Shades of Grey

I agree with Gail Dines on quite a few levels. The way in which women and men are currently depicted in the media is often terrible. Women’s bodies and sexuality are often used to sell products, to the point where female sexuality is turned into a commodity by the mainstream media. I don’t have to get into this – Dines does a good job of introducing the topic in the talk posted on the Ramapo Women’s Center blog .

Instead of going through the ways in which I agree with Dines, I want to talk about the places where I disagree in order to give voice to an opinion that has not gotten airtime yet on this blog. My disagreement comes when we start to talk about where these negative portrayals come from, and what needs to be done about them. In my opinion, at least, this isn’t the problem of a porn-infused society so much as the problem of a society that has co-opted female sexuality as a means of selling things to people, thus turning women (and their sexuality) into objects. Its the problem of a society that has deep roots in racism (that much of Dines’ speech I agree with) that we are not willing to examine, which leads to us sexualizing women of color in even more dehumanizing ways than we do white women. This isn’t the problem of porn, though. The horribly racist, misogynistic, violent, scary porn that is out there… that’s just a symptom of a larger cultural issue; just as the racist/misogynistic/generally awful non-pornographic movies and books and television shows are symptoms. Basically: the medium is not the issue, the message is. I believe that if women and people of color were treated as equals in our society and our media then the representations of these groups would be better across the board – in magazines, television, movies, and yes, even porn.

I am aware of the fact that violent porn exists, I am aware that people who perform in these movies are sometimes treated poorly… but I am also aware that we live in a world full of shades of gray. At the same time as there is misogynistic, terrible porn out there, there is also awesome, inclusive, feminist porn.

I know this because I have been in the same room with people who are involved with producing and performing in this form of media. Last weekend I attended the 2011 Momentum Conference where I met (among others) Susie Bright and Tristan Taormino.The people at this conference spoke with passion and excitement about the projects that they worked on – from the video that Taormino made to teach the audience about anal sex while also turning them on, to On Our Backs, the (first) women-run lesbian erotica magazine, that Bright helped to launch – it was evident through their presentations that these people were not out to exploit women. Instead, they truly care about exciting AND educating people about sex in an ethical way.

When Gail Dines came to speak here, a few weeks before I went to this conference, I actually asked her about her feelings on feminists porn. She told me, more or less, that she didn’t have any because no one had ever been able to show her evidence of feminist porn. She has made statements on the record that support this sentiment as well. For instance,

Women who work in the sex industry and promote this in the name of feminism are the scabs of the feminist movement. I think you are an apologist, and selling women out. [Source]

If I were to have taken Dines’ presentation as fact, without taking the time to do research and attend conferences for myself, I would not believe that these people I met, the people who make feminist erotica and porn, existed… and yet, they do.

This realization made me want to examine the claims made in Dines’ speech further. I tried to look up one of the websites that she claims is “typical porn” (the kind that 11 or 12 year old boys are searching up) on Google, to see how likely it was to come up for different keywords. I choose do do this test on, since she mentions it a few times in her presentation at Ramapo.  Although I went back five pages after searching “porn”, “pornography”, “blowjob”, “naked women”, and “porn videos” I could not find this website listed at all… let alone in the fifteen to twenty seconds Dines says it took her to find it. This makes me wonder what search terms she typed into her computer when looking for these examples, a distinction I think is important since I’m fairly sure the average adolescent in search of porn is going to be typing something like “porn” or “naked women” and not “gag me and fuck me” or “gagging bitches” or whatever phrase actually would bring this site up in a few seconds.

