Academics Dr Sarah Ashton and Dr Meagan Tyler spoke to ABC Life about the role of online pornography in sex education and practices.
Senior lecturer at RMIT Meagan Tyler says porn is increasingly seen as a "textbook" for sex and that's creating problems.
"Porn's the thing that everyone's looking at like it's normal, but it's not normal, we know it's not normal, it's completely manufactured," she says.
"[Porn] contains a lot of violence against women. It's terribly racist. If you look at mainstream porn, it's terribly misogynist.
"[Yet] pornography equals sex has become just such a cultural staple."
What about "ethical porn"?
So-called "ethical" or "feminist" porn is often positioned as a positive alternative to run of the mill misogynist and male-dominated pornography. But the bar for what constitutes ‘ethical’ porn is very low, and typically only refers to conditions of production, such as fair compensation and labour conditions, representation of diverse body types and sexualities, consent and authenticity.
The actual content in ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ porn may be indistinguishable from violent and abusive mainstream porn. Rather than showcasing more egalitarian or non-violent content, degradation and acts of physical violence against women such as slapping, gagging and strangulation are still found in ‘ethical’ porn. Does this sound all that ethical? And if ethical porn truly exists, is anyone interested in watching it?
It's not easy to verify how the porn you're watching was made, especially if you're not paying anyone for it. And Dr Ashton says some people "turn off" their ethics and moral thoughts when they're engaged with porn.
"It may not be something that people are aware that the content that you're actually consuming when you masturbate, and when you're experiencing sexual pleasure, that's actually pairing with a reward in your brain that will reinforce what you're aroused to, and the sort of things that you associate with your sexuality, it actually has quite a profound impact," she says.
Dr Meagan Tyler told ABC that porn has become normalised in our society, and that the demand for "ethical porn" was part of that.
"Why is [there a] desperation for there to be an ethical porn, rather than the question of what would sexuality look like without pornography now?" she says.
"It's not food, it's not water, it's not air, it's not exercise.
"In a post-Me Too era, if we're really talking about sharing equal sexual relations between men and women, I cannot see the pornography industry is part of that.
"You can't say you're pro-Me Too, and you're pro women's consent, and then still go and masturbate to material that fundamentally subordinates women."
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The #MeToo movement has taken the world by storm, exposing the endemic exploitation and abuse of women and girls by men across a range of industries. The social media campaign to hold predatory men accountable for their actions has sparked a global dialogue, forcing many to re-evaluate their sexist attitudes and practices.
In the wake of this cultural shift, Formula One has announced plans to end the long-standing traditional of ‘grid girls’, clearly recognising that the use of attractive women as props or accessories for men is “clearly at odds with modern day societal norms.”
The growing refusal to tolerate casual sexism poses a problem for companies who rely on it in order to function.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, a magazine serving up an array of sexy, young women in bikinis for the viewing pleasure of a male audience, is set to hit newsstands this week. This year’s edition will feature a nude spread entitled ‘In Her Own Words’, a collection of photos of naked women with words scrawled across their bodies that apparently represent who they are.
According to the magazine’s Instagram, the series of naked women in the men’s girlie mag is intended to celebrate “more than just their bodies”. Which begs the question, why are they posed naked? Surely if the aim is to humanise the women included rather than to sexualise them, stripping them off, laying them on the ground passively and photographing them naked isn’t the best way to achieve this?
The project is being pitched by magazine editor MJ Day as empowering, as a means of giving women a voice (just not clothes). Day tells Vanity Fair the shoot is about “allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves.”
What we’re seeing is the same routine objectification of women, the treatment of women first and foremost as bodies to be looked at, as passive objects, but Day assures us this is different. This time it’s revolutionary, about women’s right to self-expression or to be objectified- while the magazine conveniently profits.
By framing the conversation as one about women’s choices, the spotlight is on the women posing, and not the magazine who orchestrated the shoot. Sports Illustrated can continue to operate the same way as always, profiting from exploiting women’s bodies and sexuality, but now they can call it ‘female empowerment’.
The female models are still sexualised, their naked bodies used as canvases and offered up for male consumption. How is this particular photoshoot different from the everyday sexualised depictions of women in mainstream media and popular culture, while their male counterparts remain fully clothed and posed with dignity and strength? Is anything being challenged at all? It’s the same old sexism, but repackaged as progressive and feminist.
The PR machine keeps spinning, with Day attempting to associate the brand, a bikini mag with naked women, with the #MeToo movement in a Vanity Fair article entitled ‘Meet the First Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of the #MeToo Era’.
The swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated is dominated by sexually objectifying portrayals of women, treating women as masturbatory material for men. In doing so, it contributes to and reinforces the second-class status of women, the notion that women exist for men, for their enjoyment and use, and that women’s value is determined by their physical appearance and sexual appeal- essentially, their ability to attract men. This frequent reduction of women to sexual objects is incompatible with gender equality.
