Women In Pornography: Exploitation or Good Economic Sense?

The first “international digital media” conference for the adult entertainment industry was held in London as dozens of feminists staged a protest against it.  The activists dressed as butchers in aprons smeared with fake blood and waved pretend meat cleavers.  They chanted, “You’re not welcome in our city.  Pornographers go home!”

The summit was “designed to deliver cutting-edge educational seminars, engaging technology workshops, special guest keynote presentations and high-energy business-networking and deal-making opportunities.” The protestors, however, viewed the summit as a façade of a respectable corporate event. Instead, they argue, it is merely an opportunity for the porn industry to plan new ways of profiting off the exploitation of women. Claire Wigington, head of marketing of Television X, vehemently disagrees with the protestors’ view of the porn industry. She explains, “It’s easy to say ‘porn degrades women’ but the women in the industry know what they’re doing.”

Activists also claim that the acceptance of pornography can lead to greater tolerance of rape myths and violence against women. That may be true, as Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality, explains that there was an “‘immeasurable’ difference between the X-rated industry of decades ago and the kind of ‘body-punishing, hardcore’ material available now, which she says has become the ‘major seller’ in the industry today.”

Is adult entertainment really exploiting women or do women in the industry know what they are doing?  Do you agree that the violent themes in adult entertainment today render a greater acceptance of rape and violence against women?  Should we adopt a laissez faire attitude of women who are making a living, albeit unconventional, or do we have a duty to protect their moral character? Do they even want us to?

For more information, visit The Guardian.


  1. I agree with Julia Long and her statement that the summit “is being presented as a lavish, respectable corporate event, when in fact it is a brazen opportunity for the porn industry to plan new ways of profiting from the exploitation of women.” A “summit” such as this one is only achieving one goal: supporting the exploitation and degradation of women. Porn dehumanizes women and turns women into commodities. Additionally, as porn becomes easier to access, due to the digital age that we currently live in, a “summit” such as this one only further reinforces and normalizes the treatment of women as objects, and reinforces an acceptance of rape and violence towards women.

    Additionally, while some people may argue that women “know what they are doing” as they engage in porn, this seems to me to be no excuse for supporting the porn industry. The human trafficking of women throughout the United States (and globally) is a serious problem, and many of these women fall into the traps of human trafficking through their work in porn.

    Besides for the harmful realities that porn dehumanizes women and is a serious part of the human trafficking problem across the globe, porn also cultivates a single standard of beauty that is simply unrealistic and creates false-realities for people who think that women should actually look like such in real life.

    These issues do not even begin to scratch the surface of all the problems that porn actually creates, but one thing is clear- this “summit” was simply a meeting to further exploit women and proves that the porn industry needs to be regulated.

  2. I will reserve, for a later time, my comments on the merits of the feminist critiques of the pornography industry. My purpose in writing now is to point out a problem that we should be aware of when dealing with feminist critiques of law. (Incidentally, this is a problem that I will be careful to avoid when writing my Note this coming year.)

    Feminism is about deprivileging the “dominate,” male society in order to liberate the oppressed (i.e., women). The feminist critique of pornography, espoused by the London protests, is that the pornography industry reflects a belief system that is validated only according to its internal standards and is developed to further the political or economic ends of a society run by men. Here’s the problem: if you deprivilege everything, by saying that it’s all opinion or “men supporting the exploitation and degradation of women,” then you undermine the legitimacy of the oppressed’s claims as much as the oppressor’s.

