Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sucker Punch: A Friendly Feminist Film Review

You should check out this review of Sucker Punch, by Katie E. I'll admit I was really intrigued when I first saw the previews, but even then I knew this movie would most likely just reinforce sexualized images of women, all while pretending to empower women.

Does anyone, anywhere out there, know how to make a quality film in which women are prominent main characters, who actually talk to each other, about something other than dudes, without those women gaining all their power by fulfilling male sexual fantasies?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Links of Note

First off, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has made feminist news headlines by explaining to men that they should stop fighting with women because a) the issues that matter to women don't actually matter b) men are superior to women anyway, and c) men should deal with women the way they deal with the mentally ill and will children. When readers called him out for insulting any number of civil rights groups, he removed the post. Fortunately, you can access the text here.

Next up, Womanist Musings critiques the role that whiteness plays in "individual" hate crimes. I'm half-tempted to agree with everything she says - until she suggests that to claim that white people are individuals is to necessarily ignore individuality in people of color. We all have prejudices, and we all make assumptions based on race, and there are plenty of white people who think that violent white people are exceptions while violent people of color are representative of their race. But not all white people say those things. Just like not all black people assume all white people say those things. I love Womanist Musings, but sometimes that blog makes me want to throw my hands up in the air. Then again, the WM writers would probably feel the same if they read NAW.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Problem with Porn: Part 2

Sorry these posts have been so slow in coming. Between travel and illness, not to mention unreliable internet, I've started to wonder if maybe the universe doesn't want me to write about pornography! But a promise is a promise, so here we go. For this post, I want to focus on one of the most controversial areas of pornography: child pornography.

When I was in high school, I attended a lecture where a woman asked all the students in the room a series of questions about pornography. She asked, by a raise of hands, how many of us thought porn was wrong. A few of us raised our hands. She asked how many of us thought rape porn was bad. All but two people (both male) raised their hands. She looked stunned, but the two male students held their ground. Then, a little hesitantly, she asked how many of us thought child porn was wrong, and everyone raised their hands.

I forget where the lecture went after that, but I can't forget how shocked I felt at the time, to discover that anyone thought rape porn was ok. I wonder, looking back, if I was defining rape pornography differently than those students were - most likely I thought she meant real rapes that were recorded, when she was probably talking about porn that was meant to portray rape. Either way, I can't see how watching rape with the intention of getting turned on wouldn't warp the way a person looked at other human beings. But at least we found common ground where child porn is concerned. I suspect that even if those two students were okay with child porn (say, for instance, with teenage actors) they wouldn't have risked the social stigma of admitting so.

People get very worked up about the child porn industry, and with good reason. According to a 2010 study published in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Canadian gov't goes after more sex offenders for child porn than for anything other sex crime. The same study found that the individuals they surveyed about child pornography actually overestimated the likelihood that child pornography offenders would view child pornography again, indicating that most people see child pornography as a highly addictive habit. But these same study participants respond more harshly to child pornography offenders who have viewed younger victims (Lam, Mitchell, Seto). So even with an issue like child pornography, the issue is complicated in the public perspective.

In the US, we also see varied reactions to child pornography, and even to sexual abuse of minors, depending on the age of the victims. And even officials sometimes find it difficult to define child pornography. A 2007 study published in Police Practice and Research, described some difficulties faced in prosecuting child porn offenders. While most child porn offenders were found to have graphic images of prepubescent minors, it's possible that that trend was only the case because it's more difficult to determine whether someone is a minor if that person is not prepubescent. Additionally, sometimes an offense doesn't technically fit into an existing statute (Wells, Finkelhor, Wolak & Mitchell).

Why does any of this matter in a general discussion of pornography? After all, most pornography proponents don't support child pornography, particularly not with  prepubescent kids. But it's important to remember that the general pornography market is part of the child pornography issue. In the name of expressing their own sexuality, a person might seek out an image or a movie of an 18-year-old woman in a skimpy school girl outfit. That would be completely legal, Jean Kilbourne, the creator of Killing Us Softly has described in great detail how dangerous it is to mix images of childhood with sexy images. To do so is to create or reinforce in oneself a predisposition to find childish things sexy.

It would be faulty to assume that every person or even most people who view pornography of 18-year-olds in school uniforms will begin viewing child pornography. But the circulation of those images encourages that particular market and increases the likelihood that images of 15 year olds and 16 year olds will slip into the mix - perhaps without the viewer's knowledge that he or she is breaking federal law.

