You may have heard about the misogynist antics of self-proclaimed “pick-up artist” and Real Social Dynamics (RSD) coach, Julien Blanc, whose recommendations for picking up women include grabbing women’s throats and pushing their faces into your crotch. Or you may have heard the sexist lyrics promoted by American entertainer, Redfoo, in his new single “Literally, I Can’t,” wherein women are encouraged to perform “girl on girl” for men at parties and, when they refuse, are instructed to “shut the fuck up.” If, like me, you walked away feeling offended by the actions of these men — I’m pleased to report that you were not alone.
Over the last month, both Blanc and Redfoo have been widely criticized by feminist activists and bloggers throughout Australia and North America. Recently, Blanc’s Visa was cancelled in Australia when a group of protesters picketed outside the venue where he was set to give one of his controversial RSD seminars — a protest that was spurred on by the hashtag, #takedownjulienblanc. Redfoo’s latest video sparked the hashtag #shutthefooup and prompted a Change.org petition demanding his dismissal as a judge from X Factor Australia.
I get excited to create things that will unite all of us through laughter, dance & celebration. If during the process I offend anyone, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. In the future I will be more mindful of the way I present my art.
Following Redfoo’s vague apology for his “excited” behaviour and contentious “art,” Blanc also issued an apology during an interview on CNN. In one excerpt of the five minute conversation, Blanc nervously says:
Like, I feel horrible. I’m not going to be happy to be the most hated man in the world. I’m overwhelmed by the way people are responding. With those pictures there that you’re referring to, of again, like, choking women, um, I just want to make that clear, that is not what I teach. Like, … those pictures right there, those were a horrible, horrible attempt at humour. Um, you know, it’s… you know, they were also, like, taken out of context…
On the surface, both Blanc and Redfoo appear to address the public’s concerns, but a closer inspection of their “apologies” reveals that the main reason they are sorry is because they feel they are either being misinterpreted or condemned. Indeed, while both Blanc and Redfoo use the words “sorry” and “apology” in their statements, what’s actually missing from their apologies is the apology itself.
In his memoir, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch explains that there are three parts to giving a sincere apology: Identifying what you did wrong, assuring the offended party that you will not repeat your misbehaviour, and finally (and perhaps most importantly), asking what you can do to make it better. Both Blanc and Redfoo’s apologies fall short of providing what I consider to be a sincere apology, as they fail to critique (or understand the critique of) their misogynist behaviour and, as a consequence, cannot actually commit to changing their actions and making amends.
The lack of critical reflection in both Blanc and Redfoo’s ttempts to clarify their position shows how little they understand or care about the response to (or the impact of) their behaviour. Rather than discussing the systemic problem of men’s violence against women, which is where the vast majority of feminist activists are citing concern, both men hide behind the argument that their messages were taken “out of context” and claim they have been “misrepresented” — taken seriously when really it was all in good fun.
On Twitter, Redfoo accuses his critics of having an “agenda” and of failing to understand the supposedly “satirical” nature of his music, gaining the support of one Australian shock-jock who, during an interview with Redfoo, calls critics of his new song, “dickheads,” “do-gooder idiots,” and “Tupperware-collecting party-poopers.”*
Blanc also issues an apology that references “humour” as a way of, at least partially, justifying his actions, explaining that the offensive pictures of him on social media, some of which allude to sexually violent acts, were simply “taken out of context” and were intended to be funny.
Hiding behind a thin veil of humour to justify one’s misogyny is not new. Indeed, this notion has and been discussed at length by feminist writers such as Abigail Bray. In Misogyny Re-Loaded, Bray argues that, “if misogyny has a soundtrack it is canned laughter… Laughter instructs the audience that it is not only permissible to laugh at the oppression of women but that it is expected.”
Rather than apologizing and reflecting on the criticisms defining their actions as sexist and deplorable, Blanc and Redfoo minimize concern. Indeed, both men react with a sense of shock that their messages have caused outrage to begin with, with Blanc claiming he was “overwhelmed” by the attention his antics were receiving and Redfoo saying, “I don’t know how rape culture and Redfoo got into the same headline.” In an age where rape culture has become a topic for the lulz, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Because Blanc and Redfoo fail to identify, acknowledge, and discuss the factors that sparked outrage to begin with, they are incapable of sincerely promising to change. While both men do make references to modifying their future actions, they do so in a vague and superficial way. Redfoo ensures his fans that, he will be “more mindful” when presenting his “art” in future, while Blanc explains that he is walking away from this experience hoping to “re-evaluat[e] everything” he posts online.
But what exactly do their “mindful re-evaluations” entail? How can someone truly make amends when they have not even identified why their actions sparked outrage to begin with? As readers, feminists, bloggers, and survivors of men’s violence, we are left with a series of apologies that fail to address our concerns at all — and we deserve better. An insincere apology is worse than receiving no apology at all.
*Note: I have only ever attended one Tupperware party when I was seven. I was offered a zucchini quiche and at no point was I told to “shut the fuck up.” TUPPERWARE PARTIES ROCK.
(reprinted with permission of author) Natalie Jovanovski is a PhD Candidate and Feminist Researcher from Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include the harms of sexual objectification, the cultural reinforcement of eating disorders, and the discursive portrayal of food in contemporary Western media.
