Despite its definition, “revenge porn” is almost never used to describe commercial pornography. Indeed, the rush to decry “revenge porn” implies that commercial pornography is somehow not about harm, degradation, and humiliation.
It is taken for granted in many of these public discussions that all women in commercial pornography have freely and willingly consented, not only to the sex acts that have been recorded, but also to their global distribution. Beyond that, the stories of abuse from within the commercial pornography industry are largely ignored.
Women involved in all aspects of the porn industry, from the so-called “soft porn” of Playboy and the “free choice” of amateur, to the harder forms of gonzo, have spoken publicly about violence and coercion. I also recount a number of their stories in Selling Sex Short. The filmed recordings of these assaults and abuses of trust are still in circulation for a mostly male target audience to access for the purposes of sexual arousal.
Even the inclusion of specific abusive incidents in the commercial industry as “revenge pornography” is still very limited. The analysis remains stuck on an individual level and offers no meaningful context of consent. Most understandings of “revenge porn” hinge on the idea that the person in question — almost always woman — has not consented to the distribution of her image and that the purpose of publishing the image is to degrade or humiliate her in some way.
We need to understand that questionable consent, along with humiliation and degradation, are hallmarks of the pornography industry itself. Firstly, women’s inequality — economically, socially, political and sexually — contributes to a kind of cultural coercion into pornography production in the first place. There is little sense in suggesting that commercial pornography is all about “free choice,” as though consent exists outside the context of a capitalist-patriarchy or pornified culture.
Secondly, there is the representation of women in pornography. Sexual violence and sexual aggression against women in mainstream, commercial pornography is extremely common. The ways in which particular groups of women are depicted in pornography also shows that humiliation and degradation exist outside obvious sexual violence.
Racism, too, is pervasive in mainstream heterosexual (and gay male) pornography. As Gail Dines explains:
“Hiding behind the façade of fantasy and harmless fun, pornography delivers reactionary racist stereotypes that would be considered unacceptable were they in any other types of mass-produced media. However, the power of pornography is that these messages have a long history and still resonate, on a sub-textual level, with the white supremacist ideologies, that continue to inform policies that economically, politically and socially discriminate against people of colour.”
Dines demonstrates how sexism and racism intertwine with common tropes such as Asian women constructed as petite and submissive and black women constructed as poor, or “ghetto,” and easily pimped. Pornography not only reinforces male dominance and white supremacy, it sexualizes them: it makes inequality something to get off to.
Furthermore, the pornography industry fundamentally requires sexual objectification in order to function. As Kathleen Barry argues in The Prostitution of Sexuality, the increasing proliferation of pornography has been, at least in part, about publicly reducing women to sexed bodies for the male gaze. She states that, in post-industrial societies:
“[W]hen women achieve the potential for economic independence, men are threatened with loss of control over women as their legal and economic property in marriage. To regain control, patriarchal domination reconfigures around sex by producing a social and public condition of sexual subordination that follows women into the public world.”
In this sense, at a class level, all porn is revenge porn. Instead of an individual man benefiting at the expense of an individual woman — as in dominant understandings of “revenge porn” — this is men, as a class, benefiting at the expense of women, as a class.
The situation is similar with other aspects of the sex industry, as Sheila Jeffreys explains in The Industrial Vagina:
“The boom in strip clubs can be seen as a counterattack, in which men have reasserted their right to network for and through male dominance without the irritating presence of women, unless those women are naked and servicing their pleasures…[Strip clubs] provide an antidote to the erosion of male dominance by institutionalizing the traditional hierarchy of gender relations.”
As women have increasingly asserted their equality with (and autonomy from) men, the sex industry — including its most pervasive and profitable arm in pornography — has become a form of patriarchal compensation, or even revenge. It is a way of reclaiming hierarchies founded on racism and sexism.
We’ve had several decades worth of feminist theorizing and activism about the harms of pornography. It is 24 years since the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance put forward the idea that women should be able to hold pornographers who profit from their abuse civilly accountable. It is an ordinance that would have been well suited, in many ways, to addressing revenge porn today.
There is little need to reinvent the wheel in understanding the harms of revenge pornography. There is, however, an urgent need to re-engage with feminist critiques of pornography, sexual inequality, and consent if we are to have any hope of redressing such harms.
