Creampies, Gang-bangs and Cumshots: What Pornography Reveals about Rape CultureCherise Charleswell I Women's Issues I Analysis I June 6th, 2013
No pun intended, but the discussion of pornography is a very touchy subject, particularly amongst feminists. There are those who shun the radical feminist approach of completely condemning pornography and associating it with patriarchal gender relations that oppress women; and instead view pornography, or the viewing and appreciation of pornography as an extension of women's sexuality and sexual exploration. I believe that the either-or arguments are too simplistic, and that identifying an accurate correlation between rape culture and pornography requires a close analysis. This analysis will have to commence with the defining of rape culture, in order to make comparisons and identify a relationship between the culture of rape and the culture, language, and key characteristics of the pornographic industry.
Defining Rape Culture
To begin with, the act of rape itself can be defined as engaging in a physical and sexual activity with another person without their consent. Thus, whether using one's anatomy (mouth, finger, penis, etc) or an inanimate object, the act of penetrating another is considered rape. In addition, those who are defined as minors could not consent to a sexual act with an adult.
The current U.S. rape statistics help to exemplify how prevalent rape is within the U.S.:
The CDC offers a high estimate of the number of women raped annually of 1.3 million (CDC)1
A woman's chance of being raped in the U.S. is 1 in 51
The U.S. ranks 13th in the world for rape2
Chances that a woman in the U.S. is raped versus being diagnosed with breast cancer: 2 to 13
14% of military rape victims were gang raped 4
20% of military victims were raped more than once 4
As alarming as the above statistics are, an estimated 54% of rapes go unreported in the US. 5 and of those reported, 97% of rapists actually spend time in jail 6. The frequency and general acceptance of incidents of rape, along with the propensity for victim blaming and shaming help to define rape culture. These attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are those that enable rape and form the basis of rape culture; and like any other cultural hallmarks, these attitudes are not biological or innate, instead they are learned. In other words, there are influences and cues within "patriarchal" society that help to teach and support rape culture. From a radical feminist standpoint, this culture of rape is believed to have a number of harmful effects, which "include rape, other forms of violence, such as murders and assaults, and other forms of sexual exploitation and exploitative porn, and they include completely nonviolent forms of sexism and homophobia 7". When following this argument, pornography may be considered to have a Cause and Effect relationship with rape culture. However, in all likelihood, this connection is not that simplistic, though there is a degree of mutual influence. One would have to understand the system or culture of patriarchy in order to understand the complexity of the relationship.
Rape culture is simply an outgrowth of misogynistic, sexist, and oppressive patriarchy, and whether we all choose to or not, or even whether we actually realize it, we all actively participate in the system of patriarchy. The core values of patriarchy: male centered, male dominance, male identification, male control; and the imbalance of power across genders, where men have more personal (including sexual pleasure and stimulation), political, and economic power, and are allowed to exert their unchecked influence on society; are greatly expressed in both pornography and rape culture.
A typical example of this is the classification of a woman as a slut based on her style of dress or sexual history. For this reason, the terms 'slut' and 'whore' are used throughout pornography; and this challenges the notion of sexual liberation, freedom and empowerment of women in pornography. Instead, under the values of the patriarchy, they are devalued and considered inferior to men, and are nothing more than objects that only exist to please men; and are thus referred to in a derogatory manner. Here are examples of pornographic scene titles bearing witness to this:
Silly little whore
Oriental whore house (Oriental? Yes, we will discuss this issue later)
Ghetto street whore fucked (Any shock to the fact that the "Ghetto" woman featured happens to be Black?)
Fucking the dirty whore
Black whore fucked into oblivion
Stranded in a whore
Horny black slut fucked hard
Hot slut sucks like a whore
There is also the pornographic website homewhores.com
(Yes, these are all actual titles!)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's attack on Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, for testifying before Congress in support of a government mandate requiring health insurance to cover contraception (Viagra and other male enhancers are covered by the way), was the embodiment of the patriarchal system. In his attack, Limbaugh utilized the same derogatory terms - "slut", "whore", "prostitute" - that are characteristic of rape culture; and as shown above, they are well represented in the titles of porn scenes.
Within this culture, a woman who engages in sexual activity (who is of course automatically deemed promiscuous), whose style of dress, sheer femininity, and overt sensuality, and who is accused of causing a man to become aroused, is considered a slut or whore, and thus she likely "desires" sex and perhaps "deserves" to be rape. It is the old argument that a woman is "asking for it". Hell, there are even pornographic rape scenes that are based on this rape fantasy, where there is always a woman who sexually provokes a man to act (to penetrate her), and she is always shown to actually enjoy being taken in this forceful manner. Perhaps it is nothing more than a fetish, but the hope of those who have varying fetishes is that they will have the opportunity to act them out; and many fetishes may become addictive.
