By Walter DeKeseredy, West Virginia University*
Critical criminological work on adult pornography consumption and its harmful effects is not as plentiful as the amount of progressive intellectual attention given to other major social problems, such as murder, poverty, mass incarceration, and environmental crime. This is due, in part, to the fact that pornography is still considered by many academics and university/college administrators as a topic unfit for academic inquiry (Ullen, 2014). Undoubtedly, one would be hard pressed to find courses on explicit sexual media in the majority of institutions of higher learning scattered across North America and elsewhere.
It is often said, especially by older people, that “the world is a different place today.” Indeed, it is. We live in a “post-Playboy world” (Jensen, 2007), one that features the degradation, abuse, and humiliation of women never seen before in the mass media. Women are represented in many different ways in pornography, but two things all pornographic images of and writings about them have in common is that women are characterized as subordinate to men and the primary role of female pornographic actresses is the provision of sex to men (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2013; Funk, 2006).
Pornography has noticeably changed over the past few decades due, in large part, to the Internet. Much, if not most, of the adult pornography easily accessible on this electronic technology is, as Gail Dines (2010), among many others (e.g., Jensen, 2007), defines it “gonzo – that genre which is…today one of the biggest money-makers for the industry – which depicts hard core, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debased” (p. xi).
Much of today’s pornography is also racist. For example, produced by Doghouse Digital, Black Bros and White Ho’s is a video that offers stereotypical images of the “sexually primitive black male stud” (Jensen, 2007, p. 66). Another case in point is the film Blacks on Blonds featuring a white man in a cage watching black men have sex with his wife (Dines, 2006). Black men and women are by no means the only people to be racially exploited by pornographers. There is, as pointed out by Dines (2010) and other leading experts in the field much consumer demand for “hot blooded Latinas,” “submissive Far East nymphos.” Dines is correct to point out that regardless of a woman’s racial/ethnic background, her race makes her appear “sluttier” than “regular” white women featured in porn.
In sum, pornography has moved in a few decades from a lucrative underground business with ties to organized crime to a huge corporate-capitalist industry that operates openly (Jensen, 2007). The swift growth of the Internet has also globalized access to pornographic materials on women and other potentially vulnerable groups in converged online and offline environments. Such media can be diffused to millions of people in only seconds due to faster ways of disseminating digital media productions, and the Internet facilitates access for those seeking pornographic content, whether it is legally recognized or not. What used to be rather difficult to access and a secret phenomenon is now accessible for larger groups and has subsequently become a huge business with operations around the world.
Four years ago, there were over four million pornography sites on the Internet (Dines, 2010), with as many as 10,000 added every week since then (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2013). All of this is extremely profitable. Estimated worldwide pornography revenues from a variety of sources (e.g., Internet, sex shops, videos rented in hotel rooms, etc.) recently topped US97 billion. This is more than the combined revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple, Netflix, and Earthlink (DeKeseredy, 2015; Zerbisias, 2008). More recent evidence of the growth of adult pornography is the emergence of online “tubes,” such as YouPorn, XTube, and Porno Tube, all modeled after the widely used and popular YouTube. YouPorn had 15 million users after launching in 2006 and was growing at a monthly rate of 37.5% (Mowlabocus, 2010; Slayden, 2010). What Schwartz and DeKeseredy (1997) stated 17 years ago still holds true today: rare are men who are not exposed to pornographic images. Even if people go out of their way to avoid porn, it frequently “pops up” on people’s computer monitors when they are working or “surfing the web” for information that has nothing to do with sex.
Pornography and Woman abuse
The term woman abuse here means the physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of a woman by her current or former male partner. There is an unsettling truth that even many feminist anti-violence activists and practitioners rarely discuss: pornography plays a key role in women’s experiences of male violence in private places. As well, among the large, international group of woman abuse scholars, very few of them research and theorize the connection between porn and intimate adult violence. In the words of Shope (2004), “The paucity of research on the effects of pornography on battered women is disturbing in light of the research findings linking pornography to sexually aggressive behavior, especially among angered men” (p. 66). However, things are slowly changing in the social scientific community
Youth and Violence Against Women
Bergen and Bogle (2000) refer to pornography as a “training manual for abuse” (p. 231). Evidently, the preparation starts a young age because boys see their first pornography site on average at 11 years of age (DeKeseredy, 2015; Dines 2010), and an unknown but large number to go on to become woman abusers. In fact, adolescents are especially affected by perceived realism of porn because they often lack “real life” sexual experiences with women in which they can contextualize pornographic images of sex (Bridges & Anton, 2013; Peter & Valkenburg, 2010).
