In a presentation on the feminist critique of pornography at a college, I described some of the routine body-punishing types of sex that are common, especially in the genre known as “gonzo,” the most harsh and overtly cruel type of sexually explicit material. A young man from the audience waited until the rest of the folks who had questions were gone and then approached me cautiously, saying he wanted to challenge some claims I had made.
The student said that he watched gonzo pornography regularly and thought I had distorted the reality of such material. None of what he watched, he said, sounded like what I had described. “The stuff I like — it’s just movies of people who liked to party,” he told me.
I asked him to tell me more about what he watched. As he talked, it became clear he was describing exactly the kind of material I had discussed, and I could see the realization emerge in him: My assessment of the rough and degrading nature of that pornography was accurate, and he had simply never recognized it. When he mentioned a type of sex he liked to watch in pornography called a DP — double penetration, in which a woman is penetrated vaginally and anally at the same time — it really started to dawn on him: In these scenes, the sex was defined by men’s sense of control over, and domination of, women.
I pressed a bit more. What kind of things did the men call the woman during this sex? I asked. As he started to reproduce some of the terms — all names meant to demean and insult women — it became impossible for him to avoid the conclusion that the pornography he had been consuming is not just sex, but sex in which men act out contempt for women.
At that point, he stammered, “But I don’t hate women. I love women. I wouldn’t use pornography like that.”
That contradiction wasn’t going to be worked out in the moment. Instead, I told the student that I wasn’t arguing that he hated women but was simply pointing out he had been getting sexual pleasure from pornography that expressed hatred for women. Why had that misogyny been invisible to him? Why had he been unable to see what was happening on the screen and imagine how women might feel about such degrading treatment?
The answer is simple enough: The privileges that come with being a man in patriarchy had undermined his capacity to empathize, allowing the sexual pleasure he felt to override his humanity and making it difficult for him to put himself in the place of a woman experiencing overtly cruel and degrading treatment.-…[Because] [t]he student at my pornography presentation lives in a society in which he has never had to fear he would be the target of degrading and potentially violent sexual behavior simply because of his gender.