Is pornography dictating social norms? Or are social norms dictating how we view pornography?

Double standards for men and women when it comes to sexuality have been around for a long time. We all know the typical picture of a man whose masculinity is enhanced by having a high number of sexual partners, whilst a woman’s virtue is negatively affected when her number of sexual partners rises. The modern movement against what we like to call ‘slut shaming’ aims to eliminate these biases and double standards and to let women employ their sexuality on an equal level to men. In other words, whatever opinion you have of the number of sexual partners of men, the same should apply for women. Whether you think positively or negatively about (casual) sexual encounters, what’s important is that it applies equally regardless of sex or gender.

However, this double standard is still embedded in our culture and generally speaking it does still exist. This is what I thought about today when we discussed the topic of pornography and its supposed degrading force on women. There has been a large movement of women, feminists and other ‘allies’ that write porn off as intrinsically biased towards gender norms and as enhancing those stereotypes.

However, I don’t feel we can say this about pornography in general. Maybe around the time and Langton wrote ‘Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts’ (1993), the overwhelming majority of pornography did depict women in a less than favorable light. It may have given women a submissive role that could have been picked up by men as ‘the way women should behave’.

Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe because of the stereotypes surrounding women and because of the double standard between men and women, women felt degraded by these images. Because what is really degrading about a woman engaging in a sexual act with a man? We do not see it as degrading to the male participant. Men are completely free to engage in casual sexual activity without anyone batting an eye.

In addition, pornography has become much more diverse. Different people fantasize about different things and for every category of fantasy there is probably an innumerable amount of visual images available that portray that particular sexual fantasy.

Of course there are types of sexualizations that are troubling. Depicting (and ‘romanticizing’) rape as something sexually arousing (to both the perpetrator and the victim) is not a positive way of putting sexuality into imagery. First and foremost there should be consent between the parties engaging in any type of physicality. Equally, putting minors at the center of sexualization is unacceptable. Sex is something to be had between consenting adults.

But if all parties are, in fact, consenting adults, who is anyone to say their depiction is wrong? We can see promiscuity as degrading, or we can see it as empowering. Or as neither of those things. But nothing is offensive unless someone is offended. Can we not choose to not be offended? If we assume that men and women are on equal footing and different people simply like different things, can we not just choose which ‘type’ of (if any) pornography we want to watch?

It’s difficult to enhance a stereotype that does not exist, or no longer applies. So if we stop seeing sex as something to be ashamed of, the visual depiction of it might stop being shameful.


Law or Justice?

When you make a comment like ‘I believe in justice’, you wouldn’t generally expect the answer: ‘Then why do you study law?’

At least I didn’t. Nonetheless, it initiated a wave of laughter throughout the room, not the least of which did come from myself. Nowadays, law is often regarded as a tool to achieve a personal goal. Cases before a court are not always about ‘what’s right’ or ‘who acted fairly’, it’s a question of who can use the law to their advantage in a way that swings the outcome of a case in their favour. It can be perceived as a game of which the rules are constantly changing and whoever can use (or work around) the rules best, wins the game.

TV shows and movies about law and justice reinforce this use of the law. Any of my fellow fans of the TV series Suits would, in my opinion, be inclined to agree. We see Harvey Specter constantly throwing around motions and affidavits to use the law to his client’s or firm’s advantage. We identify with these characters, we grow to ‘love’ them and therefore we have the tendency to root for them to achieve the outcome they’re aiming for. Even if it is not necessarily what the law intended. We hope they get out of whatever illegal thing it is they did by watching the lawyers cleverly bend or break the rules.

Programs like Law and Order or Crime Scene Investigation show the other end of this spectrum. They depict enforcers of the law that push the boundaries and sometimes cross them in order to ensure justice is served. However, if we look at this critically, they are using the law to create the justice they think should be served, as opposed to adhering to how and why the law was actually set up.

And then there’s the cases in which we compromise justice, because, as Nick Rice said in Law Abiding Citizen, ‘Some justice is better than no justice at all’. In the movie, two perpetrators are being prosecuted and the one that is seen as the main actor of the crime agrees to testify against the other in order to gain immunity for the crime for himself. The argument is that it is better to ensure that only one of the perpetrators faces the consequences of his actions, than to risk both of them being exonerated. In other words, it’s better to win part of the game, than to risk losing all together.

We tend to accept these forms of playing with the law because when we watch these shows or movies, we believe in the outcome that is being depicted as favourable. But does that affect the way we see the law in real life as well? Is this the way we want the law to work? Or is it just a reality we’ve come to accept, because we simply don’t know any better?