Maree Crabbe on pornography and gender equality

ANDREW LEIGH, HOST: In the mid 2000s, Maree Crabbe was working as a youth worker with Brophy family Youth Services when she became aware that many of the troubled young men she was assisting had poor relationships with their partners and watched a lot of pornography. As someone who's worked on sexual violence prevention for more than two decades, Maree became increasingly interested in the role of pornography in shaping modern sexuality and relationships. It led her to produce two documentary films, Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, and the Porn Factor. She has also produced in the picture resources to support secondary schools dealing with the rapid changes in the nature of pornography, and how young people consume pornography.

A warning to regular good life listeners. This is an episode about pornography. I think it's an important question in terms of thinking about how one lives a good life. But if you're listening with children, you might want to be aware that we're going to be talking about porn for the next hour or so. Right?

Welcome to the podcast. So hasn't porn always been around? I mean, what's changed?

MAREE CRABBE, REALITY & RISK: PORNOGRAPHY, YOUNG PEOPLE AND SEXUALITY COORDINATOR:  So I think there are a number of things that have changed significantly, I think, something. Pornography probably has been around forever. At some level, if we think about porn being sexually explicit media, the primary purpose of which is sexual arousal, which is a kind of a neutral, commonly accepted definition of pornography, then there's been sexually explicit images, you know, probably since people started creating images. Remember the walls of Pompeii, they have little pictures and pictures there? Well, indeed, and and you know, and perhaps, that are primarily intended to arouse. But never before in human history have, we had such an incredibly huge amount of content that is so very accessible, lack an endless supply of high definition content at the click of a button. And in the development sort of evolution of technology that has made that possible, and the enormous growth in the industry that produces that content, there's also been a shift in the nature of the material.

So in particular, our move towards significant proportions of content, showing high levels of aggression towards women, racism, degradation and humiliation. You know, it's not actually about sex and sexual arousal at some level, but it it's like contemporary pornography is, is combining a whole range of really what I would say really problematic messages about gender power, aggression, pleasure, consent, race, bodies, sexual health, so that that is a shift.

LEIGH: So I'm guessing that would be somewhat surprising to those of our listeners who aren't regular porn consumers and who might think of the internet as being a place where people go to get an online version of Playboy magazine. But But what do people see when they go online?

CRABBE: So people, if people are looking at mainstream pornography, the kind of material that you can access freely and widely and anonymously online, then they're likely to be seeing moving imagery of at least of one, two or many more people engaging in sexual activities, their sexual activities that are created for the viewer or not for the participant and so you know, off There's a sense in which porn sex is, is kind of more extreme and like, like extreme sports versions of sport, you know, so so it's partly for the wow factor or the shock factor.

And according to people in the industry, who we, we've interviewed people in the international porn industry for our films, the kind of content that is the most popular with a consumer is, is aggressive. So and in particular, its aggressive towards women. And this is also backed up by academic research, a study of 50 of the most popular pornographic videos found that 88% of sales included physical aggression, and 48% of sales include verbal aggression, and that aggression is overwhelmingly directed towards women. So 94.4% of that aggression was directed towards women.

LEIGH: So you're basically guaranteed if you're watching a popular form porn movie, that there's going to be aggression in it.

CRABBE: Well, it's certainly if you were to look at a selection of porn, porn films, you know, online, there's going to be aggression within most of them, not all of them. Yeah. And so the aggression includes, you know, for example, gagging in 54% of scenes choking and 27% of sane spanking and 75% of scenes. In real life, if women are being choked in an intimate relationship, that is a red flag for intimate partner homicide. So people working in family violence services, would be very concerned about women who are reporting being being choked, so that industry irata, sizes, practices that in the real world are, as in in the non performed world, things that happen to people and they happen to women in intimate contexts with enormous negative consequences.

LEIGH: So just to put my economist hat on for a moment, presumably, this is something about the kind of underlying demand. And it's I suppose it's sort of obvious to me that consumers would prefer video to stills. You know, most of us watch movies rather than flicking through photo albums. But it's, it's somewhat surprising to me that there's such a strong consumer demand for aggression. Do you worry about what that says about the 4 billion men in the world?

