Several of the contributors to Catherine Itzin’s (1992) collection, Pornography: Women, Violence and Civil Liberties, detail the frequent violent dehumanisation of - mainly but not exclusively - women in pornography. There is evidence that the phenomenon of dehumanisation and depersonalisation is common and widespread in the production of some, arguably all, pornography.
Many contributions to Itzin’s book provide substance to assertions that socialisation processes are powerful social forces which can lead to fundamental social values which in turn can validate and justify the commissioning of harmful acts. In particular, just as Itzin and her co-writers propose that what pornography “teaches” people about sex is often sexualised and eroticised violence, portrayed as if “this is sex,” early and on-going “lessons” in socialisation go a long way in explaining human attitudes to nonhuman animals.
For many in the animal advocacy movement, general socialised attitudes about other animals – for example, when socialisation processes assists in the construction of human beliefs about what humans and animals are; and even produce societal beliefs about what nonhuman animals “are for” - can be seen as one of the obstacles that the animal movement must overcome in trying to explain new ideas about human relations with other sentient beings.
In relation to campaigning strategy, Steve Baker (1998) seems entirely correct to suggest that nonhuman advocacy has significantly benefited from feminist writing, particularly in the 1990’s. Although “ecofeminism” has causes some controversy in feminist philosophy, the following perspectives on pornography appear to benefit from being viewed through Karen Warren’s ecological feminist conception of the logic of domination. Indeed, a general ecofeminist lens is useful it seems, since writers such as Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva see pornography as a form of “dissection” because, the argument goes, many rational modern machine-men have difficulty dealing with “real,” “complete” women. Therefore, such men prefer pornography and perhaps sex tourism based on the exploitation, commodification, and the reduction to their sexual parts of exceptionally marginalised and generally powerless women.
A strength in the ecological feminist approach, it seems, like the earlier “humanitarian” stance of Henry Salt, is its insistence on seeing various intersecting forms of subjugation as firmly linked to and interwoven with other modes of oppression. It seems evident from a perspective such as Warren’s that an instance of violent pornography (as distinct from ‘erotica’ involving consenting participants) is an example of a logic of domination, defined as a patriarchal prerequisite that has sustained and justified the twin domination of women and “nature.” In a great many examples of pornography, it appears that (at least) sexism, racism and speciesism merge and blend within a single act of ideological domination featuring acts of extreme cruelty, persecution and, rights violations.
For example, Forna (in Itzin ) alludes to interlocking strands when she states that pornography sustains an entrenched belief that sex with a black women or a black man is “different” - and certainly more “savage” - than sex with a white person. More particularly, while sex with black people is seen as “more physical” than sex with white people, it is at the same time less emotional, less spiritual and, of course, ultimately less human:
- Black women are represented in porn as synonymous with deep carnality, animal desires and uncontrolled lust... ‘Naturally’ less civilised than her white counterpart, she exists solely for sex... The words and adjectives which caption pictures of naked black women are the same words used over and over again. The black woman is described as being ‘panther-like’, possessing ‘animal grace’. She is photographed caged, chained and naked. Hers is a savage, wild and primitive, exotic sexuality: a less than human sexuality (Forna, 1992: 104).
In relation to black men:
- They are super-sexualised studs, members of a lower caste without the natural inhibitions of civilised whites. Sex between two blacks is a steamy, savage affair (ibid).
Citing research conducted in 1980 and 1981 by Teish and Leidholdt, Mayall and Russell (see HERE) also make the claim that black women are regularly associated with nonhuman animals in pornography. Teish notes that the lucrative pornography industry exploits black and white women in different ways: she argues that white women are often portrayed as “soft,” while black women are frequently shown as “ugly, sadistic, and animalistic, undeserving of human affection.” Similarly, Leidholdt reports that while Asian women are often portrayed as “dolls,” Latin women are depicted as sexually submissive but voracious and, in arguably the most negative portrayal, Black women are shown as “dangerous and contemptible sexual animals.”
Recalling a point often made above about dissection, Itzin says that pornographic accounts often reduce women to “just” their genital organs, while their assumed animality is never very far away. Thus women are sometimes regarded as:
- holes, slots, sluts, pieces of meat. Men can walk the streets looking for ‘slots’, look at their wives as “slots.” And indeed letters from male readers [to pornographic publications] describe their wives in such dehumanised and derogatory terms: as “groaning and moaning like a stuck pig,” with “gushing fannies” and “sopping cunts.”
Itzin notes that much pornography shows women “enjoying” being “used as animals” (seemingly assuming that other animals like to be “used as animals”) (ibid.: 49).
It is also remarkable the number of times hunting associations and butchers’ knives find their way into pornographic narratives. For example, Itzin describes scenes from a “snuff movie” thus:
- [A]fter a rather brutal rape, a young woman was tied to a table, and a hand was amputated with a Black-and-Decker type saw. Then she was raped again, and in the course of it her guts were spilled out by the rapist using a great butcher’s knife (ibid.: 49-50).