‘I have lost count of how many women have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred – an explosive new manifesto against rape culture’ (extract from Misogyny Re-loaded)
[Trigger warning: graphic description of sexual abuse]
‘Amy’ was a victim of sexual abuse by her uncle as a child. He uploaded images of the abuse on to the internet, they became known as the ‘Misty Series’. These images have been globally trafficked since the late 1990s and are the most widely viewed in the child pornography world, according to the New York Times.
Amy is now 24; she gets notifications through the US Justice Department every time someone views the ‘Misty Series’ video. So far she has 1800 notifications and the video has already featured in 3200 criminal cases. Next month in a landmark case, the US Supreme Court will decide how much a child porn victim can demand from the people who viewed a video of her being abused.
This is Amy’s victim impact statement:
I am a 19-year-old girl and I am a victim of child sex abuse and child pornography. I am still discovering all the ways that the abuse and exploitation I suffer has hurt me, has set my life on the wrong course, and destroyed the normal childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood that everyone deserves.
My uncle started to abuse me when I was only 4 years old. He used what I now know are the common ways that abusers get their victims ready for abuse and keep them silent: he told me that I was special, that he loved me, and that we had our own ‘special secrets’. Since he lived close to our house, my mother and father didn’t suspect anything when I walked over there to spend time with him. At first he showed me pornographic movies and then he started doing things to me. I remember that he put his finger in my vagina and that it hurt a lot. I remember that he tried to have sex with me and that it hurt even more. I remember telling him that it hurt. I remember that much of the time I was with him I did not have clothes on and that sometimes he made me dress up in lingerie. And I remember the pictures.
After the abuse he would take me to buy my favourite snack which was beef jerky. Even now when I eat beef jerky I get feelings of panic, guilt, and humiliation. It’s like I can never get away from what happened to me. At the time I was confused and knew it was wrong and that I didn’t like it, but I also thought it was wrong for me to tell anything bad about my uncle who said he loved me and bought me things I liked. He even let me ride on his motorcycle. Now I will never ride on a motorcycle again. The memories are too upsetting.
There is a lot I don’t remember, but now I can’t forget because the disgusting images of what he did to me are still out there on the internet. For a long time I practiced putting the terrible memories away in my mind. Thinking about it is still really painful. Sometimes I just go into staring spells when I am caught thinking about what happened and not paying any attention to my surroundings. Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognise me and that I will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them – at me – when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle.
When they first discovered what my uncle did, I went to therapy and thought I was getting over this. I was very wrong. My full understanding of what happened to me has only gotten clearer as I have gotten older. My life and my feelings are worse now because the crime has never really stopped and will never really stop. It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it. It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.
I find myself unable to do the simple things that other teenagers handle easily. I do not have a driver’s license. Every time I say I am going to do it, I don’t. I can’t plan well. My mind skips out on me when I think about moving forward with my life. I have been trying to get a job, but I just keep avoiding things. Forgetting is the thing I do best since I was forced as a little girl to live a double life and ‘forget’ what was happening to me. Before I realise it, I miss interviews or other things that will help me get a job.
Sometimes things remind me of the abuse and I don’t even realise it until it is too late. For example, I failed anatomy in high school. I simply could not think about the body because of what happened to me. The same thing happened at university. I went to a psychology class where we watched a video about child abuse.
Without even realising why, I just stopped going to class. I failed my first year of university and ended up moving back home.
It’s easy for me to block out my feelings and avoid things that make me uncomfortable. I don’t know when I will be ready to go back to university because I have huge problems with avoiding anything that makes me uncomfortable or reminds me of my abuse.
I am always scared that people can look at me and tell that I am a victim of sex abuse because my abuse is a public fact. I am worried that when my friends are on the internet they are going to come across my pictures and it fills me with shame and embarrassment.
I am humiliated and ashamed that there are pictures of me doing horrible things with my uncle. Everywhere I go I feel judged. Am I the kind of person who does this? Is there something wrong with me? Is there something sickening and disgusting about who I am?
I am embarrassed to tell anyone what happened to me because I’m afraid they will judge me and blame me for it. I live in a small town and I think that if one person knows then everyone will know. I am just living in fear of the day someone sees those awful pictures of me and then ‘the secret’ about me will be out. It’s like my life is on hold for that day and I am frozen in time waiting. I know those disgusting pictures of me are stuck in time and are there forever for everyone to see.
I had terrible nightmares for a long long time. I would wake up sweating and crying and go to my parents for comfort. Now I still get flashbacks sometimes. There are thoughts in my head that are memories of the things that my uncle did to me. My heart will start racing and I will feel sweaty and then a stronger picture will pop up in my head and I have to leave the situation I am in. I have heard the voice of my uncle in my mind still talking to me saying, “don’t tell, don’t tell, don’t tell.” Thinking and knowing that the pictures of all this are still out there just makes it worse. It’s like I can’t escape from the abuse, now or ever.
Because I’ve had so many bad dreams, I find it hard to sleep when it’s dark. I like to keep the lights on thinking that will protect me from bad dreams. I hate scary movies and sometimes have nightmares for days.
