I read an old research paper from 2000 today which argues that pornography has become more misogynistic as it has evolved from print material like magazines to internet-based forms like user group articles and (not mentioned but true by extension) amateur porn. The researchers offered ‘homosociality’ as an explanation. Huh?
Barron & Kimmel of the State University of New York at Stony Brook argue that many feminists and others place too much emphasis on men’s relationships with women when discussing topics such as violence in porn and the objectification of women. Instead, these two researchers argue that the near-exclusive presence of men on most online porn sites and the lack of mainstream advertising on these sites leave the content of these sites free from meaningful social pressures to limit extreme content. As a result, Barron & Kimmel see the internet as the perfect environment for men to compete with one another both as producers of pornography (be it commercially or as amateurs) and as consumers in a form of homosociality (male-only social expression).
I think this is a very interesting proposition. Instead of the expressed misogyny being solely about men’s views of the women depicted, the misogyny is really a tool for expression of the involved men’s collective and individual senses of threat and inadequacy relative to one another.
But, wait a minute. Can the women become homosocial tools if men don’t already have a troubled relationship with them that allows their objectification? Also, what does it mean for a gay male viewer of heterosexual porn to compete with heterosexual men by objectifying women? Sure, it’s possible. But, the meaning must be different, no? It seems much too facile to assume that the gay male is pursuing repressed heterosexual fantasy or is identifying with the woman in a way that the heterosexual man is not. All men are comprised of internal psychological relationships with both men and women. And, if the heterosexual man is identifying with the woman in the pornographic image as well are all men not ultimately objectifying themselves?
What this research paper has underscored for me is how discussions of pornography all-too-often eschew the importance of individual symbolic meaning when interpreting the role and meaning of pornography. For some, the depicted aggression signifies a moment’s respite from a life filled with interminable responsibility while for others it represents a return to trauma too painful to discuss with words. For some the men and women objectified in porn videos are a stand-in for the frustrating partner or abusive/neglectful parent whereas for others the actors hold little symbolic meaning.
Discussions of men and pornography should not obliterate the individual man in favor of a universal principle. Individual men who view or participate in porn cannot forget their porn activities take place within a broader social context where women are objectified and abused both within and without the world of porn.