When Fame, a soft sell magazine, published the graphic pictures of one Ms Audrey Olabisi George, and an unnamed white boy, in its May 16, 2005 edition, it sparked a breadth of reactions. Some said why ruin the life of a beautiful girl? Others said it should not have been published. Reuben Abati in Oyedepo, Fame and Miss George of May 13, 2005, called the piece ‘libel by photography’. Abati resorted to judicial precedence to explain why the tabloid should not have made the pictures open. They are ‘against the norms of public decency’. But “this is reporting”, Odia Ofeimun said. The images have been passed on from phone to phone and had been available on a pornographic website. Publishing them in a tabloid is an unprecedented move. It is bold. To say these images should not have been published at all is in a way saying that pornography does not happen.
In a society like ours with an increasing danger of HIV/AIDS explosion, for the protection of the family units whose health is the foundation of any civilized society, and the fight against normalizing anti-woman behaviour, both by men and by women themselves, we need to get used to pornography as an intellectual topic and a matter of critical discourse. The religions are averting their gaze. Ditto for research bodies. Parents are subtracting themselves from relevance and teachers are weak. Porn is the unacknowledged foundation of many sexually generated infirmities and infidelity in marriage. Pornography is a woman walking around with a dress of ten million feathers. And there is no rope tougher than the one she is using to pull the whole society along. I speak of pornography in this essay as indecencies, obscenities, lewdness, erotica, soft-core and hardcore explicit materials. All are the different degrees of the same thing; different faces of the same dice. When the mind consumes one it craves for a stronger type.
Pornography happens to women. It thrust on them insulting view of their social roles, generating a feeling of gender and sexual inferiority. It is a concrete way of changing someone into something. Women are flattened out on the pages of magazines, TV screens, adverts and are reduced to objects. Object unlike any other object. The only object that has a will that says ‘treat me like an object’ which makes objectification pleasurable. It is the lack of respect for women. Accordingly it undermines their integrity as well as sense of self-esteem. Catharine MacKinnon succinctly summarized it: “Man f**ks woman; subject verb object.” It is a programme of humiliation, a system of degradation. The woman becomes a model for oppression, a standard of submission, an emblem for cruelty. Men like it. Pornography reduces men and women to pieces of hydraulic machinery. In it, women are merely three holes and two hands, not persons. The impression that fills the screen is of a carcass being rammed in every orifice. One cannot see a picture or a video sequence where a magician’s wand, a hose is being inserted into a woman, where a dog is doing the penetration; semen is being splashed on the face of the woman; one cannot see two men penetrating a woman and she at the same time performing oral sex on two other men and still say she is a human being, she has rights, freedoms, she has dignity, she is someone. One cannot. Worse still, she is portrayed as enjoying the pain and degradation. Yet the woman is the best piece of creation. She articulates the essence, the beauty, the rhythms, the harmony and the complexity that Mother Nature represents. Women are the world’s permanent treasures.
These images of Ms George are an invitation to pay attention to, to reflect, to learn, to examine the rationalization, for what they depict? What caused what the picture shows? Who is responsible? Are those excusable? Was it inevitable? How did both get to this? Is there some state of affairs which we have accepted up to now that ought to be challenged? What are the consequences? The photos are a means of making real, matters that we prefer to ignore or take with levity. They give a tremendous boost to our need to fight against HIV/AIDS and the excessive hunger for money at the expense of sexual integrity. It is pornography secured for public service. Indeed, the end does not justify the means. But at times, the end excuses the means.
The strength of these pictures is in the shock. They shock because they are not expected to be in the tabloid even though it is a soft sell; shock because it is from an undergraduate, decently-looking; shock because there is a Whiteman involved. If it were Playboy or Penthouse or Lolly or Better Lover that published these, it is business as usual. There is little or no shock. However, the impact would have been greater if it was a serious paper like The Guardian that ran them and if they are supplemented with gory pictures of people, or places ravaged by AIDS. For images to accuse, and to alter conduct, they must necessarily shock. The feeling that something had to be done about atrocities and war, the Niger Delta crises, road accidents, victims of kerosene explosion, pensioner’s plight or the recent Sun’s picture of the randy LASU lecturer, ritual killings, and Tsunami disaster was from images of them. The protests against the Abu Graib prison was mobilized by the images of US soldiers torturing the Iraqi prisoners brought from the place. Not that people have not heard or known that porn or prostitution or ‘aristos’ exists in our higher institutions but solid sentiments are more likely to crystallise around images than around words, or descriptive texts. Hence they must awaken our indignation and rage and translated into action. Not to be pained by these pictures, not to recoil from them, not to strive to abolish what causes the havoc, this humiliation, would be the reaction of a moral monster. And we are members of the educated class. We are members of a chain of commonsense.
