It started by way of messengers and scribes, evolved through the presentation of newspapers and radio, brought us together with television, and now serves us world-wide via the ever-popular Internet. It is the mass media, and even from the earliest days of its existence, it has contributed greatly in ways that both enlighten and enrich society, and ways that deteriorate and perplex it. It is not a surprise to learn, then, that the mass media is the most powerful source of information we have, and nothing else in todays world influences public perception quite as heavily.
Unfortunately, however, most of what is broadcast or transmitted in the news today is with reference to the chaotic condition of our planet, or something else that society as a whole sees as detrimental or damaging. But the news on television is not the only type of media taking the criticism of society. Other forms of mass media, specifically movies and television programs containing pornography and violence have been heavily criticized. The underlining concept to be debated here is that society is negatively influenced, specifically, by these images of pornography and the result is increased violence against women.
This assumption, and it is indeed only an assumption, is completely fallacious, however, as no concrete and completely conclusive evidence has ever been formulated in support of the theory. The key premise here is that the mass media does not cause undesirable social behaviour and in actuality, the media people should not be dubbed as the bad guys. They simply use their power in the most constructive ways possible in order to promote their ratings and popularity. One way to do that is to concentrate on what sells: sex, violence and disaster.
Having said this, why is it then, that many in society still believe otherwise; why do they continue to believe that pornography is evil and is a major cause for violence against women, specifically rape? There are many reasons for this misinterpretation and through the following few points, an attempt will be made to show that pornography has very little to almost no correlation with violence against women (of course nothing is absolute in society). In order to demonstrate this, it must be made evident that pornography is not evil and does not cause undesirable social behaviour by displaying nude women in sexually explicit circumstances.
Thus, it is important to indicate that women are not treated only as sexual objects through the media. This is done in an attempt to quash any traces of evil in pornography. Subsequently, a second point, that some may consider to be completely bizarre, can be addressed; that pornography actually reduces the amount of violence against women. For thousands of years, sex itself has been considered evil and revolting. This is exactly why the concealment of the sex organs and teaching feelings of shame toward human sexuality is so common worldwide (Christensen 1990:4).
These same feelings of shame are the chief reasons that sex is considered a personal and private matter. Contrary to the beliefs of many, the mass media did not create these settings; society creates this image. In some societies, women have no reservations with regard to living their entire lives completely naked, while in other societies, females cover themselves from head to toe, only revealing their eyes. The media has been bombarded with criticism, overwhelmingly from the female community, relative to the amount of sexually explicit material that is published in magazines and that appears on television and in the cinemas.
A common argument against pornography is that the media portrays women as being nothing more than sexual playthings and objects to satisfy male sexual desires. As before, the media once again, is not to be held responsible for creating this image; these views are products of society. It would be downright absurd to assume that women in this society are treated as sexual objects only because the media releases or broadcasts pornographic material. A magazine associated with make-up and skin care, for example, will quite obviously not be concentrating on much else.
Such a magazine would not display pictures of women who mountain-climb or women who water-ski; only images of make-up and text referring to skin care would be relevant. Clearly, society does not consider women to be beings whos only purpose in life is to worry about make-up and skin care; but why are the complaints only directed towards pornographic media then? The answer to this question may be more complicated, however, what remains obvious is that the media does not portray women as only being able to fill male sexual desires.
To say that pictures featuring nudity, etc, are making objects out of women is foolish. One should consider females who pin-up posters of male rock stars or children who collect hockey or baseball cards. Society, however, does not say that objects are being made out of these rock stars and sports heroes; pictures of clothed people are no less objects than pictures of naked people. Many complaints are also made to the effect that pornography only offers a one- dimensional view to life; that women are seen as nymphomaniacs who are hysterically addicted to sex.
