Women’s studies course reconsiders role of porn in society

Despite pornography’s strong presence in American culture, the word oftentimes makes us grimace, blush or snicker. We repeatedly see sexually charged images on a daily basis––particularly in advertisements––but “real” pornography has been denoted as taboo. While it is understandable that many people would like to avoid the topic of porn altogether, there are many who bemoan that there is not a place to openly and intelligently converse about it. Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski is working to successfully address this qualm through her new course WMST 201: Topics: Pornography.

“My idea for teaching the course was that students are desperate to have critical tools to figure pornography out,” Rutkowski said. “This class gives a history and different lenses through which we consume media within our culture, with a concentration on pornography.”

Examining pornography from an objective perspective, Rutkowski leads her class in discussions covering topics such as the philosophy of pornography, obscenity laws and their consequences, issues of regulation within the pornography industry and pornography in relation to social constructs. Sub-issues linked with each topic discussed regarding pornography include racial discrimination, gender discrimination and problems relating to queer porn.

“This is a class for me as an adult,” senior Sarah Fiegel said. “It’s important to have this base of cultural information to draw on because sex is everywhere in our world.”

Juniors Abigail Crosby and Caitlin O’Brien emphasized their agreement with Fiegel’s claim. “Porn is something many people already think about a lot,” O’Brien said. “Being able to talk about it in an academic setting has proved incredibly rewarding and eye-opening.”

“We’ve really developed a good space where we can talk about porn without feeling awkward,” Crosby said. “Normally, people are uncomfortable with their own ideas and opinions about porn, but in this class we are supportive of one another, even when we disagree. My experience in this class has been a fulfilling one, providing academic perspective on a subject generally unacceptable to talk about.”

All three students agreed that this course has been important in allowing them to more proficiently analyze pornography’s role in the modern day.

Rutkowski explained that she designed the class to be a safe space for students to explore how pornography shapes and is shaped by our culture. As an English professor, she is also concerned with matters related to social issues and women’s studies. She has taught both Introduction to Women’s Studies and Introduction to Transgender Studies in past semesters.

Rutkowski noted that there seemed to be a need for an opportunity for students to hold intellectual conversations about pornography.

“Pornography has come up in conversation in my other courses and students always seemed intrigued and ready to discuss it more in-depth than those classes allowed,” Rutkowski said. “This class provides that needed space for discussions of pornography to take place.”