Before, any randy man, politicians, businessmen, sugar daddies do recourse to streetside prostitutes. But now campus girls are brought as virtual slaves to where the clique of these rich men congregate to be objects shared in common of the men’s lust. At times there are unspeakable sexual indignities or several lesbian scenes when the excitements of orgies seem to flag. Streetside prostitutes to keep their wealthy clients are now re-branding themselves as students and in fact try to outdo them. Before, what streetside prostitutes wear today as uniform of their trade, campus girls wear tomorrow. Now, it is the campus girls that are the captains of the fashion chic. As porn has become a mainstream splash, so is the practice of ‘aristo’ in our campuses. Averagely, a female student has four valences: a fiancé or boyfriend, a sugar daddy, a lecturer to secure her pass marks, at least a toaster and an assistance boyfriend (academic affairs) who assists with assignments and tutorials. Our higher institutions have become a huge brothel.
Porn introduces porno-thinking and vice-versa: Porno-thinking is made up of all what pornography represents without the images. It consolidates the impression that men relate to women from a position of power looking down at weakness or thing. Anytime there is a disagreement between a man and a woman soon there come verbal abuses on the woman that borders on porn language: calling women names like ‘bitches’, ‘assholes’, ‘So you prefer the company of silicones?’ ‘Why talk to that hole?’ The woman’s body to 50 Cents is a ‘candy shop’. To Sunny Ade in a Sun interview ‘women are like pawpaw’. Such verbal abuses usually lead to sexual violence. During the impeachment brouhaha, Chief Fani Kayode, the Media assistant of the president arrogantly referred to the Honourable Abike Dabiri, spokesperson for House of Representatives as ‘a thing’! Porno-thinking operates on two ways:
· anytime there is an arrangement of difference, inequality of power, status, or cruelty, or violence between a
man and a woman, it sexualizes it. For instance, when a needy woman goes to a wealthy man for a favour, a job, or promotion, why is it that it is at that moment the man gives as a condition, sex? Or why is it that a director of a company find it easy to ask his secretary (married or not) to sleep with him but dare not ask a female director even if she is the same are of the same age with his secretary? Simply because there is an equality of status which porno-thinking could not sexualize.
· anytime there is sexual attraction or activity between a man and a woman, it introduces inequality, cruelty or violence.
The universe proposed by porno-thinking is a total one. It ingests converts and translates all concerns that are fed into it, reducing everything into one negotiable currency of the erotic imperative. All actions of difference between genders are conceived of as a set of sexual exchanges. It refuses to express any kind of reverence for sex ethics because it functions to multiply the possibilities of sexual exchanges thus creating its own demand. Parents sleeping with children, blood relations sleeping with themselves, Rev Fathers sleeping with Rev Sisters, angels sleeping with human beings, Jesus Christ sleeping with women, adult sleeping with minors. Porn has not shown all these, but like itself, it is striving to bring them into the conventional.
To its consumers, pornography drives a wedge between one’s existence as a full human being and one’s existence as a sex being while in an ordinary life, a healthy person is one who prevents the gap from opening up. Using a woman’s breasts as a metaphor, porn drives a wedge between their two functions: first the motherly function (responsibility); two, the sexual function (pleasure). But the movies, from the ordinary ones to the hardcore porn, do not show the breasts responsibly feeding any baby. It is only to the sexual function that they are concerned. They are pleasurably exposed, caressed, squeezed and ejaculated upon. This is how our videos teach us to treat women. Like oranges to be squeezed dry and thrown afterwards into the trash can.
