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My Body is Not Porn: An Open Letter to Brian Grasso and Other Duke Students

Dear Brian Grasso and every other Duke student who refused to read Fun Home,

In August, the news came out that freshmen students at Duke University were refusing to read the assigned summer reading Fun Home because of its “graphic visual depictions of sexuality.Fun Home is a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, chronicling her life, in particular her complex relationship with her father in regards to his closeted sexuality and her own coming out as gay. I’m going to start out by saying that I’m a fan of allowing people to self-choose when to engage in material. I think trigger warnings are great. Why? Because they do not censor, but rather allow individuals to choose when to engage in certain material if they know it may negatively affect them. And it’s perfectly fine to know that, for example, a book that discusses sexual violence may be upsetting to an individual. Therefore, a trigger warning before the material is presented to them is necessary in order to help this individual prepare themselves to engage with the material and practice self-care. So, fine, go ahead, don’t read it.

But, I will say this: my body is not pornography.

I will repeat: my body is not pornography.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of pornography: :

1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.

2:  material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement.

Yes, Fun Home does depict masturbation and oral sex (between two women), but that does not automatically make it pornography. Let’s talk about key words here: “intended to cause sexual excitement.” When Alison Bechdel set out to write Fun Home, she did not draw her sexual encounters in order to elicit a sexual response from readers. In fact, she was using her sexual encounters in college to highlight her own experiences in discovering her sexuality. You got boner looking at this material? Sure, that’s fine. It’s perfectly fine to feel aroused by images of nudity, but it’s not okay, at any point, to assume that any person is nude or depicted a certain way for your personal sexual enjoyment.

I said earlier that I’m a fan of trigger warnings and allowing an individual to not engage with a material if it makes them uncomfortable; however, I’m not okay with this sort of reasoning against course material. Grasso says it himself, writing in the Washington Post, “I believe professors should warn me about such material, not because I might consider them offensive or discomforting, but because I consider it immoral.” But, who’s the immoral one here?

In this article, Brian Grasso goes on to quote this particular Bible passage: “’But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,’ he says in Matthew 5:28-29.” Hey, guess what: the body of a woman is not innately pornographic. You choose to look lustfully upon these images. You can stop yourself from getting aroused from these images. It’s as simple as telling yourself this: this image is not for your sexual enjoyment. It’s a depiction of sex which is a normal, healthy, common activity, like jogging. You choose your own morality.

By calling this course material immoral, simply in existing, the implications are that the bodies of women, when depicted nude or engaging in sexual acts, are immoral and therefore pornographic. Which should never be the case and that goes for all bodies.

Before we refuse to read material on grounds of immorality, let’s first consider ourselves. Grasso says himself in his article, “I recognize, of course, that Christians on campus and throughout the country have an important responsibility, too. We need to learn how to dialogue across differences.” So, first, before refusing to read certain material, recognize how your dialogue affects people and how it views certain groups. Only then, can you critically view a piece of literature.

Sincerely,

A woman who is are tired of being seen as a sex object.

For further reading, check out this Bustle article.

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