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.
Last Thursday, the 2012 Australian Educational Publishing Awards were held in Melbourne. Big Porn Inc. was one of three shortlisted entries in the category of Secondary Reference Resource.
The winner of the category was announced as Cookery the Australian Way, 8th edition, by Shirley Cameron and published by Macmillan Education Australia. Big Porn Inc. was Highly Commended in the category which was a fantastic result. (It is always hard to compete against a cook book!)
In the award booklet, the judges had this to say of Big Porn Inc:
“An edgy, modern and refreshing approach to content that is challenging and confronting. Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry is engaging and well-written, offering a variety of ideas, values and confronting issues that can be used across a diversity of subject areas within the curriculum.”
Congratulations on this result which took place after a rigorous judging process, headed by chief judge Dr Mike Horsley of Central Queensland University.
Spinifex Press was represented on the night by Helen and Pauline and they report that there was quite an audience reaction when the book title was read out and displayed on the screen. The fact that there were many audible sniggers throughout an audience of professional publishers underscores a couple of things: it was truly a great result to be shortlisted and receive a high commendation, and secondly that education about pornography and its harm is sorely needed even in so-called educated circles.
You know the one thing that’s more insulting than blatantly sexist/misogynistic advertising?
Advertising that touts pseudo-feminism but sends the exact same bigoted message, only cloaking it in women’s liberation to soften the blow.
Take the new ad from Triumph Lingerie Australia, for example. The ad’s tagline reads ‘Welcome to the Republic of Triumph’ and asks women to declare themselves. The associated image is rather epic – featuring lingerie-clad women marching and waving Mao-ish red flags while holding protest signs aloft. One of the signs reads “It’s my right to have a career and a baby” while another declares “It’s my right to smash the glass ceiling.”
Except the ad’s attempt at appealing to our feminist souls is an epic fail, because the women featured are not only perfectly perky and seriously skinny, they’re also airbrushed to the nth degree and look decidedly plastic and flawless. They are entirely, disturbingly unreal.
The Triumph ‘feminist’ message that sits alongside its contradictory content is awful, but by no means is it the first time a company has hidden misogynistic agendas behind pseudo-feminist armour.
Take the Dove real beauty campaign, for example. The toiletries company claims to be about advertising images of women with real bodies, of all ages who are ethnically diverse. An admirable effort.
But their ‘real beauty’ campaign is utterly hollow, when Dove is owned by Unilever who sell such patriarchal products like ‘Fair and Lovely’ skin-lightening cream (which is particularly popular in India where women are made to feel that the lighter their skin, the more beautiful they’ll be).
Or how about everyone’s favourite (insert sarcasm) athletic company, Nike? For a little while there they actually churned out some (surprisingly, begrudgingly) good and powerful ads that portrayed famous sportswomen not as sex symbols, but as the tough athletes they are in the feminist ‘Rock Victorious’ campaign of 2010.
But any ground Nike gained with women has been lost after their EPIC FAIL in releasing a Gold Digging t-shirt to ‘celebrate’ the fact that female athletes bought home 29 of Team USA’s 46 gold medals at the London Olympic Games.
If that t-shirt was Nike’s attempt at showing support for their female athletes, then we’d prefer they Just Not Do It.
But, back to the Triumph Australia ad and its ‘Declare Yourself’ feminist message alongside contradictory models. The height of irony is that one of the models is waving a sign that says “It’s my right to feel good about myself” – so we hope women looking at this ad take a moment to note the wrinkle-free, no-bulge-in-sight, big-breasted (airbrushed) models in their bras and undies and Declare themselves unimpressed with this faux-feminism marketing campaign.
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry (Spinifex Press, edited by Dr Abigail Bray and me) is now appearing on bookstore shelves in the UK and North America. Host and producer of The F Word radio show and the executive editor of feminisms.org, Meghan Murphy interviewed me recently. It was good to talk to Meghan because I’d re-run her work a few times on my blog but we hadn’t spoken before. (If you want to get a taste of her writing, check out this thoughtful and detailed analysis of Slutwalk ).
You can listen to Meghan’s interview with me here.
