Virtually Attack Women, But No Nudity

Boys playing video games.

Boys playing video games.

A gamer creates an avatar resembling himself and plots to kill a three-dimensional, lifelike woman. The avatar grasps an axe and raises it to strike. He hears the thud as the axe slices her head. He hears her cry out in pain. He sees her split skull and feels the sensation of blood on his hands and face. 

I’ve just paraphrased one part of Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Alito’s opinion on whether video games of this sort should be protected as free speech in sales to minors.

Yes, he uncomfortably concludes.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wonders why Playboy is off-limits to thirteen-year-oldsyet interactive games that allow those same boys to actively, if virtually, bind, torture and kill a woman are perfectly fine – so long as she’s not topless.

Justice Antonin Scalia counters that violent scenes have long been part of the American tradition.

Developmental psychologist James Prescott looks to America’s preference for sexual violence over sexual pleasure with wonder:

Apparently, sex with pleasure is immoral and unacceptable, but sex with violence and pain is moral and acceptable.

But why?

Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth points out that 1960s pornography portrayed beautiful women playfully and joyfully enjoying sex. By the 70s this sort of imagery suggestively seeped into popular culture.

Wolf described mainstream beauty pornography this way:

The woman lies prone, pressing down her pelvis. Her back arches, her mouth is open, her eyes shut, her nipples erect. The state of arousal, the plateau phase just preceding orgasm… for Triton showers, a naked woman, back arched, flings her arms upward… for Opium perfume, a naked woman, back and buttocks bare, falls face down from the edge of the bed.

Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill

But later, beauty pornography was replaced by violence against women. As Wolf described it:

In an ad for Obsession perfume a well-muscled man drapes the naked, lifeless body of a woman over his shoulder… In an ad for Hermès perfume, a blonde woman trussed in black leather is hanging upside down, screaming, her wrists looped in chains, mouth bound.

By the 80s violent sexual imagery had surged with films like Dressed to Kill, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and 9½ Weeks. Or thrillers piling up female corpses in sexy bras and panties.

Why the shift?

Imagery follows politics, says Wolf. An uptick in violence against women may be a backlash to gains in women’s power.

In backlash, portrayals of women freely enjoying sexuality were restrained, men were reassured that women weren’t so powerful, and everyone got the message that women were most attractive when they were dominated and powerless.

Wolf points out that court rulings have enforced these values from the top-down. Women taking pleasure in sex is “obscene,” but sexualized violence against them is not (if they are clothed).

Something to think about.

A rerun for spring break.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 1, 2016, in feminism, pornography, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. How people are portrayed in pornography is terrible for me. I for one, am against pornography because first, there is a widespread societal issue of men and women seeing pornography from a young age and creating ideas from the images they see of how they think sex is. Before they even see a naked person, they see naked women being violated and see the “ideal” man, or they might model their behavior after these fake sex scenes. Second, I think its horribly abusive in terms of being forced to perform sexual acts for money when the performers might not have any other options.

    I think there are new ways for people to express themselves sexually without any violence, on the internet there are women streaming sexual acts of themselves on their own terms. It is still possible it could be sending negative images or abuse. I think that there is a giant scheme to keep women’s enjoyment of sexual acts down, porn makes it seem like women never enjoy sex, there was a stop to development of a female viagra, women have to take pills to control their birth cycles rather than developing something to work on men.
    I’ve read a little bit about reclaiming women’s sexuality, in the past it seems like men have taken over what women’s sexuality should be, an example of this being lesbian porn, it’s made for men’s viewing pleasure about the idea of owning two women at once, it’s not “hardcore” unless it involves penises and torture.

    “Imagery follows politics, says Wolf. An uptick in violence against women may be a backlash to gains in women’s power.” I think that women have always been targets of violence or control, I think about women’s foot binding in China, people literally mutilated women’s bodies for their viewing pleasure, I think it has some parallels to pornography. I think porn has changed my generation for the worse, I actually have read somewhere millennial men are more misogynistic than baby boomers, I attribute a lot of that to the widespread violence in porn.

