No chance of equality while rape is entertainment
First published in Morning Star, 10th May 2018, abridged from the full essay first published on Znet 23rd April 2018
While the #metoo campaign was at it’s crescendo in the mass media, I found myself struggling with the way most of the reporting chose to focus on one very narrow aspect of Hollywood’s role in the subjugation of women and girls. Specifically, in amongst all the talk of the super rich and beautiful people in Hollywood, there was a near deafening silence in relation to the other part of the Hollywood dream factory, the pornography industry[i]. And similarly, in the reporting of the allegations surrounding both Damian Green[ii] and the US President there has been the same level of silence over the nature of what pornography is[iii]. I think there is a case to answer that pornography is better described as the ‘rape as entertainment trade’. And the mass-media’s near silence on the industrialised mass-rape being committed on a daily basis demonstrates a level of hypocrisy that can only suggest either direct complicity or collusion by omission. While this situation persists we will never be able to build an equal society.
It is worth getting a couple of things clear before getting too far into this. Firstly, legal[iv] and dictionary[v] definitions of rape, sexual assault[vi] and coercion[vii] change over time, and are subject to the wider gender power relationships in society. However, I and many others would argue that the act of imposing, pressurising, coercing or forcing someone in to performing sex or sexual acts when they wouldn’t otherwise do so, regardless of how that is achieved, is rape. Therefore, a man receiving sexual gratification from watching a woman who is being coerced or forced to perform sexual acts, is nothing more than ‘rape as entertainment'[viii].
It is also worth remembering that the most common response from the industry and it’s apologists to this accusation is the ‘free choice of the sexually liberated woman to financially exploit her own body’ argument. This is important, because it is the fundamental lie at the very core of the defence that pornography doesn’t rationalise rape, and thereby normalise gender violence. Freedom to chose can only occur when there is more than one option to chose from, whether real or perceived. And for everyone to have equal life choices, society and the economy would have to be equal. And that just simply isn’t the case[ix]. There is no free choice for the exploited in an economy that is managed by exploiters. And in the case of the ‘sex trade’, the evidence clearly supports this argument.
Numerous studies into the lifestyles and experiences of the women and girls being ‘traded for sex’, demonstrate a clear lack of agency among the victims. Some need money, or are suffering from substance addiction; some are in coercive or abusive relationships with their exploiters; others are long term abuse victims suffering from PTSD. And perhaps most damning, is that some genuinely believe that it is their only value to society[x]. And as if that weren’t enough. These reasons are further compounded by the findings of the UNODC 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, which found that over half of all the victims of human trafficking were women and girls being trafficked into sexual exploitation[xi]. Even when the men aren’t forcibly holding women and girls against their will, they are using the threat of, or actual withholding of money to coerce them into having sex when they wouldn’t otherwise have done so, either directly or via a proxy. In normative terms at least, prostitution is rape, whether or not the legal system wants to recognise it as such.
I would go on to argue that by presenting half of the population as ‘willing participants’ in their own brutal and very public assaults, a subordinated sub-male status becomes the normative framework for women’s existence. For me, Gail Dines put it best in her 2010 analysis Pornland when she wrote, “as long as we have porn, we will never be seen as full human beings deserving of all the rights that men have”. Within that sub-male status, all other subordinations are rationalised. Dines goes on to explain “women still face economic, political, and legal discrimination”[xii]. That same year Kat Banyard went further, explaining “Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, yet receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 per cent of the means of production”[xiii].
In societies that profess to believe in gender equality, but that allow this ‘rape as entertainment’ to be broadcast directly into our homes, it does beg the question, of whether those in power are colluding or simply unaware with the ramifications of what they are allowing. In terms of those institutions of power tasked with policing our communications, unsurprisingly, gender inequality is just as apparent. In 2010 only 17% of US Senators and members of the House of Representatives were women. At the same time in the UK, less than 20% of Members of Parliament were women[xiv]. Even after seven years of supposed action from the major UK political parties, still only 32% of MPs elected in the 2017 general election were women[xv].
And of course, in direct correlation to this lack of representation, is the acceptance of the wider culture of subjugation. At the 2008 Conservative party conference the delegate packs included discount vouchers for a local lapdancing club[xvi]. A few years later, the Press Association made a Freedom of Information request to the Houses of Parliament, which showed that in 2015 people using the Houses of Parliament IT networks attempted to visit pornography websites 213,000 times, or roughly 540 times a day. In 2016 this dropped to 113,000 times, and then between March and October 2017 it dropped to roughly 200 times a day[xvii]. From both a practical and cultural perspective, I would argue that there is a demonstrably institutionalised acceptance of the sub-male status of women in government, and therein a tacit approval of ‘rape as entertainment’.