I’m not the only one questioning her claims about “mainstream” porn. According to Lynn Comella, writer and professor of Women’s Studies at UNLV (and speaker at Momentum 2011):

Dines takes a slice—the world of hard-core “gonzo” porn, which, according to her, is porn that “depicts hard-core, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debased”—and presents it as emblematic of an entire industry. This is akin to talking about Hollywood while only referencing spaghetti Westerns; or making sweeping glosses about the music industry when what you are really talking about is hair metal. It’s an approach that makes for neither a sound argument nor good sociology. [Source]

According to Dines young men are inundated with this violent porn constantly, while young women are given the “choice” to be fuckable or invisible… a choice that isn’t a choice at all. (The virgin/whore complex, basically.) I do acknowledge that this assessment applies to many young women, but at the same time I think we’re again running up against a common theme in this critique: its not that black and white. My personal experience of growing up in this culture was not quite so painful. I grew up with family and friends that discouraged me from being sexual, if anything, and so I was decidedly not sexual/sexy/fuckable/whatever growing up. I did not feel invisible for it. I had plenty of friends (and my fair share of dates) despite the fact that I was a bit awkward and more than a bit afraid of even the idea of sex. Moreover, I had some great role models in the TV shows and movies I took in (like Rory Gilmore) who validated my choices.

I was neither fucakble or invisible I was just… Jill. In fact, the biggest problem I ran into in terms of sexuality was the total lack of information I had available to me when I started to consider sex as a potential option for me. Ironically enough, it was a website made by a feminist who sometimes creates erotic material (Scarleteeen, created by Heather Corinna) that was there to provide me with medically accurate, judgment-free information during those confusing times.

By representing pornography like this, and ONLY focusing on the bad parts of the industry, Dines is missing out on the chance to work with women and men who also would like to see more positive and well-rounded representations of gender, sexuality, ability, race, and so on in the media. Women like Heather Corinna, who work tirelessly to ensure that teenagers have somewhere to turn to with their questions about sex. Women and men who, like me, would probably agree with MOST of what Dines is saying… until she starts to blame the porn industry almost wholesale for the problems in our media today.

I just want to be clear that this is not intended to be an anti-Dines screed. My goal here was to take a moment to investigate the claims that she makes about the porn industry (as any critical thinker would do) and form my own opinions. After doing research and meeting awesome people & activists who work within the porn and sex work fields I can’t help but feel as if the issue is much, much less black and white than Dines makes it out to be.

Crossposted at the Ramapo Women’s Center Blog

7 thoughts on “Shades of Grey

  1. The women who run Beauty Redefined have done some nice research about “normalized pornography” that you might find interesting:

    I agree with you that pornography (like most things) needs to be looked at not as an either/or, black-or-white issue–our sexuality is complex, and while there are corners of the industry and its results that are straight-up lady-hating, porn is also a sexual issue for many. I’d add to this that I used to feel like I had to have a “reason” for hating porn–like it was bad for the women in the industry (it is for some, for others it’s fine) or that it turned us all into objects (let’s give us all a little credit, c’mon). Now I feel okay saying I don’t like it because I just don’t! It just makes me feel crappy, period. There’s been a lot of academic energy poured into this and I wonder if we sometimes search for rational, “legitimate” reasons for any individual’s distaste for it in order to make ourselves seem not like prudes?

  2. I don’t watch porn myself to be honest… its just never appealed to me (at least at this point in my life) so I’ve never done it. Thank you for the link, I’m excited to keep clicking through! I think that all of the issues you touch on (objectification, bad treatment of workers, etc.) are serious issues, issues that don’t only exist in porn. Like you said: some porn videos are objectifying, and some directors treat their workers like crap… but sub in the word “movies” for porn and I could still be saying the dame think & I don’t see anyone going after film as an entirety yet.

    “I wonder if we sometimes search for rational, “legitimate” reasons for any individual’s distaste for it in order to make ourselves seem not like prudes?

    I think either this, and/or reaction formation (reacting very strongly in the opposite to the way you actually feel because your feelings scare you) might explain a lot…

  3. As Twiss Butler of Washington NOW who has been a an anti-porn (true) feminist for decades said to me,women like Susie Bright,Nina Hartley,Carol Queen etc are *NOT* feminists they support sexism like pornography and that they are fake hypocrites and traders. Below is her quotes on a anti-pornography site,Pornography and The First Amendment.

