The king is dead… Emancipating (enslaving) and (dis)empowering women

Blog in response to Parliamentary Debate: National Women’s Day: The emancipation and empowerment of women – 18 October 2017

What Hefner tried to sell as emancipating and empowering, history and research has shown to be utterly enslaving and profoundly disempowering.

The king is dead…

On 27 September, Hugh Hefner died. Hefner, founder of PLAYBOY magazine, left a legacy of commodifying the female body and mainstreaming the sexual exploitation and objectification of women for financial gain.

Research shows that Playboy portrayed female sexuality as subordination and women as universally available to the male sexual gaze—a fundamental characteristic of pornography that carries on today.

With an unlimited supply of pornography on the Internet, a myriad of harms have taken the world by storm: sexual addictions and disorders, damaged and broken relationships, sexting, child-on-child sexual abuse, revenge porn, increased rape on college campuses and the military, rampant sexual objectification of women in popular culture, psychological effects such as anxiety and depression, and the list goes on.

In the USA, the land of Hugh Hefner, the reality of the harms of pornography is causing an ever-growing number of state legislatures to declare pornography to be a public health crisis.

(To date, 4 states have made such declarations, whilst in Florida the resolution is firmly in progress and 6 other states are considering the adoption of the resolution.)

In a recent article in the Washington Examiner, Patrick Trueman (President of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation) asked: “How can our society accept, let alone applaud, Hefner and the messages about the value of women he unleashed, when we are simultaneously struggling with campus sexual assault, military sexual assault, and the culture of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley?”

What Hefner tried to sell as emancipating and empowering, history and research has shown to be utterly enslaving and profoundly disempowering.


Emancipating and empowering Women in South Africa

In our own nation, great efforts and initiatives are undertaken both by government and civil society to empower women, to put a stop to violence against women and co-opt men as allies in achieving these social imperatives.

However, if our efforts are not co-ordinated and integrated, we run the risk of “taking one step forward and two steps back”.

The greatest social interventions in the world, to educate and empower women, men and children, will mean little if we fail to remove the sexually exploitative message of pornography from our media platforms.


Government policy on sexually exploitative messaging

Government policy on the distribution of pornography is found in the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, which is now before the Portfolio Committee on Communications (National Assembly) for deliberation. The policy put forward is, firstly, that children must be protected from exposure to pornography, which is laudable and is strongly supported, but that adults should be able to view what they want.

And we continue to reap the fruits of pornography’s exploitative message: The most recent being the sexual assault and rape of pupils by staff and other adults in our schools.

Research in this field makes it clear that sexually exploitative and devaluing messaging, triggers person-on-person sexual exploitation, irrespective of the age of the viewer.

The second policy proposal is to only disallow the distribution of violent pornography. This, however will result in the mainstreaming of non-violent sexually explicit material that is degrading of human beings and/or disrespecting of human dignityThis cannot be in the interest of justice or the public interest. It also cannot be justified on constitutional grounds.


Sexually exploitative messaging – Enslaving society and disempowering women

As in the case of the American author, we have to ask:

  1. Why would we, as a matter of principle, support the production and distribution of material that –
    1. exploits women in the production thereof; and
    2. through its message to viewers, promotes the sexual exploitation of women?
  2. Knowing that exposure to pornography causes men to perpetrate sexual violence on women and girls, how can we support the distribution of such material into our society –
    1. as a matter of state policy and with the protection of the law, and
    2. without conducting a proper and thorough investigation into the effects of pornography in South Africa?



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