- Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity by Robert Jensen
In Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, Robert Jensen analyzes contemporary mainstream (most commonly rented or purchased) heterosexual pornography as one key method of domination in the US patriarchal system of oppression, along with its effects on both men and women. Jensen argues that pornography has normalized and mainstreamed a particular conception of sex as both violent and degrading. He details how mechanisms of power are eroticized and unchallenged, where men dominate, and women’s sexuality is objectified and commodified. Jensen labels and rejects systems of oppression as anti-human and inconsistent with general principles of justice. He demonstrates how pornography reinforces patriarchy through misogyny and racism, and he challenges men to interrogate their relationship with pornography, their positions of dominance and control in their relationships, and to stop participating in sexual exploitation industries.
On all accounts, Jensen is successful. He eloquently blends personal narratives, textual analysis, interviews, and cultural/social theory to explore the effects of pornography’s misogynist themes that limit men’s selves, poisons masculinity, and bolsters patriarchy. Working from a radical critique of the sex industry and sexual violence, Jensen offers a rich study loaded with meaningful questions about the conventions, narratives, strategies, and ideologies of mainstream pornography escalating in US culture. He makes a compelling case for how pornography has become normalized, and that the values that drive pornography are normative mainstream patriarchal values.
Jensen suggests we examine the multi-billion dollar porn industry as any product of mass media, through its content, production, and consumption—the main chapters of analysis in the book. Jensen argues that three major themes exist in all mass-marketed heterosexual pornography: (1) all women, at all times, want sex from all men, (2) women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and (3) women who do not at first realize this can be easily persuaded with a little force. These themes contain elements of objectification, control, hierarchy, submission, and violence that aligns with idealized notions of manhood. For Jensen, the pairing of these masculine elements with the main themes in pornography extends an invitation for men to absorb patriarchal ideologies.
Jensen asks powerful questions about pornography’s role in the proliferation of sexual discourses that are grounded in dominating notions of masculinity and regulated by institutions, identities, and misogynistic discourse. For example, he poses the question, in a society where men learn that sex and manhood are about conquest, control, and domination, can pornography with those same values help reinforce such behaviors? Does pornography offer young boys and [End Page 266] men a male-dominate, often one-sided view of sexuality? Why do men not question why getting off to degrading and pain-inflicting pornography “excites” them? How does this make the uncoupling of sexual fantasy and reality challenging for men? When taken to the extreme, can it not serve as a way for men to learn how to recruit sexual victims and/or offer strategies to break down women’s resistance to sex?
Jensen argues that pornography may only be “one part of a sexist system, but its messages of sexuality are reinforced everywhere,” almost never questioned, and often defended (102). It is not uncommon in the United States to hear critical perspectives of violent video games and what it teaches young boys about the use of weapons and the normalization of violent manhood, yet pornography goes unquestioned. Jensen exposes various discourses that are meant to depoliticize pornography. For example, one will often hear that “women want to make porn,” “there are clear differences between violence and pleasure and pain,” and “plenty of ‘good guys’ who consume porn who do not do violence.” While these arguments might have some truth, they often mask and dismiss the harmful and violent nature of mainstream heterosexual pornography. Jensen explains that this pornography is for the pleasure of all men, not merely some, and its roots are in women hating, and even the well-intentioned “good men” who...