Capitalist Pornography: The Social Construction of the Isolated, Lonely Male

122911-3.jpgThis article written with Tess Fraad-Wolff was originally posted on Truthout.

Massive social changes in the US labor force and in commerce have transformed the economy and powerfully affected personal relationships. Since 1970, we have changed from being a society of people connected in groups of every kind to a society of people who are too often disconnected, detached and alienated from one another.

One is the loneliest number, and in their personal lives, Americans are increasingly alone.

What Has Happened to Us? 

In the 1970s, the American dream of 150 years duration ground to a halt. From 1820 to 1970, every US generation did better than the one that preceded it. In the 1970s, computers began to replace millions of US jobs. International communication systems became so sophisticated that factories could be moved overseas, allowing the livelihoods of more millions of Americans to be outsourced. Civil rights and feminist gains had given women and minorities access to a depleted job market. Militant left trade union movements or political parties were not there to protest. Wages flattened. Profits rose with productivity and the share distributed to the top rose, rather than being distributed in wages. Wealthy banks issued credit cards with high interest rates that allowed them to make even more money on funds formerly paid out as salaries.

Men were no longer paid a family wage. Families suffered. Women poured into the labor force to make up for lost male wages. Until this point, most women's work was primarily labor in the home: creating domestic order and cleanliness, performing childcare, and providing social and emotional services for the family. After the 1970s, the majority of women worked outside of the home as well as within it. Now, practically all women work outside the home, currently constituting almost half of the labor force.

Before the movements for racial and gender equality, the best jobs were reserved for white males who were an overwhelming majority. Within our racist and sexist labor force, white men had what ultimately amounted to two wage bonuses: one for being white and another for being male. Beginning in the 1970s, it was no longer necessary to give financial bonuses to white men. Indeed, it was not necessary to pay higher wages to any workers in the US labor force. Workers' salaries flattened even as they increased their efficiency. This meant that ever more profit was made and accumulated at the top.

American white men lost a good deal of the male hegemony that accompanied steady jobs and wages that could support a family. When millions of manufacturing jobs were outsourced, our economy became a service economy. Neither the greater physical strength nor the higher levels of aggression associated with males are particularly welcome in a service economy. Heterosexual personal relationships that had developed on the basis of a male provider income could not hold. Those gendered roles were sexist and limiting. However, they could have been transformed politically without economically and psychologically traumatizing the American people.


New Roles

US women adjusted to new roles in the marketplace. Unfortunately, men did not make comparable changes. They held on to the privileges that came with men's provider roles and women's full-time service in the household. The average unemployed man currently does less housework than his fully employed wife. Many men now want extra domestic, sexual and emotional services to compensate them for the emasculation they experience when they lose provider jobs and salaries. There is conflict in the household on a whole new level. Our divorce rate has become the highest in the world. Unfortunately, men and women did not mobilize to force the government to provide free or subsidized childcare, eldercare or any other direly necessary social services to compensate for women's "second shift" at home.

In 2008, the recession struck, plunging millions of Americans into precarity and loss. Male jobs were hit hardest. Most of the jobs lost were in disproportionately stereotypically male fields such as construction, heavy machinery, finance and aggressive big-ticket sales. Seventy-five percent of the more than 5 million jobs lost in our recession have been traditionally men's jobs.

Men have fallen behind. Women's earnings grew 44 percent from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6 percent growth for men. Women now occupy nearly half of the nation's jobs, more than half of management positions and most of the seats in higher education.

Men's traditional roles in both the marketplace and the home are becoming obsolete. Only two of the 15 most rapidly increasing US jobs are usually male jobs: janitor and computer engineer. All the rest of the job-growth areas are in traditionally women's jobs in social services of all kinds. Social service jobs cannot be outsourced. Qualities traditionally associated with women, such as the abilities to nurture, cooperate and socially connect, are those most often required in America's new service economy.

Women have responded to men's financial incapacity and refusal to share equally in housework and childcare. Women can no longer bear the extra work in caring for men who can neither support them nor compensate for women's quadruple shifts in domestic labor, emotional labor, childcare and jobs outside of the home. US women increasingly refuse to marry men who cannot provide economic support and still want full personal services. Women currently initiate most US divorces and, increasingly, refuse to marry in the first place. Women can now afford to live in single households, and do. The majority of people of prime marriage and childbearing age (18-34 years old) remain unmarried and live alone.