‘The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of women’
There’s a shift happening. Perhaps not quite enough yet to call it a tipping point. But something is going on. When my colleagues and I were working on ‘Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry’ in 2010-11, concerns about the way porn was shaping sexual attitudes and behaviours in new and harmful ways were barely a whisper. But now the ill effects of the pornographic experiment on relationships and sexuality are being named out loud.
This personal piece on Twitlonger by Rosie Redstockings is one of the most potent I’ve read describing a woman’s experience of porn-conditioned men. I reprint it with permission. And below it, Sarah Ditum’s remarkable confession in New Statesman last week. You must read the whole thing. “The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew”, she writes. Rosie’s experience, and Sarah’s frank admission, are a perfect match here on MTR today.
In Response to Owen Jones
I’m 23. Mine is the first generation to be exposed to online porn from a young age. We learnt what sex is from watching strangers on the internet, we don’t know anything else.
Here are some of the things that I have experienced…
- having my head shoved into his crotch, and held down while I sucked him off
- being told that my gag reflex was too strong, couldn’t I work on it?
- bullied into submitting to facials. I didn’t want to. He said (joking?) that he’d ejaculate on my face while I was asleep. He wasn’t joking – I woke up with him wanking over me.
- bullied into trying anal. It hurt so much I begged him to stop. He stopped, then complained that I was being too sensitive and it can’t be *that* bad, he continued to ask for it
- having my hair pulled
- constant requests for threesomes
- constant requests to let him film it
And on every single occasion, I felt guilty for not being a ‘cool girl’. I was letting him down. I was a prude.
THIS IS NOW NORMAL. Every single straight girl I know has had similar experiences. Every. Single. One. Some have experienced far worse. Some have given in, some have resisted, all have felt guilty and awkward for not being “liberated” enough, not giving him what he wants.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I discovered radical feminism, that I realised it was ok to say no. I’m lucky enough to be with a man who respects this and who understands. Even so, it was only recently that I decided I wasn’t going to swallow anymore. I’d never liked it, but always thought I was obliged. I told my boyfriend and he said that was totally fine, he was horrified to hear I hadn’t enjoyed it previously. Why would he think anything else? This is what sex is for the porn generation.
I’m a very privileged woman – I’m middle class, well educated, I come from a very supportive family – and yet I still struggled to muster up the confidence to say no. The men I have had sex with are now lawyers, doctors, management consultants – they’re powerful people, they have influence, and they still think that degrading their sexual partners is normal.
Porn has done this.
When you use your influence to tell thousands of your readers that all men watch porn, this is just what men are like, “why should we care?”, you’re perpetuating this. An entire generation of women have suffered because of porn, and we will all continue to suffer unless men change. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise for us. “Boys will be boys” is not going to change anything, nor will bleating “yeah but porn doesn’t *have* to be misogynistic”. Please start using your influence for good.
You say you’re a feminist ally? Prove it.
Why I changed my mind about porn
….Though it seemed callow to admit it, I’d seen things in my research that shocked and upset me – real penetration of real women causing real pain. And there was one more thing, which happened more gradually: I heard from friends about the boyfriend who wanted to choke them, or the one who slapped them about in bed, or pressured them to do anal, or wanted to film it all. The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew…
The actions of Craft, Dworkin, Mackinnon and Dines are defined by their urgency. Anti-porn feminism recognises a link between the propaganda of sexual violence and its practice, and stopping porn is understood to be essential in ending the rapes, killings and torture that men practice against women. These campaigners believe that lives are at stake – and even so, they are somehow less censorious, more open to dialogue, more creative than those who now police the “safe spaces.” In these spaces, everyone must be warmly welcomed and intellectually unchallenged, except of course for feminists speaking against male violence. One wonders exactly why Pornland was such an intimidating prospect for supporters of the sex industry in Austin. Perhaps it is a perverse testament to Dines: maybe her opponents know that, if viewers approach with a readiness to debate in good faith, they might, like me, end up changing their minds. Read full article
Perhaps we should decide, as a society, whether we are happy to allow two groups – media moguls and the multi-billion dollar porn industry, to have all the ‘freedom’ and dictate that freedom to the rest of us
Last week I attended Generation XXX, a symposium on internet porn organised by Eleanor Mills, Associate Editor of the Sunday Times, and featuring Gail Dines, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Wheelock College Boston, who delivered an impassioned and hard-hitting keynote speech about the spread of the multi-billion dollar porn industry into our lives and the lives of our children.
