Pornography vis-a-vis Female Ordination

I’m slightly annoyed by people who are against pornography because of its offense to women, but also think female ordination is out of the question.

Specifically, on LDS forums, Mormon men sometimes rant about not watching pornography in respect of their wife who takes care of “the home.” In my home, both of us are male, and we both consume pornography from time to time. I’m not against people being against their partner consuming pornography, but I often wonder how frequently the pornography issue gets blamed for other actual “evils.” For example, if pornography gets in the way of me and my partner’s relationship, when we actually sit down and talk about it, we pretty much agree that sexually we’re okay and want to give the other person freedom to explore fantasy, so the conversation often quickly redirects to the real non-fantastical problems: whether housework is not being divided equally, or if there’s some shared financial burden. In LDS relationships, the pornography basically disrupts the roles of “man does this,” “woman does this,” where the man isn’t respecting the woman’s “womanhood.”

Outside the Church, there are plenty of women consumers of the erotic industry — think of today’s romance novels or all the women who consume gay male pornography. I can’t help but think that the Mormon abhorrence for pornography is wrapped up in the Mormon maintenance of patriarchy, a culture in which men are thought to be naturally lewd creatures tamed by virtuous women — even though for some reason the lewd creatures still are the ones who get to lead the Church.

The arguments against pornography for feminist reasons have to do with explicit monetary manipulation of young women and men. This is still a huge problem in America and abroad. But for a lot of women and men, sex work is a choice they make that should be respected. If you’re arguing against an image for its exploitation of a woman (or man), and the woman (or man) in question says, “Um, I don’t feel exploited,” doesn’t that point to a kind of patriarchal guilt in the viewer, or if you’re a woman, a kind of blindness to one’s own being oppressed?

(PS: I was curious what would happen if I Googled the two concepts together: pornography and female ordination. The search brings up how, a few years ago, the Catholic Church inadvertently categorized female ordination as a crime on par with child sex abuse and/or the consumption of child pornography when it added “pedophilic acts” to its list of offenses. Of course, that official stance angered a lot of people. The juxtaposition of female ordination with pedophilia is telling. In certain patriarchal ecclesiastical circles, women’s bodies are infantilized. A young woman’s body needs to be protected so that she will become a mother and a wife. She is not allowed to grow up to be sexy, because this is “dirty,” and she’s not allowed to be a church leader.)

14 thoughts on “Pornography vis-a-vis Female Ordination

  1. For example, if pornography gets in the way of me and my partners relationship, when we actually sit down and talk about it, we pretty agree that sexually were okay and want to give the other person freedom to explore fantasy, so the conversation often quickly redirects to the real non-fantastical problems: whether housework is not being divided equally, or if theres some shared financial burden. In LDS relationships, the pornography basically disrupts the roles of man does this, woman does this, where the man isnt respecting the womans womanhood.

    It’s one disadvantage of straight relationships (LDS or not): gender-role baggage weighs on every negotiation and every decision within the couple. We’d like to say “We interact and make decisions based on what works for each of us as individuals, regardless of what we’ve learned about what a husband or wife is supposed to do.” But it’s impossible to erase the gender-role training completely, so in my daily family life I’m constantly asking myself: “Am I falling into traditional gender-based traps here? Going against what works for us just to buck tradition there? Or not? And how do I feel about that?”

    If youre arguing against an image for its exploitation of a woman (or man), and the woman (or man) in question says, Um, I dont feel exploited, doesnt that point to a kind of patriarchal guilt in the viewer, or if youre a woman, a kind of blindness to ones own being oppressed?

    This is a very important point in feminist theory. It’s a separate issue when we’re talking about minors. However, in we want women to be considered adults who are competent to make their own life decisions, we have to show that we believe in it.

    Saying “I would never want to do X, so I don’t believe that anyone could possibly have chosen to do X of her own free will — so we have to (maternalistically/paternalistically) protect women from having X as an option,” is a step in the wrong direction. It says you don’t really believe that adult women are competent to make their own life decisions. I wrote a post about this point: Grown-ups and choices.

    The search brings up is how, a few years ago, the Catholic Church inadvertently categorized female ordination as a crime on par with child sex abuse and/or the consumption of child pornography when it added pedophilic acts to its list of offenses.

    I remember when this hit the news. In the midst of discovering an enormous problem throughout the Catholic church (of priests raping children and the church actively allowing it to continue), they had the gall to imply that “ordination of women” is on par with their horrific crime. Wow. Just wow.

  2. Chino @1:

    Im curious what you make of events like this: Time to Blossom

    I have absolutely no problem with girls learning self-confidence, eternal optimism, how to productively use their creativity, how to be kind to each other and others, etc. But I wonder just how many leadership/entrepreneurial skills you can teach a young woman before she begins to question gender roles in the Church.

