Radical Media.Or, Why Porn is Not.

by Rebecca L. Eisenberg

"What is a nice slut like you doing in an anti-pornography place like this?"

I hear it all the time. As if being opposed to sexist media means that I must be opposed to sex. Such reasoning is somewhat akin to accusing a person who is opposed to pollution of being opposed to air, or, even more so, opposed to breathing.

Perhaps there is a logical explanation for the paranoia. Most pro-porn zealots seem to equate pornography with sex, and therefore they view any criticism of the pornographic medium as a threat to their ability to fuck, or even to masturbate.

In the ever-expansive terrain of knee-jerk liberalism and happy-with-one-global-theory libertarianism, it is much easier to criticize and to condemn than it is to read and to reason. In no arena is this more extreme than that of the hormonally charged issue of pornography, where the slightest peep out of a feminist mouth that someone's sexual media fix might be slightly on the misogynist side sends many men (and some women) running to their bedrooms to lock up their Victoria's Secret catalogs and tubes of astroglide, tossing accusations of "neo-victorianism" and "anti-sex-censorship" in their wake.

I say, get over it. We should feel free to criticize the sex-based media that we surround ourselves with the same way we can criticize the country we choose to live in. In some ways, it seems, media has a more pervasive effect on our everyday interactions and behaviors than does any silly law constructed by lame lawmakers in Washington or in the state capitals. As tiny examples, how many of us even noticed what new animal was put on or taken off the list of governmentally-protected endangered species, and how many of us "really" stop smoking dope when the punishment for its use is increased? But, on the other hand, how many billions of hamburgers has McDonald's sold to people who "deserve their breaks today," and how many copies of Microsoft 95 flew off shelves to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up?"

It is nothing beyond illogical fear that leads porn protectionists to think that criticism of their media is going to decrease their sexual activity, either with other people or by their lonesome. Personally, my own vocal and critical take on sexist media has had little or any effect on my own ability to masturbate or get laid. And, as to the men I hang out with, I have found that the ones who are willing to criticize their media are often the ones that do in fact end up getting more booty. So there goes that theory.

This phenomenon might be explained by the fact that men and women who are willing and eager to trade roles often make the best lays. And most porn, of the "traditional" variety at least, focuses on repeating very basic scenarios over and over again:

(1) he goes down on her.
(2) she goes down on him.
(3) they fuck.
(4) he comes on her. sploosh.


Other types of porn are more creative, showing both men and women in dominant and submissive roles; intermeshing accessories like whips, chains and handcuffs; and including other participants, such as transsexuals, transvestites, groups of people, and animals.

Still, these videos are basically directed by men for a male audience, and, shall we say, lack some imagination. All play ends when the man makes the touchdown.

Should this be surprising? Women own and control the sex industry to approximately the same extent that they own and control the sports industry. The vast majority of pornography is made and produced by men; when words are spoken by women, they are usually put into women's mouths by men. The porn industry, in addition, is one of the few industries in the world that rivals the sports industry in terms of the amount of liquid assets it places in male hands. (Literally and figuratively, of course.)

The prostitution industry provides further evidence of the ways in which the sex trade augments male market control. The overwhelming majority of the consumers of prostitution are males, and the overwhelming majority of the suppliers of prostitution are females, or males who solicit males. The world of prostitution thus starkly divides the sexes between the male consumer and subject, and the female product and resource. Pornography and prostitution cohabit a marketplace of sex that generally caters to the male, and not too discriminating male, I might add, consumer. Finding examples to the contrary hardly dispels the general statistic. And this distribution is not random.

To deny that the male consumerism of the sex industry is related to the product it sells is to insist -- as many do -- that women are not "naturally" consumers of sex. This assumption, which I find particularly absurd and painfully offensive, has the effect of reinforcing the notion in women and men that female sexuality is truly something that belongs to men, that is theirs for male consumption.

