Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Eroticism: An Intimate Analysis with Simon Hardy

In his essay "Feminist Iconoclasm and the Problem of Eroticism," Simon Hardy explores and analyzes the complex world of heterosexual through historical and philosophical context. He contemplates the ever present feminist debate over pornography (anti-porn, anti-censorship) and uses the term iconoclasm to define one set of feminist arguments. An iconoclast is "a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition (www.dictionary.com, yes I had to look up MANY words.) Hardy finds this term suitable to define the common tendency for feminists to challenge otherwise strongly held beliefs with a sense of authority in such a subject (78.)

In the introduction, Hardy presents the accused Feminist Iconoclasts starting with the radical feminists of the 70s and ending with the anti-porn radicals of the 80s and 90s. Radical feminists of the 70s brought light to the historical and societal issues of rape and sexual violence. This was a great step forward towards Women's Liberation and, according to Hardy, also helped jump start the great pornography debate.

There is the one side which believes "pornography sexual violence" and that there must be legal restrictions against it (78.) Then there are those that believe pornography constitutes the same or similar oppressive effects of sexual violence and that it should not be protected constitutionally under freedom of speech. And then there are the anti-porn iconoclasts that believe in the deconstruction of pornography based mainly on hostility and discomfort of its very existence (78.)

Hardy then begins to delve into his own research and findings in pornography and heterosexual eroticism. From his own study, he concluded that it's not the images or texts in pornography that are problematic, it is the subconscious message being portrayed to the audience that is problematic. Porn, more often than not, presents male domination over a female and this, he states, is "the problematization of heterosexual eroticism.

In the next section of his article, "The problematization of heterosexual eroticism," Hardy extends on his idea of heterosexual eroticism...obviously. He brings up many feminist commentators, R.W. Connell, Lynn Segal, etc, and their criticisms of the feminist movement. Connell believed that feminists had a great opportunity to continue pursuing issues of equality for all women but rather made it their main agenda to attack pornography instead. (80) This is a sentiment I remember Lynn Segal presenting as well and I also agree but I also see very little good in the commentary on something already done and irreversible. I wonder what other feminists of the time were thinking; the feminists that did not receive massive amounts of media attention because of the pornography debate. Did some feminists just give up? Do we always need popular and even negative media attention to get our voice heard?

Hardy states that one of the biggest problems with heterosexual eroticism is the preexisting and historical gender norms in our society. He brings up Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, which digs deep into the history of human sexuality, the repression of sexuality, and the power dynamics of sexuality. He discusses Foucault's ideas of the importance of status, gender and sexual status, during Greco-Roman times which puts woman in the submissive, passive position and men in the dominant, active position. This idea has been ingrained into our society and only now are we finally starting to break these ties.

Hardy then brings up the idea of the "invention of heterosexuality" which I find incredibly interesting. Ever since I began understanding gender identity and questioning as a very important factor in some people's lives I have imagined gender and sexuality on a spectrum. Why do we need a sexual orientation, especially when it is usually based off of dichotomies (heterosexual v. homosexual)? Why is our society so obsessed with categorization and labeling of human beings? In my opinion, categories and labels can be dangerous and troublesome for many. There is no normal. ...And I'm digressing.

The next section is "The case for erotic expression" and Hardy explores the pornography debate even more and attempts to find reason and a basis to eroticism. He also believes that the anti-censorship feminists have a better chance at succeeding because there is a deep-seated reason for the existence of pornography. (At least this is what I thought he was saying.) When he discussed the psychic versus social circumstances I was a little confused.
Was he trying to say that pornography has less to do with our society today and more to do with our long history of sexuality, especially based off of psychoanalysis?
I was also wondering, if this is what he is trying to say, whether or not we can actually separate the two, psychic and social. How can we truly differentiate what we have acquired through socialization or psychically?

The last section, "The social uses of eroticism," I thought I would have an easier time understanding but I was wrong. The entire article is explicitly confusing. Hardy describes the individualization of society and how it has, in turn, affected our sexuality and relationships. Our society is changing and rejecting the private and public spheres hence creating a more egalitarian approach to relationships. He explains the "normal chaos of love" which I also found very interesting. Intimacy and sexuality is an ever changing entity in our society. Our sexuality is no longer a completely hush-hush topic.

Although I am still very confused and not quite sure what was all said in Simon Hardy's article, I think that his main goal is that eroticism should be redefined to make it fit our changing society. I hope that our discussion in class tomorrow will make things clearer for me...or maybe even more confusing.


Jessica said...

It's really comforting to know that I am not the only person that didn't understand half of the words Hardy used. I was pretty confused throughout the entire essay.

I thought that his review of Foucault's "History of Sexuality" was really interesting. The idea that we are having patriarchal, non-egalatarian sex because that's what we've always done was really interesting to me. It was interesting to learn that wives eventually replaced young men as sex objects in the Roman Empire for power reasons.

I liked that he addressed (page 89) that the cultural reasons we have pornography still need to be addressed; that simply getting rid of porn wouldn't completely solve the problems we have. This isn't something that CAKE or Levy seemed to address.

While I was able to unpack bits and pieces of Hardy's argument, I look forward to understanding much more of it through our discussion in class today.

Anne said...

Laura, I realize this article is dense and packed with theory on top of a historical overview of feminists' approach to porn. Your question about whether or not we can actually separate the psychic and social is actually key to Simon Hardy. Hardy is critical of Lynne Segal's psychoanalytical reading of sexual desire and stresses the importance of how society has shaped how we think about desire throughout centuries. As we begin to change society, Hardy is hopeful that we can change the way we approach desire as well. But he cautions us to keep in mind that the way we approach it is always contingent on historical circumstances; we won't ever be able to arrive at a 'natural language.'