  3. When activists speak of porn demoralizing or dehumanizing women, they are referring to all women, not only the ones who participate in the making of the pornographic material. The effects it could have on the women involved and the effects it has on women as a whole in our society are two different issues.
    Focusing on the individual women is often used as a justification for pornography and its lack of regulations. “They chose to take the job, they know what they are doing” is often said however, as with any job there are surely some that do enjoy it, just as there are surely others that wish they could do anything but this but it is, due to a variety of circumstances, their only option. However the overall dehumanizing and demoralizing of women is done to every woman through the existence of porn.
    The nature of what creating it involves and what is done by the consumer with the finished product creates this dehumanization. It is not comparable to a model wearing a blouse for sale or a photo you take of your girlfriend. The woman in the picture or in the video is just a sexual object there to promote the consumers arousal.
    That being said, it does on some level increase desensitization to things like rape. While I would not say ALL porn would desensitize people to rape, likely the more brutal types that have become very popular have done so. This is not an outlandish position, as there have been numerous studies done that says violence on television desensitizes people to violence in real life, so why would that not follow for sexual behavior. At the very least, it certainly doesn’t inspire respectful loving feelings towards women.
    There is of course the economic side, and the porn industry is a huge money making industry, almost $98 Billion dollars in 2006. From an economic standpoint, if there is demand, why halt the supply because some people don’t like it. Why not employ the latest technology to make the industry even bigger and better? (as was intended at the abovementioned conference) While I am not a moral supporter of the industry, I can clearly see why people who make the money from the products are not pausing to consider the sociological issues raised by activists.
    In regard to legal regulation of the industry, as long as the people involved are of age and are not harmed in the making of the material I do not think that the U.S. is ready to place regulations on the industry. I think that the changes should be made in other areas first, such as trying to address why there is such a demand for these materials and if there are ways we can encourage society to change along with regulation of what the porn can depict (ie no snuff films or brutal rapes). There is no answer now, but I am glad that activists go out and protest to get issues out in the forefront of people’s minds because without the work of activists it is easy to grow complacent and believing that everything is fine the way it is; they encourage us to, at the very least, think about an issue from their point of view, even if we just form our own opinions of the issue.

  4. One way of approaching this issue is from the standpoint that people should be free to live theirs lives as they so choose as long as doing so does not infringe on the freedom of others to do the same. That is, so long as the pornography industry does not adversely affect others in a direct manner such that they are unable to conduct their own lives according to their own free will, the industry must not be inhibited in any way.
    Rape and violent crimes against women do intrude on another’s ability to live freely. Thus, if there is a strong case to be made for the assertion that pornography promotes and, consequently, causes increases in rape or violence against women, then perhaps regulation of the industry is warranted. I would assume, however, that it may be difficult to establish a convincing causal connection.
    A woman’s moral integrity must be the product of her own free choosing. In today’s day and age, where a societal majority accepts the concept that men and women are equal, it is arcane for society to assume the role of protector of female moral integrity. Women don’t need society to act as a father-figure by enforcing which career-paths are and aren’t acceptable.
    Additionally, one must consider the important role that the First Amendment plays in any consideration of entertainment industry regulation. The requisite inquiry is whether protection of female moral integrity and the possibility of deterring violent crimes against women is worth erosion of free expression.

  5. I am sure there are a number of women in pornography that recognize the nature and stigma of the industry and make a conscious decision to enter the industry. In contrast, I am also sure a number of women in pornography are susceptible to the perceived allure that the industry has created, especially considering the attitudes and clichés that have become accepted in much of the world (considering everything from “sex sells” to the vast availability of porn). I believe many of these attitudes can be attributed to the rise, and lack of control, of capitalism throughout the world. Countries want to improve economies and encourage people to make money in any way they can, and the porn industry has become an illustration of that approach. As a result, it becomes more difficult to say if women are exploited by the porn industry or are seizing an economic opportunity presented by the industry. Furthermore, it should be noted that women are involved in the management and production of pornography and are not limited to being cast in pornography (CNBC special on porn industry, http://www.cnbc.com/id/29960781).

    There is still a danger posed to women as a result of the increasing acceptance of pornography, particularly to young women, who choose to enter the industry or perhaps are solicited into entering the industry. The more acceptable pornography becomes, the lesser the impact of associated stigma become. As a result, young women (generally considered the most susceptible) may become more inclined to enter pornography should an opportunity be presented to them. Despite the impact of these dangers, I do not believe the acceptance of more violent pornographic material leads to a greater acceptance of rape or violence against women. This logic seems as questionable as the logic advocating that movie/video game violence leads to a greater acceptance of violence in society. Violence in pornography (like movies and video games) displays a fiction while rape and violence against women is an occurrence in reality. Acceptance of a fiction does not indicate the fiction would be acceptable if it were to become a reality.

