(No, that is not the ultimate Armed & Dangerous post title. The ultimate Armed & Dangerous post title would be Naked Women With Guns Smash The State!.)
A few nights ago I was on IRC with a friend I shall refer to as ‘H’ who may, if she wishes, identify herself in a comment, discussing rape statistics; she had been a post-rape counselor and I thought she would have a useful on-the-ground perspective. H shared my evaluation that the rape statistics I reported are seriously inflated by definitional flimflam, but that’s not our topic this evening. This post is, instead, stimulated (as it were) by her thoughts on the subject of pornography.
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I find the semiotics of pornography more interesting than porn itself. In Why does porn got to hurt so bad? I attempted to develop a theory of why there is so much demand for bad porn on which, as I put it “full of the fetish signifiers of sexual allure, to the point where they crowd out the reality of sexual allure”. I explained these fetish signifiers as a method of increasing the emotional distance between the viewer and the viewed.
I asked H what she thought about the implications I drew from this. H agreed with the obvious hypothesis that men who associate sex with sin and dirt may develop a need for women to look trashy to be aroused by them; also with my more particular theses that symbolically jamming women in a box marked “sluts, to be used and discarded” might function as a sort of power-equalizing move to men who feel hemmed in and controlled by female power of sexual and other kinds. (This second theory is interesting because it predicts that porn will grow more ugly and degrading as female power increases.)
H pointed out a third possibility I had missed; that bad, emotionally-distant porn appeals to men who can handle women being in overtly sexual roles or as desexualized equals, but not women who are both sexy and equals. I thought this sounded reasonable, but immediately noted that it failed to explain a relatively popular porn niche – naked women with guns.
Many men find pictures of dangerous women – women with weapons, especially – to be erotically charged. (One of those men is me.) I pointed this out and wondered how it could be reconciled with H’s theory. She observed that for many men the weapons were simply another form of emotional or narrative distancing…
…and I felt that shock like being slapped one sometimes gets at a moment of enlightenment. Because, you see, that isn’t my reaction to such images at all – and, when I realized I has been projecting my own reaction on other men, I realized something important about this kind of porn. That is, there are at least two different ways that men react erotically to images of naked women with guns, and these ways predict very different preferences about the composition of the porn.
For one group of men, H is correct. The weapons (guns or otherwise) act as a yet another distancing element. These men will favor images in which the women are merely posing with weapons, and much of the focus is on implausible costume – fetishized version of military gear, chainmail bikinis, etc.
For another group, the draw will be women exhibiting martial competence – shooting weapons, fighting hand-to-hand, moving gracefully and aggressively. For this group, fetish elements in the composition will be perceived as neutral or even anti-erotic. The fantasy this group is having is “This woman could kill me, but I can make her want to have sex with me”, and the women have the sort of I-would-bear-you-strong-offspring appeal I reported on in Dangerous Sons. In view of the next category I will discuss, I note that it is not required that the women look hostile, angry, or dominating – just really capable.
Later I reported this conversation to my wife Cathy (who, you should not be surprised to learn, looks really sexy swordfighting or shooting). She pointed out a third group – men who want to be sexually dominated. For this group, the key is probably that the woman has to actually look like a dom – threatening, powerful, ready and able to punish with her power. Competence may help, also the right sort of fetishy gear.
My thoroughly unscientific impression, from the trait distribution of naked-women-with-weapons porn I’ve stumbled across, is that group one (the distancers) is relatively large, while groups two and three (competence-seekers and dom-seekers) are relatively small.
The personal lesson for me is a pretty obvious one: beware of unconsciously projecting your own reactions on others. Their preferences may be odder than you imagine. There will be no prize for guessing which group I fall in – the thing is, I didn’t even imagine the existence of the other two groups until clever women pointed them out to me.
I’m not sure there’s a wider lesson, other than “Most porn is really sad.” But I knew that already. I’m also left wondering if there are groups 4 through N, size-distributed on some sort of Poisson or exponential curve, that I’ve missed.