Recently I went to a talk on social justice and pornography. Much was said about human sexuality, the Church and the impact of pornography.
One point that Dr. Erin Dufault-Hunter was keen to make was that in interacting with pornography, its users are interacting with fake examples. This leaves the user ill-equipped to actually deal with and relate to members of the opposite sex.
Another point Dr. Dufault-Hunter was keen to make was the fact that women are not righteous or innocent in regards to pornography. More women are accessing hardcore pornography but there are also female versions of pornography, such as romance novels, and I would also suggest bridal magazines.
The fake women men interact with in their pornography have idealized bodies, are aggressive and/or submissive in their sexuality and act essentially as sex objects. The fake men women interact with in their pornography were variously described as empathetic, kind, cooperative, emotionally intelligent, loving, compassionate, metrosexual, and “gay enough.”
Dr. Dufault-Hunter reported that when she was discussing an example of female pornography with her husband, he commented, “So [female pornography] is women with penises?” It struck me that in the pornography of both genders, what is idealized is actually what is closer to stereotypes about their own gender. Men want women who approach sex in a masculine fashion and women want men who approach relationships in a feminine fashion.
The encouragement was given for both sexes to let the other be themselves. Both genders should learn to relate to and appreciate the opposite sex which is and forever will be “the other” and to not retreat, via pornography, into a fantasy that idealizes and simplifies the opposite sex into what is know. Namely, your own gender.
As the debate continued something stood out to me that I want to make. Pornography fairly actively reinforces gender constructs and gender stereotypes and it does so on two levels. First, it sends a message about what the respective sexes want from the other. This is the most plain and obvious one. Clearly men want loose women with large breasts (or so pornography would suggest). Second, it sends a message to the respective sexes about what they should want as a member of their sex. Clearly men want loose women with large breasts (and if you don’t you may not be man/male/masculine enough).
Pornography exposes our stereotypes about what “real” men and “real” women are to be and what they should want. If you are outside of this your gender is suspect and often this opens you up to passive and active ridicule and shame, all attempts to get you back into line with what you should be and want. If you are a woman who wants sex, you are a slut. If you are a man who is down for emotional intimacy you’re gay.
This all goes back to my frustration that there are traits, jobs, aspirations, qualities and values that we have made designated to one sex or the other for centuries. Aggressive is a masculine trait. If a man is aggressive he is a man’s man. If a woman is aggressive she is a bitch. Being nurturing and caring are female traits. If a woman is nurturing or caring she is a real woman. If a man is nurturing or caring he is gay.
Even in the language we used to talk about the men in female pornography was telling and part of the problem. In describing emotionally intelligent, compassionate, loving men they were called metrosexual, “gay enough” and finally “women with penises.” The hard part for me was that, as a man, I strongly identified with a lot of these traits.
I rarely, if ever watch professional sports but cook and bake. Does that make me metrosexual? I am caring, loving and considerate to people. Does this make me “gay enough?” I am highly introspective, emotionally intelligence and self-aware and can describe what’s going on inside me beyond the monosyllabic expressions of, “good,” “bad,” and “ugh.” Does this make me a woman with a penis?
I am, in many ways, the man idealized in female pornography. (Before you get any ideas single ladies, know that I am more than a great set of listening ears. Don’t objectify me. I exist for more than helping you process your hard day. I’m a real person with feelings.) These are not my only qualities, and I do truly enjoy certain activities that are traditionally identified as “masculine,” but collectively they are a large part of who I am and how I exist in this world. Yet I’ve felt the need to squash, deny, and hide from who I am because a thousand and one messages from my family, my Church, and the culture suggested this was not “manly” and as a man I should not be like this.
I think it is high time we need to drop these concepts of gender and just let people be themselves. If you are sensitive – be that. If you are nurturing and caring – be that. If you are aggressive and assertive – be that. If you are competitive – be that. Wearing masks and pretending you are something that you are not takes incredible energy. It’s like writing forever with your non-dominant hand. Take a burden off your shoulders and be yourself. Some people will reject you for being yourself, but others will love you all the more. At the end of the day, when you are perpetually pretending to be something that you are not, no one wins.