Sometimes I have unreasonable fears that prevent me from doing the normal things that other kids do. My friend once asked me to go with her and her uncle to an amusement park. I could not get it out of my head that I would be abused. In the end I just couldn’t go. I kept wondering if my friend’s uncle had seen my pictures. Did he know me? Did he know what I did? Is that why he invited me to the amusement park?
Trust is a very hard thing for me and often people just make me uncomfortable. I had to quit a job I had as a waitress because there was a guy who I thought was always staring at me. I couldn’t stop thinking, did he recognise me? Did he see my pictures somewhere? I was simply too uncomfortable to keep working there.
I have trouble saying ‘no’ to people since I learned at a young age that I really don’t have control over what’s happening to me. I am trying to learn to get better at this because I know that not saying ‘no’ makes it easier for someone to hurt me again.
Because of the way my uncle bribed me to perform sex acts on camera, I have trouble taking gifts from anyone. I always feel that people will expect something from me if they give me a present. This makes it difficult in my relationship with friends.
I want to have children someday, but it frightens me terribly to think about how I could keep them safe. Who could I possibly trust? Their teacher? Their coach? I don’t know if I could ever trust anyone with my children. And what if my children and their friends see my pictures on the internet? How could I ever explain to them what happened to me?
I am very confused about what love is. My uncle said he loved me and I wanted that love. But I know now that what he did to me is not love. But how will I be able to tell in the future if it is real love or just another person trying to exploit and use me?
The truth is, I am being exploited and used every day and every night somewhere in the world by someone. How can I ever get over this when the crime that is happening to me will never end? How can I get over this when the shameful abuse I suffered is out there forever and being enjoyed by sick people? I am horrified by the thought that other children will probably be abused because of my pictures. Will someone show my pictures to other kids, like my uncle did to me, then tell them what to do? Will they see me and think it’s okay for them to do the same thing? Will some sick person see my picture and then get the idea to do the same thing to another little girl? These thoughts make me sad and scared. I blame myself a lot for what happened. I know I was so little, but why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I stop my uncle? Maybe if I had stopped it there wouldn’t be so many pictures out there that I can never take back or erase. I feel like now I have to live with it forever and that it’s all my fault. I feel like I am unworthy of anything and a failure. What have I been good for except to be used by others over and over again. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t been able to get a job or stay in school. I’m tired of disappointing myself. I’ve already had enough disappointment for a lifetime and just don’t want any more failure. To me this brings back all the terrible feelings and shame of abuse and exploitation.
Sometimes I deal with my feelings by trying to forget everything by drinking too much. I know this isn’t good, but my humiliation and angry feelings are there with me all the time and sometimes I just need a way to make them go away for awhile.
I feel like I have always had to live a double life. First I had to lie about what my uncle was doing to me. Then I had to act like it didn’t happen because it was too embarrassing. Now I always know that there is another ‘little me’ being seen on the internet by other abusers. I don’t want to be there, but I am. I wish I could go back in time and stop my uncle from taking those pictures, but I can’t.
Even though I am scared that I will be abused or hurt again because I am making this victim impact statement, I want the court and judge to know about me and what I have suffered and what my life is like. What happened to me hasn’t gone away. It will never go away. I am a real victim of child pornography and it effects me every day and everywhere I go.
Please think about me and think about my life when you sentence this person to prison. Why should this person, who is continuing my abuse, be free when I am not free?
A world without rapists would be a world in which women moved freely without fear of men. That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent … Rather than society’s aberrants or ‘spoilers of purity’, men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas in the longest battle the world has ever known.
—Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975, p. 15)
Living in a rape culture means adjusting to being hyper-vigilant about male violence to the point where risk management becomes second nature. It means living with the continuum of male sexual violence on a daily basis, from creepy and threatening looks and comments in the street, home and workplace, to online rape threats, attempted assault and actual assault. It means inhabiting a paradoxical space where the rape and murder of women is prohibited but everywhere eroticised and the object of laughter.
To take just one example of rape culture, the globally popular American fantasy series Game of Thronesfeatures a blond child bride being continually raped by her warlord husband. “But it’s all ok because a prostitute slave teaches the thirteen-year-old princess super sexy sex skills, and she proceeds to blow the warlord’s mind so throughly [sic] that they fall in love,” notes feminist Laurie Penny (2012)
Many men, when asked a simple question about why male domination exists, reply that it is because men are stronger than women. This answer seems innocuously simple-minded, but the explanatory statement that ‘men have power over women because they are physically stronger than women’ also means ‘men can rape and kill women if they want to’. There is no point replying that it is illegal to rape and kill women. The law does not come into it at all. It is as though the legal prohibitions against male sexual violence are little more than the sales pitch of a corporation eager to hide its criminal intent behind images of satisfied customers.
The majority of victims do not report, and the majority of rapists walk free (Miller et al., 2011; Fayard and Rocheron, 2011; Belknap, 2010). As the title of a 2013 articleby Nigel Morris in The Independent puts it: ‘100,000 assaults. 1,000 rapists sentenced. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed. Latest statistics also show difficulties in persuading victims to report attacks’. Although media attention on particular rapes occasionally stirs up public debate, these rapes are the exception to the norm simply because victims have broken their silence and the criminal justice system has been involved. One cannot but wonder how many people know of, or are friends with, men who have sexually assaulted women and children, and yet do nothing about it.
