If Hamburgers Were Porn: Feminism and Doing It Better

A few weeks ago I met a stranger. We talked about pornography for a long while, and then I asked him, “Would you like to a make a video together?” Two days later, we did. It was great. 

Since our conversation, I just can’t get porn off of my mind. I mean, I even turned this Psychology Today article into a selfie session about consent. 

But seriously, I’m still wondering what porn might actually be good for beyond using problematic tropes and images to get a bunch of dudes off for billions and billions of dollars. As a sex education tool, mainstream porn (as it stands) is about as unhelpful as it is readily accessible. Remember when even common vegetables helpfully revealed major differences between porn sex and real sex? My, we’ve been misled! And remember how Real Life Lesbians reacted while watching “lesbians” in mainstream porn and supposedly sexy lesbo movies?  It wasn’t good.

Although there are many legitimate reasons to be enraged about the sexist, racist, and otherwise misleading or down-right oppressive fetishizations of certain people, acts, and bodies that are readily found in mainstream pornography, there’s still something deep inside of me that has always wanted to say, “But maybe, somehow, porn can be good.” You know, like Good and also goooOOOOoooooOOOd.

If nothing else, there’s definitely something to be excited about with the sheer market capacity that is already captivated by the porn industry. People are hooked on porn. So what if we just changed porn?

Lots of people love hamburgers, right? (I’m big on food/sex analogies, so please bear with me.) Just imagine what a revolutionary move it would be to make affordable and widely-accessible hamburgers with high-quality ingredients, local produce, humanely raised and slaughtered beef, and give some of the proceeds to social justice causes. People would still get their burgers (while the veg-heads would still be wagging their fingers in moral disgust, and that’s cool, too). The burger industry would stay in business. But the biggest difference would be that the burgers would be better. And the industry would be doing good by helping educate and advocate for changes in the that way we, as a society, think about the hamburgers that we so love and enjoy to eat. That’s a solid win-win situation for those who want to have their burger and eat it, too!

But why change a recession-immune, technologically-advancing, multi-billion dollar industry like the porn industry? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, RIGHT?!

That all depends on one’s definition of “broke.”

Lest I start sounding like a repressed, over-generalizing anti-sex prude or hypocrite, I’m not going to say that sex shouldn’t ever be sold for profit. And I’m not going to say that pornography is inherently a very bad thing. The problems are more nuanced than that. To understand what makes porn “bad” we can’t look to profits alone because those are mind-blowingly impressive. Instead, we should ask basic first-grade-level “W” questions like, “Who? What? and Why?”

Between the Sheets and In the Streets

“What?” One very bad thing about mainstream porn is not just that it is often constituted by socially-troubling and oppressive images and messages. It’s also problematic insofar as it reflects and shapes many people’s sexual pleasures and preferences (like rape fantasies, which led to this week’s really interesting article from Salon). As such, domination, violence, and abuse are eroticized in ways that can reflect, reiterate, and reinforce problematic power differences in our everyday lives that are most often experienced in terms of who has social power and who does not, i.e, men have power over women, white people have power over non-white people, etc.

In other words, pornography is not just a sexually-titillating product for horny consumers. It’s also a highly-influential cultural-political force that penetrates down into our deepest “personal” desires while helping to maintain power and privilege for some and harm or disadvantage others. In fact, it’s made to be like this. (Sidenote: I think this is more complex in instances of consensual, safe power play. And in case you didn’t catch it, all of that political dribble helps answer the “Who?” and “Why?” questions about how porn can be Bad and baaaAAAAAaaaaad.)

Cue the status-quo-loving porn defenders!

“Pffftt….porn and politics?! Whatever. I like it!”

“Porn is a entertaining reflection of natural, innate human sexuality.”

“Women like porn, too! It’s made for all of us sexual beings!…By the way, WHO LET THE COCK-BLOCKING FEMINIST IN?”

But the “porn reflects natural behaviors and is made for everyone” notion is just not true, and we need to learn to see the political significance of how and why pornography is made.

