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94th Joint Session of the Mind Association and Aristotelian Society

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SWIP: Pornography without Dehumanization – Inga Bones


  • Katharine Jenkins (SWIP moderator)

    10th July 2020 at 5:00 pm

    Welcome, everyone! Thanks to Inga for a brilliant talk, thanks to Rachel Paine who organized this panel on behalf of SWIP, and thanks to the Joint Session organizing team for hosting it.

    Over the weekend, please post your comments for Inga below and let’s get a good discussion going. Of course it goes without saying that we aim for a friendly and collaborative atmosphere. In addition, with the online format, it’s worth being as clear as possible whether you are posing a question or just offering a comment, and how many of each, so the speakers can respond to all your points (since unlike in our in-person panels, we’re not limited to one-question-per-question).

    Looking forward to the discussion!

    1. Inga Bones

      10th July 2020 at 5:14 pm

      Dear Katharine and Rachel,
      Thank you very much for the organization and moderation of this panel! I am looking forward to the discussion.

  • Katharine Jenkins

    10th July 2020 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Inga! So, I really enjoyed your talk. I’m not familiar with the Neufeld paper (it sounds very interesting!) and I appreciated the detailed and clear explanation. I also found your critique compelling.

    If I have understood correctly, your argument is targeting *one particular strategy* for showing that pornography dehumanizes women (namely, that it negatively essentializes them/us). As I said, I found your arguments very persuasive in showing that this line of argument needs more support than it has yet received. I am wondering (1) how good you think the prospects are for giving that support. Do you think it might be possible to strengthen the case for thinking that pornography dehumanizes women in virtue of negatively essentializing them (us)? If not, (2) do you think there might be another way for arguing for that claim that is more promising (e.g. via objectification instead of essentialization)? Or falling back even further, (3) do you have a different way of cashing out the wrong of [at least some?] pornography other than dehumanization that you think is more promising?

    I appreciate I am asking you to speculate more about a positive case when your paper is mainly focused on the negative claim that a particular argument does not work – I hope that’s OK, and of course no worries if it’s not something you’ve explored yet! Thanks again for a really engaging talk!

    1. Inga Bones

      11th July 2020 at 4:39 pm

      Dear Katharine,

      Thank you for these important questions, which I’ll try to answer as well as I can.

      I think I am somewhat sceptical regarding the prospects of establishing the claim that pornography, or some kinds of pornography typically marketed to heterosexual men, dehumanize(s) women. To be sure, women (and not only women, but also the male protagonists) are frequently represented in highly stereotypical, two-dimensional ways — but still, there is the obvious objection that pornography is fictional, and, hence, that the sexual acts performed are not *really* cruel, humiliating, or degrading; that (typically male) pornography consumers do not accept or enjoy *actual* inhumane acts but rather engage in a mere fantasy. (This of course presupposes the actors’ consent and safety.) This (or a similar) point has been made, e.g., by Kate Manne in her “Down Girl”.

      Also, as far as I know, the claim that there is a *causal* relationship between pornography consumption and certain harms (such as, e.g., rape or other forms of sexual violence) has been notoriously hard to prove — somewhat similar to the claims that the consumption of certain video games, movies, or music genres (e.g., “gangster rap”) is linked to violent behaviour. So while I am certainly open to consider the claim that some kinds of pornography constitute or cause harms to women, I am (at this point, at least) not sure yet about how to argue for it.

  • Esa Diaz-Leon

    10th July 2020 at 10:40 pm

    Hi Inga! Thank you for an amazing talk! I really enjoyed it. It’s very clear, and you raise a very important objection. I was wondering, though, whether Neufeld could respond that there can be essences that are not stable in the way your argument seem to require. I mean, you seem to suggest that kinds that can be changed or modified over time do not essentialize. But I was wondering whether we could think of examples of social kinds that do involve an essentialist aspect. For instance, social kinds such as boss, employee, tenant, landlord, etc. it’s clear that can change over time, but we could argue that they share some elements of the essentialist attitudes that Neufeld talks about, such as having stereotypical features that belong to the nature of the individuals. Hope this makes sense! Thanks again for a thought provoking talk!

