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“He admitted to masturbating to hard-core pornography before raping over 100 women” A critical review of how feminist criminology seeks to explain the harmful impacts of pornography and women.
This essay aims to critically discuss the harmful impacts of pornography with a specific focus on females and the shift in mainstream culture from the beginning of the feminist movement to now. This essay will cover the personal impacts of pornography, like the harm and stigmatisation for the performers, the children and adult viewers and the influence it has on the growing pornification in a malestream society. Having read the literature on my chosen topic, this essay will support the theory that women are being distorted and objectified by pornography for male’s sexual pleasure and identify with the inequality and harm towards women through explicit imagery. This is affecting perceptions of sexual violence, particularly rape cases and despite decades of feminist condemnation, the normalisation of semi-naked images of women remains as a worldwide phenomenon.
Introduction to pornography
The issue of pornography has engendered an intense debate in the feminist community where sexuality was understood as the overriding source of men’s oppression of women (Rodgerson & Wilson, 1991). Criminology is perceived as the ‘study of men’ by neglecting the identification of criminality as a masculine trait, it was feminist criminologists who established new angles with gender central to research (Heidensohn, 2006). Feminist scholars have critiqued mainstream criminology for the invisibility of women (Daly & Chesney-Lind, 1988) alleging that when considered, it is through the eyes, explanations and reflections of men (Gelsthorpe, 2008). Pornography, from a gendered outlook, is the graphic, sexually explicit mass-media that dehumanises women as ‘fuck objects’ to sexually arouse men (Vega & Malamuth, 2007; Everywoman, 1988). In the mid-eighties, feminism protested for legislative change regarding the distribution and production of pornography (Bracewell, 2016) although failing to stop the mass industry completely. There are two conflicting types of work, the antipornography activists who promote gender oppression and sex radical feminists who comprehend porn as exploring sexual desires while empowering performers (Synder-Hall, 2010). This essay will take an anti-porn feminist viewpoint outlining that pornography is the cause of men’s sexual practices within a continuum of sexual violence (Gibson, 2004).
In a society that is conquered by male power and patriarchy, degrading females is evident through the prevalence of explicit imagery and modern advertisement driving the already-existing eroticisation and marginalisation of women (Sultana, 2012). Feminist Pornography is a sex-positive film genre that contradicts mainstream production by enacting consent, communication and the safety of the production (Liberman, 2013). Regarding the Feminist Porn Award, the genre includes a woman’s involvement in production, genuine pleasure captured and challenge to conventional mainstream porn (Nasaw, 2014). Mainstream pornography is understood to entail sexual violence towards women, sexually-exploited power differentials, disembodied penises and unrealistic scenarios aimed to eroticise male consumers and a violation of women’s civil rights (Dworkin, 1981).
Liberalism refers to individual’s freedom, equal rights and human agency implying that sexually explicit expressions are private and harmless (Bracewell, 2016) and dismisses social realities of gender positioning and constitution of unrealistic power regarding pornographic images (Gibson, 2004). The anti-porn movement condemns most mainstream content as a violation of women, a reflection of aggressive male desires and patriarchal sexual relations (Aronowitz, 2014) however, this is vastly contradictable. A moralist perspective views sex as an act of love so performers who participate in porn are violating moral values and get decontextualised. After an introduction to the feminist pornography and differing perspectives, this essay will follow with the discussion of male’s sexual perceptions.
The objectification and oppression of women
Regarding the development of criminological theories, women and girl’s victimisation has been absent or misrepresented and criminal women were viewed as incompetent for a woman (Griffin, 2010). Women’s offending behaviour is generally “demonised, masculinised, and sexualised” and viewed as double deviancy for breaking the law and gender norms of femininity (Chesney-Lind, 2013). We live in a world that criminalises women who sell sex but not the purchasing men, women prostitutes were once viewed as participating in sexual acts because of their hyper-sexed ‘bad’ personality (Davis, 1937). The way society stereotype gender is concerning, men’s sexual aggression is a structural constraint, but aggressive women are labelled as being disturbed emotionally and sexually (Stevens, 2006). This supports the phenomena of a man’s world and hinders trust in men’s stereotypes of women, providing an idea as to victim blaming.
