Sunday, March 29, 2009

Am I Pornography??

(This was taken from a post over at Zelophehad's Daughters...some awesome, rocking ex-mormon/mormon feminists!)

A major voice in the LDS church recently said, 

“And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.” (Elder Oaks, April Conference 2005)

To me, this quote raises a troubling, unsettling issue for me as a woman. I don't really know exactly how to voice it, but I'm gonna try.

Elder Oaks centers his ideas around very specific gender roles. Men are the ones who are continuously subject to their sexual urges and women are the ones who hold the power to control men's sexual urges.

To Elder Oaks’s credit he does qualify his statement, not alleging that women are themselves inherent pieces of pornography under all their clothes, but only that they become pornography to some men. Yet, I still find myself completely troubled by this statement in general. 

Does the focal point of pornography reside more in the object instead of in the action of gazing? I mean, isn't the definition of pornography that of an image viewed in a particular way, and not a particular person?

I could pose the question, what exactly is wrong with pornography? Is it ok in moderation? Is some pornography, that of various photos better than full on videos depicting random and wild acts of sex?

I think the real problem is the complete and utter objectification of other people that pornography tends to promote. People (women mostly) soon become viewed as tools capable of satisfying the viewers own desires rather than seen as actual people with desires of their own.

Is pornography the opposite of charity? Of selflessness? Of purity? 

In the above statement, however, women’s subjectivity has been conveniently elided. Men are potential consumers of pornography, where women are potential creators (even unwittingly); thus, men’s obligation is to eschew viewing pornographic material where women’s obligation is to eschew becoming pornographic material. Men are sexual subjects where women are sexual objects.

In short, by framing his discussion in this manner, Elder Oaks has replicated and perpetuated the very dynamic which is problematic about pornography to begin with.

Too bad.

For discussion fun:

I've dated several men this past year and most of them, in fact, all but one, admitted to watching pornography in some form or another. Do you think this is just a right of passage, a normal part of everyday life? Is it something we need to learn to accept rather than condemn? Or is it something, as women, we should shun and leave room for a NO EXCEPTIONS type policy?


I was recently rereading Persepolis and there is a part when the women have to go back to wearing the veil because their hair is seen as too much temptation for the men in their country. That, in fact, they were walking pornography when they had their hair showing. I am concerned, honestly, that in some respects, the LDS religion seems to be embracing this idea and leaving the residual feeling in the hearts of women that THEY are part of the problem.


Rowena said...

Uh, yeah. All of it.

I've always found the statement that it is women's fault/responsibility to keep men from being lascivious fools to be asinine.

I think there is nothing wrong with sex, or with viewing people as sexual beings, or with portraying oneself as a sexual being. Nothing wrong with talking about sex or even depicting sex, because there's nothing wrong with sex.

HOWEVER we are so weird about sex in this society that we think it's dirty and we are dirty and they are dirty and all that dirtiness comes out in some terrible, dehumanizing ways in which people are used and use others.

Didn't I recently say something similar? It's the same.

Me, I don't watch porn. Most of it is really stupid. If they had better stories maybe It'd be more interesting. It would actually be interesting to see what would happen to porn if more women were incharge of producing and writing it, rather than just being the degraded fantasy of whatever man has a dirty urge.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Interesting the similarities between this LDS statement and fundamentalist muslims.

Bethany said...

Interesting thoughts D'Arcy...I've had this on my brain the past couple of hours. By definition, pornography is the depiction of sex with the intention of stimulating someone sexually. So can the way someone dresses be pornographic? Sure. Now, obviously different people have different opinions about whether there's anything wrong with pornography or not, but from your post it sounds like the initial issue was not so much the "rightness" or "wrongness" of pornography but about whether a woman's choice of dress should or shouldn't take into consideration how what they wear (or don't wear) could sexually stimulate some poor unsuspecting "out of control" male. Whether we women like it or not, men are ridiculously visual creatures, particularly when it comes to sex, so everything they see or don't see on a woman's body is noticed. How it's perceived certainly depends on the individual male, the prevailing sexual standards and mores of the time or culture, etc....but like it or not, it will be noticed. I'm still chewing on some of your ideas, but my thinking is definitely colored by the fact that several close friends of mine have battled long-term pornography addictions...something that ravages far too many men (and women) both within and outside the LDS Church. It is a real and devastating addiction, so with that in mind, I don't think pornography is something to simply learn to accept. I'm gonna keep thinking about this....

