Insights into Porn in the Guardian

// 4 June 2005

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Talking of sex… The Natasha Walter article about the portrayal of women in magazines like Nuts and Zoo is continuing to stimulate debate within London Third Wave. A variety of views have been expressed on how to define and approach pornography and the debate has evolved towards the wider issues that have led Walter to her re-think.

My own view with regard to the magazines Natasha Walter talks about is that marginalizing their content will not treat the root of the thinking behind them. I’d suggest she is being unrealistic when she says their editors might wonder how they got to “peddle such trash” or that readers will “look around for another point of view” if stores put these magazines on their top shelves. All this action will do is make Nuts and Zoo look rebellious and edgy and ultimately more appealing to anyone with a sexist agenda and an axe to grind.

She suggests that the one-dimensional representation of women in these magazines means that those of us who previously “didn’t want to get bogged down in debating the effects of pornography” should perhaps now be changing our strategy and rallying against it. On the contrary, I would say it simply highlights the banality of mainstream depictions of female sexuality in comparison to what is actually categorized as pornography.

These pictures simulate porn, whilst at the same time separating themselves from it by merely being “saucy” rather than “nasty” (explicit?) and it is disappointing to see Natasha Walter perpetuating this divide. I would say Nuts and Zoo actually belong at the extremely bland and limited end of porn (not to mention men’s magazines in general) so why is Natasha Walter judging them as a lesser evil? There are actually a wider range of people and preferences represented in the hardcore sex industry than there are in silly publications like Nuts and Zoo, so addressing the undoutedly “aggressively reductive” view of women in the latter by rethinking one’s views on all pornography (and the possibilities it holds) seems like a big mistake to me.

It’s not that those of us who disagree are being “insouciant” or that we don’t want to get “bogged down” in debating pornography. It’s simply that some of us believe pushing the debate in this direction is potentially damaging to our feminist goals. Natasha Walter does not mention outright censorship and I hope that any anti-pornography strategies she’d propose do not involve it. I would say paternalistic protection is not the answer and I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel Jarvie’s suggestion that encouraging debate about the possible sociological significance of the recent trends seen in Nuts and Zoo is the real way forward.

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