CRABBE: I do worry about what it says. And it's actually why I do this work. If If pornography was people largely being nice to each other and looking like they were having a great time, then I certainly wouldn't be doing this work. It's it's the gendered nature of the aggression and the high level of aggression. That is why I'm interested in addressing pornography and its influence. And I think that it raises very significant questions about the state of gender relations. And and I think that there's something sort of chicken and egg ish in it as in I don't, I don't think that so, you know, we know that. That young people so for example, young men are much more likely than young women to be active consumers of pornography as, as men are more likely to be active and enthusiastic consumers than adult women.

And one study of of young men, for example, found that the mean age for first actively seeking porn out was 12.3 years. So I don't think that your average 12.3 year old wants to see women being gagged and choked and spanked when they first search for sex or bodies or women or whatever it is that they're looking for. And yet, if that's what they see, repeatedly, then they're likely to become desensitised to the level of aggression or liquidation that they see. So it's not like the marketplace all says, This is what we want. However, it's clear, and the industry is clear that the marketplace at some level is saying this is this is what we want.

Now whether that's because there's a there's a desire for something that keeps pushing the edges that feels more out there more challenging, more confronting, you know, to kind of keep that edge of desire. Or as a female ex porn performer who we interviewed in Budapest in Hungary, described she she actually suggested that the increase in aggression towards women was because of the rise of feminism, meaning that many men no longer feel sure that they are the boss. This is this is her language, they no longer the show that they're the boss at home or in the workplace. And porn provides a way of men getting women back so they feel like they are in porn. They can feel that they're in control that they're dominating and Not only does this woman you know, on the porn screen look like she's happy to be with him. She's happy for him to do whatever he wants to her. And she'll relate as though she she loves that.

So it's like a I guess what that porn performer was suggesting was that pornography is a hyperbolic backlash? No, it's there's been a shift in gender relations. And for a long time, there's been, you know, a certain percentage of men or since socially and culturally, that means to be a man means to be in control, to be dominant, to have respect through being, you know, the controlling the controlling one. And with the rise in formal gender equality that we've seen in countries like ours, there's a sense in which there's a crisis in masculinity. Now, I think that is a very tragic reading of the state of men's masculinity and gender relations. But I suspect she's also onto something there, that there is some element of pornography, appealing to what is, we hope, actually a fairly outdated model of masculinity, that sort of the porn props that that app for men who were feeling insecure about their sexuality.

Now, I'm not suggesting that men go into porn or thinking that necessarily as in I think a whole lot of this operates at a relatively subconscious level for many men. And part and that's assisted in pornography is case by the positive responses that we see from the female target of the aggression. So the study that I mentioned earlier found that almost every incident of aggression was met with either neutral, or a pleasurable positive response by the target. So the viewer sees a woman enjoying it. She enjoys being subservient, sexually subservient to the male, being hurt by him. And so I think that that is both refreshing in that, you know, we don't want a whole lot of men being sexually aroused by women who look upset by being hurt. It's also very insidious, because it I think it gives unrealistic and, and very dangerous messages to young men and to older men, around what women like and how they deserve to be treated, and you know, who men are in their relationship with men.

LEIGH: Being a female porn performer must be a significantly tougher job now than it would have been a generation ago to I suspect.

CRABBE: Yeah, look, I think that there's been there's been very aggressive pornography historically, as well. But it's never been so mainstream. And yeah, I think that the difference in the experience for female female performers in what might be called hardcore or you know, contemporary pornography is pretty different from the centrefold experience that might have been a common experience 30 or 40 years ago. It's, I think it's very difficult physically, for female performers, and but also significantly, emotionally for them, you know, that, that on the one hand, they are the star, they're put on a pedestal, they're told they look great. And that was a great scene. But they are also treated appallingly as in and I know that there's diversity within pornography, and people in the industry are very keen to talk about diversity in the industry, in the kind of content that's created, but I think that there's a lot of commonality as well, and so much commonality that it becomes reasonable to use a term like mainstream pornography in a meaningful way.

