The Business of Degradation: Women and Pornography

Pornography is big business:

*In 1977, the California Department of Justice estimated that "adult businesses" took in over $4 billion (approximately one-third of the amount Americans spent on fast food!)

*Hustler magazine alone has a subscription rate of 7 million and an estimated circulation of 29 million, more than that of Time and Newsweek combined.

*Profits from pornography are immense. For publishers of sex magazines, profit margins run as high as 50 per cent of retail cost.

*Films are even more lucrative. The Supervixens, produced in 1974 for $213,000, has grossed over $14 million. Deep Throat, produced in 1972 for about $40,000, has grossed approximately $600 million from the film and its "sub-industries"--t-shirts, bumper stickers, sequels, and sexual aids.

Why do women object to this huge, and still rapidly growing, industry? Because pornography is not about sex. It is about violence. ..against women. Much pornography explicitly displays violence, and the examples are nauseating:

*A recent cover of Hustler displays a woman being fed into a meat grinder.

*A Chic magazine photo shows a woman stabbing herself in the vagina with a butcher knife and cutting her breasts with scissors.

*A still photo from a "snuff" film (a film in which the actress is actually murdered) reveals a woman being tortured--her nipple being pulled with a pair of pliers.

*Slam magazine advertised its latest "Cure for frigidity"--a woman photographed flat on her back, her legs spread-eagled, with a jack-hammer pointed at her crotch.

To ignore the violence in these hard-core images is impossible, but even soft-core porn is a form of violence. All pornography reduces women to dehumanized objects, available for men's sexual use. It changes sex from an act of love to one of hate and contempt. Women's individuality is defined solely by breast sizes and waist measurements. And finally, not only are women shown as passively acquiescing to male aggression, but they are portrayed as enjoying it. When women are seen as objects and not as thinking, feeling beings, atrocities of all kinds become possible.

Rape is one example of the extension of media violence into real violence. As one feminist says, "Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice." Porn does not necessarily inspire its viewers to go right out and commit a rape--but it provides legitimacy for the psychological attitudes which lead to the act. The prevalence, the profitability, the "chic" of porn--as well as the fact that there it is, 50 times life-size on a Hollywood screen--make it seem a socially acceptable way for men and women to relate. The attitudes of violence within it are legitimized.

Both rape and porn are based on a view of women as sex-machines. Images of women as pieces of meat, ready for the butcher's knife, are common. Women's bodies are shown not whole, but in pieces--chopped up, without heads, brains, personalities.

Both rape and porn are based on a view of men's sexuality as brutal and aggressive. To be a "real man" means being able to "slam it" to a woman. The equation of male sexuality with violence is also carried over into some male homosexual pornography.

Finally, both porn and rape are based on a view that women are there for the taking, available to be possessed, "asking for it." A rapist may claim that he attacked a woman because she "asked for it" wearing tight jeans, a halter top, even going braless. Only when women are perceived as purely sexual creatures can their individual will be so ignored, and can the victim be blamed for the acts of the aggressor.

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