Monday, September 23, 2013

Porn Culture

I'm feeling nostalgic for a more innocent time. I remember going to a girlfriend's house for a sleepover in 7th grade. She had a giant TV downstairs in her bedroom, far away from the parents, and late at night we would cruise through the hundreds of cable channels looking for... well, porn. And I remember one night very specifically, a gaggle of giggling girls crowded around the TV watching a, by today's standards, soft-core movie in which an attractive couple made love on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fireplace as a naked woman spied from behind a wall and touched herself to the sounds of them having sex. I was riveted. Some of my girlfriends pretended they were grossed out and turned in early. Naturally, I stayed up and watched the entire film. There was nothing scary or hardcore about it. It looked like real sex. There was a softness and a sensuality... I have not seen a porn flick like this since.

Things have really changed in the last fifteen years. Porn is no longer this marginalized thing that only dirty old men watch. Which in a way is good because there is a big variety of what's out there, for different audiences, women included. What's really upsetting to me though is that, because porn is totally normalized and available all over the internet, the porn aesthetic has become a standard that incredibly young girls think they have to live up to.


I'm in kind of an angry mood about all this because I just watched two really upsetting documentaries back to back: MISS REPRESENTATION and SEXY BABY. So please forgive me for the coming rant... I'm painfully aware that I'm preaching to the choir.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom's Miss Representation deals with the media's pervasive focus on how women look over what they accomplish, and talks about how this phenomena distracts women from doing important things and sends the message to young girls that being pretty is more important than anything else. Jay Leno challenges his audience to identify if the women in the photos he's showing them are “professional newscasters or hooters waitresses.”

I mean, I enjoy tits and ass as much as the next person, but Jesus Christ. I'm tired of driving along the Sunset Strip and almost getting in a car wreck because there's a hundred foot naked chick staring down at me. And I'm a grown woman so I realize what I'm looking at is a piece of digitally-enhanced advertising-cum-pornography, but what must the 13 year old girl in the car next to me think? That this is the ideal of what she's supposed to look like, that the only way a woman is going to make it onto a billboard is if she's naked with breast implants? In my idealistic mind, I wonder how our world might be different if this same girl looked up and saw a hundred foot billboard of Hillary Clinton accepting her presidential nomination, and her thought pattern might be more along the lines of: “Wow, that woman is going to be President, maybe I can be a leader one day too!”


In one particularly disheartening scene, the filmmakers show a slew of newscaster commentary about our female leaders. Some of the direct quotes from today's top male newscasters:
When Barack Obama speaks, men hear 'take off for the future.' When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear 'take out the garbage!'” - Cavuto, Fox News
I think I'm gonna send the senate minority and her club a bunch of vacuum cleaners to help them clean up after their meeting.” - Rush Limbaugh
Sarah Palin looks really hot in that hat.” - Glenn Beck
These skanks that make up the female leadership of the democratic party.” - Lee Rodgers
She's not the type of face you wanna see on a five dollar bill.” - Savage Nation
Remember that ugly hag, Madeline Albright? A psycho... like a fat moron.” - Savage Nation
Now we have the wicked witch of the West, you know, Nancy Pelosi.” - Fox News
Another example of how it's very rare to find a woman worthy of serving in political office.” - Chris Baker
Get a woman in power in the Oval Office, what's the down side?” - Bill O'Reilly “You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings.” - Cavuto

This really sucks. The public listens to these guys, and if it is still acceptable to say such hateful things about women on national television, we have a long way to go. As Jennifer Siebel Newsom says, “The more power women gain, the stronger the backlash against them.” I think the worst damage this kind of backlash does is to infiltrate the heads of young girls who grow up watching this toxic criticism and learn fast that being a powerful, influential woman is just too much work, there is too much hatred and judgment to overcome. It's not worth it. Much safer to just stick to what we know – twerking.


