“Beyond Speech: Pornography and Analytic Feminist Philosophy”

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Many people shy away from topics that are outside of social norms, but when these topics are intertwined with dehumanization, they darken in silence. Pornography is not easy to discuss openly on account of it being so raw and embarrassing, but few topics are of greater importance than this to Mikkola. As a feminist philosopher, she has spent years advocating for the protection of human life while also developing her feminist philosophy. In her book, Beyond Speech: Pornography and Analytic Feminist Philosophy, she explores how pornography perpetuates the dehumanization of women. I am going to explore key areas of her book while also incorporating other expert opinions on how pornography is affecting society.

The concept of dehumanization is how Mikkola typically dissects the immorality of any given situation. Since we will be using her book a lot within this paper, I think we should first define the term. Mikkola defines dehumanization as an “indefensible setback to some of our legitimate human interests, where this setback constitutes a moral injury” (Gillespie). This definition, by my understanding, can be simplified as any unjust act/treatment that inflicts physical/emotional stress or reduces their wellbeing in some manner.

Examples of dehumanizing acts would be the discrimination, rape, or financially crippling a person. We can see how these acts are dehumanizing; however, pornography doesn’t seem to fit this description. For something to be dehumanizing, doesn’t there have to be a human victim involved? It seems as if pornography is a victimless crime if we consider that there were no real women harmed in the making of the film. Many people believe what men do in privacy relieves them of the sexual desires that may dehumanize women.

According to Melinda Vadas, one of the philosophers cited within Mikkola’s book, porn does not satisfy the sexual desires a person has and only accomplishes in heightening that need for satisfaction. She then takes this concept a step further by making a causal connection between the interchangeability of pornography as a sexual object and the use of women as a sexual object (Vadas 180-181, 189). This causal relation is refuted by many philosophers because of how it stipulates that men personify pornography. Lina Papadaki, one of the authors within Mikkola’s book, offers a different causal relation to explain how pornography influences women. Pornography promotes the objectification of women through the knowledge that the user gains from watching it.

Women then conform to the ill beliefs that society has on them making a constant cycle of objectification (Mikkola 154). This causal relationship pinpoints how pornography can be dehumanizing to women because it identifies a cycle of unjust oppression. In Mikkola’s book, there is an essay by Mary McGowan that expresses her concerns about how pornography can cause “silencing.” According to the book, “silencing” is “to interfere with communicative capabilities” (Mikkola 39). Since consent is severely hinged upon the communication between individuals, we can see why this would be alarming.

Before I continue explaining more about silencing and its various types and implications, I recall McGowan making a statement in the protection of women and of her work because of how she talks about miscommunication and consent. I find it important to mention that she is not suggesting that these explanations are a more likely reason of why guys don’t pay attention to a woman’s refusal. I agree with her that there are more common and far more depressing reasons. Silencing can be caused by pornography because of how pornography can affect social norms.

For example, a guy watches reluctant females in porn and develops this notion that women are verbally reluctant to have sex but consent through body language. When this guy is finally alone with a girl, he may dismiss her verbal refusal. The guy in this example is supposed to show how he does not recognize her attempted refusal because of his false beliefs. This is a dark example that requires a very specific context, but it is meant to show how pornography could interfere with communication and dehumanize women.

A separate example involves how men view women as merely sexual objects because of pornography. This guy believes that women can be treated a property, recognizes her refusal and then dismisses the notion that women have authority over their body. This example, by McGowan, is meant to show how pornography can cause a person to recognize and dismiss someone’s refusal (Mikkola). It is hard for me to understand how pornography could cause this though. This example, for me, is too egregious to conceptually understand how it could be caused by pornography, but I think the omission of it because of its severity would be missing the point of my paper. This example challenges my opinion and the opinions of other philosophers about whether pornography can really be a cause of dehumanization.

When pornography fetishizes the hierarchical relationship between men and women, does this cause or constitute silencing? For pornography to “constitute” silencing, it must enact a norm that causes silencing. This distinction between the two is very slight but has meaningful implications on how pornography affects society. For pornography to constitute silencing, there must be some policy or an adherence to an authoritative figure that causes the silencing. I think a non-pornographic example could be how discrimination flourishes in the entertainment industry.

There is a bro-culture there that objectifies women because of how higher up executives express their sexism. Because our scope is so narrow, a hierarchical chain in the entertainment industry can be more easily identifiable. Pornography, however, is more complex because of how pervasive it is within society. There is no institution or authority on pornography, so many philosophers may jump to deny that pornography constitutes silencing. The lack of a clear authoritative figurehead doesn’t seem as important to me since I still hold onto the concept that this hierarchical chain loosely exists. McGowan later defends this notion of a non-authoritative understanding. She explains how this chain can be explained through the understanding of generalization (Mikkola 54).

When an event is perpetuated through any means, humans generalize the information for the future. When it comes to public figures, we have no lack in examples of how women are objectified. Pornography teaches men and women that the value of a women lies in her looks. This norm is carried through pornography and then expanded throughout society (Mikkola 55). Pornography, as we have discussed so far, has been focused on the dehumanization of women; however, is there any porn that is not dehumanizing in general?

The concept of egalitarian porn is explored towards the end of Mikkola’s book by Petra Van Brabandt. She remains skeptical of in/egalitarian porn, but she doesn’t view feminism and pornography as incompatible. To her, it’s a much more complex topic than a dividing line. There isn’t anything wrong with domination and submission by themselves. The problem rests with how society has taken these ideas and forced them onto women. Even feminist philosophy, according to Brabant, misses the mark on defining pornography in a way that creates a neutral lighting to it. Feminist philosophy has been withheld by the interchangeability between what refer to as pornography or inegalitarian pornography.

Brabandt brings up an excellent point here, “but which images represent women as not just sexual object but dehumanized sexual objects?” There isn’t enough work yet to help distinguish what makes a pornographic scene not dehumanizing considering the porn in which we condemn for objectifying women. If we are ever to move beyond dehumanization, we need a foundation to build on that isn’t the one we consider patriarchal and dehumanizing (Mikkola 225).

Pornography isn’t something that I believe should be outright condemned considering all I have learned. We have a system that continually perpetuates dehumanization of women, but that system reflects what problems face us as a society. Mari Mikkola’s book, Beyond Speech: Pornography and Analytic Feminist Philosophy, gives a breadth of knowledge on the subject, but it illuminates the work ahead still needed to make the progression we hope to see. More needs to be done to acknowledge the inequality of women and the dehumanization they experience. There needs to be more discussion on how we can critically assess pornography in the hopes of dampening the dehumanization of women. Most importantly though, we must keep in mind of how we as human beings, men especially, contribute to the objectification of women.

Cite this paper

“Beyond Speech: Pornography and Analytic Feminist Philosophy”. (2022, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/beyond-speech-pornography-and-analytic-feminist-philosophy/

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