ABC Religion and Ethics
by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray
Sept. 6, 2011
We live in a world that is increasingly shaped by pornography. The signs are everywhere:
- A urinal at the Clock Hotel on the Gold Coast in Queensland, shaped as a woman’s mouth with huge painted red lips.
- A music video by Kanye West featuring semi-naked women’s corpses hanging from chains, with West holding the head of a decapitated woman in scenes of eroticised carnage.
- Ejaculation-themed images in advertising for face cream and alcohol.
- Porn-inspired t-shirts depicting women naked, bound and blood spattered, sold in youth fashion stores.
- A Facebook page dedicated to the facial cum shot titled “Smile or it’s going in your eye (make sure every girl gets the message!)” had almost 12,000 members.
- In the children’s holiday movie Hop, the cartoon teenage boy-bunny asks Hugh Hefner about spending the night at the Playboy mansion. “It’s where all the sexy bunnies stay,” replies the pornography mogul through the mansion’s intercom.
Our new book, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry, documents the proliferation and normalisation of pornography, the way it has become a global industry and a global ideology, and how it is shaping our world and the harm this causes.
The global pornography industry is expected to reach US$100 billion in the near future. In 2009, the UN estimated that the global child pornography industry made a profit of up to $20 billion. Pornography money is buying governments, academic research, national and international corporations and law enforcement agencies.
This largely unregulated pornography industry has colonised private and public spaces at a rate that presents significant challenges to women’s and children’s rights. The mainstreaming of pornography is transforming the sexual politics of intimate and public life, popularising new forms of anti-women attitudes and behaviours and contributing to the sexualisation of children.
The pornification of culture is leading to a form of hypersexism that entails an increase in physical, sexual, mental, economic and emotional cruelty towards women and children. This radical cultural shift is shaping the way we understand ourselves and others, both personally and politically.
Our goal is to present a powerful challenge to libertarian conceits that pornography is simply about pleasure, self-empowerment and freedom of choice.
Challenges to the pornography industry that call attention to evidence of harm and the destruction of human dignity and rights are frequently derided as “moral panic,” a term designed to silence and humiliate political critics who threaten vested financial, political and ideological interests.
Those who use the term “moral panic” as an insult set up a reactionary conflict between “wowser” types who have “issues with sex” as against the more relaxed fun-loving sexual sophisticates. But challenging the sexist and racist pornographic industrialisation of intimacy is not an anti-sex position. Pornography is a distortion of respect-based sexuality.
It is, of course, one of the great ironies of the current debate that defenders of pornography who claim to be in favour of freedom of speech often engage with critiques of the pornography industry by means of personal attacks. Speaking out in opposition to pornography seems to invite a deluge of online bile and e-hate.
The pro-pornography assumption that the production of pornography does not harm women, or that it is merely their “choice” if they are harmed, is as callous as the indifference to the rapid rise of women’s sexual degradation within new pornography cultures.
The lived experience of pornography actors is the human face of research showing that physical and verbal aggression is “the norm rather than the exception in popular pornographic film,” as noted by Ana J. Bridges.
Bridges completed a content analysis of best-selling and best-renting pornographic videos available by catalogue in the United States, and found that:
“Physical aggression occurred in 88 per cent of scenes … Across all acts of aggression – both physical and verbal – 94 per cent were directed towards women … When aggressed against, 95 per cent of targets responded with either expressions of pleasure (encouragement, sexual moans, and so forth) or neutrally (e.g. no change in facial expression or interruption of actions).”
Compounding the abuse so often involved in the making of pornography is a lack of regulation of the industry in all its forms. The shelves of corner stores and petrol stations are stacked with pornography promoting sex with “live young girls,” rape and incest, while pornography distributors continually flout Australia’s classification laws.
Nevertheless, attempts to bring internet content into line with existing classification laws and the treatment of illegal material in Australia have met with virulent objection by vested interests.
Requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to filter out a blacklist of URLs containing extreme and violent pornography has been proposed by the current (Labor) Government. This material can be legally viewed in no other medium. As Clive Hamilton has argued:
“We live in a democracy where citizens ask their governments to impose restrictions on certain types of content that are regarded as harmful to individuals or to the community more broadly. We have a censorship system governing films, television and magazines, defined by law, enforced by government bodies and with widespread community support. There is nothing special about the Internet that puts it beyond community standards.”
But those who demand a right to view “legal and illegal” pornography protested against the filtering proposal. In February, 2010, Australia’s Parliament House and Federal Government websites were shut down in a cyber-attack and inboxes of members of parliament were flooded with pornography.
This sense of entitlement to “our pornography” entails defending the “right” of the pornography industry to market child rape, violation of women and girls, and female slavery to anonymous consumers, all in the name of freedom of speech.
If we consider this ethically acceptable, whose rights are we defending? The Swedish scholar Max Waltman has analysed the shielding of these kinds of abuses behind the screen of “free speech.” He details numerous cases where law makers, judges, and other arbiters dismiss claims against even some of the most violent pornography, or where those in breach of various laws in various countries are only given “penalties,” such as community service.
Waltman responds to the common refrain of pornography defenders to “avert your eyes” or to “turn it off” if you are offended by it. He points out that such a response assumes that the harm of a pornographic world is no more than “offensive” to the observer:
“Closing your eyes will not prevent women from being raped, battered, or tortured by intimate partners being inspired and impelled by pornography though. Nor will it help adolescent girls forced out on streets, coerced into imitating pornography upon thousands of clients’ requests, to escape the sexual abuse. Defining harm as an offence to observers silences and denies these women their rights.”
The global pornography industry shows little concern for subordination, degradation or human rights violations; indeed powerful elements in the industry market the violation of human rights.
People on the “Left” have opposed “Big Pharma” and more recently “Big Food” and “Big Society,” but many seem to fall silent in the face of “Big Porn” and its predatory, profit-driven practices. Long-time American anti-porn campaigner Nikki Craft takes “progressive” anti-globalisation campaigners to task for ignoring the global profit machine of Big Porn.
There is, however, nothing to be celebrated in the dehumanising global commodification of women in pornography. There is nothing revolutionary about mass-marketed masturbation. Radical big-picture thinking requires that we connect the global pornography industry to other social justice issues, in order to acknowledge the lack of justice in the reduction of human beings to objects of exchange.
Pornography today presents elements of every kind of barbarism imaginable – from overt fascist celebrations of racial hatred, to the killing of animals for sexual entertainment. And yet, for many people it still passes as “cool,” as just a bit of fun, as sexual “lulz,” something to emulate and celebrate.
In the brave new world of porno-chic, ethical boundaries are for wowsers and bores.
Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra-based writer, speaker and commentator, with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Abigail Bray is a research fellow at the Social Justice Research Centre at Edith Cowan University. They are the editors of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry, published today by Spinifex Press.
Find article here: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/09/06/3310747.htm