Official statement from the Smoking Lounge regarding the role of media (including pornography) in the cultural construction and maintenance of sexism and misogyny

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 · 19 Comments »

Hey, kids, it’s time for another episode of Comments That Should Have Been Posts!

The comment in question was deposited by me on the thread attached to this post, the subject of which was Rihanna’s “sexy” impersonation of a barbed-wire torture victim. Voilà:

This is the sort of thing that Liberal Dude Nation would say is unimportant – that it has no effect on reality, these glamorized images of torture.

Bullshit. The whole premise — that TV and movies and records and pornography have no effect on reality — is just preposterous. Humans are cultural animals. TV/movies/records/pornography are a means of cultural transmission, just like any other medium or form of communication. Nowadays, in fact, these are our primary means of cultural transmission.

And everybody knows that. That’s why people object to racist depictions or homophobia or even the absence of positive onscreen role models for minorities. Because all that’s part of our cultural transmission, part of how we share and exchange and teach values and ideas.

This knowledge mysteriously evaporates, however, when the subject is something dear to one’s heart — like pornography or violence or bimbotastic portrayals of women. Then, magically, the movies and porn are said to exist in some kind of otherworld vacuum: no cultural transmission, no values, no impact whatsoever on the humans consuming. It’s fucking ludicrous.

Octogalore replied, “Violet, your 11:45 is a great insight. I haven’t seen that argument come up in the various debates on this topic — that misogynist images don’t exist in a media-vacuum any more than racist or homophobic ones do.”

Actually, I have been making this same argument for years, and various formulations of it are scattered throughout the 29,365 comments that have been posted to this blog. But that’s the problem: it’s in the comments. I’m not sure I’ve ever stated it in a post.

So here it is. An official communiqué from the Smoking Lounge.

Octogalore also said, “I can’t help wondering what our friends at the big ‘feminist’ websites would do with that one.”

It depends. I think most feminists would probably agree, as long as the subject is movies, TV, magazines, or music. If the subject is porn, though, then amazing things happen.

For example, A Pro-Porn Feminist Blogger Who Shall Remain Nameless makes the argument that misogynist porn simply reflects a misogynist society. Create a better society, says she, and the porn will be better. But doesn’t the misogynist porn also contribute to the misogynist society, one asks? No, she says; it only reflects. One-way mirror. Movies and TV and radio and magazines all influence our behavior and fill our heads with ideas, but pornography is magic. It only reflects. No influence at all.

Magic all around.

19 Responses to “Official statement from the Smoking Lounge regarding the role of media (including pornography) in the cultural construction and maintenance of sexism and misogyny”

  1. reader says:

    The pro-porn feminist bloggers make lots of cultural critiques of commercials, print ads, television shows and mainstream movies. Liberal Dude Nation loves that! Down with The Man! But they also love porn. So somehow that largely escapes criticism; just a coincidence I’m sure. The most surreal things I’ve seen are bitter complaints that something has been “pornified” on blogs that also openly celebrate porn.

  2. Alison says:

    Excellent, Violet. This is the sort of comment I want to have ready in pamphlet form to disperse whenever I run into the myriad of dudes and 3rd wavers who think I just need to relax and enjoy the show! You said it all here.

  3. Alison says:

    Oh, and since we are talking about pornography let me just add that Pro-Porn-Feminist-Blogger is totally wrong and I can say so from my anecdotal experiences of dating men ten years my senior and 10 years my junior. Young men today are so fucked-in-the-head from all the fucked-up porn they are digesting, and damn if it doesn’t make them want to rape women – or at the very least, act it out. And all this just from the internet! Pretty quick cultural change and rise in misogyny if you ask me!

  4. SarahG says:

    The disaster that is 3rd wave feminism has never been more apparent to me than today. Go check out, if you haven’t, the comments on various blogs talking about Yahoo hiring lap dancers for their company event. Over and over: “So what? Even the feminists are cool with it now!” And what can you say to that? It’s true!