It has only been since the 1960s and 1970s that most western women have been able to work outside the home without needing permission from their husbands/owners. It is only in the last few decades that marital rape has been recognised in some nations as a human rights violation. In Australiamarital rape was outlawed as late as 1991 (Temkin, 2002). As late as 1993 the United Nations published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In many countries young girls are still forced to marry their rapists.
Raping women and children continues to be a lethal form of oppression in advanced neo-liberal democracies. Victims of male sexual violence continue to be branded as ‘damaged goods’ and re-abused in the criminal justice system to such an extent that the majority of victims simply give up and opt out of the legal process (Fisher et al., 2000; Fisher et al., 2003). Lawyers are often reluctant to take on rape cases because they know they are difficult to win. Child victims of male sexual violence are subjected to ritualistic humiliation in courts (Taylor, 2004). Child pornography victims are subjected to malicious attacks by bourgeois academics in high-ranking American legal journals (Lollar, 2012).
Young women, who sustain the majority of sexual assaults, not only endure court-licensed abuse, but they are now also bullied online for daring to speak out. Raped girls are urged to kill themselves by pack verbal abuse that is all too often uttered as mocking jokes (Salek, 2013). Victim-blaming has become lethal.
In a novel by feminist academic Yvette Rocheron, Double Crossings (2009), a mother decides to commit suicide after she is brutally raped by a cousin, knowing that, if she lives, the crime will destroy her family and her life. “For her loved ones, a sublime act of love … She would go down knowingly … [T]he vitriolic defacement of women, the misguided abortions, the rapes. She was a thousand years old” (p. 271). There is no humour in this novel as the mother leaps to her death, merely a solemn awareness of the barbarism of a crime against women that leaves the murderous poison of social death in her body.
I have lost count of how many women—friends, students, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances—have told me they have been raped. All of the rapists have gotten away with it while the women are burdened with years of unspeakable shame and self-hatred, or shunned by their families for daring to speak out about male relatives who raped them. The stories involve horrendous child sexual abuse, rape at knifepoint, abductions in vans, group rapes, women being drugged and raped, rapes by colleagues, partners and ex-partners. A woman who was raped by her grandfather told me recently that it took her 30 years to understand that her body belonged to her. Another woman, a feminist activist and journalist, after going public about being raped at knifepoint, was subjected to online abuse along the lines that she should be ‘raped with a box cutter’. When I read the comment about the box cutter it took a few moments to sink in that the man who had posted the comment was saying that he wanted to butcher her vagina with a knife. Not surprisingly, many women keep quiet about being sexually assaulted. And all of this occurs in a world in which women who speak out about male sexual violence, or any form of male domination, are routinely subjected to online rape threats (Lewis, 2011). Again, the majority of threats never result in prosecution and women are often told to ‘get over it’, ‘toughen up’ or ‘lighten up’ or have sex with a man. ‘She just needs a good fuck’, is how the all too familiar saying goes … Oddly, having sex with men is meant to dispel fear of being raped, as though women who have an accurate assessment of the dangers of rape culture are hysterics who just need sex. The idea that women enjoy being raped still persists (Suarez and Gadalla, 2010); and if women are assumed to enjoy being raped then their protests about being harmed by rape can easily be reduced to a farce.
More about Abigail’s book and how to order can be found here.
Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice. Today we are talking to Melinda Tankard Reist, co-editor of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. Melinda is also the co-founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation.
How did you become interested in researching pornography?
There were a few things that came together around the same time. Women started telling me their stories of being hurt and harmed by a partner’s compulsive porn use. In my talks in schools, teen girls shared with me the pressure they felt to provide a porn-style performance, to act, essentially, as a sexual service station for men and boys. They were expected to provide naked images of themselves, to provide sexual services. As well, the sex industry was dominating and colonising every public space and was rarely brought to account. I began to talk to my publishers about what I was hearing. Spinifex had published an earlier book in 2004 titled Not for Sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography edited by Christine Stark and Rebecca Whisnant. It was a powerful book. But so much had happened since then, especially with the internet being used to globalise and spread pornography. We felt that a new book on pornography was needed. It also seemed to be a natural progression from my previous book Getting Real: challenging the sexualisation of girls, published by Spinifex in 2009.
There seems to be an overall consensus in the book that pornography is the same (or similar to) prostitution. Can you explain the similarities?
