“Feminism and Pornography” course addresses taboos, explores explicit material

When students arrive to college, we are often encouraged to explore the variety of classes a college offers. A diverse class schedule helps us better understand the world around us and become educated on topics we normally would not spend time studying. Throughout our adolescent and teenage years, topics that can be deemed as promiscuous such as sex, sexuality and pornography have been ruled as too inappropriate for in-school discussion.

Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski pushes the boundary of this stigma by teaching a class entitled “Feminism and Pornography.” This class is offered through the Women & Gender Studies discipline, targeting students with feminist views and a hunger for an explanation of discourses that were forbidden throughout one’s adolescent years.

The class is unique in that the material being read, watched and discussed is explicit material that has long been ruled “non-academic” and suggestive. Discussions about topics such as sexual liberation, the male gaze, hegemonic masculinity and the rights of sex workers are examined through the theoretical lenses of feminist theorists such as Betty Dodson, Andrea Dworkin, Linda Williams and Gayle Rubin.

“Students who sign up for the course who think all we do is watch pornography will be disappointed,” Rutkowski said. “Most of what we do in the course is read about pornography—definitions of it, past attempts to legislate it, the history of pornography as a genre in film and so on.” 

There is freedom in the class to ask questions, criticize and praise the pornography industry and all the baggage that comes along.

“I often taught the introductory course in Women’s and Gender Studies, and on that syllabus I would include a single day of readings about feminism and pornography. My experience was that the students who were willing to contribute to the discussion seemed to fall into two camps: ‘porn is all woman-hating and horrible’ or ‘porn is all liberation!’” Rutkowski said. “It struck me that the truth probably fell somewhere in between those two extremes and that a full semester was needed to consider all the issues.”

Sociology major senior Nicole Horn is currently enrolled in the course and she notes that this class is unlike any other class she has taken at Geneseo.

“My biggest takeaway has probably been how academic the study of pornography can be and how many elements and perspectives there are to consider,” Horn said.

Through this class, Rutkowski makes an effort to debunk the stigmas that surround pornography and address the inequalities within the industry.

“This is a kind of media that it seems everyone watches but no one is allowed to talk about,” Rutkowski said.

Opening up the classroom for analytical dialogues about pornography allows students to reconstruct their opinions and knowledge of sex, sexuality and pornography in a way that encourages a critical view of other forbidden topics within our society.