Modern American Rape Culture

One only has to turn on the television to realize that modern day American culture revolves around sex, or the promise of sex.  From wanton behavior by day-time soap actresses to explicitly sexual games performed on the Howard Stern Show, perceptions and taboos associated with graphic sexuality and pornography are evolving into a state of normalcy and cultural acceptance.  With the invention of the Internet and advanced recording technology, hardcore porn is now more readily available to the public than ever before.  The Wall Street Journal’s “Business World” columnist, Holman W. Jenkins Jr., explains this shift in society: “We’ve witnessed nothing short of a revolution in the availability of pornography over the past few decades.  Porn has moved out of a few segregated public spaces, the seedy book shops and triple-X theatres, and become ubiquitous on the web, on cable, in neighborhood video shops” (Gillespie, 2001).
Yet, what exactly does pornography mean?  The Oxford English Dictionary defines pornography as: pictures, writing, or films that are intended to arouse sexual excitement.  The Dworkin/Mackinnon Definition describes pornography as “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women, through pictures and/or words” (Carse, 1999).
However, both definitions are too broad in their scope.  Feminist writer Alisa L. Carse defines pornography as “the degrading and demeaning portrayal of the role and status of the human female” (Carse 1999).  By “degrading and demeaning,” Carse means:
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“The portrayal of behavior that is intentionally injurious or hurtful, physically or psychologically coercive, or which disregards or denigrates the desires and experiences of the other, thereby treating the other as a mere sexual object to be exploited and manipulated sexually.”  Carse also includes into the category of pornography, representations of women “dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; enjoying pain or humiliation or rape; being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised, or physically hurt, in postures of sexual…servility…presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture; shown as filthy or inferior; bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual” (Carse, 1999).
Based upon Carse’s definition, one would assume that pornography has no place in civilized society.  Yet, pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry, an industry that has captivated present-day America.  One would also assume that college students—being educated/informed—would disapprove of sexually explicit materials, especially in terms of human rights.  But when writer Susan G. Cole visited the University of South Carolina at Columbia in June 2003 to “debate” male porn star, Ron Jeremy, 300 students lined up to purchase Ron Jeremy T-shirts and to get their videos signed.  Less than 50 students came up to Susan G. Cole.  In fact, when Ron Jeremy was presented to the audience, eruptions of “Go Ron” could be heard from the packed house of 400 students (Cole, 2003).  What does this say about modern culture? Attitudes toward sexual expression, and exploitation, are changing—for better and worse.
Ultimately, pornography influences modern thought through television, films, the Internet, and even popular music and professional sports.  No aspect of society is safe
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from its clutches.  And this continual degradation of civilized society ends up creating a rape culture.  Rape culture is defined as “a culture that accepts gender-motivated attacks as normal, natural, even sexy—a culture whose models of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality sustain and rationalize men’s violence against women” (Davis, 2004).
Taking Carse’s definition into account, many forms of hip-hop music can be viewed as pornographic material.  In rapper 50 Cent’s debut album, Get Rich or Die Trying, he glorifies the life of a pimp in the title track, “P.I.M.P.”  The Chorus is: “I don’t know what you heard about me / But a bitch can’t get a dollar out of me / No Cadillac, no perms, you can’t see / That I’m a motherfucking P-I-M-P.”  The misogyny continues in the first verse: “I ain’t that nigga trying to holla cause I want some head / I’m that nigga trying to holla cause I want some bread / I could care less how she perform when she in the bed / Bitch hit that track, catch a date, and come and pay the kid / Look baby this is simple, you can’t see / You fucking with me, you fucking with a P-I-M-P” (50 Cent, 2003).  According to the Recording Industry Association of America, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying sold over 6.4 million units in 2003 alone (, 2003).  “P.I.M.P.” is only one of nineteen other tracks depicting gang violence and attitudes toward women as inferior/sexual beings.  G-Unit, 50 Cent’s rap group, released an album in September 2003, titled Beg for Mercy.  In this album, a song entitled “Groupie Love” describes the rap artists’ various trysts with “groupies.”  The intro goes: “I’ve been so many places / I’ve seen so many faces / Girl you look like someone that I done fucked before (ha ha) / I’ve been around the world / I’ve met all kind of girls / Girl you look like someone that I
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done fucked on tour” (G-Unit, 2003).  It will be interesting to see how music, such as 50 Cent’s, influences modern rape culture in the next few years.