After viewing this particular video (obtained in Dublin), Clodagh Corcoran of the Irish Campaign Against Pornography said, “I have lived in fear ever since, knowing that while the rape, degradation and dehumanisation of women is filmed and sold as entertainment, women’s status in society is worthless, and our lives within and outside our homes are also without value” (in ibid.: 50 – see HERE for a 2007 article about pornography in Ireland). Itzin, along with Labour MP Clare Short, went to the Obscene Publications Branch at Scotland Yard and found several examples of adult and child pornography involving stories such as a pornographic cartoon about Little Red Riding Hood who is gang-raped by several hunters and shown to “enjoy it;” women being penetrated by a dog, a donkey and a pig (while one kisses the pig’s snout); women hung by their breasts from meat hooks, and a woman being eviscerated - as if in a slaughterhouse - and sexually murdered (ibid.: 51).
Peter Barker (in a chapter entitled “Maintaining Male Power,” in Itzin, 1992: 134) understands common pornographic themes of representing woman as animals or engaged in sexual acts with animals as a clear expression of utter contempt for women. Contempt, moreover, that “has to be continually reinforced in order for men to believe that their domination of women is justified.” After all, he says, echoing dimensions of the logic of domination thesis, it is “weaker,” and “lesser-than” groups who are candidates for exploitation: “there would be no justification for abusing and subordinating a group of people who were seen as being equal and worthy of respect” (ibid). “Porn” also makes men feel good, because men in pornography are virtually always “sexual athletes” and “studs” whose “performance” is never less than sufficient to satisfy all the needs and more of their sexual partners [not that partner satisfaction seems a particularly common consideration, especially – of course – in violent and child pornography].
Barker also claims that pornography teaches men that sex is something men “do” to women. In pornography, “all men have the means of feeling sexually desirable, sexually proficient, and completely strong and powerful, even if it is just for a few minutes” (ibid.: 136).
Barker is another writer who notes that a great deal of pornography shows women enjoying being abused (ibid.: 140). This factor seems to warrant some comparison with John Robbin’s (1987: 131) claims that modern culture provides a “cotton candy” version of the lives of other animals who are depicted as being delighted “offering themselves to children as friendly things to eat.” Some individual women may obtain some sort of masochistic satisfaction by placing themselves in the position of “the used and abused,” yet pornography appears to suggest that this is a common attitude for women to hold or - as in the rape scene [the director denies that the scene depicts rape – see following link] in the controversial 1970s film Straw Dogs - something they will eventually appear to accept. However, it is a fair bet that no non-fictional nonhuman animal has actually delightedly offered herself up to the slaughterer’s knife or the experimenter’s scalpel. Therefore, such depiction, in either case, are perhaps best regarded as essentially ideological in nature.
Do these constructions of women in pornography have an empirical effect? Strict causality is not claimed here. However, it is far easier to be content with a position like Ted Benton’s, who suggests that cultural influences can shape the human individual. If a societal “ambience” exists, different people will react to it in different ways, but the general point that societies can effectively “set the tone” for the adoption of shared beliefs and attitudes appears to be a sociologically defensible position.
Some feminist-inspired research does suggest that male attitudes to “real women” are often influenced by pornographic characterisations, produced and distributed within patriarchal culture. However, is there also any evidence to support the ecofeminist perspective that men may see both women and animals/nature as objects for exploitation? The same research does seem to offer evidence in support of that assertion as well.
For example, Russell cites Shere Hite’s research in the 1980’s which was based on asking male respondents to account for their declared wish to rape women. One interviewee said this:
- Why do I want to rape women? Because I am basically, as a male, a predator and all women look to men like prey. I fantasise about the expression on a woman’s face when I ‘capture’ her and she realises she cannot escape. It’s like I won, I own her (quoted in Russell 1993: 120).
Here “man-the-hunter” is revealed, the “predator” after his “prey” - or perhaps “man-the-pet-owner,” who “wins” his women like one may win goldfishes at travelling fairgrounds. Russell was also soon to find further evidence of “man-the-dissector,” as it appears that some rapists may not see their victims as whole human beings; rather they see them simply as a collection of body parts. Russell says that to many men, women “are tits, cunts, and asses. This makes it easier to rape them. ‘It was difficult for me to admit that I was dealing with a human being when I was talking to a women,’ one rapist reported” (ibid.: 135). And, look out, here comes a-hunting the butcher man once more (reported to Zillmann and Bryant in 1984): “A man should find them, fool them, fuck them, and forget them;” and, “If they are old enough to bleed, they are old enough to butcher.”
