For nearly the entire span of human existence the status of women has been that of chattel property. That is to say, within the patriarchy of human society women have been the possession of men, somewhat comparable to cattle. The ownership of women by men is even revealed in the Christian Ten Commandments which did so much to shape Western morality. The tenth commandment in Exodus 20 states that, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.’ The fact that women are not prohibited from coveting their neighbours’ husbands seems a glaring omission until you accept the context. This wasn’t a commandment about lust or fidelity, the seventh commandment addresses that. The tenth commandment says not to covet someone else’s property. It is only addressed to men because only men owned property. Women were the property (and seemingly less valuable than the house but more valuable than an ox). It is remarkable to think that in the scheme of human history, the liberation of women is a very recent event. It has only been the last hundred years that women have enjoyed freedom from this ignominious status. Many women still wait for this freedom.

While, thankfully, men can not dominate women in the West in the way they once did, there is of course nothing stopping them fantasising about such domination. Here, I would argue, is where pornography comes in. Pornography is literally a kick back to the misogyny of times past where women could be literally owned and dominated, purchased and used for the pleasure of men. Pornography of course has been around for a long time, yet it is interesting to note that the germs of the modern pornography industry began flowering at around the same time as the germs of the movement for female rights in the late eighteenth century.

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814), known also as the Marquis de Sade, in many ways epitomises the nature of pornography. Considered the world’s foremost pornographer, Sade, from whom we get the word sadistic, was a French aristocrat and writer of erotic novels. His novels were infamous for depicting women in humiliating situations. Violence against women was a feature of his writings as was forcing women to take part in cruel and degrading sex acts. Sade was arrested several times for acting out his pornographic control fantasies in real life. He routinely abused prostitutes and other vulnerable women.

It is both ironic and ridiculous that Sade was acclaimed as a hero for freedom both in his own time and posthumously. Following the French Revolution he was elected to the 1790 National Convention. Despite his aristocratic background he was heralded for his disregard for the Catholic Church and his wild contempt for bourgeois norms. In the 1960s, the hippy movement also embraced Sade for refusing to conform to conventional marriage. The Algerian existentialist Albert Camus applauded Sade’s courage in mounting ‘a great offensive against a hostile heaven.’ Even the great feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir wrote an apologia for Sade, a man who boasted of raping women!

In Sade we are confronted with the two sides of pornography. On the one hand we have the issue of personal freedom and on the other we have the issue of women’s rights. It is easy to see how the defenders of Sade might come to their conclusions. We are all sexual beings and this side of us should not be repressed. That is what the whole sexual liberation movement was about. In Sade it is tempting to see a heroic figure who refused to conform to suffocating religious norms. The problem is, you cannot view Sade as an avatar of freedom without ignoring the freedom of women which he took away.

Proponents of pornography will say that it is a personal freedom. It is considered a basic right that people should be able to do whatever they like in the privacy of their own home and this includes viewing pornography. Some would go further and suggest that pornography liberates rather than oppresses women. The pornography industry allows women to make money and ‘exploit’ men. Larry Flynt famously argued that pornography was protected by the first amendment to the United States constitution.

Pornography is legal and from a civil rights point of view, so it should be. We may still ask the question, however, is it a good thing? The word pornography comes from the Greek words porne and graphos. In ancient Greek society, porne referred to the lowest class of prostitute, a brothel slut available to all male citizens. The porne were the least respected and least protected women of all, they were literally sexual slaves. Graphos means drawing. The etymology of pornography is extremely apt. Thousands of years later that is still literally what modern pornography is.

Pornography reveals the last frontier of the sexual colonisation of women in the West. Through their genius and determination, women have fought to reclaim their self in both a literal and metaphysical sense. Women have won the rights to their own bodies (although eternal vigilance is needed to protect that one). It is perhaps understandable that the male desire to posses and dominate women has been pushed underground. But just because we understand it, does that mean we should tolerate it? Should not we ask a few questions before allowing the pornographic phenomena to seep into acceptability?