There's also the issue of children and teenagers who are exposed to pornography. In a 2009 study in Child Abuse Review, Michael Flood found that while exposure to pornography was complicated and that a viewer's response was impacted by their emotional and mental state beforehand as well as by the type of pornography viewed, for most children and "young people" (ages 11-17), pornography reinforced any sexist attitudes they may have already had, in addition to providing them with highly inaccurate representations of sexuality. You might argue that it's not the pornography producer's fault if kids stumble upon their material, but who hasn't encountered unexpected porn pop ups without warning? In fact, Flood found that 53% of minors between the ages of 11 and 17 had "experienced something on the internet they thought was offensive or disgusting" (388). Kids experience a lot of negative side effects from being exposed to graphic images too early, and yet those images are often unavoidable on the internet, even with internet filters.

My guess is that most people who view porn don't knowingly view porn with minors in it, so I don't mean to indict porn consumers with this post, since as Erica has pointed out, pornography comes in many varieties and isn't always the commercial, computer pop-up kind that it's always stereotyped as. But child pornography is an important factor in the regulation of pornography, and it's an issue we have to keep in mind.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy International Women's Day

From all of us here at NAW.

For more information on this Holiday, check out Feministe's post.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Since When Are Teachers the Haves?

Jon Stewart breaks down how ridiculous it is to accuse teachers of getting overpaid.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland - For Richer and Poorer
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And exposes the hypocrisy in attacking teachers for having salaries most families can't live on while describing families of 4 with 250,000 incomes as "near poverty":
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland - For Richer and Poorer - Teachers and Wall Street
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Problem with Porn: Part 1

 Over the next couple weeks I'll post more segments of this discussion, because pornography is simply too immense a topic to accurately discuss in one post.

 Part 1: The Problem with Discussing Porn(ography)

I've been promising this post for awhile, ever since Erica described pornography as a positive and even liberating substance. I don't mean to oversimplify Erica's post, since she also acknowledged some of the downsides to pornography use and ultimately argued for a nuanced approach to pornography. But after reading Erica's post and seeing how various readers responded to it, I realized something: we are all biased where pornography is concerned.

Consider our word choice, for instance - Erica calls it porn, which makes it sound crude but also fun(ny). I call it pornography, a term that makes it sound dangerous, almost like a medical condition. People who like pornography don't usually call it by that name. I'm also biased by my membership in a church that teaches that pornography is a damaging and inherently evil substance, while Erica is biased by her personal use of pornography and by her friendship with individuals who produce pornography. And we're both biased by our educational and social backgrounds, neither of which have put us in a position where working as porn star seemed like the only (but undesirable) way to pay the bills.

We're also both biased by class. And class does make a difference when it comes to pornography, as Anne Sabo discussed in a 2009 article in the Journal of Popular Culture: even advocates of pornography often promote something that is artistic, while the everyday consumer of pornography sneaks it online at work or smuggles it out of the adult section in the movie rental store (well, assuming anyone goes to movie rental stores anymore, that is). What we defend or decry as pornography may in fact be heavily influenced by our class and education. I don't bring up Sabo's article to defend pornography, but merely to illuminate just how confusing and charged this topic is.

For instance, I regularly read novels that include explicit scenes, scenes  that I realize could be classified as pornographic because of their explicitness. Why do I feel okay reading them? Because they are brief scenes that occur in literary novels (such as Ian McEwan's Atonement), rather than the focus of a trivial romantic store. And because I don't perceive the scenes as written with the intent to elicit sexual arousal. Twilight, on the other hand, I readily classify as pornographic because it sensationalizes Bella's sexual attraction to Edward at the cost of character and plot development.

And now I've once again revealed my bias. But I've decided that this bias is inescapable, which is why I'm entering the fray with that bias out in the open. My educational bias has led me to use mostly scholarly, peer-reviewed sources in my research, because those are sources I trust, but I'll also bring in some popular articles that discuss pornography from more personal, subjective angles. One thing I want to make clear throughout all of this, though, is that my discussion of pornography is not an indictment of people who use pornography. My bias leads me not to automatically value pornography as a substance that assists individuals in expressing their sexuality, but I still want to approach this topic as fairly as possible, by trying to understand how pornography use impacts the development of healthy individuals and relationships and how varying situations impact that process.