And so in mainstream pornography, it is very rough on on women when it's heterosexual porn, and on some of the men involved in gay male pornography, which is also a very mainstream genre. Yeah, and I think can, I think can be an enormously costly role to be to be playing, which is not to say that there aren't performers who are very keen advocates for their work of course, and would be offended by me saying that I think it's very costly but you don't have to watch very much porn to see the level of costs that there is on women's bodies and and I would argue on their, on their mental well being as well.

LEIGH: What’s it like for you as somebody who's worked as a violence counsellor to need to watch porn that kind of is so deeply uncomfortable? Few people on the planet I suspect have in voluntarily watched as much pornography as you.

CRABBE: I don't want I don't watch heaps of it. I've had to watch it for the production of films. And every now and then for a little bit of research. I mean, I think that it's it's confronting seeing people being hurt and hurt in Why's that a sexual wise, I think part of why I do this work is because I value young people's chance at having relationships and sexuality that feel fantastic. You know, it can be such a, a wonderful part of life, your sexuality, but it can be also the most painful, you know, damaging traumatic thing for many people in life. And I feel concerned that the mainstreaming of the kind of pornography that is now so accessible, undermines many young people's capacity to negotiate and sort of navigate relationships and sexuality that a mutual respect for, you know, fully consenting. Fantastic for everybody who's involved. So that seems to me to be a tragedy. And with with challenging, it's not to say that I don't think young people can develop those relationships, I just think that that pornography, sets up the hurdles that are unnecessarily there, and unnecessarily high,

LEIGH: must be harder to listen to your partner, if you have a script in your head that you feel that you're right, you're living out.

CRABBE: Yeah, and I think I think so I think that there's, there's something about having a sense of what sex is meant to look like, I think there's a kind of a performance, anxiety that might go on for everybody involved. And clearly, one of the concerns is the ways in which pornography suggests to young men that women are not fully human, they're not multi dimensional human beings with, you know, the who are smart and fun and courageous and capable, and all of those things, they are, first and foremost, and perhaps only sexual beings, and they're lesser than men, so they don't deserve to be treated with with respect, I think that's going to leave a lot of people normally, you know, to not to not be able to engage with a level of intimacy and respect and equality in relationships that are partly and look, I'm not suggesting porn is the only issue here there are loads of places in popular culture and in, you know, in the world around young people that suggest that women are not equal that, that women are not important not to be treated with respect.

And we see that actually in politics, you know, and we see that in sporting context, we see it in, in action films and video games, and in all sorts of spaces. But pornography conveys that message par excellence. It's a, it's a particularly concentrated version of, of gender inequality. And we know that gender inequality is the key driver of violence against women. Yes. So in Australia, you know, we are delighted to be in a context in which addressing the public health crisis, that violence against women is being taken seriously, there's been resources and care and you know, a lot of people working towards those ends now.

That means that we need to address gender inequality. And wherever gender inequality is propagated is a target for violence prevention work, and it's clear that pornography is one such place. It's a, an increasingly prevalent place. And it's also it's influenced, I think, goes largely unchecked. So it often is consumed anonymously and alone or in private spaces where, where people are not, you know, not critically engaged about it by others. And also, I don't think people bring their best critical faculties to the use of porn, you know, people go to pornography to masturbate or for sexual arousal. And so they're sort of not necessarily thinking, how was this produced? You know, how do I feel about what, what's, what's on the screen here? Am I happy with how someone's being treated, or these kinds of sexual practices that I think might actually really feel good? And therefore, am I happy with shaping my own sexual tastes through the you know, the connection of the arousal process and viewing that imagery, we can actually remember all plastic, we all have some sort of neuro plasticity.

I don't like coffee. But if I was to drink coffee every day for a month, I would probably acquire a taste. And similarly we can acquire sexual tastes. So we want to make you know, I think part of what we want to do is encourage young people to be asking themselves. What do they want to be shaped by? Who do you want to be? You know, who do you want to be as a human being as a sexual being as a partner? Is this what you want to be shaped by? Or are there other ways of shaping your sexuality that might feel better for you and for whoever you're with?