    Women’s Institute for

    Freedom of the Press

    Pornography and the First Amendment

    Twiss Butler
    from her chapter “Why The First Amendment Is Being Used to Protect Violence Against Women,” in The Price We Pay, The Case Against Racist Speech, Hate Propaganda, and Pornography, Laura Lederer and Richard Delgado, eds. (NY: Hill & Wang, 1995)

    “Twiss Butler argues that men’s control of institutions of communication and education allows them to support speech that harms women and to suppress speech against that harm. She observes that the publishing industry funds legal, journalistic, and nonprofit organizations endorsing a First Amendment absolutist position. She contends that the industry’s defense of pornography as protected speech serves the double purpose of dignifying misogyny and establishing the First Amendment as the publisher’s product liability shield.” (p. 160)

    “When feminists criticize pornography as graphic misogyny, they are attacking not only the system of sexism itself, with its economic and social pay-offs for men, not only Playboy’s advertising rates, but also publishers’ broad First Amendment shield against liability for any harm caused by the products that they produce and sell.

    “The publishing industry and the men in it therefore have a conflict of interest in reporting a critique of pornography as inimical to women’s civil rights (unsecured as those rights are by the Constitution). We need to consider how that conflict of interest distorts the information we receive through journalistic coverage of public debate and action on this issue.

    “Publishers protect their liability shield either by silencing feminists while granting speech to those who vilify them, or by misrepresenting the feminist critique of pornography. Women are given credibility and access to speech to the extent that they say what men want them to say. Stray from the script and you will be attacked, misquoted, or simply go unheard. As power brokers in a large industry profiting from sexism, publishers disguise this censorship as selfless concern for the First Amendment and freedom of speech. (p. 163) …

    “In the news business as elsewhere, men have long relied on the weapon of pornography to avoid having to compete on their own merits. The role pornography plays in keeping women journalists at a disadvantage is evident in the experience of Lynn carrier, an editorial writer for the San Diego Tribune who sued the paper in 1990 for sex discrimination and harassment. Men coworkers attempted to intimidate and segregate Carrier by displaying pornography in the office, using sexual insults when talking with her, and asking her to run out and buy a copy of Playboy for her supervisor–who also wondered aloud what she would charge Playboy for posing nude for photographs. Carrier won her civil suit (refusing, incidentally, to accept a secret settlement), but the outcome was typical–she no longer works at the Tribune, but is employed instead as a smaller paper in the area. (p. 164) …

    “To protect pornography, women’s speech must be carefully controlled. When Linda Lovelace said she loved starring in pornographic films, she was treated as credible; when Linda Marchiano said that she had been beaten, raped, and coerced into making those films, her credibility was questioned. No risk is overlooked. At a National Press Club speech by Christie Hefner in 1986, I addressed her ‘as a pornographer’ in a written question about her lawsuit to censor testimony from a federal hearing that referred to Playboy as pornography; when my question was read aloud by the club’s president, these three words were deleted.” (pp. 166-167)

    [This chapter by Twiss Butler alone is worth the purchase of The Price We Pay, The Case Against Racist Speech, Hate Propaganda, and Pornography. The entire book is excellent and highly recommended.]

  4. Rhea from the sadly former Women’s Alliance Against Pornography Education Project in Cambridge,back in January 1993 sent me many cartoons from Playboy and Penthouse of women being sexually harassed,used and sexually servicing their male bosses in the work place and they are horrible!

    I asked her what are these cartoons from,she said they are from Playboy and Penthouse. I said what are the men doing to women in the cartoons,are they raping them.She said yeah,they are all different things,you will have to see for yourself and then she said,they’re pretty bad.

    The Women’s Alliance Against Pornography put their own captions under the cartoons under a Penthouse cartoon of a man saying to his boss,who is holding a photocopy of just a woman’s huge breasts with no head,”This is my Christmas bonus? A xerox photo of your secretary’s t**s?” THe Women’s Alliance Against Pornography wrote that Porn reduces women to the make-up of her body parts.

    The Women’s Alliance Against Pornography wrote that Men are threatened by the concept of women’s equality under a Penthouse cartoon of a woman sitting on top of a phallic type nuclear warhead sucking on it with her legs open grasped around the tip of it,and The Penthouse caption has a man in a uniform talking to another man,saying,”Miss Oppenhawn,the newest member of our staff is a nuclear warhead specialist.”

