Not a Fantasy: Racial Hatred and Misogyny in Pornography

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

We live in a world of socially constructed categories. Each person is marked according to her or his sex, ethnicity, class, appearance, sexual preference, and so on. This is not news. Nor is it a revelation that these differences are not created equal, but are often demarcations for social hierarchy, where each class of people will be treated according to how the dominant group of the society perceives each category.

But no matter how different each society values these social categories, gender, race and class oppressions exist cross-culturally because of the universal existence of male-dominance. As such, sexism and racism are forms of social control by male-dominance; and pornography, which incorporates racial hatred and misogyny, is a major tool of that social control.

One of the ways in which pornography perpetrates and reinforces sexism and racism is the normalisation of terror and hate. If we look at the parallel between sexist and racist pornography with sexist and racist jokes, the process becomes clear. In both cases, where previously discriminations based on sex and race are unacceptable in any circumstances, they are "redeemed" through pornography/jokes, because the former is seen as only providing sexual gratification, and the latter is just for a laugh.

When people deplore sexism and racism but make allowances for their proliferations in pornography, pornography has achieved its aim: the creation of acceptance for materials that publicly practise and advertise the hatred and domination of women of colour.

Pornography perpetrates racism through the sexualization and fetishisation of racist stereotypes. In other words, pornography makes racism sexy. In pornography, Jewish women are raped by men dressed in Nazi uniforms (Dworkin, 1988); Black women are shown as plantation slaves being whipped by their White Masters; and Asian women - because of the Western fantasy of their supposed "docility" and "submissiveness" - will be tortured in the most horrific manner in pornography - such as being burned by cigarettes, battered, bound, and penetrated by pens, coke bottles, baseball bats, and even knives (Hill Collins, 1993, 97-103; Mayall and Russell, 1993, 167-177).

These pornography are explicitly clear about their racism. I am not making this up when I say you can purchase porn tapes and books with titles such as "Shanghai sluts", "Nazi Sex Captives", "Sluts of S.S.", "Harem Hell", "Oriental Pussy", "Black Bitch", or "Abuse: Black and Battered", in your local pornography stores (Mayall and Russell, 1993, 170-173).

For the apologists of pornography, their most used (and abused) line of defence is that pornography is sexual fantasy and therefore not real. They like to tell us that by viewing racism and sexism being represented in pornography, we will be releasing sexual fantasies that would otherwise have no outlet. Apparently, without the "cathartic" and "de-repressive" value of pornography, we will have a more sexist, racist and violent society.

But if you think that these pornography apologists are confusing pornography with social service, you are wrong. Pornography does have an educative function, it teaches men to relate racial and sexual violence and hatred with sexual arousal. If a man has an erection each time he views pornography that shows a Black woman being called "nigger" by white men, raped and beaten by white men; if he gains sexual pleasure from exposure to displays of racism and misogyny, then that will affect his wider social understanding about race and gender relations - from the perspective of a racist, sexist bigot.

And let's not forget about the women involved in pornography. For them, to be treated in such cruel, degrading and inhuman manner in pornography is not the stuff of imagination. In my research on the harms of pornography on women of colour, I have encountered disturbing pornography videos that show the actual torture and sexual violence against Asian women by white men. In one particularly horrific tape, a young Asian women is bound and suspended from the ceiling by metal chains, while a group of white men continuously beat her, maul her, burn her body with cigarettes before letting her down so they can shove a baseball bat into her vagina. She is then made to walk several times around the room where these white men torture her.

As far as I can tell, the young woman is very real, so are her torturers. The wounds they inflicted upon her - the cigarette burns, the cuts and bruises - they are real. Her screams of pain, her tears, and her expression of agony and humiliation - they are pretty damn real.

As an Asian woman, a part of me dies when I see such extreme and wanton atrocity being committed against a sister of mine. It also enrages me to know that this is not a one-off incident, because worldwide, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of women being tortured in similar manner in pornography. All for the male viewing pleasure at the mere sum of thirty bucks. The women of colour - as the most exploited and discriminated class - are very cheap. The only value they have is determined by how many white men can jerk-off from their suffering. If you want an example, just remember what Annabel Chong endured under men so that they could crown her the 'gang-bang porn queen'1.

And if you still insist that pornography is not real, that these women consented to the acts under their free will, then you are wrong again. Because no women consent to sexual violence just as no women deserve sexual violence, whether in pornography or in any other contexts. To argue otherwise is simply proof of how this society condones acts of racial and sexual violence against women.

The only way forward is to raise public awareness about pornography as sexual violence against all women, and the refusal to support, purchase, or even tolerate the existence of pornography. Pornography is the human rights violation committed against half of the world's population. The day that pornography and all forms of sexual exploitation against women are completely obliterated from the face of the earth, is the day women will begin to be recognised as human by the other 47 percent.

Postscript: I have decided not to disclose the title of that videotape which shows the torture of the Asian woman, or to reveal the place where such tapes can be obtained. This is done in part because of possible retaliations by the pornographers, also because I have no inclination to advertise for the pornography industry.

Reference:

Andrea Dworkin. Letters From a War Zone: Writings 1976-1987. London: Secker & Warburg, 1988.

Patricia Hill Collins. "Pornography and Black Women's Bodies." In Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography. (Ed) Diana E. H. Russell. New York and London: Teachers College Press, 1993. 97-104.

Alice Mayall and Diana E. H. Russell. "Racism in Pornography." In Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography. (Ed) Diana E. H. Russell. New York and London: Teachers College Press, 1993. 167-178.

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1) Grace Quek (alias Annabel Chong) was gang-raped one night during her undergraduate study at England. It was a traumatic experience, and according to Quek in an interview (http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/29/annabelchong.html), she wants to ‘"to shake people up from all these stereotypes of women as sex objects," to "be a stud."’ This lead to the porn film, “The World’s Biggest Gang Bang”, where Quek was serially raped by 251 men in 10 hours.