Twenty years of empirical research, 135 studies from 109 publications, indicate that sexualisation and objectification of women has a range of negative effects. Consistent evidence found that:
"regular, everyday exposure to [sexually objectifying portrayals of women] are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women's competence, morality, and humanity."
The treatment of women as sexual objects and the diminishing of women’s humanity cannot work alongside a social movement fighting for women’s human rights. The sexual objectification of women for profit is in direct contradiction with efforts to eradicate the exploitation of women. Treating women as sex objects doesn’t suddenly become a feminist act just because the photographer is a woman.
When corporates, whose primary goal is to sell a product, attempt to capitalise on a social movement or cause, we should absolutely be wary of their motives.
We all know that hot, naked women in Sports Illustrated isn’t about celebrating women or giving them a voice- it’s about selling magazines.
“These are sexy photos…at the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening,” says Day.
See article, originally printed in Sydney Morning Herald here.
On the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged that 2018 will see legislative measures tackle “verbal violence towards women” in public.
Joined by comedian and actress Florence Foresti and France's equality minister Marlene Schiappa at the Elysee Palace, President Macron announced that "gender-based insults”, such as wolf-whistling, will become punishable by law under the proposed legislation.
The law, which "will give the police the right to issue a fine if there is a verbal attack on a woman", will form part of what Macron has described as a “cultural fight” for gender equality - an objective of high importance on Macron’s list of priorities as president.
President Macron asserted that it is unacceptable for France to be a country where women live in fear of “sexist violence they meet in the street".
"Many harassers practice wolf whistling and other types of verbal stigmatisation - and for a long time people reacted with indifference," he added.
"This is unacceptable. Women must feel comfortable in public spaces […] This must be one of the priorities of the police".
President Macron endorsed the proposed legislation saying that "very often verbal aggression does not lead to women going to police stations" because of fear their claims will be deemed unimportant.
"So we must give the law enforcement authorities to act immediately, to correct, to repair and restore the dignity of the victims," said Macron.
"This,” asserted Macron, “will be the purpose of this new offence of verbal aggression".
In addition to this new offence, the French president emphasised the need for regulating Internet content and more closely supervising pornography and video games in the fight for gender equality.
In order to combat sexual harassment on social networks, Macron proposed to train teachers and school staff in these matters. He too announced to have developed a mobile application for victims of cyberstalking and cyber violence as a way of curbing the kinds of sexual harassment that take place online.
"Legislative changes will be made not only to better prevent but also to prosecute those who act on the Internet to harass," he stated.
Presently in France, the Audiovisual Superior Council (Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel) (CSA), the country’s regulator of audiovisual content, has authority over only a fraction of online videos, namely those produced by television channels.
In his address, President Macron expressed a wish to "extend the powers and the regulation of the CSA" to all online videos for "the protection of the young public".
As for online pornography, Mr Macron announced the launch of an awareness campaign for parents at the next school year to tackle stereotypes, domination and violence in pornography.
Other important legislative proposals announced by Macron include setting a minimum age of consent for engaging in sex and seeing the statute of limitation for the rape of minors extended from 20 years to 30 years.
“The proposals put forward by Macron to bring about gender equality in France are exciting. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of this,” said one woman.
About the author: Violeta Buljubasic detests pornography and anything that resembles it. Cognisant of its devastating consequences, she believes that porn and the raunch culture from which it stems are symptoms of a ubiquitous ill that has removed sex and sexuality from their original design. Moved by the work of Collective Shout, Fight the New Drug, and NCOSE, Violeta hopes to be part of the solution to this insidious problem.
A recent article offering men advice about how to proposition a woman wearing headphones – encouraging them to block her path to prevent her from ignoring them – rightfully provoked a major backlash. But the backlash also brought a certain phenomenon to wider public attention – the fact that women sometimes wear headphones as a way to avoid unwanted approaches in public.
The public conversation on violence against women tends to focus on sexual assault and domestic abuse. We talk less about the routine intrusions women experience from men in their everyday lives, even though this is the most common form of sexual violence.
My recent research looked at how women navigate interruptions, intrusions, and harassment from unknown men in public. What was most surprising was how all 50 of the women I interviewed significantly underestimated the amount of work they were putting in to avoid intrusions by men in the street, and the impact this had on them.
They recognised that they were making certain decisions about routes home, or where to sit on public transport. They spoke about using sunglasses or headphones in order to create a shield – a way to give the impression that they didn’t hear that man making a sexual comment, or didn’t see that other man touching himself as he walked behind them.
Many categorised their clothes in relation to safety. Scarves were seen as safe – handy for covering your chest. The colour red was, for some, seen as unsafe – too bright, too obvious, too visible. Some even adopted particular facial expressions, trying to balance “looking tough” against the desire to not be told to “cheer up” by a man they’d never met before.
The women I spoke to knew they were doing some of these things but other behaviours were less conscious. They hadn’t really reflected on how much energy went into avoiding unwanted contact below the surface and how their freedom was affected.
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