Monday, 21 May 2012
On Total Denial: What it Means to Live in a Rape Culture
It’s hit the news recently about the conviction of 9 men for grooming and pimping underage girls. As ever, there’s been an outcry. But in truth, we live in a rape culture. These shocked protestations are as predictable and pointless as those in America whenever someone gets gunned down in their house or school. I mean, the link’s obvious, for chrissakes – you live in a gun culture where the ‘rights’ of the individual to own lethal weapons precede the rights of the community and children not to be shot dead. Compare the number of gunshot deaths in any non gun-toting nation and you can’t fail to make a connection. But nothing changes. The pro-gun lobby is too powerful, their money more persuasive than any amount of coherent thinking and informed argument, more valued than the lives of innocents. The media reacts with outrage and then today’s newspapers become tomorrow’s rubbish, all forgotten, business as usual.
We have the same thing going on here, but with the selling of women. We live in a misogynist culture, one in which women are bought and sold every day in pornography, in strip clubs, and it’s legal. The rights of the individual (male) consumer trumping the rights of women everywhere to be treated as equals, as human beings with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, not a piece of meat, a set of holes to be bought, wanked over and discarded. That in such a culture some people will be hurt is a given. Every woman knows that in this culture she is viewed primarily as a commodity, there for the pleasure and profit of others. Hell, with tv ads and programmes, womens’ magazines, movies and radio blasting out this message she could hardly miss it, or help internalizing it at least to some degree. What woman hasn’t looked in the mirror and judged herself imperfect against the prescribed form of beauty and sexiness sold us all day long? Everywhere you look – women for sale! But again, the sex industry lobby is powerful and has endless money at its disposal. So it continues, the link between the worldview it promotes and the abuse of women and children ignored. (see www.antipornography.org for the connection between the viewing of porn and attitudes towards rape).
What makes us think that in such a culture, where girls are indoctrinated into viewing themselves as sex objects at an ever younger age, where the sex industry has adopted the empowering language of feminism, where it has become the norm to see the sale of women for sex as a good thing, we will be able to enforce arbitrary lines of age and consent? In a culture which sells ‘Barely Legal’ magazines and dvds in which ‘models’ who look underage are introduced to sex by much older men in a manner directly mirroring those of child abuse, should we be surprised when young girls are abused?
Whatever we consume, be that food, tv, books or pornography, shapes us. It has an affect. Yet with pornography, we grasp fiercely onto the lie that this is not in fact the case. Like the gun lobbyists in the US after the next murder case, we call it an anomaly when something like this child pimping ring is exposed. We label the perpetrators ‘freaks’ and ‘other’ because we’re too damn comfortable to join up the dots, to make the connection.
If the girls who were abused had been 18, there would have been no outrage. The case would not have made the papers – unless, of course, it was in the ads section, under ‘personal services’. Does a vulnerable 17 year old suddenly become invulnerable at the turn of a birthday? The percentage of women in prostitution who have backgrounds of sexual abuse or grew up in care, who wound up in prostitution before they were 18*, attests that this recent case is not an aberration. But when they turn 18 we suddenly cease to have consciences and instead reach for the excuse – she chose it. She chose to be in porn, in prostitution (though we call it 'sex work' now- so much less distasteful!). In fact, we’ll even defend her right to be abused in the sex industry and feel like the big shot, protecting free speech. One of the 15 years olds was raped by up to 20 men a day. This is an experience, sadly, shared by many women trapped in the sex industry, seeing john after john.
It is estimated that 3 million women are currently being trafficked worldwide in the sex trade (see Demand video at www.antipornography.org). Are we outraged, lobbying our politicians, saying ‘this can’t go on!’, demanding change? No! Instead we sit at home clicking away on our computers, wanking over women being degraded in pornography, telling ourselves she likes it, she’s smiling, she chose it, she’s well paid. When you click on an image on the internet there is simply no way of knowing whether the woman is pimped, is there through economic desperation, has been coerced. There should be a public outcry! Human slavery continues in this very day and age, in this very country, in the very town in which you live.
The question is, do we care? The same people who were in uproar about the pimping of these girls were outraged by the government’s suggestion of a possible ‘opt in’ for internet pornography, something which would protect children from exposure to pornography at a formative time in their lives, the normalization of extreme penetration and aggression which are becoming ever more mainstream. Consider this: the average age of exposure to pornography is 11. 90 percent of 8-16 years olds have viewed pornography online (TopTen Reviews: Internet Pornography Statistics). The largest consumer group of internet pornography is the 12 – 17 year old age group (www.internetfilterreview.com).
Combine this information with the following analysis of bestselling porn. R. Wosnitzer and A.J. Bridges, in ‘Aggression and Sexual Behaviour in Best-Selling Pornography: A Content Analysis Update’, a paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA, 2007 reported that:
- 89.1% of scenes contained aggressive acts, with the average containing 11.52 acts of verbal or physical aggression (physical being the most common, featuring in 88.2% of all scenes)
- 94.4% of all aggression in films was directed towards women
- women in porn are shown to enjoy or not mind being abused:95.2% of victims responded with either neutral or pleasurable expressions
We have created a rape culture, a truly toxic environment. Pornography is not only legal, it has become mainstream. We have naturalized the unnatural. TV programmes from Friends to According To Jim to The Big Bang Theory joke about pornography, and it is accepted without question that the male characters ‘use’ it. The women are presented as having no problem with it – in fact, they share the male viewpoint, even going to a strip club (Friends)and objectifying the strippers with the men. The message that programmes such as these, which are watched by children, give, is that it is part of being a man to buy women for sex, whether that be indirectly, through pornography, or in a strip club or elsewhere. This is normal and healthy and a demonstration of masculinity. Women learn that it is the done thing to ‘be cool’ about this objectification of women. If they don’t want to be labeled ‘jealous’ or ‘prudes’ they need to adopt a casual attitude towards the selling of other women, even if this leaves them with feelings of conflict.
Pornography promotes certain views about men and women. It promotes the view that women want to be fucked – it is their nature. If they say no they mean yes, even if they say it hurts or it looks like it hurts they still say they like it. In pornography, women get hurt and they ask for more. They are called names, spat at, choked, airtighted, slapped and they enjoy it. They smile and say that they enjoyed it. Only in pornography does a human being ask someone to hurt her.
In this toxic environment, we should be more surprised if pimping young girls wasn’t going on.
Of course, whether or not anything will change remains to be seen. That is up to us, you and I. Will we continue to defend woman-hating practices for fear of seeming prudish or illiberal? Or will we take a stand and say it is not acceptable to inflict suffering and treat women as subhuman for a quick and easy orgasm and a laugh? The sex industry has at its disposal more finances than the gun lobby and many more people who have a stake in its survival – porn is our right! It’s harmless! Yeah right, harmless. Stop yanking your plank and face facts. A gun toting nation leads to gun crime. A porn obsessed nation leads to sex crime. Condemning the consequences of something you support is hypocrisy plain and simple. It’s time to get honest with ourselves. What do we value most highly: pleasure and profit or human beings? Protest all you want, the only effective solution is to take personal responsibility for our actions and their impact on others and stop porn culture.
* see www.object.org.uk for statistics