Last week I wrote “Porn is not a thing”. It was a piece exploring the idea of a “spectrum of pornographies” as apposed to seeing porn as one entity. Today I want to consider the messages we see across that spectrum.
Recently Hannah Mudge posted a fascinating article about a man who spent 5 years filming hardcore pornographic material. He isn’t “anti” pornographic material and says he doesn’t regret his decision to work in the industry, yet his experiences of filming heterosexual content was on every level different than when filming pornographic content of gay men. He describes the environment with women in these terms
“it almost seemed like an entire gender was being denigrated, like that was the whole point—where very young women were choked and slapped and written-on with lipstick, simply for the crime, it seemed, of being a woman.” Whereas in shooting gay content he said, “The sadness and the degradation I had come to associate with my job, with videotaped sex for money, was suddenly absent.”
Though this man is part of the very culture he critiques, he raises the greatest issue we face from pornographic material; the degradation, objectification and utter decimation of women. There are other issues, but fundamentally the many and varied ways the spectrum of pornographies destroys men’s (and boys’) views of women (and girls’) is the greatest issue. It is also rarely articulated in the Christian “porn” conversation.
The Christian conversation on “porn” has (in the main) these aspects:
- Purity: viewing defiles the person looking.
- Addiction: people get addicted to viewing and so it becomes treated as a medical disorder.
- The redemption narrative: (mostly) men sharing their stories of moving from sin (watching “porn”) to redemption (no longer watching “porn”)
- Neuroscience/Intimacy: After Dr William Struthers (neuroscientific theologian) wrote a book covering the ways viewing pornographic content affects the brain and communicated the solution as greater intimacy, this is regularly talked about and he is the go to person Christians usually quote or invite to talk about “porn”.
Though all of the above can be part of the issue, I would suggest of greater significance are the following layers underpinning the spectrum of pornographies:
- A gendered analysis: this is about men consuming women. Man as subject, woman as object.
- Industry: people make vast sums of money from selling pornographic material. Viewers are groomed into harder and harder core porn, in order to bring financial benefit to (mainly) white men.
- Power: as we’ve seen in the latest power plays of The Sun around Page 3, pornographic material is more about power than it is about any sort of meaningful sexual experience.
- The broken lives: the (mostly) women who are groomed, used, abused and discarded by the industry.
Not only does the Christian “porn” narrative mostly lack articulation of these issues, some elements of Christian culture reinforce attitudes within the spectrum of pornographies. Talk of manly men, who are aggressive and testosterone driven creatures feeds into the messages of men as animals. The feminisation of the church conversation perpetuates the view that women are the problem. Modesty culture at root states “men objectify” so women must cover up, the irony of modesty culture and the pornography industry essentially both treating women as sexual objects should not be ignored. Even responses to the use of pornographic material is problematic. Talk of “fighting porn” and the war imagery that it often conjures up does not stand apart from and in abhorrence of the violence across the spectrum of pornographies. Rather it becomes violent language to respond to sexual violence.
Then there is the lack of women’s voices within the Christian conversation about the spectrum of pornographies. Women feature usually as wives or daughters of the men using pornographic material. “What would your wife think?” “How is this affecting your marriage?” “Would you want your daughter to be a porn star?”
Women are included mainly only within their relationship to the men using pornographic material. Just as pornographic material reduces women to ornaments with holes, so this approach reduces women. Not as far, but still solely as men’s attachments. Why do women have to be thought of as having a personal relationship to a man in order to have value. As the edited image (above) powerfully challenges, why can’t women simply be “someone”?
The other way women are included is: “women use porn too you know?” This isn’t inaccurate, women do use pornographic material. However, rarely are women spokespeople on this issue, or the ones shaping the conversation.
We need to change the conversation, broaden it, increase the number and diversity of voices. We need a conversation which fully acknowledges the industry and the money being made, that sees the connection between selfish capitalism and the increase in the commodification of human beings. We need to recognise the power imbalance and gendered dynamic across the spectrum of pornographies; being willing to look at our own community and the attitudes to gender and power that reduce women and create a deep imbalance of power between men and women. Until then, we will never delve beyond the surface of this issue.
Thanks for the permission to repost, God Loves Women! This is the second article within the ‘Pornographies Series’, written by God Loves Women. Be sure to catch up on the complete set here.