Surprise! 4 Reasons Feminists Will Love Porn Flick 'Don Jon'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first feature-length film Don Jon is a hit — not just because it's hilarious, but also because it explores and criticizes the practice of objectifying women. Overly masculine and feminine characters complement the highly stylized cinematography and editing, making for a cleverly satirical representation of modern-day heterosexuality.

"I always intended for this movie to have a big, mass audience," an excited Gordon-Levitt said in a video he made at this year's Sundance Film Festival for hitRECord, his open collaborative production company. The first-time screenwriter and director was dead set on using Don Jon to expose several unsettling truths about how society portrays heterosexuality and pornography.

I'd say he definitely achieved that goal. Read on to find out why feminists in particular will love Gordon-Levitt's cynical take on pornography and its relation to consumer culture.

Note: I tried to avoid major spoilers for those who haven't yet seen the film.

1. Women are people, not things; they can't be "owned."

Don Jon (played by Gordon-Levitt) is an example of consumer culture in the extreme. He adores his things: his car, his apartment, his "boys" and his "girls." Oh yeah, and his porn, of course.

Problem is, as Gordon-Levitt says, it's not possible to love a thing in the same way you love a person. Jon's main character flaw is his consumerism. He loves porn in a way he doesn't love sex with real women who are physically there with him. Jon's problem with real women seems to be his lack of control over them. With porn, it's much simpler. He simply sits still, presses "play" and watches sex actors come to life — for him, all for him!

For Jon, "women are like objects on a shelf," according to Gordon-Levitt. But as Jon must learn, women are conscious beings, not items he can take out, use, and then re-shelve at his own free will.

2. Women don't all hate porn.

Don's girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) disapproves of Don's porn-watching habit. Granted, Don's “habit” is more of an addiction — in one day, he visits 50 different porn websites — but still, I felt that Barbara's reaction to porn was over-the-top. That's exactly how Gordon-Levitt wants viewers to feel, of course, because it furthers the point he's trying to make: the world of porn isn't as polarized as we've been led to believe.

When Don meets Esther (Julianne Moore) in his night class, he's looking at porn on his cell phone. Esther sees what he's doing, although Don tries to hide it from her. Later Esther reveals that she, too, enjoys watching porn.

She's not alone.

Many women like porn; just check out the Tumblr account Erotic-Eros, created by a young woman who happens to have a boyfriend. Although she told me she doesn't watch porn as much now that she and her partner live together, she's still an occasional viewer. I personally know at least three women who watch porn more regularly, a few times a week. One has a partner; the other two don't. It's not a big deal. It's an activity that members of both sexes are fully capable of enjoying, regardless of sexual orientation or relationship commitment.

3. Women don't need fairy-tale relationships.

Barbara epitomizes a particularly annoying female stereotype: the girl who wants nothing more than to settle down, get married, and have kids. This stereotype has unfortunately stuck around, and continues to thrive in 2013.

But what about the girls who genuinely just want to have fun, live in the moment, and avoid making future plans with guys? What about the girls who don't want to ever get married? What about the girls who aren't leaning in any particular direction about marriage, because they're human beings who wait to see what life has in store for them?

By making Barbara's character as clingy and controlling as possible, Gordon-Levitt reveals society's awful tendency to view unmarried women as problematic figures. In his "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit a couple weeks ago, Gordon-Levitt explained that he's always been fascinated by the media's portrayal of society. “I often find it funny (and occasionally horrifying) the way we are all influenced by the images we see on screens. Especially when it comes to love and sex and relationships,” he wrote.


4. Stop calling a woman a "10"

Don and his "boys" constantly scope out women at bars and clubs. They then compare notes before approaching a likely specimen: "She's a dime." "Dude, are you serious? She's an 8 at best!"

Gordon-Levitt repeats this routine several times throughout the film to emphasize how ridiculous it is. Clearly, different individuals have different tastes; what's attractive to one man is not what's attractive to another. So why even bother categorizing? Again, it all comes down to differentiation between people and objects. Objects can be categorized and ranked according to their utility and efficiency. People can't.

While Don Jon features a class-A misogynist jerk as its lead character, it does so for a good reason. As much as we'd love to believe that we've transcended the misogynistic practice of viewing women as objects, we haven't. Therefore, it's important for us to face up to Barbara and Don, arguably two of the worst big-screen depictions of masculinity and femininity ever, if we have any hope of altering these harmful stereotypes.

If you're interested in movies exploring porn and sexuality, check out Hollywood Reporter's list of this fall's "porniest" movies. Don Jon tops it, of course.

Love the movie? Hate the movie? Let me know what you think on Twitter!

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Molly Duerig

Molly is a writer and filmmaker based in Pittsburgh. Her passion is multimedia journalism. Before obtaining her filmmaking diploma from Pittsburgh Filmmakers, she studied English and Spanish literature at Allegheny College, as well as in Argentina with the Council on International Educational Exchange and at the University of Buenos Aires. Previously a features and news editor for Allegheny College's student newspaper, The Campus, Molly's an avid film buff, nature addict, and social justice advocate.

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