    The Women’s Alliance Against Pornography wrote that Porn teaches men that the only way of succeeding is by prostituting herself thereby removing the threat of equality.They wrote this under a Penthouse cartoon of a woman journalist with her hand in a man’s pants, and the Penthouse caption said,”Here I am again folks,out scooping those male journalists by interviewing an otherwise unapproachable diplomat.I suppose you’re all wondering how I do it.”Another from Playboy has a female employee with an upset humiliated expression on her face standing in front of her male boss’s desk with papers in her hand that she’s leaning on his desk, and the male boss says to her,”I had the most asmusing dream last night.Miss Grant-I dreamed you performed an unnatural sex act upon me.”

    Another Penthouse cartoon shows a woman standing outside of her boss’s office with the word President on the door and she’s talking to another woman,her co-worker and she has a huge candy cain stuck in her backside,and she says to her co-worker,”I guess you can’t expect much of a Chrstmas Bonus this year.”The Women’s Alliance Against Pornography wrote under this,Pornography elicits contempt for women.

    A cartoon from Playboy had a male boss with an angry expression on his face barricading a woman employee on her desk with both of his arms around her,and she’s leaning away from him with a screaming upset expression on her face.The Women’s Alliance Against Pornography included this cartoon under their heading,Pornography elicits contempt for women.

    Another Playboy cartoon has a woman military officer looking upset and humiliated standing with two male military officers while one of them cuts her uniform off into pieces and she’s nude.There are other women military officers standing further in the backround on the side.The Playboy caption says,”Usually we just cut off the buttons.”

    Another from Penthouse has a male news caster sitting at a news desk reporting the news with a woman with big breasts in a low cut top sitting next to him.Penthouse’s caption has the male news caster saying, “Chet Carey here bringing you the news along with Miss Clover to provide relief by displaying her t*ts.”Another Penthouse cartoon has male doctors operating on a patient,while only a woman’s lower part of her body and legs are shown under one of the male doctors clothes,and their caption has him saying,”More suction”.

    The Women’s Alliance Against Pornography wrote under these that Woman’s only attributes are in her sexuality.Another cartoon from Penthouse has a nude big busted woman in bed with her male boss,and he’s smoking his after sex cigarette and she says,”Incidentally,I’m sorry I turned you in at the office for sexual harassment!”

    Another from Playboy has a male boss sitting behind a desk with a sign up behind him that says,Last-Minute Suggestions and his female employee is walking away holding a folder in her hand with an upset expression on her face,and the she says,”*Please* Mr.Fergusen! You can keep those last minute suggestions to yourself!.”

    Psychiatrist Linnea Smith sent me two huge folders of important research and information on the harms of pornography(she thanked me for my important efforts educating people on the harms of porn,and she said it’s especially difficult because the public is desensitized,and the media is reluctant to criticize other media,especially sexually explicit media) back when I wrote her and told her about my experience as a big busted beautiful 13 year old girl being molested by teen boys who used Playboy and how they even made references to the women in it and how one of the boys shoved a pornographic magazine into my face and said,here’s a picture of a girl fingering herself.

    Included in the research Dr.Smith sent me was other Playboy cartoons of women being sexually harassed on the job by their male bosses.Dr.Smith wrote on top of this photocopied page which has these cartoons on both sides, Job Harassment Sexual Harassment In The Workplace Has Been For Years A Popular Them For Cartoons In *Playboy* Magazine.One of these cartoons is of an overweight male boss with his femalke employee with an upset expression on her face trying to push him away and the caption has him saying,”Ms Beasly why are you resisting I voted for the ERA.”(the Equal Rights Amendment that was never passed).Another has a male boss in his office saying to his female employee,You want equality? Next time we’ll do it on your desk.”

    Playboy also promoted child sex abuse, including ,gang rapes of women and children,incest, and sexual murders of women and children as normal and as jokes in thousands of cartoons,articles and even some pictures for over 30 years! Check out psychiatrist Linnea Smith’s excellent site talkintrash she has a section,Another Look At Centerfolds where she has *tons* of strong excellent research studies on harms of pornography!

