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Mar 06 2012

Religion and pornography are in the same business

The Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar will be out on 8 March to mark International Women’s Day. Here Fariborz Pooya writes a piece in its defence:

Late last year, Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s nude self-portrait was condemned by Islamists as obscene and for undermining the morality of society. They demanded her prosecution from the very military that had imposed virginity tests on protesters in Tahrir Square. She was also admonished by liberals and post modernist leftists for damaging the cause of liberation and women in Egypt.

In February this year, Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani, appeared partially nude in Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s ‘Corps et Âmes’ (Bodies and Souls) as well as in the French magazine Madame Le Figaro. In response, she was banned from returning to Iran by the Islamic regime and some segments of the Iranian religious-nationalists reprimanded her for vulgarity.

Clearly, these are age-old prejudices, which use and abuse the female body as a means of control, violence and oppression.

All religions, including the Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam, have always viewed the ‘flesh’ as disgusting, shameful, sinful and a desecration of god. In the contemporary world, however, this point of view has taken on a new role and impetus in order to keep women in their place based on a comprehensive system of abuse.

Religion’s view of the body and the flesh is essentially pornographic. Pornography and religion are in the same business. Religion like pornography and the pornographic gaze relies on objectification and the creation of an abstract image outside of reality. Religion’s pornographic lens encapsulates all the history of oppression in a patriarchal society. Religion merges into pornography as it shares the same approach to flesh and sexuality by creating a false abstract universality devoid of uniqueness, reality, and humanity and its conditions. In the religious pornographer’s gaze, the image is of an abstracted and dehumanized woman. Both men and women have no social existence, are not subject to change and influence and have no role in shaping their environment; sexuality is forever given and immutable.

In this immutable vision, the woman is considered a hole ready to receive and not an individual, not a unique and specific woman with all her complexities, her struggles in life, her difficulties. She is turned into an abstract, universalized object devoid of uniqueness. The religious pornographer and those who consume its product demand that ‘the whore’ is tucked away, wrapped and traded according to the value assigned to it by religion; any transgression of this commodity is deemed sinful under the blanket of morality and punished accordingly.

From an early age, the male is cast and trained, his taste cultivated and his role assigned as the ultimate buyer and collaborator in the religious pornographer’s image of the sexualised flesh.

Violence towards the sinful flesh is inherent in this gaze. The female naked body is lashed, hanged for its transgression, tortured and raped by religion and its institutions. All institutions be they political or judicial are inspired or influenced by religion and give reference to it – including in marriage and the family – and are ready to jump out imp-like with any sign of women’s bare flesh to claim it as sacred in order to enslave it.

A precondition for the improvement in the status of women and for that matter men is to critique and abandon the religious and pornographic image of women. A society must be brave enough to face this challenge in order to progress.

Of course both Aliaa and Golshifteh were lauded for their actions by many women’s rights activists and those opposed to the enslavement of women’s bodies across the world for breaking the taboo of women’s body as a false temple.

The Nude Photo Revolutionary Calendar is an important step in removing women’s bodies as a means at the disposal of the religious pornographer. It must be hailed not only a brave act but as a politically astute move that challenges the status of women and breaks the taboo on a large social scale.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Zyzle

    While I have my own views on the whole porn=evil! thing, it’s always been painfully obvious to me that the majority of(all?) religions have rules regarding sexuality for the exact same reasons they have rules regarding which foods you can/can’t eat. Control.

    Since these are the only two things which can really be said to be universal to all people, controlling them will always be the number 1 priority for any faith looking to keep the flock in line.

  2. 2
    Raging Bee

    Religion’s view of the body and the flesh is essentially pornographic. Pornography and religion are in the same business.

    That’s an insult to porn!

  3. 3
    Martyn

    I couldn’t agree with this piece more even if I tried!

    The pornographic industry has reduced women (and men) to mere holes and nothing more. Their ['actors'] individual hopes, aspirations, dreams, fears and complexities – as Mr. Pooya points out – has been cast aside in the name of ‘liberation’.

    And money.

    The religious establishment reduces women (in particular) to the same level in the name of ‘morality’.

    And control.

    1. 3.1
      Zyzle

      I think the distinction still has to be made between pornography and the porn industry though.

      There’s nothing wrong with finding people sexually attractive or enjoying watching people having sex (we’d be pretty fucked as a species if we didn’t… I’m not sure if that’s pun intended or not). The problem comes when people are left with unrealistic views on how sex should work, how people should look etc.

      1. peicurmudgeon

        The unrealistic attitudes about body image and sexual performance go far beyond what we consider to be pornography. Have you ever read a Romance novel, or watched a main stream movie where most of the people did not have the perfect body and any sexual dysfunction was not played for laughs.

