Written by Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.
Over the last year the United States has bared witness to a resurgence of legislature aimed at restricting sexually explicit images based on a possibility of violence, or risk of health. This year alone has seen Florida’s House of Representatives successfully declare the material as a public health risk, with Republican Representative Ross Spano of Florida as its sponsor. While questioning legal issues pertaining to sexually explicit material is not entirely uncommon in the United States, the discussion often pertains to the viewer, not necessarily the performers.
As the #MeToo movement has seen actors such as Lady Gaga speaking out against abuse, adult film actors Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon have also courageously used their voices to speak out against the abuse in the pornography industry. As survivors of abuse in the pornography industry have spoken up, they have also called out their abusers. Porn actors James Deen and Ron Jeremy are two of the men that have been accused by significant others and coworkers of assault. Perhaps the biggest assailant of them all is the idol of many young men around the world, Hugh Hefner.
Playboy magazine’s founder Hugh Hefner passed away at the ripe old age of 91 in September of 2017. Since his passing, many women subject to Hefner’s abuse have opened up about it. Holly Madison, ex-playboy playmate and ex-partner to Hefner, wrote a tell all memoir of the relationship titled Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny (2015). Madison tells the world of the relationship she had once shared with Hefner, detailing counts of coercion and manipulation at the hand of the elderly businessman. While some playmates have denied these allegations, others have come forward against him and in support of Madison in the wake of his passing.
Harkening back towards the aforementioned legislature passed in Florida, Spano presented the argument that viewing pornography in excess would result in an inability to form healthy intimate partner relationships and result in sexual deviance. What the Republican Representative of Florida forgets to mention is the recognition of abuse in the industry as a whole. As many young men in the United States have idolized Hefner, Deen, and Jeremy, is it too bold to say that their idolization has resulted in what Spano recognizes as deviance? Or would it be appropriate to determine that toxic masculinity and violence towards women is bred through a lack of recognizing the impact of idols with abusive behaviors when presented in positions of dominance?
As the #MeToo movement continues to draw nationwide attention and prompt other women to speak out on their abuse by men in positions of power, it is important to ask these questions. By questioning the core of pornography in its production at the hands of abusive men, the results can reveal many more questions, but just as many answers. Pornography as a whole is not necessarily an inherently abusive medium, for historically it has been used in favor of women for educational purposes. Yet it does pose the question of how men seeking dominant position have used it to inflict dominance, and in turn abuse, towards women they work with or employ.
I find it is important to note that sexually explicit images are entirely subjective based on the individual who is consuming the material, I am not trying to stake claim on what is or is not explicit. Please find a list below of a few historians that have conducted in-depth analyses on pornography.
- Whitney Strub
- Robert Darnton
- Anna Clark
- Marta Vicente
- Robert Rosen
This blog post is in no way a stance against pornography. It is meant to question the motives of men in the industry of pornography and the phrasing used in anti-pornography legislation.