The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 1st

Generalizations about sexual imagery don't clear things up

When Playboy's "Girls of the ACC" issue came out this year, people approached me about it constantly. They wanted to know why, as a feminist, I wasn't up in arms about it or, at the very least, making some kind of an issue out of it. And I'll be completely honest with you: I ducked the subject.

I didn't avoid it because I didn't care. I avoided it because I wasn't sure where I stood. I think that my feelings are on par with those of a lot of women my age, and perhaps with those of most women in general.

Pornography, or what constitutes pornography, raises some interesting questions. Where do we draw the line between what is outright degradation and what is erotica? Where do we draw the line in terms of outrageous agendas for political correctness and morality versus the protection of personal liberty and free speech?

Here we have a truly double-edged sword. On one hand, magazines or other media that depict women nude or in sexually explicit situations can be seen as means of empowerment - forums in which women own their sexuality and display themselves without shame.

In fact, we can argue this on behalf of women's liberation. Women are allowed and are allowing themselves to be open about sexuality, whereas we frown upon less progressive areas where women are made to cover up, to remain chaste, to be ashamed of their bodies and to be wary of sex in general.

But these depictions can also represent the imprisonment of women by patriarchal society. The women involved are seen as striving for male attention under false pretenses. Men create these media for a male audience, and women are pawns in the game. They play into the unrealistic standards and expectations that a male-dominated world has created.

Women are not empowering themselves - in fact, they are being subjected because they are only being seen as sexual objects.

Let's face it: Both these arguments are valid.

My feeling is that the discrepancy lies in the situation. Can the latest Playboy centerfold be viewed in the same light as a porn star or as the girl in a 50-cent peep show? Maybe. The argument is there, but it's based on your standards.

To be perfectly honest, I have a hard time thinking of Playboy as pornography - but I wouldn't touch Hustler. Does that make me a hypocrite? I'm not sure.

We live in a time and place where sex is mainstream. But the question of pornography exists on a slippery slope - because by nature, it is constantly pushing boundaries, and the limits keep expanding.

It takes very little to go from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to Playboy to Hustler to Barely Legal and beyond. It's the incrementalism that makes me nervous.

Pornography today is a massive spectrum. Are there media out there that can be considered pro-women and that women take an equal part in and enjoy? Absolutely.

Are there also examples of violent, aggressive, degrading, anti-female smut? Again, yes.

I don't think that the problem is inherent in separating the two, but rather looking at things in a completely different light altogether.

Sex is a normal, healthy part of life. What makes me uncomfortable is anything that strays from these sentiments.

I think that images become a problem when they become something bigger in and of themselves. Sex is no longer about pleasure but about power. It can be argued that any sexually explicit images perpetuate this - but I feel that, on some level, there has to be a distinction.

Can we come to an agreement on what constitutes as acceptable and what's seen as perverse? Probably not. But can we agree that the dichotomy exists? Is it possible to overlook one and to concentrate on the other?

The question of porn being pro-women or anti-women is largely one of personal preference. What I see as offensive and what you see as offensive is probably not the same thing.

But just because you can't be consistent doesn't mean you can't be correct. I have a problem with degrading depictions of women, but I also have a problem with sweeping generalizations.

Just because I'm not completely sure where I stand doesn't mean that I don't have standards - and this gives me confidence that other women will speak their minds and stand up for what they believe in, too.

Contact Emily Batchelder


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