On the grotesque portrayal of women in films

Over on ScienceBlogs, a kerfuffle has been brewing this week, starting apparently with a male blogger delving into some old literature on the psychological effects of pornography and what it says about male aggression and violence towards women. Not surprisingly, the dude got into hot water with fellow female science bloggers and feminists because the studies in question, and his original post, asked the wrong question: what are the effects of watching pornography on how aggressively / violently men may subsequently act towards other women?

But what about the violence already perpetrated against the first set of women, the ones already brutalized in the course of the making of the pornography
Apparently, says the dude (in a revised blog post), the two questions are separate, kinda like asking if drilling for oil in the deep ocean is bad in the first place vs. asking what are the effects of oil drilling when it inevitably fucks things up! Really?! As scientists, it seems, we should be interested in the potential effects of viewing porn on aggressive behaviors by men towards other women – but what about the actual violence that has already been perpetrated against the women in said porn? Which of the two questions should really concern us most as human beings and scientists? Why must science limit itself to the superficial male-centric question about effects, but not get to the root causes about violence against women? To put it back in terms of the oil spill metaphor du jour: is it enough if we ecologists merely focus on the after effects of the BP spill and clean up, but never challenge the whole notion of drilling in such dangerous ways for a substance we really shouldn’t be dependent upon in the first place? Why not work towards finding a good answer to that deeper question so that the more superficial one never has to be asked at all?

All this brings to mind some thought-provoking discussion about what pornography does to women, men, and healthy relationships between the two, which took place when Robert Jensen visited us at Fresno State last year. Rather than pontificate from my own limited expertise in these matters, let me to refer you to Jensen’s excellent book “Getting Off: Pornography and the end of masculinity” based on his own research and experience as a participant in the feminist struggle against pornography. I was surprised to find no reference to Jensen’s work on ScienceBlogs – and daresay that the male scientists/bloggers in particular should at least give him a read before shooting their mouths off. 
Allow me, then, to pull you in a different direction, and ask about the violence against women in mainstream (supposedly non-pornographic) cinema (or what passes for it in your nearest multiplex these days of summer). Especially cinema that is supposed to be about liberated women enjoying the fruits of the feminist movements of the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve been really troubled for some weeks by the egregious depiction of women in that supposedly post-feminist female centered mainstream movie, Sex in the City 2 – even the trailers made me gag, and I hoped, dearly, that women would turn against it en masse. Alas, enough viewers (women, mostly?) turned up to watch it worldwide to put it among the top 3 films when it opened. Mercifully, most film critics tore the movie to shreds – and sharply and entertainingly enough to the point I thought the reviews alone were worth the movie having been made! 
In particular, I want to share this incisive non-rant from my current favorite film critic Dr. Mark Kermode over on BBC:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHeQeHstrsc?wmode=transparent]
Lest you dismiss this as another (un)rant by another man, here’s the review by Lindy West that Kermode points out as being unreadable-on-air.
So, tell me, whatever happened to feminism? Why are we stuck between so much pornography on the one hand, and such ghastly fare in the mainstream “chick-flick” genre on the other?

Aren’t these enough to make you join Dr. Kermode in his rallying cry for another revolution?

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