Saturday, November 7, 2009

Can't Wait to See the Search Terms That Lead to This Entry

For the NYU class I'm auditing, we're reading Catherine MacKinnon's Only Words, which is a short book that contains three essays on speech and equality. I'm still in the middle of the first one because I keep getting annoyed and have to stop. Anyone who has engaged with her work over the last twenty years or more can probably figure out why (check her Wikipedia entry if you want an overview of her positions). It's just so annoying that she creates a monolithic definition of pornography that ignores porn without women or without men, meaning gay and lesbian pornography.

Yet, she says that her ideas and activism should apply to all forms of pornography whatever their gendered makeup. For those with the book, see footnote 32, pages 121-2. And shall I note that she only comments on lesbian and gay porn in a footnote? She never says anything specific about how her analysis applies to non-heterosexual porn, and that just keeps pissing me off. She has examples from heterosexual porn, but she doesn't care enough about other forms to engage with them. She only wants throw out a blanket criticism and leave it at that.

I mean, she writes, "With pornography, men masturbate to women being exposed, humiliated, violated, degraded, mutilated, dismembered, bound, gagged, tortured, and killed" (17). Umm, what if there are no women in it? And that is nothing compared to "Empirically, all pornography is made under conditions of inequality based on sex, overwhelmingly by poor, desperate, homeless pimped women who were sexually abused as children" (20). It's the "all pornography" that gets me.

I can see how her argument fits a lot of heterosexual porn. I do believe that Deep Throat is quite possibly a film of Linda Boreman being raped. I have seen many examples of porn depicting the abuse and degradation of women. But to lump lesbian and gay pornography into the same category yet not say anything specific about why?

Sure, lesbian and gay pornography can celebrate abuse and degradation in the same ways that heterosexual porn can. But I think gay pornography especially has a unique history and grew out of particular contexts that are different than straight porn. And I do not think those histories and contexts should be ignored.

I don't want to dismiss her work, but the way she dismisses gay pornography makes me wonder if I should.

1 comment:

  1. I love MacKinnon, though it's been a while since I've read her. She's definitely too essentialist (porn IS this) and frustrating, but I enjoy her work and she's provoking!

    Also, she makes a distinction between erotica (good) and pornography (degradation), right? I think she does. Been too long since I've read her work. If I'm remembering right (I could be totally wrong), doesn't she somewhere define "woman" tentatively as "someone who is vulnerable to rape"? If so, by a stretch, we could consider gay erotica to be "good" and gay porn to be the stuff about degradation... Stretching a bit, there? Nevertheless, you're right, she totally ignores gay porn.