This post is a contribution to a series called ‘Pornography: Poison and Prey’ which is a collaborative series of posts assembled by Gemma Wilson, looking at the poison of pornography and its prey. Gemma writes about slavery/human trafficking, objectification/sexualisation and a few other things… always through the lens of light and hope – she could be followed via twitter @gemmaruthwilson.
I love jogging and therefore I jog often. I go for a run when I have energy to burn and I go for a run when I have no mental energy left and need to get my head cleared a bit. While I run I think, I pray and I engage in philosophical conversations with myself. While I run I also witness the world around me. Regarding gender relations in our society and the effect that the ‘pornification’ of our culture through the media has on it, two events which played out while I was running come to mind. Both happened about a year ago. It was shortly after Will and Kate’s wedding and the massive media and public response to Pippa Middleton‘s presence at the church ceremony.
Two girls came running from the front towards myself and another guy walking in the same direction. The girls and the guy were all of school going age, knew each other and stopped to talk as I continued running by. In passing by them I heard him remark, “So, you girls jogging a bit now?” to which they responded, “Yes, we reckoned you guys all expect us to look like Pippa nowadays”. On another occasion, strangely enough at about the exact same place along my usual running route, a bakkie with a bunch of student men on the back drove past a girl walking along the road, when one of the guys gave that classic wolf whistle with all his mates laughing and cheering along afterwards, the girl just strolling on.
These two instances paints a realistic picture of our culture and how men and women interact with each other in it, each gender playing its specific role as learnt through the media. Although people still appreciate and admire it when guys act in classic gentlemanly fashion towards girls, or when girls dress less revealing and do not lead guys on through their body language, it will take a real counter-cultural effort to do so consistently. The girls I mentioned above seemed like pretty decent, fine young ladies but still they feel the pressure of presenting themselves to boys as the media dictates. Simultaneously, boys like those on the back of the bakkie, and also the boy who chatted with the two ‘Pippas’, who didn’t contradict them in what they said to him, struggle to value girls for reasons other than their physical appearance.
Guys have always been attracted to the physical aspects of women and the extroverts among us struggle to obtain their excitement once their feelings have been aroused, and similarly girls will continue to aim to ‘look their best’ for the boys as they always have. The question for me though is this: what does it take to arouse boys nowadays and what does ‘their best’ look like? And what will the cost be to whom?
In the age of digital media ‘their best’ has become something other worldly, something unreal. Not only are women displayed as unrealistically ‘perfect’ creatures from a fantasy world but the narratives and role playing themes directing this story has spilt over from the porn genre into all forms of mainstream media communications. Whether it is through advertising or entertainment at sporting or other events, women are portrayed as characters who exist to satisfy the sexual needs of men and who actually find great fulfilment in doing so. What used to be perverted has now become ‘good advertising techniques’, a brilliant example of ‘the end justifying the means’: sex (ie. using provocatively posing women, or women partaking in sexual activity with men or other women, as props to arouse men and get them to develop a connotation of pleasure and power with your product) sells, therefore let’s use it to sell stuff. But as Gemma once tweeted: “Trying to categorise fellow humans separately from customers to excuse objectification doesn’t work.” Men automatically equate that the women living life alongside them on a daily basis desire and ought to live up to the women they see in the media, not only in the way they look but also in how they act.
Two things (or ultimately actually only one maybe?) have suffered most under this drastic sexualisation, or so-called pornification, of culture: sex, and women. The focus of sex has shifted from two people committed to intimately know and satisfy one another, both physically and emotionally, to the place where it is primarily expected, by men in particular, that the point of the exercise is for the other person or experience to affirm and satisfy oneself. And the unfortunate reality is that whenever the focus of sex shifts to receiving rather than giving, women will always be the ones found in a disadvantaged position, regardless of the level of gender equality in that culture.
The great CS Lewis (a man) once stated:
A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Women, whatever a few male songs and satires may say to the contrary, are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than culprits. Also, domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man, their beauty, decreases every year after they have come to maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality—women don’t really care two pence about our looks—by which we hold women. Thus in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.— excerpt from God in the Dock.
Lewis mentions something that saddens me most about this whole trend: women and young girls are accepting their fate and playing along with it. A young South African model said the following about being chosen as Playboy SA’s Playmate in the first edition to mark the re-entering of this publication into the country early last year after years of absence: “My love of modelling and desire to be a part of this world of glamour and gorgeousness is what drew me to take part in the national Playboy casting call” and “I’m happy I did it and I consider this to be such a huge honour for my modelling career.” She is simply the voice of millions of girls around the world, most of them looking up to girls like her. I love to read stories about underwear models and porn actresses leaving the industry as they decide to no longer be pods in the system but as a man I ultimately see it as our responsibility, through what we watch, say and do, to not challenge women with such an unattainable standard because at the end of the day, they are at our mercy.
What does it take to arouse men nowadays? What do women aim for when attempting to ‘look their best’ and how much weight does that carry when they define or contribute value to themselves? What is this unattainable standard of the perfect woman costing who, and how much? Should we, as a society, continue to tolerate this pornification – or slow-death-by-media – in the way we currently do?