    1. Inga Bones

      11th July 2020 at 6:06 am

      Dear Esa,

      Thanks a lot for your comment! So, just to be clear (and please correct me if I misunderstood your point), your idea is that though (a) an individual can become and cease to be a member of a social kind like “boss”, (b) for the time the individual belongs to the social kind, it shares the kind’s essence and, as a result, the stereotypical features determined by that essence (e.g., we would perhaps say something like “No wonder he treats x like this, he’s been made the company’s boss a few weeks ago”).

      I think I agree with your observation that we frequently conceive of social kinds in a stereotypical way, or frequently associate them with stereotypical properties — and, consequently, we could say that social kinds like “boss” or “employee” have essences (or are conceived of as having essences) in a certain sense. But I’m not sure whether this (weaker) notion of essence as something that can be shed, or cast off, would sit well with the idea of essence as limiting an individual’s capacity for self-determination or agency in an important way: If there is an essence to being a boss, or an employee, etc., that seems to be something an individual can (at least theoretically) get rid off. Does that make sense?

      1. Esa Diaz Leon

        11th July 2020 at 9:19 pm

        Thanks Inga for your response! Yes that makes a lot of sense. I was wondering though whether there could be a weaker notion of essence that can be applied to social kinds but can do the job that Neufeld’s view requires. For instance, I was thinking that our concepts of social kinds sometimes essentialize in the sense that attributions of a social kind to an individual is sometimes accompanied by the assumption that the stereotypical features associated with the kind are part of the individual’s nature, that is to say, that is “what they are”, in a way that is compatible with the idea that the social kind is not mutable, that it is something that can be modified. So according to this conjecture, pejorative language about women could essentialize in a way that undermines their agency, without attributing immutable properties. Not sure whether this view can work out though! Thanks again for the fascinating talk and discussion!

  • Rachel

    11th July 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Inga,

    Thanks so much for a really interesting presentation.

    One question occurred to me: your argument for why the language used to depict women for pornographic purposes does not function as essentialist is really clear and seems right. Is there a question of whether such language used repeatedly, over time and by many people, might come to have the stability it lacks when these are passing comments, so that it mirrors the stability of ethnic slurs?

    I look forward to your thoughts and to the discussions!

    1. Rachel Paine

      11th July 2020 at 2:51 pm

      I should have said, this is Rachel Paine (SWIP moderator)!

    2. Inga Bones

      11th July 2020 at 5:17 pm

      Dear Rachel,

      Thank you very much for your question!

      I think that some gendered pejoratives are, indeed, sometimes used in a “gender-labelling” way, that is, as labels for a whole gender rather than as terms geared towards the behaviour of individuals. And in *these* cases, I contend, they probably “inherit” the characteristics of gender terms, such as (perceived) stability.

  • Lucienne Spencer

    12th July 2020 at 4:57 pm

    Hi Inga, thanks so much for your interesting talk! You present your research very clearly. I wanted to make the following suggestion: I wonder if the reason the racial pejoratives in 3c and 4c sound unnatural whereas the gendered pejoratives in 3a and 4a do not is because negative stereotypes like ‘bitch’ are not fixed to the group ‘women’ in the same that a racial slur is fixed to racial group X. A racist person may believe that all people who belong to racial group X are [insert racial slur]. Whereas a misogynistic person may believe that only women who do not conform to a submissive role are ‘bitches’ (drawing on Kate Manne’s ‘Down Girl’). Hence, perhaps in 4a the misogynist thought his co-worked turned into a ‘bitch’ when she went from being his assistant to his boss.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    1. Inga Bones

      12th July 2020 at 5:11 pm

      Hi Lucienne,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the talk! Thanks a lot for your comment — I think you’re absolutely right, and I discuss the point you make in the paper (draft) that my talk is based on. I think there are uses of gendered pejoratives that *are* “gender-labelling”, i.e., tied to the group of women as a whole. But the uses I discuss in the talk are not gender-labelling, but function like individual pejoratives in crucial respects. They are “punitive in flavour” (as I believe Manne called it), i.e. they “police” and discourage behaviour that is conceived of as a transgression of (partriarchal) norms.

      1. Lucienne Spencer

        13th July 2020 at 11:22 am

        Great thanks very much- your paper sounds very interesting!