On a conscious level, I don’t know that heterosexual pornography has many demonstrable effects on men’s attitudes toward women and, in truth, these are not the things that I worry much about. Instead, I wonder about the ways in which pornography serves to create a new normal for heterosexual sexual interactions and the ways in which men and women are positioned relative to one another. For example, it seems unlikely that many men would ever consciously condone rape or necessarily believe in the rape myth, but I wonder about how the myth’s very existence and continued portrayal in pornography then allows for the appearance of violent acts like choking and tearing of clothing in films that are not part of the BDSM genre. Does the existence of simulated rape allow us to create a space where telling a woman to “gag on it” is acceptable? Of course we must be careful not to suggest that the appearance of simulated rape causes a rise in these other forms of violence but I would suggest that the resulting change in viewers’ attitudes toward pornography might allow for violence against women in pornography to become increasingly acceptable.
And I think that these sorts of extremes are reflective of changing cultural norms, giving us one way to mark the changing attitudes of Americans, but also work in conjunction with other types of media to desensitize us to ways in which violence in routinely inscribed on the bodies of women (typically by men, although I think there is much more to say about the ways in which American culture promotes a form of infighting by women in order to get them to enact violence on themselves and other women).
We have, for example, long heard the adage that “sex sells” and, for me, advertisements represent a form of media that that is adjacent to pornography and also not only reflects the way that we see the world but also help to shape the way that we relate to it. We can talk about the Abercrombie and Fitch ads that border on pornography (although here I should note that the interpretation of this type of advertising is centered on the United States as European ads seem to operate in an entirely different context) but I am much more interested in the subtler ways in which advertising forwards the idea that women’s bodies are open to violence.
We’ve all heard of the objectification of women throughout human history and I think that most of us are aware that this tendency still occurs in spaces that are “out there.” Perhaps modern males would like to think that we are enlightened and sophisticated? That we respect our mothers and colleagues? But how many males still use misogynistic language like “bitch” in order to demean other males? Do we combine the ideas of females (and/or female sexuality) with meat and consumption? From “chick” to “prime cut of beef” to “lamb,” we have various associations engrained in our heads from the time that we are children. (This is, of course, in addition to language like “doll,” and “baby,” that serves to infantilize women and language that links women to other forms of consumables like “sugar,” and “honey.”)
The danger in all of this lies in our tendency, then, to view women as consumable objects in pornography and in advertising. While most people would be hard-pressed to support the idea that women are nothing more than a piece of meat out loud, might there be some hidden aspect to our relationship that informs our lives? If we are already a consumer culture and we then come to see women as consumable items, how does this affect the way that we relate to (other) females? How does this affect the way that women see themselves? We rarely think about the animal from whence a piece of meat came—the slab of meat on our plate becomes familiar and we are desensitized—and so why should it be any different with women? If we, on some level, see women as meat, then do we care where those pieces came from?
And, of course, it is not just women who are subject to this process: increasingly, male bodies have become objects of consumption as we have become more permissible of women’s sexuality (not to mention gay pornography). Although one might debate if this is in fact “progress,” we see men being referred to as “eye candy” and the visual language of the gaze being reversed as in this Diet Coke ad.
I assume that this ad is targeting working women who drink Diet Coke with physiological arousal tied to a brand/product but a secondary reading might be aimed at men who wish to be the object of the female gaze (through the drinking of Diet Coke which was not seen as “manly”), thus getting men to internalize a system in which they are objects of consumption!
Ultimately, I would argue that pornography’s increased visibility—thanks to the distribution power of the Internet and lower production costs—is not necessarily immoral but does contain a serious potential to affect the way our culture understands gender and sexuality. There is something to be said for bringing sexuality back into the public sphere and removing the aura of shame that surrounds it but I am also cautious as mainstream pornography often showcases a particular type of idealized sexuality that can have unwanted consequences as society attempts to realize that particular dream.
I don’t get it. What was I missing?
I stared at the ad in front of me on the computer screen. In my mind I knew that it was trying to tell me (or sell me) something—isn’t that the purpose of advertising?—but what I could not understand was how or why it was connecting to some part of me.
A little while ago my editor, Julie, mentioned something about subliminal advertising and I found myself intrigued by the notion. Although not a marketing/advertising major in college, I’ve always been interested by both the design aspects of ads and the psychology of how they compel the target audience to do something. In America, I’ve realized that the messages we see in media often play into our consumer culture (and, truth be told, this phenomenon probably exists worldwide). You’d like to think that everybody plays fair and that companies are on the side of the buyer, informing him or her of all of the relevant details so that he or she can make a smart choice.
I think that we all know that this is very rarely the case.
I have grown up in a world where I have constantly been bombarded with commercials on television, flyers in the mail, jingles on the radio, etc. The result of all of this is that consumer culture just seems so natural to me and I buy things to get a sense of feeling back after being desensitized from all of the information assaulting me. No matter how I want to feel—I want to feel sexy, I want to feel good, I want to feel powerful, I want to be somebody—I can find something to buy that promises to make that dream a reality.
So why is all of this important?
For me, advertisements not only reflect the way that we see the world but also help to shape the way that we relate to it. Subliminal advertisements are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but what they often do is to help people to formulate assumptions.
We’ve all heard of the objectification of women throughout human history, and while I don’t want to belittle that, I also think that it’s important to see where all of this is going. In the coming weeks, be on the lookout for the various ways in which we combine the ideas of females (and/or female sexuality) with meat and consumption. From “chick” to “prime cut of beef” to “lamb,” we have various associations engrained in our heads from the time that we are children.
The danger in all of this lies in our tendency, then, to view women as consumable objects. While most people would be hard-pressed to support the idea that women are nothing more than a piece of meat out loud, might there be some hidden aspect to our relationship that informs our lives? If we are already a consumer culture and we then come to see women as consumable items, how does this affect the way that we relate to (other) females? How does this affect the way that women see themselves? We rarely think about the animal from whence a piece of meat came—the slab of meat on our plate becomes familiar and we are desensitized—and so why should it be any different with women? If we, on some level, see women as meat, then do we care where those pieces came from?
I don’t think that all men are bad or that all women are so horribly oppressed in our country (and I am certainly not trying to say that you are wrong for the way that you see things), but I am trying to say that you should think about how you think about things.
Finally, to drive it home fromAmerica’s Next Top Model:
Yeah. She’s wearing meat.