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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

28

"The digital porn guy wants a fantasy that doesn’t exist, but the postfeminist girl wants one as well"

Our dearest Anne Helen Petersen has a great post up at her blog on Don Jon and the "digital porn dystopia," a smart counterpart to the idea of "postfeminist dystopia" that she's written about both here and elsewhere. About the double bind that both Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character find themselves in:

Her pleasure is faked; his pleasure is never what he wants it to be. Lose, lose.

Jon tries to quit porn, but soon discovers that porn surrounds him: the objectified, fetishized female body has become so normalized that even women’s magazines, exercise videos, and fast-food restaurants use it to sell products. Again, this isn’t anything new, but it’s amplified with each passing year.  How can Jon give up porn and the sexual dynamics it promotes when seemingly every piece of media invites him to continue the practice? The anti-porn feminists used to say that “porn is the theory; rape is the practice.” That’s powerful rhetoric, and I’m not sure I entirely agree. But I do think that the idea of “porn as theory” is incredibly compelling, especially given its current ubiquity. It becomes the de facto guide for how you should treat a woman in the bedroom,which consciously and unconsciously dictates how you’ll treat women outside of the bedroom.

[...] But that’s not even the real problem. The real problem is that porn, and the mainstream “children” of porn, tell you to behave one way — and another strand of media tells you to behave another. It’s like the virgin/whore complex, only for men: let’s call it the prince/dick dichotomy. A guy must both be what women want him to be (kind, respectful, willing to be a stay-at-home Dad, generous in the bedroom, takes up half of the household chores, a feminist) and what dominant, porn-influenced says he should be (aggressive, disarticulated from the domestic, selfish in the bedroom).

For AHP, Don Jon is noteworthy because it "so clearly interrogates porn, which usually goes unnamed in depictions of contradictory contemporary masculinity. Instead of shying from it because it’s dirty or unacceptable, it faces it head on. In that way, it’s a spectacularly honest film, which is part of the reason I can forgive it its various faults."

[Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style]

28 Comments / Post A Comment

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

Well, there's always lesbian separatism which I've often admired (and to C.'s embarrassment, loudly defended to relative strangers after a drink or three) for its internal consistency.

ponymalta

I saw Don Jon last night and liked it more than I expected to (I especially liked that Julianne Moore is in it, being a normal sexual human being, and no one takes pains to point out that she is over 30. DISTURBINGLY REFRESHING.) But I felt it was a liiiiiittle heavy-handed with the "Porn is awful and ruining your life" and also seemed to imply that the only porn women might enjoy is the classy European vintage variety. Also, I kept waiting for someone to point out that all of JGL's character's excessive cleaning, working out and prayer-- in addition to his porn habit-- seemed an awful lot like OCD.

leonstj

I really love AHP and wish she would teach me critical theory (is that what it is called? I may be getting this a little wrong) - I have never liked it in the past, but when she writes about it, it seems fascinating and applicable to life, not just an empty Ivory Tower Exercise. The best.

My one thought a lot of times though - and it's a thought I constantly think about here, why I love reading/commenting here and hope to not over-intrude - is that, I don't think I have a problem with their being a dichotomy in how a person is told to act - I have a problem with (a)the idea that a person must be one or the other - I mean, why chose between madonna/whore or donjuan/doormat-dad when you can be a little of each at the same time, or mostly one some times and mostly another other times and (b)the actual content of the madonna/whore/donjuan whatever 'mold' (i mean, i'll leave that at that, I have nothing new to say about the faults in our molds).

Just like - I do love the dichotomies, and, I can't speak to how they act on women whatsoever and maybe shouldn't on men except for one special case (the dude typing) but will anyhow - I think the problem for men & the dichotomy is that a lot of us don't feel like doing the emotional lifting.

It seems like that over the years the demands of society have been as such that many women are able to survive & sometimes thrive being two or more very different people in different aspects of their life. Like, I know so many women who are total free-spirit hippies when it comes to food and clothing etc, but then during the work-day are masters of excel and project management, and like, that's rad. We can be different people at different times.

