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Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Class: 

This page does not contain pornography. It is part of a graduate class on domestic violence and sexual assault

I have not been using this assignment recently, so links may be outdated. 

Pornography, Obscenity & Sex Work

Discussions about obscenity, pornography and sex work frequently occur in a realm of abstraction in which greater understanding of the issues are difficult. The purpose of this assignment is to generate a series of data points shared by the class to promote discussion. For this week, there is less reading than usual but more in the way of internet exercises, so adjust the lengths of your papers accordingly. 

None of the links listed below require you to view offensive images (unless you choose to explore them), but rather they generate information and specific examples related to the required reading. Some descriptions of activities may be offensive as well as some of the ‘banner’ advertisements. Please do as much as you feel comfortable with.  

WARNING: some workplaces do track the internet activities of their employees. Also, your computer keeps a record of the sites you have visited (hit 'Control' and 'H' now to see). The StopViolence page about Domestic Violence has a link to clearing your browser's cache, and you may also want to delete any cookies left on your machine from this exercise.

1. Investigating Pornography: What's Out There?

Pictureview is a site that lists all of the USENET groups that carry attachments such as pictures. (USENET is basically a large computer bulletin board divided into numerous topical interests.) From the front page of pictureview, follow links to see a list of all the groups they carry (500-600).

A. What percentage of the groups would you say have sexual content?

B. What are the 3-5 groups you find most offensive?

C. What are the 3-5 groups whose pictures would be harmful to those who viewed them? Why and how are they harmful? Are the harmful groups the same as the offensive ones?

D. Part of the feminist critique of pornography is that it promotes an ideal, youthful image of beauty. But Pictureview contains newsgroups about 'fatties,' 'senior citizens,' and groups like 'breasts.small,' and 'breasts.saggy.' Does the existence or popularity of these groups undermine the legitimacy of the beauty image critique?

Please keep in mind that the title of the group does not always accurately reflect the content. You are not required to do so, but feel free to see if the content matches the name - and whether the images are as offensive or harmful as you might have thought. Also, Pictureview does censor certain newsgroups, such as those most obviously involving pedophilia. Other sites have all the groups. 

2. Eroticized Domination

Images involving eroticized dominance and submission are a category of special concern for feminists – a concern that is especially prominent in in MacKinnon’s article. Harmony Concepts is in the business of producing videos that involve kidnapping, abduction and erotic submission. They defend their videos in a statement, the Harmony Philosophy of Love Bondage. In a few sentences, summarize their justification. What, if any, concerns do you have with this material and how might MacKinnon respond to the statement? 

Although you do not need to write about it, we'll discuss how well the Harmony Philosophy does with depictions that involve consent, but have pain as a more salient theme (use google or google images to search for "erotic torture" or a similar keyword - make sure "Safe Search" is off to get full results). Since the Final Paper is also related to this theme, consider exploring BedRoomBondage, where Lorelei discusses her experience being in and producing bondage videos. In Shevette's Guide to Bondage, the author discusses her journey and getting started with bondage. She claims that: On any evening while watching TV you can expect to see at least one tie-up situation; 90% of Americans have bondage fantasies; 50% of Americans try bondage; 25% of Americans do bondage on an ongoing basis.  

3. Sex Work & Adult Movies

The issue of concern for this section is not so much looking at movies or pictures, but the process of making them. Asia Carrera is the stage name of a woman who recently retired after making 250+ adult films. She attended Rutgers University (double major in Business and Japanese) and is a member of Mensa (the high IQ society); she built and runs her own website now. Because the adult movie industry is a multi-billion dollar business, there is probably not an 'average' experience so her writing is not necessarily representative. But she is articulate and has some interesting information. Read her biography, then follow the link “If you’re so smart, why are you in porn?”. What comments or questions came to your mind? Read the Frequently Asked Questions. What information do you think is most important to understanding the connections between feminism, sex work and violence against women?

OPTIONAL: Adult Video News is the trade publication of the adult movie business. It is part propaganda, and part outlet for issues of relevance to the business (contract and pay disputes, HIV testing, the use of condoms in movies, the increased popularity of movies with women who have natural breasts, etc). explore their site, including the top film rentals and interviews the stars. Also of interest might be Alysabeth's feminist stripper page

See also the resources on prostitution that are part of the companion website to Paul's Criminal Justice Ethics book. 

4. Pay and Exploitation in Sex Work

An additional argument against sex work – posing for pictures, being in movies and stripping – is that such work exploits the women who do it (in addition to reinforcing the view of women as sex objects who exist for men’s pleasure). Counter arguments maintain that a great deal of work in an advanced society is menial, degrading and exploitative. Please do A or B to explore this issue. Whichever one you choose, please include a response to the 'For Further Thought' below. 

A. ALSscan advertises themselves to be the new standard in high resolution pictures. Even though most of their work involves a woman alone inserting objects into herself, there is a long list of jurisdictions in the US ALS will not ship to because of fears of obscenity prosecution. Go to ALS and read the call for models, including what is required from them and what they can earn. Is this job exploitative to the women who do it (how and why)? What other (non sexual) jobs could a woman perform for this kind of money, and are they more exploitative, less or just exploitative in different ways? In what ways might these images be related to violence against women? How do you react to the argument that discrimination against women in the workplace and ‘glass ceilings’ limit other choices for women and undermine ‘free consent’ to engage in sex work?

B. To the right are a series of pictures used in an advertisement for a site that specializes in photographs of 18 year olds posing for their first photographs - in this case, for enough money to get her own apartment. Click on the images to get a larger version and read the text. 

esc04.jpg (110265 bytes)

esc05.jpg (103059 bytes)

esc06.jpg (95703 bytes)

How does this activity compare to the exploitation involved in other jobs high school or college students do for money? Is it more exploitative, less or just exploitative in different ways? Is this a rational choice for 'Cindy' to make quick money? In what ways might these images be related to violence against women? How do you react to the argument that discrimination against women in the workplace and ‘glass ceilings’ limit other choices for women and undermine ‘free consent’ to engage in sex work?

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: The businesses in the examples above are owned and operated by men. Would it matter if the business was female owned and operated? Is it any more or less exploitative if it is a woman recruiting, taking pictures and deriving profit from the sexual images of other women? Lastly, how do we understand the situation where a woman is running her own website - where she is in charge of making the images of her and designing the site? Please answer this question whether you have done A or B above.  

Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry


The Technology of Orgasm: 'Hysteria,' the Vibrator and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel Maines (published by Johns Hopkins University Press - click the title for more information and a link to the first chapter) 

Adult Web 

(info on legal issues, money making opportunities, etc - interesting perspective into the industry) 


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