Some time ago, I blogged about Naomi Wolf’s essay, The Porn Myth, and I asked what was wrong with Wolf’s statements about Dworkin. Of course, Andrea Dworkin has been one of the most controversial feminist philosophers ever, and Naomi Wolf is herself a very popular and well-respected feminist, so let me caveat this post:
What one feminist says is not representative of what the ‘feminist standpoint’ on a particular issue is. In fact on most issues, there is no one feminist standpoint. This acceptance of the existence of multiple feminist points of view is one of the reasons I am proud to be a feminist. Porn, in particular, is one of the issues on which feminists do not agree. In fact, feminists may consider porn anything from oppressive to liberating. Of course, the response also depends on what you call ‘porn’.
That said, let me get down to Wolf’s essay. It’s called “The Porn Myth”, and revolves around how the ‘pornographisation’ of the world has affected sexual relationships. The myth she says she’s debunking is Andrea Dworkin’s ‘warning’ that
“if we did not limit pornography…before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility—most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.” Wolf says Dworkin was “right about the warning, wrong about the outcome”.
Wolf ‘agrees’ that young men and women are learning about sex, drawing their expectations of sex, from porn. However, she says,
“the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.””
Somehow, the essay didn’t ring true. I think it’s a misreading of Dworkin to say that she believed that the wide availability of pornography would lead to rape. Wolf implies that Dworkin said (i) that men are ‘raving beasts’ when they commit rape, or (ii) that rape is a product of the ‘male libido’. I think Dworkin would consider either statement sheer rot.
Dworkin has drawn parallels between pornography and rape, between pornography and prostitution. She didn’t suggest that pornography turns men on. She said pornography happens to women, in the same manner that all violence against women does. When she wrote of causes, she talked about how dehumanizing women is part of how boys become men. And how this dehumanization is part of the process of oppression, the process that includes pornography and rape and other sexualized violence against women.
On the other hand, Wolf’s essay is all about men. How does porn affect men? Is it making them (and of course women too) lonely? Is it turning them into ‘raving beasts’? Is it making sex unexciting for them? Of course it’s about women too – young women are worried about “compet[ing] with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification” in their attempts to satisfy (guess who?) men!
Wolf is not talking about right and wrong here, but merely about what internet porn has done to sexual relationships. She says that
“The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking.”
On the other hand, here’s Dworkin on why pornography matters to feminists:
pornography gives us no future; pornography robs us of hope as well as dignity; pornography further lessens our human value in the society at large and our human potential in fact; pornography forbids sexual self-determination to women and to children; pornography uses us up and throws us away; pornography annihilates our chance for freedom.
Which, then, is the myth?