Yes, the writers in the book would mostly argue that pornography is filmed (or graphically depicted) prostitution. Melissa Farley uses the term ‘infinite prostitution’. The pornography industry has many of the features of the prostitution industry–it needs to procure women through trafficking, it relies on pimps to mediate transactions with the women who will be used, and the women it procures generally have histories of sexual abuse, poverty and homelessness. Pornography is advertising for prostitution and normalises the sexual exploitation of women. As well, men often want to act out what they see in porn on ‘live’ women. Pornography is often used as a form of initiation into prostitution. It’s also the case that women in pornography are concurrently being prostituted off-set, or go on to be used in systems of prostitution and stripping. The overlap between the prostitution and pornography businesses is so great that we might see them as operating in parallel, or perhaps as one larger sex industry. However, I think it’s also important to understand the differences between the pornography and prostitution sectors of the sex industry, and Big Porn Inc highlights these differences for pornography in particular. Firstly, the abuses that women undergo in pornography have a permanent or semi-permanent record made of them in the form of film, etc. This record causes many women great hardship and stress, because they feel they can never escape their past, and suffer anxiety at the prospect that anyone they meet throughout their lives has seen the pornography. They are also vulnerable to blackmail over it. The permanency of pornography causes particular suffering for women whose childhood sexual abuse was filmed as child pornography and shared by their abusers. Another aspect of the pornography industry that might distinguish it from the rest of the sex industry is the culture of ‘celebrity’ and ‘glamour’ that has developed around the industry in the last ten years. Jenna Jameson and Sascha Grey have been central to the promotion of the idea that pornography is a way for poor girls to escape their lives and become rich and famous, but of course the reality of the industry for the overwhelming majority of women/girls is that they are used up in around three months because of the extremity of the abuse and degradation of contemporary pornography. However, this culture of celebrity is very attractive to poor girls, and unfortunately draws them to the industry in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen for prostitution businesses. It means that the pornography industry is able to attract particularly young women, and in increasingly large numbers. The industry is normalised among younger generations to an extent that prostitution is not, because of widespread consumption of pornography among this generation, and the celebration of pornography by the popular media and culture. A third difference between the pornography and prostitution industries is the diversity of forms pornography takes–it is possible for women/girls to be sold as pornography through being used by their ‘boyfriends’ in front of home-based webcams, for example. While it is also common that ‘boyfriends’ pimp women through their homes, in the case of pornography this pimping is made difficult to recognise as illegal because of technology and the glamorising of pornography. There are businesses dedicated to the pimping of women through pay-per-view webcams, as well as pornography made of women being used through brothels. This diversity in the mode of business that pornography takes means that the industry is able to expand with very little scrutiny and opposition, let alone government oversight. The industry essentially operates in unchartered, frontier space in the absence of any controls whatsoever. Governments and societies worldwide are overwhelmed by the diversity of the sex industry, and so far haven’t managed to enact any governance frameworks at all that might curb its expansion and domination over culture and the economy.
What is your overall message about pornography that the book also highlights?
I think a major theme of the book is that the first and most egregious harm of pornography is to the women and girls who are used to make it. While the harm of pornography does extend to women much more widely, when we think about pornography we must think about the women who are harmed in its production first. This is because women/girls used in pornography are perhaps the most vulnerable and exploited population in our society. They are often racially marginalised, as well as victims of childhood sexual abuse, homelessness, and addiction. Their life chances are very poor, and even more so after they have been through the pornography industry. The writing in Big Porn Inc against the pornography industry mostly prioritises the interests of these women/girls in the way it does not make distinctions between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ pornography, or ‘better’ and ‘worse’ forms of pornography. For the women and girls used in the industry, these distinctions are often meaningless, because the same women are used in both types of pornography production. Often they start out in ‘soft’ production, but then must be used in more violent and degrading productions to be able to make money and stay in the industry. For these women and girls, the chance to lead a life of quality and dignity depends on our efforts to dismantle the sex industry and create social services and facilities that will allow them to recover from childhood sexual abuse, to escape homelessness, and escape pimps or exploitative ‘boyfriends’. In addition to these women, of course, pornography harms many others, including the children who are sexually abused through perpetrators showing them pornography, as well as wives/girlfriends who are pressured to ‘act’ out scenes in pornography, and girls and boys who grow up seeing pornography as a ‘model’ for sexual relationships and never have a chance at understanding what true physical affection and tenderness looks like. Average age of first exposure to porn is 11. This is distorting and warping young people’s views of their bodies, relationships and sex. I believe it is an unprecedented assault on the healthy sexuality young people.
The trend in pornography seems for “sex” to be increasingly violent and aggressive. Can you explain why that is?
Yes, as Gail Dines and others show, the pornography industry over time has definitely escalated its violence against women and the level of degradation and humiliation it inflicts. Researchers have gathered empirical evidence that the more popular forms of pornography are the ones that are more violent and overtly degrading of women. Torture porn has become increasingly popular, rape sites, live S&M and bondage in which women are brutalised in whatever way the viewer requests. And it’s all becoming more and more mainstream. For example the documentary film Kink is about to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. The Kink website shows images of women in extreme positions of pain and torture. It seems it’s not even about ‘sex’ anymore – it’s about how much brutality and degradation a woman can cope with. And this is where many young men take their cues for relating sexually to women.
What is your response when people state that there are no victims in porn (just consenting adults)?
Linda Boreman’s (Lovelace) account of her time in the pornography industry where she was brutalised and forced into its production shows this claim to be untrue. Traci Lords’s use in pornography as a sixteen-year-old also shows that the industry does not always use adult women. Even women who glamorise their time in the pornography industry sometimes describe aspects of its brutality, such as Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale in which she describes being incapacitated for six hours after a sex scene in which she was injured internally. The notion of ‘consent’ that proponents of the sex industry use to justify their moneymaking activities is an extremely impoverished one. The idea that young women surviving childhood sexual abuse who are homeless and being pimped by a ‘boyfriend’ are making a ‘choice’ to enter the pornography industry is laughable. The ‘consent’ invoked for women used in pornography is nothing more than a legal ploy to allow the filming of prostitution and sexual abuse (and sometimes overt physical torture) without the threat of arrest and prosecution. These activities are allowed to take place in society only because the cover of ‘sex’ makes them somehow different from what they really are, which is rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and exploitation.
