JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

Take It Like A Man

Unlike Strap-On My Man, Take It Like A Man (Unknown, 2005) does not present pegging as a “natural” and relatively harmless variation on traditional heterosex. In fact, it depicts pegging as a type of gendered revenge. This is made clear in the blurb on the back of the DVD release:

“Today girls take their revenge, right from the start the action is intense as these girls find out just how much fun it is to wear the pants, and the cock in the situation. Choking and ass fucking is the name of the game. No less than 3 girl cocks per man ass and one man-whore even took 4 big black girl cocks. Stay tuned to the end for an unbelievable double anal that just keeps going and going.”

True to this description, the focus in Take It Like a Man is on rough sadomasochistic sex. The film is comprised of three scenarios. In the first, a group of women hire a male prostitute, Billy, for strap-on sex. In contrast to the other pegging videos that I have screened, Billy is explicitly figured as a gay prostitute. This is unusual in a porn subgenre that, as previously mentioned, actively attempts to reassure its male audience that the featured men are straight. However, there are several possible explanations for Billy’s gay identity. The film may be addressing female viewers who do not care about the sexual identities of the featured men and who might even be aroused by the prospect of engaging in sex with a gay man and possibly “converting” him. Given the film’s theme of punishment and degradation, Take it Like a Man could also be capitalizing on the internal homophobia of some of its male consumers, who may wish to be punished for their “deviant” desires. Or, perhaps the film is attempting to address open-minded – or even questioning – straight men.           

Whatever the reasoning, in the ensuing scene, Billy is verbally humiliated (“Suck my dick, you little bitch!”), slapped across the face and ass as well as spit on, choked, and roughly fucked by the four women. The women all wear black dildos, hence the statement about “one man-whore” who “even took 4 big black girl cocks” on the DVD’s back cover. Although the women themselves are all white, this statement furthers the film’s theme of revenge, tinging it with racial connotations. Despite the gender-bending reference to “big black girl cocks,” the film reinforces the connection between “big cocks” and “black men,” a connection that conjures long-standing racist fantasies of black male sexual prowess as well as fears of black male sexual danger. As Kobena Mercer states:

“In the fantasmatic space of the supremacist imagination, the big black phallus is a threat not only to the white master (who shrinks in impotence from the thought that the subordinate black male is more potent and sexually powerful than he), but also to civilization itself, since the ‘bad object’ represents a danger to white womanhood and therefore miscegenation and racial degeneration.” (177)

One way that whites have dealt with this threat is through the overinvestment in or fetishization of the “big black phallus;” a fetishization which allows for a disavowal of the underlying anxieties the “big black phallus” provokes. Take It Like A Man takes this process one step further through the fetishization of big black phalluses that are entirely removed from potentially threatening black male bodies. Given that the women wearing the black dildos perform an aggressive, violent and misogynistic masculinity, through a chain of signification, this scene also reinforces stereotypical associations between black men and antisocial behaviors.

In the second scenario, an unidentified man is tied to a bed and forced to fellate and “bend over” for three women after declaring, “Getting fucked is not my thing.” This man later ejaculates while performing cunnilingus on one woman as another penetrates him from behind. In the third and final scenario, a man arrives home from the beach to find his wife having sex with two other women. In a more conventional porn, this moment would likely lead to a scene of straight male sexual domination in which the “lesbians” would be depicted as having been waiting for a man and his penis all along. Yet what starts out as an average straight male fantasy quickly becomes another rough sex scenario in which the women take turns fucking the husband, culminating in an instance of double-penetration.

As in the opening number, the women in these two scenes enact masculine identities. This is similar to the women’s gender behavior reversals in Bend Over Boyfriend, but if the women in Boyfriend enact masculine identities, the women in Take It Like a Man enact hyper-masculine identities, taking their gender-bending performance to a more aggressive extreme. Not only do they refer to their dildos as their “cocks” and “dicks,” but they treat the dildos as if they were real, stroking them and scratching the fake testicles in displays of masculine prerogative. This depiction defies common conceptions of women as (sexually) passive and gentle, and it offers a potentially empowering image of assertive womanhood. This “feminist” reading is complicated, however, by the violence and aggression in which the women participate. That is, it could be argued that Take It Like A Man justifies the abusive treatment some women experience in pornography by sanctioning the humiliation of individuals who perform the sexual role of bottom. From this perspective, Take It Like A Man simply reiterates and condones the problematic gender dynamics of mainstream straight pornography – namely “male” power and “female” submission.

Yet Take It Like A Man is not a mainstream porn film. It is aimed at a more specialized audience and represents desires and pleasures that mainstream pornography does not. In this regard, it might be a mistake to view the women in Take It Like A Man as essentially male substitutes, simply because of their violent and aggressive behavior. As Jill Dolan states in The Feminist Spectator,

“Power is not inherently male; a woman who assumes a dominant role is only malelike if the culture considers power as a solely male attribute” (68).

Dolan goes on to argue,

“Power, sexuality, and desire can be recuperated from the strictly male domain, and can assume distinctly different meanings placed in different sexual and gender contexts” (81).

