Hacia El Porno
+March 30, 2020
Russian documentary photographer Katia Repina (@katia_repina) is currently living in the United States and working on several projects related to sexuality, gender and identity, among which is Hacia El Porno, made while living in Spain. Her interest in these subjects comes from her experiences as a consumer of porn and her curiosity in the taboo aspect of it. When she came across the phrase "Pornography is a reflection of our sexed society...” by Maria Llopis, it made her want to explore it for herself. She spent 4 years getting to know the business as a documentary photographer, after which she says that she agrees with Llopis, and describes the porn business as a mirror of our society.
Pornography just shows us who we actually are and because we are ashamed of this dark side of us, we, as society publicly reject, judge, shame and criticise it. Pornography shows us where we as humans fail and that's why we don't want to face it. Mainstream porn actors are victims of the system we live in, so before judging them we should really look closely at how we contribute to creating this system.
The system that she talks about is patriarchy in general, and toxic masculinity more specifically. Men as much as women are victims of patriarchy, and as long as there is no room for them to show emotions and vulnerability no real progress can be made. The trauma that is caused by the repression of feelings and the attempts at reaching an inhuman ideal of masculinity needs an outlet, and Repina argues porn is one of those outlets, mainstream porn in particular. The feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness tend to be overcompensated in mainstream porn by showing “real” men as dominant, in control, with compliant submissive women as subjects.
Robert Jensen wrote a book about this in 2007, Getting Off, about the mainstream porn industry. He discusses among many other themes the dehumanisation of women in porn, which according to him always occurs following the same three rules; all women always want sex from all men, what they want is always what the men demand and if the sexual nature is not immediately recognised, she will understand once it is forced upon them. This script is the presentation of the objectified female body for the sexual satisfaction of men, meaning women are reduced to a thing to be penetrated and intrinsically humiliated.
As a solution Jensen offers a theory that can easily be labeled as radical, in which he defends the idea to eliminate masculinity entirely. More concrete this means that instead of trying to reframe the concept of masculinity and make it a kinder, gentler and more inclusive goal to reach, he wants to do away with it completely. He argues that masculinity only exists as a differentiation from femininity, and only holds up as long as femininity is seen as a bad thing. And if we manage to eradicate not only the toxicity but masculinity entirely, there would be no false need to demonstrate superiority over women, nor that kind of porn to alleviate the frustrations.
This debate about porn isn’t new in any way, already in the previous century lots has been argued pro and contra, and it remains a complex issue. Joanna Russ looked at it from a female perspective, and labeled it “the doubleness of sex for women” in her essay Pornography and the Doubleness of Sex for Women (1987) she states that there are always two sides to the question; the “responsible” side that questions the violent aspect of sexuality, and the “artistic freedom” side that argues in favour of the joy of sexual expression. Depending on your own background and current situation you will favour one approach, while at another time you would defend the other position. Neither are correct or false, because they are both at the same time. The risk is that when discussing this topic we misinterpret defending one side as opposing the other, and therefore lose sight of the common goal - creating a world in which we can be free and safe in our sexuality, without having to choose one over the other.
Jensen explains the duality of free choice like this; not only should we differentiate between a free choice and a choice influenced by circumstance (an abusive past, economic hardship, children to take care of) we also need to take into account the subjective assessment of that choice. Even if a woman from a stable background makes the conscious choice to work in the sex industry with no other responsibilities than her own wellbeing and freedom, she can still suffer from it mentally. Research shows that a significant number of women show signs of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and dissociate to cope with the work they do. This has very little to do with the choice they did or did not make, but rather with the dehumanising work conditions. Furthermore, the consumer has no reliable way of knowing whether the particular actors and actresses are doing it out of free will or not, so there is no way to distinguish between them in reality. Indirectly they contribute to the system, regardless of their moral code or intentions.
Mainstream pornography is not about sex but about power, I wanted to understand this power dynamic better. For my own curiosity, because I wanted to get more insights about our society, human nature, sex, power.
The images in this project are a mix of different points of view. Some show the women from the point of view of the men looking down on the women, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. Other images show the photographer’s personal perspective, curious about the women and their attitude towards their situation, sympathising almost. Lastly, there’s the perspective of an outsider looking in on the game, remarking little particularities on the one hand and commenting on the power dynamics on the other. This is a tribute to the complexity of the issue, filled with curiosity and sympathy, while also condemning the abuse of power, yet not blaming it on the participants but rather the context.