But the real problem is that governments are not just like other consumers. By defining and implementing legislation government becomes complicit in any and all activities that it approves of. Since 1991 in the US, the Free Speech Coalition has been lobbying Washington on behalf of the owners of the porn industry. One of their bugbears was the 1996 Child Porn Prevention Act which defined child pornography as “any visual depiction that appears to be of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct”. After 6 years of campaigning, in 2002 the Supreme Court declared the 1996 act unconstitutional due to its definition of child pornography being too broad. The law was changed to recognise only images of actual people under eighteen years old, as opposed to people appearing to be under eighteen[xviii].
The implications of this legislation can’t be underplayed. As soon as the law was changed the internet began breaking out in websites filled with images and videos of young women pretending to be young girls. They are often presented amidst adolescent or pre-adolescent signifiers, such as being dressed in school uniforms, with their hair tied in bunches, and stuffed animals or iced lollies in their hands, with adolescent body types and all their body hair removed. Gail Dines concluded from her research, that across many of these sites the narratives are often adolescent ‘girls’ being forced or coerced into sex with single and multiple adult males playing the roles of “fathers, teachers, employers, coaches, and just plain old anonymous child molesters”[xix].
By changing the 1996 US law in 2002, the US Supreme Court, made available to a large percentage of the global population an avalanche of images of what appears to be young girls being sexually assaulted by adult males as a form of entertainment. Arguably, as you read this, hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of men are masturbating to what researchers call pseudo-child (PC) pornography. A commercial trend that our ruling class clearly deems a perfectly acceptable way for the exploiting class to make money. Perhaps they would be less quick to openly approve of it, if it was called exactly what it is, making money from creating the illusion of children being raped.
And for those who think sexually assaulting children is some sort of aberration by an insignificantly small minority of disturbed men, think again. According to Kat Banyard, between 50-75% of women in prostitution in the UK began selling sex before they were eighteen. In one study in Canada, the correlation was 82%. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there is a significant number of men that have either financially coerced or physically forced between 50-75% of prostitutes into having sex while they were still children[xx]. When you consider one of the most recent estimates in the UK to be 1 in 10 men having visited a prostitute, it does make you start to look more carefully at the men around you[xxi].
And even when the politicians do actually attempt to protect the exploited, the mass media finds itself slipping into debates of job losses and impacts on the wider economy. When the state of California passed regulations on condom use in the ‘adult entertainment industry’ the owners of those companies began shifting production to states where they didn’t have to protect the performers. The LA Times covered the fallout, but very much within the wider framework of any other business story; “Although porn production accounts for less than 5% of all film permits, the industry has traditionally been an important contributor to the local economy. A decade ago, local economists estimated that the porn industry in the San Fernando Valley generated 10,000 to 20,000 jobs annually and had $4 billion in annual sales”[xxii].
Once you accept that prostitution is rape, then it is not quite as difficult to understand how pornography is ‘rape as entertainment’. As Andrea Dworkin argued so clearly, pornography is nothing more than the recording, mass-distribution and repeated airing of a rape[xxiii]. So, while legislators are happily stuffing notes into the thongs of drug addicted trafficking victims, and as many as 1 in 10 men are having sex with women and girls against their will, and all the while the mass media is colluding with the victim blaming, I find it difficult to see how expectations of equality can be anything but an illusion. I would argue that destroying the trade in sexual exploitation once and for all, is an essential precondition for both race and class equality to be achieved. If we are ever going to achieve a better world, then equality must be both the theory and the practice for everyone.
Nicolas Lalaguna, www.nicolaslalaguna.com
This is an edited version of a much longer and fully referenced essay at https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/when-did-rape-become-entertainment/
viiiBanyard, Kat – the equality illusion, 2010 – p141
ixClark, Gregory – The Son Also Rises, 2014
xBanyard, Kat – the equality illusion, 2010 – p141, 159
xiUNODC, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – Global Report on Trafficking in Persons -2016, 2016 – p7, 8, 23, 27, 28
xiiDines, Gail – Pornland, 2010 – p165
xiiiBanyard, Kat – the equality illusion, 2010 – p2
xivBanyard, Kat – the equality illusion, 2010 – p82
xviBanyard, Kat – the equality illusion, 2010 – p215
xviiiDines, Gail – Pornland, 2010 – p142
xixDines, Gail – Pornland, 2010 – pxxi, 143
xxBanyard, Kat – the equality illusion, 2010 – p146
xxiiiDworkin, Andrea – Pornography, 1981 – p137