Whether professional athletes like it or not, they are oftentimes seen as role models.  But are professional athletes, especially NBA athletes, the right fit for today’s youth?  In the New York Post, Dereh Gregorian reviewed the book, “Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence & Crime” by investigative reporter Jeff Benedict.  During the 2001-2002 NBA regular season, there were 33 criminal complaints of domestic violence against NBA players, sixteen of those ended in convictions.  Former New York Knick Anthony Mason was questioned about an alleged rape in New Jersey in 2001 (his third allegation in three years).  The woman involved in the New Jersey case stated Mason forced himself on her inside his hotel room and then had two of his buddies join in.  Mason reportedly said, “Why the **** would I ask you to come out here if I just wanted to talk to you?” (Gregorian, 2004).  In a case involving former Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O’Neal, a woman alleges that O’Neal grabbed her by the neck outside an Orlando restaurant on Oct 5, 1998.  O’Neal asked the woman to call-up some of her friends for his friends.  When the woman didn’t respond, O’Neal said, “Let’s go find us some white girls.”  The woman responded by saying, “Be my guest.”  That’s when O’Neal allegedly grabbed her by the neck and jerked her toward him.  The police report states O’Neal saying the entire incident was “just a joke; that he was just playing around” (Gregorian, 2004).  Shaquille may find the NBA’s rape culture funny, but it would not be funny if the same situation happened to his daughter.
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With pornography blossoming in so many arenas of life, it is difficult to ignore the possible correlation between pornography and rape culture.  Feminist writer Catherine Snow states that some of the negative influences of pornography are adultery, erosion of the family, sexually transmitted diseases, and the creation of aberrant sexual appetites which lead to some acts of depravity and violence.  Snow also believes Ted Bundy when he said, before being executed, that “pornography played a large role in his sex/murder crimes” (Snow, 2001).
Sexually explicit materials and the Internet survive on a symbiotic relationship, one fuels the other, and vice versa.  Reports indicate that 69% of all e-commerce involves the purchase of sexual materials.  Online pornography grosses over $1 billion per year.  Sex is the most frequently searched topic on the Internet (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  However, there is very little research concerning the effects of exposure to pornography—Internet sexuality is at an early stage of development— and the research that does exist has proven to be inconclusive at best.  In a study conducted by Barak et al. (1999), investigators found “no association of men’s social desirability, sensation seeking, attitudes toward women, rape myth acceptance, hypermasculinity, or erotophobia-erotophilia with time spent surfing sexually explicit Internet sites” (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  In a relevant study, Malamuth et al. (2001), researchers reported that men who were highest in “hostile masculinity, sexual promiscuity, and pornography,” were most likely to indicate a past history of sexual aggressive behavior toward women.  The researchers also noted, “we cannot conclude on the basis of these analyses that
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pornography is a cause or an outcome of sexual aggressive tendencies” (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  Researchers also plotted the rates of reported forcible rapes in the United States from 1995 to 1999, using F.B.I. statistics, against the growth in the availability and use of all forms of Internet pornography.  Ironically, the rate of reported forcible rape declined dramatically during this time period of exponential increases in access to and use of Internet pornography (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  Another key distinction researchers point out is that most of these studies are “experimentally enforced exposure to explicit materials.”  Results or conclusions based on these studies, therefore, cannot be used to make generalizations about the effects of “self-directed, or real world exposure to Internet sexually explicit materials” (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  In essence, lab experiments have no bearing in real-world models.
