Posted by Pattie on 7/15/2002 02:10:00 PM

I have been neglecting this greatly. Nearly a month now.

Kell has been posting in her blog about jiggle porn and Tish raised some issues on her site today. I offered some thoughts in the Gab Cafe, butI thought I'd offer my 2 cents here.

Pornography is a difficult concept for me and I have trouble seeing it with black/white clarity. I think this is because I come from a working-class background where men and women had few choices and being sexual for a living was one of the more lucractive choices.

I often find feminist discussions of pornography in the absense of class just one more example of upper-middle-class white women deciding that they understand all women's experiences. I probably know about 20 women who dance or have danced in front of men to earn a living. They don't have a lot of options. The fact that their bodies conform to a type that makes money from idiotic men is not their fault any more than my being fat is not my fault.

Many of the dancers I've known have children. Dancing, posing, and, on occassion, some prostitution on the side pay the bills in a way that allows them to be with their kids often and with quality. It is a paradox that many of these dancers do what they do in order to have the kind of family life that the middle-class suggests that they should. In an era of "workfare" single mothers have to balance a lot of pressures. If they work all the time, they might lose their kids. If they stay home all the time, they are called "cheats" by society. Now comes along another group of women who suggest that when they find a way to take care of their families and keep the government out of their lives, they are now bringing all women down by degrading their bodies.

If upper-middle-class white women really wanted to stop pornography, they'd work harder to get day care for poor women, they'd support welfare efforts to give supports to single mothers, they'd work on holding father's responsible for their children and they'd demand equal pay. Pornography is not only a symptom of what is wrong between men and women sexually, it is a symptom of the whole class/gender/race inequality. The reason that it is exploitive is because relationships between men and women at most levels remains exploitive of women. To hold the women who pose or dance responsible for this is one more way to blame the victim.

Of course, none of this precludes that other women pose or dance because they choose to do so, with no societal pressures pushing them towards it. Not every dancer is a victim. Som may even do pose or dance because they enjoy it. It is hard to know how much of what we enjoy comes from what we are taught to enjoy. It is hard for any of us to know this. As a fat woman, I am acutely aware of how reinforcing certain bodies as "desirable" hurts other women. But I'm not sure that the answer is to announce that no bodies should be desirable or gazed upon. Desire is complex in a world where it is manipulated constantly.

None of this rant (and I know I am ranting) has anything to do with Catay's site. I like Tish's critique of the site better than some of the stuff I saw in the cafe. I am uncomfortable with the division of body parts as well. I think I see what Cat is trying to do in terms of taking pictures that are normally reserved for thin women -- she is breaking down a lot of stereotypes in her work. I think we are meant to be uncomfortable with the results. We are meant to examine our uncomfortability. I question, however, if she is simply "playing to men." I think she is playing with sexism. Fat bodies posed like thin bodies suggests something different, uncovers the manipulations and the cultural resources used to sell bodies. I think she is making fun of the whole thing. The problem with parodies always is that they can be so close to the real thing that they can be mistaken for them.

What is art and what is pornography? It is a matter of taste in one sense. It is a matter of context in another. I know of an Irish pub that has a replica of Giorgione's "Sleeping Venus" above the bar in a large frame, overpowering the room. Next to it along both sides are a bunch of other scantily clothed women in various poses meant to provoke the male gaze. Anywhere else this painting would be a classical nude, in this particular bar, it is one more nudie picture. I'm sure Giorgione is rolling over in his grave, but maybe not. Maybe Giorgione was just painting a sexually charged picture of his girlfriend and had the good taste to give it a fancy name. All representations are objectifications of the subject they are depicting. It is not possible in language or art to capture the authentic subject. That's just the nature of representations.

I think the best we can do is to take the time to critique what we see, to ask ourselves how we are being manipulated, what cultural resources does the creator of the image draw upon to create meaning in the image, what are we bringing to the image to influence how we perceive the image. I also think "pornography" has become a loaded label like "terrorist" or "fascist" and that it is used rhetorically to shut down discussion rather than open it up. These are words that should be used carefully and yet they are slung around with ease. I think Catay's site opens up discussion. It certainly has in blog-land and in the gab cafe.