The normalization of pornography

Recently I went into a drugstore to buy some milk, and as I stood in line for the check-out counter I saw Sports Illustrated in the magazine rack. It wasn’t hidden or anything, and it was near the bottom rung where children could easily see it. It features a nearly naked woman with only a tiny bit of fabric over her genitals.sports illustrated

Back in the day, this was considered soft-core pornography, and it would have been placed at the top shelf of the magazine rack so that it would not be reachable by children, and it would likely be partially hidden. The first pornography magazines, Playboy and Penthouse, used to sell images like this as pornography.

I briefly thought about complaining to the store manager about this, and then I decided not to. That’s because pornography is so normalized that I may not even be able to convince someone that this is pornography. Sexualized images of nearly-naked women are just business as usual, and the only way something can be considered pornography is if there is an actual close-up of the genitals or explicit sexual activity being depicted. That used to be hard-core porn, but now it’s just porn, and soft-core porn is the wallpaper covering everything we look at. I couldn’t bring myself to try to explain to a store manager that this is pornography and children shouldn’t see it. I couldn’t bring myself to risk being labelled a prude for opposing a bikini photo on a magazine. I suppose I failed at feminist activism for not complaining.

This whole situation makes me feel very drained and tired, because it’s not just about one magazine rack in one store. It’s about the entire system, the fact that women’s bodies are for sale, that we are sexual objects for men’s use, the fact that after decades of feminist activism, we are still having insane conversations about women’s “choice” and “agency” to be sexualized objects for consumption, as if this use of women by men was coming from women’s natural sexuality. No, it’s not. Women are not born believing we are sex dolls.

When little girls see this magazine, and see that it’s perfectly normal for women to be nearly naked to titillate the male gaze, they assume this is what women are like, and they know that to attract a man they have to look and behave this way.

When little boys see this magazine, they learn that women exist for their pleasure, and that they can expect women to look this way for them.

It’s not just this magazine, it’s thousands of other pieces of pop culture, all showing the same message about women. Like Miley Cyrus naked and giving a blow job to a hammer in her video for Wrecking Ball, which also isn’t considered pornography, just a music video.

Theoretically, since I’m attracted to women, I suppose I’m expected to find this sort of thing arousing, but it just makes me angry. Sure, I like looking at women, but I am attracted to normal-looking women, especially when they’re demonstrating personal strength and talent. I like women’s body parts, but I only interact with women’s body parts when we’ve agreed to be in a sexual relationship. That’s because women are people that I interact with, not things for me to purchase and use. When I see women stripped naked and presented for consumption I just want to burn down the patriarchy.

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40 thoughts on “The normalization of pornography

  1. Do you know about stickering? This is when you print out messages about things or places or persons that you find unethical, on stickers and affix them upon the offending object, or just generally in public places. Of course I would never suggest actually doing this as it is illegal, but I’m a big fan of educating people about things.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I am slowly coming to the realization that I might, after all, actually be a lesbian. It’s been weird, realizing that part of the reason I have been slow to accept this about myself is the internalized lesbophobic messages I’ve received from the larger culture around me.

    One of those messages is the idea that, like men, I “should” be attracted to pornified images, to submission, to all the misogynist crap that is shoved down our throats on the daily. Only, I’m not.

    I don’t think anyone has the energy to fight 24/7 ad infinitum. And it’s bad for our blood pressure either way – either we get into fights we know we lose or we swallow down bile yet again.

    But I think sometimes of the last “queer” dance I attended. I volunteered to take a shift running the admission table, and while I was there, pulled out some cold metalwork that needed finishing. It was pure physical labor, pulling a bit of chain through a drawplate over and over. (And I was 2nd or maybe 3rd shift, so nobody was coming in and I could just chill and focus on wrestling with the chain.) when I looked up, I noticed that about half the women present were watching me. (I was briefly embarrassed, but will also point out that after I finished my table shift, I had no lack of prospective partners. 😎 Amazon muscles for the win! 💪)

    Liked by 9 people

    • I have found, very comfortingly, that this isn’t an uncommon experience among lesbian as well as bi women coming to terms with their attraction to women. I realized I was a lesbian first, but then spent 8 years an a fan-fiction community that was rife with pornographic depictions of women, many coming from straight men. I thought it was normal – that was the way women were found attractive – and I was the weird one. It drove me first to thinking I was asexual and then to thinking I wasn’t a woman at all. I gotta write a blog about it one of these days, but for the time being – yes, it can really, really mess with your head.

