Pornography and Pop Culture: Real Men, Real Choices
Jensen spoke about the importance of Andrea Dworkin’s work in raising his consciousness about pornography and about violence against women. He began by honoring “her insight, her courage and most of all her humanity.” He said Dworkin deeply loved all people, women and men alike, but that although she named men’s violence, she never abandoned the humanity of men. He cited her 1993 speech, “I Want a 24-Hour Truce during Which There Is No Rape,” where she said to the men whom she was addressing, “If you’ve ever wondered why we are not in armed combat against you, it’s not because there is a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It’s because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.”
Jensen spoke of being exhilarated to be at the antipornography conference, with so many people who share a feminist analysis of pornography, one that “we’re told is irrelevant.” He said he was also mindful that the conference is addressing a world that is saturated with so much pain, a world where not only is violence done to people’s bodies, but that violence is filmed and shown to others as sexual pleasure.
Jensen said that masculinity is a trap, a fiction imposed on men to confine them rather than to liberate them. He said that what he has concluded about men after 20 years of talking to them is that, although there are men who are beyond reach in moral and political terms, men who have lost their souls, “we must make a movement by finding those men who could be strategic allies.” There are lots of men who are struggling with how to make sense of hypermasculinized socialization, who are trying to be decent men in a world in which it is easy to accept privilege and power. “Men fail, I fail, we all fail,” he said, but that if we don’t make space for men, a lot of women who have allegiances to the men in their lives, especially to their male children, will not join the movement. He said, you can’t ask women to join a movement where their male children are going to be perpetually defined as predators, as something to be eliminated-“It’s not a strong argument to make to parents.” He said that in approaching men, there is an argument to be made for approaching them from a justice standpoint as well as from self-interest. He wants to see a decent world where being decent is normal and not an exception.
Jensen then turned to talking about the arguments used to justify pornography. He said that the pornography industry focuses discussion on women’s choices to enter the industry, so the argument goes, “If women are choosing X, who are we to say that it’s wrong/bad/etc.?” He commented he has never been in a feminist antipornography space where people condemned women in pornography. But, he asked, “How do we respond to this? We know that women’s choices are constrained in various ways, women who have a history of sexual abuse, who perceive very few economic opportunities.” Therefore it is important to ask men who view pornography, “How do you know that the woman in the film you are watching made the choice to participate in it freely?” He also said that even if men could be guaranteed that the women they watch have made an unconstrained and “free” choice to participate in making pornography, men viewing and purchasing pornography are still contributing to the demand for pornography, which contributes to creating a world in which women who are not making free choices will be hurt.
He asks men to reflect on their own experience and the idea that “there is no such thing as a bad orgasm.” Sex is conceived of as physical pleasure that is always good, according to lots of men. But there are bad orgasms-there are orgasms that hurt people, especially women and children. He said that sexuality is more than a need for orgasm, it is also a need for connection, a greater awareness of our own humanity, a sense of the world in meaningful and deep sexual experience. Instead, sex is often for men to numb out, to separate with the effect being that when they are using pornography, they not only objectify women, they also objectify themselves-men are robbing themselves of their own deeper sense of being a human being.
Jensen emphasized that we have to talk about sexual morality, which is “not imposing a patriarchal notion that is connected to men’s control over women and the devaluation of lesbians and gay men.” But “we have too often shied away from using moral terms.” When sex is used for domination, we need a political movement to try to change power distribution, which is a moral question at its core, one that rejects the categories of masculine and feminine.
Robert Jensen is an associate professor in the school of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Jensen is author o/Getting Off: Pornography a/?/The End of Masculinity.
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