Sex & Racism in Pornography

I started this article with the intent of researching inherent racism within porn in regards to the treatment of women. It was my aim to discuss the idea of Asian and Black women in stereo typical roles of a submissive, how this perpetuates the sexual expectations and roles of women in the bedroom formed by racism within mainstream society. I have also been forced to expand the scope of the article to comment and respond to an article by Rachel Bell in Broadly. I came across an interview in which James Deen complained about racial inequality within pornographic films that he was casting for. I have been dismayed by Deen since allegations of violence and abuse towards his girlfriend and on-screen partners which have systemically damaged his career. Due to the abuse allegations, I was curious with what he had to add on the topic of racism as I was sincerely hoping that he would have comments to add that would be of a redeeming nature.

Rachel Bell had a brilliant opportunity to comment on the ideals of racism towards both men and women of colour within the industry, but instead the article focuses on Deen’s anger at the idea that women will frequently back out of porn films when they discover that it is with a man of colour, a practice which is perpetrated as “disgusting and annoying”. This article insinuates, through the lack of representative scope, that racism within the industry exists solely at the hands of women backing out of interracial scenes, and neglects to include comments from women, or indeed mention women at all, excepting superficially mentioning that women of colour within the industry are paid significantly less than their white counterparts. From this realisation, I was forced to ensure that my own article didn’t come across as limiting, and thus expanded with the aim of discussing the same themes in relation to men. This series aims to explore a variety of issues surrounding both men and women in heterosexual and gay/lesbian adult films through discourses around race, gender and sexuality.

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Women in Pornography

The discussion of women in pornography is often a heated discussion. When the discussion of women in pornography is brought up, it is usually in relation to the ideas to how women react to themselves and their own bodies, how porn affects women and the idea of sexuality, and how women are treated through men within an adult scene. It is often looked through with a feminist lens, and devoid of any other social ideologies. It is rare when these concepts are discussed through a racial lens. The reality is that women are affected by the consumption of pornography regardless of whether or not they actively and explicitly consume it.

Gail Dines suggests that the proliferation of porn messages through images, media, pop culture is having a profound impact on all of us. She discusses the hyper sexualised images delivered by pop icons Britney, Beyonce, Rihanna, and even Nick Jonas. These images create a false sense of power. In terms that there are many social groups which believe that conforming to this image will result in giving them power within the world through social acceptance, social standing and this ideal transcends culture.

When teaching in Thailand there was an afternoon in which the whole school community were celebrating with the local army. As it was a military school and all the students were subjected to scouts training. During the afternoon the entire school congregated in the main oval where music was played, there was laughter and games, and the general frivolity of kids with the foreign teachers gathered in one corner and the local Thai teachers in the other. A Western pop song came on and the children began to engage in a dance off – small children, almost exclusively female with the exception of gender queer males, started dancing in ways reminiscent of the way that Britney or other hyper sexualised female performers would grind and dance against a pole or her male dancers.

The group of us foreign teachers were horrified as we were quite confronted this sort of behaviour would never have been tolerated within our schools back home, and one of the teachers in the group was quite distraught. After hurried discussions and seeking reassurances from our main ‘host’ teacher we determined that whilst they were dancing in a hyper sexualised manner they did not understand that it was of what we would consider an overt and explicit sexualised nature. What occurred to them was simply an emulation of a western dance to them was devoid of any connotations of sex and sexuality. Indeed, the more ‘provocative’ that they danced, the more celebrated by their peers and teachers that they were. These children, clearly were not in a position to consume pornography, but they had already been affected by the messages of porn with the ideal that sex and sexuality were celebrated concepts even though they could not understand the undertones.

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We can explore this further through Dines scathing critique of Cosmopolitan magazines and its depiction that women are incapable of experiencing authentic pleasure. The pages of Cosmo, which are primarily aimed at developing teenage girls, are filled with the idea that her sexual pleasure is synonymous with his sexual pleasure, that being what she enjoys and wants are what he wants and enjoys. The magazine, as a whole, is all about him, his needs, wants, desires, and most importantly, about his orgasm rather than about hers. This idea is spread through the idea of pornography where the female body is sought as a supplementary tool for his pleasure, with the focus concerned about the idea of penile penetration culminating in his orgasm. This is exemplified through a pornographic scene generally concluding with his ejaculation. In this way, as Dine points out, the discourses of female pleasure are derived from being a desired object, and not from being a desiring subject. We can thus see women being reduced to stereotypical roles within porn.

Lets now expand this to look through femaleness through a lens of race. We often see Black and Latina women for example, as being reduced to their body parts as having curvaceous assets, or being of a particular attitude that needs to be tamed throughout the scene. Once again, we can see the influences of society within pornography, and pornography influencing society. Black women in pornography ties in closely with American historical culture. Due to the disparity between White and Black in the nation’s past, there is a certain fetishisation between interracial porn. Whilst this generally centres around the taming of a white woman through a ‘sub-class’ black male with a larger, and thus superior, cock, it also works when the ideals are reversed.