It should be pointed out that events such as hockey games, boxing matches, horse races and operas all offer a one-dimensional view of life. One does not attend an opera hoping to see a horse race. The underling problem here is that the above mentioned events are socially acceptable; media displaying pornography is not. It is also said that the media reduces women to a collection of body parts through pornography (Christensen 1990:74). But why then are their no complaints of advertisements in magazines displaying only ears, for example, or a nose, or feet?
The reason is a simple one; society considers certain body parts to be shameful or disgusting and once again, the media can be let off the hook. Realistically, the only way to prevent women from being seen as sex objects is for them to be seen as other things as well; but to say that women are not sexual beings would be misleading because both men and women are very much sexual (Christensen 1990:42). Similarly, to say that women are singled out in the media is fallacious due to the many examples of media where men are seen catering to the needs of women; something known as chivralic sexism (Christensen 1990:42).
Take, for instance, a recent television ad portraying young men groveling at the feet of supermodel Cindy Crawford, almost begging to be the one to cater to her needs. There were no lineups of men aching to announce their displeasure with the sexist ad; and this is precisely why male stereotyping in the media often goes unnoticed. Similarly, it is pornography in the media that is noticed and shunned by anti-pornographic and censorship organizations because it seemingly singles out females for their bodies.
It should be well noted, however, that paperback romance novels, which make up an incredible 40% of total paperback sales (Gerbner 1988:15), depicts males as sexual objects, performing what is called Sweet Savagery (rape), just as pornography depicts females as sexual objects. But once again, this goes unnoticed. It is fundamentally important to realize that the media does not deliberately create images of hate or disagreement (Howitt, Cumberbatch 1975:80). They just influence the more appealing things in society (thus directly increasing their ratings).
Although it is obvious that pornography is largely a male interest, a noted increase in female interest would certainly cause an increase in the amount of pornographic material geared for women; this relates to the laws of the business world (Christensen 1990:50). Having discussed the untruthfulness of the claims against pornography and showing that pornography is not evil, it is now possible to consider the violence issue. Are men who are exposed to pornography likely to commit violent acts, such as rape against women, more so than men who are not exposed to pornography?
It is tempting to believe that media influences males and overstimulates them through pornography to the point that they become aggressive towards females. But this is completely baseless; just as pornography arouses or stimulates, it also satisfies. The American Commission on Obscenity and Pornography performed a study in which several college students were asked to spend one and a half hours in an isolated room with a large volume of pornographic media, as well as a large volume of non-explicit media such as Readers Digest (Howitt, Cumberbatch 1975:80).
The study was conducted over a three week period over which time it was discovered that the males involved in the experiment began to lose interest, or become desensitized to the erotic media nearing the end of the experiment, even if new material was added. To address the argument that males are pushed over the brink into committing rape because of pornography, one may point to the evidence above; to cover the female body would theoretically only increase male sexual desires. Four more separate experiments were conducted of which the above was one.
Three other experiments came to the conclusions that pornography does not cause violence against women and reported that the number of sex offenders that had been exposed to pornographic material were smaller in number than the amount of sex-offenders that had not been exposed to pornography (Christensen 1990:130; Harmon, Check 1988:28-30). These results can be offered as evidence against the claim that males become overstimulated and thus dangerous when exposed to pornography.
Other experiments conducted in the early 1980s by the Williams Committee in England, reported that as the availability and abundance of sexually explicit material increased, the number of violent sex crimes such as rape did not increase, but in fact decreased in many areas (Christensen 1990:128-129). So what is it about pornography that women and anti-pornography organizations do not like? Violence! One of the greatest myths about pornography is that it contains an excess of violence against women inevitably resulting in real-life violence against women.
Anti-pornography groups release propaganda that the media approves of violence against women through pornography. In actuality, however, the total amount of violence in sex-related movies was found to be approximately 6% in a study by T. Palys in the early 1980s in Vancouver, Canada. Even this material was almost entirely composed of verbal threats and spanking (Christensen 1990:59). In addition to the above, studies in Ohio also found that the amount of violence in G-Rated movies was a staggering two times more than in X-Rated movies.