    Playboy also promoted child sex abuse, including ,gang rapes of women and children,incest, and sexual murders of women and children as normal and as jokes in thousands of cartoons,articles and even some pictures for over 30 years!

  5. Psychiatrist Park Elliott Dietz On Porn Harms

    In 1994 I wrote to psychiatrist Dr.Linnea Smith about my experience and the harms of pornography. She wrote me back a very nice note and thanked me for my important efforts to educate people on the harms of porn. She said it’s especially difficult because the public is desensitzed and the media is reluctant to crititicize other media especially sexually explicit media. She sent me two huge folders full of important information on the harms including Playboy cartoons of women being sexually harassed in the workplace by their male bosses!

    One of the many things she sent me was a transcribed lecture by psychiatrist and law professor Dr.Park Elliott Dietz, and this lecture was given before the National Conference of State Legislators on August 5 1986 and was videotaped by C-Span. Dr. Dietz served as a commissioner on the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography. He was professor of law,professor of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry,and Medical Director of The Institute of Law,Psychiatry and Medical Director of The Institute of Law,Psychiatry and Public Policy at The University of Virginia School of Law and School of Medicine.

    He gave many examples of women and children’s testimonies who were sexually abused by men who used pornography,and also women who were sexually harassed on the job with pornographic pictures hung up on the walls and shown to them. He said he only used a small sample of the 1000’s of women and children who testified. He says many times that pornography is a health problem and human rights issue and he said one of the reasons is because so much of it teaches false,misleading,and even dangerous information about human sexuality.

    This is what he said a person would learn about sexuality from pornography, “A person who learned about human sexuality in the “adults only” pornography outlets of America would be a person,who had never conceived of a man and woman marrying or even falling in love before having intercourse,who had never conceived of two people making love in privacy without guilt or fear of discovery,who had never conceived of tender foreplay,who had never conceived of vaginal intercourse with ejaculation during intromission,and who had never conceived of procreation as a purpose of sexual union.,

    Instead,such a person would be one who had learned that sex at home meant sex with one’s children,stepchildren,parents,stepparents,siblings,cousins,nephews,nieces,aunts,uncles,and pets,and with neighbors,milkmen,plumbers,salesmen,burglars,and peepers,who had learned that people take off their clothes and have sex within the first 5 minutes of meeting one another,who had learned to misjudge the percentage of women who prepare for sex by shaving their pubic hair,having their breasts,buttocks or legs tattooed,having their nipples or labia pierced,or donning leather,latex,rubber,or childlike costumes,who had learned to misjudge the proportion of men who prepare for sex by having their genitals or nipples pierced,wearing women’s clothing,or growing breasts.

    Who had learned that about 1 out of 5 sexual encounters involves spankning,whipping,fighting,wrestling,tying,chaining,gagging,or torture,who had learned that more than 1 in 10 sexaul acts involves a party of more than 2,who had learned that the purpose of ejaculation is that of soiling the mouths,faces,breasts,abdomens,backs,and food at which it’s always aimed,who had learned that body cavities were designed for the insertion of foreign objects,who had learned that the anus was a genital to be licked and penetrated,who had learned that urine and excrement are erotic materials,who had learned that the instruments of sex chemicals,handcuffs,gags,hoods,restraints,harnesses,police badges,knives,guns,whips,paddles,toilets,diapers,enema bags,inflatable rubber women,and disembodied vaginas,breasts,and penises,who had learned that except with the children,where secrecy was required,photographers and cameras were supposed to be present to capture the action so that it could be spread abroad.

    If these were the only adverse consequences of pornography,the most straightforward remedy would be to provide factually accurate information on human sexuality to people before they are exposed to pornography,if only we could agree on what that information is,on who should provide it to the many children whose parents are incapable of doing so,and on effective and acceptable means by which to ensure that exposure not precede education. In the absense of such a remedy,the probable consequences in this area alone are sufficient to support recommendations that would reduce the dissemination of that pornography which teaches false,misleading or dangerous information about human sexuality. And these are not the only adverse consequences of pornography.

