Friday, May 13, 2011

objectify me

Anne G. Sabo (Photo: Agnete Brun)
Feminist sex blogger and woman oriented porn producer Ms. Naughty recently posted about how anti-porn feminists can't acknowledge feminist porn. It's a good read, in particular for Ms. Naughty's deconstruction of anti-porn arguments about porn as something inherently bad. 

Linguists have critiqued language as essentially flawed at least since the days of Friedrich Nietzsche. And as film scholar Linda Williams points out in her historical analysis of porn, HardCore (1999; first ed. 1989), porn is just but another language; specifically a discourse about sex -- and sex has historically been defined and discussed from men's point of view (ref. Michel Foucault’s discourse analysis). We have no choice but to speak with the language we have at hand; but we can seek to re-vision it. 

What truly intrigues me about good new porn by women, is its ability to re-vision and recreate porn as a filmic genre and as a discourse with which to approach (hetero)sexuality, in fact liberating more room for women, as well as men, and help them break out of traditional gender roles and explore and expand their sexual repertoires.

I also appreciate the issue Ms. Naughty takes with the typical accusation against porn as discriminating "objectification," usually of women, as if this is an essential characteristic of porn while in fact it is a human trait. New porn maker Anna Span makes this point too: 
She believes that to sexually objectify, that is to fleetingly view a person's sexual attractiveness separately from their personality/person, is a natural human experience NOT just a male one, as traditionally depicted.
I think Span’s emphasis here on the fleeting gaze—rather than thinking of objectification as a discriminating fixation on body parts—is interesting.

In my book, I further write about how objectification in some new porn by women is turned into an affirming, adoring act:
“Objectification” is typically used to describe something negative: you’re reduced from subject to object. In “female friendly porn” then one might expect to see women as the actively doing subjects and not first and foremost (men’s) gazed at objects. But this approach fails to consider a notable attribute of the gaze: its quality of devotedness by which someone can experience to be really seen and affirmed.
I write more about this in my excerpt on Candida Royalle's work. How the two characters in her short film "TV Idol" on Femme hold each other continuously with their eyes in an exchange of a desiring gaze while the camera for its part refuses to objectify either one.

That said, I can see how the casting of women in popular media to sell products, and in mainstream porn--where women act and pose for the camera, staring into it with a come-hither look--to attract the male gaze, cause the common accusation against porn as "objectification." I remember when I first started giving academic talks about my work on new porn by women, how colleagues would always critique porn as "discriminating objectification" in any which way they could. Apparently, even featuring women in feature film is about "objectification." They find support for this line of argument in feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey’s classic critique from 1975, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Writing about the woman's function in Hollywood cinema, Mulvey here introduces the terms “gaze” and “to-be-looked-at-ness" as she discuss the typical female role as that of the object of the male gaze, her function being that of either arousing dread or desire, playing either the part of one who must be punished or helped.

At an international conference on the gendered body in 2004, I gave a paper titled “Pornographic Subjects: An Oxymoron?” where I attempted to debunk the idea that women in porn are always cast as objects. I found support for my argument in HardCore where Williams explains how the problem isn't simply objectification--women are often portrayed as actively desiring subjects--but that women have been excluded from portraying their agency as subjects on their own terms. This is what women creating new progressive porn today are changing.
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