      Looking awesome while working with metal, on the other hand, is Good and Pure and Lovely. =)

      Liked by 3 people

  3. After I published this post last night, I started thinking about the way I presented my lack of desire to objectify women, and I was worried that I wasn’t telling the whole story. If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ll know that I am a former porn user who quit when I found the feminist analysis of why it was wrong. I do have a history of objectifying women, and the reason I don’t anymore is because I’ve trained myself not to after years of staying away from porn and getting further into feminism. I certainly wasn’t born with an analysis of how objectification leads to real harm, it was something I had to teach myself.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I don’t know if any woman growing up in our world can avoid being at least partially affected by these messages around us. I accepted porn as “just a thing” no matter how much I would find myself questioning it, because it was just so pervasive and socially accepted. I drew pornified women – both on request and voluntarily – because that’s what people want to look at, that’s what’s “beautiful” and “attractive”, right?

      It’s strange how hard it is to push through the dissonance we can feel in our own minds until something says “No, there is actually another way to see this” and then everything makes sense and we can start to unwind it all from within. But we are molded to objectify women at a young age, and it’s a deep, deep brainwashing that comes from every source around us. I sit watching TV with my mom and she’ll pick out the most made-up, dressed-up woman and say “Isn’t she attractive, isn’t she beautiful?” And it’s like No. No. No. But god how long it took to realize saying no wasn’t just an option, or a weird way of looking at things, but an actual healthier perspective for all women.

      This is one of those “Don’t get me started” topics!

      Liked by 4 people

    • Good grief, you have nothing to apologise for. Where I live this sort of thing would be normal on a billboard 😦

      I especially liked how you mentioned that theoretically as you are attracted to women you were supposed to find this sort of thing attractive but you didn’t. Why would you? This is stuff by men for men, it was never about what women might find attractive and I loved that you brought that up.

      Please take this in the kindest possible way, but if you are thinking you may need to clarify / explain / justify your post, I personally believe that is the socialisation / male dominant media crap you have been brainwashed into from birth and not about you at all. So what if you were into porn for a while. That’s history. Heaps of people later come to realise how horrible porn is after finding out how porn actually works. You bothered to teach yourself and changed your views nuff said. Who died and said you had to justify every single thing you ever did in your life (hint… men who expect women to be perfect at everything while simultaneously not being good enough 🙂

      I read your blog cos I love who you are now. Not expecting you to be perfect or anything – who is?

      Thanks for the time you spend writing this blog. Been reading it for ages and it (and the comments) have helped me through some dark days.

      Liked by 7 people

        • I don’t think it’s about sainthood. I mean, we live in a world where these images aren’t just “out there.” They’re in your face. I read a lot of fanfic and have seen examples of authors making a character “asexual” by stating that they aren’t turned on by porn or pornified images.

          I too have consumed porn. I found my parents’ stash at around the time I entered adolescence. (Side note: there was a Penthouse spread that scared the snot out of me. Two women with makeup heavy enough to perform with KISS and talons rather than fingernails posing with each other for the camera. Even my younger hormone addled self took one look at that image and noped the hell out.)

          But I also thought something was wrong with me because real women? Super attractive. But pornified images not so much.

          Liked by 2 people

        • I read my stepfather’s Playboys when I was a kid. (Also harder stuff at times because I read everything and it wasn’t hidden). I found the photographs alien. I liked the cartoons.

          I grew up thinking myself a not-girl, because who would want to be one of those women? The cartoons were especially vicious. I had a lot of programming to unlearn. Likely still do.

          Yes, it’s extremely difficult to avoid exposure to pornified imagery if you ever leave your house.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m straight and I find this kind of thing wildly offensive. I also find the male equivalent (which of course is much less common) to be wildly offensive, for the same reasons. This is not what sex is about, and this is not what people are about, and anyone who thinks it is is badly off track.

    It’s especially gross when a person cannot shop for groceries without finding this sort of picture tossed in her face, and into the faces of any children who may be involved. But I agree, I wouldn’t have said anything either. To whom would I complain? The checker? She’s probably as offended as I am. The store manager? How do I locate this person? In the end I just buy the darn groceries and go home. Sigh.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, I wouldn’t complain to the clerk either. She is there working for wages just like I do, and I know it’s not her fault. The person who needs to hear the complaint is the person who made a decision to have the magazine put there, and that person might not even work at the retail level.

