SOCIETY: by Anna KrohnNews Weekly
How cyber-porn breeds cyber-cowards
, July 23, 2011
There is no longer any debate about the ease of access to and speed of distribution of pornography via cyber-technology.
Pornographic images and scripts can be downloaded and viewed easily, even inadvertently, via iPhone or computer.
The pornification of women and children is no longer hidden under brown-paper wrappers or in the corners of grimy peep-shows.
Yesteryear’s titillating soft porn has become normalised and serves as the template for current advertising, fashion design and pop music campaigns. Meanwhile, the hard porn sex industry has become one of the largest, most powerful and globalised profit-making markets in the world.
The clichéd and supposedly “liberal” response is that this is all a sign of sexual maturity, freedom and tolerance. We are supposed to imagine that 21st-century pornography is only a more sophisticated version of The Benny Hill Show — “naughty” eroticism which amuses (and even helps) the consenting adults involved.
This airbrushed complacency is wearing thin — thanks to an emerging consensus among critics from diverse professional and political quarters.
One leading figure in the fight-back was invited to the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival. Dr Gail Dines, professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston,Massachusetts, and a self-styled radical feminist activist, ruffled the feathers of this cosy permissive liberalism during her recent tour.
Among those sponsoring her visit were a broad alliance, including the independent feminist publishers Spinifex Press, the anti-sexploitation group Collective Shout and the sociology department at the University of New South Wales.
At the festival, Dr Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality (book details on page 21 of this issue of News Weekly), gave a graphic account of the reality of what she calls “industrialised pornography”.
She deplored the ease of access to cyber-porn, and added that the cyber-porn industry, far from protecting the consumer “freedoms” of either men or women, is inherently predatory.
Echoing the research of neuro-psychologists such as William Struthers (author of Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, reviewed in News Weekly, May 28, 2011), Dines described how porn captures its young at ever more formative stages and manipulates both the objects (usually girls) and users (usually males).
In her book she writes: “This means that unlike before, porn is actually being encoded into a boy’s sexual identity so that authentic sexuality — one that develops organically from life’s experiences, one’s peers, personality traits, family — is replaced by generic porn sexuality limited in creativity, lacking any sense of love, respect or connection with another human being.”
For girls it is the shadow cast by pornified popular imagery that is so harmful: “The sheer ubiquity of the slut image,” says Dines, “is what gives it power since it crowds out any alternative.”
Far from being “adult” in content and result, pornography hijacks male maturity, impulse control, sensibility and even the ability to think objectively and clearly about those around them. It breeds both compulsivity and brutality.
It is not sexual imagery alone which whets the appetite and fastens onto the imagination of millions of male users who force conformity onto their female partners. In order to escalate the excitement of the climactic and addictive “high”, which is the aim of pornography, its peddlers ensure that their users are immersed in an increasingly toxic sea of images which depict violence, domination, degradation and humiliation — initially of supposedly “sluttish” women, but then, in rapid succession, of all women.
Dr Dines cites one male pornographic performer and producer who does not even bother to conceal what he is about. He says: “I’d like to really show what I believe men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we serve a purpose by showing that.”
What he proceeds to describe is sickening and unprintable.
Dines says that vivid depictions of the humiliation of subhuman, robotised women is common in porn-land — the fabrication of “what men want” and “what women long for” — gang-raping, tearing, choking and brutalisation. She finds that, in almost every case, women are depicted as subjugated objects of contempt.
A recent article in the Weekend Australian by Christine Jackman (June 4, 2011) illustrated the attitude which is meted out, not only to unfortunate female porn “stars”, who are repeatedly psychologically and physically brutalised in the making of porn, but to any mainstream woman who “dares” to speak out on the subject in public.
In researching her article, Jackman invited a number of high-profile women to email her samples of the numerous threats they have received of rape, violence and death from faceless cyber-bullies and crypto-creeps. She was staggered by the response, which she described as “a veritable 24/7 outpouring of sub-intellectual sludge that begins to feel overwhelming in its toxicity”.
Women who had posted online protests against the sexualisation of children found their web-pages or blogs defaced with child pornography. A woman who recounted the trauma of a sexual assault she had once suffered at knife-point, was denigrated with obscene suggestions. Female news readers have been sent frightening and disfigured photo-images of themselves.
These threatening behaviours, far from embodying the ideals of free speech (let alone of “free love”), mirror the cowardly anonymity and macho-bile that so typify cyber-porn.
Australian writer Melinda Tankard Reist, founder of an anti-sexploitation group Collective Shot, says that cyber-bullying is a magnified version of the sexual bullying that besets school children.
Her colleagues regularly receive violent threats which have been increasing in scale, belligerence and nastiness and which are fuelled by the very cyber-technology which keeps the assailants both anonymous and porn-fuelled.
“What we are encountering is beyond harassment,” says Reist. “It amounts to cyber-terrorism against women.”
Gail Dines writes that cyberporn both distorts and drastically undermines the hope of acceptance, dignity and intimacy between real men and women. She says: “In pornography no one makes love. They all make hate. Pornography destroys intimacy and hijacks our sexuality.”
Anna Krohn is an educator and educational writer, and is currently a tutor in ethics and spirituality in the department of nursing at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.