But (straight, white, middle class) men just - I dunno, I feel like a lot of my BROS are just like "fuck this, it is too hard, how come our dads just got to be the same way all day long, kick ass and take names, drink scotch and slap ass whenever they wanted". They don't realize that just because we need to vacuum sometimes and listen to women as just other human beings all of the time that it doesn't mean there's also a place for (consensual) ass slapping, and like - just, eff those a-holes, kind of? I dunno sorry that that's a billion incoherent words, my thoughts aren't fully formed & i just want the really smart cool people here to tell me where i'm totally wrong I guess? So sorry.

whodathunk

@leonstj

Sorry, but I am going to have to tell you: you are totally right.

Nuance... it's okay! Subtlety, gradation and paradox. If we embrace these, along with a strong foundational underpinning in our own well being (which, turns out, complements others'! Whodathunkit?)

One of the reasons I can bear to be is that the human actually is built for speed (and stillness). Sex, if ya trace it all tha way down, is not about domination, it's about freedom (and cooperation). Keep goin' down the rabbit hole and that's where the bliss is.

Better to Eat You With

@leonstj I teach freshmen comp, and I worry about these dichotomies in their effects on very young adults. Generally speaking, my students of both genders can't quite manage the code shifting, so they play out one role or the other and are flabbergasted when one or the other isn't always, always appropriate or right. And then, of course, our early adult relationships inform our later adult relationships in ways that, if we are not thinking in sophisticated ways, can be really difficult to overcome.

But yeah, we certainly can be all these things if we want to, and it doesn't have to tear us up.

Alli525

In case anyone is interested, I think there's a group of NYC Pinners meeting up this weekend to see Don Jon and also to discuss heteronormativity (I wish there was a way to successfully portmanteau "heteronormativity" and "captivity" but it turns out either too subtle or incredibly awkward) soooooo y'all should check out the Facebook page, I think(?) all the info is there!

queenofbithynia

This supposed bind that men are in, from the last quoted paragraph, is nothing like the virgin/whore complex, which has sort of diffused all over the place in common usage but still means one of two basic things: either, A, men want a woman to be one or the other of those things, there are two kinds of women, you have to be one of them and you can't be both, or, B, you CAN be both at once and indeed have to be, because the knowledge that you are performing an uncomfortable role for a man is his primary erotic motivator and expecting you to be two contradictory things at once ensures that you are always in the wrong, which is the primary function of paradoxical female archetypes in the public imagination.

So this bears no similarity to the male dichotomy that's posited, because the thing about the virgin/whore thing is both roles appeal to the same audience -- men -- and even both to the same man, very possibly, consecutively or concurrently.

Whereas these dual roles for men, nice human being and horrible fuck, are not two sides of the same coin in that way -- only one of them is something that women as a faceless mass expect or desire (and it isn't an unattainable fantasy role, either, for that matter.) The other one is an image sold to men only, not sold to women as something they are entitled to find. It is what men are told that they want, not what they are told women want from them. You could say this is more insidious but it definitely isn't the same issue. Two different sets of people wanting two different sets of things from you is not an insoluble dilemma; it isn't even a dilemma.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@queenofbithynia I'd like to sit next to you at lunch.

whodathunk

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Room for one more?

whodathunk

Can you explain more what u mean? Intriguing! But also... confusing. Are you saying that women don't look for "prince charming"?

only one of them is something that women as a faceless mass expect or desire (which one?)

The other one is [...] not sold to women as something they are entitled to find. (which one, again?)

Are u saying women are sold nice guy package, or mean guy package?

It is what men are told that they want (mean guy package/persona?)

...not what they are told women want from them. Bcuz if you are talking about mean guy persona, I do think that men do base their persona's not only on affirmation from men, but also from women.

