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Getting Off: Pornography and the End of…

Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (2007)

by Robert Jensen

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1595122,397 (3.82)3
In our culture, porn makes the man. So argues Robert Jensen in Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Jensen's treatise begins with a simple demand: Be a man. It ends with a defiant response: I chose to struggle to be a human being. The journey from masculinity to humanity is found in the candid and intelligent exploration of porn's devastating role in defining masculinity. Getting Off seamlessly blends personal anecdotes from Jensen's years as a feminist anti-pornography activist with scholarly research. In his trademark conversational style, he shows how mainstream pornography reinforces social definitions of manhood and influences men's attitudes about women and how to treat them. Pornography is a thriving multi-billion-dollar industry; it drives the direction of emerging media technology. Pornography also makes for complicated politics. These days, anti-porn arguments are assumed to be anti-sex and thus a critical debate is silenced. This book breaks that silence. Alarming and thought-provoking, Getting Off asks tough, but crucial, questions about pornography, sex, manhood, and the way toward genuine social justice. Robert Jensen is an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity.… (more)



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he is spot on. his analysis is just great, and he approaches it with a personal honesty that is really refreshing. and that i think probably is a good way to bring in people that might not be so on board with his arguments. this is really worth a read. there were about 2 pages where he may have crossed the line - he certainly toed it, if nothing else - of making a moral argument against casual sex, which i wish he hadn't, or at least had done differently. other than that, such an important read, whether or not you're already against pornography and patriarchy.

"In a society in which so many men are watching so much pornography, this is why we can't bear to see it for what it is: Pornography forces women to face up to how men see them. And pornography forces men to face up to what we have become."

"The predictable result of this state of affairs is a world in which violence, sexualized violence, sexual violence, and violence-by-sex is so common that it must be considered to be normal - that is, an expression of the sexual norms of the culture, not violations of the norms."

"We can all see how men hate women and children by a simple observation: No society would let happen what happens to women and children in this culture if at some level it did not have contempt for them. We allow women and children to be raped at a rate that can lead to no other conclusion except that we place a lesser value on their lives." ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Apr 2, 2013 |
Jensen has written a wonderful 1970's-style second-wave feminist tract . . . in 2007. One might think some type of grappling with third-wave feminism (and I have to add my standard disclaimer whenever I use the wave metaphor that feminist theorizing and activism is a constant process that can't really be cut up into discreet waves as if nothing happened in between them) might be called for. Indeed, the back of the book even manages to promise something of the sort (and the same text appears on the Amazon page) when it notes that "Anti-pornography arguments are frequently dismissed as patently 'anti-sex'--and ultimately 'anti-feminist'." As someone who argues the anti-porn-->anti-sex-->anti-woman position, this intrigues me. But I don't think he's really interested in arguing with me, or any other feminist. (The things he doesn't seem to be interested in arguing about are legion, probably.) That's okay; the people who write book copy frequently miss the point. (Just look at the back of Heinlein's Time Enough for Love.) At the end of the day, people on both sides of that discussion can be united at being against bad porn.

But who in his (since I think we're assuming it'd be a he) right mind would be for bad porn? Okay, I'm probably being naive, but I find it hard to believe than any of those people are going to actually bother to read Jensen's book. So what's the point?

Part of the disconnect might be that Jensen and I simply different understandings of the relationship between theory and activism, and how (and even if) apologetics should be done. For Jensen, all the side roads of definitions and such are distractions from his main project of showing men the damage of pornography. But my mind doesn't work that way. I could engage in a theoretical debate with another femnist, for example exposing heteronormative assumptions in their work, because I know there's a set of shared assumptions. But to argue against Jensen's quintessential porn user? For me, that would require showing all one's work, not less of it. I know I'm not up to the task. (I've been wanting to make a post in my journal for years at this point on the "anti-sex is anti-woman" thing. There are objections I don't know how to answer.) The most I could possibly do right now (and probably ever) is try to sketch out my worldview with the hope that an interlocutor could at least understand if not adopt it: "this is what I believe, and why I believe it" but not "this is why you should believe this."

But at the end of the day, Jensen's book is only secondarily about porn or the porn industry. First and foremost, it's about masculinity, and I think recognizing that explains why he doesn't address some of the things he doesn't. If the fundamental question he is answering is, "How can a heterosexual man in a patriarchal culture mediate his sexual desires, experiences, and understandings through text and/or images?" then--well, I still don't think he's done a very good job of presenting a coherent vision, but he has at least put forth some do's and don't's, even if they're ones that might seem obvious to you or me.

I've seen a lot I like, too. His insistence that what is needed is an abolition of masculinity, and not just redefine it (144-145). (I'm not sure whether he thinks an end of masculinity would usher in an end to maleness, or not.) That men must join women in women-led causes as their primary mode of activism (147). And so forth.

I do think it's possible to step outside my maleness without stepping outside my heterosexuality--a project that, yes, I think would end up looking a lot like Jensen's. Indeed, it almost seems to me that any reconstruction of masculinity which starts on Dworkinist premises is going to end up in this trap, which is ironic because of course Dworkin was a lesbian, and her partner (and eventual husband) John Stoltenberg, who is someone I have read and is the main person I'm thinking of here other than Jensen, was a gay man. (And I see that Jensen's not a Kinsey zero either.) I'm not quite sure why I should even feel this should be so. Is it that they are just so deeply seeped in a 1970's second-wave aesthetic? Is it a result of positioning this reconceptualization as a primarily feminist move--which is to say making the moral criterion an essentially gynocentric one? Or is it even that any constructive project is by its nature opposed to the very project of critical, and thus queer, theory?

