The Dangers of Porn and the Sexualization Report

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[Photo courtesy of Joetta Maue]

Today I read this piece in the New Statesman “I got it wrong…”, and was particularly interested in Sarah Ditum’s contribution.

I made a comment on twitter, and Sarah responded, and we had a small debate. My main problem with the piece is that Sarah falls foul of something I first heard from her, the ‘zombie statistic’. The money shot in the piece (no, I couldn’t resist) is Ditum quoting this study on lads’ mag readers and rapists using same language. I first blogged about it here, on lads’ mags and rape. Of course it isn’t just lads’ mag readers and rapists using this language and holding these views, many people do, society is saturated with victim-blaming and shaming views. Many women could be surveyed and would give same results.

As I quoted elsewere on this blog, As the PhD student Sarah Harman of Brunel University wonderfully put it: “How does porn influence culture’? instead I do feel that ‘how does culture influence porn?’”

The idea that men are more likely to rape after viewing porn or glamour modelling images fits into this blaming of women’s bodies, like Uganda banning the mini skirt; Mumbai banning ‘sexy mannequins’ to stop sexual assualts and rape; a councillor in Essex blaming TV shows like The Only Way is Essex and ‘scantily clad girls’ for sex attacks,. Why do we still hear what a woman was wearing at the time she was raped? This is the problem.

Girls and women are now bullied for being raped, they are slut-shamed if the rapist shares images of the attack. Think of the coverage Stuebenville; think of teenage girl Audrie Pott who killed herself following being raped and subsequently being bullied, UK footballer Ched Evans convicted of rape and the victim is bullied and threatened.

I used to admire Ditum’s writing, but many columnists are now becoming popular, and defending the rights of sex workers, porn consumers, lap-dancers et al just isn’t popular. The Guardian in particular has fast morphed into an ‘educated’ man’s Daily Mail. I enjoy debates and listening to the many different viewpoints, but not when ‘money shot’ stats or studies are thrown in. I find them misleading and fraudulant.

I enjoyed Ditum’s piece on Dines very much, and her comments below the article:
“The main problem with Dines is that she casts herself as an academic and leans on claims of being evidence-based, when she’s really a campaigner and is only interested in the evidence that supports her cause. And it’s legitimate to campaign. It’s legitimate to believe that porn is wrong even if there’s no evidence of harm. But it’s intellectually dishonest to argue the way she does, and it means I’m unsure of how much merit she thinks her moral case has”.
This, all day long.

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Ditum's debate with Gain Dines is published on The New Left Project in three parts, Part 1: Is Porn hijacking our sexuality/?, Part 2 here, Part 3 here.. I hope Ditum’s critical writing such as this returns, and anecdotes about chatting to a pyschology postgraduate stop.

However today, I sat down to read The Sexualization Report. Edited by Professor Feona Attwood, Clare Bale and Dr Meg Barker. I recommend you read it.

Being suspicious and cyncical of porn addiction narratives (perhaps rape addiction will be next?) I was happy to read the effects on watching pornography.

“Researchers have also interviewed subjects who have committed sex crimes to find out about their exposure to pornographic materials. These studies have consistently shown that rapists tend to use less pornography than control groups, and that, on average, they come from more sexually repressed backgrounds and are exposed to pornography at a later age” (Gebhard, P., Gagnon, J.H. Pomeroy, W.B. & Christenson, C.V. (1965). Sex Offenders. New York: Harper and Row; Goldstein, M.J. & Kant, H. (1973). Pornography and Sexual Deviance. Berkeley: University of California Press).

Why the special attention to ‘pornographic’ images anyway? Why is it that only ‘sexy’ topics get support? I am sad that heternormative images and roles exist all around us, adverts, tv, films, music. Why is only the ‘sexualized’ bits that people care about? Why is it that mum is always shopping at Iceland, and only women can use washing up liquid? Does that not subordinate us? Is it not dangerous for children to grow up thinking that women are responsible for most household tasks and childcare even if she works outside the home too? I argue that these images are the ones the majority of people see, they are normalised. Yes adverts have evolved, but have they really come that far?

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I call for more academic research and debate into pornography 'sexualization', 'objectification' and less of the demonising porn consumers and treating it as a matter separate from the culture it exists in. I welcome The Porn Studies Journal with open arms, and hope it opens up a more visible space for all these debates to unfold.

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I also draw your attention to Professor Feona Attwood, Professor Clarissa Smith and here, Dr Meg Barker, ‘Obscentity Lawyer’ Myles Jackman PhD student Alex Dymock, PhD student Sarah Harman, Dr Helen Hester, postgraduate student Amy E. Forrest, Nichi Hodgson, Cliterati, The Feminist Porn Book.