It started by way of messengers and scribes, evolved through the presentation of newspapers and radio, brought us together with television, and now serves us world-wide by the ever-popular Internet. It is the mass media, and even from the beginning it has contributed greatly in ways that both enlighten and enrich society, and ways that deteriorate and corrupt it. It is not a surprise to learn, then, that the mass media is the most powerful source of information we have, and nothing else in todays world influences public perception quite as heavily.
Unfortunately, most of what is broadcast in the news today is something that society as a whole sees as negative or damaging. But the news on television is not the only type of media taking the criticism of society. Other forms of mass media, specifically movies and television programs containing pornography and violence have been heavily criticized. The question here is; are these images of pornography resulting in increased violence against women. There is no concrete evidence supporting this theory. Research by Baron (1990) shows that gender equality is greater where pornography is more prevalent, answering the question for us.
The key here is that the mass media does not cause undesirable social behavior and in actuality, the media people should not be labeled as the bad guys. They simply use their power in the most constructive ways possible in order to promote their ratings and popularity. One way to do that is to concentrate on what sells: sex, violence and disaster. Having said this, why is it then, that many in society still believe otherwise? Why do they continue to believe that pornography is evil and is a major cause for violence against women, specifically rape?
There are many reasons for this misinterpretation and through the following few points, an attempt will be made to show that pornography has very little to almost no connections to violence against women. In order to demonstrate this, it must be made evident that pornography is not evil and does not cause undesirable social behavior by displaying nude women in sexually explicit circumstances. Thus, it is important to indicate that women are not treated only as sexual objects through the media. This is done in an attempt to quash any traces of evil in pornography.
For thousands of years, sex itself has been considered evil and revolting. This is exactly why the concealment of the sex organs and teaching feelings of shame toward human sexuality is so common worldwide (Christensen 1990:4). These same feelings of shame are the chief reasons that sex is considered a personal and private matter. Contrary to the beliefs of many, the mass media did not create these settings; society creates this image. In some societies, women have no reservations with regard to living their entire lives completely naked, while in other societies, females cover themselves from head to toe, only revealing their eyes.
The sex industry is easily topping $20 billion per year. Because of this, the media has been bombarded with criticism, overwhelmingly from the female community, pertaining to the amount of sexually explicit material that is published in magazines and that appears on television. A common argument against pornography is that the media portrays women as being nothing more than sexual playthings and objects to satisfy male sexual desires. The media once again, is not to be held responsible for creating this image. These views are products of society.
It would be crazy to assume that women in this society are treated as sexual objects only because the media releases or broadcasts pornographic material. To say that pictures featuring nudity, etc. are making objects out of women is foolish. One should consider females who pin-up posters of male rock stars or children who collect hockey or baseball cards. Society, however, does not say that objects are being made out of these rock stars and sports heroes; pictures of clothed people are no less objects than pictures of naked people.
It is also said that the media reduces women to a collection of body parts through pornography (Christensen 1990:74). But why then are their no complaints of advertisements in magazines displaying only ears, for example, or a nose, or feet? The reason is a simple one; society considers certain body parts to be shameful or disgusting and once again, the media can be let off the hook. Realistically, the only way to prevent women from being seen as sex objects is for society to stop feeling as though sex is a bad topic.
Its natural. To say that women are not sexual beings would be misleading because both men and women are very much sexual (Christensen 1990:42). Similarly, to say that women are singled out in the media is fallacious due to the many examples of media where men are seen catering to the needs of women; something known as chivralic sexism (Christensen 1990:42). Take, for instance, a recent television ad portraying young men groveling at the feet of supermodel Cindy Crawford, almost begging to be the one to cater to her needs.
There were no men lined up yelling about this sexist ad, and this is precisely why male stereotyping in the media often goes unnoticed. Although it is obvious that pornography is largely a male interest, a noted increase in female interest would certainly cause an increase in the amount of pornographic material geared for women. So, are men who are exposed to pornography likely to commit violent acts, such as rape against women, more so than men who are not exposed to pornography?
