MacKinnon: Framing Torture as Porn Magically Makes It Acceptable

Catharine MacKinnon, Elizabeth A. Long professor of law at the University of Michigan, observes that torture and abuse typically get a free pass when they’re framed as commercial entertainment. Some excerpts from “X underrated”, published in The Times Higher Education Supplement (May 20, 2005):

A…magical framing move occurred in connection with the scandal surrounding Abu Ghraib. The photos of naked Arab men being abused by American soldiers while in their custody were routinely termed pictures of torture and sexual humiliation in the press. If the fact that the photos were identical to much pornography (although mild by its standards) was noticed at all, it was more often to excuse the crimes than to indict the pornography. Then a mass-market US newspaper was duped into publishing photos said to be of an Iraqi woman being raped by American soldiers that turned out to come from pornography. The public was upset by the pictures – until they found out that it was pornography. The newspaper apologised for not properly authenticating the picture.

The photos, had they been what they were thought to have been, would have documented criminal atrocities. The identical picture, framed as pornography, became masturbation material that a legitimate outlet had been cleverly tricked into putting on its front page in another blow for sexual freedom of expression. As pornography, the conditions of its making – who was she? how did she get there? was she being raped? – were not subject to inquiry. They never are.

The assumption that the violence, violation and abuse that is shown in pornography is somehow “consensual” is just that: an assumption. It coexists with much evidence of force and coercion, beginning with the materials themselves. Mass emails advertising photos of “hostages raped!” are spammed to internet accounts without generating inquiry into whether they are either. A website called Slavefarm offers women for sale as “sexual slaves”, complete with contracts signing away all human rights and explicit photographs of the slave being tortured. Authorities stonewall…

Consuming pornography, with some individual variation, produces attitudes and behaviours of discrimination and violence, particularly against powerless others. By extension, the more pornography is consumed, the more difficult it will become, socially, to tell when rape is rape, even for some victims. An increase in sexual assault, accompanied by a drop in reporting and low conviction rates, is predictable. All this has happened…

See also:

The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research
[In a meta-analysis of 46 studies published in various academic
journals,] Oddone-Paolucci, Genuis, and Violato found that exposure to
pornographic material puts
one at increased risk for developing sexually deviant tendencies [e.g.,
excessive or ritualistic
masturbation], committing sexual offenses,
experiencing difficulties in one’s intimate relationships, and
accepting rape myths. In terms of the
degree of risk, the analysis revealed a 31 percent increase in the risk
of sexual deviancy, a 22
percent increase in the risk of sexual perpetration, a 20 percent
increase in the risk of
experiencing negative intimate relationships, and a 31 percent increase
in the risk of believing
rape myths…

Studies have also shown that while there is an abundance of sexual content in the media,
little is shown regarding sexual responsibility and the consequences of risky sexual behaviors…

A Review of Pornified: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families
…many women were saying that porn had made their partners more
judgmental and disrespectful about women’s bodies. Because porn was so
mainstream, it was no longer “cool” for women to voice their
discomfort. The conventional wisdom was that men’s sexuality had always
naturally required a great deal of visual stimulation and variety.
(p.13) In fact, Paul found, both the demand for porn and the content of
porn had undergone an extreme cultural shift since Playboy launched in
the 1950s. Our sexual expectations are more malleable than porn’s
defenders would have us believe…

Paul writes, “Despite its premise of relieving tension, pornography
often creates tension for men, leaving them increasingly insecure, with
the need for continual validation through ongoing conquests.
Pornography, with its mutual objectification and teenage mentality, can
bring back the worst of adolescent fears about manhood (with its
requirement for youthful vigor and a boundless constitution). This
mounting tension then leads to the search for temporary relief—and a
more intense drive toward more porn.” (p.82) But porn will never be as
satisfying as real sex because it does not offer emotional intimacy,
affection, or individuality–aspects of sex that men also need, however
difficult it may be for them to admit it. (p.85) This gives the lie to
the “porn as safety valve” argument we hear so often…

Feminism’s “sex-positive” turn and the progressive defense of porn may
be reactions against the humorless and censorious political correctness
of 1990s liberalism. Yet porn itself actually inculcates deeply
regressive attitudes about sex roles. (p.248) The cheap, degraded sex
in porn films mimics the prudery of yesteryear in its distaste for the
body, particularly women’s bodies. (p.248)

Paul has little patience for how porn merchants have dressed up the
issue as one of free speech and inalienable rights. The industry loves
to distract people from critiquing the actual content and impact of
adult media, instead tying us up in theoretical debates about the
Constitution. This allows porn to be reconfigured as political dissent,
immune from criticism as well as regulation.