Oppression is the maltreatment of women which effects their subordination to males, occurring in the following forms: violence, exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness and cultural imperialism, pornography is argued to be an example of oppression (Young, 2014). Objectification focuses on treating women as sexual objects and property of men (Papadaki, 2012). Feminist critique on pornography focuses on its role in a system of sexual subordination and oppression of women (Attwood, 2004) but these representations have strengthened a view of body display and erotic performance as a sign of promoting women.
Male Privilege is a default in our culture where when something privileges female interests we notice. Women performers are universally known to earn more than men, arguably only because they are performing for male pleasure. Female nudity is so normalised that we don’t question its content or reasoning, however not all sexual images are treated the same, especially if it is a man’s nudity which is explicitly showing.
Leopold Museum of art received a flood of complaints about advertising male nudity on the museums rear for a related exhibition (Doll, 2012). The shocked reaction to naked men explores why female equivalents dispute a different response. Semi-naked women are being used to advertise mundane objects, like a bottle of water by a naked Jennifer Aniston. Porn doesn’t shock us as a society anymore because of our gendered-lense and private consumption of explicit imagery worldwide which has filtered porn into mainstream culture and has become the ‘wallpaper of our lives’ because of diffusing digital media and modern advertisement (Stephanie, 2014).
Linda Lovelace, a 1970s adult performer was exploited by her husband forcefully to participate in sexual acts, men’s authority in the porn industry is pervasive, this being a serious example of producers taken advantage of women (Mock, 2017). The ‘Madonna vs Whore’ dichotomy depicts pornstars as whores who are “damaged goods” as they have higher rates of psychological problems, childhood sexual abuse and drug use compared to the representative woman (Griffith et al, 2013). This phenomenon of ‘good vs bad girl’ has been controversial for decades, female performers are immediately stigmatised and discriminated against using derogatory language like ‘whore’ to label them. The essay will next explore how explicit imagery has been normalisation in the Western culture.
The ’pornification’ culture
The mass media pornographic distribution perpetuates the reality of sexual abuse and discrimination through legitimising sexual and racialised harassment as a form of sexual pleasure (Dines et al, 1998) thus holds a strong belief that victims of sexual assault derive from women’s pleasure in submission and pain in porn. It is argued that we should all fear the way in which our patriarchal society defines and practices sex (Jenson, 1997), we live in a culture where sexualised violence is considered ‘normal’. Porn has lost a vast amount of stigma over the decades or at least gained cultural acceptance of themes through the mainstreaming (Kylstra, 2011). In almost every city in the UK and worldwide, semi-nude females are on display, not to empower body image but for a sexualised and stimulating nature, it is only when you start to look around that you notice how distorted the public’s portrayal of women is (Stephanie, 2014).
The terms ‘mainstream’ and ‘sexualisation’ are used to describe how sex is becoming more visible in modern Western cultures. Feminist criminologists considered what was criminogenic regarding the social construction of masculinity (Gelsthorpe, 2008). A pornified society with uncertainty over the impacts on ourselves, our relationships and for the wider community (Paul, 2005 in Attwood, 2004). The prevalence of material explicit in daily life is used to sexually expose the subordination of women, causing harm through the pictures and words attached (Mackinnon, 1987). The media are condemned for presenting a distorted and unrealistic picture of the world (Buckingham & Bragg, 2004), however, people fail to distinguish what’s porn and what’s reality, where most teenagers will rely on pornography for sex education. Sexual exposure is getting progressively more important, public and normalised to contemporary cultures (Attwood, 2004). Despite decades of feminist criticism on semi-naked imagery as a source of normalised media, women remain to be features of multiple newspapers (Buckingham & Bragg, 2004). Page 3 in the family newspaper, playboy magazines and ‘just a click away’ explicit content, the advancement of porn will only provide injury for the next generation’s body image, relationships and sex education.