The Sexual Behavior Sequence is a social psychological model that focuses on “understanding sexual stimuli; the arousal, affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses they evoke; and the effect of these responses in conditioning the future approach or avoidance of sexual stimuli and sexual behavior” (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  According to the Sexual Behavior Sequence, individuals who have contact with sexual stimuli and who are sufficiently aroused by that stimuli will most likely engage in preparatory sexual behavior that will increase the likelihood of overt sexual behavior.  Conversely, those individuals who have contact with sexual stimuli and who are not aroused will most likely not engage in overt sexual behavior (Fisher & Barak, 2001).
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Based upon the Sexual Behavior Sequence, and related research, Fisher & Barak concluded that those “individuals who approach Internet sexuality with strong arousal responses and positive cognitive responses will be more likely inclined to incorporate
elements of Internet sexual scenarios in their covert and overt sexual behavior.  In contrast, those who approach Internet sexuality with weak arousal responses and negative cognitive responses will be unlikely to incorporate Internet sexual scenarios into their behavior” (Fisher & Barak, 2001).  In other words, those who find anal sex arousing will most likely engage in that activity, and those who don’t find anal sex arousing will most likely not engage in such activity.
In 1997 Davis & McCormick found: 1) Men tend to respond more positively to the more hardcore and male-dominated material. 2) Hypermasculine men tend to hold more negative and sexist attitudes toward women and react more positively to scenes of sexual aggression and degrading portrayals of women.  3) Most people, both men and women, respond negatively to this type of material.  4) Some sex offenders have had more exposure to explicit materials than other men, but early exposure alone does not increase the risk of becoming a sex offender.  5) Exposure to aggression triggers aggressive behavior; exposure to sexual material alone does not increase aggression toward women. 6) For most people, aggression and sex are incompatible.  But the most fascinating conclusion Davis & McCormick made did not involve sexually explicit Internet materials.  They concluded that R-rated movies promote sexist attitudes more than X-rated films, and that sexist attitudes and violence toward women are depicted quite often in television shows and many
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commercials.  They have no doubt that young people “acquire beliefs and attitudes about men, women, sexuality, and relationships from these types of media” (Davis & McCormick, 1997).
More research and studies need to be conducted in the field of Internet sexuality and rape culture.  Current evidence suggests that there is no concrete evidence linking prolonged exposure to pornographic materials to increased levels of violence against women.  Yet, despite these findings, common sense says that pornographic materials do, inevitably, have an adverse affect on the psyche of an individual.  Future models addressing the possible correlation between porn and sexual assault must address the changing attitudes of college students toward the sex industry, and how “porno chic” culture affects the perception of women’s roles in mainstream society.  Researchers cannot abandon studies looking into other forms of pornographic materials that are perpetuated in modern culture, such as home-video entertainment and popular music.  Furthermore, future researchers must also take into account the differing levels of “severity” in pornographic materials, from soft-core to XXX-hardcore.
The rampant spread of sexually explicit materials across all spectrums of media cannot go unnoticed.  Social scientists and sexual scientists must work together to establish a formal, longitudinal study examining the Internet habits of both men and women from different demographic backgrounds.  If more research is performed in this area of study, society will eventually realize the ills of pornography and take measures to correct the overt behaviors that do accompany the dissemination of sexually explicit materials.
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Everyday, the modern individual is bombarded with sexually charged images, some sensual, others graphic.  With each passing decade, societal norms and common decency become increasingly geared toward self-expression and freewill.  And the question remains: When does this trend of moral ambiguity become dangerous—if ever?  Unfortunately, an answer does not currently exist.  Society and the research regarding porn and rape culture are divided over impressions and perceptions, subjective value-based decisions.  Until a uniform study is established, pornography will continue to erode the fabric of decent society.  As former Indiana University and current Texas Tech head basketball coach Bobby Knight says, “If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it” (Davis, 2004).  The future of America appears dim.

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