The Anti-Porn Men Project: Dudes Take A Stand Against Violent Porn

If aliens landed and took stock of pop culture from the past decade, they might conclude that men on Earth are boobie-crazed sex beasts enslaved by their own desires, and that pornography is as essential to a man’s life as air. Two male activists are seriously troubled by the ubiquity of porn in Western men’s lives, the degradation of and violence against women in porn, and how they believe the objectification of women warps men’s minds. Earlier this month, Matt McCormack Evans and Jonathan Wragg started The Anti-Porn Men Project, an online space where they hope to have an educational discussion with other dudes about pornography, separate from the one still burning — albeit faintly — among mostly ’60s- and ’70s-era feminists. The Anti-Porn Men Project looks to be unaffiliated with religion and isn’t arguing that porn is a sin (unlike some people we know). It’s also not affiliated with famous anti-pornography feminists like Catharine MacKinnion and the late Andrea Dworkin, although they borrow heavily from Dworkin’s definition of porn. (Just to give you a little context, MacKinnion and Dworkin are considered radical hardline feminists on the porn issue. Even card-carrying feminists like Amelia and myself don’t necessarily agree with them about porn. Or anything else.)

The men behind the Anti-Porn Men Project are adamant that they are not anti-sex, just anti-pornography. “One of the reasons why we are anti-porn is because we are pro-sex,” Evans wrote. “Porn is not sex, but in fact can play a very restrictive and damaging role in peoples sex lives and the forming of people’s sexuality.” Of course, there are lots of different ways to define pornography and their concern isn’t with titillating images, words or sounds in general, but specifically with “sexually explicit material that is characterized in some way by cruelty, humiliation, or degradation of women.”

In a confessional early post on the site (which comes with a “trigger warning” because it describes sexual violence), Wragg wrote about watching “three seconds of porn” in a film that was supposed to be sexually arousing. He watched a man shove his penis into a woman’s mouth and then slap her across the face with the front and back of her hand. He then shoved his penis in her mouth again and when he pulled out, she turned to the camera for three seconds and began to cry. The man then started slapping her across the face again.

Wragg writes:

“Who was this woman? Why was she in this film? Was this nothing more than sexual assault? Was she paid for it? Was this violence consensual? I couldn’t answer all of these questions, but I could see she was a desperate victim; sad, afraid, ashamed and in pain. There was one question I could answer easily. Why was I watching this? Because I thought it would be different, less violent. And because I had read that this is what people are into nowadays.”

He described clicking around elsewhere on the site and watching more “innocent” porn where couples are just making love. Then he stumbled upon violent porn again: a woman trapped in the stocks with a man shoving his penis into her mouth again. “This is where the pornographers had made a mistake,” Wragg wrote. “I realized they make no distinction between very violent and less violent pornography, that it all sits together happily. Did they expect me not to notice that? Did they expect me not to make a link between one and the other?”

The porn industry could certainly use more regulation, in my opinion, when it comes to protecting workers from physical, emotional and sexual abuse and paying them fairly. Criminalizing anything, I believe, only pushes it underground and makes it more dangerous. (Alas, that is an entirely different post for another time.) The Anti-Porn Men Project isn’t focusing its disdain on the porn industry, though; it’s focusing on our desires. And for that reason, I can’t say I agree with them about everything.

Personally, I watch and read some stuff that’s pretty violent — even humiliating and degrading towards women — because I enjoy spanking porn. Nearly all of what I consume is fictionalized stories, though, because I would say 90 percent of what I enjoy is fantasy. Obviously, a teacher spanking a naughty student would be illegal and inappropriate in real life, but it’s sexy and saucy in a 1000-word short story online. (The porn videos I’ve watched have seemed too “fake” to be real and too “fake” to be fantasy, if that makes sense, so I prefer to look at pictures or read stories.) I don’t believe I’m harming women, or harming myself, by enjoying what I enjoy; I know there’s a time and a place for it to be enjoyed and I don’t take it beyond the bedroom.

Because of my personal tastes in porn, I feel really conflicted about “policing” and “changing” people’s desires. People are turned on by what turns them on. (Coincidentally, I just watched the 2002 movie “Far From Heaven” last night and part of the plot is how Dennis Quaid’s character is gay. As was customary in the 1950s and earlier, in the U.S., his wife, played by Julianne Moore, urges him to go to a psychiatrist to “treat” him and hopefully be “cured” of his homosexuality. It doesn’t work, of course, and in fact denying what arouses him just causes his life to spin further out of control. I know that’s not comparable to men who get off from seeing a woman get slapped in the face and cry, but I am just trying to make a point that people can’t control what arouses them.)

But as a woman — not just a porn consumer — I can also empathize with the Anti-Porn Men Project’s view that sexualized violence against women in porn desensitizes men towards being repulsed by causing pain to women. It’s certainly a point of view I share when it comes to sexualized ad campaigns, for instance. Considering that we live in a world where disrespecting, controlling and abusing women are rampant, I can understand their concerns about sexualizing aggression. For what it’s worth, I do know someone who really gets off on porn that’s violent against women, and his attitude towards and treatment of women in real life are pretty creepy. Not everyone necessarily separates “fantasy” from “reality” like I do; not everyone twists arousal into abuse. Police the porn industry and police men who abuse women in real life, but don’t police the sexual desires.

I agree with a lot, but not everything, the Anti-Porn Men Project has to say. Ultimately, though, I’m really grateful they are hving the discussion.

(For those of you interested in reading more academic discussions on porn, I would personally suggest Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Other important books on porn, which I can’t vouch for, include Dworkin’s ’70s-era book Pornography: Men Possessing Women and the more recent Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families, by Pamela Paul. Other good suggestions? Leave ‘em in the comments.)

[The Anti-Porn Men Project]
[Women’s Views on News]

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