AUCKLAND, NZ—The University of Auckland is only about 1,000 miles east of the University of New South Wales, where Profs. Catharine Lumby and Alan McKee and Dr. Katherine Albury produced the most comprehensive study to date of consumers' preferences in pornography. It was titled The Porn Report, released in 2008, and its findings were almost entirely positive, noting that consumers generally found porn to be relaxing, arousing, educational, and made them more tolerant of other people's fetishes as well as more attentive to their own partners' pleasure.
But apparently those findings weren't good enough for the Marsden Fund, a philanthropic organization run by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which has just awarded University of Auckland Associate Prof. Nicola Gavey $790,000 for a study now called, "Public engagement towards a more inclusive and equitable society."
None of the published reports give the study's original title, which was ditched, according to Marsden Fund Council Chairman Prof. Peter Hunter, "in order to avoid a prurient response"—but the description of the study's scope is definitely troubling.
According to a report on the TVNZ.com website, the study "will look at the relationship between pornographic movies and people's real lives, examine our views on it, how it reflects and impacts society, and will include studies on young men and women, an art exhibition, an interactive website and a public symposium." [Emphasis added]
Worse, Prof. Gavey said of the impending study that after years of researching the "cultural norms underpinning rape" and with an ongoing interest in sexual violence prevention "it has become clear to me that we collectively need to think a lot more carefully about the issue of pornography."
But Prof. Gavey's already published on that subject: Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape, which argues, according to one review, that "The past two decades have witnessed a significant shift in how rape is understood in Western societies. This shift in perception has revealed the startling frequency of occurrences of date rape, obscuring the divide between rape and what was once just sex. Just Sex combines an overview of the existing literature with an analysis of recent research to examine the psychological and cultural implications of this new epidemic. The result is the conclusion that feminist theory on sexual victimisation has gone both too far and not far enough."
Moreover, one commentator whom Prof. Gavey apparently respects is attorney Catharine MacKinnon, the virulent anti-porn writing partner of the late Andrea Dworkin. In 1983, the city of Minneapolis hired the pair to co-author an anti-porn ordinance which defined porn as a violation of women's civil rights, and would have granted women the power to sue adult producers for the alleged harm done to them for making XXX movies—if the mayor had not vetoed that idea before it could be implemented. But the pair proposed a similar ordinance for Indianapolis, Indiana the following year, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and MacKinnon/Dworkin supporters also pushed for passage of similar laws in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Bellingham, Washington.
Finally, the short biography of Prof. Gavey on the University of Auckland's website notes that, "Also related to sexual violence prevention and a broader ethic of equality in sexuality, she is interested in examining gendered norms of identity, embodiment, and practice. This includes an interest in physical feminism and the possibilities for transgressive femininities in relation to sport, for instance; as well as the gendered norms and values reiterated within so-called 'sexualised' ideals and further promoted within industrialized sex (pornography, prostitution, and so on) and ironically normalized and contained within the rhetoric of neoliberalism and postfeminism."
Possible translation of the italicized portion: Porn and prostitution provide some of the underpinnings for rape and other violence against women.
All in all, this does not bode well for an objective look at porn, but we'll certainly wait to see what Prof. Gavey's final report says.