Friday, August 27, 2010

Pornography Undermines Our Humanity

Warning: This article has adult content.

Robert Jensen is a Professor of media law, ethics, and politics at the University of Texas at Austin and a feminist anti-pornography activist. Prof. Jensen is also the author of "Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity" Prof. Jensen talks to True Feminism about the pornographic war on women.

SD: How did you get involved in women’s studies?

RJ: When I went to graduate school in 1988, I was lucky to have a chance to read radical feminist work and meet feminists working to end men’s violence and the sexual exploitation of women. I realized that feminism not only creates for women a path to resist patriarchy, but also gives men a way to deal with the ways in which patriarchy undermines our humanity. Feminism offers men a chance to be fully human. I also realized that radical feminism’s struggle against male dominance was based on a deep critique of the hierarchy and domination/subordination dynamic that permeates society, especially along race, gender, and class lines. For me, it opened up a new way of understanding the world that made justice seem possible.

SD: If pornography is anti-woman, then what about the men who work in the sex industry?

RJ: The domination/subordination dynamic that defines the sexual-exploitation industries of pornography, stripping, and prostitution is rooted in men’s use and abuse of women. But that domination/subordination can play out in other kinds of relationships, such as in the gay male world. There are also men who perform in the heterosexual pornography industry, of course, but they are not the targets of the cruelty and degradation that is routinely directed at women.Bold

SD: Prostitution advocates often claim that prostitution helps reduce the crime rate. Do you think this is true?

RJ: There’s no evidence of that, and it’s counter intuitive. So, I see no reason to accept the claim.

SD: How did you get involved in making “The Price of Pleasure”?

RJ: I had worked with the filmmakers on one of their previous projects. When they expressed interest in making a documentary on pornography, I was eager to help. There are few resources like this film available, and it has proved to be an important part of efforts to educate the public about the realities of the industry and the images it produces.

SD: Why do some feminists advocate prostitution and pornography?

RJ: I do not find their arguments about the liberating potential of pornography persuasive, and I think they typically avoid an honest assessment of the industry and the images it produces. I find the radical feminist critique of the sexual-exploitation industries to be a more compelling account of the world that I observe.

SD: How does pornography differ from sex?

RJ:Pornography is primarily a masturbation-facilitator for men. It’s one of the ways that men use women for sexual pleasure. It’s a mediated form of prostituted sex.

SD: Does adult pornography have an impact on child pornography?

RJ: The adult pornography industry is careful not to use minors in the production of their films. But they do produce films that present women who are over the age of 18 in child-like settings, with clothing and styles that evoke childhood -- what is sometimes called pseudo-child pornography. The classic examples would be a pornographic film that presents the women as students in a high school or babysitters. I don’t think we have enough evidence to know whether this cultivates in male users a desire for actual child pornography or sex with children, but there is reason for concern.

SD: Psychologist Sigmund Freud, in “Civilization and its discontents,” argued that all male aggression comes from sexual repression and it was the patriarchal family that places restrictions on male sexual activity. How can patriarchy then be the enemy?

RJ: Freud was wrong about some things, including this. The patriarchal family, which was devised by men, is a way to control women, not constrain men.

SD: How does capitalism contribute to pornography?

RJ: Capitalism is a predatory economic system that encourages exploitation, of people and the resources of the earth. Capitalism’s demand for profit undermines other values, such as respect, dignity, and equality. In a patriarchal society, it’s not surprising that profits can be generated by the sexual exploitation of women and that pornographers pursue those profits without concern for the consequences.

SD: What do you think of Playboy magazine?

RJ: Playboy sells objectified female bodies to men for sexual pleasure. It’s the soft end of the pornographic spectrum, but some women have told me that they think it is as destructive as the hardcore material that degrades women in overt ways; they believe that their male partners’ ideas of what makes a female body attractive are shaped by soft-core material like Playboy. Those perceptions can negatively affect relationships.

SD: How has pornography influenced mainstream media and television?

RJ: Mainstream pop culture is much more pornographic in recent years. The codes and conventions of pornography - the way pornography presents women sexually -find their way into the mainstream. More explicit and degrading sexual situations that look a lot like soft-core pornography are increasingly common in mainstream media.

SD: What advice would you offer men who view pornography?

RJ: Don’t. I think we men are much better off when we disconnect our sexuality from mediated images of explicit sex. Images that present women as sexual objects to be used for our pleasure undermine our ability to be fully human. Even if men don’t care about harm to women and children, we should abandon pornography for our own sake.


St. Ursula said...