Now, as noted above, Jensen discusses the move to abolish masculinity versus the move to redefine it, arguing for, as would I, the former. This puts forward a possibility: any attempt to reconstruct masculinity is essentially an attempt to keep it intact, to re-inscribe separate gender roles, and since all sexism is ultimately heterosexist (and vice versa), this is heteronormative. I don't think this is the whole story, though--especially since the premise of my original question assumed the project was being (or at least, could be) heteronormative while still being feminist (which would presumably be to say, not sexist). It does raise the question, though: the two male feminists I know of who think that masculinity is something worthy of being discussed (instead of simply stipulating it as undesirable and then getting on with the feminist projects of radical critique and liberal activism) are both Dworkinists. Is this significant?

Similarly I think it is possible to step outside of one's heterosexuality without examining one's maleness. But these are probably unstable positions, and once one is used to the theoretical move of examining one's privilege, it does get easier with time.

One of the fundamental issues is whether (sexual) desire is, and/or has to be, transitive, with desirers and desireds--whether desire implies objectification--or whether an intransitive form can be hypothesized; if the former, then objectification would need to be in some way reclaimed and revalued, as giving up desire doesn't seem a viable option. I think the question needs to be asked whether specific instances of sexual objectification can be broken off from its support of gendered patterns of oppression. That at least some such instances can be such seems clear--it can be used to satirize, to deconstruct, or expose those patterns, for example. But writ large? Objectification would need to be something that people do to each other--like kiss or make love--but which (like kissing and making love) they don't do all the time, something which can be turned off instead of being embedded in a persistent gaze of one gender towards the other. ( )
3 vote cjbanning | Jan 27, 2011 |
Despite its best intentions this is not what the critique of pornography needs. Much of Jensen’s book excavates the outmoded tropes of second wave feminism, from his style - which at times resembles tabloid emotional blackmail - to his wholly unconvincing rehash of the Dworkinist assertion of man as rape incarnate. There is little in the way of analysis that goes beyond personal anecdotes and descriptions of the content of hardcore films, which always end with a variation on the imperative to put yourself in the picture - imagine she was your daughter, or how would you feel in the same situation, etc. His critique is lacking in the wide ranging analysis of consumer culture which he admits pornography is situated within, and yet he instead focuses on a man-negating hysteria which resorts to quasi-religious rhetoric to escape its dead end.

In the first few chapters Jensen - like Ariel Levy in her recent Raunch Culture book - emphasises the links between the porn industry and consumer capitalism in general, and highlights the need for the questions addressed to pornography to also be addressed to society as a whole, yet at the end point he resorts to a discussion of "sex as an unfathomable mystery to honour", and a bizarre description of "people touching with light". There is none of the cutting psychoanalytic or sociological analysis that would open doors to a genuinely far reaching critique of porn and gender roles. The book suffers from an emphasis on personal "journey" material and anecdotal evidence, from which the conclusions drawn are difficult to describe as anything other than self-hating, and at time quite laughable. It is at its heart a particularist work that predicates itself on a negative essentialist view of sexuality. This manifests itself most frequently in the text as an exclusion of radical emancipatory feminism in favour of new-age sounding obscurantism.
It is extremely difficult to take this as a serious work and does little but highlight the dead ends that resulted from the second wave feminist critique of pornography in the 1980s. This area of research deserves a lot more than Jensen is capable of delivering. ( )
  xaventaner | Nov 6, 2009 |
This book presents the effects of pornography on the human psyche & reveals aspects of the porn industry that are not always evident. I found it to be a very eye-opening, informative read. However, I felt the book was weak when it came to statistical data. There was insufficient amount of statistical data to back up Mr. Jensen's claims. Although anectdotal evidence is powerful in it's own right, I felt that the book would have benefited by including more solid data. Overall, I do recommend this book strongly to everyone for a better understanding of the psychological aspects of pornography and it's effects on relationships. ( )
1 vote obscuresoul13 | Jun 12, 2009 |
Pornography is a thriving multi-billion-dollar industry; it drives the direction of emerging media technology. Pornography also makes for complicated politics. These days, anti-porn arguments are assumed to be ‘anti-sex’ and thus a critical debate is silenced. This book breaks that silence. Alarming and thought-provoking, Getting Off asks tough, but crucial, questions about pornography, sex, manhood, and the way toward genuine social justice. Jensen urges men to be better human beings, and for them to imagine a masculinity that isn’t rooted in domination over women as a source of sexual gratification. Jensen argues that men need to move beyond social norms of masculinity to “open up the possibility of finding something deeper, richer, and more satisfying.” It is a book that gets to the root of how dominant cultures function and thrive through the normalisation of sexual violence. ( )
3 vote dvrcvlibrary | Feb 1, 2009 |
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Beatrice: What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.

Houdini: It has. Now I'm going after it—all pieces.

—Muriel Rukeyser
Houdini: A Musical
This book is dedicated to the memories of Andrea Dworkin and Sally Koplin.
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