I feel like women have more agency then is actually acknowledged, and that that is insidious. But perhaps the argument is that, like the poor, the threat of retribution/rebuke from the power-holder works to direct people away from their own self-interest in deference to that power? In a if-u-can't-beat-em-join-em kind of (more sublimated) self-interest? In terms of the subtext.

Or, have I misunderstood you, and you meant it the other way around? (nice guy/mean guy reversed?)

whodathunk

@whodathunk

Although, while I feel like women have more agency than is acknowledged, I also feel like everyone is denied agency in service to pre-existing normative social structures which by default has a tendency to favor aggression and domination, in the absence of more potent, virile (what's the female equiv?) and creatively inspired innovation.

Dumb monkey does this. Smart monkey does this (other thing). The funny thing is, I've always constantly pervasively received the message that the two are reversed [smart monkey does this (dumb thing), dumb monkey does this other (totally dumb, stupid, don't even try it you dummy) thing (dummy, I told you that wouldn't work, now they're after us with pitchforks again, le sigh) <--- hence the need for that creative innovation. Madison avenue, where are you when I really need you to sell it? Ima pay you on consignment, I promise!]

queenofbithynia

@whodathunk "The other one is [...] not sold to women as something they are entitled to find. (which one, again?)"

This one -- quote: "aggressive, disarticulated from the domestic, selfish in the bedroom."

The whole bad boy mythos that does get sold to women and that many women do enjoy revolves around being good in bed. Resentful nice-guy complaints fully acknowledge this: women want a bad boy, they say, and put up with all sorts of crap from him, just because he's hot and a good fuck. There's an actual archetype, if you like. There's something men might feel anxious about living up to.

Whereas the porn image sold to men is, as described above (and I think correctly) all about being shitty in bed. I am going to go ahead and say that no woman fantasizes about a man who is shitty in bed. I know, I know, exceptions to everything, but I think in this case, very few. There is a limit to what we can be sold.

The idea that you can be impossibly bad in bed and (crucially) the woman you are with will not express even the tiniest unscripted opinion about that is a male fantasy, not a female fantasy. I know I am not right about everything but this opinion, I will go down defending if I have to.

Better to Eat You With

@queenofbithynia I've read research concluding that the effects of digital porn on people young enough to have been consuming it since before puberty still revolve around that old male gaze: Boys & men learn to want the women in porn. Girls don't learn to want the men in porn. They learn to want to *be* the women in porn. I haven't had coffee yet, but this makes sense to me in terms of what you're saying here. (Also, I don't remember where I read it.)

queenofbithynia

@Better to Eat You With I believe it but it's so weird to me because I can't imagine it very well. I didn't grow up with filmed pornography and I'm just as glad not to have, but the kind I did grow up with was largely male-authored, unsurprisingly. The effect it had on me and the effect that I always assumed it has on a lot of women is to instill a kind of fetishistic mental voyeurism: you find it sexy independent of how sexy you find the actual content, because when you read this, you know what a man is thinking when he's thinking about sex. I mean you know exactly. And because it's made for men and because all the discourse about it, pro or con, is about the male gaze and male desires, you get to feel like they can't see you looking; they think they're alone with it but you're there and you can see into their brains. It's erotic because it's knowledge; men know what they want but you know what you want and what they want.

But this whole layered secret double voyeurism sort of precludes identifying with or wanting to emulate the female images you see, I would have thought. So I guess I believe that research you mention because depressing things are always true, but I find it very weird.

queenofbithynia

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Likewise!

Mae
Mae

"It isn’t giving up porn, exactly, so much as embracing an understanding of sex and love outside of the ideologies of porn masculinity. Society is the way that it is; there is no outside of ideology. But you can choice to negotiate your own way within those existing ideologies, and the more texts like this highlight the dystopia, the more these dominant understandings of “proper” behavior, sexual and otherwise, are compromised."

