Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thoughts on MacKinnon

According to MacKinnon “all women live in sexual objectification the way fish live in water” (171), an idea that comes through pretty strong in the aboutface website’s criticism of “the offenders” in the ‘gallery of offenders.’ In fact, for years, I have been taught to hate the media because of the “sexual objectification” of women that is central to most advertisements. Yet, while looking through the gallery, I couldn’t help but feel that some criticisms may be a bit too harsh. There is no doubt that women are sexually objectified and much more prominent in advertisements than men, but when male models are depicted, they too, are sexually objectified. Just as most women are not as thin as most female models, most men are not as perfectly built as most male models. It is the advertisements that depict women as both sexual and childish or women as docile or incurring violence that really upset me. For example, the advertisement that depicts a woman’s legs hanging out of the trunk of a car, I find infuriating. An advertisement where a woman is simply being sexual and is thin, however, has never angered me as much. In that sense, I believe MacKinnon’s placement of all the blame on men goes a bit too far. At the same time I am very intrigued by some of her ideas. For example, the simple statement, “what is sexual is what gives a man erection,” while perhaps an over simplification, did make me wonder about whether men can actually act sexual without making a joke of it. While men’s bodies are often sexualized in advertisements, sexual actions made by men, such as male striptease, often seem to be simply comic attempts at copying what is considered sexual female acts. Her analysis of pornography as something that “shows what men want and gives it to them” also makes me wonder if there is not a type of film that ‘shows what women want and gives it to them.’ What about romance films? Are women not taught to want and believe in unrealistic images of men just as men are taught to want and believe in unrealistic images of women? I am by no means saying that ‘chick flicks’ are as dangerous as pornography. In fact, I fully support her argument that pornography normalizes violence, hate, and oppression against women. It’s just that I believe her arguments would be more valid if she at least acknowledged that sexual inequality is not simply a one sided issue.


Emily Morrison said...

While I agree with almost all of MacKinnon's arguments (I recommend "Francis Biddle's Sister" for anyone looking for MacKinnon to explain herself more thoroughly), I also like what you touched upon at the end of your reaction posting.
While I believe pornography is mostly created BY and FOR men, MacKinnon does overlook women's sexual agency. Whether it be through their consumption of Meg Ryan romance flicks, which my aunt once called "middle-aged women's porn", or their non-coerced participation in the pornography industry, there are women out there making choices that might reinforce or challenge commonly held views. Then again, how much they have been conditioned to make such choices is also up for debate.

Gabrielle said...

The idea of romance films being “woman’s porn” interests me. Some girls have become accustom to watching a chick flick with friends and eating ice cream in order to end the pain they feel inflicted by a relationship ending. These films give women hope that the amazing love we have been taught to look for is out there, but these chick flicks exploit women’s emotions similar to how pornography exploits women’s bodies. They teach us of an unobtainable happiness, they promote a type of happiness that only comes with a man. These films continue women’s dependency on men for happiness causing women to be othered. Women then feel inadequate without a man. Women are measuring themselves up to this standard of unrealistic romance in the way women’s bodies are measured up to unrealistic images in pornography.

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