Feminists' Perspectives on Pornography

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Lori Collins-Jarvis (ljarvis) Thu, 05 Dec 1996 13:18:04 EST (41 lines)

I must start with a traditionally (or stereotypically?)
feminine apology for diverting the flow of the conversation
slightly.  I wish to share with you some issues that were
raised in two fascinating papers that I heard presented at
the recent Speech Communication Association meeting in San
Diego, on a panel called "Cyber-Sex, Gender and Virtual
Identities".

The first paper seemed to address Robert Cavalier's remark
regarding how technological changes may be re-framing the
way that we look at pornography.  The paper was called
"Virtually no difference:  Women's subjectivities as men's
sexual fantasies in cyber-sex games", and it was presented
by Annette Markham from Purdue University.  The paper
concerned the recent explosion of production of cyber-sex
games (produced for and by men) that allow computer users to
engage in simulated sexual interactions with female
representations (one popular game is Virtual Valerie).  The
nature of technological developments means that these games
are becoming increasingly interactive, so that users can
program the female representations to respond to their
sexual advances in particular, customized fashions.
Annette's main point in her paper was that the interactive
nature of these games makes them a particularly insidious
form of pornography.  Annette proposes that by programming
female representations, male users can essentially have sex
with a simulated woman that is actually a reflection of
themself. Unlike a real woman, this simulated woman is
always eager, always willing, always happy to see the man,
and never has any annoying needs to be satisfied.  In fact
when he turns off the game she no longer exists until he
turns it on again.  If, as some theorists have suggested,
such interactions are a form of role-playing from which men
learn (in some small way, at least) how to behave in a
sexual interaction with a woman, then these games may be
training men in how to control interactions with real women.

I found this point particularly fascinating and I would like
to invite responses before I share with you the other paper
from the panel that addressed the issue of what women get
out of cyber-sex.
Donna Michelle Riley (riley) Thu, 05 Dec 1996 16:26:26 EST (64 lines)

>Annette's main point in her paper was that the interactive
>nature of these games makes them a particularly insidious
>form of pornography.  Annette proposes that by programming
>female representations, male users can essentially have sex
>with a simulated woman that is actually a reflection of
>themself. Unlike a real woman, this simulated woman is
>always eager, always willing, always happy to see the man,
>and never has any annoying needs to be satisfied.
>In fact when he turns off the game she no longer exists until he
>turns it on again.  If, as some theorists have suggested,
>such interactions are a form of role-playing from which men
>learn (in some small way, at least) how to behave in a
>sexual interaction with a woman, then these games may be
>training men in how to control interactions with real women.

We must also note that this program is created by
(most likely) men who have already received the
cultural message that good women tailor themselves
to meet the desires of men, and that men can
select (and indirectly tailor) women to meet their
desires. The program clealy runs on a view of
women as sexual commodities manipulated by men,
and the technology itself facilitates this
manipulation in a virtual sense. This is a
dangerous message, and the interactive nature of
the game may instill this message more powerfully,
but the message itself did not originate with the
programmers, the game, or the technology.

IF the point about role playing teaching men is
true, and the interactive format is more powerful
than other media, then there is a real opportunity
to write programs that teach men something
valuable about women's sexualities. Perhaps issues
could be worked in to the program around consent
and communication, women's sexual physiology,
safer sex, or the wide variation of experiences
different women find pleasurable at different
times. Randomizing the program could teach men
that not all women are alike in our appearance,
experience of pleasure, or sexual response.

When I was an undergraduate at Princeton, the
Women's Center sponsored a seminar for men only,
in which the lecturer informed male students in
detail how to pleasure a woman. Princeton men
learned what the clitoris is, where it is, and how
it works, and Princeton women who later interacted
with those men were, in my most personal opinion,
better off. Similar discussions take place on
Usenet newsgroups like alt.sex.wizards. While
tranferring this sort of lecture experience to an
interactive format may create new challenges for
feminists, I think the medium can be used in a
positive way to express women's sexualities and
educate men around these issues.

While the game in its interactive nature plays out
male manipulation of women's sexuality, this
quality can be used equally well to expand options
for both men's and women's sexual expression.
Donna Michelle Riley (riley) Thu, 05 Dec 1996 16:33:09 EST (13 lines)

>While the game in its interactive nature plays out
>male manipulation of women's sexuality, this
>quality can be used equally well to expand options
>for both men's and women's sexual expression.

To clarify, "this quality" refers to the interactive nature, not
the male manipulation....

I should add another disclaimer to my previous post -- I was
focusing on recreating a program designed for men, and I did not
therefore discuss the possibilities for interactive pornography
by and for women, though of course I do recognize them....

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