Pictures of real estate or food are not pornography

The word “porn” is starting to be used in casual conversation in reference to photos of everyday things we like to look at. In particular, I’ve heard “food porn” and “real estate porn,” and even “skyline porn.” This is not an acceptable use of the word porn. Pornography means “the graphic depiction of whores,” where “whores” means women who are treated as being only good enough for being repeatedly raped. Pornography happens to real women and girls; it is the documentation of sexual abuse sold as public entertainment. Photographs of sexual abuse are in no way comparable to photographs of ordinary things like food or houses.

The reason people will call a particularly enticing photograph of delicious food “porn” is because porn is entirely normalized and we don’t think of it as anything serious. We think of porn as being just images of beautiful women, no harm done. We don’t see any difference between a picture of a beautiful woman and a picture of a beautiful house or a beautiful skyline. Women are treated as sexual objects to be looked at in this culture, so it’s no surprise that people equate pictures of women with delicious enticing things to be consumed.

What are you really saying if you claim that pictures of food or houses or beautiful skylines are the same as pictures of the abuse of women and girls? I believe what you’re saying is that the abuse of women and girls is something rather mundane, or perhaps something beautiful to be treasured. Certainly you’re not implying that the sexual abuse of women and girls is something horrible that needs to be stopped.

Women are fully human persons. We do not wish to be photographed by pimps or sold to punters. The prostitution industry and the pornography industry are the same industry—the only difference is the camera.

Rachel Moran describes being photographed for pornography during her time in prostitution in her book Paid For starting on page 72.

“I can’t remember how many men photographed me there, and I actually don’t want to know. The set-up was that a man would arrive with his own camera and a blank roll of film. He’d pay a set amount, I think it was ninety pounds, and when he was done photographing whichever girl he’d selected, he’d do whatever else he wanted to her, for an additional fee. He’d then give the roll of film to the pimp, who had it processed, God knows where. Someone was in on the operation obviously, because this was in the days before digital cameras. The photographs had to be processed somewhere, and most of the girls in them were under-age.

Some women have no problem with pornography. Well, I do. I know from having been photographed in sexually explicit poses that there is a lot more going on behind those glossy graphic images than most people take the time to consider. It is a demeaning exploitative business that is hugely damaging to women, both within and without the industry.

In the on-going effort to sanitize pornography we are told that it is ‘sexually empowering’ and a form of ‘sexual self-determination.’ For me, this was no truer of being photographed naked and posing than it was true of being fucked naked and posing. I worked alongside a half-a-dozen girls at that time, all in their mid- to late-teens…What we did in that freezing-cold seedy basement was the same thing we did out on the streets; we took the only thing worth taking out of our circumstances, the opportunity to put roofs over our heads and food in our mouths.” (p72-74)

We’re supposed to believe that the women in porn chose to be there, and that makes it okay. We’re not supposed to think about the socialization that girls are subject to that leads them to believe their ultimate role is to be sexy objects. We’re not supposed to think about the coercion that may be present behind the scenes that we cannot see. We’re not supposed to think about the fact that even girls and women who enter pornography voluntarily are abused while in the business. I have blogged about the documentary Hot Girls Wanted and the experiences of the girls who enter pornography voluntarily because they are looking for glamour, money, and validation that they are “hot” girls. These 18 year old girls are not fully aware of what they’re getting into, they are not able to control what happens to them on the porn set, and they are afraid to say no once a scene starts. The “sex” that is being recorded on film is quite often rape. You have no way of knowing whether what you’re looking at is rape or not, and there is a good chance that it is.

I will not compare images of rape and abuse to images of food or other beautiful objects. If an image of a beautiful skyline is the same as an image of rape, then what we’re saying is that rape is something beautiful to look at. No way!

I annoy people when I point out that they are using the word “porn” incorrectly. I’m one of those Not the Fun Kind feminists, the kind who turns lighthearted banter into A Very Serious Conversation, who ruins everyone’s buzz with talk of abuse. And I will keep doing that because you cannot be too serious about the global epidemic of violence against women and girls. We are not nearly serious enough.


15 thoughts on “Pictures of real estate or food are not pornography

  1. Thank you for this. I regularly see “____ porn” on FB photos. The one that gets me is Earth Porn. I hate seeing that word linked to anything that may be beautiful and/or appealing. And you are correct, the word has become normalized in the prevailing rape culture.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Excellent post…I’m glad that I’m not the only one sick of seeing “(insert noun) porn” everywhere. Car porn, food porn, guitar porn, landscape porn…can’t people enjoy something without sexualizing it or wanting to rape it?

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Very good article! I find the word porn to be exceedingly offensive, because of what it represents and the reality of violence incumbent in it. So when I see it being used casually , for example these ‘word porn’ memes, I am filled with contempt, and I feel angered that people can be so ignorant and insensitive

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: What's Current: Does Gawker media have a woman problem? - Feminist Current

  5. Thank you for writing this. It needs to be repeated a billion times over. I am ashamed to say that even I, as another one of those “no fun” second-wave radical feminists have been guilty of using the word outside of the context of actual pornography. I appreciate the corrective reminder. You are absolutely correct that it should not be used, ever, to glorify anything. Much love to you and your work.


  6. Thank you for this! A woman I respect(ed) a lot was admiring a photo of a beautiful view and said she’d love to get more shots of “landscape porn.”

    I live under a rock, so that was the first time I heard that particular perversion. Here’s something beautiful; here’s something trampled into crap. Let’s pervert one into the other!

    And nobody even notices. I was dumbfounded, so I didn’t say anything either. Plus, she was the teacher. How do you even start?

    I really admire people like you who get in there and tell people which way is up, instead of standing there like a pillar of salt the way I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but not commented before. In fact, I think this might have been the first essay of yours that I read. I’ve come back to it (definitely late!) a while after a discussion with my (male, pro-feminist) partner about exactly this, how I hated seeing “word porn” etc. show up on my news feed. I tried to explain my feelings, which align with yours, and where the word “pornography” comes from, but he was convinced I was using “too restricted” an interpretation of it. He was coming at it from a more media-centred POV, I guess. The best way I can sum up his idea of it is this, from a Hulk Film Crit article (who’s generally fairly feminist, except for here apparently):

    “On the spectrum of consuming media there is “purposeful art” on one end and “pornography” on the other. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with either, as both have roles in our lives. But the idea of “pornography” in media consumption is that it is of a strictly functional and utilitarian purpose. It’s about release, sexual or otherwise. It’s about escape and fantasy. It’s about feeling ecstasy and even mental masturbation. It’s about displacing you from yourself and putting you into an experience where you are getting all the things you want. For pornography obliges.” (I don’t want to link because its increddddddibly long, in case it shows the whole article, but it’s from one on James Bond)

    And I can see what they’re getting at. I can see how you can conflate escapism and desire fulfilment with pornography, up to a point. And therefore I guess I can see what people are thinking when they label things “food porn” or whatever – it’s more about wish fulfilment than sex or violence. It’s virtual self-indulgence and wanting to own all the nice things you see on screen – instant gratification or even a form of vicarious living. It’s more about the way these images are consumed than the content. (I should be clear, I have no desire to excuse this, or the normalisation and sanitisation of porn.)

    Anyway, at this point, our discussion foundered because all I could say was “I don’t recognise or agree with your definition”. Not really got any clue where we go from there, on this one. Pornography is, inescapably, sexual violence. Not harmless indulgence of desire.

    P.S. Sorry for super-lengthy comment! I really enjoy your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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