    Here’s an interesting website: ldswomeninbusiness.com:

    In response to current economic conditions, so many women in the church, and outside for that matter, are realizing the need to provide extra income for their families and for themselves. That was a theme LDS Women In Business creator Jennifer Richards heard time and time again from her friends and acquaintances. But what could she do to help them? She decided to share her personal experiences gained from operating two businesses, and viola! LDS Women In Business was born.

    I guess no one read the fine print under the Family Proclamation:

    ***The gendered dynamics of this holy document are applicable when American upper- and middle-classness are constantly sustained through unbridled global capital, and you are either upper- or middle-class yourself. Otherwise, it may be the case that men and women will both need to work and take care of the home, equally.

  3. chanson@3:

    Its one disadvantage of straight relationships (LDS or not): gender-role baggage weighs on every negotiation and every decision within the couple.

    Well, gay people don’t just automatically drop the gender baggage they receive as children. Internalized homophobia is basically a kind of gender baggage. If I think about what I’ve read regarding the underground gay male LDS population, it seems pretty dangerous because the men don’t know how to have relationships with each other because of the way they gender themselves and each other. They often meet for unprotected sex. It’s very unfortunate that the LDS therapy system doesn’t see how gender functions here; instead what’s seen is a “gender mismatch” and a “sex addiction.”

    Conversely, some closeted gay LDS men might secretly date someone who isn’t LDS, and the relationship can often “naturally” take a traditional “male/female” dynamic — the man courts the guy, buys him stuff, not to keep him quiet, but because the man wants to be a “man.”

    Lesbians will do this too, where one wants to be the caretaker.

    I think gay people like to advertize the “gender equality” of their relationships, but like straight people, most have gender baggage to work through before they get to said equality. I know I did and do.

  4. But for a lot of women and men, sex work is a choice they make that should be respected. If youre arguing against an image for its exploitation of a woman (or man), and the woman (or man) in question says, Um, I dont feel exploited, doesnt that point to a kind of patriarchal guilt in the viewer, or if youre a woman, a kind of blindness to ones own being oppressed?

    I don’t know about this. People in oppressive situations don’t necessarily understand their rights as human beings, or might not be as informed as they really need to be in order to make a truly free choice. For instance, women are raped in FLDS communities, but many of them see those acts of sexual violence against them as their husband’s God-given right. They might not feel exploited or abused even though they’ve been forced to have sex against their will. We can say that, with the lack of formal education in those communities in recent decades, there’s a good chance the members of those communities haven’t been made to understand their rights. I think that there’s a crucial factor of being fully-informed when it comes to choosing something like this.

    Imagine getting involved in the adult film industry with no sex education, not understanding that your employer has obligations to maintaining your safety as an employee (requiring protection, routine testing to prevent the spread of STD’s), and your employer skimps on those safety measures in order to save money or effort, or whatever. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight, that’s exploitative. It’d be like sticking someone on a construction site with no training and no hard hat. Just because someone doesn’t feel exploited doesn’t mean that they aren’t being exploited.

    I think the real issue when it comes to the sex industry is informed consent and safety. And, that’s where religious objectors to pornography get it wrong, because as you say, their position is rooted in the infantilization of women (that they should be protected even from the information that would make them capable of freely choosing such sexual activity), as well as (ironically) the commoditization of a woman’s “virginity.” In the traditional Christian mindset, a woman’s virginity belongs to her hypothetical future husband, and until marriage, it is entrusted to the protection of her father and brothers. This is really why pornography bothers them: women are exercising their free will to “give themselves” to someone other than the “rightful owner.” Christians will object to pornography by saying “you’re objectifying women!” when in reality the reason it bothers them is that the perceived objectification doesn’t serve their patriarchal, hetero-monogamous social aims.

  5. @3 chanson – I’m still pretty confused about the Catholic church’s position. Most of the time, I can understand where some of their positions are coming from. For example, they believe that sex is meant only for procreation in marriage (in the Catholic church), and therefore birth control is wrong. I strongly disagree with that position, but I can see where the logic is.

    But comparing female ordination with the horrors of pedophilia (and system sanctioned crime) – that I don’t get. I know I can be dense sometimes – but this seems to be completely illogical to me – they are unrelated. So someone without a penis says an official prayer or passes the euchrist? How is that in the same universe?

  6. @7 aerin – I would imagine that they would say they are comparatively unnatural, that they both are the result of an increasingly secular and morally relativist society that says you can just do whatever you want, even if it runs contrary to “the nature of things.”

    I think that, where non-religious people would consider pedophilia to be a problem of consent, religious people might be more likely to focus on how pedophilia is a crime against “God’s law,” which is the same as the perspective of women’s ordination – that it violates God’s law.

