Dear men—particularly undergraduate men—of Duke University,
Most of you, and perhaps all of you, are by now well aware of the publicity and debate about one of your classmates who is engaged in the pornography industry—publicity which has now cast Duke, yet again, in the national spotlight. But the men of Duke have been remarkably silent on the pages of The Chronicle and in the press. The Chronicle has featured mostly a “debate” among women about whether voluntarily producing porn is an act of self-empowerment or a betrayal of feminist commitments, with your classmate mostly arguing for the former. Men have been mostly absent from the discussion, at least on these pages.
But you are there. It was, after all, one of you who recognized your classmate on a porn website and outed her to other students. It was you who barraged her with Facebook friend requests when the word got out. And it is mostly you, on your laptops and tablets and smartphones, who sustain the huge American porn industry through your clicks and your eyes and, sometimes, your money. Even though you have not been writing letters to The Chronicle, many of you have been finding her or others like her on the web. And what’s the big deal? Everybody is doing it, after all, and it’s only images, and the women and men on your screens are (probably) getting paid for their work.
That is your right. But your female classmates, including and especially “Lauren,” deserve better. Women, and men, at Duke deserve to be able to live and to work among you without competing for mental space with the objectified bodies you watch online. They deserve not to be constantly mentally undressed by you, not to live in fear of the forms of rape and sexual objectification that pornography often portrays and, to some extent, legitimizes. And when they do give themselves to you sexually, they deserve not to be compared to the impossible, Photoshopped bodies you find online.
And men deserve better also. You deserve to know what it means to relate to women, and men, as complex, full human beings without constant intrusion of naked images cluttering the imagination. You deserve to know what it means for sexual union to be the culminating bond of a deep and rich and committed relationship—maybe even a lifelong one—rather than as an entryway to it or, worse, as a way to have fun or to prove your worth to yourselves and to others. And those of you who are addicted to pornography, those of you who have lost your ability to control your use of it even though you hate yourselves for it, deserve to be free and whole.
So here’s a challenge: Show your manhood, here at Duke, by giving up porn. Better yet, tell someone else that you plan to do so, and commit to holding each other accountable. If you are addicted and unable to quit, seek help from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) or somewhere else. Or, if you’re not ready for that, at least consider, when you watch porn online, that the women and men on your screens, who may or may not be students at Duke, are real people who have been students somewhere. They remember what it’s like to be a kid. They have families and friends. They dream of loving and of being loved not as objects but as real, embodied people. Many of them have previously been raped and assaulted and carry the burden of that in their bodies and in their experience. They are people just like you are, real people with real names, who need love and respect rather than your objectification and consuming gaze.
Warren Kinghorn is an assistant professor of psychiatry and pastoral and moral theology.