Marriage is the temple of virtues but happiness in marriage is on the decline because too many men lack the self-discipline to honour their commitments to the women they marry and the children they father. Porn and porno-thinking could be partly fingered for because they assist men see women as things and children as disturbance. You do not feel behoved to honour or be responsible to a thing. Two, it introduces a performance-based comparison which is dangerous. Three, sex is about forming emotional bonds but the purpose of porn is about instant sexual pleasure without offering an outlet for emotional satisfaction or bonding. Transferred to marriage wives feel used, cheated, exploited or dehumanised. Four, pornography does not encourage self-discipline in its consumers. Normally, to have sex with someone is to abstain permanently from others. Porn over-sexualizes the mind and places it beyond the reach of self-control. It generates the view that sex is a recreational sport and why would you have it with one person and not be able to do it with another. Porn sparks chemistry and encourages the basest desires of male sexuality. Its constancy makes inferior body pleasures drive out superior intellectual joys. Porn opposes a love relationship modelled on unbreakable and unselfish love. On the other hand, it normalizes getting rid of the tension right away, free loves, one-night stands and masturbation. Intimacy is no longer craved and the emotions of one’s spouse become irrelevant in the frenzied chase of hedonistic pleasure. The man is only concerned with his own satisfaction. That is why you keep on hearing: ‘my boyfriend jilted me because he has slept with me.’ Or: ‘I knew something was wrong in our intimate relationship,’ says a woman who discovered her husband was consuming porn. ‘And I always wondered who he was making love to because it was never me.’ With porn, one’s wife will never be good enough. Marital intercourse is no longer considered hot enough because it doesn’t match up to the erotic images in the porn films. Naomi Wolf says:
“The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want; and that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy.”
Pornography elects as its central purpose the duty of being emulated. In fact it is its essence, always clamouring for addiction and modern day sex has an umbilical attachment to it. It is the magnetic teacher from whom people learn sexual habits that do not find use for condoms. This is why the message of condoms is so fruitless in combating HIV that has filled up a vacancy in Africa’s axis of destruction. One would ask: has Audrey George or her white partner never heard of AIDS before?
Indeed porn induces men to rape, many of which are undisclosed particularly marital rape and ‘friendly rape’ in which both parties are friends yet it was not consensual. Also, it makes men less responsive to the pain and suffering of rape victims or victims of sexual harassment and molestation thereby making normal, the ways in which women are demeaned and attacked. Panels investigating sexual harassment cases are not as common in the higher institutions because who is likely to believe such outcries nowadays? Public opinion has lost sensitivity to these cries from female students owing to their provocative dresses, the open and wilful seduction of lecturers.
Beauty exists to make us turn our back on the beast within. Porn makes us turn our back on the beauty within and turn on the beast within. It is a frightful trace of human perversity. It is the emissary of filth and corrosion. It makes that beautiful gift of God look awful, and dirty. Porn fuels sexual desires in abnormal ways that would eventually lead to more base perversions.
When this girl Audrey, goes into the office of any male lecturer for her project, who is she to him? Or what is she to him?
When all these bank ladies go out soliciting for deposits among men that have been busy watching internet porn, what are thinking of them?
When you leave your house girl with your husband or sons who have been busy with porn, what do you think will happen?
When a lady walks into a party or club, do you know which kind of pornographic images start collecting inside the men’s head?
When you live you daughter with an uncle who the previous night has been watching child pornography, what do you think is forming in his mind?
When a man goes out to rape, do you know which kind of porn has collected in his head?
When little boys and girls see all those Sun’s page three girls or Delta soap outdoor billboards, or the express-yourself ads of Legend extra stout and their valentine ads or those graphic pictures of society women at parties in Ovation, what kind of image settles in their subconscious and begin to play out in their attitude to women in the future?
Children and youth at impressionable age are exposed to attitudes and behaviours that warp and twist their view of human dignity and sexuality. More, it makes the demands of abstinence till marriage difficult to practice thus diverting an immeasurable amount of mental and moral force for personal development efforts to useless orgies. Porn makes our private lives a valley of 1,000 pixels which is a substantial way of making sex lose it feel of sacredness.
The Fame pictures play another instructive role: that there is little connection between dressing decently and being decent within. Look at the images of Audrey Olabisi George before she began to strip and do. She is someone anyone could meet on the street and say she is decently dressed, a good looking “wife-material” that would make a wonderful mother. Lots of people out there are sleeping with others unprotected from HIV because he/she is looking decent i.e. does not look like someone that partakes in indecent activities that would endanger the spread of HIV. Audrey does not look it either. Yet she did it, she also performed oral sex and even drank his semen.