LEIGH: I feel like we need to get a little more explicit for people who aren't regular consumers of porn. You've you've written about the three signature sex sets that are common to to modern pornography, this Gonzo style pornography, pornography, do you want to talk? Would you mind talking through those little?

CRABBE: Sure. So the signature sex acts that identify ejaculation on faces and bodies, what the industry refers to as deepthroating, which is fellatio with the penis pushed into the throat inducing gagging, and sometimes vomiting, although you don't usually see that on the screen, and heterosexual anal sex.

And so ejaculation on faces, for example, is found in 62 and a half percent of scenes in the most popular pornography. The the issue, I think, is not that we want to be prescriptive about particular sexual practices. So I don't have a problem with anal sex, as long as everybody involved is liking it. And there's no pressure or coercion. But we know from research that most women who have young women who have anal sex don't like it, and don't want to do it again afterwards. And you would never know that from watching pornography.

The issue is that pornography deliberately normalises particular practices, and ways of engaging in those practices that misrepresent many people's experiences of pleasure, particularly women's experiences of pleasure. And I say that they do so deliberately, because the industry says that that's the case. So they've you know, directors have talked with us about pushing limits, that it's about, you know, pushing women to see what kind of bacon bacon cope with. And that's part of the appeal, because it's seen as getting something more real from from the women on, on, on screen.

So young women who we've interviewed, have talked about their male partners initiating the signature sex acts from porn. And the young women often talk about really struggling, wanting to please their partners wanting to be generous and accommodating in their sexuality, but generally not wanting to do what they're, they or their partners have seen in porn. And when we interview young men, they also they talk about aspiring to, or indeed initiating what they've seen in porn.

And there's a sense in which pornography is kind of setting the sexual discourse, it's saying, This is what sex looks like. And the discourse that it's setting is not an aspiration towards mutuality, where, you know, mutual pleasure or co consent or respect, it's, as we've discussed, you know, what sells is kind of rough sex, and it's about pushing women. So if content like that is setting the discourse, then that has very serious implications for war for mutuality, but also for consent and for sexual assault.

You know, I think that sometimes pornography is influenced can serve to obscure notions of consent to the point of making sexual assault, unrecognisable. You know, if the script that you're used to seeing is women being pushed and hurt, then how in real life do you read what's going on? You know? Yeah, so it's, um, so it is it is an incredibly pervasive and and I think, kind of powerful, visceral, influencer, porn hub, which is probably the world's largest porn site, reported earlier this year, then in 2016 92, just under 92 billion porn films were watched. So by my maths, that's a little over 12 for every man, woman and child on the planet. And they're now the 23rd most popular website, which puts them above eBay and Netflix.

LEIGH: There is an extraordinary volume of, of porn being consumed. Yeah. And then presumably, I'm just thinking about young men developing their sexuality if they're accessing porn at 12 and losing their virginity at 16 then I've had for years in which they're sort of trained to think that those three signature sex acts presumably without contraception, the way in which sex should be practised.

CRABBE: Yes, that's right. And so I think that, that most young people, particularly young men are going to have seen porn before they've had sex, and probably, before they've kissed or touch the skin of an intimate partner. So the potential for third pornography to be shaping those sexual understandings. And also tastes are really significant. And they're also amplified by our silence.

So despite the highly sexualized, cultural context, lots of young people are growing up in in places like homes and schools, we really struggled to talk about sex. And when we do, we're inclined to talk about how to not get pregnant when you don't plan to and how to not catch an STI. We're not inclined to talk about arousal, desire, pleasure, negotiating consent. And young people say we know what they get about six is too little too late to biological.

So pornography is happily stepping in to that, to that sort of vacuum that we leave and look. Some schools, of course, are doing fantastic sexuality, education, and some parents do fantastic relationships and sexuality education. But we know that often it's not happening in either context, particularly well. So one of the things that I think the mainstreaming of pornography does is provide a mandate to us to step up and do better in our in our relationships and sexuality education with young people.

LEIGH: So what should what is good parenting looked like in a porn era? And presumably, the answer to that is different for boys and girls.

