Pornography: Contributing to Rape Culture 24/7

If sex is about power, and pornography is about sex, then it would stand to reason that pornography is about power. You know what else is about power?

Rape

There has been a lot of debate about whether pornography is just another way for men to exercise power over women or if it is actually a way for women to be sexually assertive in their own right. In an article titled “Sex and Power,” (NSS p 45-48) Kristen Barber tells us that even within the feminist community there is no consensus.  Some, such as Pat Califia criticize this point of view as “prudish and uptight.” She would argue that women need sexual outlets such as pornography to become fully liberated. Essentially, pornography is a way for women to explore what sex can look like, outside of more traditional, heteronormative “vanilla” sex. Likewise, she maintains that the stigma surrounding pornography engenders negative feelings in women about sex and their sexuality.

While others, like Andrea Dworkin argue that porn is hateful encourages violence towards women. Pornography reinforces traditional gender roles where men are powerful and women are accommodating, subordinate, and powerless. There are whole categories of porn dedicated to violence against women wherein women are beaten, humiliated, strangled, raped and even killed so it is clear that some pornography is dangerous.  But is all of it?

The film “Sexy Baby” also explores pornography, but investigates how children and teenagers growing up in a cyber-generation are impacted by easily accessed pornography and other sexual images.  Winnifred, the young girl in the documentary, comments on how most of her peers, who are 12 years old, have watched or even been introduced to sex through pornography.  Pornography is not known for its realistic representation of sexual contact, but this is where young people are going to learn how to model sexual behaviors.

If it is true that young people learn a lot about sex from pornography, then a large portion teaches them that women exist as sexual objects solely for men’s pleasure. It also reinforces gender stereotypes. Men are strong, women are weak.  Men have power, women can’t say no. These are very powerful messages for 12-year-old children to be learning and then emulating.

I agree with Twohy (the brilliant young woman in the above video), who argues that pornography is unrealistic.  It is a “slaughterhouse” which reinforces dangerous power dynamics between men and women.  It takes away women’s rights and reduces them to their “marketable pieces,” and I don’t mean their brains and capabilities.

Women in pornographic videos become sexual objects who only exist in that moment for the purpose of someone else’s pleasure. The camera closes in on breasts and genitalia, but tends to ignore the person behind the body.  They aren’t seen as real people, but rather as sex toys 24/7 for your enjoyment.

If these women are no longer real people who exist in the world outside of a five-minute pornographic video, then they are objects without feeling, opinions, rights or agency. A simple Google search can call forth countless images of sexual fantasy’s from which you choose which is most appealing to you.  Then, when you are satisfied, close the screen and continue on with your day. Kate, Anna, or whomever will wait for you when you.

If pornography is teaching people that women can become sexually objectified, then it comes as no surprise that I can’t seem to escape the VUPD emails telling me that another person has been sexually assaulted on campus. Just this week I received a notification saying that a man tried to abduct a woman on campus and another reporting that a woman had been sexually assaulted.  Of course, at the end of the email there are always tips on how to protect myself from this type of danger.

 Avoid isolated or dark areas

·         Stay alert and trust your instincts

·         VUPD offers walking escorts to and from your vehicle

Although these seem like gender neutral suggestions, I can’t help but read:

“Women, do not walk around alone at night.  Women try harder to protect yourselves.

Women, you should be afraid of the dark.”

I am sick and tired of being told I must be afraid of the dark.  Of being sold products or advice on how to protect myself from men some of whom start as little boys watching pornography which teaches them that women have no choice. More than that, that women do not deserve a choice nor would they want it if they had the chance.

So no, I don’t find pornography empowering.  I typically find it unrealistic, degrading and deplorable.  Not just because I am a prude who is against sex like Califa says, but because as a woman, I don’t want to be cut into marketable bits and reduced to the worth of my pieces. I am not a pornographic film star, but this affects everyone.  We can not allow women, even in fantastical pornographic videos, to be the victims of a power imbalance.  Women can not be chopped into pieces and stripped of their agency, even if it is not realistic.  It is real. It really does reinforce terrible ideas that women are made to be dominated by men and that they should just accept whatever treatment because that is what various media and other societal outlets depict.

Not all pornography does this, some I am sure is beautiful and has a complex and equal power dynamic.  However, when children are using this as a resource to learn about their own sexuality, we can not allow any of it to teach them that power-based sexual violence against women is acceptable.

The next time you choose to watch pornography, think about the message it is subtly conveying.  Consider whether it represents a healthy sexual encounter, or a “slaughterhouse” where women are objectified for your viewing pleasure.

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2 thoughts on “Pornography: Contributing to Rape Culture 24/7

  1. This post is incredible. I am so glad that you were able to comment on this topic using so much of what we have discussed in class and undeniable truths we see week in and week out on campus. I too agree that many portrayals of sexual behavior seen in porn are violent and aggressive towards women. They frequently depict men in dominating positions, finding pleasure in the object that is the woman they are using. Guys begin to develop ideas about sex from what they see in pornography, without realizing how far from the truth it can be. It terrifies me to think of what younger children are learning through watching porn, and what the next generation of college women will have to deal with if the fight for equality and power for women is unsuccessful. I recall Winnifred saying in “Sexy Baby” that she was scared and even disgusted at the thought that the first image of sexual intimacy her peers were seeing were witnessed through porn. While I believe much of her behavior in the documentary was immature and fueled by the over-sexualized world she is growing up in, I think that comment was very forward thinking of her, and I would definitely agree.

    The most powerful aspect of this post, and the reason I wanted the opportunity to comment on it was the image about rape being about power. The four instances of rape it lists are such common excuses for why girls might be subject to harm and hearing people say that upsets me greatly. I believe that I should be able to wear what I want, hang out with who I want, and at the end of the night, be able to walk home safely without fear of being attacked.

    Liked by 1 person

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