When did you first consider yourself a feminist and what influenced that decision?
It is difficult to identify one key moment. There was a dawning recognition about the global maltreatment of women. It was, I suppose, recognising the second-class status of women pretty much everywhere. I have travelled a lot and witnessed the abuse of women in so many parts of the world. You just have to look at the raw statistic on violence, ‘honour’ killings, dowry deaths, female genital mutilation, child brides, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, female foeticide, female infanticide, the systematic elimination of women and girls in so many ways. I recall being in a shelter in Hyderabad, India. On the bottom level were the abandoned baby girls; many plucked from rubbish heaps, with bruises and broken bones. On the second level were the abandoned pregnant girls and women. On the top level were the abandoned widows. Three layers of discrimination against women, all in that one home.
What does feminism mean to you?
It means working to change the second-class status of women. To addressing the real, felt needs of women (I was privileged to help set up a supported accommodation and outreach service for women and girls pregnant and without support in Australia.) To advocating for women and girls everywhere and all the time. It means trying to make the world better for my three daughters and the daughters of other women as well. It means engaging in grass roots activism and empowering other women to speak out, through movements like Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation (www.collectiveshout.org) It also means working in solidarity with the best people I have ever met.
‘The pornification of culture and the normalization of (increasingly violent) porn is contributing to a society where pornography, even the most brutal forms, are in many ways sanctioned, defended as well as protected’
By Hennie Weiss
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry is a compilation of essays by researchers, experts and activists concerning the harms of pornography. All and all there are 40 written pieces divided into five categories; pornography cultures, pornography industries, harming children, pornography and the state and resisting big porn inc.
Overall, the notion is that pornography has found its way into everyday cultures all over the world. The pornification of culture and the normalization of (increasingly violent) porn is contributing to a society where pornography, even the most brutal forms, are in many ways sanctioned, defended as well as protected through legislation. For example, in the United States the notion of freedom of speech (also called freedom of expression) helps protect the production, distribution and purchasing of porn. The stronghold that porn has tends to be contributed to the enormous profitability and influence of the porn industry. As noted in the book, it is difficult to resist and battle the porn industry as a whole, even though small grassroot movements opposing pornography have made significant gains over the last few years. Yet, more knowledge about the industry, the way it harms women and children (as well as men), and the lasting effects of the pornification of sexuality and culture are important (many articles discusses how porn is the same as prostitution).
Even though the many different contributions tend to deal with various aspects of pornography (within the five categories), there are some statements that are generally agreed upon and reiterated throughout the book. In one way or another all contributions contest the notion (most often used by those in the porn industry and those who are pro-porn) that porn does not cause harm and is a form of fantasy. When discussing prostitution, strip clubs, PTSD, sexual and physical assaults, rape, intrafamilial rape, the sexual objectification of women and the spread of child pornography, it should prove to be difficult for anyone to look at porn like mere fantasy, especially since real women and men are involved in the making of pornography. What the different categories of Big Porn Inc brings to light is the fact that the porn industry is not glamorous, as high-paying as many believe, and that women are sexually objectified, dominated, demeaned and degraded. Pornography has also become increasingly violent, and most scenes or movies include physical violence, rape, or the threat of violence. The notion that women are sex objects who like to be degraded and thrive on physical violence is based on a patriarchal backlash to women’s overall gains towards equality.
Besides stating that pornography is mere fantasy, proponents of pornography also often refer to a lack of evidence, or link between pornography use and overall behavior. But the book has that too. Pornography does not only lead to an increase in acceptance of rape culture, but people who watch pornography are less likely to view sex as an intimate act and more likely to engage in gendered violence. Diana E.H Russel writes in the article “Russel’s Theory: Exposure to Child Pornography as a Cause of Child Sexual Victimization”, that watching child pornography can help cultivate sexual interests in children in several ways. It predisposes men to objectify children, it intensifies already existing desires, undermines social inhibitions and internal inhibitions as well as undermines children’s abilities to avoid, resist, or escape sexual victimization.
It is important to note that many of the contributions include explicit language, profanities and words that describe various ways in which women are demeaned, humiliated and abused when discussing different aspects of pornography. Many contributions also discuss notions of rape, group rape, incest or intrafamilial rape, sexual assault, violence and even the killing of animals. Therefore, readers should note that the material might be triggering to some. Even though the language is often explicit in nature, it is easy to understand the links between harm, prostitution, the degradation of women, patriarchy, power and sexual assault made by the contributors. The personal accounts of Stella and Amy (Stella was a stripper and Amy the victim of intrafamilial rape) contribute to a greater understanding and awareness of the harm of pornography and how women are mentally, physically and emotionally impacted by porn culture.
The intended audience could be anyone, both women and men, who are interested in the consequences and harms of the global pornography industry. With its sharp analysis and research, the book can also contribute to changing, or challenging legislature in terms of discussing the harms of pornography, especially when using the findings that makes connections between watching pornography and overall behavior. The book can also be used in the classroom (even though it might be more suitable for students that are a little older) in gender studies, men and masculinity studies, women’s studies and sociology.