These changes have drastically altered the pattern of intimate relationships. Shifts in gender roles and employment required women to adjust by taking on career and job responsibilities and living alone, or alone with children. Most men have not adjusted. Their former workforce and gender roles allowed men to grow accustomed to outsourcing their emotional needs and life maintenance activities to women, who are now far less available.

American women had a vital feminist movement for support. US men had and have no social, political or labor movement to explore what they missed by avoiding tasks in maintaining life or emotional intimate personal connections outside of sex. Single women continue to maintain close emotional connections with their women friends and children. Men have become increasingly emotionally disconnected and lonely. They respond to capitalist ads selling market-based solutions to their felt loss of manliness. They buy testosterone cream to enhance the sense of manhood that changed social conditions erode for them. Testosterone products are one of the biggest growth areas for the pharmaceutical industry. Heterosexual men have now become afraid of love relationships in which the rules have changed. Often, those heterosexual relationships were the only emotionally intimacy men had. They do not know how to function as equal partners, and they often fear learning. Heterosexual women, too, may be afraid, because they also have no guidance in maintaining an intimate relationship between equals. They fear losing their autonomy.


The Position of Men

Lost and lonely men may work on transforming their lives through 12-step programs or therapies. However, needing and reaching out for help has traditionally been associated with femininity, not masculinity. There are four refuges left for men who cling to male hegemony and stereotyped masculinity. They are: the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun culture; the military; the Christian right; and pornography. Of these four misogynist refuges, pornography is the most prevalent, profitable and expanding. The heterosexual Internet pornography industry has exploited heterosexual men's loneliness and contributed to changing the face of the most intimate connections.

Possibilities for meaningful and egalitarian heterosexual personal relationships now seem bleak. Women's current disappointment with men and men's increasing withdrawal from authentic communication and relationships are now reflected in popular culture. Trendy films like "Knocked Up" have birthed a new genre. In "Knocked Up," the female lead has a good job. She is attractive and professional-looking, while the male lead lives with a handful of unemployed, slovenly, male roommates who spend the majority of their time playing video games, smoking pot and watching pornography in a filthy apartment covered in pizza boxes and overall inertia. Their biggest aspiration, which remains to be accomplished, is launching their own pornography site.

A New York Times article describing two state-of-the-art sitcoms is called "Downsized and Downtrodden, Men are the New Women on TV."

Images of high-functioning women and slacker-style, adolescent men have also come up in a study conducted by one of this article's co-authors, Tess Fraad Wolff. Fraad-Wolff interviewed 48 heterosexual women of four different races and socioeconomic groups, ranging in age from 22-40 years old. She asked questions that concerned women's emotional and sexual experiences during the dating process. An overwhelming majority, 46 of the 48 women interviewed, responded with descriptions of the problems below.

  1. Men often refuse to plan ahead and can only accept spur-of the-moment arrangements.
  2. Men show fears of commitment after first dates by failing to make or attend second dates. They reschedule and cancel frequently.
  3. Too many men fail to bring sufficient funds to even share the cost of possible activities on dates.
  4. Men introduce sex and sexually related material into conversations instantly and inappropriately, yet many cannot perform.

The last complaints, about inserting sexual material into the most initial of conversations, may relate to an issue that powerfully impacts relationships and illustrates a profound connection between capitalism and loneliness. It is the mainstreaming of heterosexual pornography.


The Impact of Pornography

Pornography precedes capitalism. However, capitalists have now marketed pornography on a whole new level. Pornography has now become a pastime for billions of men and an addiction for millions. Forty million adults in the United States regularly visit pornography sites. Of those 40 million, 87 percent are men.

Capitalism and Pornography

The explosion of heterosexual Internet pornography in the early 90s yielded huge profits. Pornography is a capitalist dream machine. The industry has larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. By 2006, worldwide pornography revenues ballooned to $97.06 billion.

Because of pornography's extreme profitability, its producers strive to capture a greater market share. They produce more violent pornography with ever younger women and more degrading and assaultive acts. Capitalism values profit above all, thus de-prioritizing consideration for equal rights, morality or damage to personal relationships.

How do the mainstreaming of pornography and the increasing numbers of viewers and addicts affect relationships?

