It’s always amusing to see The Guardian running entirely against reality. As they are here with this piece demanding that everyone’s got to stop looking at porn in order to reduce male violence against women. That is, we’ve got to directly contradict reality. For the truth is that if you really wanted to reduce male violence against women then you’d subsidise pornography. Indeed, strap men down and force them to watch it a la Alex and his Beethoven fixation.
More broadly, we are all complicit in structures that dehumanise women. Recent research on men’s sexual aggression has argued that dehumanisation, and in particular the denial of women’s “human uniqueness”, can be a driving factor for men who commit sexual offences. Put simply, some don’t see women as people.
We have to stop producing and consuming representations of women as nothing more than a conduit for the actions of men. Stop watching pornography that sees women as endlessly replaceable; that describes women only by their skin colour or hair colour; that sexualises coercion and women’s non-consent. If you don’t watch it, stop just scrolling past it as though by ignoring it you’re not complicit. Demand this material is removed and stop using porn until it is.
The argument here has gone way past causation. It is about recognising that pornography has a social function: it helps authorise “what counts” as sexual practice and sexual pleasure, and shapes how we see ourselves and each other. Recent research from myself and colleagues at Durham University found that one in every eight titles on the front pages of the UK’s most popular porn websites described sexual acts that fit the World Health Organization’s definition of sexual violence. This is not a problem of niche sites or the dark web, something only found by “bad men” actively searching for this content. This is mainstream pornography on mainstream sites with the mainstream message that sexual violence is sexy.
This is to be entirely wrong. For the most obvious point that we can make is that the availability of pornography has hugely increased over recent decades. And sexual violence against women has decreased over this same time period.
Sure, we could say that’s just correlation, perhaps those Respect the Night marches (is that right? – Ed) have had an effect.
Except this has been explored, in detail:
In India, there has been uproar amongst the general public and from the media with respect to the alarming frequency of rape across the country. In the four decades leading up to 2012, reported rapeshave increased 900% (alarmingly, some activists claim that 90-99% go unreported). Additionally, in India it is currently legal to watch or possess pornographic material but the distribution, production or publication of such material is illegal. In Anthony D’Amato’s (2006) ‘Porn Up, Rape Down’ (published in the Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series at Northwestern Law School), the abstract reads:
The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults. The Nixon and Reagan Commissions tried to show that exposure to pornographic materials produced social violence. The reverse may be true: that pornography has reduced social violence.
Access to pornography has increased dramatically in recent years, yet social harms imputed to pornography (especially violence against women) have reduced moderately but significantly.
While some survey evidence claims a correlation between individual use of pornography and sexual aggression, econometric evidence suggests this is not a causal relationship and that, if anything, increased access to pornography can reduce measurable social harms.
The basic truth here being that when men pleasure themselves into immobility they don;t go out and attack women. So much so that the rational response to pornography is to subsidise it in order to reduce the incidence of sexual violence.
We may well not like that answer but then the universe really doesn’t care about our preferences in the slightest.