Kristan said...

First: that's a beautiful painting!


I am... torn, about porn. Personally I don't enjoy it. I don't like seeing other people's sexual organs, frankly. I think scantily clad -- or implied nudity -- is infinitely more sexy than naked. But that's me.

My bf, on the other hand, is an admitted porn watcher (well, more was than is) and we had a lot of discussions about it. And arguments, I guess, because his... appreciation of porn, and its female stars, made me feel awkward and inadequate.

BUT. A few good things resulted from all the debates:

- I understood his point of view, that for him, porn satisfied a need that might have been fulfilled in some other way that I might have liked even less (such as his being promiscuous with girls in high school or college, like many of the guys he knew and grew up with).

- Technically there's nothing illegal about porn. There's also a big difference between "regular" porn and "fetish" porn. Thank goodness my bf has ZERO interest in the latter.

- Women in the porn industry are actually fairly "powerful," having more influence and making more money than their male counterparts. No one is really forced into the job.

- Most men can distinguish between porn and reality. Kind of like most women might swoon over Hugh Jackman or Clive Owen, but at the end of the day, we can also legitimately swoon over our own guys.

There's other "learning," I'm sure, but I feel like I'm starting to veer off-topic.

Point is, I can't speak to the LDS angle because I don't know enough, but I don't think porn in and of itself is necessarily bad. When I was studying abroad in Spain, my host mother mentioned that she can't for the life of her understand why Americans condemn sexuality but glorify violence. I had to admit I couldn't understand it either.

And I agree with Rowena: it would be really interesting to see what porn would look like with women writing and directing it. I can certainly find "sexy" scenes in a regular movie a big turn-on. What if porn were more "artsy" like that?

Kjrstin said...

just to throw in a recent experience...

just arrived here in india. the city we are staying in, hyderabad, has a large islam population. i was wearing a knee length (well a touch longer just b/c i'm a shortie) skirt and another friend (female) wear knee length shorts. but, my sister in law (she's indian and grew up here) says that this is too much here, too much leg to show. my other sister in law (american living here) stated that it depends which part of the city we are in (old vs. new), but that we do need to be careful.

also, it's not very appropriate to just strike up a chit chat conversation with a man here.

just something i thought of while reading the post.

Boquinha said...

I totally agree re: sexuality and violence. I find gratuitous violence in movies FAR more offensive than gratuitous sex!

Marta said...

That issue Kristan brings about women being forced into porn (or not) is another issue. Plenty of women are, and plenty are not--but it depends on what you mean by forced. The porn industry seems to attract those who have been abused as children (though I know not all fit this stereotype) and drug addiction and disease run through the industry too (though yes I know not everyone has this problem). But really, why would I watch anything involving people doing something that may be acting out abuse or what ever from childhood? No, I don't know that is the case, but if incest helps feed the industry, I'm not going to be a part of that.

There is porn and there is erotica. Of course, who person's trash is another person's treasure, but to me porn uses people. Erotica shows people participating in a normal act without having to debase another.

I don't think that looking at porn keeps you from doing something worse. I don't think it encourages you either exactly. And I don't buy that men are men and have to see these images.

But sexuality is a complex thing and far be it from me to tell anyone how their sexuality ought to be. But there is way too much porn that uses violence--real, horrific violence. It isn't like porn is just people having sex.

Okay, enough. I could obviously rattle on and on. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

D'Arcy said...

Rowena, Agreed. I have to believe, because of the raging problem in a religion that neither teaches you how to enjoy your sexuality nor how to understand it in the first place (lots of shames, guilts, and lets not talk about its)

Because of this unhealthy outlook at the whole thing (and the debilitating guilt you feel if you "break" the rules) I think the porn problem in the church has sky rocketed ( I ccan't tell you HOW MANY LESSONS in church are on pornography in the LDS church)

D'Arcy said...

Phht--Isn't it true? I think instead of the whole issue of porn, I have a problem with men not being responsible for their own thoughts and actions and letting the women live their lives.

D'Arcy said...

