Do you want to review something called Violence Against Women in Pornography? I didn’t think so, but don’t worry — I did it for you!
I recently wrote a very challenging (for me!) book review for the academic journal Theory in Action. The review considers the book Violence Against Women in Pornography by Walter S. DeKeseredy and Marilyn Corsianos — a book that’s packed more bananas into its slim 136 pages than I ever could’ve thought humanly possible.
And yet, there it is — with a 2016 publication year coming out of Routledge in New York, one of the most respected academic presses around.
Let’s just dive right in then. Here’s my opening paragraph:
Walter S. DeKeseredy and Marilyn Corsianos’ Violence Against Women in Pornography is many things. It is a piece of sensationalistic anti-porn propaganda masked under the loose guise of a “sociological story” (107). It is a hegemonic, highly sexist articulation of what sexual expression “should” look like – both for the people creating porn, as well as for consumers interested in erotic media. It is presumptuous and dismissive, inaccurate, dated, and hysterical. And it is also a very important book.
You might ask — Why in the world would I describe a book that’s presumptuous, dismissive, inaccurate, dated, and hysterical as also being very important? Because it is!
After summarizing the book’s five chapters, which is standard book review format, I worked through my analysis. And because my sociological standpoint is largely guided by refrain from pretending that I — a human — is somehow “objective” or “unbiased,” I really worked to share my struggles with this text as I did. To wit:
In reviewing and summarizing this text, I found myself constantly fighting the urge to argue against it – to point out every inaccuracy and poorly articulated concept. To call out every moment where hegemony, sexism, and class privilege capitalized on fear, discomfort, or simply the unfamiliar in order to shape an analysis. To levy my own empirical research – work that explores the legal and technological history of US porn (Tibbals 2013), that explores porn performers’ feelings of agency in the their workplaces (Tibbals 2012), and that considers the contents and depictions in pornographic media (Tibbals 2014), among other studies – against the authors’ assertions. Instead however, rather than offering a point by point breakdown of where this book is wrong, I worked to stay focused on the significance of the book – and significant it is.
The authors DeKeseredy and Corsianos are intelligent, respected, and experienced scholars. This it not the first rodeo for either. And though to me, their understanding of erotic media, as well as producers’ and consumers’ navigation thereof, seems woefully pedestrian, the fact remains that they are far more informed about the state of contemporary porn than most people. This is because most people, scholars included, are deterred from thinking critically about sex work and adult entertainment via multiple layers of social stigma and shame. When thinking about it in this way, DeKeseredy and Corsianos are far more similar to me than they are different. And yet, given all this, they have still created a text like Violence Against Women in Pornography – one that couldn’t possibly be more off mark in my view if it tried.
Herein lies the significance of the book. The current cultural and political climate in the U.S. is nothing if not divided and tumultuous. We shout into virtual echo chambers and swaddle ourselves in like-minded cocoons, blocking those who do not reflect our beliefs. All this is facilitated by the very same technology and Internet access DeKeseredy and Corsianos decry.
Katrina Forrester recently wrote about the state of modern pornography in The New Yorker. In her piece, which sites many of the same off-mark figures included in Violence Against Women in Pornography while simultaneously questioning their veracity, Forrester describes echo chambers on both sides of the pornography fence: “[E]ach side commissions its own surveys, has its own journals, and cites selectively. There are studies for everything – to show that pornography consumption correlates with aggressive behavior, that performers are victims of sexual abuse, and that such findings are premised on ill- founded stereotypes and stigmas…. The pro-porn argument, which insists that pornography is changing but denies that it changes us, appears contradictory. It inverts the anti-porn mistake of seeing porn as the key engine of transformation, instead giving it no power whatsoever.”
Forrester’s assessment articulates precisely my trouble with Violence Against Women in Pornography, which is, in turn, exactly why engaging the text is important. For every thing I “know” as a feminist, scholar, and activist, this text “knows” the exact opposite. And in today’s world, it is ever more important for all of us to consider these types of exact opposite standpoints. We cannot continue to “block” or “defriend” those who disagree with us, nor can we continue to dismiss the tenets shaping their perspectives – especially when the exact opposite standpoint is, like in this case, created by entities who are more similar to one’s self than they are different. Ignoring or blasting standpoints that do not coincided with ours and saturating ourselves in intellectual, cultural, and epistemological sameness is how we reached this point in U.S. (and arguably, global) culture. Writing Violence Against Women in Pornography off as an amalgamation of pearl-clutching sex phobia and sexist sensationalized propaganda would further this divide.
As scholars and thinkers, we must take active steps to consider those standpoints that differ from ours. Because even within the relatively minuscule pool of researchers who consider porn in a critical manner, there are monstrously huge divides. To dismiss work on the other side of these divides is to continue down the path we are currently on.
Rather than see porn, complex and variable, as part of a wider synergistic system of social relationships, this book asserts that Porn is Bad. It advocates for jettisoning sexual expression that does not manifest in the way the authors feel it should. This includes both the production and consumption of erotica. The counterpoint – Porn is Good – is equally problematic and lacking in nuance. It is ok to be critical of porn – but one must be informed about something in order for critical analyses to hold weight. In our current environment, all this book does is fan flames of hysteria about something the authors are looking at through a very narrow lens.
And there you have it!
You can read my entire review right here, in full and free of charge/unpirated. What do you think?
(pictured: books to review!)
Here’s some “About” info re Theory in Action:
Theory in Action, founded in 2008, is the leading fully-independent journal of critical thought. TIA is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal, whose scope ranges from the local to the global. Its aim is to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and the discussion of current research (qualitative and quantitative) on the interconnections between theory and action aimed at promoting social justice broadly defined.
The journal does not privilege any particular theoretical tradition or approach and there are no word or page limits for its articles. TIA publishes papers that connect academic scholarship with activism. TIA values radical and unconventional ideas, expressed in different styles, whether academic or journalistic.
TIA is interested in how theory can inform activism to promote economic equality and create democratic political structures. TIA seeks to promote racial, ethnic, and gender equality as well as resistance to all forms of injustice.
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Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com.