Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire anytime it wanted to go somewhere. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by oneand take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.
Marilyn Frye, Oppression
It is safe to assume that every man and woman in America has seen some sort of pornography, whether it is a Calvin Klein billboard, or the latest issue of Playboy. The two may seem unrelated, but the link is that they both objectify women. People who view this material transform the human in the picture into an object of desire, an object that they wish to possess. As with everything, there are opponents to this sort of pornography, one of which is the feminist movement. A key player in this movement is Gloria Steinem, who has founded several women’s foundations and written two books about women’s rights. As a feminist, one of the things Steinem believes is that women are in a social position underneath men, and that there are several factors that contribute to this position, one of which is pornography.
In Gloria Steinem’s essay ‘Erotica vs. Pornography’, pornography is seen as objectifying women, and in doing so continues to keep them in a position of sublimation. She tries to prove that eradicating pornography would eliminate social injustices against women. Steinem first talks about the separation of all nonprocreative sex with pornography (153). She believes that just as work has been separated from play, sex should be separated from pornography. She goes on to assert that the opposition to censoring pornography comes from friends of civil liberties and progress (154). These people, she says, oppose censorship because it invades their privacy, despite the fact that it objectifies women. She believes, however, that pornography itself infringes on women’s privacy because it infringes on the rights and lives of women everywhere. She next counters the idea that simply enjoying pornography makes it okay. Steinem believes that pornography makes sex synonymous with domination of women, and is therefore an enemy of women’s rights in the long run. She concludes by summarizing the legal steps taken by feminists to protest pornography-all they have proposed, she says, is enforcement of existing legal law. However, despite what Steinem’s paper says, eradicating pornography would do nothing to provide more equality for women.
The first point Steinem fails to address is that there are other barriers to women becoming equal to men. Gender roles, gender stereotypes, and also the natural inferiority of women all contribute to their inequality. All of these barriers, including pornography, contribute to women’s inequality, and eradicating just one of them would achieve next to nothing.
Take, for instance, gender roles in society. For hundreds of years, a woman’s role in society has been to run the household for the man, while he provides for the family. He makes all the major decisions, while she simply carries out his orders. Even today, in a society that has made major steps towards women’s equality, these gender roles still exist. The majority of at-home parents are mothers; most men are still the breadwinners of the family, and some still expect their wife to make them dinner every night. Women still have jobs that are ‘women’s jobs’, such as teaching or secretarial work. Men also have jobs that are ‘man’s jobs’, such as construction or hard labor, police work, or executive positions. If pornography was eliminated, women would still have to face up to these roles; only one wire from the cage has been removed, and the rest are still there.
Another thing women have to fight are the stereotypes that still exist. Women are supposedly weak individuals, who function best in a position where not many major decisions are to be made. It is not often that a woman is in an executive position of a corporation. Even if one were, she would have had to overcome some major struggles to get there. On every step of the corporate ladder, men would be wondering if she was strong enough to withstand the ‘perils’ of being an executive; would she be able to endure other executives’ pressure as well as a male could? It would be logical to assume that men would be trying to take advantage of her all the time, since she is ‘just a woman’.
Perhaps the hardest thing for women to overcome is the natural inferiority they have built into them. For ages, men have been using Darwinian philosophy to prove that women are inferior: they are not as physically strong, they are more emotionally ‘sensitive’, and they were considered less knowledgeable.
It is a known and accepted fact that the average woman is physically weaker than the average male. This is why men are forced to do a lot of ‘grunt work’, such as opening doors and lifting heavy boxes, which contributes the idea that women are unable to cope with everyday life. When a man does those sorts of things for a woman, she is portrayed as ‘dainty’ and ‘fragile’, and therefore as the weaker sex.
Women are always thought of as more emotional than men. Throughout history, women were always portrayed as ones who cry a lot, who are unable to withstand pain. Today, men who cry are still outside the norm, and it is a common sight to see women crying at sad movies, while the men sit uncomfortably in their seats.
Even though most women have a college education these days, they are still thought of as less knowledgeable in certain ways. A typical situation the home might play out like this: a woman notices a door is squeaking, so she lubricates the hinge, and everything is fine. Her husband comes home, hears she fixed a squeaky hinge, and immediately goes to check on her work to make sure everything was done right. Even though she only performed a relatively simple task, the husband still checks it, as if he is surprised she even undertook this chore. This is a sign of some evolution, for the women have been historically less aggressive (more ‘gatherer-ish’) and men are more aggressive (more ‘hunter-ish’). Still, there are some residual effects: the man being unsure of the woman’s work is one. He is unsure of her prowess as a ‘hunter’, and so he double-checks to make sure she did it right.
The fact of the matter is that women are naturally inferior, according to today’s standards. Nature made them the way they are (weaker, emotionally sensitive, a gatherer rather than a hunter), and society has dubbed them inferior. Even if, in a fantasy world, they were no longer objectified, they would still have to cope with their natural differences.
Consider the birdcage again. Take out one of the wires-is it any easier for the bird to escape? The same goes for the oppression of women: even if pornography is eliminated, the rest of the barriers still exist, and it is just as hard for women to proceed around them. Gloria Steinem does have a valid point: women are objectified by pornography. However, pornography is not really hurting women all that much; it is, after all, only one wire.
Ethics and Morals