‘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.
And another sexual assault survivor who isn’t laughing
Late yesterday afternoon Brian McFadden sent these tweets:
So, it seems he’s upset his song is “getting attention for the wrong reasons”. Lyrics about doing damage to an inebriated women were just meant as a bit of fun. And anyway that woman was his fiance Delta Goodrem, so it doesn’t matter anyway. And even though he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, he’ll give all the profits to a charity that works with rape victims.
The analogy comes to mind of a man who makes light of robbing and beating a blind person then so kindly sends money to a charity for the blind.
McFadden says it’s not a PR stunt but it’s hard to see it as anything else. And look at how the controversy is portrayed on his website – which, by the way, is accessed by clicking on a full screen image of the McFadden police mug shot cover of the new single.
Looks to me like McFadden and his record company are cashing in on the controversy with wording like ”You be the judge, buy Brian’s new single here”.
And what’s with the “Controversial new video?” Will the music video clip be a visual illustration of the lyrics? Is McFadden going to show us what ‘take advantage’ and ‘do some damage’ really means?
Given that Universal - the target of our petition against Kanye West’s Monster which has just cracked 15,000 signatures - is McFadden’s label as well, perhaps we need to brace ourselves for something truly horrible.
If McFadden is really concerned his song is being interpreted as promoting date rape, why say he doesn’t want it played on radio? What’s so special about radio? If it is causing this much angst – and triggering sexual assault survivors – why not just withdraw the whole thing? And can the video?
It’s difficult to see McFadden’s gesture as sincere when he blames all those who have criticised Just as you are (Drunk at the Bar) (including me here and here) . It’s our fault, see, because we don’t have a sense of humour. And he doesn’t want to give “haters” the pleasure of backing down. But it is his lyrics that are hateful. He just doesn’t see that. He won’t back down, even when more sexual assault survivors are speaking out about what this song is doing to them.
I’m a survivor of sexual assault and I’m not laughing: your song diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings
Nicole obviously doesn’t have a sense of humour either. Following ‘anon’ on my blog Tuesday, Nicole is another woman who has come forward to describe the impact of this song on her, posting this comment:
This brings up so much for me. I don’t really know where to begin. It was such a long time ago, but it still hurts and humiliates me, some 20 years later.
I was about 16. I went to a party hoping to see a boy that I really liked. I got way too drunk and my friends tucked me into a bed at the house to recover. The boy I really liked then came into the room and tried his luck, but seemed to realise nothing was going to happen. Maybe 10 minutes later, his friend came in and he too tried his luck, however he was more determined. I have no doubt that if my friends hadn’t come back to check on me when they did, he would have raped me. He already had my clothes undone and had his hand inside me.
Later that night, after I had sobered up, we went to another friends house and I told my friends what had happened. They confronted the guy involved and he outright denied it. I never reported it and I never spoke of it again to anybody. The guy on the other hand ran around telling everybody that I was a liar and a bitch and that I was just pissed off because he wouldn’t have sex with me. I was humiliated.
So, Brian McFadden, do you think this is something to poke fun at? Does my story deserve it’ own catchy tune and rounds of laughter and applause because you were so clever to come up with something witty that ultimately diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings about it?
I’m really ever so glad that we live in a society where cretins like you can influence a whole new generation of young boys and men to sexually assault women and girls and then have a big old laugh about it later on… not to mention make yourself rich at our expense. (That was sarcasm, in case you hadn’t quite picked up on it, and yes, I’m more than a little angry over your stupid song)
Maybe, Brian, you should consider that you have little girls growing up. I hope to God that they are never sexually assaulted by boys who have listened to your song and think it’s hilarious to ‘take advantage’ of your daughters while drunk, so they can ‘do some damage’ to them.
Where does Delta stand?
Delta Goodrem is one of a number of celebrity spokeswomen supporting Avon Voices, which raises money to address violence against women. She is also Brian McFadden’s fiancé. Shame she didn’t have a word to him before he released the new song. Or are violent lyrics – and the violence of a rape enabling culture – just so passé now,they weren’t noticed? Remember, this isn’t McFadden on his own. There’s an entire production chain involved in getting a single like this out. Did no one think to say ‘maybe this isn’t such a great idea’?
