Tuesday

misogyny and porn culture

Via my friend Ernie, I read this op-ed (copyright NYT):

Why Aren’t We Shocked?
By BOB HERBERT
Published NYTimes: October 16, 2006

“Who needs a brain when you have these?”

— message on an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt for young women

In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls.

Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack.

In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. Stories about the rape, murder and mutilation of women and girls are staples of the news, as familiar to us as weather forecasts. The startling aspect of the Pennsylvania attack was that this terrible thing happened at a school in Amish country, not that it happened to girls.

The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, “When was the last time you got screwed?”

An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.

We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated by that violence. We’ve been watching the sexualized image of the murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead. Her mother is dead. And we’re still watching the video of this poor child prancing in lipstick and high heels.

What have we learned since then? That there’s big money to be made from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a misogynistic culture, it’s never too early to drill into the minds of girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability to please men sexually.

A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We’re all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society’s casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels — objects — and never, ever as the equals of men.

“Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the women’s advocacy group Equality Now.

That was never clearer than in some of the extreme forms of pornography that have spread like nuclear waste across mainstream America. Forget the embarrassed, inhibited raincoat crowd of the old days. Now Mr. Solid Citizen can come home, log on to this $7 billion mega-industry and get his kicks watching real women being beaten and sexually assaulted on Web sites with names like “Ravished Bride” and “Rough Sex — Where Whores Get Owned.”

Then, of course, there’s gangsta rap, and the video games where the players themselves get to maul and molest women, the rise of pimp culture (the Academy Award-winning song this year was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”), and on and on.

You’re deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It’s all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa.

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This piece really resonated with me.

I agree that if we had had two school shootings in a week that explicitly targeted blacks or jews, the American people would have a different kind of outrage. The national consciousness would be stirred in a different way and there would be a renewed call for working to end racism and religious bigotry.

But women and girls live under threat of sexual violence every single day in this country and all over the world. It's just the backdrop against which we live our lives. Feminism has accomplished a lot but we've made very little progress in ending sexual violence. I have an 11 year old daughter and I have to teach her about the world in a whole different way than how I am teaching her slightly older brother.

It doesn't help that our foreign policy pays absolutely no meaningful attention to how women/girls are treated within countries with which we have dealings. It's just barely factored into the equation. Example: our good buddies Saudi Arabia.

I am strongly in favor of a sex-positive culture for women and girls, but I do believe the rapid rise of PORN culture is damaging in the way it elevates sexuality above all other attributes and that becomes the message girls get.

I am not necessarily anti-porn/erotica. But porn as a discrete, adult activity (yes, I mean discrete, not discreet) is quite different from the way porn has bled into every aspect of our culture, especially for pre-teen and teen girls. We have a pornified culture as a whole, and this is no good. Sex rocks, but it isn't the whole human experience. Young, American girls are getting the message that their sexuality is THE primary way in which they are defined as human beings. That's unhealthy, just as it would be if they were getting the wrong-headed message that all expressions of sexuality are bad. Either extreme has a major downside.

You should SEE the photos and messages the 13-16 year old teenage girls I know via my kids post on their MySpace pages. It's as if these girls believe that if they don't make their sexuality explicit enough, they will cease to exist.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey just a friendly warning:
you might want to be careful about posting articles in their entirety from the NYT website on your blog. I *think* they allow you to email them to up to 20 people but I don't know if they would look on you with a friendly eye if they caught you re-posting the entire work, even if you did say 'copyright NYT' in your post.
Not sure about the legality myself, you probably know more about it since you work in the newspaper industry, but please be careful!

katie allison granju said...

I am clearly violating copyright here on my little bloggity blog. If they ask me to, I will happily take it down :-)

dedanaan said...

What I hear from men when I complain about porn is "you're a prude" or "are you a lesbo?" In other words, if you have a problem with being objectified, there's something wrong with you.

Playboy and Hustler are considered "entertainment"; would a magazine featuring photos of blacks eating watermelon or being lynched be considered "entertainment"? It might be to some groups, but as a society we would condemn this and not allow it. Not so when it comes to pornography.

Anonymous said...

dedanaan,
Here's a technique to try: buy some really nasty guy-on-guy porn and leave it laying around your house. If a guy complains, ask him if he's a prude.

If women quit tolerating its presence in their homes it would stop. Don't date guys who look at it. Tell them this is a condition for being with you--NO PORN. If they prepare 2-dimensional sex, then that's what they'll get.

Anonymous said...

oops I meant if they prefer 2-dimensional sex...

Katharine said...

Katie, thanks for posting Herbert's piece. It's right on target.

Big Orange Michael said...

Great post.

It really resonated with me on a lot of levels. I've met a couple of women in my attempts at dating of late who are like the teenage girls you describe--they want to totally define themselves by their sexuality. Don't get me wrong here--I'm a guy and I like the physical side, but I'd like to know a bit about the woman before we jump to that intimacy. And yet these women were so craving my attention they would have done literally anything and were stunned when I went--I am flattered but I'm not ready yet. They had no idea how to act and react to a guy who while he wants sex wants it to more than just a simple roll in the hay. They kept pressuring, bringing it up, wondering when it was going to happen--to the point that it became totally unattractive and I asked to no longer see them.

But I think it stems from how we define what is a successful male/feamle relationship. If we look at pop culture, a successful one is where there is lots of the nookie being had early, often and we're all the greatest at it the other person has ever had. And I find that to be a bit hollow and empty. I find it a shame that both men and women can't see there's more to a healthy, good relationship than the physical part.

But maybe I'm just too old fasshioned...

Anonymous said...

You bring up a thought-provoking and timely subject. I am raising my 9 year old son to be a feminist. This is no small feat when one considers our culture. Something that makes it particularly difficult is that little girls are societally programmed to "like" the popular boys who treat them like garbage. I worry that my son may seem less "masculine" because he actually respects women.
becky

Anonymous said...

If you're so concerned about women being judged by their appearance, why do you make comments on your blog about your daughter being 'pretty' or 'gorgeous' compared to you. Do you ever make comments about Henry or Elliot's looks compared with your ex-husbands?

Dohnaughtbreeth said...

I think the problem is advertising. What used to be enough shock value to get people's attention no longer works, so they had to up the ante. Unfortunately, that also meant lowering the age of their target market; grooming, if you will.

“Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible,” *ding, ding, ding*

I was in a thread on fark.com about female bosses and 3 comments really hit me. One mentioned how many female bosses wouldn't hire anyone cuter than themselves. The second one said he noticed how women seemed to compete with each other in regard to looks, sex appeal, etc. The third said that as a *non-american* woman, how hard it was for her to find female friends who were not obsessed with their appearance.

All due respect, while porn is certainly objectifying females, most people don't look at 10,000 porn images on a daily basis as they do with marketing and advertising gimmicks. Ads exist to create a probem: you, who will only be "fixed" if you buy their product.

My advice? Turn off the idiot box, and pick up a science magazine. Switch radio stations as soon as a commercial comes on. Ads groom women to be insecure from a young age, avoid them like the plague they are.

Dohnaughtbreeth said...

Another thing. While there's lot's of nudity in european commercials, it's frequently of the tongue-in-cheek variety. It's portraying women and men in humorous situations, it's NOT stripping them of their humanity.