Outside of the objectification and blatant disrespect of women, patriarchal rape culture along with male dominated pornography involves the devaluation of women.8 This devaluation is carried out by the rejection and avoidance of femininity. Women are not looked upon as independent and sexual beings; instead they are looked at as orifices that need to be filled with "creampies," or made to assist in orchestrating the perfect "cumshots." Furthermore, devaluing of women involves the belief that women are different from, and inferior to, men; and such devaluing is correlated with sexual aggression and perpetration.9 Hence, the use of misogynistic terminology, as well as the need to disregard feminine sexual desires in pornography; for their desires are deemed inferior to men; and men, particularly white men, occupy the positions of power, privilege, and influence (directors, publishers, and distributors) in pornography and rape culture. The central point is that women must assume a submissive role. Once again, this goes against the feminist argument made in support of pornography as a vehicle for female empowerment. There is no power in being acted upon, verbally and physically degraded (is there really any need for a man's creamy sperm-filled cum to be sporadically plastered across a woman's face and hair? Those scenes literally look like a man is relieving his bladder.), and there is certainly no power in having a male domination that does not embrace the full gamut of femininity.
Misogyny and Stereotypes in Rape Culture
The perpetuation of overt racial and ethnic stereotypes in pornography helps to solidify its association with rape culture. As within patriarchy and rape culture, white males in pornography hold the most prestigious, powerful and influential positions; and for that reason, they ensure the film genre caters first and exclusively to white males. In the article, "Transforming Pornography: Black Porn for Black Women," retired veteran porn actress and self-identified feminist, Sinnamon Love, shared the following in regards to white male dominance in the porn industry:
"When I first started in the industry, I quickly saw that the images of women of color in porn were directly related to what the predominantly white male directors throughout was sexy and what they believed their (predominantly white) male audience would find sexy. As a result, the majority of African American women on screen were put into one or two categories: assimilated to appear as close to white as possible (they are almost one of us) or completely ghettoized to reflect debased images of black culture (it doesn't matter because they are one of them)." 10
In general, women and ethnic minorities are assigned the following caricatures:
The "buck," the "mandingo," and/or Mr. "Daddy Long stroke" is of African ancestry and is somewhat aggressive, interested in vulnerable white women, and whose greatest focal point is his massive penis.
The dumb blond, "Becky", who is clueless, naive, without direction, and is easy prey for the "buck" or even an older white male.
The "jezebel," who is of African ancestry and is the stuff that antebellum slave-master fantasies are made of. She is curvy and most praised for her voluptuous, round, firm and high "Ghetto booty"; and, of course, she is hyper-sexual.
The docile, childlike and submissive Asian female who has limitless sexual boundaries.
The hot and spicy Latina, who is just about always filmed with a white male.
The absent, asexual and almost nonexistent Asian male.
The characterization and propensity to give minority women names of foods, geographic areas, cars, and just about any other inanimate object (Chocolate, India, Bangkok, Bamboo, Mocha, Ebony, etc.). An act that represents the highest form of objectification and dehumanization.
When society, through rape culture, embraces these caricatures, it leads to stereotypical views such as "brute Black men are the only sexual predators that should be feared," and certainly not "upstanding, All-American white males." In addition, women of color are greatly fetishized, especially in comparison to their white counterparts, which adds additional burden to proving their claims of rape. Still, a simple scroll through a pornographic film's comments section reveals even more blatant racism within rape culture. Here, aroused men, captivated by the fetishization of racial and ethnic stereotypes, exclaim that the Black women are "serving their masters well," that slavery should be reenacted so they could have their way with hyper-sexual women who "know how to fuck," or so that they may tame those fiery Latinas. In their place of dominance and privilege, whether regarding pornography, the patriarchal system or particularly within rape culture, white males are the least likely to be viewed as sexual aggressors or rapists, despite the reality that they make up the highest number of arrestees.
Aggression and Fetishes
Other elements of traditional masculinity or patriarchy, which permeate through the culture of rape, are displayed as such, and are literally acted out in pornographic film, include: status, achievement, toughness, and aggression, as well as the avoidance of femininity.9 Aggressive acts have been part of rape culture since antiquity, where the widespread rape of women were carried out by conquering forces. Rape is actually considered to be endemic during wartime. 9 Contemporary examples of the prevalence of rape during war and military conflicts include the following estimates:
During the Bosnian conflict that occurred in the 1990s, 60,000 women were raped 11
48 women were raped per hour during the wars in the Congo 12
During the Rwanda genocide estimates of between 250,000 to 500,00 women and girls were raped13
For women in the military, rape has actually extended outside of combat zones, and has become a noted epidemic. Women legislators, expectedly, have been the most vocal and proactive in speaking out and introducing legislation to address this epidemic; and much of their proposed legislation attempts to circumvent the patriarchal structure of power and prestige that encourages rape and makes it difficult to convict rapists. Among the proposed legislation:
2013 bill introduced by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) which would strip military officials from having the ability to change or dismiss a court-martial conviction for sexual assault or other major crimes, and would require any service member found guilty of sexual assault, rape or other sex-related offenses to receive punishment that would include, at a minimum, dismissal or dishonorable discharge from the military.
