know when you finish the book & what you think.

6 Lancastrian September 24, 2007 at 9:44 pm

I realize this is an anecdote and so not data, but after that stream of torture porn movies put out by Hollywood, extreme violence towards women seemed rather accepted by the mainstream to me. I mean, the conservative bastion of the MPAA gave them R ratings! I found that particularly scary, considering their history.

7 lia September 24, 2007 at 9:49 pm

greta christina recently had an article on the rise of male dom/female sub porn that was really interesting and coming from a completely different angle than jensen:
http://blog.blowfish.com/culture/male-dom-female-sub/402

8 Cara September 24, 2007 at 10:09 pm

Here’s the problem as I see it with her theory: are a lot of women into being subs? Sure! Of course they are. But we’re not talking about what is traditionally considered sub and dom porn. We’re not talking about men being in control of the actions or acting in an authoritative manner. We’re not even talking about just tying women up or using whips, or even multiple male partners. We’re talking about shocking levels of degradation and violence. Are women into being a sub during sex, YES. But do we believe that women are into horrifying levels of degradation and violence? Do we think that large numbers of women like being literally choked by a dick and vomiting from the violence of it? Do we think that large numbers of women like having a man hold her head down with his foot while another man violently penetrates her anally? I sure as hell do not.

9 jeffliveshere September 25, 2007 at 11:05 am

I’ll be interested to hear your opinions of Jensen’s book after you read it. He catalogs a good deal of porn (though he only pays the briefest of lip service to the racism in porn) and then makes conclusions based on this catalog that–in my opinion–just don’t follow. It’s a technique used by prosecuting attorneys, where they push on a jury just how terrible a crime was, with horrible descriptions and visuals, without making any claims that the defendant is the one who committed the crime. (Which is not to say that I think ‘porn is innocent’–I think it’s much more complex than my analogy to the prosecuting attorney, in the ways that causal chains often are complex; my point is that Jensen doesn’t acknowledge this complexity, at least not in this book.)

Jensen does get a good deal right: His calls for men to acknowledge they have a responsibility to make a change in this regard, for instance.

10 Zoe Hand August 8, 2008 at 9:44 am

Well, I’m female, and I like porn. I find it hot, funny, stupid, interesting and entertaining, sometimes all at the same time.

Acting like victims is like running from a dog. Lots more young women are into porn these days, and much as most of them ARE “sub” so are most men (in fact, probably more men than women).

I’m not easily offending, I can talk porn talk, and I like sex; no one dares touch me without my permission.

11 Zoe Hand August 8, 2008 at 9:44 am

EDIT: Easily offended, sorry.

12 Jen February 5, 2009 at 7:05 am

I am a woman – and I like Dom/sub sex and occasionally porn. So I can answer the questions put by Cara above, specifically:

“But do we believe that women are into horrifying levels of degradation and violence? Do we think that large numbers of women like being literally choked by a dick and vomiting from the violence of it? Do we think that large numbers of women like having a man hold her head down with his foot while another man violently penetrates her anally?”

I’m afraid that I am by no means the only woman to be able to answer ‘yes’. Incidentally there many men who also feel the same. This is a private thing to me, but I feel I must comment here, as I think this post shows how much we are all inclined to believe that our personal mores are in fact a universal, moral ‘right’. Some people love pain, some people love degradation – and are perfectly well adjusted people – men and women. I am in a high powered job and enjoy a loss of control in my private life. I liked greta christina’s article too Lia.

Basically I think we should be open minded, so long as all is consensual, but I do believe that porn and sex in general should firmly have their place – I don’t like the idea that every part of life should be saturated by it, which does seem to be the way society is going rapidly.

13 Cara February 5, 2009 at 9:35 am

Jen, the question I posed was about “large numbers” of women. Depending on how you define “large numbers” (I was thinking an overall percentage of women rather than “how many thousands?” but that was of course unclear), I still think it’s arguably quite true that a large number of women do not enjoy these things.

That does now, however, make enjoying them wrong. And I do sincerely apologize if I have offended you. I have no moral problem whatsoever with any consensual sexual activity. And though I do still have some issues with porn and its place in our society, I believe that I was duped on much of the information I was relying on and have changed my opinion on most of what is in here. It was, in fact, written quite some time ago. And I would no longer choose to define myself as “anti-porn.”

In the interest of honesty, I have chosen to leave the post up. Because I did write it. I am, though, now taking down comments because the post is so old, a target for comments from people who come across it, and no longer at all an accurate reflection of my views.

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