Porn again

By ANITA DIAMANT  |  May 31, 2006

The current feminist argument that pornography itself is violence against women -- not that it causes or reflects violence only -- is powerfully made by Griffin's connection between this objectification of women in pornography and the humiliation that is also the "essence of the sadomasochistic act." As Griffin writes, "To be made an object is in itself a humiliation . . . Objectification of another is in itself a sadistic act, for to be made an object is to experience a pain of a loss of a part of the self: the soul." Humiliation by objectification is as apparent in cola ads on TV as it is in Deep Throat. It surrounds us to the point that we no longer see it as an assault on women's souls or selves. It's part of the scenery which shows us what we are supposed to look like, act like; be like. It is insidious violence. What we see does become part of us."

Griffin tries to explain why it is that men and culture (which she defines as male culture) seek to, seem to need to humiliate women. She theorizes that men identify women with the material, natural world that defies human controls, and also with that part of themselves which is material, mortal, and beyond the control of culture. According to this world view, women represent the mystery at the source of life and also the threat of death.

Griffin quotes from the Upanishads, "He only fears who sees duality," and connects the pornographic vision with Western culture's historical tendency to divide reality into two columns, each one assigned a gender. On the masculine side is the life of the mind, "language, the capacity and desire to understand, to calculate, to create, the generation of ideas, imaginings, the desire to master, to craft, to know, the longing for meaning," also discipline, asceticism, God, the ego. On the feminine side is the life of the body, "grace, intuition, sensuality, carnality, softness, vulnerability, concrete knowledge, beauty, motion, passion," also childhood, the Devil, the id.

Man is identified with culture, which defines itself as being in an adversarial relationship to nature. This leaves men, who are, of course, emotional animals, divided against themselves. Griffin writes, "The pornographer, like the church father, hates and denies a part of himself . . . He rejects knowledge of his own body . . . . But he cannot reject this knowledge entirely. It comes back to him through his own body; through desire. Just as he pushes away a part of himself, he desires it. What he hates and fears, what he would loathe, he desires. He is in a terrible conflict with himself. And instead he comes to imagine that he struggles with a woman. Onto her body he projects his fear and his desire. So the female body, like the whore of Babylon in church iconography, simultaneously lures the pornographer and incites his rage."

Griffin is asking us to push the insight of the '70s -- that sex roles are cultural divisions, not biologically or theologically determined categories -- and take it one step further. What does it cost a man to deny his "feminine" side? What, specifically, does it do to his sexuality?

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Politics, Political Policy, Harvard University,  More more >
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