One has to wonder what effect pornography would have on a young male in Australia? Surely the implicit message of pornography, that women exist for the sexual use of men, is blatantly in opposition to the cultural norms we try and push? Viewing pornography gives a person a very distorted idea about what sex ought to look like. Worse, pornography gives a very distorted idea of what women are like. It is not possible to sever the sexual pleasure derived from viewing pornography from the psychological message that deep down all women are whores to be used, literally porne.    

I certainly am not hoping to see Australia (or anywhere) become a Big Brother society. The pornography industry is larger than the film and record industries put together. That is a referendum! Pornography is a civil right and should be viewed as such. Be that as it may, I maintain that it is a bad thing. Perhaps there is some distinction between non-misogynist erotica and Sadistic pornography. It is clearly the case though that mainstream pornography is an exercise in men possessing women. I’m not often one to endorse the moralizing tendencies of the Church and the conservative side of politics. In this instance, however, I have to side with them. Pornography is against women. I, therefore, am against pornography.

 

5 Comments

  1. Sara Kiyork June 6, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Hello Ben. I came across your article as a friend of Pamela Eldridge on Facebook. I appreciate your stance on pornography, yet I think your argument including your definition of pornography is quite simplistic. What something was defined as historically, and practised, often evolves over time. Also, porn comes in so many forms, for both female and male gratification. It is hard to define. It is not always degrading to one sex. Sex therapists are commonly prescribing porn for couples. Is it just about possession as your say? I would wonder whether mainstream porn is sadistic, misogynist? I would argue mainstream is what you see on video clips at the gym .. soft porn….both male and female. things like this aren’t so black and white…that’s why they’re so contentious. Nice to have and opinion though. Best wishes. Sara.

     
  2. benny June 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Dear Sara,
    You make an excellent point and I’m inclined to agree. I do hint at the end that there can be non-misogynist erotica and perhaps should have elaborated. Gay porn for example can hardly be seen as degrading to women.

    I certainly hope this didn’t come across as a crusade against pornography so much as opening a discourse on it. I do worry though, in the internet age, how many young males will gain a false idea about women and sex from viewing pornography. I’m also concerned that it creates an unrealistic idea of how women should behave sexually.

    Kind Regards,
    BTJ

     
  3. Isaac June 8, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Hey Benny,

    Interesting article! I appreciate you’re openness to a topic so taboo that has, quite frankly, been dismissed in secular circles and shunned in religious ones. I do strongly agree that pornography has and is influencing men’s views of women in our generation worldwide, whether subconsciously or consciously.

    Stepping farther back, as pointed out by Sara and yourself above, not all pornography is solely focused on women for men. This being said, while most pornography is being used by men to dominate ‘the weaker sex’ in a way, pornography as a whole is revealed to degrade women, men, and even children in terrible cases.

    In a recent lecture I heard, the lecturer had recently counselled a friend who’s job was to review child pornography videos in order to find clues as to its whereabouts and how the police could track and find these perpetrators. This woman needed some help just because in the past week she had spent hours reviewing a tape where a 4 year old girl was being violated by her father, while her mother video taped the whole thing.

    What we see from this is the man is the man, who obviously is caught in a lifestyle of dehumanizing women, influencing his wife to the point where she sees no wrong, and in a sense dehumanizes herself and in turn their daughter.

    This is the destruction of the whole family. That’s not meant to toot a fundamentalist Christian horn, but to point out that pornography is affecting both the masculine and feminine of human culture, to the point where its causing women to perpetuate offense on themselves…

    anyways thats my two cents. good writing!

     
  4. Jairus June 26, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    My favourie read here so far. Great writing.
    U should get some buttons on here for us to quickly share ur views/links on twitter or fb.

     
  5. Isaac J July 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I appreciate the enlightenment man, looking forward to what’s next.

     

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