This last paragraph has me wondering how one does this. Do we have an alternative ideology (besides old-fashioned patriarchy) that is clearly articulated enough to stand in opposition to porn-consumerist-postfeminism? If you're unsatisfied by both patriarchy and neoliberal postfeminism, how do you negotiate your way between them without existing in a cultural vacuum? What are we trying to aim for?*

*Besides misandrist anti-capitalist separatism, obviously.

queenofbithynia

@Mae "If you're unsatisfied by both patriarchy and neoliberal postfeminism, how do you negotiate your way between them without existing in a cultural vacuum? What are we trying to aim for?"

Well, feminism, for starters.

(Or, I guess, there is definitely nothing of value that lies between patriarchy and postfeminism, so negotiating a way between them sounds like a thankless business to me.)

Mae
Mae

@queenofbithynia Yeah, that's the obvious answer, but I was thinking about the fact that feminism has very little cultural resonance.

Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but it seems as though there are plenty of examples and models for how to live your sexual life according to patriarchal/consumerist ideologies, but few cultural narratives about what it's like to be a feminist. I know that I try to embody feminist attitudes in my own life, and in my relationships, but it would be nice to have some outside reflection of what that looks like when it's done well.

Then again, I may be asking for the impossible, because feminism is still subversive, and subversive ideologies are never going to enjoy the same level of cultural cachet as ones that make billions of dollars.

whodathunk

@Mae I'm going to say: disagree.

I mean, is there an issue of rebranding? Okay... I'll bite. Although it is notoriously difficult to really gauge what people actually think, versus what they think they think. Most people {some cultures excepting} already are feminist in ways that so far surpass the past as to be unrecognizable.

So, while you may find that it falls far short of the mark, you also have to be aware of the process, in order to be perceptually cognizant. Even the dickish douche likely has in his mind (somewhere) an ideology (beyond a kernel of human decency and perception, which can, far and away be culturally overridden) of woman-as-equal-being-and-intellectually-capable.

But, beyond that (where we are, and, rebranding ish's) I'd argue that cultural cache has always en-cloaked the underground, and it has a lot of currency. It's the early-adopters, and that's a coveted group, not an outlier. Yes, the grease monkeys take a while to reach their cultural peak of elvis. But still. it's always been hip to be hip, and it's never been hip to like (usually) the thing that everyone's caught up to that's already not really now. It ain't bleeding edge, honey.

But... is there pushback? Does stuff get co-opted and loose it's vitality? Okay... with this feminist stuff, there was a lot of pushback... which eventually petered into "we don't need it anymore, okay enough now" kind of passe marginalization (of the brand, which started out as omg the sky is falling and the ladies aren't serving coffee anymore o-m-g!!! what. is. happening.!!!)

But there's a juicy yummy part that we haven't totally gotten to yet. But it's there... People flail hard, it's true. But there is a high cost to bro-ing it out. Or to ho-ing it out (or throwin' other ladies on the pyre). In pretty much all lights, a modern-day feminist looks good. The hairpin is negotiating that territory and building up that mojo. It's different then ladies of the past (who were also super awesome). Because in some ways, it's a little more self-assured. A little more comfortable, and relaxed (even in imperfections and anxieties... I guess I'd say it's a little less anxious about it's anxiousness). A little more confident and maybe the swagger is a little more genuine and a little less put on for the bluster of it (not that I don't love well-timed bravado and bluster).

Do we have an official face for it? No... but I'm not sure that we need one. I think we (educated - formally or not- culturally smart and creative ladies of today) are it... and yes, it's not "mainstream" in the sense that it's not what's going down in peoria. But any ol' cultural creative hipster enclave? There some pretty solid groundwork laid down.

Better to Eat You With

@whodathunk I was with you until the end there. Do you really think this is happening more effectively in hipster enclaves than flyover towns? It's not a fashion trend. It comes from within, and ladies in Peoria are not lesser than ladies in Brooklyn or wherever.

