Final 1-The Power Play of Pornography

This research topic submitted by Hicks, Kandawalla ( on 2/25/98.


We propose to analyze the power issues involved in dominance and submission as it is represented through pornography. We believe that dominance and submission are biological traits. They are not, however, gender specific. Male dominance is socially constructed through the patriarchal system. Whereas patriarchy socially constructs female submission. Through pornography we believe that the socialized roles of control traits are clearly demonstrated.


We will be using theories which support the notion that submission and dominance are inherent traits in both men and women. Jane Goodall in Through a Window supports this claim by giving examples of her studies with chimpanzees.

?It began when Passion?s infant Pom moved to close to Jomeo during feeding. When he hit out at her, warning her to keep her distance, she did not move, but looking towards her mother then back at the big male gave a small but defiant sounding bark. Instantly Passion charged toward Jomeo?and this time, in marked contrast to his performance the year before, he fled before and, screaming in fight, took refuge up a palm tree?(Goodall, 152-53).

In Darwin, Sex and Status by Jerome Barkow, Parker?s scenario is used to demonstrate how females overcome male dominance and in turn become controlling themselves.

?Males have evolved to seek to control female sexuality and females have responded with the evolution of confusing signals with their ovulatory status. These female countermeasures to male control include concealed ovulation, continuous sexual receptivity, and (some argue) large breasts?Females were selected to insight male-male competition so as to be better able to choose the Œbest genes? male?(Barkow, 350).

Robert Wright in The Moral Animal discusses the socialization of these traits starting with adolescence. ?Certainly male competitiveness has a cultural as well as genetic basis. Though male toddlers, generally speaking, are naturally more assertive than female toddlers, they?re also given guns and signed up for Little League?(Wright, 248). We will use these theories in order to interpret gender-related power issues in pornography. As our study persists we will expand our resources.


We will quantitatively analyze different types of pornography for our empirical study. We plan to look at the representation of submission and dominance in pornographic photography, video and erotic literature. We will conduct our own survey about people?s interpretation of pornography and the power issues it entails. We will provide counter-examples through the use of the internet which has many web sites where female dominance is prevalent. We will examine more studies involving chimpanzee relationships and demonstrations of control. These studies will prove that males can be submissive and females dominant. This behavior combats the patriarchal social construction about power and control. Some questions we will attempt to answer through the use of survey and study: How exactly is pornography defined?(Is pornography a control issue only?) How are dominance and submission defined? What is the intended audience for pornography? Who controls the pornography industry?


Through our quantitative analysis of surveys and media images, we hope to show how dominance and submission are socialized. The obvious power play in pornography explicitly illustrates our thesis. Male dominance over women exhibited in pornography is representative of socialized gender roles.

Barash, David. Sociobiology and Behavior. Elsevier Scientific: New York, 1977.

Barkow, Jerome H. Darwin, Sex and Status. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 1989.

Betzig, Laura. Human Nature. Oxford Universtiy Press: New York, 1997.

Goodall, Jane. Through a Window. Houghton-Mifflin Company: Boston, 1990.

Holcomb, Harmon. Sociobiology, Sex and Science. State University of New York Press: Albany, 1993.

Trigg, Roger. The Shaping of Man. Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1982.

Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal. Random House: New York, 1994.

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