Help answer McFadden’s request
McFadden wants recommendations for charities working to help rape survivors. You can tweet him at @BrianMcFadden with your suggestions or contact him throug his website or feel free to post your suggestions here and I’ll make sure he gets them. Then let’s see him if he means it. But you know, there are some charities which may not want to accept his tainted money.
And even if he sends truckloads of money, he is not absolved. Nice of him to help out a charity and all, but what we really need is a genuine show of sorrow and regret. For that we are still waiting.
An anonymous woman bravely posted the comment below on Collective Shout’s site . If anything should shame Brian McFadden – and all involved in the song’s production and distribution, including Universal Music – for creating a single making light of sexual exploitation – it is what she has written. Brian McFadden says his song is ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Tell that to women like this and all those other women and girls preyed upon and sexually violated.
This song leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth as I was actually done some damage to after being taking advantage of. A drunken night which saw me going home to a “friends” house to hang out, and then being dropped off in the morning by one of his friends. Well, let’s just say I have a huge gap in my memory, and a huge hole in my heart after the incident. This hole only formed though, when I heard from a friend that the “friends” friend had sex with me that night. Charming. It’s taken me a few years to come to terms with what happened and the resulting anxiety and shameful feelings have been horrible. I haven’t told anyone about the fact that I don’t remember anything and I WOULD NEVER have consented to having sexual intercourse with the person if I was coherent enough to say no. I can’t speak up about it though because I doubt anyone will believe me, and as everyone will think, I brought it on myself, getting that drunk.
You did not give consent. You are not to blame
I asked Nina Funnell, anti sexual violence campaigner and herself a survivor of sexual assault, how she would respond. This is her answer – to Anon and to all women like her.
I would like to start by commending you on your bravery in being able to articulate your experience of sexual abuse so openly and eloquently. I am saddened however, to say that while your experience is yours and yours alone-and no one has the right to claim they know how you feel- many other women will find echoes of their own experiences in your words.
Your response to what has happened to you is very normal. It often takes victims years to come to terms with what they have experienced. Some never do. The resulting shame and anxiety you feel is also completely normal for someone who has experienced what you have, however I must stress that while feelings of shame and self blame are very typical following an assault (as they are a function of PTSD) you are in no way to blame and the shame rests with him and him alone: getting drunk is not a crime. Sexually assaulting a drunk person is not only criminal, it is a low, vile, predatory act that has to do with a power, dominance and a desire to exert control over another person.
So often we hear the myths that “drunk girls are asking for trouble” and that “men can’t control their lust”. Firstly, no person has ever “asked” to be sexually assaulted. This is a myth which is used to excuse the actions of perpetrators by shifting the blame onto victims.
Secondly, sexual assault is not a function of uncontrollable lust. This myth is not only inaccurate but it is also insulting to men as it casts them as slaves to base, animal emotions. If I were a man I would be eager to knock this myth on its head. If it were true that sexual assault is a result of sexual lust then men would be raping attractive women in the cereal aisle at Coles. We’d also have to ban men from the beach during summer.
The truth is that research shows that men who sexually assault women do so in a calculated fashion based on three primary factors.
1) Access to the victims: perpetrators select or groom potential victims whom they have direct access to. It is a deliberate and thought through process.
2) Perceptions of the victim’s vulnerability: perpetrators choose victims they perceive as being more vulnerable than others. But it is important to note that vulnerability can take many forms. Women who are unconscious or heavily intoxicated may be more vulnerable than other women. Perpetrators must always be held 100% accountable for their actions and it is nonsense to suggest that the more drunk a woman is, the less responsibility a man has to take for his own behaviour. Disturbingly, perpetrators also identify and prey on other types of vulnerabilities. For example, blind, deaf, physically and intellectually disabled women are sexually assaulted at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. This is because they are perceived by some as being more vulnerable and less likely to report to police- particularly if they have trouble with communication skills or if they are dependent on their abuser (such as if their abuser is a carer). Perpetrators also target other populations which are perceived as being more vulnerable either physically (such as children or incapacitated women), socially (such as individuals who have no strong friendship or social networks who might encourage them to report), women who are dependent on the abuser in some way (such as in cases where the abuser is in a position of power such as an adult relative or boss) or perpetrators who know that their victims are unlikely to be able to access support and judicial services for a range of other reasons (such as sex workers who are often not believed, victims in same-sex relationships or victims who have previously had consensual sex with the abuser- such as wives and girlfriends).