What the book does so well is to capture, discuss, analyze and provide evidence for the many ways that pornography is harmful to women and children. We know that pornography is based on profit, capitalism and a patriarchal worldview and is therefore complicated to combat, but when reading the book it becomes difficult to understand why pornography is legal in the first place.
The fourth and final launch of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry took place in the Jubilee Room, Parliament House, Sydney, last Thursday.
One hundred people attended and heard seven contributors speak about their chapters in the book: myself, co-editor Dr Abigail Bray, Spinifex Press publishers Dr Susan Hawthorne and Dr Renate Klein, Dr Helen Pringle, Nina Funnell and Melinda Liszewski. Julie Gale, founding director of Kids Free 2B Kids was MC and also launched the book. Julie said:
“Big Porn Inc is a brilliant expose of how the porn industry has sold us big fat lies about sex and sexuality. No previous generation has had to navigate such a flood of porn inspired imagery and concepts. Essential reading for everyone, especially the deluded defenders who remain willfully blind to the harmful impacts. I hope Big Porn Inc helps to create the seismic shift humanity needs”.
Special thanks to the contributors, my Collective Shout colleagues (especially Kate), Greg Donnelly MP for hosting the event and his staffer Tammy for all her help. Here’s some photos:
This is the speech Dr Helen Pringle delivered to the Sydney launch of Big Porn Inc October 20. I wanted to share it with those who couldn’t be there.
Dr Helen Pringle
My chapter on The Porn Report concerns the ethics of research into pornography. Abigail Bray has helped me to understand the ways in which pornography is marketed by the industry as a radical or cool political gesture. In turn, there is a great deal of academic work that seeks to provide a defence of this multinational industry and to guarantee a continued supply of cool and harmless pleasures to the hip consumer.
As critics of porn culture, we are often asked for evidence of the harm of pornography. Academic research in support of pornography looks for that evidence in the voice and practices of those who use it. My concern, our concern, is with listening to the voices of those against whom it is used, those whose body and spirit it maims and kills.
Women like Heather Horne and Gail McIntosh, who complained of sexual discrimination in employment, and victimization, in Western Australia in 1994. Heather and Gail had taken jobs in a heavily male-dominated workplace. Their duties included cleaning the amenities and crib rooms of the workers. When they complained to their union and to the company about the pornographic ‘wallpaper’ in the amenities, men in the workplace just put up more of it. A poster of a man and a woman having anal sex, the property of a union shop steward, appeared on a crib room wall. The women found about a dozen posters on one wall, including a statue of a panther performing cunnilingus on a woman, two women having sex, and a woman placing a banana in her anus. One full-length nude poster, of the soft porn variety, had been used for dart practice, and it had also been violently stabbed through the heart, head and genitals. Heather and Gail saw the use of pornography in their workplace as a threat to their dignity and to their standing as equals in the workplace. They described the effect of the use of pornography in these terms: ‘Degrading; we felt total lack of respect; we felt threatened; we felt that these people didn’t consider you as a part of their workforce – you were treated as someone totally different. You were alienated from them and it made me want to be sick; fear, because every time one went up it was an attack on me, a personal attack.’
Or listen to the voice of Amy, who was sexually assaulted by her uncle, who then uploaded the pictures of her abuse and assault to the internet, to be downloaded by tens of thousands of men, each of them a participant in the harm done to her. Amy wrote: ‘Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me and that I will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them – at me – when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle…. It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it. It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.’
The power of the pornography industry asks us this question: whose side are you on? and whose voice are you going to listen to? I’m with Heather and Gail, with Amy and Masha, and with every other woman who has been harmed by pornography and who has lived to tell the tale. And I’m with those who didn’t survive.
But Big Porn Inc is not simply what our friend Rebecca Whisnant calls ‘atrocities r us’. It is a witness to the unsilenced voices of these courageous women, like Heather, Gail, Amy and Masha, who know that you can’t fight against this industry on your own, and that only with others do we have any hope to make a culture based on dignity and equality.
My next book
I shared plans for my new book Puppies, Kittens and Fluffy Bunnies with the Sydney crowd. Dannielle Miller, Director of Enlighten Education, has generously produced the artwork for the book and scored an early endorsement from Julie Gale. I’m sure you will agree it is a charming and delightful cover.
‘Anyone interested in how ideas of free speech operate to defend an industry that causes serious harm to women and children will find compelling arguments and disturbing information in this book’ – Bookseller and Publisher
The contentious topic of pornography has received increased public attention recently, due to the appearance of anti-porn activist Gail Dines at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Big Porn Inc features contributions by Dines, along with Maggie Hamilton, Helen Pringle, and many more. The essays cover a wide array of issues connected to the porn industry, including stripping and prostitution, abuse of animals and children (including a tragic victim impact statement), issues associated with judging women by pornographic standards, and misogyny in videogames. Big Porn Inc occasionally strays into didacticism; the collection includes an essay that lampoons a more pornpositive study, The Porn Report, along with criticisms of other academic and public figures, including Peter Singer, who, it is argued, do not come down firmly enough against the porn industry. Most pieces present a ghastly portrait of the pornification of mainstream culture and the commodification of sex and women’s bodies. Anyone interested in how ideas of free speech operate to defend an industry that causes serious harm to women and children will find compelling arguments and disturbing information in this book, and quite possibly be swayed towards the idea of ‘fair speech’ that the editors passionately advocate as an alternative. Big Porn Inc. will be of particular interest to those engaged in gender or cultural studies, as the authors provide many references for further reading on each topic.
