Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star columnist, misleads public about violent pornography

Note to reader:  I am reproducing the Toronto Star column below because there is important information in it about the normalization of brutality against women in popular culture.  However, the author, Antonia Zerbisias, makes this astonishing statement towards the end: "The thing is, there are data that suggest a correlation between the amplification of "gonzo porn" and media violence and a concurrent drop in rapes and violent crimes, at least in the U.S. It could very well be that the more women choke almost to death on screen, the fewer of them do in real life."

In other words, exposure to violent pornography "could very well be" reducing crimes against women.  That is the same argument used by the defenders of child pornography, i.e., exposure to child pornography reduces crimes against children.  It's not true for child pornography and it's not true for violent pornography.  Statements like those are the reason I took the Toronto Star to the Ontario Press Council for misleading the public about the research on violent media which, obviously, had no impact on their editorial board because they continue to let statements like that appear in the newspaper.  Click here to read the complaint

For information on the research showing the harmful effects of violent pornography, check the Research and Supreme Court sections in the Action Agenda: A Strategic Blueprint for Reducing Exposure to Media Violence in Canada posted on this site.  By the way, the harm caused to women is the reason the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upheld the Criminal Code prohibition on violent and degrading pornography (Butler decision),  the reason the Ontario Attorney General asked for Intervenor status in the Butler case, and the reason the Ontario government kept a prohibition against violent (and child) pornography when they revised the old Theatres Act into the Film Classification Act. Too bad for the Star's readers that Ms Zerbisias' editor didn't ask her to mention any of the facts to balance her uninformed opinion.

Valerie Smith
Toronto, Ontario
January 26, 2021

Packaging abuse of women as entertainment for adults

Cruel, degrading scenes `normalized' for generation brought up in dot-com world

January 26, 2021
By Antonia Zerbisias
Toronto Star Living Columnist

The hottest place on Earth this month was Las Vegas.

That was the site of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo where thousands of, um, exhibitors and fans of pornography came together to look at the latest in media, toys, games, gadgets, paraphernalia and genitalia.

Yes, the pornography industrial complex is so huge that it can fill one of the world's biggest convention halls, so mainstream that it need no longer operate in the dirty raincoat section of your local newsstand or video store, so available that it's on basic cable, so accessible that any child could Google her way to Internet sites where women (and men and children) are brutalized for somebody's fun and profit.

According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs and the ever-expanding E-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That's more than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink.

Listen, I am no prude. I get a kick out of some porn. I was at a strip club as recently as last month. I love sex. I talk dirty. But when I can easily find websites that show women subjected to what can only be described in a family newspaper as waterboarding by ejaculate - or simultaneous impalement on more than one fire pole, or sexual practices that will cause E. coli infections - I have to wonder where the industry gets these ideas.

Not exactly the fun and games most of us enjoy in the bedroom (or wherever your pleasure). It's as if, just like TV reality shows, the fear factor/cruelty/shock value has to be continuously ratcheted up to get them into the tent, especially online. And make no mistake, when you see women being brutalized this way, you are not seeing an act. That woman really is gagging, really is gasping for air, really is drowning.

Every second, 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography.

Every second.

That's a lot of women who, for whatever their reasons, and most likely they are economic, are being tortured.

That's a lot of sticky keyboards.

There's a huge market for the domination of women.

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has been tracking the trend for years. In his new book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, he writes with alarm about how the "cruelty line" in mass-market pornography is driving up. At the same time, the "normalization" line - "the measure of the acceptance of pornography in the mainstream of contemporary culture" - is also up, sharply.

"If pornography is increasingly cruel and degrading, why is it increasingly commonplace instead of more marginalized?" he writes. "In a society that purports to be civilized, wouldn't we expect most people to reject sexual material that becomes evermore (sic) dismissive of the humanity of women?  How do we explain the simultaneous appearance of more, and increasingly more intense, ways to humiliate women sexually and the rising popularity of the films that present those activities?"

Two answers, perhaps.

Like the proverbial frog in the pot of simmering water, we're not aware of how the temperature is slowly being fired up.

Pop tarts used to be the exception among rocker chicks, not the writhing music video rule. Pole and lap dancing were for strippers, not workout DVDs. Body shots were fatal bullet wounds, not sexy ways to get drunk and show off on Facebook.

As a result, society, especially its younger members who can't remember a non dot-com time, is increasingly accepting of the systematic debasement of women. It's probably why more young women participate in their own exploitation and abuse and it's also why, at least according to online discussions I have seen, many young men think going through the back door on a first date is normal.

"Porn constantly marches toward these practices that heighten men's domination of women and reinforces this notion that pleasure is to be extracted from women," says Jensen, on the phone from Texas. "(Men) may not seek out multiple penetrations but they can experience the pleasure of seeing the domination of women enacted sexually. They'll say, `I may never do rape porn, multiple penetration or sexual practice X, but I like watching it.'"

The other explanation? The marriage of capitalism and so-called freedom of expression.

Not that Jensen advocates censorship. He just wishes there were legal limits when damage can be demonstrated.

"An important discussion to have is how to construct a law that is both consistent with free speech and a realistic understanding of how mass media affect our culture," he tells me. "We do this all over the place. We're balancing the value of speech with the harms that speech can create. That's why we have libel laws, sexual harassment law, conspiracy law and laws against insider trading in the stock market."

The thing is, there are data that suggest a correlation between the amplification of "gonzo porn" and media violence and a concurrent drop in rapes and violent crimes, at least in the U.S. It could very well be that the more women choke almost to death on screen, the fewer of them do in real life.

But how curious it is that women are the ones to pay the price either way? And the most likely way it's going is not going to be pretty.

Concludes Jensen: "It may be that the more overt sexualization of violence is the only place the industry has to go - and then we'll see what the culture's values really are."