Since the publication of Rachael Hills’s article “Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist” (and see her reflections two weeks later) at least ten on-line and print media articles have joined in a public dissection and commentary along the lines of, “she’s a conservative religious fundamentalist” and “she’s pro-life and can’t be a feminist.”
The subliminal context of the attempts to bring Melinda Tankard Reist to her knees and destroy her work is of course the elephant in the room: if her considerable impact on educating the public about the harms of the sex industry could be reduced, the pornography and prostitution promoters and profiteers would rejoice.
As her publishers at Spinifex Press, Australia’s only feminist publishing house (and secular), we take issue with these portrayals of Melinda Tankard Reist. It is easy to try to dismiss someone by smacking on a “fundamentalist” (whether Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish) label and thereby dismiss the arguments that a person makes. What is less easy, but more ethical and intellectually rigorous, is to examine Tankard Reist’s views – which are shared by many feminists and other advocates for social justice and human rights – and to see what the factual arguments for those views are. Read more>
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.
One hundred friends and supporters gathered at Spoon Deli Cafe in East Brisbane Friday night to celebrate the Brisbane launch of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry (Spinifex Press). Five contributors spoke: myself, Dr Betty McLennan, Caroline Norma, Dr Robi Sonderegger and Melinda Liszewski. Scott Stephens, Editor of ABC Religion and Ethics, launched the book, (and, for those who tried to have him prevented from doing so, representing himself and not the views of the ABC) with a powerful and passionate address about the debasement of sexuality on a global scale. I hope to post a version of his speech here shortly. As an added bonus and making for a potent double act, author and journalist Christine Jackman also held the crowd captive with some compelling words in praise of Big Porn Inc. I hope to post some video snippets soon. The speeches were truly amazing. And the ever delightful Erica Bartle of Girl With a Satchel blogger fame, held it all together as MC.
My gratitude to all who made it such a great night: fellow contributors, Scott, Christine and Erica, Steph, Melinda and Marty for assistance with set up and book table, and everyone who attended. Special thanks and acknowledgement to sponsors Generation Next and Clonakilla Winery and Spoon Deli Café for great service.
Last chance to RSVP for fourth and final launch – Sydney this Thursday
Today is the last day to rsvp for Big Porn Inc’s final launch in Sydney on Thursday, 12.45 for 1pm-2pm, Jubilee Room, Parliament House. Speakers include: Dr Abigail Bray, Dr Renate Klein, Dr Helen Pringle, Maggie Hamilton, Nina Funnell, Melinda Liszewsi, Julie Gale and me. Rsvp to @email@example.com.
Big Porn Inc contributors continue to get a significant run in the media. In the lead up to our Brisbane launch tonight, here are recent pieces by Dr Meagan Tyler, co-editor Dr Abigail Bray, and Dr Helen Pringle.
Porn: Just a bit of harmless fun?
Pornography is great. Just a bit of fun. It doesn’t matter who you’re watching or what they’re doing, it’s mostly harmless. This is how it feels reading a lot of commentary on pornography in Australia.
Despite the growing international research highlighting serious problems with mainstream pornography, in this country anyone who dares suggest there may be harms associated with the production or consumption of pornography is generally greeted with hoots of derision and accusations of wowserism.
The visit to Australia earlier this year of US-based pornography researcher Professor Gail Dines is a prime example. During her appearance on Q&A, she was shouted down by several members of the panel, one of whom confessed that her own research on pornography was largely limited to having ‘googled’ it earlier that day.
But such reactions are perhaps to be expected in a country where, particularly if you are a member of the left, you are expected to be sympathetic to – if not outright supportive of – the plight of pornography consumers.
The Porn Report, based on a government-funded research project and written by three prominent Australian academics, is a case in point. Supposedly an objective account of pornography content and use in Australia, the project was conducted with support from the sex industry lobby group the Eros Association. Given this link, it is hardly surprising to find the report contains sections with titles such as Great Moments in Amateur Porn.
Unfortunately, this is the level of debate about pornography in Australia. As a result, positions critical of the pornography industry are frequently misrepresented. The pro-pornography position often relies on a straw-man version of anti-porn campaigners as ideologically driven, extreme feminists or religious loons.
