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A New, Comprehensive Definition of Pornography Which Cuts Through the Ambiguity and Can Stand the Test of Time
Problem One: Pornography is Always Sexual Assault
Pornography is the filmed prostitution of women. That’s what the pornography industry produces, and that’s what pornography is. Pornography is always sexual assault because prostitution of women is always sexual assault. The argument I usually hear against this almost always comes from men who say that women are voluntarily agreeing to prostitute themselves because they like that kind of job. But all men have to do to know whether this statement is true or not is look inside your own hearts. Would you like to make your living by sleeping with anyone who had some money? I know I wouldn’t, and I bet if you’re honest with yourselves about what that would really mean, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to either.
Yes, prostitution is always sexual assault. There are some who say as a justification for prostitution that prostitution helps many women who are in otherwise impossible financial situations to survive. That’s a poor justification because helping the prostituted women is not the genuine desire driving men to prostitutes. If a man wanted to help a woman in extreme financial distress he could simply give her a little bit of money, rather than taking advantage of the woman’s financial situation to manipulate her into sexual activity with him which she would otherwise not be willing to participate in. He could offer to help her find a job. He could give her resources about community based relief organizations for those in need. A man who really wanted to help a desperate woman could do a lot of things to help besides dangle money in her face and say “only if you perform a sex act.” It is coercion because it says “I see you struggling to survive, and I will leave you to your fate unless…” Imagine running up to a burning car and telling someone stuck inside “I’ll only help you get out if you pay me ten thousand dollars.” You’re taking advantage of a person trapped in a threatening environment in order to force them into unfair agreements because you recognize the person’s desperation.
The real force driving prostitution is the artificial and toxic desire of males enculturated in patriarchy to conquer women.
Many women who become prostitutes are literal sex slaves, having been kidnapped and forced into prostitution or raised into it from the time they were children, or both. Others are compelled into it through economic desperation. Still others are prepared for it by abusive childhoods which destroy the self esteem, or through the grooming of women and children by adults in their lives or the pornographic grooming of women and children done by the the culture. Prostitution is always the result of distress. Social realities make it impossible for prostitution to be voluntary. In other words, prostitution is rape.
Problem 2: The Migration of Pornography Into the Mainstream
If we accept the truth that pornography - as defined by the pornography industry itself through what it produces - is media defined by the story that all pornography has in common (that women are second class citizens and that rape is okay), then I think we can separate all of that material into two types and use it to define what media gets accepted into public places and which media must be classified as pornography and restricted to private consumption.
The media which is accepted into contemporary public places may tell the story that women are second class citizens and that rape is okay, and it may even depict rapes and sexual assaults in a romanticized way - but it can never show real footage from a real sexual assault.
That media which is relegated to the world of pornography in contemporary society is real footage from real sexual assaults.
So why don’t I use the definition society seems to use to describe what pornography is and is not? Because it’s not a stable definition. More and more explicit media is being accepted into the mainstream all the time. Society’s definition doesn’t work because it ignores the substance of what pornography is and tries to describe symptoms which may or may not be indicators of pornography.
Nude photographs were once considered pornographic but now there is nudity in mainstream movies and on TV. Then nudity plus depictions of sex were considered pornographic, but not anymore. Then it became well it’s okay to display nudity and depictions of sex but if you show a specific body part during that display then it becomes pornographic (nude with back to the camera is okay but with front to the camera is not). Then it became okay to show nude body parts during depictions of sex acts, so long as there was no penetration shown.
The more the pornography industry pushes the limits of male sexuality in its own world, the more mundane its older products seem to become and patriarchal society allows them to filter out into the mainstream. The way this patriarchal society presents these formerly pornographic forms of media is to say; "This is natural - this is what the natural male wants. In fact, this is tame compared with what the natural male wants. If you want to see what real pornography looks like, we can show you something much worse, equally or even more popular with male viewers."