2013 reintroduction of the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP) by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), which would take sexual assault cases out of the hands of chains of command and place it under the jurisdiction of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office which will be comprised of civilian and military personnel.
These disturbing statistics within the military and during war clearly exemplify how rape, within the system of patriarchy, can serve as a weapon and the ultimate form of sexual aggression and dominance. Still, within the arena of pornography, the act of rape is fetishized. Being tough, aggressive, and willing to use violence if necessary is required by traditional masculinity.9 The language and culture of pornography, as it is within rape culture, is about force. Here within the realm of "creampies, gang-bangs and cumshots," there is a universality of forceful and violent terminology, fetishes and fantasies; most of which are based on stereotypes and caricatures. Again, a simple scan of banner advertisements and titles in pornographic movies will reveal many of this forceful language, with terms such as: destroy, stuffed, gagged, broke/break, rammed, fisted, and filled. "Filled" may seem less aggressive, but it usually refers to the dehumanizing act of using another's body as a receptacle.
One of the most offensive porn sites, which has received some backlash, is "Ghettogaggers." The site involves the sexual brutalization of African American women, who are completely dominated by white males, called racial slurs; and where the films carry out nothing more than rape fantasies. In fact, many of the women are not porn actresses, and are actually caught off-guard by the aggressive nature of the sexual encounter. "Ghettogaggers" represents the greatest extreme of something that is very problematic with the rape fantasies depicted in pornography. It is the "free-for-all nature of mainstream porn, where it escalates to always include acts that most people would not 'willingly' participate in, such as gang-bangs and rage-in-the-cage style death matches where the woman is presented versus the man".14 Again, these scenarios of competition keep in line with the requirements of the patriarchal system, and are thus supposed to identify the victor as dominant and, of course, the most masculine.
In short, agency, within pornography and rape culture, aligns with the directives of the patriarchal system, where agency is identified only with the masculine, not feminine; and porn is about depicting women at their most "feminine": Dominated and bound (Still), filled and gagged (Silent). The same remains true in rape culture, where women are bound by sexist societal norms such as slut shaming, which forces them to remain silent about sexual assaults and attempted assaults; and, for this reason, many rapes go unprosecuted or reported. Furthermore, women are silenced by a judicial system which actually puts them on trial, forces them to prove their own virtue, and judges whether their "immoral behavior" or choice of clothing makes them incapable of being raped.
Within rape culture, male inmates and men in the military, as well as adolescent boys (who can forget the atrocities carried out by Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State), are also raped at growing numbers, thus causing internal tension in trying to come to terms with the notions of masculinity and the "tough guy" caricature within the patriarchal system. Similar to women, the act is to demean, dehumanize, and render them powerless; and this is echoed in pornography where men are aggressively penetrated, are said to be serving their masters, and assigned to the gender role of the feminine; where it is dominant male vs. the emasculated bottom. A popular fetishized racial fantasy is that of the white male vs. the black "thug", who is violently penetrated to the point of full submission; again, it is the embodiment of rape culture's obsession with racial stereotypes, including its fascination with the genitalia of Black males. A key point here is that pornography and rape culture both share a need to assign someone full control and dominance, and this position usually goes to (white) males; and, of course, the permanent position of subjugation is assigned to women or those taking on the role of the feminine.
Ultimately, pornography shares a vast number of ideologies and characteristics with rape culture, which all are rooted in a patriarchal system. Thus, there is not a simple cause-and-effect relationship between the two, and identifying a pattern of influence between the two would leave one as perplexed as asking, "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Pornography may simply be a mirror reflection of the culture of rape; or, the stereotypical and sexist fantasies of rape and domination depicted in these films may actually help to shape attitudes that support the subjugation, exploitation and sexual assault of women.
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2. Nation Master. Crime stats: Australia vs. United States. Retrieved from http://www.nationmaster.com/compare/Australia/United-States/Crime
National Cancer Institute. (2012). Breast cancer risk in American women. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/probability-breast-cancer
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5. Justice Department. (2010). National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010
6. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006
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9. Zurbriggen, EL. (2010). Rape, war, and the socialization of masuculinity: Why our refusal to give up war ensures that rape cannot be eradicated. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 34:538-549.
10. Love, S. (2013). Transforming pornography: Black porn for black women. The Femininst Porn Book: The Politics of Produing Pleasure. Taormino T, Penley C, Shimizu CP, M M. (Eds.). Feminist Press, NY.
11. Women's Media Center. Conflict profiles: Bosnia. Retrieved from http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/conflicts/profile/bosnia
12. Adetunji, J. (2011) 48 women raped every hour in the Congo. The Guardian UK. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/12/48-women-raped-hour-congo
13. Women's Media Center. Conflict profiles: Rwanda. Retrieved from http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/conflicts/profile/rwanda
14. Femonande. (2009). Sorry, men and fun-fems: All porn is rape, all the time (Or, if you are watching porn, you are watching rape). Womanist Musings. Retrieved from: www.womanist-musings.com/2009/10/sorry-men-and-fun-fems-all-porn-is-rape[html.