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Plurality of Representations in Pornography

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Throughout its literary tradition, one of the main points in feminist criticism has always been the portrayal of women through media.  According to the report of UNESCO, the women are depicted and divided in media in four categories: “the glamorous sex kitten, the sainted mother, the devious witch, the hardfaced corporate and political climber” (“Portrayal of women”, 2009).  Consequently, the portrayal of women as sex objects raises multiple ethical, moral as well as gender issues that will be discussed in this paper.  The case study that I have chosen to work with is the October 2011 issue of the pornographic magazine named Cheri.

Pornography is a very profitable industry that has its highest revenues through the internet or sales of DVDs, Blu-Rays, etc. (Ackman, 2001).  As far as the online environment is concerned, it means that a lot of unique visitors create traffic and choose pay-per-click advertising.  However, my approach to pornography was rather special; a wish to try something different and less obscene, at the same time, I “borrowed” the October issue of Cheri from one of my friends.  It is worth noting that the magazine exceeded my expectations. Searching some text or article to work with for this essay, I managed to browse through 150 pages of sexually explicit images, with almost no text.  Revolted by this demeaning representation of women in indecent poses, I referred to feminist criticism as well as queer studies, in order to find a satisfactory answer to the question why women are placed in such positions.

Obviously, by placing such a large emphasis on the female sex, the target audience for pornography is mainly constituted of heterosexual men.  Through the appliance of Freudian psychoanalysis and structuralist narratology in the article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975), Mulvey argues that the narcissistic instinct of looking at another person as a sex object is the basis for further erotic acts.  “At the extreme, it can become fixated into a perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs and Peeping Toms, whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other” (Mulvey, 1975).  Furthermore, “(the) process that she describes is sometimes called the masculinization of spectators” (Parker, 2011, p. 167), because the view of the camera is predominantly through the male’s eyes.  Thus, although the sexually explicit photographs have a targeted male audience, the viewer must necessarily adopt a masculine stance, regarding the gender, thereby posing a greater number of questions concerning sexual identity and amplifying the corresponding sexual uncanny.

However, to what extent is pornography “liberating” for women?  As Butler suggests, we choose to perform the gender.  Through the creation of models, “watching it performed in more or less the same way over and over, produces a taken-for-granted idea that certain ways are natural and right” (Parker, 2011, p. 184).  Therefore, one should not feel different regarding the multiple “performances” of gender, although most of my female colleagues will strongly disagree.  Returning to the previous question, perhaps this emancipation of women as explicit embodiment of sexuality and sensuality has its benefits. After centuries of oppression and confinement, the choice of freely expressing feminine sexuality has found its pinnacle in the pornographic industry.  This “pro-woman” pornography, as portrayed in the magazine, “could inspire women to claim a sexuality that would be liberatory and therefore feminist” (Vadas, 2005, p. 174). Thus, it is easily noticeable that through this libertine act of expressing one’s sexuality, the woman deconstructs the image of the nurturing mother and loving wife.

Since it is easy to gain access to pornography, especially online, I have my reserves regarding the place of pornography in the society.  The main reason is that these sexually explicit acts contribute to a demystification of the act itself.  Therefore, for a child who barely begins to identify himself as a sexual being, the negative impact that pornography has (obviously excluding the strange, fetishizing things) may destabilize his sexual orientation or even make him feel repulsion towards sex in general.

Considering the female stereotype, being mostly focused on the woman as a sex object, the following question emerges: How do “regular” women feel about pornography?  For example, I have shown my magazine to some of my female friends. As a result, after the reaction of disgust, they stated that pornography is demeaning for women and gender equality. The reason is that it portrays the woman as submissive, and her solely purpose is to satisfy the sexual need and desire of men.  It is thus needless to say that most of the women have the same opinion when they are presented with pornographic imagery; that the woman is man’s sexual slave as well as being morally degrading.  This statement provokes the discussion and questioning concerning cultural and gender stereotypes, thereby amplifying the apparently stable binary between a man and a woman.

To conclude, this paper discussed the plurality of aspects of pornography and gender issues that occurred after reading the sexually explicit magazine.  Personally I consider that this apparently demeaning representation of women as sex objects clearly opened a path for a more broad and academic study of the problem.  Therefore, at first, I hesitated to discuss the topic of pornography with the academic approach. Finally, I found the results to be very surprising.  Moreover, by applying scholarly concepts to a very low moral realm, it again demonstrated the difficulty and complexity while trying to define and categorize the binaries of sexuality.  This experience has really made me rethink and question the purpose of pornography beyond its entertainment attribute. Finally, I consider that deconstruction of the human sexuality is a key aspect in all gender studies.

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