Thu, May 14 at 8 p.m. | 75 minutes
Olios: Drop-in classes led by professors
Join professor Jeanne Proust as we delve into the sex industry from a philosophical point of view.
Do pornography and prostitution directly lead to the sexual objectification of women by men? These two phenomena and trades of the sex industry are obviously different, but there seems to be a tacit agreement about their common immorality. Why have prostitution and pornography so often been believed by the majority of people to be harmful?
In this Olio, we will explore different arguments that have been conveyed by philosophers who are in favor of an abolitionist view, and those against it, while trying to closely decipher our moral feelings and prejudices about the commodification of sex.
And from the opposite of abolition side of things, we'll look to author Virginie Despentes for some insight. She writes:
"We expect porn to show us exactly what we dread about it: the truth of our desire. I personally have no idea why I find it so exciting to watch other people talking dirty. The fact is that it works. It’s automatic. Porn crudely reveals this other aspect of human nature: sexual desire is mechanical, and hardly complex to set in motion. And yet, my libido is complex—what it says about me isn’t necessarily what I want to hear, and doesn’t always fit with who I would like to be. But I can choose to know this, rather than to turn away and say the opposite of what I know to be true about myself in order to maintain a respectable social image.
The conditions in which the actresses work, the degrading contracts they sign, their inability to either control images of themselves once they’ve left the profession, or earn money from their use—the censors aren’t interested in any of these aspects of female dignity. The authorities aren’t bothered that there isn’t a single specialist center where actresses can go to access the various pieces of extremely specific information pertinent to their work. One kind of dignity obsesses them, but they don’t give a damn about the other. Yet porn is made with human flesh, with the flesh of actresses. And in the end, the only moral issue it poses is the political aggressiveness with which these women are treated—offstage."
Porn seems to be less problematic than prostitution, though the easy access to obscenity on our smartphones and the content of mainstream hardcore porn raises many ethical questions. We'll be discussing issues around porn’s role in gender and race discrimination, and about the impact of porn on sexuality.
While teaching at different universities in New York, Jeanne is advocating for a widening of philosophical education beyond the academia frontiers by participating in different events open to the general public. She taught at Rikers Island as a volunteer, and regularly gives public talks in philosophy, leading her to recently produce her own podcast, "Can You Phil It?”.
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