Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pornography and Jenna Jameson; Can Either be Feminism?

Pornography is hot—well, that’s debatable but the topic of Pornography has been a hot political issue for the feminist community and everyone else for that matter. The pornography debate has even caused a distinctive split within the feminist community. World-renowned stripper, producer, business-mogul, and most of all porn star Jenna Jameson has been dubbed the “Queen of Porn.” Jenna Jameson has been scrutinized by academic, political, and most prominently, feminist scholars. As many feminists say that sexual liberation and women’s equality go hand-in-hand, the other side claims that sexual violence, objectification, and harassment coincide with the rise of the pornography industry. Though Jameson has said that the liberation of her sexuality to control men has been empowering, many argue against the porn industries’ “pro-feministic” claims by pointing out the objectification and mutilation that women in the industry face. In her autobiography, “How to Make Love like a Porn Star”, she does not deny that the industry is cruel to women but separates herself like all women in the work force to demand what she wants and above all, respect. Jameson’s life, though tumultuous, is an example of how the exploitation of women is in the eye of the beholder, that the double-bind is still something she does not buy into, and that ultimately this is a religious war masked in politics.

In her E! True Hollywood Story, Jenna says she is constantly approached by women saying that “…she should be ashamed” at what she is allowing to happen to her and, as a result, America. Political hothead Bill O’Reilly has even done as far as to call her a modern-day “Quasi Prostitute” on his show The O’Reilly Factor. Her response is always the same, she even reminisces about her first strip job at the Crazy Horse Too in Las Vegas, as “empowering.” In an E! interview with her brother, John Massoli, he questions who really is the target of exploitation as Jenna “would use her intelligence and her boobs to clean out men’s wallets.” Author of The Case Against Pornography, Donald E, Wildmon writes “…nearly all pornography is created by males for a primarily male audience…”(Wildmon 45). Though it’s obvious that men do hold the largest target audience of pornography, recent statistics taken by, show that seventy percent of women keep their pornography a secret and that one in three visitors of porn sites are women. Even Jameson proves an anomaly as Club Jenna and Vivid Videos, her own production company, is run by women and controlled, in all aspects, by her. In her E! Story, Jameson goes on to talk about how ironic it is that in a capitalist society where money means power, people overlook her success in the business “…I have a 401K, I’m invested in several mutual funds,” she states. Although no one can deny that pornography caters directly more to men, Jameson along with recent statistics taken, show that this perhaps this very 3rd wave view on women’s empowerment through sexuality may be catching on.

Of course it would be unrealistic to say Jameson has not suffered from the same double-bind that “normal” women have been for centuries. A double bind according to Marilyn Frye’s piece titled “ Oppression,” is a connection to real oppression; where any choice or lifestyles that a woman chooses produces negative results, especially when it comes to their sex lives (Frye 2). It is no coincidence that women are hardly praised or labeled in a positive light for being a “player” like men are and we hardly hear porn actors being bashed for their sexuality. It is hard to understand that what Jameson does to pay her rent is simply a “business” transaction to her. In her interview with Bill O’Reilly, Reilly even spins his questions to align Jameson’s career with that of a prostitute. When attacked by O’Reilly, Jameson replies that the difference between her and a prostitute is that she caters to the viewer; she doesn’t have sex with them. Many assume that because Jameson lives such a sexual life on-screen for a living that this must transcend into her personal life thus many label her as a “slut” or a “whore.” In her E! interview, Jameson expresses the personal detachment from the characters she portrays in her films. She defends herself by saying when she is in “ a committed relationship, (she is) completely devoted and monogamous and (does not) want to have sex with any other man.” Just as society reduces a “sexually free” woman’s identity with who she sleeps with, Jameson has been reduced to others by only her on-screen persona. Precisely because Jameson does not buy into societal views on a sexually liberated woman, she is condemned for her lifestyle.

In her book Defending Pornography, Nadine Strossen says that the “war on sexual expression is, at bottom, a war on sex itself…any expression about sex is now seen as especially dangerous…” Strossen’s argument is that society’s wariness about sex is shown as violence is highly accepted in comparism “…a man fondles a woman’s breast and it is Rated R, a man cuts off a limb with a chainsaw, it’s PG-13” (Strossen 21). Jameson’s sexual suppression is evident in that the Oxford Union’s website, a group at Oxford University where Jameson won a prestigious debate for Pornography, does not showcase Jenna Jameson’s name anywhere in the past history or famous debaters on their website. Even when typed into a search engine, several fan sites and news sites claim Jenna’s victory but the most credible source, the Oxford Union’s website, does not. Strossen also sheds light on the contradiction that feminists who are anti-pornography are reluctant to admit. She says that “women’s sexual suppression coincides with women’s equality” (Strossen 30). Though women all over the world are constantly fighting to change the double bind, we also continue to chip away and try to censor extreme showcasing of sexual liberality.