In fact, major films such as Die Hard: With A Vengeance and Terminator 2, contain extreme violence 85-90% of which is directed solely at men. There are, however, exceptions; the slasher genre of movies contain much more violence towards women, possibly due to the desensitization to violence in other genres of films. Because women are involved, violence against them could create a true sense of horror. However, this does not suggest that men should go into society and rape a woman any more than it suggests that men should go out and kill other men.
Horror movie fans choose to watch these movies because they enjoy portrayed violence. Needless to say, no sane individual would wish for this violence to become a real-life conception. Similarly, sex also excites people and because these two elements offer the most thrills in movies, they are often combined. It should be pointed out that women, and not just men, also enjoy these thrills based on numerous studies. When discussing pornography, it is scarcely noted that men are not the only ones who enjoy fantasizing about sex. Women also enjoy pondering sex; just not through pornography.
In fact, most of these fantasies involve some degree of violence or force and are largely driven by the romance novels discussed earlier (once again supporting the evidence that romance novels prove to be the female equivalent to male-geared pornography). Recent reports published by Nancy Friday, show that the number of female fantasies involving rape far outweigh the number of male fantasies involving rape. What comes as a surprise to many is that in male fantasies, the woman rapes the man and conversely, in female fantasies, the man rapes (Sweet Savagery), the woman! (Christensen 1990:66).
Fridays reports also provided some interesting reasoning for the female fantasies. Her reports find that females fantasize about rape to show that they are not acting in accordance with such sinful actions; to show that sex is being forced upon them. Any other feelings towards the fantasized rape would prove to be undesirable social behaviour and amazingly, the media is not even involved! Actual laboratory experiments (Hawkins, Zimring 1988:103) have shown that when groups of women were shown erotic scenes involving rape, their reactions to the scenes were as or even more stimulating than less violent consensual lovemaking scenes.
This is not to say that all women want to be raped; far from it. This is to say that if women can fantasize about rape but not wish to experience it, then men, too, can fantasize about rape and not wish to commit it. In addition to the many other accusations against pornography, many in society believe that there is definite connection between organized crime and pornography. Although this may be true, the idea is largely over-exaggerated. The reasoning behind this theory is very simple, yet very shallow.
Consider, that pornography is created by organizations and contains sexually explicit material that may be thought to be legally obscene in some areas. To make the connection, these anti-pornography organizations assume that the organizations (hence organized) that produce the legally obscene (hence crime) material, are operating illegally. It is obvious why pornography is attractive to criminals; just as anything that is banned or is made illegal, there is always someone who will pay the high black-market price for it.
Having considered the issues at hand, it can be said that since there is no concrete evidence to support otherwise, pornography in the media does not cause undesirable social behaviour. As mentioned before, sexually explicit movies and magazines do not just arouse, but also satisfy. It is an undisputed fact that feelings of love and happiness cancel out violent feelings (Zillman, Connections Between Sex and Aggression) and to say that pornography endorse violent feelings fails to make sense; if it did, why would men want to be exposed to it.
To suggest that pornography causes men to go over the edge and commit rape is as ludicrous as suggesting that pictures of food cause the hungry to steal more food. It has even been said by some women that rape is the fault of women who dress provocatively; they ask for it. According to this logic, in the event that pornography is banned, then an attempt should be made to force women to cover their skin and wear clothing that completely hides the shapes of their bodies so as not to provoke rape. Absurd. As members of society, we recognize the power of the mass media. We understand that public perception can be easily persuaded.
But it should be clearly understood that pornography in the media alone cannot persuade men to cause harm to women; it cannot cause men to do things that are socially unacceptable. As was mentioned earlier, pornography only causes feelings of excitement and satisfaction and these feelings overpower those feelings of violence. For these reasons, it can be said that until a positive link can be found between pornography in the media and violence against women, it will remain that sexual violence such as rape is the result of sexual frustration, and not of sexual arousal.