Women’s Center hosts discussion about cultural effects of pornography

By Erin Moyer || Senior Editor 

This Tuesday, Oct. 20, the Office of Thursday evening, the Alice Drum Women’s Center hosted a discussion about pornography and its production, consumption, and effects in modern society. Is porn exploitive or liberating? A hurtful site of objectification, or a safe space of exploration? Bill Hamersly ’16 served as the discussion’s moderator. They and Gabi Woods ’16, both Executive Board members of the Alice Drum Women’s Center, researched and compiled questions for the conversation.

Hamersly began the discussion with a brief overview of porn’s contentious place in American history and second wave feminist discourse. They covered the “Porn Wars,” a period of the 1970s and 1980s in which feminist scholars fell into two general schools of thought: those who identified as “anti-porn,” who felt that porn was, on the whole, degrading to women and encouraged violence and objectification, and those who felt themselves “pro-porn,” who maintained that everyone has the right to explore their sexuality in whatever safe, responsible way they choose. Today, Hamersly said, this “pro-porn” attitude would hold porn as a place to explore gender, sex, and sexuality free of judgement.

The conversation then began by having the crowd break into small group discussions. Hamersly distributed a list of discussion questions, and groups of three to five students spent 20 minutes responding to the list of talking points. Issues the questions covered included the heteronormative representation of “sex” in mainstream media, how the portrayals of sex, sexual orientation, gender, and gender roles affect our perception of each in society, and what “feminist porn” is, and how possible it may be to achieve.

The larger group then rejoined for a full discussion. The conversation began with one student pointing out that porn, as it has been co-opted in more mainstream ways–think nudity on TV or film–heavily features more nude women than men. Those in attendance then discussed if porn reflects real sex, or if it may fulfill some role in society, for better or for worse, as a form of sex education. Some at the discussion expressed concerns that porn, when tilted heavily toward a preference for male pleasure, can be very dangerous in forming one’s perceptions of what sex should be like.

The conversation then turned to a discussion of how “different bodies” are represented in porn. How do we see those with disabilities? Those of different races? The LGBTQ+  community? Some attendants argued that, though the presence is certainly there, it is often not one of much dignity; it is often not made for them, but instead, to “fetishize” them.

The discussion also covered the production and consumption of so-titled “feminist porn,” that is, porn produced with more responsible practices than some of which may be circulating in the mainstream. Though many felt that feminist porn was a positive step in assuring the rights and health of sex workers, as well as in creating a healthier experience for those watching it, it was acknowledged that it is not as accessible as traditional, mass-market porn.

The discussion took place in the Alice Drum Women’s Center, located in the basement of the Steinman College Center. The conversation was well-attended, with every chair around the discussion circle occupied and late arrivals scrambling to track down other seats. The Women’s Center has a full calendar of events planned for this semester, and all are welcome to join at each and every one.

Erin Moyer is the Senior Editor. Her email is emoyer1@fandm.edu. 

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