Psychologist Sigmund Freud, in “Civilization and its discontents,” argued that all male aggression comes from sexual repression and it was the patriarchal family that places restrictions on male sexual activity. How can patriarchy then be the enemy?



I read this interview with great interest. Although I am not familiar with Professor Jensen's work, I was for several years very active in the anti-pornography movement. Although I no longer go to protests, my views about the subject have not changed.

I was very influenced by the works of Catharine McKinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin (and to a lesser degree John Stoltenberg and Susan Griffin), and still consider them both secular heroes of a sort, especially Dworkin, a woman of singular moral courage. She was utterly uncompromising and for that she paid a heavy price.

Around that same time I first read Karol Wojtyla's work, "Love and Responsibility." At some point I began to believe that there was no solution to the scourge of pornography apart from Judeo-Christian morality. This caused me to begin reading generally in the area of Christian sexual ethics. What little I found (this was pre-internet days) turned out to be disappointing. This led me back to Wojtyla's work. All these years later, I have still found that on this topic there is no philosopher or thinker, Christian or Secular, who can touch him. No one even comes close.

Women gaining social and economic freedom hasn't made a dent in the pornography industry and the culture of objectification which it simultaneously feeds on and shapes. What do secularist anti-pornography activists propose as the answer to this scourge? Dworkin and McKinnon's idea of legislation did not work, and "awareness raising" has not worked.

Without a return to an objective morality that insists on the absolute dignity of the human person, how can this tide ever be stopped?

Savia said...


Based on what I have read the secular solution is to get of patriarchy, because the assumption is that a world run by women would be kinder.

I think it has to do with how people define patriarchy. Radical feminists and feminists in general think it's based on dominance. I know it's was based on service and sacrifice. Men being providers and protectors of women and children.

It's sad that we have left the field to radical feminists and Christian men on the whole have been passive with respect to this.

I know this is now changing, with many men taking the lead against it.

The men who run the porn industry know how the male brain works and they find ways to manipulate men at the expense of women.

Yes, The Theology of the Body is quite remarkable. It's made simple what Catholic mystics already knew.

St. Augustine in the "City of God" called original sin the sin of Adam. It's quite interesting what he had to say on the subject.

St. Ursula said...

Based on what I have read the secular solution is to get of patriarchy, because the assumption is that a world run by women would be kinder.

This is no solution. It's interesting to see how infatuated with the left Nikki Craft, for example, remains. Contrast this with Phyllis Chesler, who has clearly come to her senses. Had Dworkin lived, one wonders what conclusions she would have reached as she watched the Left become increasingly anti-semitic.

I know this is not a theology blog, but please elaborate on your comments about St. Augustine and original sin and how it ties in to this theme. If it's too off-topic for the blog, would you email me about it?

As you might gather, this topic (Theology of the Body, pornography, etc.) is an area of great interest for me and has been for 25+ years.

Savia said...

St. Ursula,

Several authors such Peter Kreeft, Christopher West have elaborated on the Genesis story. Adam was put in charge of the garden and Eve. His job was to protect his family. A predator came in (serpent) and went after Eve and he did nothing and then blamed her after participating in a forbidden act. The serpent went after Eve and not Adam. In Men this is manifested with a desire to either dominate or be too passive. In women it produces mistrust in men and fear of them.

Not to say this is what literally caused the battle of the sexes, but I think you get the psychological underpinnings of this story.

The woman made me do it is a common male line. It reflects cowardice or denial. And the very idea of a man being in charge of protecting and providing for a family has a lot of women at unease today, because they fear this would lead to their subjugation.

Hortense said...

Masculinity may be on the wane, but it will be several lifetimes before we wipe it out completely, at this rate. Medical science plays a enormous role in our success as feminists, and than goodness most medical graduates are now women. In Sweden, there have already been experiments to stimulate milk production in male breasts, and a law was proposed to force men to sit down to pee - although it didn't pass on this initial attempt. These are early days, but we're on the path to womb implants and, most importantly, forced male-to-female hormone replacement and even chemical castration. We must continue our highly successful campaign of male-shaming and the destruction of the male ego, while remembering that the process can (and must) be sped up with a little help from science.

Savia said...


Females destroying the male is as bad as men destroying women. True Feminism is not about turning men into women or women into men, but about respecting the fact that men and women complement each other and that we are both called to higher standards.

Savia said...

And Hortense. Welcome to the Blog!

St. Ursula said...


I just checked Dawn Eden's blog. Her M.A. thesis that critiques Christopher West's "Theology of the Body" is now available free online. It looks like there is also a lively discussion about it going on at the CNA website. Here is the link:

Savia said...


You did send me a copy of Dawn Eden's thesis a while back. But, thanks for the link again.