But in fact, that is not what the natural male wants. Within the framework of a highly patriarchal society it is difficult to recognize the piece of the story they are leaving out - that a rigidly hierarchical patriarchal culture is not actually "natural." But since people often confuse the norms of their own culture with natural norms, this unsubstantiated premise - that patriarchy is natural - goes unnoticed, unchallenged and unexamined by the majority of the inhabitants of such a culture. What would be much more accurate to say is that this is what the male - highly enculturated in a patriarchal society which affords him all kinds of privileges paradoxically both incredibly obvious and yet entirely unexamined - wants.
So the history is that the social definition of what’s okay to put in public view is constantly changing, ever allowing more and more of what used to be socially recognized as pornographic into the mainstream media and public places. It ignores history. When taking history into account, we can come up with a much better definition of pornography, which stands the test of time and encompasses the entirety of what the pornography industry has produced since its beginning - media which tells the story that women are second class citizens and that rape is okay.
Even those nude photographs playboy published in its early days were pornographic and based on prostitution. If someone in public were to take off all their clothes, they'd be arrested and charged with a "lewd or indecent act," because the action would be understood to be sexual in nature. I don't actually believe that simply being in one's natural state is necessarily sexual in nature; however when photographs are taken for the purpose of dissemination as tokens intended to initiate sexual arousal in others, then those photos are in fact sexual in nature; therefore I think by a loose definition, even nude models posing in the early days of playboy who would otherwise not have done so if not for the money were engaged in prostitution.
Would they have disrobed if the money were not present? Were the photographs meant as a sexual stimulus for others? If the answers to those questions is yes, then even those earliest models in the earliest softcore playboy magazines who were not necessarily even entirely naked, were providing sexual favors for money; meaning they were being prostituted, which as a matter of course means they were coerced. Even if we don't take an interest in what may have been printed in text next to or below the photographs, the photos by the nature of their creation alone, tell the story that women are second class citizens, and that rape (sexual coercion qualifies as rape) is acceptable social behavior.
The day after I thought I had finished writing this segment I came across an article about two movies which were released earlier this year (2014). One is called Nymphomaniac, and the other is called Stranger by the Lake. Both movies are reported to be very sexually explicit and apparently show actual intercourse on screen. Both films used what the directors are calling “stunt doubles” for the “below the waist” scenes. These “stunt doubles” are “regular actors” in the case of Stranger by the Lake and “porn performers” in Nympohmaniac. So the process of moving pornography further and further into the mainstream continues, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how society will define “pornography” for itself from now on. However, the stable definition of pornography I’ve been using here remains unchanged.
Pornography, to me, is any “art” or media which tells the story in any medium that women are second class citizens, and that rape is excusable. Using this definition, I don’t see how anyone with even a pinch of empathy in their hearts could advocate for, or even be neutral to the existence of pornography at all - whether in mainstream society or on society’s fringes.
An Innocent Photo Can Become Pornographic After it is Taken
Consider what happened in late summer 2014, during the event known as "Celeb Leak," an anonymous hacker broke into the Apple iCloud accounts of about 100 celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kelly Brook, Rihanna, Mary Winstead and many others. In doing so, the hacker managed to obtain nude photos of many of his victims, then uploaded those photos online anonymously to a public 4chan message board.
We don't know what the original intention of most of the nude photos was, but since they were not released publicly until the hacker stole access to them and copied and released the files to the world, the intention of the photos was likely private. Most were probably not the result of payment or coercion; and therefore would not meet my definition of pornography - until they were stolen and released to people who were not meant to see them. At that point, a violation had occurred, and the released photos - removed from their original context and now made public against the wishes of those they belonged to - became pornographic.
This presents the slight paradox that the same photos which were once not necessarily pornographic became pornographic when found in a different context. Since I like stable defintions, I thought about this for quite some time - and what the implications of this might be for my own stable version of pornography's definition. After all, we can't collectively fight something if we cannot collectively define it. Soon, I realized the answer. It's not necessarily the media itself that is important. What is important is the story. So, pornography is the story that women are second class citizens and that rape is acceptable social behavior. Media can be a way of disseminating that story; but it's not even necessarily the media that matters. The same piece of media can tell different stories in different contexts. Pornography is not a particular type of media. Pornography is a particular type of story.
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