Kink.com: Bondage Porn Gone Chillingly, Cheerfully Corporate (explicit language)

Offerings at Kink include:

Whipped Ass
“As the title implies, you will be seeing extreme ass whipping. Our
girls turn on each other and dish out the punishment like no other site
out there.”

Wired Pussy
“This site is shocking, literally. Our girls are put to the test when
they are bound, gagged, and shocked over and over. It’s all in good fun
of course!”

Sex and Submission
“Our powerless girls scream as they are tied up and forced to have sex
over and over. Are they screams for help or do they really just want
more?”

How Spread of Porn Could Give the Illusion that Rape is in Decline (explicit language)
Claims that porn is cathartic
have been circulating since the 1970s. However, it is easy to conceive
the porn might have less benign effects on viewers and sex crimes. We
can, for example, hypothesize that porn conditions women to believe
that rape is not a crime, or at least not a crime that they want to
report.
Certainly a major theme of a great deal of porn is that abusive sexual
practices
are normal and should be thought of as pleasurable. We imagine this
would confuse many female victims of sexual assault as to whether they had been
treated in an unacceptable manner.

We expand on this at Abusive Relationships and Porn: The Similarities (explicit language).
Indications from books like Unhooked or Female Chauvinist
Pigs
suggest that many women in our present age, understandably, prefer to conceive of themselves
as powerful and in control, not as victims. Female members of the porn industry
like Lizzy Borden fuel this image of woman as dominator, as opposed to the
dominated. A woman acknowledging she was made to have sex against
her will, whether to police or to a survey-taker, would not be compatible with
this self-image. We observe that sexual assault is both widespread and a substantially underreported crime

We can hypothesize that as women adopt the promiscuous,
callous lifestyle
advocated by porn, they will be less likely to report
instances of rape. This might be in part because porn trains people to expect
discourteous behavior
in sex, and in part because of widespread beliefs that
‘loose’ women have little credibility when it comes to accusations of
rape. A
raped woman has every reason to fear that her sexual history might be
mercilessly worked over in court (and/or public opinion) during a
trial,
especially if that history is long and messy.
For reasons like these, one cannot conclude from mere correlation that
porn truly reduces the incidence of sexual assault. There is no
unambiguous logical connection between the two.

The idea
that porn is cathartic or harmless is hard to square with scientific studies showing that porn causes people to take rape less seriously

It is easy to see how the propagation of rape myths would decrease
reporting of rape. The victim might not be sure that an actual crime
occurred, or even if they did, might not feel that our legal system
will recognize their injury.

Realities of Teen Prostitution Mock Notions of ‘Sex Work’, ‘Sex-Positive’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Empowerment’; Media Glamorizes Pimps
Pimps are criminals, but often depicted in a glamorous way in movies
like “Hustle and Flow,” in music videos, and in national magazines.

For example, in the Dec. 16, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone magazine,
rapper Snoop Dogg was featured on the cover with the headline, “At Home
With America’s Most Lovable Pimp.”

“I think in the last couple years we’ve seen a real increase in the
glorification of pimp culture,” Lloyd says. “Girls growing up now, and
boys too, are beginning to see this as cute and sexy or glamorous and
not really understanding the realities of the sex industry…”

New York Times: “The Girls Next Door”; Worldwide Sex Trafficking; Role of Porn
In Eastern European capitals like Kiev and Moscow, dozens of
sex-trafficking rings advertise nanny positions in the United States in
local newspapers; others claim to be scouting for models and
actresses…

”…[Young
women’s] idea of prostitution is ‘Pretty Woman,’ which is one of the
most popular films in Ukraine and Russia. They’re thinking, This may
not be so bad…”

Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves says: ”The physical path of a person
being trafficked includes stages of degradation of a person’s mental
state. A victim gets deprived of food, gets hungry, a little dizzy and
sleep-deprived. She begins to break down; she can’t think for herself.
Then take away her travel documents, and you’ve made her stateless.
Then layer on physical violence, and she begins to follow orders. Then
add a foreign culture and language, and she’s trapped…”

”There’s a vast misunderstanding of what coercion is, of how little it
takes to make someone a slave,” Gary Haugen of International Justice
Mission said. ”The destruction of dignity and sense of self, these
girls’ sense of resignation…”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the Cyber Crimes Center
in Fairfax, Va., are finding that when it comes to sex, what was once
considered abnormal is now the norm. They are tracking a clear spike in
the demand for harder-core pornography on the Internet. ”We’ve become
desensitized by the soft stuff; now we need a harder and harder hit,”
says I.C.E. Special Agent Perry Woo… ”With new Internet
technology,” Woo said, ”pornography is becoming more pervasive. With
Web cams we’re seeing more live molestation of children.” One of
I.C.E.’s recent successes, Operation Hamlet, broke up a ring of adults
who traded images and videos of themselves forcing sex on their own
young children…