Promoting sexual violence
The prevalence of pornography is promoting violence and rape acceptance of women in a malestream culture. An ideology, from the 80s drawn that women enjoyed forced sex, this is highlighted through porn suggesting that men ignore the emotional state of the performer and rather concentrate on instant gratification, adding further injury to rape victims supporting the ‘she wanted it’ myth (Everywoman, 1988). Recently established is the increasing acceptance of pornography in the media which is a driving force for the normalisation of rape and violence (Foubert et al, 2011). Greater exposure to porn is found to be associated with peoples increased acceptance of violence and aggression towards women (Ramasubramanian & Oliver, 2003). The explicit imagery presented in advertisement and media is making sexual violence socially acceptable, sexualising a semi-naked ‘gang bang’ of women to advertise jeans is absurd. The pornification of society is supporting the promotion of sexual violence and rape myth acceptance by attributing blame sexually and making it socially acceptable to rape or abuse a woman when certain characteristics are present (Grubb & Turner, 2012). Males are generally socialised as the instigators of sexual behaviour and the dominating and sexually aggressive gender, providing an explanation to the oppression of women being influenced by stereotypes and supports for hegemonic masculinity in Western culture (Bridges, 1991). The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape explores the structuralism difference of ‘men wanting it and women providing it’ examining the gendered patterns of heterosexuality, patriarchy and malestream within society (Gavey, 2013).
The link between pornography and sexual violence is a contradictory debate: supported by feminisms and disproved by others. The Jane Longhurst case involves a woman who was murdered by her friend’s boyfriend, who was a necrophiliac and acted out his perverted sexual indulgence (Sapsted, 2004). High pornography consumption added significance to the prediction of sexual aggression (Vega & Malamuth, 2007). Rape myths are widely accepted where identification of rape victims is still being propagated within society today (Payne et al, 1999). Rape myth acceptance and traditional gender role attitudes have shaped the way we perceive victims of sexual offences and mainly view women and girls (Grubb & Turner, 2012).
Legislation and the accessibility
The current legislation in the UK prohibits the possession of extreme images where the maximum penalty for the offence is 3 years and/or a fine (CJIA, 2008). Laws on the production of pornography depend on country, within the UK, it is prohibited to distribute explicit media which involves dehumanised acts like rape or strangulation etc. however, these fantasies can still be accessed and are central in US porn scenes.
One agreed international law is the prohibition of child exploitation, making it an offence to produce, own, distribute, or sell explicit materials of a minor under 18 (Justice.gov, 2018) where increasingly, these laws are being implemented concerning the internet being an accelerator for paedophilia. UNCRC similarly supports that all children shall be protected from all forms of exploitation, victimisation and abuse of a sexual nature (Codd et al, 2016). There is currently no legislation in place to prevent children accessing adult content online. However, a government bill has been proposed to apply age-verification controls when accessing pornographic websites to verify consumer is over 18, in hope to stop the exposure of harmful content for children (Gayle, 2016; BBFC, 2017). Feminism aims to reduce explicit content and a tougher take on sex and has providing steps in the right direction. The internet has made it accessible for sexual predators to attain illegal or extreme videos by providing a foundation for the exploitation of child and rape pornography (Waskul, 2004).
Advancement in technology has made the internet an enabler for porn, with wider cultural shifts developing the accessibility and a medium of communication between the industry and consumers (Brickell, 2012). The increased levels of streaming online have damaged the porn industry and resulted in less control over what is available on the internet and dark web. Hollywood made approximately 400 films a year while the porn industry making around 10,000 (Williams, 2004). The free streaming sites typically feature gonzo-style porn that predominantly involves minutes of graphic action that is heavy on violence and degrading women, it is “always geared towards male fantasy” (Kylstra, 2011). Masturbating to this unlikely content impacts the women and children around the consumer in a variety of ways (Mackinnon, 1993). Porn is more accessible than ever now, it is free and diverse with 9/10 US men accessing content regularly via websites online (Lim, Carrotte & Hellard, 2016) and with the expansion, comes the further exploitation of females and children.