    He then says before he gives more examples and research,that pornography is a health problem and human rights issue because it increases the probability that members of the exposed population will acquire attitudes that are detrimental to the physical and mental health of both those exposed and those around them,pornography is a health problem and human rights issue because it is used as an instrument of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

    And look where we are now!

  6. There was a university of Pennsylvania student who was gang raped in 1990 after college men watched porn videos in their dorms.And I still have a 1985 letter written into Mademoiselle Magazine by a woman who wrote in response to Peter Nelson’s His Column,Why Nice Guys Like Playboy,she wrote from Allendale New Jersey,”I just finished reading Peter Nelson’s His Colum.Peter Nelson is certainly no nice guy,nor is any participant in pornography, a trade which profits from the exploitation of women.Why I must ask does a so-called “woman’ magazine” feature editorials which support misogyny? Mr.Nelson’s callous disregard for women is
    evident in his neglect to face the fact that pornography promotes rape and violence .I know,because my best friend was raped by four men who used pornography as a reference guide.

    There were several articles that were online from MIT’s newspaper The Tech from 1983,1984 and 1985 about how women were being sexually harassed year after year in the 1980’s after men watched hardcore porn videos on campus the university lecture hall and of because of the sexual harassment of women students after the showings. Rhea Becker from the sadly former Women’s Alliance Against Pornography Education Project in Cambridge,sent me a lot of research on the harms of pornography back in 1991.One of the things she sent me included information that North Carolina State Representavie Richard Wright-Democrat,while announcing enactment of anti-pornography legislation he sponsored,cited a N.C. State Police study which found:defendants in 75% of the violent sex crimes in the state”had some kind of hard-core pornographic material” in their homes or vechicles.”I’m talking about S&M (sadistic & masochistic)
    material,bondage he said,that came from The New York Times 1/26/86 &
    10/13/85;The Virginian Pilot 10/20/85 and the articles were contributed by Alexandra Basil,Ray Lynn Oliver;Barbara Sparrow.

    The information also included a study conducted by the Michigan State Police in which 38,000 sexual assaults from 1956 to 1979 were analyzed found that in at least 41% of those crimes,pornography was used or imitated just prior to or during the act this came from Ladies Home Journal October 1985.The information Rhea sent me also included that a study of 36 convicted sexually oriented murderers/serial killers,found the single most common trait amongst them was 81% listed their primary sexual interest as pornography,71% voyeurism.The study’s objective,conducted by the FBI’s behavioral science unit in Quantico,Virginia,was to develop a psychological profile on sex killers in order to track them faster.The researchers concluded,after interviews with the 36 who collectively provided information on 1,188 murders,that the killers were characteristically immeresed in fantasy,this came from NY Daily News 6/26/85 and This World 7/14/85.

    Feminist psychologist Phyllis Chesler says in her
    book,Patriarchy:Notes Of An Expert Witness that serial killers are obessed with pornography and woman hatred and sexually use their victime both before and after killing them,and she said most wife beaters,pedaphiles,rapists and serial killers of women are addicted to pornography. Nobody would need to do studies
    to prove that racist and anti-semetic pornography is very harmful to Blacks
    Jews it never would have been mainstreamed and made acceptable!

    Dr.Gene Abel also found that more than 50% of sex offenders used
    pornography and that they were less able to control their abusive behavior than sex offenders who didn’t use it.Psychiatrist Dr.William Marshall who treats rapists and child molesters,found that 86% of rapists regularly use pornography and that 57% imitate pornographic scenes in the commiting of their crimes.I also told her that he also found that in a study of convicted child molesters in Ontario Canada,77% of those who molested boys and 87% of those who molested girls said they were regular users of hard-core pornography.

  7. Studies by Dr.John Court found that in Australia Queensland did not allow easy distribution of pornography but South Australia allowed easy and accessible pornography.He compared the rape rate of 100,000 at risk for more than a 13 year period and found Queensland had no increase in their rape rate,but South Australia’s rape rate increased 6 times! In 1974 Hawai allowed easy distribution of pornography and their rape rate increased,then they restricted it and the rape rate went down,and then they allowed wide distribution again,and the rape rate went up again and then when they restricted again,the rapes decreased!

