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Should Pornography Be Banned Because It Is Degrading to Women?

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Should Pornography Be Banned Because It Is Degrading to Women?

Women Studies

Josh Brown

Pornography and the social implication of women in pornography is a controversial issue. Its publication, production, distribution and use are criticized by its opponents as, among other things, exploitive of women. Its advocates argue that the imposition of limits upon women would constitute a restriction of the fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of expression.

Feminist's factions populate different sides of the argument. Second wave feminists of the 1950s and 1960s vocally rejected the categories and stereotypes of women reinforced by men and the then male-dominated media. This generation of feminists voiced strong opposition to the proliferation of pornography and its depiction of women solely as sexual creatures. The 3rd wave of feminists which followed are more tolerant of pornography, being of the view that women can participate in pornography as a tool of leverage and sexual power over men and exploit men's' demand for it to their economic advantage. By financially capitalizing on the strong and growing market for pornography, women gain power and enhanced self-determination.

Opponents have, with mixed success, tried to identify pornography with a wide range of social evils. Some have tried to demonstrate a link between consumption of pornographic depictions of sexual acts that are violent or fetish in nature (i.e. bondage, sadism and masochism) and domestic violence and other acts of sexual violence towards women. The results of research on this thesis, including those published in a report of the U.S. Surgeon General, are inconclusive. Certain research has concluded that the exposure to such material does not cause people to become aggressive or violent or even to materially alter their real-life sexual appetites. Heinous crimes such as rape and child abuse have never been linked to pornographic use. Such crimes tend to be more power related than sexually motivated and such deviant acts of power and exploitation tend to be manifestations of deep emotional and psychological damage suffered at young ages. ''They are not," wrote leading researcher John Money, "borrowed from movies, books or other people." [].

Studies in the U.S., Europe and Asia found no link between the availability of sexual explicit material and sex crimes. The only factor definitively linked to the incidence of rape was the number of young men living in a given area.

When pornography became widely available in Europe in the 1960s, sexually violent crimes actually decreased or remained the same. Japan, with far more violent pornography than the U.S., has 2.4 rapes per 100,000 people compared with the U.S. 34.5 per 100,000. []

Uncertainty and confusion about links between pornography use and violence is exacerbated by other studies that suggest that exposure to extreme pornography can increase sexual aggression. These studies have determined that aggression can be increased by anything that agitates or significantly stimulates a subject. Sources of such stimulation could be something obvious like violent movies but could also be exhilarating physical activity such as cycling or skiing. Extreme stimulation or agitation will tend to magnify behaviour.

The word "pornography" came into use in the mid-19th century, when Victorian middle-class moralists declared that sexually explicit material was obscene, degrading and corrupting if made available to the general public. So pornography was allowed only to a narrow elite. Definitions of pornography were developed by the ruling class in order to decide what to ban. For the same reasons to decide what to ban or censor the anti-pornography feminists have developed their own definitions of what is pornographic. For instance, Andrea Dworkin describes pornography as "the graphic depiction of women as vile whores" [Pornography and Sexual Violence Gary E. McCuen Gary McCuen Publications Hudson, Wisconsin - 1985] and she says that pornography is violence against women. Susan Brownmiller thinks that it is "the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda". [] But when it comes to the practical business of drafting censorship laws, anti-feminist conservatives and anti-pornography feminists end up agreeing that pornography is sexually explicit material, which is assumed to degrade women. It is this claim that brings up the question of whether or not pornography is meant to degrade women. However it is important to challenge the conservative claim that sexually arousing equals degradation.


Though sexism pervades women's culture in many forms, pornography proponents argue that it will not be eliminated by banning pornography or censoring sexually explicit material. Sexism has its roots in age-old economic, political and emotional factors. It is these factors and problems that need addressing not pornography. Women interpret pornography in different ways. Some find it sexist; some find it a form of fantasy that is pleasurable and harmless. These same feminists believe that a more repressive sexual regime will restrict women's real choices. They seek both to provide an analysis of women's oppression and to promote women's liberation, which means greater freedom of choice in their economic, social and sexual lives.

In a society, which systematically oppresses women, culture inevitably reflects this oppression by promoting ideas that encourage men to believe that they have the right to dominate women in all areas of life. But this domination of women and its inherent violence predate the recent explosion of mass media and of pornography. Much of pornography includes sexist imagery, sexist stereotypes and images that are degrading to women. But some of it, including pornography produced by and for women, doesn't. Really violent sexually explicit material makes up only a small part of pornography. It is an even smaller part of a much larger body of sexist and violent imagery screening every day on TV and cinema screens and in a wide range of publications. The most widely read heterosexual male pornography magazines, such as Penthouse, Playboy, and Mayfair, do not incorporate images that are explicitly violent, but they do fetish parts of women's bodies. However many mainstream fashions also fetish parts of women's bodies, emphasising certain characteristics such as breasts



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