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Violence Against Women on the Internet

Campus Sexual Assault Policies
(opens: 4.16.02)
(opens: 4.23.02)
Sex Trafficking
(opens: 4.30.02)
The Internet as a Site of Resistance
(opens: 5.7.02)
(opens: 5.14.02)
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The Internet, Pornography, Race and Representation

MacKinnon's essay mentions the intersections of gender and racial oppression in pornography. While MacKinnon argues that racial oppression is a sub-division of gender oppression, other theorists have asserted that racist imagery undergirds pornography. Patricia Hill Collins argues that underpinning pornography is the subordination of racial minorities. While MacKinnon argues that the subordination of racial minorities occurs through the filter of gender, Collins asserts that the subjugation of women in pornography occurs through the filter of race.

The Internet provides an interesting arena for thinking about Collins' assertion as pornographic websites are often specifically devoted to exploiting both gender and race. On these websites, racial stereotypes (i.e. the image of the dangerous and wild sexuality of the black woman or the meekness and passivity of the Asian woman) and women's subordination are simultaneously eroticized. While the exploitation of the racial Other has long been a pornographic trope before the advent of the Internet, online pornography has capitalized on commodifying racial difference.

Patricia Hill Collins' essay "Pornography and Black Women's Bodies" examines the intersections of race, representation, and pornography. While Collins problematically limits her analysis of race to a black/white discussion, her examination of the ways in which an exploitation of racial and ethnic difference underpins pornography offers a useful way of thinking about pornography, racial difference, and the Internet. In order to more fully understand pornography's harm, it is useful to think both about the ways in which pornography operates on an axis of gender and the ways it operates on an axis of race.

Excerpts from Patricia Hill Collins, "Pornography and Black Women's Bodies" from Black Feminist Thought pp. 167-173

The treatment of Black women's bodies in nineteenth-century Europe and the United States may be the foundation upon which contemporary pornography as the representation of women's objectification, domination, and control is based. Icons about the sexuality of Black women's bodies emerged in these contexts. Moreover, as race/gender-specific representations, these icons have implications for the treatment of both African-American and white women in contemporary pornography.

I suggest that African-American women were not included in pornography as an afterthought, but instead, form a key pillar on which contemporary pornography itself rests. As Alice Walker points out, "the more ancient roots of modern pornography are to be found in the almost always pornographic treatment of black women, who, from the moment they entered slavery … were subjected to rape as the 'logical' convergence of sex and violence. Conquest, in short"(1981, p. 42).

One key feature about the treatment of Black women in the nineteenth century was how their bodies were objects of display. In the antebellum American South white men did not have to look at pornographic pictures of women because they could become voyeurs of Black women on the auction block. A chilling example of this objectification of the Black female body is provided by the exhibition, in early nineteenth-century Europe, of Sarah Bartmann, the so-called Hottentot Venus. Her display formed one of the original icons for Black female sexuality. An African woman, Sarah Bartmann was often exhibited at fashionable parties in Paris, generally wearing little clothing, to provide entertainment. To her audience she represented deviant sexuality. At the time European audiences thought that Africans had deviant sexual practices and searched for physiological differences, such as enlarged penises and malformed female genitalia, as indications of this deviant sexuality. Sarah Bartmann's exhibition stimulated these racist and sexist practices. After her death in 1815, she was dissected. Her genitalia and buttocks remain on display in Paris (Gilman, 1985). …

The process illustrated by the pornographic treatment of the bodies of enslaved African women and of women like Sarah Bartmann has developed into a full-scale industry encompassing all women objectified differently by racial/ethnic category. Contemporary portrayals of Black women in pornography represent the continuation of the historical treatment of their actual bodies. African-American women are usually depicted in a situation of bondage and slavery, typically in a submissive posture, and often with two white men. As Bell observes, "this setting reminds us of all the trappings of slavery: chains, whips, neck braces, wrist clasps" (1987, p. 59). White women and women of color have different pornographic images applied to them. The image of Black women in pornography is almost consistently one featuring them breaking from chains. The image of Asian women in pornography is almost consistently one of being tortured. (Bell, 1987, p. 161).

The pornographic treatment of Black women's bodies challenges the prevailing feminist assumption that since pornography primarily affects white women, racism has been grafted onto pornography. African-American women's experiences suggest that Black women were not added into a preexisting pornography, but rather that pornography itself must be reconceptualized as an example of the interlocking nature of race, gender, and class oppression.

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