Movies with pornographic content oftentimes involve women who are acting while in frontal nudity or are having sexual intercourse with another actor in particular scenes of a film. Feminists see this objectification of women as a form of sexist action and a “degrading, demeaning” and “woman-hating propaganda” (Stoltenberg, 2000, p. 123). It is therefore not surprising if feminists demand for an end to movies that feature naked women performing sexual intercourse because they view such things as against the welfare of women in general.
According to Lisa Duggan, Nan Hunter and Carole Vance (2006), one way to completely eliminate pornography is to define it as a “form of sex discrimination” and amend the civil rights law so that the law will proscribe it (p. 44). In effect, movies with pornographic content may be classified as films that exhibit forms of discrimination based on a person’s sex, thereby coming in direct conflict with the possible amendments to civil rights laws.
Despite all these, there remains the challenge of identifying whether a particular film with pornographic content is promoting or undercutting feminist goals. To be sure, a list of criteria is needed in deciding the nature of a film as undermining feminist goals or otherwise. A rough estimate of general feminist goals can be made—the liberation of women from sex discrimination which comes together with the tasks of securing women’s rights and of the proper and lawful observance of such rights throughout society.
Consequently, a film that discriminates women or neglects women’s rights is said to be undercutting feminist goals. However, more specific qualifications should be created so that confusion or ambiguity can be eliminated in properly identifying which pornographic movies actually destabilize the aims of feminists. For the most part, it is said that pornography has been involved in men’s “personal histories of incest, child sexual abuse, marital rape, battery, and other forms of sexual victimization” (Stoltenberg, 2000, p. 123).
Thus, pornographic movies that feature incest, child sexual abuse, marital rape, battery and other similar kinds of sexual victimization are in effect indirectly promoting these practices even without literally encouraging other people to do the same things or endorsing such practices. Moreover, pornographic movies showing such practices may also be guilty of altering the public’s perception towards such practices. Instead of depicting such actions as despicable and highly immoral, pornographic movies may be doing the opposite.
However, pornographic movies featuring such practices may still be deemed as not undermining feminist goals if and only if they are proven to actually show that such practices are highly immoral and should not be done. The exception made goes to show the other side of the debates surrounding pornographic movies. While some pornographic movies may be devoid of lessons where the public can draw an increased awareness about the core goals of feminists, others may in fact be depicting such pornographic scenes as a way to highlight the degrading effects of pornography to the larger cause of protecting the civil rights of women.
A movie may portray incest or marital rape not as ends themselves but rather as means to the end of emphasizing their ill nature. A movie may show a husband beating his wife not as a means to promote it but to actually touch the sensibilities of the viewing public and to compel them to do the opposite, which is for husbands to love their respective wives. In essence, some pornographic movies may in fact be doing feminists a favor. However, the challenge it implies is to know when pornographic movies are helping feminists in their crusade instead of adding to the burden of liberating women from sex discrimination.
It can be argued that pornographic movies lacking the essential characteristics of a film such as plot as well as the expectation of a lesson that is more apparent rather than implied do not stand as materials that help promote the goals of feminists. These movies basically do not have the excuse of artistic freedom for recourse. In some cases, pornographic movies portray women having explicit sexual intercourse with multiple partners, an example of which is Deep Throat where the scenes depicting “multiple partners, group sex and oral sex” are suggested to “subordinate women” and are henceforth “sexist” (Duggan, Hunter & Vance, 2006, p.
50). Although the movie may contain some of the basic elements of a film, it nevertheless strongly portrays women in a negative light. On the other hand, there may be cases where pornographic films solely consist of scenes portraying purely sexual actions and mask them under the pretense of plot. It is in these instances where distinguished movie critics can share the task of determining the very nature of pornographic movies in question. However, the judgment should not solely rest on their shoulders as the challenge is by nature broad; an overlap in terms of concerns is inevitable.
The goal of feminists—the liberation of women from the various oppressive forces in the society—faces the threats posed by pornographic movies. Regardless of their claim to artistic freedom and of their assumption of informing the public of the ills of discrimination based on sex, these movies contain the most basic reason why feminists are continuing in their crusade—the portrayal of women as mere sexual objects. It is only prudent to carefully lay down the criteria for determining whether a movie undercuts the goal of feminists or promotes their goal on the contrary.
A more comprehensive and a multi-sector analysis are needed in order to identify the measures needed in order to sustain feminist goals. References Duggan, L. , Hunter, N. D. , & Vance, C. S. (2006). False Promises: Feminist Antipornography Legislation. In L. Duggan & N. D. Hunter (Eds. ), Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture (pp. 43-64): CRC Press. Stoltenberg, J. (2000). Confronting Pornography as a Civil-Rights Issue. In Refusing to be a Man (2nd ed. , pp. 120-154). New York: Routledge.