Researchers: Pornography in ads can lead to violence against women

by Lee Hurwitz
Published Thursday, October 20, 2005

In a society where pop culture and advertising have continued to push the envelope through their use of sexuality, Matt Ezzell and Natalia Deebs-Sossa of the University of North Carolina, are doing what they can to push for sexual equality.

Ezzell and Deebs-Sossa presented "Talkin' Ads and Porn" Wednesday in the Whittenberger Auditorium to a relatively full audience. The goal of this presentation was to inform students about society's perception of women as sexual objects and how to correct this perception.

"Since most women are kind of different from the top-model image, there is a constant losing battle of self-image," said Douglas Hofstadter, who organized the event and is a professor of cognitive science and computer science at IU. "It's damaging when every woman that's portrayed in the media or who are on the covers of magazines are part of a stereotypical form of beauty, whereas the average woman is not."

The two-hour presentation began by describing the relationship between violence and sexually explicit advertisements and ended with a slide show of sexual images in the media and pornography. In order to make their points, Ezzell and Deebs-Sossa showed common advertisements that can be accessed virtually everywhere. These ads generally viewed women in sexual positions and tended to focus on certain body parts, they said.

The portrayal of women as sexual objects in advertising and pornography is what troubles Ezzell and Deebs-Sossa because this depiction produces a general harm to women, Ezzell said.

"We think that there is a connection between pornography, advertising and violence towards women, but it's not a direct causal link," Ezzell said. "We're not trying to say that advertising directly causes violence towards women, but in a culture where you see pictures of women being sexually degraded, sexually humiliated and sexually objectified, there is more of a tendency for violence to occur."

The presentation also included the harm toward men in instances of pornography because it suggests the way a man should act sexually and it limits a man's sexual expression.

Deebs-Sossa said advertisements are not just degrading women as a whole, but there are sub-groups of degradation because minority women are portrayed differently than white women, which can lead to certain consequences like racism.

Even though Ezzell and Deebs-Sossa see advertisements and pornography as a way of degrading women, they stressed that they, in no way, wanted to encourage censorship.

"Everybody has the right to produce what they want within the First Amendment," Ezzell said. "That's not where our critique comes, though. We're saying that they have this right but rather they need to look at the consequences of their actions."

Ezzell also believes that if society censors pornography, it will be in a worse position than he believes it already is because of the possibilities of a black market. He also believes the amount of sexual violence probably wouldn't decrease.

"Part of our presentation is how the advertisements and the commercials are so similar to some of the images we see in pornography that part of what we need to change is the idea of what we consider sexy or attractive in our culture," Deebs-Sossa said. "Until we change that, we will create some injustice in this world."

She believes the increase of women who are considered beautiful in advertisements also leads to health problems with teenagers. The number of girls who have anorexia and strive to obtain the bodies of these women has gone up, and she thinks advertisements play a major role in that.

"I think that the main question that we need to ask ourselves is why a woman taking her clothes off is what we need to use in this culture to sell things," Deebs-Sossa said.

Even though the presentation strongly depicted advertising and pornography as negative, both Ezzell and Deebs-Sossa believe society can improve the degradation of women in those areas.

"There's a lot of ways to be sexual, and pornography only tells one of them," Ezzell said. "We can be much more creative in the ways that we express ourselves sexually and there's a lot of hope to expand our ability to be intimate with one another."

"Researchers: Pornography in ads can lead to violence against women"

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