The following day Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton and Hove, ran a debate in the House of Commons on the subject of media sexism, and with an impressive presentation of evidence, hard facts and anecdote pointed out the harm that normalised ‘Page 3′ style sexism does to our society.
The two issues are connected along the same continuum, from root cause to inevitable result: the publicly visible spread of casual porn throughout the media over the last few decades, to the easy accessibility of abusive porn throughout the new ‘public space’ of the internet today.
Gail Dines called internet porn a great ‘cultural experiment’ in the sense that our young people are the first generation for which the world of violent and degrading porn is so easily accessible. The real great British porn experiment actually began much earlier than that though, in 1970 when an image previously described as ‘porn’, available only within age-restricted publications on the top shelf, was first placed in a mass circulation non age-restricted daily newspaper.
It was the generation who came of age in the Seventies who were first conditioned into the message of porn and it started when the Sun, with the introduction of Page 3, gave explicit permission to the general public, young and old, to view women as sexually available commodities. Read more
Oscar-nominated actor produces violent pornography documentary
Today marks the national premiere of the much- anticipated Disney film Oz: The Great and Powerful, starring James Franco. James Franco’s past film credits include his Oscar-nominated role in 127 Hours, Tristan and Isolde and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, among others.
Now Franco can add a new credit to his name- pornographer.
James Franco is the producer of pornographic documentary Kink, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The title Kink refers to a BDSM porn website, where extreme violence against women and torture are the norm. Common acts include non-simulated actual footage of rope, metal and wood bondage, underwater suffocation torture, electric shocks, sex with machinery, gang rape, slave training and public humiliation.
Promotional material for the website:
“In our videos you will watch as some of the best riggers in the business bind, torture and f*ck gorgeous women”
“paddled, caned and flogged until their bodies are marked and red”
“Pushing the very limits of their endurance and pain tolerance”
”The women, like others who enter porn, are young and often don’t know the full extent of what will happen on the set, and cannot anticipate the lasting psychological and emotional effects. The ultimate lie of Kink is that it claims to do candid interviews with the women at the end of the scene so they can show how much they enjoyed the “sex.” This is like asking sweatshop laborers to talk about how happy they are to be working for some multinational corporation as the CEO films the interview.” Read more here.
Porn star Aurora Snow shared her traumatic experience making a Kink film.
“They are a company that looks for the moment when a girl has been mentally and at times physically pushed too far; the borderline of tears and pain. Sometimes talent leaves with giant bruises that take weeks to disappear.”
“The scenes will push a girl over the edge. It’s standard practice on set to take breaks in between filming and during these breaks the talent is fawned, told how amazing they are, catered to, etc. It makes for a very confusing experience when trying to evaluate one’s own feelings about what’s really happening.”
See images of a bruised woman taken after a Kink shoot here. (WARNING, GRAPHIC.)
Why is James Franco using his public platform to promote the extreme violence and actual torture of women? Franco’s “feel-good” documentary normalizes and brings violent pornography to the mainstream.
You can decide whether or not you will give financial support to James Franco’s films.
CALL TO ACTION
Boycott James Franco films
Contact James Franco’s Agent, Kami Putnam Heist from Creative Artists Agency firstname.lastname@example.org ATT: Kami Putnam Heist
Tweet James Franco and Walt Disney Pictures @JamesFrancoTV @DisneyPictures using the hashtag #boycottfranco
The porn industry must be throwing a fit right now. The adult book Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over twenty million copies in record time, and sales are still going strong. How did E.L. James, a first-time author who was a television executive, manage to pull off a feat that has eluded the porn industry—getting women to see sexual cruelty as hot sex? In my interviews with them, porn producers regularly bemoan the fact that they just can’t seem to make porn that appeals to the majority of women.
I can’t say I am surprised that the normally business-savvy porn industry has been bested by a novice, given the somewhat ridiculous advice Adult Video News (the porn industry’s premier trade) journal offered to pornographers interested in attracting more women to their websites. Arguing that only 15% of Internet porn consumers are women, AVN suggests that to attract women, “adult Webmasters need to create sites where the primary elements are interaction and education.” And what would these sites look like? “Such sites would allow women to obtain advice, perhaps during teleconferences with experts, have elements of cybersex, and should play into women’s relationship fantasies”.