Bethany! Wow, I'm so glad to see your comment here ! How are you doing? I agree, I don't think it's something to be accepted or treated lightly or shrug shoulders's a long hard problem that seems to affect basically everyone (while I've never watched porn, I am in turn affected by it through my relationships with men who have and my feelings about that and how I deal with it)

I guess my problem with this, setting the whole porn issue aside, is the damage that can be done to a young girl who is wearing a tank top, gets taken advantage of somehow, and is then told that it was HER FAULT because she was walking around looking like porn. I think this is how the girls will interpret any little thing that goes wrong with men and THIS is where my major concern lies.

Women in the church already have a hard time understanding, defining, and becoming ok with their sexuality. Then add to the mix that they might be considered walking porn because some "out of control man" thought their strapless sundress was too sexual...well, that is simplly wrong and I can't be ok with E. Oaks stating it in that way.

D'Arcy said...


Thank you for your points. Yes, i agree that many Americans have a crazy idea of sexuality in general (just like their obsession with violence). When I studied abroad in Brazil, everyone seemed much more comfortable with their bodies than many Americans. and i didn't see as many weird things going on. Things about how people displayed their bodies and acted in public (PDA) just all seemed much more NATURAL.

That's the thing disturbing me about so much of the sexual depictions of many American outlets, this sense of fake, generated, and unnatural.

But that just might be my take.

D'Arcy said...


I'm honored you would take the time to post while in India!

It's a different culture and i wonder what India's porn industry is like (are they super sexually repressed?)

After seeing Born into Brothels I just don't think India is as innocent as it tries to portray.

D'Arcy said...

B--the violence!

i can't sit through movies like 300 and I DID NOT liek the Dark Knight, at all. Couldn't even finish it much to the dismay of most Americcans

D'Arcy said...


Agreed. I think a lot of pain and hurt and greed and jealousy and ugliness is behind the making of porn and I, in no way, want to feed that, be any part of it, or support it in ANY ANY form or way!

Though I'm at the same time trying to be understanding of people who tend to desire/need/struggle with/and are addicted to it.

Boquinha said...

I wish I could remember where I have the study on this (somewhere in my email someplace) . . . I've seen the stats on which countries have the highest rate of watching porn/porn subscriptions, etc. and many countries in the Middle East were quite high . . . a connection?

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

First of all, I think the painting you have on this post is lovely. Not porn, in my opinion. One of my favorite paintings is "Daydream" by Andrew Wyeth. Would some consider that porn? Possibly. I certainly don't, though. I think it's strikingly beautiful.

I hate porn. Hate it. When I think of porn, I think of taking something beautiful, God-given and amazing (SEX), and turning it cheap, sleazy, and (frequently) demeaning and violent. I hate porn. I think porn can be a very slippery slope and a lot of people get really addicted to it (esp online porn).

Now, saying that, I think God gave women natural beauty. Should a woman be forced to wear a burqua (or even a dress) that covers herself completely, just so a man won't "stumble into lust"?

I think that's a little silly. I think the man has a certain measure of responsibility over his own thoughts and (more importantly) his own actions. It's not the woman's fault that she has been blessed with beauty. That is the way she was created.

Our culture sends VERY mixed messages about sexuality. I was watching the Today show the other morning and they showed a picture of Cindy Crawford completely naked except for some strategically placed soap suds, and then, in a later segment, they showed some abstract nude paintings that had the breasts and genitals "blurred out". How silly!!!

We live in a weird culture.

Olivia said...

okay, ready for a rant?

I've talked to guys to whom porn is just a casual form of entertainment. Then I know a guy who is addicted, and it's destroying his marriage. It's like alcohol. Everyone in my family will take a glass of wine with dinner, no problem. Then there's my mom, there's not enough booze in the world for her. I have another friend with a mom who's an alcoholic. She's not religious, but doesn't drink because she says it's not worth the risk.

One of my best friends is muslim, she wears hajab and all. Her view isn't that she has to cover up to keep men from sinning, rather, it's her body and she doesn't want people looking at it. That's kind of my attitude. And honestly, there's enough women dressed immodestly that me wearing sleeves isn't making any difference.

I do agree about women and sex in the church. I love talking about sex, and am surprised by how many women in the church don't have orgasms. For a woman to orgasm it's as much mental as it is physical, you've got to be completely comfortable with your body, what you're doing, and who you're with. I think mothers need to openly talk to their daughters about sex and enjoying it. (whether you feel that should be after marriage or otherwise)

And there are plenty of women in the porn industry who are forced and abused. Some may make lots of money, sure, but the sex trade in our country is real, women are exploited everyday. That's one of my main reason for being against commercial porn.