3) The likelihood of them being caught and reported on: Perpetrators also weigh up the likelihood of being interrupted by a witness or witnesses and they make a series of calculated decisions based on location and risk. In particular perpetrators often manipulate victims into a location where they have more control over the situation. This is all done to avoid detection and to maintain power over the situation and the victim.
The point of this is to stress that rape doesn’t happen by accident. Research shows that perpetrators know what they are doing and they make a series of detailed decisions around their behaviour. So it is ludicrous to suggest that men can’t help it. The overwhelming majority of men never rape. Those who do, do so deliberately and must be held to full account.
The next thing to say is that silence is not consent. “I’m not sure” is not consent. “Maybe later” is not consent. “Yes” tonight is not “yes” tomorrow night. Consent must be active and given freely and without any force, pressure or coercion by someone who has the capacity to consent each and every time. You clearly did not give consent. You are not to blame AT ALL and full responsibility lies with him and him ALONE.
I also note that you feel concerned that you would be either blamed or not believed if you spoke out. I wish I could tell you, “no! you are wrong!” but your concern is not irrational or unjustified. Unfortunately we still live in a society where victim blaming mentalities exist. Approximately 85% of victims will never report to police because they do not trust the justice system. And with the odd exception, this is justified. Less than 1% of sexual assault cases in NSW are successfully prosecuted.
Victims do often disclose to a family member or trusted friend. But unfortunately even those who love us are often schooled in the same victim-blaming mentalities as the rest of society and they usually blame the victim, interrogate them as though they don’t believe them, or minimize the experience by saying things like “maybe you are exaggerating” or “maybe you just misinterpreted things”. BUT THERE IS HOPE!
So we are clear about this, a person’s capacity to recover (and recovery is possible!) is directly dependent on a number of factors (including the relationship they hold with the abuser, the length of time between the assault or assaults and the decision to speak out, the nature of counselling (if any) they receive on disclosure, prior mental illness or drug and alcohol dependence …. Etc etc). But without question, the number one thing that determines a person’s ability to recover is the types of attitudes they encounter on disclosure. Victims who are believed, supported, not judged, and treated with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve are far more likely to recover than those who are blamed, humiliated or not believed.
As a community it is vital that we support survivors and their supporters. There are three things I always tell survivors who disclose to me.
1) I am sorry this has happened to you (translation: “I believe you”).
2) What has happened to you is a crime (translation: “you are not to blame”)
3) I will do whatever I can to help (translation: “you are not alone”).
These were things I wished someone had said to me when I was sexually assaulted almost four years ago. While we cannot all be counsellors it is my hope that we can better educate the public so that those of us who fall into the role of an accidental counsellor (this is someone who is not a trained counsellor but who finds themselves- unexpectedly- on the end of a disclosure) can better respond to survivors with empathy, compassion and a desire to protect their best interest.
I also want to stress that while it is wise and prudent to think through who you can disclose to (as some people just don’t get it), there are expert counselling services out there (which are also free!) for individuals who have experienced sexual assault and for those who support them. I can firmly recommend the following.
NSW Rape Crisis Centre offers a 24/7 hotline run by trained experts for survivors and anyone supporting a survivor. Their number is 1800 424 017. They also have a live 24/7 real time internet counsellor, because sometimes it’s often less confronting to type rather than to have to speak out loud. The link to that service can be found on their website here.
A nationwide service can also be reached on 1800 RESPECT. This line is run by trained experts for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence- as well as their supporters.
Most of all I wish for you to know that you are not alone and that there is a community of us out there who really do care about you and who are appalled by what you have experienced. Please, PLEASE know that what you have experienced is not just an abuse. It is a HUMAN RIGHTS abuse and that there are many- like me- who care. Reading your words moved me to write this post. I hope it has some impact- no matter how small.