Although some women do indeed make a living from selling their bodies, and I support their legal right to do so both safely and lucratively, the overwhelming majority of the approximately ten billion dollars made each year from the production and sale of pornography goes into the hands of men and not women. Thus, an argument for the eradication of the porn industry as it exists today is in fact a radical argument in favor of the redistribution of wealth from male to female control.

But I am not going to make that argument.

Instead, what I propose is placing a metaphorical thumb on the scale in order to balance the marketplace.

Truly, it seems that the best way of achieving sex market equity is to embrace with open arms female attempts to put forth their own woman-centered versions of pornography. Many women do do that today, and although some women, like Candida Royale, have achieved some financial success, no woman has achieved the billionaire status of mainstream male pornographers like Hugh Hephner.

It is enough to turn a well-intentioned anti-porn feminist into a capitalistic feminist porn producer.

And in no manner at all am I suggesting that female-centered pornography should, in theory, be very different from male-oriented pornography. Fucking is fucking; why should the two sexes differ so much in their aesthetic tastes? Perhaps, in our current state of heterosexual porn schlock, it has to do with the money shot: the time when we are treated to viewing the man spewing his jism all over the chick's naked bod. Where is "her" climax? Trust me, there are a lot more effective ways of getting women off than coming all over them.

A female-centered porn video might actually give a shit if the woman gets off. A porn-critical, sex-positive point of view teaches women that their sexuality belongs to them; that it is not only their prerogative, but their responsibility, in sexual interactions to make sure that they are satisfied. It allows and encourages women to relentlessly pursue that golden payoff in sexual interactions, and it actually ends when a woman comes. If this has not yet become clear, there is nothing anti-sex about this position.

Of course, this is not to blame pornography and the marketplace in which it thrives for female sexual dissatisfaction. Many women need to stop being so prissy, and walk through doorways that are open to them. When having sex, they need to communicate what they like. All the time, I hear other women who claim to be helpless with regard to their sex life, and who center their lives on the men who inhabit them. Sure, it makes sense to complain about men when men are the ones who are underpaying them at work, but in bed, women have far fewer excuses not to assert themselves.

The biggest tragedy here is that many of these women do not even know what to ask for. In a society where "the sex act" is defined according to how well a man's hard-on progresses to orgasm, and where "virginity" is defined as the state of existence prior to the time when a guy jisms inside a woman for the first time, it should come as no surprise that many women reach menopause or even death without ever learning that they, too, can have a pretty excellent payoff from this sex thing.

The fact that many of these attitudes are in fact changing is not as much due to existence the pornography industry -- which has been around during the darkest periods of women's history -- but rather more due to the fact that the industry is starting to become open to female consumers as well as to male.

These pioneers in the dark and dangerous forest of women's erotica -- Susie Bright, Pat Califa, Kathy Acker, Bell Hooks, Karen Finley, Annie Sprinkle, Joani Blank, to name a few -- put themselves on the line, battering down gender stereotypes and sexism and reclaiming female turf in the sexual landscape. Think that the religious right really cares about the Playboy Channel or Penthouse Pet Videos? Nah, Helms and company probably own lifetime subscriptions. It is these women they don't like. For, it is the Blanks, Sprinkles and Finleys that pose the greatest threat to their happy-go-lucky reign of beaver-cleaver missionary position, Madonna-whore complex, and all-male boardrooms at Time-Warner.

The truth of the matter is that, other than these bright spots of so-called avant-guard dyke-femdom and "experimental" gay, bi and poly productions, the great majority of porn is not revolutionary at all -- it is downright regressive and retrenching.

Take, for example, two nightmare myths perpetuated by much mainstream porn. The first myth is the "money shot" -- the man cums all over the woman; the woman groans in pleasure. While some women may well get off by a man coming on her, the smart money goes with direct clitoral stimulation. This porn staple teaches a lie about female sexuality that many men are just arrogant enough to believe.