    Sociologists Larry Baron and Murray Straus also did a state-state circulation rate of pornographic magazine sales and the connection to states with the highest sales of these magazines including playboy and the rape rate in those states.And in Alaska and Nevada is where the pornographic magazines sold the highest,and those 2 states also had the highest rape rates compared to any other states.They repeated this study the next year and the findings were exactly the same,even when they controlled for other causes,and it was only sexual assault that increased not other crimes.


    Linnea Smith By Patricia Barrera

    Linnea Smith is your average woman of the 90s. She has a satisfying family life, rewarding career in mental health and interests that include traveling with her husband, spending time with her daughters, babying her dogs and reading pornography. Yes…reading pornography–and using her professional skills and expanding international network to fight it. Like most of us, she never really thought about pornography as a critical social issue until a 1985 media conference where she learned about past and present research on pornographic materials. And what she learned shocked and angered her.

    As a psychiatrist, feminist, and woman, she was well aware of the personal and societal consequences of battery, rape, and child sexual abuse. The results of the studies delivered at that fateful conference were an indictment to the connection of pornographic materials, both directly and indirectly, with these violent sex crimes. For Smith, pornography became an issue of public health and human rights that needed to be addressed.

    As every critical thinker should, Smith went straight to the source to see for herself what was going on. She turned to Playboy, the nation’s first pornography magazine to earn mainstream acceptance and support. By 1984 Playboy had 4.2 million subscribers, and was selling 1.9 million magazines at newsstands (Miller, 1984).

    The results of her extensive investigation of the magazine (from the 1960s on) are presented in three brochures. “It’s Not Child’s Play” is a disturbing brochure that outlines the specific ways in which Playboy sexualizes small children and presents them as sexual targets for adult males in their magazine. The collection of cartoons and pictorials is damning, and made even more so when juxtaposed against pathetic statements made by Playboy representatives denying they ever used children in their publication. Smith very well could have called the brochure “Playboy Exposed”.

    Right alongside their claims that “Playboy never has, never will” publish such offensive imagery (Playboy, December, 1985), Smith placed pictures the magazine did indeed publish- of children in sexual encounters with adults and references to girl children as ‘Playmate’ material. In December of 1978, for example, Playboy published a picture of a five year old girl with the caption “my first topless picture,” and in March of that same year published a cartoon in which Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz is pointing out the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man to a police officer as having just raped her on the yellow brick road.

    Smith did not limit her investigation to the use of children in Playboy. She found jokes about sexual harassment, abuse, manipulation, dehumanization and avoidance of intimacy by men toward their partners and callousness toward women in general, and the promotion of sexual conquest over women instead of sexual intimacy with a woman.

    In another powerful and well documented brochure, “As Sex Education, Men’s Magazines are Foul PLAY, BOYS!,” Smith once again had Playboy do the talking for her. The brochure featured Playboy cartoons that dehumanized women like the one in which a man was shown holding a pornography magazine over his girlfriend’s face and body as they are having sex (Playboy, August, 1974), and another featuring a taxidermist calling a man to come and pick up his wife, who had been stuffed (Playboy, April, 1995). Was she hunted down and killed, too?

    Smith’s brochures include extensive documentation and commentary by recognized scholars and researchers addressing the impact of pornography on our society. There are chilling statistics, like the finding that 100% of all high school aged males in one survey reported having read or looked at pornography, with the average age of viewing the first issue being 11 years old (Bryant, testimony to the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography Hearings, 1985).

    In another study she lists, three per cent of the women in a random sample and 8.5 per cent in a survey of college undergraduate women reported being physically coerced into sex by someone inspired by pornography. Ten per cent of the nonstudent and 24 per cent of the student respondents answered yes to the question of whether they had ever been upset by someone trying to get them to do something out of a pornographic book, movie, or magazine (cited by Anderson in Lederer and Delgado, eds., 1995).