But researchers critical of pornography have presented far more sophisticated and well-supported arguments than these caricatures suggest. Unlike the image of anti-porn campaigners often held up by the pornography lobby, very few scholars argue that all pornography contains overt violence. Many do, however, talk about the increasing use of violent acts evident in mainstream porn.
For instance, several large-scale studies over the last 20 years have documented considerable violence in mainstream pornography. Communication scholars Ni Yang and Daniel Linz, sociologists Martin Barron and Michael Kimmel, and psychologist Ana Bridges and colleagues have all found, in separate studies, that violence in mainstream pornography is common – about one in four of all films in each study contained violent acts.
To be specific, we are talking about acts such as slapping, kicking, hitting and choking. Indeed, there is now an entire sub-genre of pornography dedicated to the choking of women.
My own research into the US pornography industry’s accounts of mainstream and bestselling pornography, returned similar results. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about research in this area is that porn industry insiders (performers, directors, distributors) are very forthcoming about the shift towards more extreme and violent porn, with many pornographers openly debating whether or not this is a positive or negative development. This leaves our debate – about whether or not violence in mainstream porn exists at all – decades behind current trends.
But it is also misleading to suggest that instances of clear physical violence are the only problem with modern porn. Violence exists on a continuum. While most people, regardless of their position on porn more generally, agree that women being kicked and punched for the purposes of someone’s sexual arousal is abhorrent, the agreement fractures when we get to slapping, hair pulling, whipping and physical restraint, especially if the actors involved are shown enjoying what is being done to them.
And that doesn’t even begin to approach the issue of sexist and racist verbal abuse. After all, the sorts of phrases that constitute racial vilification on the football field are considered to be alluring titles for porn DVDs.
With the move towards more extreme, violent and degrading pornography, it seems logical that there are now more social scientists worldwide becoming critical of porn. But banning and censorship are not favoured solutions and have not been seriously considered since bell bottoms and platform shoes were in fashion.
There are few if any anti-porn scholars currently writing who argue that authorities should ban porn or that porn automatically turns all men into rapists. What many do argue, however, is that pornography is now a multi-billion-dollar industry that is gaining increasing cultural influence and, as such, that it needs to be subject to criticism in the same way that the pharmaceutical, tobacco and fast-food industries are held to account.
What many pornography researchers, like myself, are calling for is a more open and honest discussion about pornography, inequality, sexism and sexual desire. These claims are more reasonable than radical.
The consistent misrepresentation of current anti-porn critiques in Australia hinders this discussion, which, given the trends in mainstream pornography and the increasing pornification of popular culture, is needed now more than ever.
Dr Meagan Tyler is a lecturer in sociology at Victoria University and a research associate at RMIT. She is the author of Selling Sex Short: The Pornographic And Sexological Construction Of Women’s Sexuality (Cambridge Scholars, 2011) and a contributor to Big Porn Inc. (Spinifex, 2011).Reprinted with permission.
Dangerous or a rite of passage?
Dr Abigail Bray
ACCORDING to melodramatic pro-sex industry conspiracy theories, critiques of Big Porn are really totalitarian plots to censor the entire internet and destroy freedom of speech.
Apparently, an international secret society of radical feminists, right-wing Christians, Chinese communists and random sexually repressed middle-aged mumsie pressure groups are out to destroy “our” inalienable human right to dehumanising porn. Won’t somebody please think of the . . . wankers. . .
The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.
Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn.
Nothing to worry about, nothing going on here, move right along.
A very common use of pornography is as sexual discrimination, itself a well-recognised form of harm in our society. And the evidence of pornography’s harm in this respect stares us in the face as we go about our everyday lives. Take your car to be serviced at a garage. Ask a lifesaver for his help in the clubroom. Call in at a fire station. Check out an army camp’s walls. Accompany Tony Abbott on a visit to the factory at Digga Manufacturing. Now ask me again about evidence of harm.
The walls of the garage, the clubroom, the fire station, the camp or the Digga factory form ‘an environment which itself amounts to sexual discrimination’. That phrase comes from a decision of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal of Western Australia on 21 April 1994.
‘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.
“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.