Lazy Daisy

@Better to Eat You With

Hmmm... I live in a big coastal city on the east coast that is not boston. And I have never lived in a not-big-city or spent any time in a not-college-small-town. But I fee like I hear tell of a lot of non-progressiveness around things like queer identity (I srsly just cannot. imagine.) and also lady-empowerment. I mean, I would never doubt the strength of heartland ladies... but I do think that there is a tendency that if you are "evolved" and progressive in your thinking.... you leave, for more fertile grounds: as soon as you can.

But, on the other hand, I was convinced not too long ago that there was a major shift away from cities, and that smaller towns across the land were/are experiencing a resurgence in creativity. But people kind of told me I was delusional to think this (people I'd talk to who were recently expats from the hinterlands). So... I don't really know what to think, or what the state of the union is, except that I do think that it's a LOT harder to be a lady from Peoria who is rejecting binary gender norms. Or biloxi or wherever.

It's hard when the cards are stacked against you, and you don't get a hearty dose of social reinforcement, on the contrary people are like: "what's your problem, why are you rocking the boat/why do you hate being a woman/why can't you just let men be men?" Am I wrong in thinking this? It isn't a contest, and if it were, I'd be more than happy to root for flyover towns! I think there's a LOT to be said for working with a smaller community...

But my concern is that people basically get driven out of town by a lack of nutrients and they move to places where they can be more creatively nourished... meccas for non-conformers (who end up conforming in a different, but I'd argue way better, way... like, gay...? ok! lady...? NOT a second-class citizen! want to express yourself in any way you like...? Have at it!) There ARE plenty of hipster enclaves in flyover towns.

And it looks like peoria, Arizona (not Illinois) is pretty progressive? I mean, it may not be flyover country, but I dream about moving to western massachusetts -- it's so beautiful there, and there are a lot of (progressive) artistic communities.

I totally love all the feminist mormon ladies in Utah (of which there are many) but I do feel like that's, um... a harder row to hoe? And I have a fear of places like... oh I don't know, all of texas except austin, most of kentucky, all of mississippi... y'know how they say "nyc, great place to visit, but i wouldn't want to live there?" It's not that I don't think that there are awesome ladies that live in these places, but I DO think that they get less support for their awesomeness (socially, from the community). But maybe I am 100% totally wrong? I would like to be! I REALLY believe in small communities, and how awesome that is, smaller towns and cities, too! Bigger is not always better (and, sometimes, too, it can be... I do love nyc from a city-planning standpoint... totally abstractedly, but I'd like the see nyc be a "city of the future" and truly go green).

mistersister

Do you all know any straight men who are so affected by porn that they act like selfish dicks in the bedroom (ugh, pun not intended)? Is this widespread? Is this a real thing or a theory? I'm asking seriously. I don't have sex with straight men, so I wouldn't know...but my straight guy friends seem really cool...and my straight lady friends seem like they wouldn't put up with that shit.

Slanted & Enchanted

@mistersister Yes, though to be fair I am still pretty young and most of my examples come from when I was even younger. As I creep further along into my 20s, I don't come across it. My first boyfriend (ages 18-20), however? We were both virgins and he based his whole view of sex from porn (very mainstream, stereotypical, "I am MAN take my giant cock RAWRRR" porn) while I frankly just didn't know any better. He was the most selfish person I have ever encountered in bed. Not to get into details, but he literally thought that porn was realistic and that if I didn't play along it was just to spite him.

Most of my other encounters with men being affected by porn are limited to the "what the hell is pubic hair? Grossss" variety. Although, as I stated earlier, it's not as common now that my dating pool consists of, you know, actual adults with real-life experience. And likewise, now that I am an actual(ish) adult with real-life experience, I would NEVER let anyone treat me like that first boyfriend did.

Something I do wonder about, however, since I have watched porn and I recognize that most of my sexual partners have too, is how much it has shaped the experience of pleasure. Like, is porn a depiction of inherent sexual desires or are our sexual desires shaped by porn? As things previously taboo become more mainstream, is that because we have been liberated by porn or has porn convinced an entire generation that these taboos are normal or expected?

trembles

@mistersister I have a similar experiences to @Slanted & Enchanted but I am not sure if it is simply porn or accessibility to porn during puberty.

