I guess it’s my week to talk about sexualized body parts?
This Button Poetry video from this year’s National Poetry Slam caught my attention yesterday:
The title of Brenna Twohy’s spoken-word poem Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them is a punnish play on the title of a volume about the Potter-verse, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (emphasis added), published by J.K. Rowling some years ago as a companion to the 7-book saga of “the boy who lived.”
Twohy articulated the goal of her poem to Buzzfeed thusly:
I wanted to highlight how unrealistic most pornography’s portrayal of sex is, and how that creates really damaging expectations for both men and women.
Mission accomplished (at least for the most part) to hilarious and devastating effect. Particularly pointed is Twohy’s observation that a taste for fan-fiction erotica is to be considered “unrealistic” — while mainstream porn is somehow seen as more real. Which is about as laughable a deception as I’ve heard since… well, unfortunately, just since yesterday, when folks were declaring that public breast-feeding is immoral. (Seriously, y’all. The patriarchy just needs to shut up and die in a fire. Now.)
In yesterday’s Independent, Jonathan Owen discusses a recent poll of British teenagers that reveals:
the majority [of poll participants] warn of the “damaging” and “addictive” effect of sexual images and videos readily available online. 80 per cent say it is too easy for young people to stumble across it and most recall “accessing pornography was seen as typical” while they were at school.
At least 70 per cent agree that “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex” and “can have a damaging impact” on views of sex or relationships.
A quick visit to Professor Google turned up a wealth of other articles unpacking the sexual myths and unrealistic expectations fostered by the mainstream porn industry. For example:
The gist of all these different articles is perhaps most entertainingly summarized by Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz in Alternet:
The problem is, learning about sex from porn is like learning about firearms from action movies. Action movies sacrifice realism for the sake of storyline or a really cool explosion. Action movies don’t teach you gun safety. Action movies don’t talk about alternatives to violence. And action movies use some tropes—such as the infinite ammo supply—that may move the story along but don’t reflect reality. That’s not a problem, as long as everyone treats them as entertaining fantasies.
Unfortunately, for many young people becoming sexually active today, the entertaining fantasies of mainstream porn are the teacher they’ve spent the most time with, and mainstream porn is a terrible teacher.
Even more than the general unrealistic nature of mainstream pornography, Twohy chooses to highlight a particular strain of misogyny and violence against women that runs through so many adult films.
[SIDEBAR] I will admit to having some level of discomfort over a piece that lambastes porn culture for allowing men to fantasize about sex with barely-legal teens while offering — however ironically — the “more empowering” alternative of a book series where the main characters are under-18 for a majority of the time. Also, having quickly perused some of the titles and advertised pairings in the “mature” section of the Harry Potter stories on fanfiction.net, I see the potential for a lot of uncomfortable power dynamics (Snape & Hermione) and Stockholm syndrome (Draco & oh, everybody).** Blurred lines of consent all over the place… [/SIDEBAR]
Nonetheless, the general thrust*** of Twohy’s piece feels really true and honest and on-point about the culture that mainstream porn participates in and which it helps perpetuate. To quote HuffPo (who also quotes part of Twohy’s poem):
a 2010 Violence Against Women study found that 90 percent of porn video content online and off included verbal or physical aggression towards women.
“I know a slaughterhouse when I see one,” Twohy says of the porn industry. “It looks like 24/7 live streaming, reminding me that men are going to fuck me whether I like it or not, that there is one use for my mouth and it is not speaking, that a man is his most powerful when he’s got a woman by the hair.”
Twohy suggests that the “slaughterhouse,” an uneasy analogy where the slicing instruments aren’t knives but part of a video editing suite, does more than just provide shots of women’s segmented body parts. It also creates a culture where domestic violence isn’t only expected, but accepted.
And more than that, Twohy steps — for an uncomfortable, searingly honest moment — into the ways that we all internalize these messages about how men and women are expected to perform in romantic and sexual situations — men, rough, cruel, aggressive; women, compliant and sex kittenish.
The first time a man I loved held me by the wrists and called me a whore, I did not think “Run.” I thought, “This is just like the movies.”
I have seen that training, on film and in real life.
It everybody fucks over, the patriarchy does.
* Yes, I dare say it has.
** You know how yesterday I took a bullet and read the comments sections on things so you wouldn’t have to? That favor-doing stops tonight — I was not going down that particular rabbit hole. Not for anything.
*** Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Image credit: http://iwatchforsasha.tumblr.com/post/95066205780/fantastic-breasts-and-where-to-find-them