    • Your comment reminds me of something a man said about his son. This man had come of age in the days of Playboy–naked women. Overtime man get used to seeing naked women and need something stronger to get aroused, So you start to get the stuff you see you today. And this man was saying how worried he was about his son first encountering sexuality in that hyped up form. A few of my male students have said that they have stopped watching pornography because they could see that it was damaging them. Others have said that they think it’s important to realize it’s all fake. I’m hoping it’s not doing too much damage. We’ll see.

      You make a lot of interesting points. Thanks.

  2. Jonathan Castellanos

    To my understanding, this article is pointing out how violence towards women (in sexual situations?) is becoming a more common thing in movies, games, media (maybe not as much), etc…Please tell me if I got the correct message! Being that I have played games during my youth, I have never encountered any games that involved such violence in great detail towards a woman. This is probably one of the cases where it’s a single game out of a thousand that they picked in order divert the actual source of the issue. Other than that, I do agree with the fact that there is some progression of increased sexual violence in movies and games becoming “okay” as opposed to sexual pleasure for women becoming obscene as you mentioned in the comments.

    Being that the internet is extremely open, I would have to disagree with Stephen Breyer’s comment. Playboy (and other porn sites) and extremely easily accessible to anyone who is able to access the internet. So I don’t think he can really say that Playboy is off-limits…

    Overall, I believe the increased violence in media would have bound to of happened regardless of which gender is involved. I think the reason for sexual violence is due to the fact that society has been developed to believe that women should be pictured sexy on film, pictures, etc. For this reason, I think this is one of the reasons why these movies stripped down their targets before committing acts of violence. In addition, this is bound to attract more viewers to watch. I’ve witnessed a few people talking about a movie and only mentioning the part where (Insert-Actor-Name) getting stripped/naked. There are tons of other reasons I can think of as well. At this point, I think I may be getting off-track/point so i’ll stop right here!

    • This isn’t addressing how much sexualized violence against women is in video games, or whether it is increasing or not.

      It’s addressing a culture that is more comfortable with violence against women than women’s sexual pleasure.

      And regardless of the Internet being open the Supreme Court Justices were looking at the law. And the law still keeps Playboy out of reach on newsstands even if pornography is completely accessible over the Internet.

      As I said, the justices, and this blog post, are looking at culture here — and how crazy it is that we are more okay with violence against women than their sexual pleasure.

      Thanks for your thoughts. You put a lot of effort into them!

  3. With gratitude, the connection of the cruelty towards women in media you’ve displayed in connections with supreme court justices to video games to eras of pornography puts this issue into the hands of everyone. No matter your age, sexual preference, profession, etc., just living in this country makes every susceptible to the social construction of violence against women, and more should be doing something to ackloweldge the wrong being done, and strive to stop it. Patriarchy is going to fight for its reign over society, battling the women who are fighting to be equals, “In backlash, portrayals of women freely enjoying sexuality were restrained, men were reassured that women weren’t so powerful, and everyone got the message that women were most attractive when they were dominated and powerless.” To put it bluntly, it’s simply inhumane for our society to accept that sexual violence against women is not as bad as a woman having sex for pure pleasure. This societal boundary we place on sex and violence for females is oppressing for her and more empowering for him. Two steps forward and ten steps back for the equality of women.

  4. Has anyone actually seen porn lately? I feel sometimes that when we use the word porn we’re thinking of two completely happy, consenting adults making sweet love to one another on a bear skin rug in front of a fireplace when what is actually out there is absolute hatred, anger, aggression, and violence toward females. Men think rape is hot, they think fisting and inserting massive objects into women is sexy, they think anal sex is just the best ever (especially if the woman is unwilling — hotter yet), they think choking a woman and shoving their penis down the woman’s throat is reasonable and breath deprivation is par for the sexual course. They think cutting and beatings, bondage of all kinds, spitting on women, ejaculating in their eyes and mouths and all over their faces is “sexy.” They think forcing a woman to have anal sex and then her sucking the same penis is hot. They think it’s ok to have anal and then vaginal sex without washing. They even think it’s great to insert objects into the urethra of women. They have suspended women by their breasts, smacked then, whipped them, driven NAILS into them, skewered them, and perhaps least harmful of all that, called them every foul name they can think of.