I was just about to post this blog when I got news through twitter that the on-line seller of vintage and handmade products Esty had changed its policy and was prohibiting items and listings that disparage or promote hate. However, as the rape cards and other offensive cards remain on its site at the time of writing, and as it appears sellers are being asked to voluntarily withdraw, I am publishing the blog as is in the hope it might contribute to speedy removal. Also, it could easily be argued that the cards already violated Etsy’s Terms of Selling. And regardless, we still need to confront the reality of a rape-trivialising culture, of which this card is just one manifestation.
I’m barely keeping up with the litany of women-punishing products, music, images and messages flooding the world at the moment. It’s overwhelming.
Take this for example.
On-line seller Etsy is advertising a greeting card for women who have been raped. It contains a drawing of a naked woman cowering in the shower with the wording “Congratulations: You got bad touched!” This card and other çards ‘for awkward situations’ are created by Jason Jones whose selling name is “YouStupidBitch”.
Change.org has a petition calling on Etsy to remove this card along with others including one mocking mothers of children with Down syndrome, another congratulating women with breast cancer.
As of this afternoon, there were 16,521 signatures.
Trivialising sexual assault
For the past couple of weeks I have been tweeting Change.org’s petition, encouraging people to sign. (Thanks to all who did).
One woman on twitter criticised me doing so. She said that while the cards were “in poor taste”, she would never “dictate what other find amusing”.
Dictate what others find amusing…I didn’t say this in response, but I’ve been thinking about how anti-semites find images of Jewish people with exaggerated noses amusing. Or how white supremacists may find images of blacks being lynched, entertaining.
Why isn’t mocking women who have been sexually assaulted seen as universally and unequivocally offensive? Why are crimes against women seen as fodder for amusement?
What has happened in our culture that such a sadistic and cruel card could even be created, let alone sold, profited from, justified and defended by others?
Products like this feed into a culture which trivialises rape, makes fun of or blames sexual assault survivors. A culture which tells them to get over it or even that they should be grateful anyone would want to rape them (a comment I’ve heard). A culture which comes up with t.shirts with slogans like “It’s not rape it’s surprise sex” or “It’s not rape if you yell surprise!”
“When a person is sexually assaulted their faith in humanity is fractured. To see other people mock rape and its victims only exacerbates the sense of dislocation” – a survivor
It’s the survivors of rape who we should be listening to in all this. How does a rape greeting card make them feel?
A young sexual assault survivor shared her thoughts with me:
As a survivor, when I hear of rape-positive attitudes it is a reminder that I live in a world where rape is condoned or even promoted. It is a reminder that I am not simply up against one man who tried to rape and kill me, rather I am up against a culture of abuse. It is a reminder that my experience of sexual assault, while highly personal and individual, also has a historical and cultural dimension that reaches back for centuries, and which bleeds into all cultures and communities around the world. That knowledge is hard to deal with as it makes my experience seem irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It also makes me feel insignificant and it makes future rape of other women including sisters, daughters and friends seem inevitable. In effect the knowledge that rape is still condoned by some makes me feel even more powerless as my own experience is made a mockery of.
One thing I always say is that if these people knew what it was that they were joking about, then they wouldn’t joke about it. I envy anyone who is able to joke about rape as it is a clear indication that they have absolutely no experience of what it is that they are joking about: if they did they would never joke about it. People should not use big words that they don’t understand because they end up looking like idiots. Well, rape is a big word. People who don’t understand it’s meaning- not definition- but meaning, shouldn’t use it, much less joke about it.
As I say, even if I never see or receive such a card, the very knowledge that it exists makes me feel alone and unsupported by the broader community. When a person is sexually assaulted their faith in humanity is fractured. To see other people mock rape and its victims only exacerbates the sense of dislocation from the rest of society and this compounds feelings of isolation and distress.
Demonstrate your solidarity for women like this. Stand up against all rape trivialising jokes, products and messages.
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“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
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
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It and the Ruby Who? book and DVD in one bundle for $100 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real and Faking It in one bundle for $70 and save 20% off the individual price.
Purchase Getting Real, Faking It and Ruby Who? DVD in one bundle for $60 and save 12% off the individual price.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“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
“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.