I am currently dating a guy in his late 30s and my ex was a guy in his 20s. Both of them are both fervent porn consumers. My ex, who did not date a lot and had access to internet porn probably since puberty, resented women for not being interested in him in high school. He hated all women (even me, honestly haha) and thought all women were gold diggers in some respect (not even why I broke up with him). When it came to sex, he expected me to act like a porn star, talking dirty, knowing what to do to turn him on without him telling me, perform acts I was not comfortable with, and when I was unable to follow through/felt uncomfortable he would get very upset with me. He was a selfish partner. He also told me that because he had watched so much porn that he was desensitized to everything but increasingly taboo things. Anal was required etc.

Now my current boyfriend grew up in the early 80s so he did not have as easy an access to porn when he was a teenager, he has told stories about getting porn mags! Hahah! He also was getting laid quite a bit as a teenager, though as admitted in the past he harbored resentment to the "rich pretty girls" who had snubbed him because he had grown up poor. He said that once he had developed into a cool punk rock kid they all started wanting to date him and he got that bitterness out of his system.

OUR sex life is great! He is a kind and loving partner. He is extremely generous and is very in tune with my body. We talk about things we want to try out and if I have concerns he drops it until I am ready to reconsider it again (or decide I never want to do it). One night he told me he is not grossed out by the term "make love" which grosses out almost every single person I know (including myself). I had never before felt love while having sex until I met him. I think the concept of love is usually completely disregarded in porn and now that I think about it that may be why I havent ever experienced loving sex before.

Now! He does watch a lot of porn! He is pretty into Kink.com's bdsm series. The distinction is, our sex is pretty vanilla! Most of the kink in our situation is because I ask for it, and its extremely minor.

So I am not sure what the real difference is. Both watch/ed a lot of porn with increasingly taboo/kink elements to it. Yet both consider sex and females completely differently. It may just be they are two different people, but it also could be that their introduction to sex was through different means. With my ex it was porn and with my boyfriend it was sex with humans. Who knows!!!!!

Oh they also both don't like pubic hair. haha

evil_echidna

"One night he told me he is not grossed out by the term "make love" which grosses out almost every single person I know (including myself)."

*meekly raises hand* Um, I'm not grossed out by the term; I use both "fucking" and "making love" interchangeably, regardless of the intensity of the sex or whether I'm in a relationship with the person or not (IDGAF if the one-night-stand thinks I'm uncool for saying 'making love'; hey, not like I'm gunna see 'em again!)

trembles

@evil_echidna My negative reflexive reaction to the term "make love" probably comes a bit from my mom, who wanted to talk about sex in great detail (the emotional/good feeling side of things yuck) when I was too young emotionally/maturely to be okay with it, AAAANNNNDDD trying to be the "cool girl" for a while, you know, dismissing women who connected emotionally with sex and pretended I wasnt effected as such? I am just recently accepting the "girly" emotions I snubbed before and opening up about feeling and desiring love and pleasure in sex. In fact I no longer consider anything "feminine" or "girly" as negatives! I am coming around to the term make love in its purest definition, however I still hear my mom asking me if I had "made love" to my high school boyfriend and "if I liked it" and gagging. Hahaha.

squeee

Don Jon was great, though
-it gently equated porn to unrealistic rom-coms. Really? The occasional romantic movie with some improbable male lead is equal to an internet filled with women getting their faces cummed on? False.
-Julianne Moore was entering older MPDG territory (a vessel for the male character to discover himself thru her whimsy) but the scene that really redeemed it for me was **SPOILERish** Juilanne's character sobbing on the steps of a house while JGL calmly waited it out. That felt real nice. And yes their sex scene is all kinds of long nightdress hot.

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