    That is porn today. That is what America “the prudish” serves up free every day, everywhere. That’s what boys are being taught about females and sexuality.

    And of course, OF COURSE, the sex is always over when the man ejaculates. Period, end of story, end of sex. His pleasure dictates, his pleasure commands, his pleasure is the only thing that ever matters. This is what boys are learning. Do we want to teach boys and young men this stuff? That it’s sexy to ask your girlfriend to lick your anus when you don’t even know how to clean it properly? (Not that even a “clean” anus” is clean enough since e coli and other bacteria live on the skin surrounding the anus, anyway.)

    Can someone explain why it would be wrong to do ANY of these things if they were not within a sexual context? And why is it OK to allow men to do whatever they want as long as that thing produces an erection?

  5. This blog describes what I’ve been thinking about pornography in society and the dominance males seem to love to have over women. It does not make any logical sense to me that older porn videos had women actually enjoying the sex, and now they are only seen being dominated by men and tortured. We wonder why so many young boys are becoming more violent towards women, and this is a perfect example of why things like that are happening in our society. “Men were reassured that women weren’t so powerful, and everyone got the message that women were most attractive when they were dominated and powerless. This just makes the boys of the new generations disrespect women even more because it tells them that women have no power compared to men, and that men can do whatever they wish to women because they are in control, they have all the power.

  6. The reason that doesn’t matter if Playboy it’s off limits to 13 year olds it’s because HD porn videos are easily accessible on the Internet. What I find weird is that people make a fuss about
    a)Playboy restriction when there is a virtual unlimited amount of porn videos
    b)playing violent games when there is already hardcore violence in movies and even cartoons they can easily watch on TV or on the Internet

  7. I was kind of wavering on what was the issue, and more and more was a bit shocked by both what is in the market and then the logic behind it. Then it came together perfectly with the final statement “Women taking pleasure in sex is “obscene,” but sexualized violence against them is not (if they are clothed).” What is up with society?!?

      • It is something that kept annoying me throughout the day…and even now, I simply do not get it. Seriously. :-/

        Things like this make me want to get into politics…and then I think of the thousands of people who said the same thing only to have politics get into them. There sadly are no answers…yet. Keep up the great work Georgia!

      • Fortunately, things have changed over time. But there is still more to do. But in order to fix problems we have to see them first, right?

        Thanks for your thoughts on this. Too bad that the last point you make is so true.

  8. I had no idea that there were video games with scenes like that. Guess I’m being naive. I’m obviously not a gamer, but I at least have done a decent job of not having my son play games of that sort.

  9. the reasoning behind all this is so weird…

    • It’s weird that it seems just fine to so many people, like our more conservative members of the Supreme Court, and so crazy for the rest of us!

      I was reading about the origins of patriarchy, and when you understand that, this starts to make sense. I’ll have to write more about that later. It’s not internally logical. But it makes sense in terms of the values of the more partnership oriented cultures versus the more dominator cultures .

      • What also is weird, is the inherent correlation between religion and politics. A large amount of the population left their societies in order to avoid a religious aspect in their government. Its obviously an amendment that church and state be very obviously separate, but conservatives just love to throw the Christian card.

        In regards to the ‘backlash’ idea, I do agree, but only to a certain extent, mostly because I was kind of thinking that this new -wave fetish (restraining /dominating) is something that is new to pop culture. Take a look at 50 Shades of Grey for example, people are in love with dominating in sex, both in males and females, but I mean this is where preference completely varies between people.

      • The sex + dominance thing has been around for a long time now, It’s just gaining more attention with things like 50 Shades.

  10. Oh I just don’t get why Americans are so prude 😀

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