  7. Macha @ 6: Thank you for explaining things better than I did.

    aerin @7: Above I wrote that this was “inadvertent.” I thought what had happened was that pedophilic behavior was added to an old list of “offenses” that already included ordaining women, so that the two ended up being on the same list. But I see instead ordaining women was raised onto a list of high offenses that already included pedophilic behavior. Good grief.

    Luckily, I don’t think Mormon GAs consider female ordination to necessarily violate God’s law:

    David Ransom: At present women are not allowed to be priests in your Church…Is it possible that the rules could change in the future..?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: He could change them yes…But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it.

  8. Respect matters and, in my opinion, that includes displays of sexual interest. But it’s true that denying an entire gender power is more disrespectful than looking at another woman.

  9. I have not read the other comments here. My wife knows that I look at pornography it is not a topic of conversation. I have to keep my attitude toward my wife, and to women in general, in check. Our society is still mostly patriachal women are still second class citizens, women are still sexually exploited more than men; in my opinion pornography may not be the problem it certainly adds to it. I have seen two of my sisters marriages shaken by their husbands “porn problem” and while I agree that it does not have to be a problem; in their situation it is. In my mind Mormon men owe it to Mormon women to refrain because of the lack of power women have.

  10. wayne@11:

    As Macha notes @6, the true ethics of pornography have to do with consent and safety. Also, when it comes to the cinematography itself, women shouldn’t just be objects. I guess the way I look at it is that the porn ought to appeal to women, too. In some instances, women control the whole process: porn made for women, by women. It would be silly to suggest that this kind of porn “exploits” women, even if a man happens to view it.

    Of course plenty of wives don’t want their husbands to watch porn just as a matter of basic respect in the marriage. This is often true even in gender-equal same-sex relationships. However, LDS gender roles exacerbate a distancing factor between husband and wife when it comes to pornography, because the way men are thought about as “selfish” and women as “selfless” (mothers/wives); it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The overarching issues of inequality aren’t addressed.

    I don’t know…I don’t feel like I’m explaining this properly or fully.

  11. @11 wayne – it seems to me that you are saying that Mormon men should refrain from watching porn if their wives say so in order to even out the power each has, to make up for the fact that Mormon women have little power.

    I have a problem with this for several reasons. In the first place, instead of giving women arbitrary power over men to “even it out,” why not just stop giving men arbitrary power over women?

    Secondly, it is wrong to tell anyone to cede absolute ownership of their own sexuality to another person out of obligation or guilt. I’m not saying no one should give up power in their sex lives (Dom/sub relationships are perfectly healthy when entered into with full consent and when the people involved are inclined to that sort of relationship), but for all men to feel universally obligated to do so out of guilt for their patriarchal power is definitely unhealthy, as well as unproductive.

    Finally, you don’t equalize a relationship by making making each partner the absolute dictator of different things. There are no dictators in an equal relationship. A relationship is equal when you attempt to find a balance between autonomy and partnership in the way you live your lives together. When you’re in a committed relationship, your behavior of course has an effect on your partner’s life and happiness. When (in a heterosexual marriage, for instance) a husband’s porn-watching is upsetting to his wife, the truly equitable and healthy thing to do is to have an open discussion about how much watching porn contributes to the husband’s happiness as opposed to how much it hurts the wife’s, to talk about each other’s motivations and reasons for feeling the way they do, and try to come to an agreement that doesn’t end with either one or the other spouse “winning” and getting what they want.

    No one should say that wives who are bothered by their husbands watching porn should just get over it, and no one should say that husbands whose wives don’t want them to watch porn should just quit. Though some may think that getting over the porn taboo or having control of your husband’s sexuality is empowering to women, they actually both hinder trust, intimacy, and respect for one another’s autonomy.

  12. have an open discussion about how much watching porn contributes to the husbands happiness as opposed to how much it hurts the wifes

    It seems in LDS culture, the main contention with porn is that it’s considered lust directed outside a marriage (almost like adultery) rather than inside it — and the “proof” is the [usually] wife’s feelings about it. So, any move to justify the “adultery” would be seen as “selfish,” returning the discussion to the “selfish male/selfless female” trope.

    One of the first things I like to mention in conversations like this is that women consume porn at an increasing rate. The more empowered women are, the more they can take control of their own sexualities, the more a woman’s mind and body can work in tandem.

    I’m sure the old GAs think this is terrible, that the age of the virtuous woman is bygone, but it really foregrounds @6: how a woman’s virginity has been thought to be for a future husband. By “virginity,” we’re not just talking about the literal act of coitus, but we’re talking about a woman’s knowledge about herself. A woman who consumes pornography or romance novels or what-have-you is going to have a kind of knowledge about herself that unravels the patriarchal system. As Audre Lorde writes in “Uses of the Erotic” (Sister Outsider, 1984):

    [T]hat deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

    This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

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