      Liked by 2 people

        • “With large chains, it is unlikely that anyone in the store sets policy about anything.”

          Our managers can’t take a dump without corporate approval.
          That’s only a slight exaggeration.

          Liked by 3 people

        • Yeah, the store managers are basically not much more than head floor managers. And they move them around a lot. Reminds me of the military.

          Liked by 3 people

      • If you complained, they’d just say “I’m sorry ma’am, we’ll send your complaint along” and then make jokes about you after you leave. That’s generally what happens when customers complain about things we can do nothing about.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I managed a small grocery store for a few years and that left me with a permanent fascination with them. I like to learn about how they operate on the inside, and it’s not difficult to get the staff to talk to you if you present in a sympathetic and respectful manner and don’t try to take up their time or insist on attention. Instead of complaining I would ask “do you know who handles your magazine stock?” I virtually never complain to cashiers about anything because it is in many ways a thankless and irritating job. Sometimes I make commiserating jokes about changes that I expect make their work more difficult.

          Actually I wouldn’t bring this up with cashiers at all. I generally email people about complaints whenever I can. Cashiers who have lines are under pressure and their very availability makes them the recipients of all sorts of feedback they are not in a position to respond to.

          With large chains, it is unlikely that anyone in the store sets policy about anything.

          Alternately, you can always complain to the manufacturer of the offending product.

          Liked by 4 people

  5. Once upon a time, it was considered indecent to even show a toilet or say the word “pregnant” on TV or in the movies, and now pornographic crap like this doesn’t even raise an eyebrow among the mainstream. The pendulum has swung WAY too far in the other direction (as it often seems to do, regardless of the issue). I really think images like this may be the reason why my ex was so gung-ho about me buying and wearing clothes which were smaller than my actual size, made for a slightly younger demographic, and revealing more skin that I wanted. His first two girlfriends were both 8.5 years his junior (which still squicks me out, esp. the first one, who was all of 18 when they got together), which may have had something to do with it too. In comparison, I was only three years younger, though I really did get a younger man like I preferred, since his mental age was quite a bit stunted.

    Outside of the fact that my childhood sex buddy was another girl (something I completely forgot for many years, for reasons I can’t figure out), I’ve always been attracted to men, yet I never liked pictures of bare-chested men, and though it was stupid how some teen magazine listed “Guys without shirts” several times in a top ten list of reasons to love the beach. I’ve always been most drawn to eyes and faces, and like prettier men, with softer facial features. I believe in Daryl Bem’s Exotic Becomes Erotic theory, since it explains why I like men more in touch with their feminine side. Even seeing a nearly-naked man with the type of features I like, however, still wouldn’t do anything for me, since that’s never been what turns me on and attracts me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hear, hear, on eyes and softer facial features! Van Dyck’s portraits were my ideal from my teens and that hasn’t changed a whole lot. (see: gravatar of Mr D to the left.) Bare chests I do like, as long as they 1) go with the right face and 2) are not musclebound. Toned, even solid, is fine, but six-packs? Pecs that scream “get a bra”? EWWWWWWWW NO.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I love tight, youthful, defined 6-pack abs! (The primary secret to getting them is simply that body fat needs to be very low, usually on women abs show around 15-19% body fat. Secondly, abs should be targeted with specific exercises.) Extra fat around the waist is unbecoming and unhealthy. Huge pecs on men? Men should have firm muscle and no fat on their chests ideally. They should definitely not need a bra. (Reminds me of a certain Seinfeld episode.) Women also do well to develop their pecs with bench presses, pec deck, flies, pushups, etc. The “girls” get more youthful— firmer and higher. The improved posture is also aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically healthy. I am an athlete, so I appreciate the body very much. Of course, a kind face, with a sincere, warm smile, and sparkling, bright eyes that match the “smile” are wonderful attributes. I do prefer people who have some individual character to their looks, not too cookie-cutter or obviously surgical.

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        • Hee, if it came to a choice between very defined abs etc and a bit of softness around the waist, all other things being equal I would prefer the latter. Different tastes, eh? 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Mesomorphs have never done it for me. All the men I’ve ever been attracted to were either wiry and on the short side or else big, quiet and heavy. Mesomorphs kind of scare me.