Gloria Steinem at Smith: Cooperation, Not Domination
…there are more slaves in proportion to the world’s population–more
people held by force or coercion without benefit from their work–more
now than there were in the 1800s. Sex trafficking, labor trafficking,
children and adults forced into armies: they all add up to a global
human-trafficking industry that is more profitable than the arms trade,
and second only to the drug trade. The big difference now from the
1800s is that the United Nations estimates that 80% of those who are
enslaved are women and children…

D.A. Clarke: Women Adopting Men’s Bad Habits Is Not the Answer
People often talk about the abuses endured by women and children in the
sex trade and pornography as the price of a free society, implying that
the lives of these people are a tragic but necessary sacrifice if we
are to avoid totalitarianism, censorship and so on. My first reaction
is always one of stunned outrage – it is so very evident that the
people making the sad preachments about necessary sacrifices are never
the ones who are being sacrificed, and the freedom about which they
have such tender and righteous feelings does not extend to those who
are enslaved to ensure it. Then comes a second reaction: What
free society? For if the conditions under which the vast majority of
prostitutes, and many unpaid sexual servants, live is not fascism, then
what is?

Testimony of Elana Bowman, Member of the Women Against Violence Against Women Coordinating Committee
I was working up the papers for a restraining
order at the Domestic Violence Project, when a woman began telling me
that her husband confessed to her that he had raped his daughter from
his first marriage, and that he served time for it. She asked him how
he could do that to his own blood. He answered that it was all right,
that the little girl hadn’t minded it, and that he had enjoyed it
enough for both of them. He had seen the pictures of it, and when girls
did it enough, they liked it, and that they really did like it or they
wouldn’t do it in the pictures he had seen. We talked more about that,
and I asked her if she thought that the porn he read was any cause of
what he had done. She said, “Of course,” and he had those magazines
now, and she had had enough. She had a little girl too, and she was
doing all she could to stop him from getting to her daughter.

Robert
Jensen: When Examining Complex Social Phenomena, Scientific Method Has
Limits; Listen to the Stories of the Victims (explicit language)

“I know all about you bitches, you’re no different; you’re like all of
them. I seen it in all the movies. You love being beaten. (He then
began punching the victim violently.) I just seen it again in that
flick. He beat the shit out of her while he raped her and she told him
she loved it; you know you love it; tell me you love it…” [Silbert
and Pines, 1984, p.864]

Catharine MacKinnon: Mass Media Reflexively, Subtly Protect Pornographers
Until the publication of [In Harm’s Way], the public
discussion of pornography has been impoverished and deprived by often
inaccurate or incomplete reports of victims’ accounts and experts’
views. Media reports of victims’ testimony at the time of the hearings
themselves were often cursory, distorted, or nonexistent. Some reports
by journalists covering the Minneapolis hearings were rewritten by
editors to conform the testimony to the story of pornography’s
harmlessness that they wanted told. Of this process, one Minneapolis
reporter assigned to cover those hearings told me, in reference to the
reports she filed, “I have never been so censored in my life.” Thus
weakened, the victim testimony became easier to stigmatize as emotional
and to dismiss as exceptional. Its representativeness has been further
undermined by selective or misleading reports of expert testimony on
scientific studies…

Testimony in Los Angeles: Peter Bogdanovich on Porn and Hollywood
The pornographers and their supporters are so powerful, and the
connection between the pornography industry and the legitimate
entertainment industry is so intimate, that directors and producers and
writers and creative people of all kinds do not feel able to take a
stand against pornography because they’re going to be blackmailed by
legitimate studios, distribution houses, etc. Some say, “Just wait till
I get this distributed, then I’ll be free to go down and tell you what
I know,” or “I’m waiting to sell a TV show…” The real story is that
people are intimidated out of speaking by those in power over their
lives…

Harvard Law Professor Frederick Schauer’s “The Boundaries of the First Amendment”; Government Regulates Many Kinds of Speech
Journalists understandably are particularly vigilant about freedom of
the press. Claiming a threat to freedom of speech is therefore an
effective way to get sympathetic media coverage of your issue.

A Review of Catharine MacKinnon’s Only Words
…explodes the self-serving legal fictions that silence
the victims of pornography. MacKinnon argues that pornography makes
women’s experience of sexual violation appear unreal, because it has
been turned into an image, an object, which seems to belong to the
category of mere fantasy or “speech”…

Though MacKinnon herself is sometimes guilty of…expecting more comprehensive recognition of
inequality than any impersonal legal system can guarantee…she throws
down a worthy challenge to civil libertarians who defend porn without
reflecting on the unequal power dynamics of its production and consumption.

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