The fight against porn with the politics of power that flows from it, is central to the emancipation of women and the quest for gender equality. But some women are of the opinion that it is a righteous species of freedom. President for American Civil Liberties Union, Prof Nadine Strossen like Reuben Abati justifying Audrey’s pictures, argued that it is merely a freedom of expression. An attack on pornography would constitute a roll back of the freedom and rights achieved for women in previous years. Taken further by the writers of repute, Salman Rushdie and Gore Vidal, they published essays in a book XXX: 30 Porn Star of pornographic acts of America’s porn stars. To Rushdie, not that porn is the tax sexuality pays on being over-free, but that openness to pornography is an index of a free society and healthy civilization. “A free and civilised society should be judged on its willingness to accept pornography”. While doing so, “it sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even civilization.” He buttressed his claims with the high volume of internet porn traffic t
o Pakistan still porn is contraband in that country.
Porn is not an expression of freedom and not freedom of expression. It is saddening that what was once considered an intolerable assault on women from which the law should protect them has now become their ‘right’. Human beings enjoy inherent rights and freedom because there is a fundamental assumption that we are moral agents. Once we do not behave like moral agents, we lose entitlement to that right. For instance, if we are abusive in our speech, we can no longer claim to be protected by freedom of speech because we at that point, not acting like a moral agent. Therefore, we cannot be obscene or pornographic and seek refuge behind freedom of expression because our conduct violates moral agency. Porn is a big wound, an open sore.
Worse, porn is now being tabled as a politically correct way young women can be a celebrity and those that are celebrities are expected to at least pose nude in one way or the other to remain centres of interest and attraction. And the media is celebrating them as model of behaviour. Angelina Jolie posed nude for Playboy yet she is still allowed to function as UN goodwill ambassador for refugees. Actress Kate Winslet posed nude for a charity just like Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, who posed naked to raise money for the Elton John’s HIV/AIDS Foundation. Britney Spears posed nude for Vanity Fair magazine. Alicia Keys posed nude. Ditto for Nigeria’s Oluchi Onweagba, Blu Cantrell, Jennifer Lopez, Naomi Campbell and the first and only African to win an Oscar, Charlize Theron. Our young ladies in our campuses and Nollywood are following suit. If you do not, you will be taunted as not modern, hippy or ‘happening’ or enlightened. What sort of children would these produce for the society? However according to the science of the home, the woman has a greater potential to effect a great moral revolution in the society for good or for ill. Indeed, there are still some people in the celebrity cult who upholds the moral sense: those who made sure that Vanessa Williams resigned as Miss America when she posed nude. Just last April, Miss France was stripped of her crown for six months for posing nude for Playboy.: “Laetitia Bleger,” a statement from the Miss France committee said, “infringed on the rule forbidding the national winner from making herself available for licentious shots – either partially or fully nude.” Audrey George was in a good position to assert the values of respect for the body we still cherish; rather she harvested the ones the white boy presented. Likewise Nollywood actresses and directors could show the world that are there is something called entertainment without obscenities rather they increasingly getting absorbed in this business of obscenity struggling to outdo Hollywood instead of teaching them otherwise.
Adewale Josephine, one of those who commented on the Audrey Olabisi George images said in the subsequent edition of Fame: “the type of Olabisi is a disgrace to womanhood. When WOTCLEF and many other organisations are dissuading we young girls from using our bodies for money, the whole campaign falls on Olabisi’s deaf ears. They are so many ways for girls to make money. Let me see how the meagre [money] they paid her can give her a husband after this wonderful expose your magazine did on her”.
Pornography is a carefully arranged lies about women. The Audrey pictures announce that we cannot fold our arms to this open and dangerous contempt of the principles of human dignity and this culture of shamelessness. The only resistance has to be collective. Men and women have to be able to stand up and say no more. There are problems that needed to be confronted and other that need to be managed. Porn belongs to the former. To say that porn is ineradicable is to strengthen it the more. Indeed, it can never be eradicated overnight. There are issues like that before that are so pervasive that people thought they would not be eradicated. Capital punishment and smoking for instance. The step towards their eradication has begun and gaining pace. What is most pertinent however is to equip oneself on how to negotiate this porn-saturated minefield without one blowing up in one’s face. Enjoyment of porn is a function of false consciousness and never the authentic expression of sexuality. Pornography, an irresistible nonsense, is a dedicated evangelist of what is desirable but unattainable. The human mind yearns for progress on our sexuality and its fulfilments but porn has not shown us the way. Porn is not an antichrist. It is a false Christ.