Here Dolan is referring specifically to lesbian performance and pornography, but her assertions are applicable to pegging porn as well. Pegging porn’s expressions of power and desire are rendered differently than those of mainstream straight pornography by virtue of the change in context and the reconfiguration of the gender roles depicted. To dismiss the women’s aggressive behavior as simply male-identified or patriarchal and the men’s submissive behavior as female-identified and weak overlooks the ways in which pegging pornography disrupts and re-imagines traditional gendered meanings and the display of power, dominance, and submission in mainstream pornography.

Likewise, it is important to keep in mind that films like Take It Like a Man offer complex fantasies to viewers, and as the pro-sex feminists argued in the 1980s, sexual fantasies, no matter how non-politically correct, do not necessarily translate into a desire for the real thing. As such, although male and female viewers can derive pleasure from the violence leveled against men in these videos, this pleasure does not necessarily mean a desire to cause pain or to be hurt, nor to force someone to participate in pegging sex against their will (as we see happen in Take It Like a Man). Indeed, most participants in sadomasochistic activities argue that sexual fantasy and actual crime/abuse are entirely distinct and that the vast majority of sadomasochistic encounters are egalitarian and consensual.[18] [open endnotes in new window] Dolan even claims that sexual fantasy can have a liberating effect, allowing

“for a limitless re-visioning of a reality that has been hampered by strict gender and sexual roles” (81).

Accordingly, by taking the themes and images of previous films like Bend Over Boyfriend to a violent extreme, it is possible that Take It Like a Man promotes a re-visioning of our gendered reality by presenting a fantasy in which men are no longer in control and assertive women have the power to turn the sex/gender system on its head.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, it is clear that pegging pornography offers a window onto an alternative realm of heterosexual desire and, as is the case with Bend Over Boyfriend, sometimes encourages viewers to participate physically. The alternative articulation of heterosexuality expressed in pegging pornography, which might be termed a “new heteroerotic” or a “queer form of heterosexuality,” turns the gender roles associated with “normal” heterosex on their head and complicates a one-to-one association between homosexuality and sodomy by pulling straights into the fold of sexual perversity. To say the latter another way, the fact that pegging involves a form of anal sex is significant. For, anal sex has long been regarded as a depraved practice, one which, especially in the age of HIV/AIDS, is likely to lead to disease and even death. These sentiments have shrouded the practice of anal sex in fear and denial. For straight men interested in pegging, the association between anal receptivity and effeminacy, weakness and homosexuality, heightens this fear and denial. Yet pegging pornography, which to varying degrees represents straight male anal receptivity as harmless, natural, erotic and fun, works against the embarrassment over anal sex, as well as its strict association with gay men.

In a similar vein, the practice of pegging links its participants with the queer project of reinscribing stigmatized practices and resisting sexual shame. Sexual shame has been an important topic in recent queer theory. Michael Warner, the queer theorist who has perhaps written most eloquently about sexual shame, states the following in the opening chapter of The Trouble with Normal:

“The most common judgments about sex assign dignity to some kinds (married, heterosexual, private, loving), as long as they are out of sight, while all other kinds of sex are no more dignified than defecating in public, and possibly less so. That kind of dignity we might as well call bourgeois propriety. In what I am calling queer culture, however, there is no truck with bourgeois propriety. If sex is a kind of indignity, then we’re all in it together. And the paradoxical result is that only when this indignity of sex is spread around the room, leaving no one out, and in fact binding people together, that it begins to resemble the dignity of the human.” (36)

Pegging pornography, which works against normative representations of “married, heterosexual, private, loving” sex, indeed has “no truck with bourgeois propriety.” Furthermore, its focus on a queer heterosexual practice serves to “spread the indignity of sex” around a room that is inhabited not only by queers but by straights as well.

Thus, one could say that pegging pornography offers a vision of queer-straight alliance that transcends mere rhetoric and provides an example of queer theory in straight practice. Although pegging pornography may not directly promote the kind of (queer-straight) bonding through shame and indignity that Warner advocates, at the very least these works allow the knowledge of straight male anal pleasure and queer heterosexual practice to be disseminated. They also permit straight male viewers to see that they are not alone or wrong in their desire to be penetrated. This is a small, but first step towards the realization of the (queer-straight) abject camaraderie and world-making possibilities desired by Warner. Films like Bend Over Boyfriend, Strap-on My Man and Take it Like A Man make female-to-male sodomy speakable and defend the practice against those who would like to keep such anti-normative (straight) practices in the closet and out of view.

Of course there is a difference between representation and reality and it would be utopian to suggest that a new pornographic subgenre can produce real world effects. In “From Here to Queer,” sociologist Suzanna Walters chastises queer scholars for recklessly celebrating representations of gender play while not attending to the realities of social life in a sexist, homophobic world. As she states,

“Rearranging the signs of gender too often becomes a substitute for challenging gender inequity. Wearing a dildo will not stop me from being raped as a woman or being harassed as a lesbian” (856).

In this regard, there is a risk in overemphasizing the transgressive aspects of pegging porn. More pegging porn on the shelves will not necessarily translate into more open-minded straight folks in the bedroom or fewer gay bashings in the streets. Yet although pegging porn may not inspire a sex/gender revolution, it does allow us to glimpse a world in which women are in charge, gender trouble is a way of life, anal sex is not shameful, and everyone is a little queer.

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