Today at lunch, my friend’s boyfriend randomly confronted me with a bothersome statement: “So, I heard you look up not normal things on the Internet late at night.” Not normal. After a week of Communicating Gender and Sex & Society (two classes that have literally changed my thought pattern forever), one can imagine how annoyed I was at his statement. “What the fuck is normal?” I responded. I then began to list common things that most people search at night (or even during the day) on the Internet: “Facebook, Twitter, porn, shopping websites, Tumblr, the NY Times?” When the word porn escaped from my lips, his head began to shake. “Yeah, porn. That’s not a normal thing to look up.” Internally, I was screaming.
As Nancy Fischer argued in her piece, Purity and Pollution, our American culture has been socialized in a dualistic manner to believe something is either right or wrong, normal or abnormal. We are so fixated on person’s behavior that we use that behavior to make judgments about him/her; those judgements always follow a scripted binary we have no control over. Fischer uses Mary Douglas’ argument about how culture tries to establish some sort of order by categorizing actions, people, or things as “pure” or “polluted” based off a standard that DOESN’T EVEN EXIST. In my case, I was clearly labeled as “not normal” because of the videos or images I have seen late at night in the privacy of my own bedroom.
To many people, pornography is dirty, nasty, immoral, and wrong. All of those words, used separately or together, create a boundary—a moral boundary—and therefore divide one group from another, as Fisher also points out. But, in actuality, these words have absolutely no meaning outside of the society that has built them. Although I don’t believe that “normal” even exists, if we are functioning under the assumption that it does in the circumstance, it is completely and utterly relative.
Within this context, though, I believe that the construct of normality was connected to one’s sex. As Fischer would note, there was a clear power relation at play in this circumstance: he is a male, and I am a female. Thus, to him, my—or any other female’s—viewing of porn, no matter the time of day, is abnormal. Period.
Am I crazy to have gotten offended at being called abnormal over lunch? One study shows that the porn industry brings in more money than all football, basketball and baseball franchises combined. The same studies shows that 1/3 adult site viewers are women. Obviously there must be a lot of “abnormal” porn viewers around town, which, consequently, would then make it…normal?