05 October 2011

How Cyber-Porn Breeds Cyber-Cowards

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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 viewed and downloaded easily and even inadvertently via iphones or computers.

The pornification of women and children is no longer hidden under brown-paper wrappers or in the corners of grimy peep-shows. Yesteryears titillating soft-porn has become normalized and serves as the template for current advertising, fashion design and pop music campaigns. Meanwhile the hard-porn/sex industry has become one of largest, most powerful and globalised profit making markets in the world.

The clichéd and supposedly “liberal” response to this development is that this is all a sign of society’s 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 harmony of 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, the professor of sociology at Wheelock College in England and a radical feminist, ruffled the feathers of this cosy liberalism during her recent tour. Among those sponsoring her visit were a broad alliance- including the independent feminist publishers Spinifex Press, highly effective anti-sexploitation movement, Collective Shout and the Sociology Department at the University of New South Wales.

Dr Dines, the author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality (2010), gave a graphic account of the truth of (what she calls) “industrialized pornography”.

Gail Dines not only deplored the ease of access to cyber-porn. She explained that far from protecting the consumer “freedoms” of either men or women, the cyber-porn industry is predatory. Echoing the research of neuropsychologists such as William Struthers (author of Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain), Dines describes 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 boys’ 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 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 only sex that whets and then fastens onto the tastes of millions of male users and conformity by their female partners. In order to escalate the excitement of the orgasmic and addictive “high” which is the aim of pornography, its peddlers ensure that their users are drowned in an increasingly noxious sea of images which depict violence, domination, degradation and humiliation-first of supposedly “sluttish” women-but then in rapid succession of all women.

Dr Dines cites one pornographic actor and producer who 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 then describes is sickening and un-printable. Dines says sub-human, robotized humiliation of women is common in porn-land-the fabrication of “what men” want and “women long for”-gang-raping, tearing, choking brutalization. She finds that in almost every case women are depicted as subjugated objects of contempt.

A recent article in the Weekend Australian by Christine Jackson (June 4th, 2011) illustrated the attitude which is not only meted out to unfortunate female porn “stars” who are repeatedly psychologically and physically brutalized in the making of porn, but to any woman who “dares” to appear or speak in public.

Jackson was informed by high-profile women of numerous threats to them of rape, violence and death from faceless cyber-bullies and crypto-creeps. She was horrified by the response: “A veritable 24/7 outpouring of sub-intellectual sludge that begins to feel overwhelming in its toxicity…”.

Women, who had posted protests at the sexualisation of children, found their web-pages or blogs defaced by child pornography. A woman who reported the horror of her sexual assault, was denigrated with obscene suggestions. News readers were sent frightening and disfigured photo-images of themselves. Far from liberating free speech, let along “free love”, these behaviours mirror the faceless cowardice and thee inarticulate, indiscriminate macho-bile which so typifies cyber-porn.

Melinda Tankard Reist, founder of Collective Shout, said that cyber-bullying was a magnified version of sexual-bullying which besets school children. Her colleagues had received violent threats which were increasing in scale, belligerence and nastiness fuelled by the very cyber-technology which keeps the assailants both anonymous and porn-fuelled. “What we are encountering is beyond harassment … it amounts to cyber-terrorism against women.”

Gail Dines writes that cyberporn both depicts and drastically undermines the hope of acceptance, dignity and intimacy between real men and women. In porn: “They do not make love, they all make hate.”

A version of this blog article was published in News Weekly.