    Also included is a study conducted by Mary Koss on 6,000 college students in which she found that men reporting behavior meeting legal definitions of rape were significantly more likely to be frequent readers of pornography magazines than those men who did not report engaging in such behavior (Koss and Dinero, 1989).

    Smith is one of few people to expand her analysis of pornographic magazines to include the presence of drugs and alcohol, especially important today considering the almost epidemic level of drug and alcohol use by adults and teenagers in this country, Smith agrees that drugs and alcohol are contributing factors to high risk and coercive sex, and that the relationship between them within pornographic materials is an overlooked, and greatly needed, area of research.

    As Smith explains ” . . . No [other] reputable publication brought positive drug information within easy reach of juvenile (or adult) consumers. Since 1970, Playboy has been glamorizing intoxication as a mind-expanding, sexually-enhancing experience. It is difficult to conclude these magazines have not played a major role in popularizing ‘recreational’ drug consumption and the myth of its being fun, risk-free, and even sexy. What greater reinforcement for drug taking behavior than to eroticize it?”

    In “Drug Coverage in Playboy Magazine,” a brochure she developed for the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), Smith compiled a plethora of cartoons that favorably paired sex with drugs and alcohol. Cartoons, articles and columns advise readers on how to use drugs for sexual enhancement. References to negative effects were usually humorously presented and so, easily dismissed.

    Playboy’s depiction of underage users of drugs and alcohol even included their own version of the Official Boy Scout Handbook in (Playboy, August, 1984). Their suggestions for Scout Merit Badges included “Water Safety” for the scout who ordered his Johnnie Walker whiskey straight up, and “Free-Basing” for the scout who smoked cocaine. A similar feature in 1979 stated that “Today, ‘boyhood fun’ means cruising and scoring; overnight adventures’ involve Ripple and car stripping; and ‘survival skills include cocaine testing, bust evasion and cutting into gas lines” (Playboy, December, 1979).

    Once Smith contacted the NCAA about her serious concerns, media attention and public scrutiny increased. Playboy denied any wrongdoing, claiming they were only reflecting a “major cultural phenomena”, but they did scale back the more obvious pro-drug and alcohol features in the magazine. damage control campaign resulted in a politically correct editorial statement on the magazine’s position on drug abuse in the May 1987 issue as well as a few anti-drug articles. To counter Smith’s NCAA attempts, the magazine also courted collegiate sports information offices with a mass mailing of a hastily compiled slick, glossy booklet “The Dangers of Drugs”, explaining their “real” position against substance abuse. However the magazine still includes covert messages glamorizing substance abuse and pairing sexualized alcohol consumption with easier prey. According to Smith, “we succeeded in exposing yet another dimension of the destructive nature of pornography, and, at the very least, cost Playboy some time and money.”

    It may also cost Playboy the niche they are trying to carve out for themselves in organized sports. Playboy’s strategy for commercial success has been to include respected and well- known public figures in their magazine, an old tactic for aspiring to legitimacy. That way the magazine may be looked at as more of a credible news journal than just a porno rag. Readers too, can feel better about their consumption of pornographic pictures of women when they are “wrapped” in articles about current social issues. It made business sense to Playboy to seek out an alliance with athletes who, in some countries, are accorded hero status.

    So they came up with an annual pre-season award for college level athletes and coaches, the Playboy All-America Award. The nominated players and coaches receive an all-expenses paid trip to a luxury resort for a weekend party, photo session and public relations blitz.

    The team selection process is unorthodox at best. It is not a panel of sports officials but rather Photography Director Gary Cole, doubling as sports editor when needed, (Playboy, March, 1996, p.117) who chooses players and coaches for the award. The prerequisite is not athletic ability but rather who agrees to be photographed for the magazine. Again, a common tactic for legitimacy. Playboy rejects players unwilling to have their pictures associated with the magazine- -its content and underlying messages–and keeps making “awards” until the sufficient number of players and coaches agree to the photo sessions. The event hit some legal snafus as well. Complaints were officially lodged with the NCAA which included the presence of professional agents at the photo sessions. This charge, like the others, was also denied by the magazine in a letter to the NCAA.

    Go to Part II

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s