In movies, even when a woman is the protagonist and appears empowered, she is often relying on sex and her body to gain status. Caroline Heldman, a Poly Sci professor at Occidental College, coined the phrase “fighing fuck toy” to describe such “action heroes” as the gals in Sucker Punch, Jennifer Garner in Elektra, Halle Berry in Catwoman, etc. In other words, yes these women are “bad ass,” gun-wielding action stars, but they still dress like strippers.

We tend not to write women as human beings. It's cartoons we're making now. And that's a shame.” -film director Paul Haggis

Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus' Sexy Baby follows the stories of three different women. A 12 year old girl coming of age in New York City, an ex-porn star who teaches housewives how to pole dance, and a 22 year old kindergarten teacher saving all her money to get labiaplasty.

The kindergarten teacher believes her sex life will be much better when she has the “perfect” labia and can therefore feel confident about her sexuality. “My first serious boyfriend watched X-rated movies and stuff and he was like 'Oh, it's bigger than most girls, what's wrong?' And I just feel it would be a huge turn on for a guy to look like a porn star.” Her old white male doctor agrees, and gives her the scientific reading that on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the biggest and most unsightly), her “wings” are a 7 and an 8, respectively, and therefore definitely need to be “clipped.” The filmmakers interviewed several teenage boys who admitted to wanting girls they have sex with to appear similar to what they see in porn. One boy claimed he once slept with a girl who had the “meat curtain” factor... he never talked to her again.

When I was growing up, I hadn't seen tons and tons of porno vaginas, so I didn't know what a “perfect” vagina was supposed to look like. There was a freedom to work with what you had. Now, like with women's tits and asses and faces and hair and weight and everything, there's a standard of perfection that very young girls feel they must live up to.  

The 12 year old in Sexy Baby is this really smart, cool girl who goes from being a poet, social activist and gymnast, to losing all interest in everything but Lady Gaga, and suddenly she is wearing incredibly short skirts and spending all her time trying to appear sexy to boys on Facebook. Growing up, my mom was always really strict about me not wearing short skirts, but it was easier to regulate back then because the images coming out of the media were not so gratuitous, and young girls weren't so sexualized. I see these adolescent girls on the street these days and I'm constantly like “your mother let you leave the house in that thing?” But then my eyes travel up to the nearest billboard and there's a naked little girl looking skinny and depressed in an American Apparel advertisement... and it all makes some kind of weird sense.


I mean, I get it. When I was young I was in love with the Spice Girls. My favorite one? Posh Spice. Literally the worst singer of the group. Why? Because I thought she was the prettiest. Ginger was my second fave – in my mind, the second prettiest. My least favorites? Arguably the two best singers of the group – Sporty and Scary, because I thought they were the least pretty. I had 50 Barbies growing up that I loved to play with, I dressed them up and made them all have sex with Ken. But it was a more innocent time. There was no beating hookers to death in Grand Theft Auto, there was no internet porn. And the Spice Girls were no Lady Gaga. They seemed totally scandalous at the time, but compared with the music performers of today, they look like fucking nuns.

I dread the day when I have a teenage daughter and I have to keep her from having a smart phone too young and must tell her a hundred times a day to put on some fucking pants. If we already have the likes of Megan Fox and Miley Cyrus, I'm wary to think what the influences will be like in a decade and beyond. It seems literally impossible to get young girls to dress their age. Especially in LA where the default dress code is Forever 21 and 10 year olds and 70 year olds alike are shopping there.

I think women need to wise up and start representing ourselves better. Literally every time I'm in the gym (which, granted, is not that often), at least five of the ten TV screens in front of me at any given moment are inevitably playing some disgusting R&B video where a clan of wet bikini-clad females are gyrating all over some thugged-out rapper and/or brain dead Barbies are competing to become Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders by, again, gyrating in front of a slew of judges, consisting of balding men and plastically-enhanced older women. This is what girls on TV are doing. This is how some of the most visible members of our sex are portraying us. Are we cool with this? Because I'm not cool with it. I'm fucking sick of it.