  5. Kookaburra says:

    Oh, wow – it’s like you’re reading my mind Violet. This very thought hit me like a ton of bricks today in my paramedic class. There’s a man there that ALWAYS has some article of clothing that proclaims “Skin Industries” and has a mudflap-esque female silhouette on it. I couldn’t articulate to another woman why it bothered me so much, but then I suddenly said, “If I was black, and the design featured a blackface caricature, would you still think I was over sensitive? What if the logo was ‘coal industries’ and featured people in coolie hats? Pornarrific portrayals of women are just as much hate speech as racial caricatures.”

    I don’t know if she agreed with me, but she got really thoughtful.

    Thankfully the dude is dumb as a box of rocks, so he’ll probably be dropped from the program soon.

  6. JLawson says:

    The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ really is applicable with what you consume as entertainment. Have you ever really enjoyed a book or movie, then found yourself using lines or vocal phrasings from it later?

    Yet somehow, as you point out, there are those who say we should be able to consume the worst sort of garbage visually or aurally, that it has no more effect than a moment’s distraction. If that be so – then why is the rap culture so continually violent and misogynistic? It’s a positive feedback cycle that shows no signs of dampening out.

    Maybe we don’t really need to ‘let it all hang out’ after all.

  7. caroline says:

    Back in the 90s, I used to work in a gay and lesbian video store where the porn section was popular. None of the women working in the place–the owner was a straight woman, and two of us workers were lesbian–wanted to go near the section.

    A misogynist gay male worker would organize it. Male customers would bring numbered tags from the section–the tags were velcroed to the video covers–up to the counter to check out the movie. The cover images for the porn were beyond disgusting. One photo that will haunt me forever was of a teenage girl who had obviously just been raped, sitting on a carpet, her eyes swollen with tears. It was “amateur” porn or a video produced by your average Joe-Schmo rapist.

    Lesbians never rented the lesbian porn or any variety of it. Straight men rented from the dyke section, “Lesbian Bitches” being a big hit. You’d be talking to a male customer, a “nice” liberal guy, while inputting the number on his tag. Suddenly the title would pop up on the computer screen: “Lesbian Bitches” or “Sex with Tiny Women” (the cover to that one would make you retch) or “All Grown Up.” Those were the most popular titles that I remember.

    It was all “free speech,” of course, but we workers would be reminded (and here the owner’s joking tone about porn would suddenly turn serious) that it was against the law to say just who rented what. Some free speech. It was a legally enforced silencing of women from production to rental.

    These feminists who are pro-porn should learn something about their so-called area of expertise. No woman on earth upon seeing that picture of a raped teenage girl could feel anything but deep pain, grief or rage. Her face was the face of tragedy, and to deny that is to be lost forever.

  8. No Name given says:

    I know that media images about women and girls influences men’s behavior. I was molested and ultimately raped by a man who had a very worn copy of Lolita in his library.

  9. Alison says:

    These feminists who are pro-porn should learn something about their so-called area of expertise. No woman on earth upon seeing that picture of a raped teenage girl could feel anything but deep pain, grief or rage. Her face was the face of tragedy, and to deny that is to be lost forever.

    This is the side of porn that the 3rd wave is choosing to ignore and Camille Paglia is not showing.

    I will never forget reading Camille Paglia in college. I ate it up, but there was one section that gave me pause – as she described the powerful persona of a street walker and how they can hale down a taxi in 5 inch heals with more ‘tude than the rest of us! How powerful! Paglia kept on using this word “powerful” over and over again to describe prostitutes. Now, even though I was eating up the third wave at the time, even I knew that street walkers were not the epitome of power and were often in desperate situations.

    And yet… we 3rd wavers did not discuss any lingering doubts but instead watched on and cheered as our own college educated friends became prostitutes and strippers who would then come home from a days work and repeat Paglia’s words by calling the work “powerful” and “empowering”!

    The 3rd wave has been a massive sexual abuse against women and even managed to convince suburban girls and upper-middle-class girls to strip and prostitute, girls who did not in any stretch of the imagination need to be doing this. It also minimizes the pain of women who do not want or do not choose to do this which is really tragic.

  10. yttik says:

    I don’t know if I blame 3rd wave feminism, although some of them can certainly be irritating. Ha, big time irritating. But the patriarchy, misogyny, the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls has been around for a long time and so have the women who have tried to pretend it’s somehow empowering to embrace it. Back in the 60′s all that free love ideology also served to trick women into believing they were being empowered by their own exploitation. What we have today just seems like a continuation of the same thing.

