What do we mean by prevailing and countervailing narratives of pornography?

In last week’s post, I made reference to both prevailing and countervailing narratives of pornography. But what, exactly, is meant by that? What are these narratives and why are they important? And how are they incorporated into Accounting for it All?

Let’s take these questions one-by-one, beginning with definitions:

  • prevailing narratives: the attitudes and arguments a culture has about or takes toward a given topic or idea
  • countervailing narrative: attitudes and arguments that subvert those of the prevailing narrative, with the goal of developing a more nuanced understanding of a given topic or idea

Granted, it feels a bit simplistic to define the latter with reference to the former, but this should suffice for the purposes of this conversation.

When looking at pornography specifically, the prevailing narratives are, perhaps by definition, the ones with which many are familiar. Namely, these are those that frame pornography as a scourge without exception; those who participate in it as deviant, maladjusted, or otherwise desperate—which we already know not to be the case.

These are, yes, extreme examples against which there is ample room to present countervailing narratives, some of which are explored in the post linked above. The duality of prevailing and countervailing narratives can also be far more nuanced, however.

Consider for a moment attitudes of pornography viewed through the lens of feminism. In The Feminist Porn Book, Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood describe two camps: antiporn feminists and what I’ll call porn-positive feminists.

Here the arguments Smith and Attwood attribute to antiporn feminists adopt many facets of prevailing narratives toward pornography by distinguishing between “healthy sex” and “porn sex.”

According to the authors, antiporn feminists frame “porn sex” as “sex that is debased, dehumanized, formulaic, and generic.” Antiporn feminists will also define sex acts that they feel fit this mold as inherently problematic acceptances of patriarchal constructs surrounding sex and sex work.

The challenge to this—in other words, the countervailing narrative—is that these kinds of arguments feature “no consideration of the variety of sexual practices that people engage in, diverse understandings of what sex is, or the multifarious reasons why people have sex” (Smith & Attwood).

This countervailing narrative essentially embraces the idea that sex of any kind between consenting adults is valid and worth affirming. In other words, why permit the narrowly defined views of “healthy sex” to shape one’s own experiences?

Why is this important, then?

Understanding the difference between prevailing and countervailing narratives of pornography is critical not only in the context of reading this blog (which will focus mostly on countervailing narratives), but also allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of the diverse array of sexual experiences and desires others might have.

We’ve only touched on one topic’s prevailing and countervailing narratives, but we’ll be exploring this dichotomy in a number of different ways going forward.

Where Accounting for it All is concerned, I had to take into consideration that one cannot take the same approach to tackling these issues in a novel as one can in a blog or other work of non-fiction.

Instead, I created character subsets meant to embody prevailing narratives, countervailing narratives, and combinations thereof when putting them on the pages themselves.

These groups are, generally speaking:

Representations of prevailing narratives: 

  • Malcolm, an ex-boyfriend of Robin’s
  • Brett, Robin’s agent in the adult industry
  • Margaret, Robin’s mother

Representations of countervailing narratives:

  • Constance (Cee), Robin’s mentor and the founder of Pornucopia
  • Jocelyn, Robin’s ally and fellow adult actor

Though these characters can be separated into two camps in general, rarely do they manifest themselves so black and white on the page. On the contrary, no character is the perfect representation of either side of a particular argument—it was my goal to have some of their opinions and actions be as complicated and occasionally conflicting as our own.

With their help, readers then have an opportunity to explore the diverse narratives surrounding pornography and the world around it, all through the eyes of the novel’s protagonist, Robin.

It’s been great to share these perspectives with readers since the book’s release, both through Robin’s eyes in the novel itself, and here on this blog. If you’d like to get your hands on the book readers, per their reviews, “love, love LOVE,” you can find it everywhere at the links below.

Find Accounting for It All on:Mock Paperback

Amazon | NineStar Press | Barnes & Noble | Author Website | Goodreads

Note: this post originally debuted in May 2018. It’s been republished now to reflect the release of Accounting for It All.

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