This is going to be similar in intent to my recent post on the legal system – a speculative attempt to consider possible ways that a system adapted to patriarchy could be changed to make it fit with sexual equality. In particular, I want to think about the media, in particular pornography, advertising, pornography-as-advertising, etc.
One way to conceptualise ‘oppression’ is in terms of the traits possessed by “the social subject”. (‘Subject’ here is a philosophical term, the opposite of ‘object’) The social subject is the person who thinks what “everyone thinks”, who knows what “everyone knows”, who does what “you do”, who notices what’s “obvious”. When a person is mentioned without any specific features being given, they will tend to be imagined as the social subject. Heidegger talked about ‘das Man’, everyone-and-noone’ (‘Man’ is German for what we would call ‘one’, as in, ‘whatever one does, it’s not enough’).
As is made obvious by our language, the social subject is, by and large, on the whole, in general and overall, a straight man. He also has class and race features but that’s not my focus right now. Because the social subject is a straight man, straight men find it easier to be subjects (to be people, to do person things, like decide, choose, act, take control, learn, be listened to etc.) while other people find it harder. Hence oppression in its various aspects.
Now one of the key things that subjects do is to look and to see. Objects on the other hand do not look – they are looked at. So from the beginning, in considering visual media, there is the basic ideology: men look at women. That’s why women’s magazines are full of pictures of women, while men’s magazines are full of pictures of…women!
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