California State University, Northridge

Pornography - Safe or Sexual?

by Val Richards
University of Michigan, Dearborn

When the thought of pornography comes to a person's mind, one usually thinks of a Playboy magazine and very explicit sexual videos, but pornography goes way beyond those immediate stereotypes and preconceived notions. For a person to really get a grasp on the whole issue, you must look at many other factors that contribute to this controversial topic. You can look at the many reasons why people, women as well as men, are so fascinated by this and what causes them to want more of it, and you can also look at the many consequences that pornography inflicts.

Many women's rights organizations feel that pornography is degrading to women and sets them back to a time when they were looked upon as mere sex objects and nothing more. Others also argue that many violent attacks such as rape and domestic violence are dramatically increased after being exposed to pornography.

For some reason, every person has a feeling on whether pornography is good or bad, and I felt that the main contributing force behind this are the feminists and many women's organizations.

One may then ask, "Well, what exactly does pornography include?". Two well known and respected feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have their own definition on pornography: "....Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women, whether in pictures or words, that also includes one or more of the following:

  1. Women are presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities, or
  2. Women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy pain or humiliation, or
  3. Women are presented as sexual objects who experience sexual pleasure in being raped, or
  4. Women are presented as sexual objects tied or cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt, or
  5. Women are presented in postures of sexual submission, servility, or display, or
  6. Women's body parts including but not limited to vaginas, breasts, and buttocks are exhibited, such that women are reduced to those parts, or
  7. Women are presented as whores by nature, or
  8. Women are presented being penetrated by objects or animals, or
  9. Women are presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, sown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes the conditions sexual.

In Female Sexual Slavery by Kathleen Barry, pornography is defined as a practice of cultural sadism as well as a means of diffusing it into the mainstream of accepted behavior and therefore into private lives of individuals. It is the principal medium in which cultural sadism becomes part of the sexual practices of individuals.

The most prevalent theme in pornography is one of utter contempt for women. In movie after movie, women are raped, ejaculated on, urinated on, beaten, sodomized, and left permanently scarred. Women are the objects of pornography, and men by far its largest consumers, and sexual degradation its theme.

Pornography is intended for effect; it is intended to produce both sexual arousal and actions in the consumer. What then is the consumer's response to watching or looking at pornographic material? People's response to this question are often varied and questionable. The most common answer by feminists is clear and simple. Violence. And not just any type of violence, but violence against women. In one survey, I looked at sixty two percent of rapists, fifty three percent of male object pedophiles, and fifty six percent of female object pedophiles were regular engagers in vpornography.

The facts are clear. Sex and violent crime offenders have a critical link to pornography. These sex offenders had a high exposure to pornography as adolescents, and it carries on with them during their lifetime. This fact is particularly significant when one considers that the respondents were from low socioeconomic homes and financially would have more difficulty getting pornographic materials. I think that it's very important to see where people get their attitudes on pornography.

Previous research has indicated that both education and age influence attitudes toward pornography. On one chart in The Dilemma of Violent Pornography, it indicates that persons with less education were more likely to want to make illegal, as were older persons. Even with age and education controlled, however the gender gap remains. For example, women under thirty were nearly twice as likely as men to prefer to make pornography illegal. Only at age seventy or over there was no gender gap on the basis of age.

With more education the gender gap narrowed for those prefer ring to make pornography illegal, but even for those with graduate degrees, a 7.8 percent difference remained between men and women's preferences to ban pornography.

When dealing with the feminist legal community, the pornography debate has been greatly divided. The main reason is that even though we can write a definition of pornography, it's still hard to define it. It has a connection to violence, or maybe it doesn't: it depicts rape and other acts of assault, or it depicts nothing but voluntary and harmless consensual sadomasochistic sex: the violence is real, or maybe it's staged, and so on. Gaining a perfect definition is nearly impossible.

To be more precise, feminists presently divide on four key questions regarding pornography:

  1. The nature and extent of a casual relationship, if any, between pornography and male sexual violence,
  2. The importance of pornography to patriarchy, and hence of its control to feminist progress,
  3. The meaning of pornographic texts, and more specifically, the extent to which they portray scenes of violence and rape, as opposed to scenes of consensual sadomasochism, and consensual play acted fantasies of capture (opposed to rape), and
  4. The significance of what people have called the experience of contradiction.

Antipornography feminists argue that:

On the other side, anti-censorship feminists argue that:

The feminist debate over pornography does not reflect a fatal contradiction with feminism. Feminists who disagree with this are still feminists. The feminist debate about pornography is not about feminist theories or whatever, but rather the legality of the material and what happens with the material.

After spending so much time this semester researching, getting articles and books, reading, writing papers, and just talking with people about their opinions on pornography, I have found that many different people have many different opinions on this topic. I couldn't tell you how many people I've argued with or talked with about this, and I still am not totally convinced I am either totally for pornography or totally against it. People keep telling me well you can't be on both sides, you're either for or against it. Actually, I am very surprised at myself that I haven't decided yet. I am usually very opinionated and outspoken on everything from abortion to politics. I just can't seem to convince myself I guess. First of all I consider myself a feminist. I feel that women should be treated the same way as men. Period. Equal pay means equal work. And a part of me does see pornography as degrading to women and it dehumanizes them But then again, these women aren't forced to do this either. Nobody is forcing them to take off their clothes or have sex in front of a camera. I always hear of people saying they do it to pay the bills, and it is sad that there aren't enough good, well paying jobs for women out there. I also think that it's so sad that these women have such little or no self respect for themselves. Many of these women do this because they came form broken homes or were emotionally, sexually, or physically abused, and they feel this is the way to have someone love them. The men love their bodies, but not their minds.

Now, on the other side, I feel that women should be able to control their own bodies, minds, and herself. If she chooses to do this, then so be it. Shouldn't an adult woman be able to make her own choices? Where does the power of choice end? We can choose our clothes, our cars, our hair color, so why shouldn't we be able to choose what we do with our own bodies?

There are many different opinions on pornography like I have listed, and even many others, and I have found there is no right or wrong answer. The only answer is the one inside yourself.
[April 15, 1996]