Tag Archives: feminism

censorship communications empowerment First-Amendment gender journalism objectivity official sources porn pornography Reporting

Examining the feminist critique of pornography

In Doyle and Lacombe’s “Porn Power: Sex, Violence and the Meanings of Images in 1980s Feminism,” they argue feminists in the 80s who saw pornography as violence against women and their chief rivals, the Feminists Against Censorship, both missed an important point-many women use pornography for positive purposes.  Though the latter group argued the sexist images of porn came from sexist society, not men’s violent desires to use women, they still implicitly disapproved of it.

The authors argue that this agreement that mainstream porn could not be positive as well as their unwillingness to listen to women who enjoyed porn or worked in the sex industry meant that although the sides fought bitterly, their stance was effectively the same.  In the 80s, the only point of view allowed by feminists was that porn is bad, is against women, and cannot be enjoyed by women without harming them.  Doyle and Lacombe argue this simply is not the case.  They cite a Time poll that showed 40 percent of x-rated video renters were women.  More importantly, both sides failed to get above conventional ideas about power.  For example, some women find mainstream porn to be empowering in that it often breaks class barriers and shows women pursuing pleasure guiltlessly.  The lines between porn and art are often blurred, and most porn actresses do not find their work unpleasant at all-despite the assumption by most feminists that they are forced to do this demeaning thing by circumstances.  Porn created with a male audience in mind arouses even liberated women, and many porn workers consider themselves feminists.

I think they’re bringing up a valid point.  I truly doubt that 40 percent of porn consumption is done by women, and other studies I’ve read about Internet porn viewership usually place the number lower.  But it is true that modern mainstream pornography (which isn’t that different from 80s or 70s porn) is created and used by women who are not being deluded into victimization by the patriarchy.  As a fairly strong supporter of the First Amendment, I am against the efforts to ban obscenity altogether, but I’m not sure the Feminists Against Censorship can be so easily disregarded.  Their notion of resisting sexism in porn and perhaps creating a new kind of porn I think is admirable so long as they keep in mind it’s their opinion.  One thing I’m not sure I completely buy is the recent notion (reflected by many of the sex workers in this piece) that “acting” in porn and using your body for profit is real empowerment.  First of all, many of these performers are not valued for their performance, skill, artistry, and certainly not for their personality or worth as people.  They are valued as disposable objects by 15-year-olds with modems and creepy old men in quarter-fed viewing booths.  Empowerment is having the ability to choose to do anything and if you work hard enough, to succeed.  The fact that you are paid well is not empowerment in any sense outside catalogue shopping.  Second, they are doing nothing to change society’s basic attitudes that such women are sluts and such men are studs.  The overall effect is not as negative as many feminists think, but I doubt it’s very positive.

Women making news, as reporters and sources

In their article, Lynn Zoch and Judy VanSlyke Turk find women have less representation than men on both sides of the newsgathering business-both as reporters and as sources.  Their data also suggests that female reporters are more likely to quote women than male reporters and that the low female source representation may be an accurate reflection of a world where men dominate most official positions.

The authors broke the study up into five questions.  First they found reporters relying heavily on official sources.  About three quarters of all sources were identified as officials (middle or top management or simply called “officials”). Second, they found about 70 percent of the sources were male and that the imbalance was highest in international news and lowest in education and culture.  Male sources were also more likely to be earlier in the story and have longer quotes.  Third, they found that male and female reporters were equally likely to quote official sources, though female reporters were more likely to quote middle management than male reporters.  Fourth, women were more likely to use female sources than men, 26.5 percent to 18.9 percent, respectively.  Finally, they found that the answers to the first four questions suggested an answer to the fifth: that the media present an image of the world where information is controlled by (mostly) men in official positions.

None of the findings are very surprising.  There are still more male than female reporters, and the world of officaldom is still (and perhaps more) male-dominated.  At one point the authors suggest that the reasons female reporters are more likely to quote middle than top management include a lack of access to top officials or that they expect problems and settle with middle management.  Perhaps this is more related to the fact that they are more likely to use female sources and that there are more females in middle management than top.  If female reporters are, for example, actively seeking female sources, then they would be forced to quote fewer top officials, because almost all top officials are male.

The feminist critique of the newsroom

In “The Gendered Realities of Journalism” the author argues that female journalists face difficulties dealing with both the predominately male newsroom and the assumption that they cannot cover hard news.

The author points to several statistics to prove the first point: women only comprise about one third of the profession as a whole and perhaps 80 percent or more of the people in power-editors and management-are male.  Female journalists, on average, are paid less than male journalists and are less likely to be promoted; they are also excluded from the macho newsgathering and male-bonding aspect of the newsroom, making them outsiders rather than equal participants.  The author also mentions that female journalists have to strike a balance between seeming feminine and being tough, responsible journalists.

The author approaches the second difficulty first by looking at feminist critiques of objectivity.  Some feminists seek to root male subjectivity out of the norms of objectivity and go for gender-neutral reporting.  Others look for gender balance, ensuring there are equal number of male and female reporters and decision-makers.  A third group would dump objectivity altogether as an obviously male notion that facts can be separated from ideology and say that it only reinforces the patriarchy.  Furthermore, women are usually assigned to soft stories and their gut reactions-those praised in male reporters-are often dismissed.

I have a couple of problems with some of the ideas the author presented.  For one thing, I would like to see some data on the number of female journalists and the number in important positions compared to the number of actual applicants.  I agree that men should not be promoted over women simply because of outdated biases and macho camaraderie, but it’s possible part of the reason the number of women is so low is that there just aren’t enough applicants around.

Also, I have a hard time reconciling some feminists’ critique of objectivity as part of a male-imposed, male-oriented notion of truth.  I realize this is all tied into the feminist critique of Enlightenment thought and modern philosophy, but I don’t believe there’s necessarily male- and female- truth.  If just-the-facts objectivity is a flawed value because it is male-imposed and serves the patriarchy, why should women complain when they are only handed feature assignments?  I don’t see how someone could say one the one hand, that women should be given equally hard news assignments, and on the other, that hard news coverage is based upon inherently male notions and only serves to support the patriarchy.