Many defenders of pornography argue that anti-porn activists should not even try to bring up pornography into the public debate if they cannot define the term with precision. Porn apologists suggest that there's not much of anything feminists can say or write about pornography if they are not able to give an accurate definition of what it is. Also, sometimes "[P]roponents of the anti-pornography-equals-censorship school deliberately obfuscate any distinction between erotica and pornography, using the term erotica for all sexually explicit materials" (Diana Russell in Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm; 1993). As a matter of fact, the difference between erotica and pornography has become blurred in the public's mind and the two words are often unfairly used interchangeably. "It might be easier or more comforting to pretend that the pornography industry isn't churning out thousands of overtly misogynistic films each year. But it's not clear why we would want to ignore that reality if we are trying to understand the real world" (Robert Jensen in Getting Off; 2007). The purpose of this page is to define pornography as what it actually is. At the end, the clear difference between pornography and erotica will be explained.
1/ Inaccurate Definitions:
-- The definition of pornography as "sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal" (American Heritage Dictionary) is inaccurate because it just does not describe what pornography is completely. Although it is true that pornography causes men to become sexuallly aroused, this definition does not describe the codes and conventions of the genre, the central theme or the message it conveys about women. This definition has been invented and put forward in order to give the product an unquestionable defense or legitimacy.
-- The definition of pornography as "obscenity" is inaccurate because "obscenity" is not the right word. "Obscenity" is a word which has been used by right-wingers who want to try to keep pornography contained because of their goal to impose their religious moralities. "Obscenity" implies that sex is dirty and that "women's bodies are filthy". It is true that we can find some of that right-wing ideology in contemporary pornography, but the definition given by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Miller V. California decision is irrelevant because pornography is not obscenity (The Obscene Publications Act in the U.K. is also irrelevant). Although the ideology of "dirty" is somewhat similar, this ideology is a lie. Feminists utterly reject both the assumption that "sex is dirty" and religious moralities. Feminists focus on harms being done to women and children. Therefore, they define pornography in a different way.
-- The definition of pornography as "adult material" or "adult entertainment" is inaccurate. Although we fully understand the good intention of wanting to protect young children from harmful material, this definition is inappropriate because there is nothing "adult" in enjoying watching the degradation of another human being. Pornography is totally anti-evolution.
Originally, pornography does not mean "depiction of sex." Absolutely not. The word "pornography" derives from the ancient Greek "Porne" and "Graphos". "Porne" means "whore", but a specific type of "whore". "Graphos" means "writing." Too often when they try to describe the origins of the word, dictionaries translate pornography as "writing about harlots" or "depiction of prostitutes" in a simplistic way. In Ancient Greece, there were different classes of harlots. The prostitutes called "pornai" or "porneia" were found at the bottom of the scale. They were the cheapest "whores". They were the slaves of pimps who held them captive in brothels (sources: "Prostitution in Ancient Greece" at answers.com / ancienthistoryhelper.com.au / Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin). Thus, to give an accurate translation of "pornography" it is the "graphic depiction of the lowest whores" or, more exactly, the "graphic depiction of women as being the lowest type of whores", but "graphic depiction of female slaves" or "graphic depiction of the female slaves being sold for prostitution" can still be understood as appropriate translations. Perhaps because the word "graphos", which means "writing", stayed incorporated in the word "pornography" when the camera was invented, this may partly explain why even filmed or photographed pornography often passes as "speech" (spoken or written words). The camera was invented but the word "pornography" remained the same.
Based on the different definitions given in the book In Harm's Way, The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin Eds.; 1997), I'm going to describe what pornography is.
Pornorgraphy is the sexually explicit subordination of women** which is graphically depicted whether in pictures or in words (Thus, it means that pornography is available as films, books, magazines -- including Lads' Mags --, videos, photos, phone sex, drawings, paintings, sculptures, cartoons, articles, computerized images, etc...); it also includes at least one or more of these elements: -- women being portrayed as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation; -- women being portrayed as sexual objects who experience sexual pleasure in being raped; -- women being portrayed as sexual objects tied up or cut up or bruised or physically hurt; -- women being portrayed as being reduced to exhibited body parts (including but not limited to vaginas, breasts and buttocks); -- women being portrayed as whores (or bitches, sluts, cunts, etc.) by nature; -- women being portrayed as sexual objects available for domination, conquest, violation, exploitation, possession or use, through postures or positions of submission or servility or display; -- women being portrayed as being penetrated by animals or inanimate objects; or -- women being presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, dismembered or truncated or severed or fragmented into body parts, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual.
Considering this description, parts of pornography have already largely invaded the media nowadays. If parts of this description seem too broad for you as to define pornography, do not forget it is only a description of the material that shapes many men's (and some women's) views of sexuality and how women should look like and/or behave like in our everyday lives, not a call for censorship (absolutely not).
**The words "men", "children" or "transsexuals" can be used instead of the word "women" when they are relevant so this description also includes gay pornography and child pornography.
4/ Accurate definitions of pornography and the differences between pornography and erotica:
a. Accurate definitions:
Pornography is the sexually explicit material that reflects and helps maintain the subordination of women. It is central to the sexual oppression of women. Oppression is a system of interrelated barriers and forces which reduce, immobilize, and mold people from a certain group, and effect their subordination to another group. (Robert Jensen, quoting Marilyn Frye, in Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality; 1998).