The culture that women and men of colour are sub-class has existed throughout American history and draws its roots through Slavery. As Casey Calvert explains, Interracial porn is an American Construct and the stereotypes associated with that continues to inform modern social policies. The idea that a male that was once considered to be a slave overpowering a white woman through an overly large phallus, in comparison to white men, is fraught with inequalities to race and gender and forms part of the foundations of the fascination of interracial pornography. The stereotype when it comes to women of colour is that they are overbearing, and in need of control. The idea is, however false, that there is a profound difference in the size of white cock to black cock, and that woman will be more than satisfied by the white, albeit ‘smaller’ conquering cock. Issues surrounding men and women of colour see them reduced to concepts such as body parts, attitude, and black thuggery. Men and women of colour are often told to play up their ancestry for the camera in order for them to become more realistic.

Time and time again, we see arguments directed at porn which discusses violence within porn, and the objectification of women. These arguments generally examine active traits, which is  something being done to someone else, through physical movement, or through verbal abuse. It is less common to view this through the passive lens, if we determine that domestic violence against women is a male issue, then shouldn’t we also take the same approach to pornographic content? Where women of colour are seen to be as being in need of taming.

The fetishisation of Asian women relates to submission, the devaluation of their physical attributes and of being child-like. Asian women, in porn, are portrayed as enjoying submission and loving the idea of domination as they will wear pig tails, erupt into giggles, overly smiling, and in every sense of the word succumb to being infantilised. The set-up of a scene involving an Asian female will relegate itself to seeing the actress in a subservient role, or relying on poor English speaking skills, where the male actor will become her saviour and she will be eternally grateful.

Racial Stereotypes

Amy Sun in her article in Everyday Feminism links the history of the Asian woman Image to colonialisation and the blurring of lines between services and sex. She discusses that the image of subservience is reliant on colonialisation. For the most part, sub-servient jobs such as nail parlours and massage places, don’t require many language skills to provide services. Faced with displacement, and an invasion of foreigners, Asian people had to assimilate and adapt in order to survive. This had led to racist notions such as Asian women being reduced to the physicality of their vaginas with the assumption that all Asian women are small and tight. Amy Sun paints this discourse as a counterpoint to black males and big black cocks to reinforce the idea of Orientalism being defined as the discursive practice of reinforcing the dichotomy of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, and “east” vs “west”. This issue becomes increasingly prominent when porn is produced for, and consumed by westerners.

It is clear that racism exists as a result of history. From that point in becomes ingrained within mainstream consciousness and gives a seemingly legitimate platform for racism through the confusing and delicate tangling of stereotypical thought. Not everyone views pornography as racist though, whether that be through careful consideration or whether that be through ignorance, porn is often viewed as little more than a sex scene. Marty Klein is one such author who disregards the idea of racism within pornography. He critiques Gail Dines as having an issue with the idea of pornography, and not ‘racist’ pornography. The crux of his argument is that pornography is a ‘vehicle for sexual fantasy’ and he exclaims that you’ll see racial stereotypes in porn with absolutely no effort. He suggests that the ‘racism’ is primarily concerned with the idea that people of colour are deemed as sexual and he argues if we would consider it less racist if we saw a small black penis disappointing a woman, or if we saw a small Asian woman demanding sex and refusing to let her male counterpart go, until she had had enough.

In an idealistic world, Klein is right, however he in turn neglects to acknowledge the relationship between pornography and society and how the values within a social context both influence and shape pornographic content and vice versa. I have discussed the inherent racism within Grindr and Tinder, the assumed sexuality of individuals through race, class and looks, and this is in part influential towards, and influenced by the Adult Industry. Klein is correct on a stripped back simplistic definition of pornography as being a vehicle for sexual fantasy. He fails to acknowledge the pay inequality that women of colour receive for the same scene who have the same experience as their white counterparts, an inequality which is sometimes up to $300 a scene, and which is acknowledged by men of colour within the industry. This is an example of outright racism. He also makes reference to pornography which contains small black penis, and a dominant Asian woman which go against dominant discursive practices of porn. His triumph in acknowledging this should be dampened by the fact that scenes of this nature, are rare in any type of porn other than home produced. With the exception of humiliation scenes, after searching for videos with the tags ‘Small black cock’ I found nothing. Dominant Asian women could be found, though they still conformed to certain expectations which would enforce dominant racist discourses. The reality is, that social constructs dictate pornography content and vice versa.

Whilst this issue surrounds women, and concerns women in negative ways, the same can also be true when we apply the same concepts to men. The fetishisation of black men, the queering of masculinity and gay femme, and the expectation of straight male porn performers. This will be explored in the next article as well as looking at the fascinating concept that whilst it is the male’s sexual pleasure and climax which is paramount to the scene, that he is considered to be a secondary actor in comparison to the starring female. All this and more, next week!

Author: Stephen Smith – BA Of Social Sciences, M.Ed


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