Her recently released autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, has since, only complicated the debate about whether pornography detriments or frees women of sexual binds. Surprisingly candid, Jameson recounts her life as a crash dieting, drug-abusing little girl who wanted nothing more than to control her life around her. To say that she was suffered through adversity as a woman in the industry would be an understatement. One theme evident throughout her book is that she defines her life in stages with men who were extremely bad for her until she enters a relationship with fellow stripper Nikki Tylor. Reminiscent of the Radicalesbians, who claim that a heterosexual relationship can never be equitable for the woman, Jameson is bewildered at how different a relationship with a woman is and even to this day claims herself as a bi-sexual. The book not only shows her dependency on men and substance, but how she fought her way to abstain from both in order to actualize her career aspirations. As the “Queen of Porn,” Jameson is truly an independent woman. Near the end of her book, Jameson expresses her deep desire to become a mother and as Bill O’Reilly questions what she thinks about young women who view her as a role model, she has never claimed to be a “role model” and that, in this day and age, she holds that sort of responsibility to the parents and how well they watch over the content that they are exposed to. Many other scholars on her E! True Hollywood Story questions Jameson’s decision to retire from the porn industry once she has children. One woman, questions whether or not Jameson is really proud of what she has done in her life and if she truly was, doesn’t her retirement from the porn industry simply mean that she is, in fact, “ashamed?” It may be hard to comprehend the choices that Jameson makes but what is most fascinating is the media’s inability to leave it alone. Jameson has stated that she isn’t ashamed but she does not want to make “growing up, hard…” for her child but America seems unable to get away from separating sexually divergent people from other aspects of their personal lives.

In the last segment of her E! Interview, an unlikely subject is brought to attention; will Jenna Jameson go to heaven or hell? This is intentional. Several of her friends and co-workers vouch for Jameson as heaven-bound because she has a “big heart” and is “a good person.” The camera then pans to an elderly man who is asked whether Jenna Jameson will go to heaven or hell, he strongly replies “…Jenna Jameson is an evil person—she has refused to understand, what our civilization is built upon—built upon a premise that we are all God’s creatures.” The interesting thing is that this show was aired in 2003, amidst all the political banter about keeping religion and state separate, America continues to backtrack to the fact that America was founded on Christian ideals though it is an outdated and unpopular argument. At the heart of the pornography debate, is a debate about religion. It is the old versus the new standards of sexual expression and what it means to be a “real woman” or, in the end, a “good person”. In her defense, Jameson’s says, “There are people out there that feel what I’m doing is morally wrong and the way I look at it is, what is most important, is that I am happy and it’s something I have chosen to do, it’s not something that I push on anyone else. So, for them to impose their beliefs on me is ridiculous.”

If there is one theme that is hardest to understand about feminism, it is the concept of choice. Feminism, in large part, is about choosing what niche of the world we want to inhabit whether it is against or with what society, traditions, or customs deems “normal.” Most people will not want to argue that pornography has more merits than negative effects on society, but feminism has always been about identity through objective choices. In Pornography, by Alan Soble, Soble takes on a literal defense of pornography by quoting Andrea Dworkin’s piece entitled Woman Hating. She says pornography “ has made positive contributions. Sucking is approached in a good way. Sucking cock, sucking cunt, how to, how good. Sperm tastes good, so does cunt. In particular, the emphasis on sucking cunt serves to demystify cunt in a spectacular way—cunt is not dirty, not terrifying, not smelly and foul; it is a source of pleasure, a beautiful part of female physiology, to be seen, touched, tasted” (Soble 151).
Jameson may not be a role model for young women and certainly does not claim to be but to attack personal choices that women make for themselves is not what feminism has claimed to be. In the end, it is a religious war but more importantly what can be learned from Jameson, is that people cannot be reduced into one aspect of their being. Just as we don’t identify who we are solely by our ethnicity, or job, Jameson as a person, and a woman cannot be reduced to just her sexual life.

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