  6. I wonder whether more women today think that pornography is an acceptable way to make a living now that the pornography industry has invaded so many different media avenues? It does seem that watching pornography or being in pornography is less of an embarrassment. Maybe that is because pornography stars like Jena Jameson have become more mainstream and women see how much money can be made. I believe a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body and if “acting” in such movies is what they want to do, we are in a free society and they have that right.

    What does scare me is how the relationships portrayed in these films might be shaping relationships in our society. Julie Bindel, from the Guardian, interviewed Gail Dines about her book The Truth About the Porn Industry. Dines researched the effects of watching pornography on our society. Dines believes that pornography is driving men to commit particular acts of violence towards women. “I am not saying that a man reads porn and goes out to rape,” she says, “but what I do know is that porn gives permission to its consumers to treat women as they are treated in porn.” I believe most men and women who view pornography understand that it is a fictitious portrayal of a relationship, but some of the behaviors and actions are bound to rub off. Women might feel pressured to be like the women in this industry and men might expect them to be. Is this shaping our relationships?

    To read Julie Bindel’s Interview visit, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/02/gail-dines-pornography

  7. I believe that events highlighting the adult entertainment industry, such as the conference which took place in London, lead to a tacit acceptance of porn as a socially appropriate industry. I have no objection to consenting adults choosing to participate in making pornographic movies or photographs or to watch pornographic material. My concern, however, is the indirect influence on children should pornography begin to have more commonplace awareness. Any topic that has become more mainstream (use of vulgar language, violence on TV, etc) has permeated to the youth as being the norm in society. In this case, young girls could develop unhealthy beliefs about relationships, sexual or otherwise, and their place in them. Granted, this problem is multi-faceted and broader than is simply explained by an adult entertainment industry conference, but nevertheless these small instances contribute to a larger problem.

  8. There have actually been some interesting studies in Japan, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany studying exactly what some people have brought up here; whether the availability of porn has an effect on the rate of sexual violence. In all of the countries, it was found that the increasing legality and availability of pornographic materials actually lowered the rates of sexual assault and benefited children the most. In Japan, in general, there was a 79% decrease in rape, there was an 85% decrease in juvenile offenders and in all of the above countries, there was at least a 50% decrease in crimes against children. There have been other studies, specifically in the US, that show that rapists are actually much less likely than others to have viewed sexually explicit material. As much as people may hate the fact that pornography is so easily accessible nowadays, it seems to me like there is a real benefit. If people who would go out and commit violent crimes can deal with their issues and/or fantasies in a safe way, how is that not a good thing?


  9. Here’s an interesting one: This coming December, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will launch a porn site using the domain peta.xxx in order to promote animal rights and raise the awareness of veganism through a mix of pornography and footage of animal suffering (James Plafke, “PETA to Launch Porn Site With .XXX Domain in Order to Promote Animal Rights,” available at http://www.geekosystem.com/peta-porn-site/).

    Lindsay Rajit, PETA’s Associate Director of Campaigns told the Huffington Post that in a twenty-four hour news cycle world, “the racy things we do are sometimes the most effective way that we can reach particular individuals” (Tara Kelly, “PETA Plans a Porn Site,” available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/peta-porn-site_n_931509.html). “As soon as people land on the site they will see some explicit content, those tantalizing images they they’ll be hoping for,” Rajt said of the site’s content. As they go deeper into the site, however, visitors will find graphic images of animal abuse (Meghan Kelly, “PETA Launching its Own Porn Site, peta.xxx, available at http://venturebeat.com/2011/09/19/peta-porn-domain-name/).

  10. The PETA pornography site is, in theory, a savvy way to reach a broader audience, but the idea may backfire on the company. Does PETA just want to reach people who they normally would not reach or is there another goal in mind? People may click away from the animal cruelty part of the site as quickly as possible and therefore, the images may not have the desired effect. Once people click away from these images, PETA becomes just another website on which to view pornography. Furthermore, once the viewer sees the images of animal cruelty, he or she will likely never visit the site again. In theory, the effort to reach new consumers is admirable, but this website may not work in PETA’s favor.

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