"Pornography, like rape, is a male invention, designed to dehumanize women, to reduce the female to an object of sexual access, not to free sensuality from moralistic or parental inhibition. The staple of porn will always be the naked body, breasts and genitals exposed, because as man devised it, her naked body is the female's "shame", her private parts the private property of man, while his are the ancient, holy, universal, patriarchal instrument of his power, his rule by force over her. Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda." -- Susan Brownmiller, in Against our Will (1975).
"In the subordination of women, inequality itself is sexualized: made into the experience of sexual pleasure, essential to sexual desire. Pornography is the material means of sexualizing inequality; and that is why pornography is a central practice in the subordination of women." -- Andrea Dworkin in Letters from a War Zone (1988).
We can indentify pornography, the sexualized subordination of women (or children, men, or transsexuals) as having four main parts:
1. Hierachy: a question of power, with "a group on top ( [usually] men) and a group on the bottom ( [usually] women)". 2. Objectification: when "a human being, through social means, is made less than human, turned into a thing or commodity, bought and sold"; 3. Submission: acts of obedience and compliance become necessary for survival. Members of oppressed groups learn to anticipate the orders and desires of those who have power over them, and their compliance is then used by the dominant group to justify its dominance; 4. Violence: when it becomes "systematic, endemic enough to be unremarkable and normative, usually taken as an implicit right of the one commiting the violence." The first three conditions make violence possible. (Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone; 1988).
Not all pornography contains all these [four] components, but all these [four] elements are present throughout contemporary pornography (Robert Jensen, Getting Off; 2007).
Some defenders of pornography might argue that there is a difference between mainstream pornography and violent pornography but feminists know such claim is untrue. For instance, after visiting pornography shops and asking clerks and managers what was popular with consumers (the sampling method was therefore market-driven), researchers Robert Jensen and Gail Dines rented and analysed pornographic videos and concluded that "violence was portrayed as heightening the erotic charge of the scenes." (Jensen and Dines, "The Content of Mass-Marketed Pornography", in Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality, 1998). The thing is when violence is portrayed in a sexual context, as a form of pleasure, it is less likely to be seen as violence. Plus, the nearly non-existent difference between non-violent and violent pornography should not even be used as a defense of pornography nowadays with the existence of the Internet and DVD's, the pornographic worlds of "gonzo" and "features" (the most popular kinds of porn on the market) are both increasingly more violent and misogynistic.
b. Differences between pornography and erotica:
"[E]rotica" is rooted in "eros" or passionate love, and thus in the idea of positive choice, free will, the yearning for a particular person. (Interestingly, the definition of erotica leaves open the question of gender.)....[The] erotic: a mutually pleasurable sexual expression between two people who have enough power to be there by positive choice. It may or may not strike a sense-memory in the viewer, or be creative enough to make the unknown seem real; but it doesn't require us to identify with a conqueror or a victim. It is truly sensuous, and may give us a contagion of pleasure." -- Gloria Steinem in Take back the Night: Women on Pornography (1980).
"Pornography" begins with a root "porno", meaning "prostitution" or "female captives", thus letting us know that the subject is not mutual love, or love at all, but domination and violence against women. (Though, of course, homosexual pornography may imitate this violence by putting a man in the "feminine" role of victim.)....[The] pornographic: its message is violence, dominance, and conquest. It is sex being used to reinforce some inequality, or to create one, or to tell us that pain and humiliation (ours or someone else's) are really the same as pleasure. If we are to feel anything, we must identify with conqueror or victim." -- Gloria Steinem in Take back the Night: Women on Pornography (1980).
"I define "pornography" as "material that combines sex and/or the exposure of genitals with abuse or degradation in a manner that appears to endorse, condone, or encourage such behavior"...."Erotica" refers to "sexually suggestive or arousing material that is free of sexism, racism and homophobia, and respectful of all the human beings and animals portrayed". -- Diana Russell in Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm (1993).
Erotica is typically defined as "literature or art dealing with sexual love" (Dictionary.com Unabridged). One website, NoPornNorthampton.org, quotes some distinctions between pornography and erotica as such:
"-- [S]ome characteristics we associate with porn: mechanical, mindless, uncaring, exploitative, imbalance of power, lack of consent, taking without permission, selfish, careless, heedless, simplistic, shallow, objectifying, deceptive, cheating, violating, rough, harsh, inflicting pain, degrading, humiliating, unloving.
-- [S]ome characteristics we associate with erotica: humane, mindful, caring, respectful, communicative, listening, consensual, balance of power, mutual pleasure, integrity, wholeness, sharing, thoughtful, deep feelings, loving."
Unfortunately, the clear difference between pornography and erotica has become blurred for most people and, although erotica still exists, commercial erotica has been increasingly invaded by some of the objectifying conventions of pornography.
"Feminists have made honorable efforts to define the difference [between pornography and erotica], in general asserting that erotica involves mutuality and reciprocity, whereas pornography involves dominance and violence. But in the male lexicon, which is the vocabulary of power, erotica is simply high-class pornography; better produced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer." -- Andrea Dworkin in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981).
If you do not agree with any of these accurate definitions (probably as a deliberate way to try to cut off any critique of porn), then I define pornography as the sexually explicit material which makes $13 billions of dollars (in U.S.) every year and is primarily rented, bought or downloaded by male consumers to watch/read/look at, and masturbate to.
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