What do hard core porn and reality show, Top Model, have in common? Hard core pornography often gets the viewer off on women’s suffering. So does Top Model.
In the first episode the models underwent Brazilian bikini waxes on camera. As Jennifer Pozner described it, “Cameras flitted back and forth from their pained facial expressions to their nearly nude legs spread wide in the air, while the audio lingered at length on the models’ blood-curdling screams as hot wax was spread over their genitals and their pubic hair was ripped off.”
The only thing missing was the close-up.
Pozner went on to describe how contestants have been asked to drop from platforms onto surfaces with little cushioning, or to sit on ice sculptures in freezing temperatures. One model was asked to pose in a pool of icy water – shaking, shivering, and begging for a break – until her body began to shut down from hypothermia and she was rushed to a hospital.
If pain and suffering isn’t imminent, models are asked to act as though it is, coached to look “scared! Something’s chasing you! Something’s coming to get you!” Scared, “but pretty,” that is.
Host, Tyra Banks, has also asked models to act like they are in pain: chest pain, fingers slammed in a door, strangulation… A signature pose was suggested for one model, “Look like you’re getting punched.”
Beautiful, sexy women in fear and pain. All reminiscent of hard-core pornography. In the popular video, “Two in the Seat #3,” an actress is asked by an off-camera interviewer what will happen. She replies, “I’m here to get pounded.”
In other pornos women are hit or raped. Too-large objects are inserted as actresses scream out. Sometimes pain is registered in penetration. Even when suffering isn’t purposely placed in the script, directors don’t bother to edited it out, suggesting viewers’ taste. More and more, the new edge in porn involves cruelty.
I worry about a society that develops a taste for women’s torment. Or for anyone’s distress. As pain becomes eroticized, women can develop a desire for their own suffering. My women students sometimes talk of getting turned on by a little S&M in the bedroom. Depending on how far it goes, the sex play can lead to broken skin, bruising and infections.
We worry about women being battered. Should we worry when women come to crave their own abuse?
As they sexily submit to domination and acts of violence by their male partners, male domination, itself, becomes sexy.
We may have come a long way, ladies. But we’ve still got a long way to go.
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Sources: Robert Jensen, Ph.D. “The painful truth about today’s pornography – and what men can do about it.” Ms. Spring 2004; John Stoltenberg. “Pornography and Freedom” in Susan Shaw and Janet Lee’s Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions, 4th ed. 2009