Oscar Wilde once famously said, “Everything in this world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power,” and today’s zealot pornography industry decided to fanatically pursue this ideal by encouraging the idea of men and power. The notion of patriarchy is so pervasive that it has become a way of life. The symbols of terror used by it to subdue its victims are familiar and range from- knife, belt, fists, to a less inconspicuous but equally useful tool i.e. The Penis. This hidden symbol finds support through the concept of pornography where blatant misogynist patriarchal ideas are disguised as desires and wants of customer base.
But, how does a tool for sexual release and fantasizing turn into a tool for perversion of patriarchy? From its origins, pornography has essentially been about men and their power. It primarily catered to the male gender, adapting to suit their needs and desires. Even the word, ‘pornography’ means “writing about whores” which essentially sub serves the lower status of women in society. There are several ways through which men project their power through pornography. The most significant of them are the processes of objectification and symbolism whereby women are equated to “chattels” or “property” owned by men. There is a general theme running throughout most forms of pornography- If men want something, they are entitled to it. This theme contributes to the growing patriarchy that is ubiquitous in all sections of society. The word ‘sex,’ has now been cultured to mean penis intromission or penetration. The plot lines used in these pornos and eroticas have become so generic that it’s a wonder the predictability does not act like a figurative cold shower. Either the shy, awkward, average kid gets the buxom, well-endowed experienced woman he has been pining after or the submissive, innocent, inexperienced girl is introduced to the world of sex by a dominating, virile man. Hence, through such generalisations, penis has come to be seen as a sword in contrast to the vagina, which in the most literal sense means a ‘sheath.’
Men treat women as they see them, and considering that majority of their impressionable childhood is spent getting acquainted with their right hand; pornography does have a huge influence on their psyche. The adverse effects of pornography range from marital rape, unilateral dependence, and domestic abuse to creation of unrealistic expectations and dreams. Since the idea of pornography revolves around men and power, it consequently gives birth to aspects relating to power and ownership/possession, money, and self. With women being perceived as a submissive character, created for fulfilling men’s needs and desires, the perception of entitlement and right to sex is nurtured in a man’s mentality, which simultaneously gives rise to the acts of marital rape and domestic abuse. It is widely believed that a married woman is obligated to have sex with her husband, and rape as the current legal definition does not perceive married women to be victims at the hands of their husband. Furthering this reasoning, it can be seen that being married, immediately gives the husband the right to coitus regardless of the wife’s consent in that matter. This right is thought to extend to situations or relationships outside marriage as well, which merely reinstates the belief that a man is entitled to have his desires and needs fulfilled.
Moreover, the general theme of male power and masculinity reinforces certain strains and stereotypes that act as a double edged sword. While on one hand, it leads to equalisation of women with nothing more than materialistic objects utilized by the male gender for their ‘release,’ however; it proves to have an adverse effect on the male gender as well; forcing them to conform to preconceived ideals. Effeminacy, gentleness, docility etc. are qualities detested in males. They are expected to be aggressive, ‘macho’, a figurative manifestation of Tarzan thumping his puffed out chest, and so any form of weakness shown by them is despised. Similarly, men’s obscenity cannot be considered to be women’s pornography and hence it is a shame to see the pornography industry blatantly ignore the needs of the other party participating in the activity its economic model is shaped after.
Even in this age of modernity, it is looked down upon for women to talk about sex, fetishes and their fantasies- ironic considering they are almost always the other requisite party needed for coitus. This belief has been imbibed into the pornography industry, whose plot lines mostly cater to the male gender. However; not all women are voluptuous and experienced, or shy, clumsy, docile creatures. Similarly, their desires do not always start on an awkward kid or end at a dominating, possessive man. It is a rarity indeed to find any pornographic material which seeks to showcase realistic adaptations of situations or display and explore the kinky imagination of female kind. Under representation of one gender in such ways leads to it getting accorded a status of subservience. Nevertheless, the recent rise of feminist porn is a positive step towards a gender neutral pornography industry. Feminist porn features performers of many different races, shapes, proclivities, and ages, and that directors ask women what they most like to do. Agency and consent are two important facts of feminism and these facets are accentuated in feminist porn. Similarly, bondage films portraying a dominant should not be dubbed as anti-feminist as submission might be a kink for some women. The practice of respecting a woman’s choice irrespective of the nature of the movie is said to be an important term of feminism. However, it has further being noted that irrespective of choice, porn essentially is exploitative since it objectifies human body and reduces a woman’s body to a pile of body parts. Regardless of the type of porn, sex will almost always be perceived as something that penises do to vaginas.
Freedom of speech and expression protects pornography from being censored for cultivating misogynistic patriarchal ideas or changed to adopt a more gender equal approach of satisfaction. This liberal theory argues that much like other form of speech, pornography too helps in delivering the truth. Nevertheless, this policy of laissez-faire can only efficiently function in a gender homogenous society, unlimited by the current gender hegemony. In a society, where one group exercises undue influence over another, preaching for equal power of speech is foolish considering the playing field is inherently uneven. Pornography has the power to reinvent women as it transcends vision into reality which passes on as objectivity. It has the capability of changing societal trends and notions. Allowing freedom of speech in order to facilitate divergence and diversity on the grounds that everybody has a right to voice their opinions; ignores one major aspect of a gender hierarchal society- Pervasive gender inequality. Pornography is not an unorthodox idea, and giving it a free reign does not cultivate a diverse, unconventional classroom for non-conformist ideas but rather helps reinforce the ruling ideology of patriarchy and male power it so proudly upholds. As Andrea Dworkin said, “no woman deserves what pornography does to women: no woman, however stupid or evil, treacherous or cowardly, venal or corrupt; no woman.”
Photo Credit: Flickr (Steve Rhodes)