Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fiction, Controversy and the Sexual Double Standard

The discovery that many women read "mommy porn" seemed to shock a large number of commentators who would, presumably, have thought that the existence of "daddy porn" was entirely un-newsworthy. As Roni Loren comments,
If you haven’t been living under a rock–or even if you have–you’ve probably heard of the book 50 Shades of Grey. It’s the BDSM erotic romance that has broken out into blockbuster status. It’s been on the Today Show, 20/20, and even Dr. Oz talked about it today. It’s everywhere [....] what’s getting REALLY old is the media’s portrayal of books “like that” being “mommy” porn. [...] But here’s the thing–why is it so scandalous that moms are reading sexy books? Once we procreate, are we relegated to being washed up women with used uteri (uteruses?) who are now supposed to focus on nothing but making the perfect lasagnas and singing choruses of Sesame Street songs with our kidlets?
Carola Katharina Bauer provides what, to my mind, is an even more striking example of how it's often thought to be barely worth discussing the reasons why particular types of fiction have a sexual appeal to men, whereas the equivalent material for women provokes extensive investigation:
In the Friends episode “The One with the Sharks,” aired in October 2002, one of the sitcom’s main characters, Monica Geller, catches her husband, Chandler, masturbating - apparently, while watching a shark documentary. Convinced that her partner is secretly into “shark porn,” Monica tries to accept and even re-enact his “perverse” desires - only to discover with quite some relief that Chandler just changed the channel when she came into the room and that he originally was getting off on “some regular […] old fashioned, American, girl-on-girl action.” [...] What I find particularly interesting in this scene is the naturalization of straight men watching “lesbian” porn. (1)
So what about the equivalent material for women?
as in most cases, gender proves to be of crucial importance: Despite the fact that there actually exists a large number of pornographic and romantic texts about male homosexuality consumed and produced by American women since the 1970s, the “abnormality” of these female “cross-voyeurs” is constantly underlined in U.S. popular and academic culture. [...]

In the academic publications on female “cross-voyeurs,” the application of “double standards” with regard to male/female “cross-voyeurism” is even more obvious. As Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse note in their “Introduction” to Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Internet (2006), slash fiction - fan fiction about male homosexual relationships mainly produced and consumed by women - has stood in the center of fan fiction studies so far, despite being merely a subgenre of it. The reason for this seems to be an urge to explain “the underlying motivations” for the fascination of women with m/m romance or pornography within the academic discourse (Busse and Hellekson 17) - a trend which differs completely from the extremely under-theorized complex of men interested in “lesbians.” Similar to those tendencies, a genre of Japanese manga called Boys’ Love - also concerned with gay men and directed at females - has equally received a disproportionately large attention in U.S. research papers in reaction to its growing popularity in North America since the late 1990s in the context of the “Japanification” of U.S. culture (Levi, “North American” 147; McLelland and Yoo 3). By concentrating on possible reasons for Japanese and American women to read and write these manga, the Japanese and American papers (Kamm 45-66) once again emphasize the oddness of those female “cross-voyeurs” - suggesting a “Never-ending Story” of over-theorizing and overanalyzing them. (2-3)
There's a long tradition of concern about women's reading; I suspect that "mommy porn" and other fictions for women which have sexual content are controversial because they challenge the widely accepted view that women are less interested in sex than men are and they therefore raise anxieties or hopes about how women's behaviour might be changed by such reading.
  • Bauer, Carola Katharina. The Strange Case of Female Cross-Voyeurs?: Slash Fiction, Boys' Love Manga, and Other Works by "Faghagging" Women in the U.S. Academic Discourses. Norderstedt: GRIN, 2011.

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