I have to admit, I'm not immune to any of this. I, as you all know, watch porn. I get laser hair removal on my bikini line. And I have been known to text dirty photos to guys. But I'm a woman, I feel in control of my sexuality, and I try not to be solely defined by it (although I too have fallen into this trap). I'm not a 12 year old girl whose never had sex before. And honestly, I don't know if I would have this healthy attitude about sex if I had been exposed so early on to such a hard core porn culture as we have today. I was allowed to watch R rated movies from a young age, but they were usually the ones in which the woman was strong and smart, not the ones in which her character is defined by a mini-skirt. The porn that I was able to find as a kid was pretty soft-core as I remember. And then of course there wasn't the incredible internet access kids grow up with now. It's changed so much so fast, it's hard not to be a little scared about where we're headed.

However, the 12 year old girl in Sexy Baby makes a very smart point. “We're the first generation to have what we have, so there's no one before us who can kind of guide us. I mean, we are the pioneers.” For all her newfound desire to be sexy and appeal to boys, this girl does seem conflicted and she admits that she doesn't necessarily love the change that's come over her. I think the awareness is key, and the intelligence of this young girl and that of the upcoming generation gives me hope that maybe we won't go too far. We can't go back in time to a magical land before Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and RedTube, but I don't think we necessarily have to lose ourselves in it either.

I do have to admit that, watching the kindergarten teacher going in for labiaplasty, I started to wonder about myself. I crouched over a mirror and checked out my own “wings,” scrutinizing their size for literally the first time in my life. Are they too big, I wondered? This thought had never occurred to me before, and I wish it didn't now.
  
Totally watch these documentaries...
Miss Representation - streaming on Netflix
Sexy Baby - available for rent on iTunes



4 comments:

  1. Too much of anything is a bad thing. There are just so many angles to the affects and damage. Self image for women and even men. Reality TV fantasies that a sex tape can be leaked for instant stardom. Remember when it was a clumsily shot video leaked by a malicious opportunistic ex?

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  2. Yeah being degraded and publicly humiliated used to be a bad thing... now it's a one way ticket to 15 minutes of fame!

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  3. I am the only girl on an all male wild land firefighting crew, and it's incredible to me how the guys talk about 'bitches' and break down their bodies. These are great guys and I love them all, making their uncensored commentary more shocking and making it hard not to take their judgements personally as a woman. Though they never, ever direct these comments at me and treat me like one of the boys, I can't help but develop insecurities about my own body. Never having hung out with guy friends who were so open (it's like a high school locker room for fucks sake) it's always been easy to believe that the guys I care about were not as shallow as those other dudes out there. Now, listening to them talk about pornos and dating sites it is discouraging to know that even the good guys out there have these expectations of well groomed perfection, and I can't help looking at my fit, hard working body and begrudge myself for being strong instead of skinny and all the 'imperfections' that go with that.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this. I totally know what you're talking about - I think guys can be really glib in how they talk about women, especially with each other. And I don't think they even realize how much it affects the women around them, because they're just less sensitive to this subject. We are so aware of women being objectified and their bodies being picked apart, that it feels very personal, and I don't honestly think guys realize they're doing it. It's so ingrained in our culture that it's easy to accept that it's okay to talk about women like this - because the media and everything is telling us it's cool and normal. I always wonder for myself what I can do to combat this. Because I know it feels silly and even embarrassing to take it personally. And I really struggle with trying not to alienate men with my feminist rants - that are often detrimental to my argument, because they're alienating. But I don't want to be quiet about it either. I would love to be honest all the time about how this kind of talk makes me feel. But I know it's easier said than done, especially when you're the only woman in a very macho environment. It sounds like these guys love and care about you and I think if they knew that it hurt you, they would think twice about what they say and maybe realize the power of their words. Maybe we need to stop swallowing these things that bother us and express them, so that we can open the conversation for men to be a part of. Again, easier said than done. It's an ongoing dilemma, and something I want to keep exploring. Thanks for bringing it up!

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