The rise of internet dating provides a sexual openness for the younger generation to participate in sex, sexting and the prevalence of revenge porn, apps like snapchat and tinder are making it easier to have one-night-stands (Grigoriadis, 2003). This essay will now explore the harmful consequences on the sexual performers and adult and children consumers which feminism are quick to explore the harmful impacts.
Impacts on performers, adults and children
Performers are subject to all kinds of psychological and physical consequences which stem from contracting HIV to committing suicide. The only scientific way to gain insight into the impacts on adult performers is through in-depth interviews. Grudzen et al (2008) concluded that women were more likely to expose health risks, physical trauma on set with many leaving the industry with mental health problems. Adult performers are subject to the social stigma and reputation which can become destructive, like August Ames receiving online abuse for rejecting a scene with a bisexual actor and resulted in her suicide. This case, along with 4 other young females recently died with concerns being raised over the health of the vulnerable women in the industry (Saunders, 2018). Further harm performers experienced besides the degrading and exploitation mentioned throughout is the HIV outbreaks which in 2009 there were 16 reported cases in the U.S (The Telegraph, 2009). There is a need to provide services for adult actors to receive help and advice and a legislative change for the mandating condom use to prevent infections spreading to monitor their health.
Other harmful impacts on performers are tearing and the pain inflicted in certain sex scenes. A woman getting penetrated by multiple men at the same time; anally, vaginally and orally will be anything but satisfying for the female performer whereas, for the male viewers, it’s a different story. Getting aroused by these forceful and dominating scenarios is not surprising in a world that trains males to be the sexual aggressors and women to be victims (Dines et al, 1998). The violation of women’s bodies, the pain the performers tolerate, the tearing anally and vaginally for females is the requirements some take to satisfy men.
Porn can affect females body image through heightening social expectations. From the craze of Brazilian grooming the private parts to boob jobs which were once on porn sets and now an example of how public perceptions of body image have shaped (Stephanie, 2014). Especially for young adults who fail to distinguish that porn is a form of media, and the media presents an unrealistic, contrary and over-exaggerated representation of events. Intimacy issues and risky behaviour is more likely in younger adults who the ‘majority’ rely on porn for their learning of sex and desires (Young-Powell, 2015) with no awareness of the unrepresentativeness of porn stars body image is about as irrational as the ‘gang bangs’ they are watching.
The most concerning impact of pornography is that on children as it can easily shape their attitudes, imagination and developing sex lives because of their vulnerability (Feona, Smith & Barker, 2018). It is argued that parents and children’s perspectives of the nature of ‘sexualised’ goods are more multifaceted than assumed within the policy debate, highlighting the need for an update for public policy and of education (Attwood & Smith, 2015). Our culture is argued to be saturated and mainstreamed by uncontainable sexuality mostly resulting from the media (Hitchens, 2002) where children are particularly susceptible to distinguishing reality from fantasy and could be there only education on sex (Buckingham & Bragg, 2004).
Porn will eventually turn men off the real thing because of the requirement for unrealistic acts where women won’t be able to compete with the perfection of a porn star who is submissive and tailored to the consumers least specification (Wolf, 2003). Because of technology and the prevalence of the internet, there is seen to be a new position on casual sex where the internet makes it easy to meet people for sexual needs (Grigoriadis, 2003). With the evolution of sex toys and dolls, it is likely for sexbots to be created for pleasure in the future. Overall, feminism has contributed towards a change in societal attitudes on porn and how women are being exposed to violence. We live in a pornified, gender-blinded society who is sensitized to the sexualisation of women because that’s how the world has been shaped, from a male’s perspective. The downplaying of the importance of sex and the significance it has in our lives will depict how the next generation views sex and porn, and what boundaries advertisements will increasingly push in our everyday lives. The final position I take is that pornography is a natural event, no judgement of the performers in the industry, however, more needs to be done to prevent children from being exposed to explicit adultery material.
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