I can’t imagine women flocking to websites where they can get handy hints from experts mid-arousal. But The AVN article did get something right: women are flocking to a book that plays into, and exploits, “women’s relationship fantasies.” The fantasy they recommended, “a story of how a woman got a rich and powerful boyfriend” because she is good in bed, is very close to the formula James followed. But this story line alone isn’t going to sell to women, as the porn industry knows only too well.
While much of the sex in Fifty Shades is as cruel and sadistic as in mainstream porn, it is expertly packaged for women who want a “fairy tale” ending. In male-targeted porn, the woman is interesting only for as long as the sex lasts. Once done with her, the man is onto the next, and the next, and the next.… She is disposable, interchangeable, and easily replaced. No happy ending here for women.
In Fifty Shades, however, the naïve, immature, bland Anastasia is, for some unfathomable reason, the most compelling woman our rich, sadistic, narcissistic hero has ever met, and he not only kisses her during sex (something you rarely see in Internet hardcore porn) but he doesn’t move on to the next conquest once he has had his wicked way with her. In fact, he actually marries her and confesses undying love. As one of the female fans I interviewed said, this is like Pretty Woman all over again.
Indeed, Fifty Shades is about as realistic as Pretty Woman. How many prostitutes do you know who end up living in marital bliss with a former john? I would guess about the same number of women who live happily ever after with a man who dictates, in a written contract, what to eat and wear, and when to exercise, wax, and sleep. In my work, I meet many women who started out like our heroine, only to end up, a few years later, not in luxury homes, but running for their lives to a battered women’s shelter with a couple of equally terrified kids in tow. No happy ending here, either.
In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Mr. Grey is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.
And yet women of all ages are swooning over this guy and misreading his obsessive, cruel behavior as evidence of love and romance. Part of the reason for this is that his wealth acts as a kind of up-market cleansing cream for his abuse, and his pathological attachment to Anastasia is reframed as devotion, since he showers luxury items on her. This is a very retrograde and dangerous world for our daughters to buy into, and speaks to the appalling lack of any public consciousness as to the reality of violence against women.
Fifty Shades also reveals just how pornographic our culture has become over the last decade or so. While the old Harlequin romance novels had narcissistic heroes who toyed, sexually and psychologically, with their much younger prey, however remote and emotionally challenged he was, the hero did not have a torture chamber tucked away in his basement. Fifty Shades of Grey is Harlequin on steroids, a kind of romance novel for the porn age in which overt sexual sadism masquerades as adoration and love. New as this is, the ending remains depressingly the same for real women who end up falling for the Mr. Greys of the world.
GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press). She a founding member of Stop Porn Culture.
Gail Dines is a contributor to Big Porn Inc:Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry (Ed MTR and Dr Abigail Bray, Spinifex Press, 2011).
Last week, midway through a leisurely Saturday afternoon, I got an email from MSNBC asking me to be on the Melissa Harris Perry Show a week later (July 7th). I was delighted to accept, as MHP is not your usual American journalist. A professor of political science at Tulane University, she is an outspoken African American feminist and a progressive voice in a media landscape dominated by right-wing talking heads. MSNBC is a rare media oasis in the U.S. where one gets to hear some actual critical analysis, so I—mistakenly, it turned out—thought this was going to be one of the few positive experiences I’ve had working with corporate-controlled media. In all honesty, after many years of being on talk shows in the U.S., I have come to expect very little in terms of integrity from the media. Their job is to boost ratings by making stories entertaining and light, and God help anyone who gets in their way.
I spent a long time on the phone with MHP’s producer talking about my research on the harms of porn and the ways women in the industry—especially women of color—are financially exploited and physically and emotionally dehumanized and debased. Given MHP’s feminist politics and her scholarly work on the representation of African American women in U.S. history, I was excited to do a show with an interviewer whom I expected would be engaging and thoughtful, in contrast to the usual adolescent sniggering I get from the male journalist who suddenly finds himself in the awkward position of interviewing a feminist who doesn’t think porn is fun. Read full article here.