MacKinnon also notes that in Merced, California, a man named Victor Burnham was convicted of spousal rape for forcing his wife to have sex with 68 neighbours and/or strangers while he took photographs, no doubt for later pornographic use. His wife says she was also forced by him to have sex with a dog. Finally, and quite shockingly in terms of the logic of domination thesis, she further testified to “episodes of torture with a battery-charged cattle prod.”
In the Sexist Playground.
Feminist writers have understandably been interested in children’s sex role socialisation and the effects of pornographic representations. Research with school students suggests that, on a personal and peer group interactive level, naming young women as certain types of animal can serve to restrict, alter, and constrain their social behaviour. For example, in the early 1980’s, Sue Lees and Sue Sharpe interviewed around 100 15- and 16-year old females about a variety of their views and interests. It soon emerged that one of their foremost concerns involved the social construction of their sexual reputation and the careful steps they took to avoid being called hurtful names.
It became evident that many of the respondents believed that they were being forced to tread a fine line between acting in ways that may result in their teenage boyfriends, male acquaintances, and female friends calling them names such as “tight bitch” (because they resisted sexual advances) on the one hand, and “slag” or “easy lay” (because they too readily “gave in” to sexual advances) on the other. Lees and Sharpe also found a range of animalistic labels such as “old dog,” “cow,” and “blind dog” used in a derogatory manner.
One of Lees and Sharpe’s interviewees said she would rather be called a cow or a dog than a “slag” on the basis that others can clearly see that she is not an actual four-legged bovine or canine creature. Both the authors of this piece and this particular respondent think that the animalistic slurs mentioned lie somewhere between the terms “tight bitch” and “slag.” Lees and Sharpe say of their respondents, “they mustn’t end up being called a slag,” because, “slag” appears to rank with names such as “slut,” “tart,” and “scrubber.” In this sense, still engaged in the business of dehumanisation, there seems to be some labels even worse than being named as a type of nonhuman animal. In fact, this latter point appears to be true in some pornography as well. For example there is a particularly disturbing anti-Semitic book entitled Sluts of the S.S. (cited in Mayall & Russell) in which Jewish women are described with “standard” derogatory insults such as “whore,” “slut,” “dog,” and “swine”. In one violent encounter a woman is called a “filthy Jewish slut.” However, as a final insult - the move to absolute “thing-like” status with no possibility of moral status - she is called a “human toilet” in scenes of oral rape.
 On the one hand, “mainstream” feminists (and I immediately acknowledge the problematics of using such terms) suggest that ecofeminism essentialises women as “close to nature” beings, while Carol Adams, who has labelled herself a “feminist-vegetarian critical theorist,” criticises ecofeminism for not recognising that animal domination is absolutely central to nature domination. This appears similar to Jim Mason’s “agri-cultural” perspective.
 The notion of the “logic of domination” has proved to be controversial in ecological philosophy, with writers criticising and defending its conceptual validity. See, for example, Dixon’s attack and Crittenden’s defence. The first articulation of a logic of domination I am aware of appears in Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, first published in 1964.
 see HERE for an account from Earth Island Journal of the global trade in women and children. Like nonhuman animals, this article notes, “Throughout history, patriarchy has valued women not as persons but as things, pieces of property to be bought and sold.”
 Pornography titles comprising racism or speciesism, or racism and speciesism: Animal Sex Among Black Women, Black Bitch, Black Girl’s Animal Love, Bitch’s Black Stud, Gang Banged by Blacks, Geisha Girls, Oriental Sadist’s Pet. Raped by Arab Terrorists, Bound Harem Girl.
 Patricia Collins (see HERE) note that, “Certain ‘races’ of people have been defined as being more body-like, more animal-like, and less godlike than others.” Biological notions of race and gender prevalent in the early nineteenth century which fostered the animalistic icon of Black female sexuality were joined by the appearance of a racist biology incorporating the concept of degeneracy (Foucault, 1980). While the sexual and racial dimensions of being treated “like an animal” are important, the economic foundation underlying this treatment is critical. Other animals can be economically exploited, worked, sold, killed, and consumed. As “mules”, African-American women become susceptible to such treatment [these views reinforced by pornographic images of Black women]. Publicly exhibiting Black women may have been central to objectifying “Black women as animals” and to creating the icon of “Black women as animals.”
 This is complicated by the narratives that suggest to men that women “like” to be abused, or “taken by force,” etc.
 We may recall reactions to the scene in Douglas Adams’ Restaurant At the End of the Galaxy when a pig enthusiastically offers himself up as food, even suggesting the body parts he felt to be the most tender.
 Lees and Sharpe (1984: 19) recognise that there are derogatory names for young men too, such as “wanker” and “prick” - interestingly, no animal names are used to depict men, at least in this study, while the authors claim that there is a far bigger choice of hurtful names to aim at females rather than males.
 The Anti Nazi League has cited Holocaust denier David Irvin who says of Hungarian Jews being shipped to Auschwitz in 1944: “You are talking about 45,000 tonnes of meat.”