Pornography is the communication of sexually explicit material for the purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography has existed for millennia, and can be found in ancient societies. In our world today it can take many forms including movies, television shows, videos, websites, books, magazines, photographs and sound recordings.
Pornography is viewed as harmless by some, and problematic and even dangerous by others. What most feminists do agree on, is that the pornography business, which is a multi-billion dollar industry, is not good news for women. Women in that industry are objectified and often abused.
A lot of pornography degrades women and children and treats them as objects for male pleasure. Often women are portrayed as enjoying the degradation and violence. This can be distinguished from erotica, which is a celebration of the beauty of mutual sexual love.
Much debate surrounds the connection between pornography and violent acts. Civil libertarians argue for freedom of speech and the right to sell and own pornography. They suggest the political dangers of censorship outweigh any harm that pornography might cause. However, there is a growing body of literature linking pornography and violent acts against women.
Pornography is undeniably more accessible, and more violent than it was 50 years ago. Today, pornography is available not only from illegal sources or adult video stores, but on every home computer attached to the internet. Satellite TV brings pornographic movies into living rooms. Telephone sex services are available in the home to anyone who has access to a credit card number.
In the past, social constraints, such as fear of being seen going into a store, or not wanting people to see the type of mail you are getting, provided some limits to the spread of pornography. But these limits are now gone. Further, this ease of accessibility means that pornography is available in our culture not only to adults but to children as well.
Pornography is part of the patriarchal landscape of our culture. In the twentieth century, women made huge steps forward in terms of their political and legal status. Some people can point to these strides, proclaiming that the struggle for equality is accomplished. However, patriarchy is not just about laws or political rights, it is an attitude that is deeply ingrained. A chilling barometer of the strength of patriarchal attitudes in our culture is the success of the pornographic industry.