        Porn can be guilty of those things, but the concepts go way beyond porn.

        1. Zyzle

          Agreed, this brings us to the Life imitating “art”(I use the term loosely when applying it to porn or advertising) argument.

          IS it that these images from porn and advertising are so pervasive that they become the socially excepted “way things should be” or are advertisers/pornographers simply taking a broadest appeal possible approach when choosing what they show to us?

          Personally it seems like this is a constant feedback loop between what we as a society idealise as attractiveness and what art presents to us as ideals… I could go on about this all day but I fear that way madness lies.

          Also Martyn I don’t believe you about the Mills and Boon :P

          1. Zyzle

            …I also seem to have replied to the wrong comment, doh!

      2. Martyn

        I think that distinction can be made by referring to the porn industry as just that, an industry.

        It seeks to use people by claiming it liberates them, all in the name of profit of course.

        Now sex is different.

        Ordinary couples and individuals posting their, erm, activities online for instance do so because they enjoy the whole voyeuristic appeal of it. It adds something to their sex lives and they choose to do it for that reason and that reason only. No contracts, cash and rich companies required nor needed.

        And of course, other’s reciprocate by watching.

        So, you’re right. A distinction should and can be made.

        1. Martyn

          As for the body image thing. Where do we begin?

          As peicurmudgeon points out, it does go way beyond the porn industry.

          All the characters in a Mills and Boon novel are perfect, as are they in advertisments (for nearly ALL products), as are they in movies, as are they in pop videos, etc, etc.

          It is all unrealistic, but I think more and more people are waking up to it and rejecting it.

          1. Martyn

            Oh, and for the public record, I do not read Mills and Boon novels. I can tell their characters are perfect from the covers ;)

    2. 3.2
      michaeld

      If I go down to a theater and see a bunch of actors doing a musical. Have I learned anything about them other then they are well coordinated, have a good singing voice and can pretend to be characters? Does the fact that the musical doesn’t address their individual hopes, dreams and desires in life reflect negatively on the performance?

      To me the problems around porn are more societal then intrinsic to the nature of porn in my opinion.

      1. Martyn

        Hi Micaheld,

        If you were to go to a theatre to watch actors in a musical the likelihood is you are watching people who are living out their aspirations, etc.

        Less so for many of the people in the porn industry.

        I read somewhere recently that the hollywood porn industry’s governing body had become concernced about the lack of promotion of safe sex and preference for making their ‘actors’ perform without the use of condoms.

        The industry’s reaction was not to follow safe sex guidelines, but to threaten to move to Silicone Valley as a way of resisting any attempt at safe sex regulation.

        That is the nature of the sex industry. Profit before the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of people.

        This is less a case with mainstream Hollywood, theatre, et al.

        1. michaeld

          I’m not arguing that everything is good right now I’m arguing that we can make it better. Which is why I’m in favor of efforts to change society like destigmatise sex work/sexuality, supporting the poor, and generally reform things so that we can fix that problem. When I worked at subway it sure wasn’t my dream job or something I wanted to do for the rest of my life but I don’t think that should stop someone from enjoying the sandwiches I made.

          On condoms: http://sundial.csun.edu/2012/02/procon-los-angeles-creates-law-mandating-condom-use-in-porn/

          There’s been a preference for testing actors for stds over condom use. Whether that is the best policy or not is open for debate.

          To take a different route there are a whole bunch of problems with marajuana right now or with the way electronics are manufactured (foxconn anyone). I’m not saying things are perfect right now lets keep doing what we’re doing. I’m saying that there are problems and we as a society should work to fix and improve them.

  4. 4
    Scholar Of Light

    Please read Song of Songs and tell me again that “All religions, including the Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam, have always viewed the ‘flesh’ as disgusting, shameful, sinful and a desecration of god”. Come on now, let’s be serious.

    1. 4.1
      ursa major

      Yeah and most sects in both Judaism and Christianity try to explain it away as an allegory – when they read it at all.

      1. Scholar Of Light

        Many do, yes, but to make the stronger claim that “All religions, including the Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam, have always viewed the ‘flesh’ as disgusting, shameful, sinful and a desecration of god” is palpably absurd.

        1. ursa major

          Is it absurd or hyperbole for dramatic effect? Would you have been happier if it said x% of religions y% of the time have had a z% (mean=a, SD= b, median=c) degree of aversion or contempt for “the flesh” (see foot note #7 on meanings of “the flesh”) ?

          Yeah the claim is off a little bit, so little that I can’t see any reason to worry about it at all.