Portia Lindsay works at UNSW Bookshop. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Online here.
Our new book, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry, documents the proliferation and normalisation of pornography, the way it has become a global industry and a global ideology, and how it is shaping our world and the harm this causes.
The global pornography industry is expected to reach US$100 billion in the near future. In 2009, the UN estimated that the global child pornography industry made a profit of up to $20 billion. Pornography money is buying governments, academic research, national and international corporations and law enforcement agencies.
This largely unregulated pornography industry has colonised private and public spaces at a rate that presents significant challenges to women’s and children’s rights. The mainstreaming of pornography is transforming the sexual politics of intimate and public life, popularising new forms of anti-women attitudes and behaviours and contributing to the sexualisation of children.
The pornification of culture is leading to a form of hypersexism that entails an increase in physical, sexual, mental, economic and emotional cruelty towards women and children. This radical cultural shift is shaping the way we understand ourselves and others, both personally and politically.
Our goal is to present a powerful challenge to libertarian conceits that pornography is simply about pleasure, self-empowerment and freedom of choice.
Since the 1980s, there has been a steady growth in the number of academics who study pornography and believe they are being unconventional or somehow radical in their defence, even celebration, of it. To treat pornography as an avant garde political gesture, however, requires its defenders to turn a blind eye to the harms it does.
A great deal of pro-pornography academic research in the social sciences is taken up with this task of masking the harms of pornography, in order to defend the lucrative global industry and guarantee a continued supply of cool pleasures to the hip consumer.
One such piece of research, The Porn Report by Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catharine Lumby (2008), was heralded as “the first piece of serious research” on the state of pornography in Australia. The book is widely cited in political and academic debates for its analysis of the production, distribution and consumption of pornography.
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry
Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray (eds)
Forthcoming Release—September 2011
… our primary concern with pornography is not that it is offensive (although it often is), but that it is subordination and degradation—mostly of women. It is a human rights issue.
The unprecedented mainstreaming of the global pornography industry is transforming the sexual politics of intimate and public life, popularising new forms of hardcore misogyny, and strongly contributing to the sexualisation of children. Yet challenges to the pornography industry continue to be dismissed as uncool, anti-sex and moral panics.
Unmasking the lies behind the selling of porn as ‘just a bit of fun’ Big Porn Inc reveals the shocking truths of an industry that trades in violence, crime and degradation. This fearless book will change the way you think about pornography.
Contributors: (Australia) Maggie Hamilton, Nina Funnell, Christopher Kendall, Stella, Susan Hawthorne, Sheila Jeffreys, Caroline Taylor, Meagan Tyler, Robi Sonderegger, Caroline Norma, Renate Klein, Helen Pringle, Betty McLellan, Melinda Tankard Reist, Abigail Bray, Melinda Liszewski. (International) Gail Dines, Catharine A MacKinnon, Melissa Farley, Diana Russell, Robert Jensen, Jeffrey Masson, Chyng Sun, Julia Long, Diane L Rosenfeld, Linda Thompson, Hiroshi Nakasatomi, Anne Mayne, Ruchira Gupta, Asja Armanda, Caroline, Natalie Nenadic, Anna van Heeswijk, Matt McCormack Evans.
This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough. Like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which began the environmental movement, Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits, and that an ugly misuse of thousands of women, including very young children, is the dark and criminal underside of the insatiable need for more.
—Steve Biddulph, author of The New Manhood and The Secret of Happy Children.
Big Porn Inc is a must read for anyone interested in the human rights of women and children. The book is cogent and alarming, yet hopeful that together we can create a world where women and children are not hurt and degraded. Big Porn Inc is a much needed blueprint for ending the global porn industry.—Christine Stark, author of Nickel
[Big Porn Inc] unleashes a cascade of emotions—shock, disgust, guilt, rage, and heart-felt admiration for the victims of the porn industry … A landmark publication sure to help open the eyes of the public to the modern scourge of porn and amplify the call for greater decency and respect. – Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University
Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker, blogger, media commentator and activist against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls, and violence against women. Her third book Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls (2009) is in its fourth printing.
Dr Abigail Bray is a research fellow at the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University. She has published widely in leading international academic journals on anorexia, child sexual abuse, moral panics, and child pornography. She is the author of Hélène Cixous: Writing and Sexual Difference (2004) and Body Talk: A Power Guide for Girls (2005) with Elizabeth Reid Boyd .
Release Date: 6 September
2011 RRP: $36.95 Special pre-release price of $30 – order here.
Review, extract or interview: firstname.lastname@example.org / 03 9329 6088
*The MTR blog will be a bit quiet between now and August 10 as I’m taking a break before the new book is launched. Look forward to being back in touch with you all on my return.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.