A more harmful myth perpetuated by porn is that of the woman who is raped and loves it. Say what you will, I will not cede an upside to nonconsensual sex. Sure, some couples "play rape" in the comfort of their own homes, but the act of "simulating" the rape means that it is consensual and thus not rape. Rape scenes as sexual turn-on would not be harmful to the public at large, if porn viewers were not so dumb to believe that women want that. But, of course, many porn viewers are just that stupid. As if some sort of Beavis and Butthead disclaimer were needed: "these are just actors, not real people; don't try it at home."

I give my snaps here to Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who, by getting in the faces of all the pro-pornography libertarians, pissed everyone off enough to get them to pay attention to the fact that much porn truly is sexist. Dworkin, especially, who, in Ice and Fire, chronicles her life as a junkie prostitute in explicit detail, walks the walk and talks the talk. Like them or hate them, most people do not ignore Andrea or Kitty. Truly, I respect them. They are radicals. They IRK.

In fact, MacKinnon and Dworkin manage to irk people so well that no one seems to be able to get their arguments right. I'll help you out here. MacKinnon and Dworkin do not advocate censorship of pornography. Rather, they have attempted to pass a number of civil, not criminal, laws that would make it possible for people -- women, men and children -- who are harmed as a direct result of pornography to sue for damages to recover for those harms. All rules that govern civil actions would apply -- the plaintiff would have to prove in court with a preponderance of the evidence that the harm that she suffered was caused by the pornographic materials. This, undoubtedly, would be a hard case to win. A small piece of this law actually passed in the Violence Against Women's Act as part of the Crime Reform Act of 1994 with barely a whimper on the part of libertarians. Its affect on the country has been unnoticeable at best. But the principle remains. People are starting to acknowledge that rape is not a laughing matter.

Although it is close to impossible to prove, I too believe that the media that people consume has an effect on their sensibilities and aesthetic taste. My evidence is largely anecdotal. As a student at Harvard Law School, I worked closely for a while with a woman who made a living by re-sexualizing rapists and domestic violence offenders, a la the infamous film, Clockwork Orange. She had come from a background rape-victim crisis counseling, and then, after having the epiphany that it was the rapists, not the victims, who were the source of the problem, decided to work with sex offenders instead. Her therapy consisted of showing these men images of violent sex acts, and then, if they became sexually aroused, forcing them to smell a noxious substance in order to teach them to associate violent sex with bad, nasty, unsexy things. It worked.

This should not be surprising, if you are of the camp, as I am, that acknowledges the powerful effect of social stimuli on sexual response. Hell, anyone who likes to look at porn to masturbate is in fact admitting that what they look at will effect their bodily functions. It seems fairly clear that much of much of human sexual response is socially programmed rather than biologically ingrained. Often, we forget that environment shapes biology as much as vice versa. Personally, I have spent some time experimenting with the way I can shape my attraction to women. I fully believe that a person can foster a sexual attraction by means of masturbation. It is classic behaviorist learning theory, a la Pavlov and Delgado. The positive response by a successful masturbation (if I may) creates a positive association in a person's mind, and brings them back, hungry for more.

A truly radical view of pornography recognizes that we are what we consume -- and if we are going to alter the face of society, and destroy Victorian and religious notions like gender altogether -- as I believe we must -- we must be willing to evaluate and change every aspect of our lives, including the images we feed ourselves as we fuck, as terrifying as it sounds. Like it or not, revolution is a scary concept.

Thus, what am I suggesting? I am not advocating on behalf of the destruction of the traditional pornography market any more than I am advocating on behalf of the destruction of the traditional family, or, say, the destruction of organized religion. All of these tired and counterrevolutionary institutions must fall together.

What I am calling for is a bit more intellectual honesty on behalf of the so-called "post-feminist" "anti-censorship" zealots and the die-hard one-theory libertarian extremists, who, upon examination into whose pockets they are lining, are revealed to be nothing more than apologists for moneyed patriarchy. As the cliche goes, if you are not with the Resistance, you are with the collaborators.

As you sit and whack off to silicone-implant barbies swooning over Long Dong Silver, which side are you on?

Who IS this crazy woman?

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Copyright 1996, 1997 Rebecca L. Eisenberg mars@bossanova.com