Bethany said...

@D'Arcy: Hey!! Doing great...insanely busy as a mom & principal, but loving it.

You bring up the issue of exaggerated interpretation....and that's actually where I feel most of the problem lies. I agree that the scenario you gave is a ridiculous interpretation of standards of modesty and anyone with the audacity to tell a girl that a tank top was the reason she was taken advantage of sexually has a huge problem. However, I think the spirit of what's being said is that there are certain ways of dressing that--let's be honest--has one purpose: to turn a guy on. Now, if that's what you're going for, power to you. However, don't send that message and then pretend the way you dress has no effect on how other people perceive you.

I think E. Oaks is saying what Chris Rock once said: (totally paraphrased) :) "If I dress up in a police uniform, wear a police hat, and drive a police car, you're gonna think I'm a policeman." He then went on to make some comparisons (better left unquoted) :) to women who wear practically nothing and then act surprised when men make sexual advances. I agree that ultimately men and women alike should have the freedom to dress as they please but NO ONE should be so naive to think that they can (or should be able to) do so in a "bubble" where the way they dress, speak, act, etc doesn't have any bearing on how they're perceived.

@Olivia: I totally agree with what you said about sex and women in the church. Too many church members adopt the hellenized christian view of sex where sex is essentially base and "dirty" because it's physical and therefore on a lesser plane than the spiritual. These are the same people who balk at the thought of sexual intimacy being a part of divine creation. A deeper understanding of the scriptures (particularly the Old Testament) should lead Christians to see how open and "earthy" the Jews were about their sexuality. It was sacred and intimate but something they embraced and talked about, apparently often! I actually think our entire society (not just LDS culture) is simultaneously obsessed with sex and yet afraid to REALLY talk about it or figure out how to make our most important sexual relationships truly fulfilling. In my opinion, we're so busy getting our fill of virtual sex that we've warped our understanding of how incredibly fulfilling real-life sexual intimacy can be. I just found out that Kim Marshall--education mastermind--has also written a book on this very subject: The Great Sex Secret. He contends that America as a whole still has a lot of "one-sided sex" and there are way too many unfulfilled women (not just in the church!) If only they knew how frequently women CAN orgasm if, like Olivia said, both partners understand both the physical and mental aspects of female sexual fulfillment.

We need a lot more of the real thing and a lot less of the "substitutes." :)

Steve and Jenn Fletcher said...

I'm with Bethany. Well said, girl.

Steve and Jenn Fletcher said...

oh, and I love Chris Rock. That man is deep.

D'Arcy said...

Bethany, I like what you have to say. I like the Chris Rock reference. In fact, I like what you have to say so much that I don't have a counter argument right now, I mean, I do, but I dont want to throw it out there because what you said makes sense. And for some people can be a way of life, I still stick to my original premise, but I see your point and would argue your point in several cases.


Scotty Too Hotty said...

I would like to share a quote a female teacher of mine said in high school concerning the dress of young women "Girls, dress modestly, if you bend over and the young men in the class see your thong, they won't learn anything the entire day."

I think this quote by Elder Oaks is addressed to young women because most young females don't realize how much young men(aka boys) who have recently hit puberty think about sex. To a young boy in jr high or high school who is having these extreme urges and is at the stage of life, where he is too awkward and too isolated from his parents to want to discuss sex, the way girls dress can have a huge impact on him.

I am defending these boys, I was just giving a little defense to the Oaks sideline. I think a majority of the problem comes from the LDS culture. Sex is seen as taboo, so even young men or women that want to know more are too afraid to ask someone who could explain. And those who should be explaining use vague terms.

Too many young boys are left to find out about sex from the internet or from friends who found out on the internet rather than from their parents. I think this starts things off on the wrong foot for boys that become men since their first experience comes from googling the word sex and seeing whatever happens to pop up(No pun intended).

I don't think it is a right of passage, rather a sad attempt at young men to either educate themselves or simply release emotions instead of using self control.

I think the statement of Elder Oaks is flawed not because Elder Oaks is wrong, but rather he is attacking just one of the issues that stems from the greater problem.(sorry I kind of veered from your more specific topic but it just came out that way).