Welcome to another infrequent installment of 'Lowering the Tone: Third-Wave Drivel with Ms Enid Tak-Entity'. In this installment Ms Enid throws down with fellow THM blogger Anjum Rahman who frankly, works much, much harder. Because clearly, the only thing that can get Ms Enid out of bed these days is porn. And war.
THM was asked to do some kind of publicity interview with a new women's erotimag called Filament, recently pimped by Emma Hart on Public Address. Anjum's initial response: porn is objectifying and wrong no matter who the object is. Ms Enid's initial response: ooh, new porn for chicks? *cli-click*
Sadly, Filament turned out to be, well, erotically disabled (we're not saying 'lame' these days on THM). It may have the right idea to an extent, but it's somewhat pretentious, not particularly hot, and overpriced. But during a few emails with the crew, it became clear that we hadn't had this discussion yet on the blog. What counts as porn? Can porn be feminist? And can a liberal feminist Muslim woman be convinced that the answer is yes?
To have this discussion logically, we must start with the premise that the notion of 'porn' must be dealt with separately from the notion of 'the porn industry'. One is an issue of sexual psychology and textual meaning. The other is an issue of socioeconomic structures and social justice. I will get to both. But you know, one never wants to rush into a threeway. Stuff gets tangled and you end up with a toe in your eye.
So, we will get on to the social implications of porn in Part II, where I'm sure Anjum and I will have a lot of common ground, and my conclusion will probably be that she just hasn't seen the porn that's right for her - but for now, I hope she can mostly stick to these very specific issues.
The intent and purpose of porn
First, what is porn? And is it different from 'women's erotica'? I believe that these semantic distinctions only have meaning as consumer categories. That is, what makes something 'porn' or 'erotica' is not its content, which may slip across any boundary at any moment, but the purpose to which its production is intended. The purpose of porn is that it gets you off. The purpose of 'erotica', is actually the same. If the 'erotica' product doesn't get you off, then it's not very good 'erotica'. It's just a bit sexy.
I looked through Filament's sample pics, and I wouldn't classify it as 'erotica', just sub-Calvin Klein moody shots of pretty boys. Perhaps the market for Filament is a bit more easily aroused than I. Frankly, I got way more het up just looking at the Vanity Fair outtakes of this Johnny Depp shoot.
Um, right, where was I.
Obviously, men and women work differently. The goalpost that is set for 'getting you off' is a distinct goal for men (ejaculation) whereas for women, getting off can be a much less discrete and categorical experience. The Vanity Fair/Depp example is a good one. We feel we know Johnny. Who are these boys in Filament, and who cares? Are they waiting for us to do their crumpled laundry? Actual 'women's erotica' is more explicitly sexual than the content of Filament, although it will still seem different-looking from, say, Hustler. Women are far bigger consumers of written 'erotica', not visual porn, being more stimulated by acts of imagination, compared with visual imagery. This rather dismissive review of Filament covers the bases quite well, although frankly, any women, should have a perfectly sound understanding of what gets us off and why, and how different that is to men. And so, within the mainstream porn market, 'women's erotica', is different in style from what people perceive as 'porn'. But for all intents and purposes (and I use the phrase 'intents and purposes' very precisely) porn and actual erotica are the same thing. That is, they are both porn. To be exact, 'erotica' is a marketing subtype of porn.
Porn is something that is used for gratification as its primary purpose. The use of the word doesn't even have to specify sexual gratification anymore, except as a metaphor. We have, for example, food-porn. We have disaster-porn. War correspondent-porn. The reason we criticise these kinds of experiences as being 'porn' is because what they profess to be about is not what they are about - and you know as soon as you watch it. They are not about practical cookery, humanitarian aid efforts or international relations. They are about gratification of a fantasy or a need. The way women do their fantasizing may seem more 'well-rounded', but let's face it; it's just the fantasies that are more three-dimensional, not the emotional experience or the connection to reality.
There is nothing wrong with the intent and purpose of porn
Divorced from social context, there is nothing instrinsically wrong with gratifying a fantasy or a need. It is neither feminist, nor anti-feminist. I would go one step further and put to Anjum, that divorced from social context, there is nothing instrinsically wrong, feminist or anti-feminist about the objectification of human bodies for the purposes of sexual gratification. This, I believe, is Anjum's main sticking point. Well, I just think she's wrong.
Can you can have sex with anyone without objectifying them in some hot way? Physically or mentally? If you can, my guess is that you are not having sex that is much fun, or maybe you are lying. Is sex even possible without the interplay of subjectifying and objectifying? I don't think is. But if I'm wrong, that sex sounds boring.
I support the right of people to sexually objectify each other, in ways that do no harm. In particular, I reserve the right to sexually objectify hot guys, and I will try my best not to harm them in doing so, 'cos I'm ethical like that. I believe it is a morally justifiable position, without which the human race would die out.
And as the great blind Indonesian Muslim President Abdurrahman Wahid said, of his memory of watching Brigitte Bardot in 'And God Created Woman', if such beauty was created by God, it was meant to be appreciated.
So now, we come to harm: Porn within social context; Porn as an industry. A full post will follow soon, but for now, I leave you with a few metaphorical tools. Being 'anti-porn' is like being 'anti-television'. There is a lot of crap television out there. Much of it is harmful to political and civil society, to social progress, and to individuals. It is exploitative and unimaginative. Does this mean that our position should be 'anti-television'? Does it not makes more sense to be 'anti-Fox News' and 'pro-The Wire and Samantha Bee'?
Next: What would 'The Wire' of porn be? Does it exist? Is Ms Enid going to review some actual porn? (Of course she is.)