Porn= Political Openness and women’s freedom: Are our voices being heard?


As I read

the news on the recent explosion of porn magazines and videos in Iraq and I read the extremely non-sense comments from Muslims and Non- Muslims and Westerners and non-Westerners, I recalled something else. Whatever the context is, we women, still live far behind from being free, equal or even respected. Most of the comments that I read online and most of the discussion came from men. Either conservative, liberal, religious or atheist…. Mostly men. The discussion around pornography’s availability in Iraq is led by those who consider that it is a symbol of political openness. Well, I must say that porn exists in every single country and if you really want to get it you will go through the risk of buying it.

Nonetheless, it is still more problematic to ask… political openness for whom? For women? I don’t think so. Even when some Western men think that somehow porn is a symbol of female liberation, we should take a look at politics in the Global North. How are women over-sexualized and transformed into “bimbos” by the media just because this ‘sexual openness’ has lead us to think that it is ok for a woman to be portrayed in that way and sometimes to even think that she WANTS to have that image.

While I consider that pornography is nothing more than a symbol of actual sexual oppression and a reinforcement of patriarchal cultural dominance, many people find quite exotic to see few veiled women with no panties. Ironic! We were told that the whole fuss against Islamic countries was that men wanted to liberate Muslim women from the veil! Apparently, that does not count when it comes to the bedroom. Even so, why not asking the women themselves? It is a fact that some women that are involved in pornography have gotten into it by themselves and do not find any problem with it. Nevertheless, there is a large amount of women who are called to the industry through problematic stages of their lives, or are forced into it and find in it their only means of survival. Yes, for most Muslims that is not a good enough reason; but when people cannot fulfill their most basic needs, they might go into the porn industry or even sell their daughters into it. Does that mean we are free? No, it just means that women represent the fastest way to make money in societies where men are praised for their ‘virility’ even outside marriage. Does that mean Iraq is less oppressed? No, it just means that the object of oppression has changed and the type has shifted.

In real terms, how does that affect the rest of us? If you think that the only ones that are affected by pornography in everyday life are just the actresses, you are wrong.

The over-sexualization of the woman is a way of subjugation. We become a symbol of desire, lust and sex. What can these attributes provide for a family or a country? Only pleasure or shame, depending where you are. It is because of this that women are considered a threat to the status quo in both the East or in the West.

Are we able to participate in politics? No, it is not our realm… but the bed is!

If we are raped, where is the guy? Who knows, it was your fault for either covering too much, and tempting the guy, or for covering too little and making him excited!

Can we work and study with men without being harassed? Not likely, if you don’t want to be attacked, you must stay at home or stand whatever happens to you.

Are we really equal? Do you want to be equal? Then you must play dirty (under patriarchal rules) and if you are a woman, it is very likely you will be treated in nasty ways, just look at female politicians or activists all around the world.

That’s why women’s movements exist… unfortunately, they are necessary!

On the other hand, living in the West, Muslim women always get the question: Does your husband or father forces you to wear the scarf? And most of us answer no. However, sometimes the question is a reflection of a ‘culture of women-stripping’, where women are expected, desired and pushed to dress in certain way. I am not saying that it does not happen to Muslim women, we are also advised and sometimes forced to dress in specific ways and to discriminate those who dress differently, especially among our own Muslim sisters.

Yet, many Western and Muslim women think that they have a free choice. Yes, it is a free choice influenced by a bunch of things. Pornography is one of the major ones. Due to our closeness to the topic, some Muslim women opt to completely negate a connection to it by censuring and isolating themselves in a bubble while some Western women think it is cool and normal.

But let me ask both of you, does covering from head to toe, and criticizing other women who don’t, prevent our men from engaging with pornography? Or, would you acceptance of pornography open more doors for you outside the bedroom? It is not about pornography itself, but about how some men interpret what they see and take it out of context.

This ‘political openness’ in Iraq will likely have a very negative impact on women’s status because now there is no reason not to say that women are overly sexual and they want that kind of attention all the time. Thus, we may expect problems in the role that women play in the public sphere, oppression and even violence. This is not to say that those things didn’t exist before since they did and people probably had access to porn from other sources. However, once it is legitimized it becomes almost legal to treat women like sexual objects while negating their intellectual and spiritual capabilities.

Conversely, many of us have been absorbed by these assumptions and sometimes we think about ourselves in that way. How many times haven’t we heard that a girl faced a problem and we blame the way she dresses in front of men? That is an issue, because in those situations there are two or more, and we usually blame only one: the girl. We actually believe that we are a source of temptation and lust, and that that’s why men have all the right to treat us in that way.

Thus whenever we stop thinking about ourselves as overly sexual beings that are symbols of pleasure, desire and shame, we will be able to think beyond the “good woman /bad woman dichotomy” and realize that these discussions are led by those men, in both sides, who find comfortable to diminish women’s status.

Pornography exists because there is a demand. If people considered repulsive, it wouldn’t be a good business and it would disappear. However, it is one of the major businesses of the world, and unfortunately big consumers can be found in all nations, ethnicities and religion; for example among our brothers, husbands, fathers, friends, etc.

Pornography does not mean political openness and it definitely does not mean freedom for those women who do not want to be treated as “bimbos” for whatever is underneath their clothes, or in the Iraqi case, under their abaayas.