Radicalizing Pornography

Dylan van Rijsbergen in signandsight.com, originally in Trouw (Netherlands):


A few weeks ago it was all over town. A billboard with a picture of a beautiful near-naked female body, wearing nothing but a bra. Eyes invisible. In front of her vagina a small designer bag. The poster bore the words: “lesson 84: lead him into temptation.”

It was not so much the Photoshopped perfection of the female body that triggered me. Nor the absence of the woman’s eyes, which made the body into an anonymous signifier of pure sexuality. I was not irritated because the picture forced on me the voyeuristic gaze of the heterosexual, macho-male observer, turning women into sex-objects. Most shocking for me was the fact that the little bag and the vagina were totally interchangeable. The billboard suggested that sexual temptation and the temptation to buy commodities were one and the same. The picture was not only about turning women into sexual objects. It was about transforming human sexual desire into a commodity. Interchangeable, standardized and ready to be sold to the highest bidder.

The debate about the pornofication of society was started by feminists and conservatives alike. Feminists like the American writer Ariel Levy and Dutch publicist Stine Jensen criticize the way women are portrayed in an inferior and humiliating fashion as no more than compliant slaves of male desire. Conservatives of either Islamic or Christian origin are also unhappy with this sexualization of the public space. In their view sexuality should not be displayed in the open. It should be restricted to the privacy of marriage. All these naked bodies on billboards, on television and on the Internet are only leading men and women into temptation. In their opinion, it is likely that these images will stimulate sinful behaviour.Conservatives usually blame the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies for sexual morals disappearing down the drain.

In a sense they are right.