          1. Eva Peccatrice

            I wouldn’t say the claim is off “a little bit.” The statement of “all religions” regarding the flesh as “disgusting,” etc., completely ignores the many indigenous religions and modern Pagan faiths that at least do not share the idea of the body as an unclean, shameful thing, and in some cases actually celebrate the body and sex as inherently divine. I fully agree that the larger, institutional religions share this revulsion toward the flesh, but they do not represent all religions.

  5. 5
    piero

    I still haven’t been able to find a specific, clear distinction between porn and erotica (except, perhaps, that if the female performer looks at the camera, it is probably porn. This I find quite remarkable: porn producers seem to believe that we want to be the object of attention of the woman even when she is having sex with someone else!). I haven’t made up my mind about pornography, either: I find most of it tasteless, obscene and downright disgusting. If I buy a book on gastronomy, I don’t want to see close-up pictures of the inside of someone’s mouth while chewing a cut of beef with mushroom sauce.

    I think a distinction should be made between pornography, erotica and obscenity. I have no idea where to draw the lines, but there must be such lines. Catholic art, for example, falls neatly into the obscene category, not because of the images themselves, but because of the hipocrisy implicit in trying to smuggle pornography as piousness. For example, this image of St. Teresa of Avila is supposed to represent the sublime feeling of Jesus entering her heart:

    http://antjeschrupp.com/2010/08/11/die-extase-der-heiligen-teresa/

    Any reader who has had sex at least once knows full well that it is in fact a (masterful) depiction of a woman having an orgasm.

    Or this:

    http://sugarmeows.tumblr.com/post/11288886606/saint-sebastian-c-1616-guido-reni-italian

    It is clearly a homoerotic picture with sadomasochistic overtones. I have nothing against either homosexuality or consensual S&M, but this is intended to represent martyrdom, not sex, yet as such is presented by the Holy Church.

    Or this:

    http://allart.biz/photos/image/Michelangelo_Caravaggio_50_Judith_Beheading_Holofernes.html

    A disturbing image whhuch I wouldn’t like my kids to see, especially since Judith is regarded as a “good” woman in the Bible.

    I wonder how many popes instructed their artists to depict the scene in such a way that they could more readily jerk off to it.

    1. 5.1
      michaeld

      Ok here’s a crack at it,

      As to pornography obscenity and erotica. There really are no good definitions that everyone agrees on. Erotica is general used as erotic art or sexually explicit material that someone approves of. Obscenity is offense to the viewers tastes or morals.

      Pornography is then often used as a pejorative for works of art that one finds offensive because of the sexuality on display and of little value.

      This then creates the problem which I think you have noticed where material that one person would qualify as erotica is pornography to someone of different tastes or of stricter moral guidelines for example. The difference is then mostly comes down to personal taste and distinction.

      So as example like claiming that literature is all the good stories and works of printed media that you find praise worthy and enjoy and books are all printed media that is of such quality that you dislike and are offended by them and their content.

      1. piero

        That reminds me of some wonderful quotes:

        “Erotica is pornography out of focus”

        “A picture or a book is obscene if it gives the judge an erection”

        “In my time pornography was showing the nipples; then came pubic hair; then vaginas. There’s no mystery anymore. But I wonder: maybe a stomach in stockings could be stimulating!”.

        Yes, the problem boils down to subjectivity

    2. 5.2
      Zyzle

      I think the general rule for this is:

      Erotica is porn I like

      Greta Christina did a good discussion of this exact issue a few weeks back:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/02/22/porn-or-erotica/

  6. 6
    Philip Thomas

    I see no difference between your fundamentalist atheist attack on religion and religious fundamentalism itself. Then again anyone who claims to be a rationalist and a communist necessarily interprets society in accordance with doctrine and dogma rather than empirical investigation. According to Isaac Deutscher, Lenin ‘used to say that it was impossible to be a revolutionary without being a dreamer and without having a streak of romanticism.’ Unfortunately your dream, like the Hotel California, is a nightmare of your own device and your romanticism the fantasy world of which Lenin dreamed and of which you are a part. Like anyone with a one-track mind you’ve left the rails but not before damaging some of the worthy campaigns you support, including the abhorrent practice of stoning, second class status of females in some societies and opposition to Sharia Law in the UK (or anywhere else for that matter). I do not recognise those parts of your tirade referring to Christianity and am driven to the conclusion that your C.V. is an acknowledgement of the worthlessness of your argument.

    1. 6.1
      Maryam Namazie

      You might not see the difference but no one dies when I criticise religion. Get it now?!

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