How Pornography Promotes Sexual Violence Against Women
Pornography, like rape, is a male invention, designed to dehumanize women, to reduce the female to an object of sexual access, not to free sensuality from moralistic or parental inhibition.... Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda.
Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape
Defining and regulating pornography has been a difficult task for the United States where free speech is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and is the backbone of what defines us as a free society. Webster's Dictionary defines pornography as: writings, pictures, etc. intended primarily to arouse sexual desire. (Neufeldt et al.) Though different people may argue over the definitions and reasons for pornography "the producers, sellers, and consumers of pornography have a clear understanding of its meaning. For them it is a written or visual product showing sexual anatomy and/or sexual activity designed to promote sexual arousal." (McCuen) But does pornography in and of itself promote sexual violence against women? There is no doubt that through the ages many men have sought and attained sexual access through violent action or the threat of such action. No national culture has been without rape. The forcible sexual assault of strangers, associates, friends and relatives alike has been a universal occurrence throughout the history of mankind, and it has remained so in contemporary society. "Regardless of the particular evaluation of rape and quasi-rape in terms of social unacceptability and pathology, however, sexual access through the use of physical force undoubtedly constitutes a domain of behavior in which pornography and sexual aggression appear to be intimately linked." (Berger et al.)
Pornography depicts women in a negative light. In most pornographic films, the women are not particular about who their sexual partners are. There seem to be no boundaries for the women in these films. "Nonviolent erotica portrayed sexual behaviors free of objectionable elements. As part of the material was taken from sex-education and sex-therapy programs, the depicted behavior could be deemed ideal, if not idealized. Nonviolent pornography entailed scenes such as a man sitting atop a woman, masturbating, and ejaculating into her face. Sexually violent pornography, finally, featured events such as the penetration of a screaming woman with an oversize plastic penis while she was strapped to a table, with cheering men surrounding her. Violent and sexual actions thus were directly linked, and the violent action was nonfictional." (Zillmann et al.) Pornography depicts realistic sexual behaviors and displays them in a fantasy like setting where the women never say no and the police are never called. Therefore, male viewers of pornographic films may tend to de-humanize women and think of them more as objects of sexual pleasure than as human beings. And this de-humanization does not only occur in men who watch violent pornography, "Exposure to pornography was found to influence both the self-acknowledged likelihood of coercing women into unwanted sexual acts and the self-acknowledged likelihood of committing rape. Compared against the control group, the likelihood of forced sexual acts showed a significant increase only after consumption of commonly available nonviolent pornography" (Zillmann et al.) These findings obviously challenge the claims by advocates of non-violent pornography that women-victimizing violent actions must be displayed within erotica in order to facilitated men's sexual indifference toward women. With regard to men's apparent willingness to prod women into sexual acts against their will, the consequence of exposure to pornography lacking force was actually stronger than that of exposure to violent, abusive pornography and "regarding self-acknowledged rape proclivity, the effect of violent pornography in no way exceeded that of nonviolent erotic fare. Exposure to heterosexual activities in which women seem socially nondiscriminating, eager participants thus appears to give men a notion of being entitled to similarly easy sexual access to women (a notion that might define the crux of men's sexual callousness). It may be speculated that this notion is also conveyed by sexually nonexplicit dramatic expositions, and that such expositions therefore may have similar effects on men's callousness toward women. This is to say that the discussed callousness effects of pornography exposure may not be limited to that genre and may, in fact, accrue to all displays of, and even reports about, strong and socially unrestrained female libido." (Zillmann et al.)
Whatever set of factors may ultimately account for men's sexual indifference toward women, violence within pornography does seem to be a particularly powerful contributor. What is important to realize is that sexual dehumanization of women, irrespective of its specific developmental origin "must be seen as a nontransitory disposition that influences and potentially controls the acceptance of aggressive actions toward and within sexual engagements. It may invite and possibly demand this involvement of aggressive actions. (Sexual dehumanization of women) thus defines a condition that makes the involvement of aggressive actions in sexual ventures likely. This makes it likely, in turn, that the conditions for excitation transfer from aggressive to sexual activities (and from sexual to aggressive activities) will be engendered more frequently by callous than by non-callous men," (Allen et al.) and men who are inclined to dehumanize women also tend to view pornographic films on a more regular basis.
With regard to prolonged exposure to pornography it is important to make clear that men who are avid watchers of common or non-violent pornography eventually express no interest in this common or non-violent form of pornography. These men tend to desire viewing pornography that depicts less common, deviant or violent sexual practices. These findings demonstrate that consumers of less violent forms of pornography are not likely to limit themselves to these forms when given the opportunity to view pornographic materials that show less common sexual practices, including sadomasochistic and violent sexual behaviors. "This shift in preference may, at least in part, reflect satisfied curiosity about common sexuality. More importantly, however, this shift may be expected on the basis of excitatory habituation to frequently consumed fare." (Palczewski) Pornography that presents the familiar is visually unexciting and becomes boring after prolonged viewing. In contrast, pornography that features less-common and uncommon sexuality is still exciting to most male viewers and as its acceptance grows, it is more enjoyable because it is more exciting.
The relationship of pornography to violence is one aspect of the wider problem of pornography and violence. Violence flourishes in a climate of contempt for others rather than reverence of people and their rights and feelings. One of the inconsistencies of the twentieth century has been the increased sense of caring for one another and the equal increase in the indifference to the rights of others. "The same age that has given birth to the Welfare State has spawned the concentration camp. The modern world is full of the evidence that man is both his brother's keeper and his brother's killer. What can be regarded as specially hopeful is that the idea of mutual care rather than 'each for himself' has gained a foothold as never before on the doorstep of the conscience of the ordinary man. It is no cynicism to reflect that Disraeli would have regarded the present Conservative party as dangerous radicals flirting with socialism, and that far from seeking to nationalize the Welfare State he would have desired to abolish it. A great amount of water has flowed under the bridges since the days of Disraeli. Some may attribute this change in attitude to the quite utilitarian proposition that in the life of today you either hang together or you hang separately. Others would put the reasons for the change at a much higher level -- nothing less than the reflection that this world has been reduced to the size of a neighborhood, and every decent person ought to do his best to invest the world with the quality of a neighborhood." (Rolph)
Proponents of pornography feel that pornography does not de-humanize women any more than it dehumanizes men and that it does not contribute to sexually violent behavior against women. "What interests me is not whether pornography should be censored but whether one can object to it on moral grounds. The only moral ground I consider is whether pornography degrades people; obviously, other possible grounds exist, but I find this one to be the most plausible. Of the many kinds of degradation and exploitation possible in the production of pornography, I focus only on the content of the pornographic work. I exclude from this discussion (i) the ways in which pornographic film makers might exploit people in making a film, distributing it, and charging too much to see it; (ii) the likelihood that actors, actresses, or technicians will be exploited, underpaid, or made to lose self-respect or self-esteem; and (iii) the exploitation and degradation surrounding the prostitution and crime that often accompany urban centers of pornography. I want to determine whether pornography shows (expresses) and commends behavior or attitudes that exploit or degrade people. For example, if a pornographic film conveys that raping a woman is acceptable, then the content is degrading to…