As I read Jennifer Wilson’s article, I couldn’t help thinking that the pro-porn crowd must be producing a list of talking points that they endlessly circulate among themselves. They trot out the same old arguments without a shred of empirical evidence to back them up, and then they suggest that it is the anti-porn feminists who are lacking in rigor and theory.
Let me be more specific. I had the misfortune earlier this month to attend a conference in London called “Pornified: Complicating debates about the ‘sexualisation of culture’,” but it did anything but complicate. On the contrary, the complex, global, maturing porn industry was simplified right down to the point of disappearance: they made the argument that there is in fact no “it” – meaning the porn industry – because there are so many producers of porn and just so many types of much porn on the internet, that it is impossible to locate any actual industry.
It’s like being at a conference on food and the researchers argue that because we have fast food, gourmet food, independently owned restaurants, chain restaurants and even people cooking their own food at home, well there is just so much food that there is no such thing as a food industry.
I want to suggest to those people who make bold statements about what porn people are watching, that they do some basic research on the “it” – the industry, that is. When I was in Australia, the echo chamber from the pro-porners was that because there is just so much amateur porn and free porn, it is a mistake to focus on the hardcore gonzo porn that the industry produces. Read more
“Sexualisation” has become a much-debated issue in recent years, and a noticeable feature is the assumption that feminists who oppose sexual objectification are generating a “moral panic.”
Ever since sociologist Stanley Cohen introduced the term in 1972, it has been used as a shorthand way of critiquing conservatives for inventing another “problem” in order to demonise a group that challenges traditional moral standards.
So apparently feminists are now the conservatives fomenting unnecessary panic about the proliferation of “sexualised” images while the corporate-controlled media industry that mass produces these images is the progressive force for change being unfairly demonised. What a strange turn of events. Read more
I thought I was coming to Australia for a mix of work and sightseeing. Well, I was correct about the work part, but missed seeing your beautiful country since I spent much of my time holed up in the studios of ABC.
My book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, was, thanks to the efforts of Spinifex Press, selected to be part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival, so I assumed I would have a work-packed four days and then some down time.
What I didn’t plan for was that the book would ignite a firestorm and I would have to battle it out with a small but very vocal pro-porn lobby that was spearheaded by academics, public intellectuals and plain old pornographers.
I have debated pro-porn advocates for many years and usually have an interesting if somewhat predictable discussion. Their agenda is to sanitize porn as a bit of harmless fun, and my job is to speak for those women and men whose life stories are disparaged as “anecdotes.” While we disagree, it rarely gets personal and nasty.
‘The central issue about pornography for a woman on the left like me is sexual subordination and how to end it’
Opponents of pornography are prudes, moralisers, hung up about sex and want to put all women in burqas . Right? Not exactly.
Dr Helen Pringle tackles these weary and predictable stereotypes in a piece just published in On Line Opinion.
Helen is in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Her research has been widely recognised by awards from Princeton University, the Fulbright Foundation, the Australian Federation of University Women, and the Universities of Adelaide, Wollongong and NSW. Her main fields of expertise are human rights, ethics in public life, and political theory.
Helen is also a contributor to Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry, (Spinifex Press) with a much needed critique of a pro porn report.
Do you read discussions about pornography in the Australian media? Perhaps you followed the recent visit here of Gail Dines, the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality and an anti-pornography activist? Dines was introduced at a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel [ACTIVE] http://blip.tv/slowtv/porn-wars-dines-cannold-holden-lumby-5248617 by the chair’s making a snide dig to her as ‘the furthest to my right’. The panel chair asked Dines, ‘And where do you sit? So often in this debate there are odd bedfellows…you will often find radical feminists like yourself aligned in their views about pornography with Christians on the far right.’
Fair question? Well it is, if you only read of anti-pornography perspectives in mainstream media. The way the media reports on it, opposition to pornography comes only from the religious right. You know, those strange characters that have some problem with women’s bodies, and probably with men’s bodies as well. Who think that sex is sinful and who are obsessed with purity. Or, as the tired old joke goes, those who are opposed to sex because it might lead to dancing. What is even more frightening in this treatment of opposition to pornography is the women’s auxiliary wing of the religious right, in which everyone is having fits of the vapors at the very thought of a penis.
That is not my position on pornography. I am a woman on the left, and I am opposed to pornography…
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