The electronic and violent pornification of women and girls takes many different shapes and forms. One relatively new means is the use of “revenge porn” web sites and blogs. Actually, it is estimated that there are now more than 2,000 such sites and the bulk of the perpetrators are male (Hart, 2014). Revenge porn images and videos are made by men with the consent of the women they were intimately involved with, but then distributed online without their consent typically following the termination of a relationship (Salter & Crofts, 2014). It is difficult to accurately determine the extent of this problem, but the damage is irreparable given that anything that is posted in cyberspace never really goes away. The same thing can be said about “sexting” and many, if not most, of the targets are female adolescents (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2013). This involves sharing compromising photos, videos, or written information with other people via texts or other electronic media (Klein, 2012).
New Policy Directions
What is to be done about pornography? Critical criminology has some effective answers to this question. Space limitations preclude a detailed description of numerous progressive policy proposals, but a few are worth briefly discussing here. First, guided by Barak’s (1988, 2007) call for critical criminologists to engage in “newsmaking criminology,” scholars and activists should submit articles about the destructive nature of porn to newspapers, magazines, and to social media web sites. The voices of people in favor of porn, such as former “porn star” Jenna Jameson (2004), are heard the most and thus it is time for the anti-porn community to challenge this hegemony by targeting the mainstream media.
Returning to the issue of social media, for those seeking to use it in their efforts to stop porn, perhaps the first step to visit Stop Porn Culture (SPC) at http://stoppornculture.org/. Stated at this site, SPC’s mission is as follows:
Stop Porn Culture is dedicated to challenging the pornography industry and an increasingly pornographic pop culture. Our work toward ending industries of sexual exploitation is grounded in a feminist analysis of sexist, racist, and economic oppression. We affirm sexuality that is rooted in equality and free of exploitation, coercion, and violence.
David Kauzlarich (in press) has another innovative suggestion. Technology is used to play and listen to music and thus oppositional variants of this art form should be used to challenge pornography and other “crimes of the powerful” (Pearce, 1976), such as state or government crime. Historically, music has been an integral component of progressive social movements in a variety of contexts Kauzlarich and Awsumb (2012) remind us in their thorough review of the literature on music and state oppression that artists such as Boy Dylan, John Lennon, and Pete Seeger influenced an unknown number of people to protest the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. On top of this, labor organizations, civil rights groups, and other organizations have benefitted from music and there is no reason to believe that anti-porn activists can’t too.
School-based initiatives, such as sex education classes that move well-beyond teaching “the mechanics of reproduction” are also needed. Added to them should be anti-sexist education informed by feminist men’s groups like the White Ribbon Campaign. Unfortunately, such pedagogical approaches are either in short supply or are met with much resistance by parents, teachers, and school administrators (Katz, 2006; Klein, 2012).
Other progressive approaches that should be added to the list are:
- Boycotting hotels that offer in-room pay-per-view porn, as well as video stores, gift shops, clothing stores, souvenir shops, and online outlets (DeKeseredy, 2011a, 2011b).
- Challenging pornographic cultural constructions of beauty through means such as giving female children, instead of hyper sexualized Barbie dolls, Lammily, a doll matching closely with the Centers for Disease Control measurements of the average 19-year-old woman.
- Framing pornography as a hate crime and violation of women’s human rights (DeKeseredy, 2009).
Certainly, one method alone will not curb pornography. But, will the multipronged approach advocated here make a difference? This is an empirical question that can only be answered empirically. One thing, however, that is known for sure is this observation made by Robert Jensen (2007): [I]t’s not enough for us to change our personal behavior. That’s a bare minimum. Such change must be followed by participation in movements to change the unjust structure and the underlying ideology that supports them” (p. 182).
A critical criminological understanding of contemporary pornography is in a state of infancy and much more work needs to be done. Outlined in this paper is a blueprint for moving forward. Yet, the ultimate goal is to promote social change. Critical criminology must be distinguished from other criminological discourses by its practice. If the advances suggested in this paper and elsewhere are to take root and assist in the formation of societies determined to curb porn, then it rests with critical criminologists to advance their models for change within practical political settings (Currie, DeKeseredy & MacLean, 1990).
To be sure, as Gail Dines (2010) notes, “we are so steeped in the pornographic mindset that it is difficult to imagine what a world without porn would look like” (p. 163). Still, due in large part to the efforts of feminist anti-porn activists and scholars, some radical changes are occurring. For example, in the winter of 2013, Iceland drafted legislation limiting Internet access to violent porn. Iceland already has legislation forbidding the printing and distribution of porn but it does not cover the Internet. The porn industry, too, may contribute to its own collapse. Possibly, the producers of violent and racist sexual media might cross a line that results in outraging most people and politicians around the globe, leading to strict regulation and highly punitive responses (Bridges & Jensen, 2011). Regardless of what progressive changes happen and when they transpire, critical criminologists involved in the anti-porn movement still “have a lot of work to do” (Jensen, 2007, p. 184).
*This post is an excerpt from Walter’s Plenary address at the National Deviancy Conference held at Teesside University, UK – June 2014. The full text can be found here.
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