    I suppose you could go back farther, women trapped into working in brothels no doubt probably advocated prostitution as empowering because the alternative was to starve. Or perhaps work for a few pennies in a factory. At least prostitution enabled you some ability to make a living wage. I think the same thing is at play today, some women lie to themselves, like Rihanna’s cover art, this is empowering because I get to earn my own money instead of being dependent and subjected to the whims of some guy. And the whims of the last guy she subjected herself to where rather violent. Given those options, wrapping yourself in barb wire probably feels pretty appealing.

    Of course instead of stripping, pornography or prostitution, I guess you could always go to school and get a really good job with someone like David letterman. Yep, given that situation I can see why some women might view the porn industry as simply more empowering.

    Pornography objectifies, demeans, and oppresses women. The fact that it might give some women the illusion of having control doesn’t make it good, it’s simply a reflection of how little power and control women have in the greater society.

  11. Myytinmurtaja says:

    It all boils down to those liberal guys not ever having to deal with titillating images of young, impossibly sexy men being abused for women’s pleasure. If they were, their reactions would be very, very different.

    It’s so easy to defend the exploitation of other people, when you yourself are protected and sheltered beyond the telling of it.

  12. Myytinmurtaja says:

    As for the Rihanna picture: I think it’s fascinating (in a gut-wrenching way) how differently male and female suffering are framed: suffering men are “heroes”, women are but “hoes”.

    Were they to portray a male artist – say, Chris Brown! – like this, all wrapped up in barbed wire, they would inevitably frame it as some sort of Christ-like suffering.

    Even though Rihanna is a bona fide violence, never in a zillion years would she be portrayed as a Survivor Hero. It just isn’t done.

    Women’s pain and suffering is never seen as noble.

  13. Nina M. says:

    I understand what folks mean when they pin the pro-porn position on “3rd Wave Feminism,” but I think the “3rd Wave” term is misleading in this context.

    The “pro-porn” position is something I associate with what I (and probably a ton of other people) call “Consumer Feminism” – that is, feminism that is primarily informed by mass media constructs, imagery, and figures, and which is based on a belief in a woman’s fundamental right to fully and equally participate our consumer culture.

    I’m using “consume” in a very broad sense, meaning to buy, identify with, espouse, and sell products and services. The goal of “consumer feminism” is to acquire for individual women the same privileges that are enjoyed by elite men; changing the social structures that undergird those privileges is ancillary. In consumer feminism, reaching a position of privilege is not a step in a strategy of accruing the power to drive social change, its an end unto itself.

    The pro-porn position fits squarely within this framework, because it seeks for women the “privilege” of consuming porn alongside men, as well as the “right” of women to identify with and become products to be consumed (by men, of course). What pro-porn feminists don’t realize is that with porn, most of the time – to paraphrase a line from Blade Runner – women aren’t in the business; they are the business. Products do not have agency, because products are things, not people.

    Pro-porn advocacy by consumer feminists is a media-friendly proposition, because it introduces, validates, and reinforces the porntastic memes advertisers bombard us with. It also softens up a targeted segment (young upscale women) of the market for porn products and services. For those companies that control or are invested in both a media outlet and a porn-related company, featuring pro-porn feminists is a cheap form of cross-marketing.

    For example, Salon hires Paglia, belligerent Consumer Feminist. Some of Salon’s corporate investors have their hands in the porn industry. Some of the parent or holding companies of Salon’s advertisers are neck-deep in the porn industry. Love is in the air. The advertisers give money to Salon, who in turn gives it to Paglia and (in a roundabout way) the investors. Paglia continues to soften up the market for porn products (the young women won’t become consumers can at least be manipulated away from preventing their male partners from consuming). Round and round it goes, not so much a quid pro quo as a mutually reinforcing relationship. And – surprise! – anti-pro-porn feminist views at Salon or their spinoff ladies mag are not welcome; they would harsh everyone’s mellow (not to mention the Dude factor).

