Confessions of a Feminist Porn Watcher
1. During my twenties and early thirties I would guess I went to porn films and/or arcades half a dozen times a year. In the past few years (I'm 40) I've gone less frequently; it probably works out to two or three times a year at most. I assume that some men frequent such places, while others go once or twice in a lifetime. I have no information on how often or seldom an "average" man pays to see pornography. I've not been conscious of specific changes in the situations presented in the films or the attitudes which are evident in them. I assume there has been some evolution in this regard, but my experiences have been too sporadic (and too surrounded by personal anxieties) for me to be able to formulate useful conclusions about this evolution. [BACK]
2. In this sense, the porn narratives seem rather similar to those of Georges Méliès's films (the acting is roughly comparable, too!). [BACK]
3. Once I've decided to go to a porn theater, I go immediately, without checking to see when the movies begin or end; as often as not, I arrive in the middle of a film. (This is true only when the theater in question runs shows continuously; when a theater runs only one or two shows a day, I usually postpone a decision about going until just long enough before the beginning of the show so that the decision can be followed by immediate action.) With very rare exceptions, I've always left before a show is over; after one film has led up to and past its most stimulating motifs, I've waited only long enough to calm down and not leave the theater with a visible erection. I've never sat all the way through a double feature of porn films. [BACK]
4. Recent "trash" and "punk" films—John Waters' Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Desperate Living; Beth and Scott B's G-Man; Robert Ruot's Dr. Faustus' Foot Fetish , for example—have exploited a similar sense of aggressive amateurishness. In fact, since G-Man and Dr. Faustus' Foot Fetish are Super-8 films, they bring with them something of the feel of Super-8 porn loops. [BACK]
5. The frequency of anal sex in porn films seems to confute this, at least if one assumes that anal sex is annoying and painful for most, or many, women. Yet, a decision not to press for fulfillment of such a desire because its fulfillment will cause pain doesn't necessarily eliminate the desire. I would guess that for many men the anal sex in porn films functions as a way of giving harmless vent to a desire they've decided not to pressure the real women in their lives about (harmless, that is, unless one assumes the women in the films feel they are being harmed, something I have no information about). [BACK]
6. One recent attempt to assess porn's effects is Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant's "Pornography, Sexual Callousness, and the Trivialization of Rape," Journal of Communication (Autumn 1982). Unfortunately, this study's central finding—"our investigation focused on sexual callousness toward women, demonstrating that massive exposure to standard pornographic materials devoid of coercion and aggression seemed to promote . . . callousness (in particular, the trivialization of rape) . . ."—is based on testing procedures and supported by assumptions which raise nagging questions. The study's conclusions are based on a test of the impact of pornography on students exposed in groups, in a college setting, to "massive," "intermediate," and "no" amounts of conventional, nonviolent pornographic film. But in real life, porn films are seen in a very particular environment, at least in most instances I know of: in a public/private context outside the circle of one's friends and family, in places one is embarrassed about going into, and often in tiny toilet-like stalls. Wouldn't the meaning and impact of porn films be different given so different a context? Was there some reason for limiting those tested to students, and in particular to undergraduates "at a large eastern university"? Were these people users of pornography previously? What was their motivation for participating in such an experiment?
Bryant and Zillmann face some of the possible implications of their experimental procedures for their results, but they assume that, at most, students might have guessed the researchers were attempting to legitimize pornography and therefore would have distorted answers in the direction of a general social attitude which, the researchers contend, is strongly supportive of pornography, and implicitly legitimizes it by giving it legal status. My sense of the general attitude toward porn is the opposite of theirs. Certainly the legality of pornography doesn't prove that society approves of it: picking one's nose is legal, but hardly acceptable in society's eyes. My guess is that most people (including many or most of those who use porn and/or are supportive of its being available publicly to people of legal age) agree that porn is creepy and disgusting. And most people nowadays are well aware of the frequent conjecture that exposure to porn is an incentive to rape; even if we're dubious about the assumption of cause/effect in this instance, the contention creates concern. If the students tested were relatively new to porn, their massive exposure must have come as something of a shock, and if they were jolted—particularly by seeing such imagery in an institutional, unprivate context—might not some students have answered the rape questions posed later as a means of acceding to the widely held assumption that people who see porn films will be motivated by them to rape women? [BACK]