It is tempting to believe that media influences males and over-stimulates them through pornography to the point that they become aggressive towards females. But this is completely baseless just as pornography arouses or stimulates, it also satisfies. The American Commission on Obscenity and Pornography performed a study in which several college students were asked to spend one and a half hours in an isolated room with a large volume of pornographic media, as well as a large volume of non-explicit media such as Readers Digest (Howitt, Cumberbatch 1975:80).
The study was conducted over a three-week period over which time it was discovered that the males involved in the experiment began to lose interest, or become desensitized to the erotic media nearing the end of the experiment, even if new material was added. Out of 70,587 criminal cases filed in 93 federal districts during the 1996 fiscal year, only six of them involved obscenity violations. To address the argument that males are pushed over the brink into committing rape because of pornography, one may point to the evidence above; to cover the female body would theoretically only increase male sexual desires.
Four more separate experiments were conducted of which the above was one. Three other experiments came to the conclusions that pornography does not cause violence against women and reported that the number of sex offenders that had been exposed to pornographic material were smaller in number than the amount of sex-offenders that had not been exposed to pornography (Christensen 1990:130). These results can be offered as evidence against the theory that males become over-stimulated and thus dangerous when exposed to pornography.
Other experiments conducted in the early 1980s by the Williams Committee in England, reported that as the availability and abundance of sexually explicit material increased, the number of violent sex crimes such as rape did not increase, but in fact decreased in many areas (Christensen 1990:128-129). Also, a study conducted by Kimberly Davies of the Journal of Sex Research, found that amounts of exposure to X-rated videos had no significant effect of mens feelings of violence toward women (Davies:1997).
So what is it about pornography that women and anti-pornography organizations do not like? Violence! One of the greatest myths about pornography is that it contains an excess of violence against women inevitably resulting in real-life violence against women. However, the total amount of violence in sex-related movies was found to be approximately 6% in a study by T. Palys in the early 1980s in Vancouver, Canada. Even this material was almost entirely composed of verbal threats and spanking (Christensen 1990:59).
In addition to the above, studies in Ohio also found that the amount of violence in G-Rated movies was a staggering two times more than in X-Rated movies. In fact, major films such as Die Hard With A Vengeance and Terminator 2, contain extreme violence 85-90% of which is directed solely at men. There are, however, exceptions. Slasher movies contain much more violence towards women, possibly due to the desensitization to violence in other genres of films. Because women are involved, violence against them could create a true sense of horror.
However, this does not suggest that men should go into society and rape a woman any more than it suggests that men should go out and kill other men. Needless to say, no sane individual would wish for this violence to become a real-life conception. Similarly, sex also excites people and because these two elements offer the most thrills in movies, they are often combined. It should be pointed out that women, and not just men, also enjoy these thrills based on numerous studies.
When discussing pornography, it is scarcely noted that men are not the only ones who enjoy fantasizing about sex. Women also enjoy pondering sex; just not through pornography. In fact, most of these fantasies involve some degree of violence or force and are largely driven by the romance novels discussed earlier. Actual laboratory experiments (Hawkins, Zimring 1988:103) have shown that when groups of women were shown erotic scenes involving rape, their reactions to the scenes were as or even more stimulating than less violent consensual lovemaking scenes.
This is not to say that all women want to be raped, far from it. This is to say that if women can fantasize about rape but not wish to experience it, then men, too, can fantasize about rape and not wish to commit it. Some women have even said that rape is the fault of women who dress provocatively; they ask for it. According to this, if pornography is banned, then an attempt should be made to force women to cover their skin and wear clothing that completely hides the shapes of their bodies so as not to provoke rape.
Absurd. As members of society, we recognize the power of the mass media. We understand that public perception can be easily persuaded. But it should be clearly understood that pornography in the media alone couldnt persuade men to cause harm to women; it cannot cause men to do things that are socially unacceptable. After all, Websters Dictionary definition for pornography is the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement. Webster never mentioned intended for sexual misconduct.