    Thus we keep getting these ridiculous pro-porn feminists and their specious arguments against government intervention in the porn industry shoved in our faces, and we continue to be bombarded by porntastic cross-marketing. And voices like ours are shut out or demeaned as puritanical religious right-wing friendly.

    Which is why I personally favor the extraterrestrial solution, myself.

  14. gxm17 says:

    I have no doubt that Dr. Socks is familiar with this amazing piece of fiction but for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading James Tiptree Jr.’s work: Enjoy!

    “Men and women aren’t different species, Ruth. Women do everything men do.”

    “Do they?” Our eyes meet, but she seems to be seeing ghosts between us in the rain. She mutters something that could be “My Lai” and looks away. “All the endless wars …” Her voice is a whisper. “All the huge authoritarian organizations for doing unreal things. Men live to struggle against each other; we’re just part of the battlefield. It’ll never change unless you change the whole world. I dream sometimes of—of going away—” She checks and abruptly changes voice. “Forgive me, Don, it’s so stupid saying all this.”

    “Men hate wars too, Ruth,” I say as gently as I can.

    “I know.” She shrugs and climbs to her feet. “But that’s your problem, isn’t it?”

    End of communication. Mrs. Ruth Parsons isn’t even living in the same world with me.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080119040143/http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/tiptree2/tiptree21.html

    Reading this story, all those many years ago, I couldn’t believe that a man existed who actually got it. And I was right. Tiptree got it but he was the pseudonym for Alice Sheldon.

    http://deeplyproblematic.blogspot.com/2009/09/women-men-dont-see-by-james-tiptree-jr.html

  15. octogalore says:

    Appreciate the handy cite-able format!

    You have often talked about the “porn reflects but doesn’t contribute” phenom, but the “misogynist images only reflect, racist/homophobic ones contribute” was a new one for me.

    You hypothesize below that some of the more visible feminists — eg, some who contributed to the Palin spoof book — would agree with the latter hypothesis in the context of other media besides porn. I’m not so sure. I still think there is more sensitivity to depiction of other groups besides women occupying any kind of lower-class status, no matter what the media. Music is a good example — the lyrics and images in videos.

    But ultimately I agree, porn occupies a special place in the deniability spectrum.

  16. octogalore says:

    Appreciate the easily cite-able format!

    I’ve seen your discussion of the “porn doesn’t contribute, only reflect” argument but the “misogynist images only reflect, whereas racist and homophobic ones also contribute” was new for me.

    RE whether some of the 3rd-wave feminists would “get it” in the context of media that isn’t porn, eg TV, music, I’m not so sure. While I agree with you that porn occupies a unique place on the feminist’s deniability spectrum, I think music especially is another area in which there is less sensitivity, vis a vis other oppressed groups.

  17. Briar says:

    In just a week’s sporadic viewing of US shows on British telly, I came up with a whole list of vile and violent statements and beliefs parroted by the handsome heroes with no sign of anything approaching realisation that they were building a populist myth built on lies. This list included: a picture of a soldier brutally assaulting an unarmed civilian who had made a sarcastic comment regarding his militaristic posturing; a statement which included the assumption that Saddam possessed and deployed mysterious chemical weapons against the invading US forces; a remark made by a glamorous black female reporter to her dashing FBI fiance that she hoped he was “going all Cheyney” on a (female) suspect. The bilges of popular culture stink with fascist attitudes and behaviour. Not surprise, then, that sex and violence continue to be sold as one and the same package.

  18. Quote of the day: Cultural Transmission « Anti-Porn Feminists says:

    [...] pornography harms, quote of the day, sexual exploitation, violence against women. trackback From this post at Reclusive Leftist: The whole premise — that TV and movies and records and pornography have no effect on reality — [...]

  19. Dumb MRA says dumb MRA things « Anti-Porn Feminists says:

    [...] As blogger Violet Socks points out: Humans are cultural animals. TV/movies/records/pornography are a means of cultural transmission, just like any other medium or form of communication. Nowadays, in fact, these are our primary means of cultural transmission. And everybody knows that. That’s why people object to racist depictions or homophobia or even the absence of positive onscreen role models for minorities. Because all that’s part of our cultural transmission, part of how we share and exchange and teach values and ideas. [...]