Required Reading: Avert Your Eyes

"Anti-porn feminism is back", says Julia Long, author of the forthcoming Anti-Porn: the Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism

Now, I don't know if that's true. Not only because feminist activists are still doing politics through pinup calendars, but also because even the most radical of my friends find it hard to be anti-porn without sinking into an endless bog of Art and Literature and censorship and choice. After all, there's a lot of nudity out there, and much of it is deeply venerated and hangs in places like the Musée d'Orsay (see above). What is porn, anyway?

As I mentioned in my last post, it can be a surprise to learn what qualifies as obscene and what doesn't: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret often does. Nabokov's Lolita often doesn't. Some will say that there are technical considerations—the quality of rendering, the beauty of the language, or the composition of the scene make a difference between obscene and not, porn and art.

The creator's identity makes a big difference to me. Judy Blume describing the pubescent female body? Fine. Valdimir Nabokov describing the pubescent female body? A little creepy. Whether it's prize-winning literature, a cheesy film, or a fashion spread, you don't want your vision of the world hijacked by just anyone for a moment or an hour or a few hundred pages. 

Luckily, this is the age of Pink and White Productions, and you can find the female gaze if you want it. So when there's the choice, what do you keep, what do you put back on the bookshelf, and what do you throw out for good?

Previously: Banned Books and Black Ink, Disgrace

by Caitlin Hu
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2 Comments Have Been Posted


I think what this issue boils down to is how women are portrayed, not the medium in which they appear. I believe that intent, more so than the gender identity of the producer, will shape my reaction to the work. Am I being shown an image of a nude woman bound and gagged because the artist assumed that (1) his audience would be male and (2) that voyeurism is how I get off? Or am I being shown an image of a nude woman bound and gagged so that I identify with her vulnerability under a male gaze? With most images, the difference between porn and art winds up being the spank factor, but should that really be the yardstick we use?

I am a feminist and I own porn. It is woman-produced, un-waxed, and wickedly delicious. The women in my porn want to be there and are having one hell of a good time with one another. I decorate the walls of my bedroom with photos from Tee Corrine, Catherine Opie and Barbie Painter; their work is both pornography and art at the same time. While I do not support the exploitation and abuse of women most porn promotes, I cannot unilaterally say that all porn is bad or that it does not have artistic merit. I think that before automatically relegating porn as a tool of the patriarchy, I think feminists should consider the possibilities porn carries as a teaching tool: We could show men how to pleasure women, or teach women how to pleasure themselves, all in the privacy of their own homes.

Nabokov is not describing the

Nabokov is not describing the pubescent female body, Humbert Humbert is, and he is supposed to be a creep. The entire book is a creep's confession and attempt to excuse himself. That doesn't mean Nabokov's intention was to excuse the narrator, Nabokov is merely playing a game with the reader, like he always does.

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