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The Philosophy of PornographyReview - The Philosophy of Pornography
Contemporary Perspectives
by Lindsay Coleman and Jacob M. Held (Editors)
Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
Review by Elin Weiss
Jul 5th 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 27)

The Philosophy of Pornography: Contemporary Perspectives edited by Lindsay Coleman and Jacob M. Held offers a wide range of articles on differing views on pornography as it reflects some of today's discussions of the topic.

Different topics presented deal with the "pornification" of media, the impact of pornography on society, speech and subordination in pornography, friendship in pornography, black women in pornography and much more.

In short it appears somewhat fair to claim that the majority of chapters in this book are either for or against porn. This is a very simple way of analyzing the texts because the issue is not that simplistic but patterns emerge throughout the different articles with authors arguing either for or against pornography based on several different ideas.

When reading this book I find myself leaning quite heavily toward the number of articles discussing the risks and downsides of pornography, the "against" side. I tried to keep an open mind but found the "against pornography" claims stronger and more persuasive. Two must read chapters in order to understand some of the risks with the culture and production of pornography are the second chapter Pornography Makes the Man by Matthew Ezzell and chapter four: Pornographic and Pornified by Robert Jensen. Ezzell discusses how pornography use (in general in the studies that Ezzell references) affects men's view of women and of sexual relationships.  Ezzell states that the majority of today's pornography is created for heterosexual men and that studies have suggested that many men's consumption of pornography follows a pattern of desensitization and escalation in that these men over time search for more extreme material. The author also provides examples of comments made by consumers to show how young men can falsely believe that the types of sex displayed in pornography is what all young women want and deserve. Jensen speaks about what types of expectations stereotypical pornography places on men and women, for example that men are naturally dominant and that women are naturally submissive, that all women always want sex from men and that women like all the sexual acts that men perform or demand.

The against pornography arguments presented in the various articles deal with the negative impact on the women in pornography, on women in general, on men and also discusses how pornography silences women (for example by suggesting that no means yes) and much more.

The "for pornography" arguments also discusses these topics but claim that the majority of women in pornography, or women in general, are not harmed by the stereotypes and representations of women in pornography, most men will not treat women badly after watching pornography and perhaps most importantly, producers and consumers should be free to produce or watch whatever they want in privacy and that it is a problem that some women attempt to speak for all women (for example feminist scholars that argue against porn by claiming that it negatively affects all women without considering the women that voluntarily engage in pornography and enjoy it).

I understand the arguments both sides put forward but I simply cannot accept the argument that is repeated quite a few times: that other medias too are stereotypical and sexist and that pornography is not the only such media and therefore does not deserve any blame. In my opinion, findings showing negative effects on women by men due to pornography cannot be ignored or treated as less important in comparison to the fact that consumers should be allowed to watch whatever they want. I also interpreted these texts to mean that nothing can be done, there is no compromising when it comes to pornography, and very few alternatives or solutions very provided.

It is not surprising then that the article I had the most trouble agreeing with was chapter ten: Porn, Sex and Liberty. This is a revised and fictionalized contribution constructed from interviews between Held and Hartley. The problem here is that I do not find the dialogue productive, it does not offer arguments that I can engage with. Here pornography is partly understood as negative in many ways but the dialogue, in my opinion, simply states that: "yes it is negative and harmful but so are other types of media". Quotes taken front his piece state that: "Porn is not misogynistic. It's misanthropic. It takes an equally dim view of both genders…." (p. 182), "Female fantasy, aka "romance" is equally limiting to men, equally fantastical and unrealistic, equally silly and fake" (p. 183), and "Porn's not to blame for equality. Men's disrespect of women has been embedded in culture over millennia long before the advent of commercial porn. We've made some progress in certain parts of the world toward changing that. We can now report rape and be believed. Women can say no and have the bastard arrested if he persists" (p. 186). Perhaps these comments are included to provoke and for me they really do. They offer a simplistic and exaggerated view of women's rights and how far we have really come in terms of women not being "victim blamed" or "slut shamed" when reporting rape.

One article on the more "for pornography" side that stood out in a sense that it not simply provided a theoretical defense of pornography was Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves: Black Women and the New Pornography by Ariane Cruz. Cruz discusses a type of "new" pornography and does so by highlighting the work of black (mostly feminist) pornography producers that portray variations in ethnicity, gender, body size and so on to move away from stereotypical pornography and the portrayals of black women as "ghettoized"and violently objectified. Here focus is on portraying black and queer sexuality. I like this article since it focuses on the positive sides of pornography without encouraging stereotypical pornography that is created by and for men with hegemonic masculinity in mind.

The topic is surely a difficult one and this book really caused me to think, analyze and be critical of the arguments proposed in the book. Therefore it would be very useful in the classroom setting on various topics concerning for example sexuality. Single chapters could also be pulled and used in teaching. For example, Ezzell's and Jensen's chapters, that I mentioned above, would be very appropriate for discussions in Men and Masculinities or Women's Studies courses.   


© 2016 Elin Weiss


Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin.


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