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

An effective and sometimes-funny way to highlight sexism at work is to flip the script and see just how ridiculous it is for men and women to be treated, represented, and expected to perform differently based on their gender alone. Some Swedish dudes were hip to this, so they decided to “show” the absurdity of sexism in American Apparel ads by posing like the pants-less women. Michael Zhang did something similar a few years ago with his “Men-Up Project.”

What these projects reveal is that it looks and seems strange to have men posing and acting in this way. But one thing should be very clear: It doesn’t look and seem strange because it’s against a man’s nature to act like a woman. It’s weird because it is fucking strange for anyone, including women, to pose and act in these ways. In other words, women don’t “naturally” act like the women in the ads and the porn videos either. They are taught, trained, and paid to do that.

I wonder what it would look like if we made hetero, mainstream porno vids according to the usual scripts but switched the roles of men and women? Just like the ads above, flipping the porno script produces odd effects. Take a deep breath. Now imagine the inversion…….

Men would be the one’s getting banged from all sides. Their dicks would be swallowed up by hungry vaginas. The women would be calling the shots, moving and flipping the men about. The men, by the way, would be seen in full view, moaning with delight and pleasure while the women continued to work their forcefully impressive prowess over the men’s ever-receptive, cosmetically-altered bodies. Then finally, the ultimate shot: our point of view would be looking down at the men on their knees with their adoring and anticipatory eyes looking up at the camera, mouths wide-open for the women to ejaculate in their face, eyes, and hair. (The men, of course, wouldn’t actually have to climax themselves. They’d be satiated from simply being taken by the women.)

Seem strange? Probably, because that’s not how things go in most mainstream porno vids these days. Seem better? Not really, because anyone with a lick of feminist sense knows that politically problematic and oppressive things are not resolved by simply flipping the dynamic in terms of who has power over whom. It’s gotta be bigger and better than that.

Doing It Better

So long as we’re still talking about the avid hamburger-lovers and unrelenting pornography-consumers (sorry, strictly veg-heads and anti-pornists, this post does not make you feel good, I know), then there is at least one really good option.

FEMINIST PORNOGRAPHY. No, it’s not an oxymoron.

Surprisingly enough, Cosmopolitan of all mags published an interview earlier this month with Tristan Taormino about the nuts and boobs of feminist porn. In short, the ethics, politics, and social goals of feminist porn are described like this:

Feminist pornographers are committed to gender equality and social justice. Feminist porn is ethically produced porn, which means that performers are paid a fair wage and they are treated with care and respect; their consent, safety, and well-being are critical, and what they bring to the production is valued. Feminist porn explores ideas about desire, beauty, pleasure, and power through alternative representations, aesthetics, and filmmaking styles. Feminist porn seeks to empower the performers who make it and the people who watch it.

Other cool things about feminist porn include “a more diverse array of sexual representations and that includes more diverse images of men’s sexuality” (that’s gotta take some pressure off, right guys?), wider representations of people based on their race, body type, and abilities, and REAL FEMALE ORGASMS. Seriously?!? Read more here.

Yes, all of this sounds deliciously sexy to me. And while Don Jon might not get behind this (well…maybe he would…), I’m gonna go out on a very short limb and say that the recent release of feminist-raised Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s latest movie is yet another helpful commentary on how bad porn can negatively affect us. And maybe, just maybe, good porn can do something different to us, something that really is goooOOooOOOooood.

I’m a philosophical consultant and passionate food-lover who is notorious for ambiguously mixing metaphors and analogies. Follow me on Twitter @Cori_Wong and Facebook, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and see pictures of my cat on Instagram. He’s a one sexy beast.

Still want to see my Porn with Strangers video? Of course you do!

2 thoughts on “If Hamburgers Were Porn: Feminism and Doing It Better

  1. Pingback: A Letter to Elliott: On Education, Philosophy, and Feminism, Or, What Sucks About School and What We Can Do About It | Cori Wong, Ph.D.

  2. Pingback: How to Drop an Anal Bomb (Live) | Cori Wong, Ph.D.

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