Testimony in Massachusetts: Porn and a Hostile Learning Environment at M.I.T.

Massachusetts legislators heard testimony about peoples’ encounters
with porn at a hearing on March 16, 1992. This account appears in In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (p.408-411).

Testimony of Ann Russo

My name is Ann Russo, and I’ve been teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the last five years. I teach a course on violence against women in contemporary U.S. society. I have researched and written extensively on issues particularly of sexual violence and the production and consumption of pornography…

For my testimony here today, I would like to specifically talk about the information that I have as a teacher of a course on violence at M.I.T. of the extensive use and functioning of pornography at M.I.T. Many of the students in my class have come to me and told me about the role of pornography in their particular abuse, many stories similar to what you’ve heard today, but they also talk to me a lot about how pornography is used in the particular educational environment at M.I.T. as a result of it being shown in the common living spaces in the coed dormitories, also, secondly, the way it is used in different labs and worksites at M.I.T., and, thirdly, in terms of computer pornographic harassment…

…I would like to say briefly what happens to women as a result of these abuses–that women feel very diminished. It’s already a difficult environment to be at M.I.T. as a woman because traditionally women have not been accepted there as legitimate scholars and students. The existence of pornography further diminishes their self-esteem and self-confidence. Some students I know have had to take time off, have had to take a year off, have had to take two years off, because of issues of sexual harassment and abuse at M.I.T. Many of them have had great difficulty concentrating on their school work and jobs. Many have been silenced in talking about it because they are immediately harassed for speaking out against it.

One example is in the dorms, where despite requests by women students that pornographic films not be shown in common living rooms, some male students insisted on their right to show the films. In two cases, a male student insisted on showing Deep Throat, a film which presents Linda “Lovelace” Marchiano, who we talked about earlier today, despite women students in the dorm telling this particular man that it was offensive to show Deep Throat since it has been documented in her books–Ordeal and Out of Bondage–that she was tortured and terrorized into [making it]. Secondly, they told him that at least one of the students who was a resident of that dormitory had been throat-raped in that particular way, and she felt particularly traumatized by the showing of that film. Despite her efforts and other women’s trying to talk to him about showing the film, he showed it anyway to a whole group of students from the dorm. As a result, she and other students lost sleep, she lost a lot of school time. The one student was a doctoral student, and felt extremely harassed. She tried to address this through the M.I.T. administration and go nowhere because they refuse to take an active stance around pornography. And then she was further harassed in that dormintory through threatening notes, etc., for trying to stop the showing of that film…

A number of instances have occurred at M.I.T. in labs where pornographic pictures are displayed, and there are only one or two women in the lab. When the women complain about it, instead of taking the pornography down, the response has often been defensiveness, anger and more pornography has been put up… Another example is the computer pornography where the students are trying to write their papers in computer networks and they’ll have pornography right next to them being shown on the screen, and again making it difficult for them to do their work…

[Polumbo:] They allow X-rated films to be shown in the dormitories?

[Russo:] They supposedly had a policy against it, but they don’t enforce it because they’re afraid that they’re going to get a lawsuit against them. So they shuttled the student from one office to the next…

It’s been an ongoing issue at M.I.T. because there was a tradition at M.I.T. to show pornography as part of registration and orientation day, until about ten years ago, and it’s because of protests, which have been met with other protests saying that it’s a breach of freedom of speech that they have a right to show pornography on that particular day.

See also:


“Sex-Positive” Debate-Killing Tactics Stretch into Their Fifth Decade

Our opponents profess extreme devotion to free speech, yet in reality many of them freely employ debate-killing tactics such as disrespect, ridicule, misrepresentation and intimidation.
Tactics like these have a history in this debate that stretches back
for nearly half a century. They have been effective at skewing the
public dialogue over issues of love, sex, relationships and the rights
of communities, even as the evidence of the harm of porn and adult enterprises piles up into a mountain.

Behind the Scenes of Deep Throat with Linda Lovelace
[Explicit language:] “Marchiano traveled to campuses to speak out about her two and a half year imprisonment by her husband/manager Chuck Traynor. Linda’s speech encouraged women on the campus to protest outside the fraternity-sponsored showing of Deep Throat. She said that in this movie there are visible bruises all over her body that attest to part of her torture. The fraternity brothers’ response, was to shout out during Deep Throat: ‘Fuck her, hurt her, rip her.’ Toward the other females on the screen they screamed comments such as ‘Ugly bitch and whore.’ They chanted, ‘Bruises, Bruises, Bruises!’ continually during the film.”

Testimony in Minneapolis: Role of Porn in Child Sexual Abuse; Pornographers Perpetuate, Profit from Dysfunction
“Unfortunately, when individuals who have survived human rights abuses
as a result of pornography speak out, they are most often attacked
again for having the nerve to speak out. For example, after pornography
survivors appeared before the City Council in Minneapolis to describe
their personal stories [of] horror and torture, a nationally
distributed pornography magazine published an article identifying the
women by name, using their direct quotes and highlighting the graphic
testimony of sexual violence. Without exception, these women were
harassed by obscene phone calls, followed, spied on, tormented,
threatened by letters.”

Testimony in Minneapolis: Porn and a Hostile Work Environment
I got to the point where I couldn’t put up with it any more. And being one of the only two women on the job, and being rather new at it and not knowing that I had any alternatives, I got pissed off one day and ripped all the pictures off the wall. Well, it turned out to be a real unpopular move to do. I came back in at lunch time and half the pictures were back up again. They pulled them out of boxes and stuck them on the wall and proceeded to call me names, and just basically call me names or otherwise ignore me…

…I have encountered pretty much hostility in the last six years being the only woman on the job doing men’s work. On that particular job, I was a legal threat because I had replaced one of the other men who was causing trouble, who was one of the good old boys. And I think they were doubly angry at me on that job and they wanted to get rid of me.

Testimony in Massachusetts: Porn Confuses Young Men about How to Behave
There was an article in the New York Times last week about sexual harassment in schools, how there’s a whole new area of litigation that’s opening up with young girls who are sexually harassed. If you read that article on the front page of the Times last week, you’ll find that guys are saying that they don’t know what to do, what they can do and what they can’t do, what’s acceptable and what isn’t acceptable. As I read that, I said to myself, it’s obvious where they’re learning on one level what is and what isn’t acceptable. In other words, you could take some of the dialogue out of these kids’ mouths right out of a discussion of pornography that I’ve had on numerous occasions…

American Association of University Women
According to the report [“Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing, and Sexual Harassment in School (2001)”], based on a national survey of 2,064 public
school students in 8th through 11th grades conducted by Harris
Interactive:

  • 83% of girls and 79% of boys report having ever experienced harassment. 
    • The
      number of boys reporting experiences with harassment often or
      occasionally has increased since 1993 (56% vs. 49%), although girls are
      still somewhat more likely to experience it.
    • For many students sexual harassment is an ongoing experience:
      over 1 in 4 students experience it “often.”

4 thoughts on “Testimony in Massachusetts: Porn and a Hostile Learning Environment at M.I.T.

  1. You people are the biggest bunch of narrow minded prudes I have ever seen. Porn does not hurt women… MEN hurt woman! You are removing the responcibility that men should take over their own actions and placing in the laps of a bunch of people who just happen to make money having sex on camera. I happen to like sex, and my husband of 12 years and I watch porno movies together. We are not sick people in fact we are very active in our community. He has never laid a hand on me nor forced me to do things I am not comfortable with. Why is that? Oh because he is a responcible man with morals. Try placing the blame where it belongs.

  2. It’s the case with most people, though. I totally agree with Candice. You people need to find something more constructive to do with your time.

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