Violent Pornography and Abuse of Women: Theory to Practice

By Cramer, Elizabeth; McFarlane, Judith et al. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Violent Pornography and Abuse of Women: Theory to Practice


Cramer, Elizabeth, McFarlane, Judith, Parker, Barbara, Soeken, Karen, Silva, Concepcion, Reel, Sally, Violence and Victims


To examine violent pornography use and associated violence against women, an ethnically stratified sample of 198 abused women were asked about their partners' use of pornographic materials, and if they had been asked or forced to look at, act out, or pose for pornographic scenes or pictures. Overall, 40.9% of the women reported the abuser used pornographic material, with the proportion significantly higher for Whites (58.7%), compared to Blacks (27.1 %) or Hispanics (38.5%). When groups were formed according to the abuser's use of pornography and associated involvement of the woman, violence scores as measured on the Index of Spouse Abuse, Danger Assessment, and Severity of Violence Against Women scales were significantly higher (p = <.001) for women reporting the abuser requested or forced her to look at, act out, or pose for pornographic scenes. Severity of violence was not related simply to whether or not the abused used pornography. This analysis is a beginning step toward understanding how pornography influences woman abuse.

The charge has been made that pornography is the theory and rape is the practice (Kramarae & Treechler, 1985). The final report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (1986), also known as the Meese Commission, stated that there was indeed a connection between persons' use of violent pornography and their use of violence in intimate relationships. The Meese Commission defined pornography as "material predominantly sexually specific and intended for the purpose of sexual arousal" (p. 228-29). They further divided pornography into two subcategories: (1) erotica, which features nudity and explicit consensual sex, and (2) pornography, which contains both nonviolent materials depicting domination and humiliation, and sexually explicit material containing violence. Only the latter category was used to define pornography in the present study. Degrading and violent sexual materials have been identified as potentially the most damaging of all types of erotica to the formation of egalitarian, mutually satisfying relationships (Linz, Donerstein. & Penrod, 1988).

Theory to Practice

Does the theory of pornography (that using pornographic materials actually teaches the user that women are there for the gratification of men, and that women enjoy the sexual "liberation" that violence brings) become the practice of pornography? Social learning theory states that we learn about how to act in social situations by observing society around us (Bandura, 1977). Cowan, Lee, Levy, and Smyer (1988) did a content analysis of 45 adult only, x-rated films randomly selected from a list of 121 adult movie titles readily available from a family videocassette store. They found that 60% of the video time was devoted to explicit portrayals of sexual acts. Of these depictions, 78% were coded as dominant and 82% as exploitive, with men doing almost 80% of the dominating/exploiting. Where women were shown as dominating/exploiting, their targets were most frequently other women. A woman's rape was shown in over half of the films, and 90% of the rapists were men. Physically aggressive acts appeared in 73% of the movies. Status inequities were shown with the men portrayed as professionals, and the women as secretaries, homemakers, students. Women were portrayed in less clothing than the men and there were frequent depictions of men ejaculating on the women's bodies, with the women either licking it up or rubbing it onto their bodies. The authors state that "the message that men receive from these videos ... is a distorted characterization of both male and female sexuality that is particularly degrading to women" (p. 309).

Brosius, Weaver, and Staab (1993), also analyzed the social roles of men and women in sexually explicit movies produced between 1979 and 1988. They found significant increases in the portrayal of sex between casual acquaintances, and males having sex with female subordinates.

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