While my cat watched us have sex, my boyfriend decided to narrate his thoughts: “Oh! He must be hunting a mouse in there. With his fifth paw.”
As Janice Turner has argued:
'Once porn and real human sexuality were distinguishable. Not even porn's biggest advocates would suggest a porn flick depicted reality, that women were gagging for sex 24/7 and would drop their clothes and submit to rough, anonymous sex at the slightest invitation. But as porn has seeped into mainstream culture, the line has blurred. To speak to men's magazine editors, it is clear they believe that somehow in recent years, porn has come true. The sexually liberated modern woman turns out to resemble — what do you know! — the pneumatic, take-me-now-big-boy fuck-puppet of male fantasy after all.'(Turner, 2005: 2)
The humorous tone that characterised early examples of this shift — e.g. the amusing bra adverts in which billboard models confidently and playfully highlighted their sexual power or traffic-stopping sexiness — should not imply that this shift is not, in fact, profoundly serious and problematic. In the last decade it has gone from being a new and deliberate representational strategy used on women (i.e. for depicting young women) to being widely and popularly taken up by women as a way of constructing the self: TV presenter Denise van Outen ‘confides’ in a TV interview, “I do have a lovely pair. I hope they’ll still be photographing my tits when I’m 60”; ‘readers wives’ write in to lad magazines with their favourite sexual experiences e.g. “he turned me around, bent me over the railings and took me from behind, hard”; and girls and women in the west queue up to buy T-shirts with slogans such as ‘porn star’, ‘fcuk me’ and ‘fit chick unbelievable knockers’.
To be critical of the shift is not to be somehow ‘anti-sex’ — though in postfeminist media culture this position (the prude) is the only alternative discursively allowed (itself part of the problem, and eradicating a space for critique). Rather it is to point to the dangers of such representations of women in a culture in which sexual violence is endemic, and to highlight the exclusions of this representational practice — only some women are constructed as active, desiring sexual subjects: women who desire sex with men (except when lesbian women ‘perform’ for men) and only young, slim and beautiful women. As Myra Macdonald (1995) has pointed out, older women, bigger women, women with wrinkles, etc are never accorded sexual subjecthood and are still subject to offensive and sometimes vicious representations. Indeed, the figure of the unattractive woman who wants a sexual partner remains one of the most vilified in a range of popular cultural forms. Above all, to critique this is to highlight the pernicious connection of this representational shift to neoliberal subjectivities in which sexual objectification can be (re-) presented not as something done to women by some men, but as the freely chosen wish of active, confident, assertive female subjects.