Sexual connection can motivate people to find and maintain relationships. Heterosexual Internet pornography has dramatically altered images of sexuality. Heterosexual US men are experiencing increasing difficulty performing sexually, from maintaining erections, to focusing on partners during sex, to having orgasms at all. Many men have grown so accustomed to the breakneck pace with which pornography offers hundreds of images that they can no longer maintain arousal or concentration during the comparatively slow interactive process of actual sex. Additionally, many viewers have unconsciously associated anonymity with arousal, resulting in a failure to either engage in or appreciate the intimacy that often accompanies real sex. Men in record numbers report being unable to complete sexual acts that involve another live person. A recent University of Kansas study found that 25 percent of college-age men said they'd faked orgasms with women because they could not have orgasms without pornography.


Why Is Pornography Addictive?

The act of watching pornography involves bonding between the brain and the pornographic images and acts depicted. This neural bonding process entails the immediate mental imitation that occurs when people watch representations of any behavior, particularly behavior that possesses arousing qualities. The chemicals released from the firing of neurotransmitters create pleasurable sensations. Viewers want to get more of these sensations. Viewers are all potential addicts because they can not only achieve orgasm with pornography, but potentially develop a neurological attachment to it. They often do not realize the ways in which their relationships with pornography have begun to replace those with one another.

Many men reject actual sex in favor of the synthetic version even when they have partners with whom the opportunities for sex are present. They turn off to the connectedness and intimacy that actual sex can offer. They retreat into pornography to escape from the challenge of changed and challenging relationships with women. Many avoid even trying to form a relationship in favor of a seemingly safe, isolated, anonymous bond with artificial images on computer screens. Although the fraction of women who view and are addicted to pornography mainly do not cite decreased desire to experience real sex with partners, they do share inabilities to masturbate or orgasm without pornography or pornographic images. Initially, larger numbers of women reported feeling perpetually upset and sexually rejected by their male partners. Men, too, have now grown disturbed by their increasing sexual dysfunction and reliance on pornography.

Immersion in pornography is both a cause and a result of the bleak loneliness of trying to relate in a profit-driven America with an altered gender landscape. Pornography provides a lucrative market that sells its wares to mask heterosexual men's fear of changed gender expectations. The way in which capitalism and loneliness feed one another is present as rising numbers of men and women forego countless opportunities for intimacy in favor of the experience of sitting alone with manufactured, profit-driven images that often contain polarizing and divisive messages about gender relationships and sexuality. They select solitary, purchased experiences over mutual ones - even in sexual acts that are, by their very nature and description, about merging, physically, psychologically, symbolically and perhaps spiritually.

The hegemonic position of heterosexual males has been destroyed as the relentless capitalist search for profit eliminated and outsourced jobs and lowered wages. Men and women might have reached a desired mutual respect and equality without the capitalist, profit-driven destruction of our economic and personal lives. There are non-capitalist ways, such as uniting together to force the United States  government to provide services that permit women and men to work together as equals outside and inside of the home. The destruction of the US economy left women with the burden of doing it alone and men listless, dispossessed, dysfunctional and lonely. The marketing of pornography offered a refuge from the wreckage that capitalism helped to create.

We must now face the eerie trumping of profit over shared experience. Capitalism has polluted the experience of reciprocal connection in our very bedrooms and bodies. The failure of capitalism to provide sufficient jobs, possibilities for prosperity, decent wages and social services has led masses to grab at lonely pseudosolutions that ultimately worsen the quality of life. Pornography is one of them.


Emerging From Capitalism and Loneliness

How can we emerge from this epidemic of personal isolation and loneliness? How can we connect as equals to change these things? The hope of reaching one another is beginning to mobilize the 99 percent of Americans dispossessed and formerly isolated in capitalist America. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight men and women of all races and ethnicities are beginning to affirm that we belong to the 99 percent and can begin to build a movement together as equals. It is happening. Occupy movements are spreading across America and flourishing in spite of police brutality and repression.

The 99 percent movement is characterized by democratic decisionmaking, respect, transparency, and race and gender equality. Together, people strive to end rule by and for the 1 percent of profiteers who have steered America into economic and emotional destitution. Occupy movements provide possibilities for better lives with opportunity and connection for all. They are our hope.

Tess Fraad Wolff is a certified art therapist, hypnotherapist and MSW psychotherapist. She speaks on issues of male female relationships and pornography.

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