Culture

The Problem with Kanye’s Casual Endorsement of Porn

Kanye West at Paris Fashion Week in 2015 (Charles Platiau/Reuters)
The experience of having a daughter apparently hasn’t changed Kanye’s objectifying view of women.

In early August, Harper’s Bazaar released some photos from its September magazine, under the headline “Bazaar Icons 2018: The First Families of Music.” One of the most circulated photos from the shoots that featured celebrities such as Lionel Richie and Christina Aguilera was of Kanye West, the patriarch of American pop-culture’s First Family.

The photo is endearing, featuring two of Kanye’s three children, all bearing expressions and apparel that are reminiscent of his streamlined, muted-neutral fashion line. Five-year old North, his eldest child, is one of two daughters he has with Kim Kardashian.

West released his eighth studio album Ye in early June 2018 and appeared on Jimmy Kimmel a couple of weeks ago to discuss it — particularly, one song called “Violent Crimes” that closes out the album. The song is an open letter to his daughter North, in which he describes his already-looming fears about other men’s future treatment of her and professes regret for his own past treatment of women, prompted by having a daughter. He even expresses hope that his daughter will dress modestly and not like her mother, who anyone not living under a rock has likely seen scantily clad on magazine covers or on social media.

Although this song suggests Kanye had a major revelation after having a daughter of his own, his statements to Kimmel about the subject are contradictory and perverse. After telling Kimmel about a tender experience between him and his daughter, who has taken a liking for fashion, Kanye responds to a question from Kimmel about whether his attitudes toward women have changed since her birth. What looked like a refreshing dimension of Kanye, as a father who describes his little girl with a paternal, sentimental warmth, is abruptly shattered.

Kanye responds to Kimmel’s question with “Nah, I still look at Pornhub.” The audience erupts in laughter.

Not only is this brief exchange perturbing because of the transition from the topic of a young girl to pornography in the same breath, but because Kanye’s response openly and unapologetically eequates viewing porn with his unchanged attitude toward women.

Kanye said it himself: He hasn’t changed his objectifying views of women despite his experience of having a daughter. A disturbing, debauched answer made in front of an audience of millions was met with laughter instead of the outrage it deserves because pornography is America’s sacred cow.

As different American institutions, such as Hollywood and college campuses, attempt to reform their approach to sexual-assault accusations, it would make sense for porn to be a target of criticism. While there is some debate among researchers about its impact on viewers, the available evidence is alarming. In-depth porn studies are almost impossible to execute, and researchers are forced to grapple with self-selection biases, but many studies show that porn and sexual violence are connected, even though those who seek to profit from the industry defend it as harmless.

According to a meta-analysis of 46 different studies, porn-viewers have a 31 percent increased risk of accepting rape myths, meaning they’re more likely to believe things that would reduce empathy for victims of rape, or even cause them to blame the victim for her assault. The same meta-analysis shows a correlation between watching porn and a 22 percent increased risk of committing sexual offenses. Another study found that men exposed to porn in which the victims show pleasure in the act of rape are more likely to believe that a higher percentage of rape cases are invented by victims. Men who watch porn were also significantly more likely to believe women could enjoy rape.

But despite these studies, which should prompt public concern and even a concerted effort from families to educate their children on the destructive nature of pornography, the industry remains relatively unchallenged by anyone but religious groups and a handful of other organizations, such as Fight the New Drug, a nonreligious, nonpolitical organization dedicated to raising awareness of porn’s harmful effects through science, facts, and personal accounts.

“One of the most misunderstood aspects of pornography is that people think pornography is harmless. They think because it’s something people consume privately, it couldn’t have any harmful implications,” Fight the New Drug told National Review in an email interview. “People do not understand that in reality, pornography impacts individuals, relationships, and society.”

The average age of porn exposure for males is around age 13, which, according to a University of Nebraska study, may help explain why some young men develop sexist attitudes and seek power over women. The researchers found that the younger a boy was at first exposure, the more likely he was to believe that men should dominate women. Many studies also show that exposure to porn can desensitize men to violence against women and may make them believe that it’s acceptable to re-create the violence they witness on screen.  Non-violent porn  can also influence the viewer to use forms of verbal manipulation and alcohol to push women into sex.

“[Porn] has become so incredibly normalized and common in our culture that it’s often difficult for individuals to consider the damage it can do,” according to Fight the New Drug. “Some individuals may be experiencing the consequences of pornography themselves, but don’t realize that’s what’s going on. We don’t want to believe something we enjoy is harming us.”

It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that when young men are exposed to pornographic videos of women being abused and called vulgar names that, in real life, would warrant a slap across the face or worse, it may easily have an enduring influence on their treatment of the women they interact with. Sociologist Jonah Galtung says porn functions as a form of “cultural violence” — it is “an aspect of the symbolic sphere that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence.” Porn’s depictions of women as vessels to be used and discarded after gratification create a culturally accepted narrative that exploitation of women is okay. It’s not a stretch to think this feeds violence in the corporeal world.

But most Americans don’t bat an eye. In fact, they sometimes even laugh.

It’s disingenuous for Westerners to claim to be champions of gender equality and seekers of justice for victims of sexual violence in the MeToo era when porn is unchecked and virtually unquestioned. Catcalling is widely viewed as objectifying and threatening, and often rightfully so — but videos featuring women being violated, which reduce them to only their physical being and their availability to men, aren’t?

Kanye West is one of the most popular pop-culture icons in the world, with millions of young men listening to his music and following his public appearances. He had a valuable opportunity, after writing a song that showed a genuine concern for the well-being of his daughter, to influence other men to reflect on their own behavior and treatment of women. Instead, he reinforced porn in front of millions as harmless and even humorous, at the expense of women and young girls.

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Marlo Safi is a Pittsburgh-based writer and a former Collegiate Network fellow with National Review.

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