    One of my girlfriends when I was a kid had a playhouse. I’d visit her and she’d tell me about what seems in retrospect to be torture porn. I don’t know how she knew about torture porn. Another girl was being raped by her older siblings’ friends. Then when I was thirteen my stepfather remarried (both those people are now deceased) and I befriended his second wife’s daughter who was my age, and then *she* started getting raped by young men. I don’t know how any of these friendships might have developed if there weren’t all these rapists around. Still amazed I was never pimped. This was all during the “sexual revolution” of the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, which as far as I can tell mostly served to normalize this rape of girls.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was a teen in the “just say no” 80’s. AIDS was on the nightly news and got discussed not only in my health classes, but also in my religion classes. My closest friend at school was being raped and beaten by various boyfriends over the course of high school and yet my utter distaste and refusal to have anything to do with boys was weird. I look back as an adult and want so desperately to protect both those girls.

      But no adult at the time did anything to protect either of us. Even the supposed “new prudery” of the 80s wasn’t meant to protect girls, especially not disposable hillbilly girls. (Nor the other minority girls who came into our school at the tail end of the 80s.)

      Liked by 3 people

      • This business of realizing the culture I grew up in and identified with so strongly was all about sexual predation is one of the most alienating things that I’ve ever experienced. It’s like you expect there to be good guys and bad guys but all there is instead is bad guys and different bad guys.

        We are groomed to believe in good guys, to be always searching for them. So few men act, so many are bystanders.

        Liked by 4 people

        • ” It’s like you expect there to be good guys and bad guys but all there is instead is bad guys and different bad guys.”

          So that’s where the people who find Game of Thrones “realistic” grew up. I have been wondering.

          Still don’t like the series. I don’t think its purpose is to educate girls on the evil of guys.

          Like

        • I don’t watch that, never have heard anything about it that interested me. I binge watched the second season of Grace and Frankie the other night on Netflix. It’s kind of politically off at times, but it has its brilliant parts, and to be perfectly honest I’d probably watch Lily Tomlin read the phone book if the opportunity presented.

          Liked by 3 people

    • I find overly muscled men scary too. To me it’s a threatening look and I always think of that strength being turned on women. Besides, that hulking look is a male power fantasy more often than a women’s sexual one, as in the comparison of those Hugh Jackman covers done a while back. I don’t see anything sensual about bulky muscles.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Send the mesomorphs my way! I am a tall, thin type who struggles to pack on muscle even though I am a serious athlete and lift heavy weights regularly, among other things. I also like healthy muscle + a trim figure on others.

      Wow, how terrible about all of the sexual abuse all around you! That is truly frightening and confusing, especially for young people. It is a travesty that rapes and sexual abuse was rarely prosecuted back then and we still have a long way to go. Some places have years— or even a decade or more (!!!) —long backlog on testing rape kits. It is also an injustice if a jurisdiction makes a woman pay to get her rape kit analyzed. There is no other crime that requires payment for investigation. We pay the police through our taxes and that ought to cover it. Otherwise, they will need to ask for more $, or use their current resources differently (smarter) to reflect sex crimes being a priority. (Based on results, sex crimes are not currently a priority, though much lip service is paid.)

      Not sure how you got from mesomorphs to sex abuse… Certainly most rapists aren’t mesomorphs, and most mesomorphs aren’t rapists. Rapists look like most ordinary people; that is scary.

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      • I was answering more than one thing upthread. I didn’t to mean to imply any connection between male body type and rapist inclinations.

        The hard part about all that back then was that nobody even saw it as rape, it was all seen as liberating by the men and there was no support for the girls at all, they were just soaked in this porn culture thing. That has, I think, not ended, in fact we’ve got a bit of a resurgence going on.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. That magazine cover is a like a punch in the gut to women and our value as people. It’s absolutely awful. I can’t help but think that girl will regret that picture some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the cover marginalizes the value of women as people and completely objectifies women instead. Still, I doubt that model will regret the photo— for many reasons.

      Like

  8. Reblogged this on bossdarcie and commented:
    This is something I have wrestled with from a young age. I was told that I was immature, that I would “grow out of it” and that I was judgmental and mean. What I discovered about myself is it had nothing to do with the women who were in the photographs being bad people, but the industry, the misogyny, the patriarchy and these normalized expectations of women’s sexuality that was making me mental. I don’t care if you want to walk around naked as it’s not my damn business. I care about women being sexualized, objectified, dismissed, and pigeon-holed into a box made of societal mesh that is almost impossible to break out of.

    #EffYourBeautyStandards
    #FuckThePatriarchy

    Liked by 2 people

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