CRABBE: Well, I think there's similar, there'd be some sort of nuance, I suppose, in the ways that we might have the conversation. But I think there are a few elements, and not in order of importance. But the, I think the first thing we can do is to seek to limit young people's access and exposure to pornography. And that largely means managing their technology, which I know is very difficult. But we shouldn't throw this option out. So it means things like filters, supervised access of devices in age appropriate ways, time limited use of devices, devices do not need to be an extension of one's body, it's possible to you know, have use of them for a certain time and then not and to help young people establish kind of, you know, good technology practices, I suppose for their general well being as well as because devices are where they say pornography.

LEIGH: Just to push you a little bit on the specifics of that. Do you favour blacklist approach or whitelist? approach? Would you actually shut down kids devices? And so there's just a fixed list of sites that they can go to? Or would you tend to rely on filters that that say there's a certain list of sites you can't go to?

CRABBE: I think that it partly depends on the age of the child. So what we would do with a four year old or a six year old is different from what you do with a 16 year old, was certainly with an adolescent, I would favour a blacklist approach. Because I think young people will need access to things that we can't know that they'll need access to. And so for example, I would be very concerned about filters that lock content to sexual health information or you know, for young, gay, lesbian, bi transsexual young people to not be able to access information that's relevant for them when they may not want to be having that conversation with their, with their parents, or whoever's managing their technology.

So I think it's, we want to err on the side of and I actually, I don't think that filters are going to be a very effective method to do everything for us. So, which is why I began with them, not in order of importance. You know, I think I think that it's worth doing some of that work, particularly because we know that porn is marketed really aggressively online. And so a six year old who's searching for girls doing something rather, is likely to say porn unless they have a really good filter, and they, they probably are not looking for porn at all. So we can stop that unintended exposure, particularly for very young children.

So at some level, we manage their use, and I don't think we're ever going to stop children or young people seeing it at all, but we probably We can stop them watching some hours each evening, for example, and that's worth doing when we know the risk factors, the more they see and the worst content, they say, of course, you know, the greater the risks and harms to them. The second thing I think that we need to do, and this is perhaps, one, the next few things are my my fate, more favourites, you know, the sort of areas that I'm more interested in.

The second thing I think we need to do is to is to support young people to critique what they see in media generally, not just in, in pornography, but to help them to develop critical media literacy, and with frameworks to understand things like power, you know, inequalities, so that when they, for example, when they see a, an ad for soft drink, with beautiful young people having a great time together, they're not learning a lot about softdrink. They're learning about gender, age, beauty, ethnicity, disability and ability, sexual orientation by the absence or the presence of certain things in that imagery.

 And we need to help them develop frameworks to critique that, to understand that imagery often has a whole range of purposes, which may not be obvious to us. And so we don't need to show them porn to help them build those skills. In fact, I don't advocate showing young people porn. It's not legal. But I also don't think that we need to do that in order to support them to critique it, we can begin when they're very young with children's advertising and television, and then get more explicit in our conversation as they get older. So we might talk about sexualized media like music videos, and you know, advertising in gaming, and then have more explicit conversations about pornography, specifically, as they, as they hit an age where that seems appropriate, which will be different for different children and young people. But you know, it might be, it might be that we have a more overt conversation about the kinds of things you see in pornography, when they're in early secondary school. But we might talk about the sexualized media when they're in mid to upper primary schools.

then I think we need to help them develop skills. So they might be great at critiquing the sorts of messages that they see in pornography, and in other media, but then how do they respond to peer group pressure to watch it? How do they respond to pressure from an intimate partner to mimic it, and they're the same sorts of skills, we want them to develop around a range of other wellbeing issues. And I also think part of our job is to inspire young people.

So we need to help them catch a vision, this is not about saying sex is no good. Quite the opposite. This is about saying, relationships, and sexuality can be great. But we need to help them see what that can be like, you know, and so that means, I think having conversations about and you might not use these words, but that are about respect, mutuality and consent, where that and you might also talk about love, where respect mutuality and consent absent in a sexual engagement, someone is going to be very unhappy, it might be the worst thing that's ever happened to them.

Where those three things are present, it's likely that everyone involved is going to be having a great time. And then, of course, those things happen on a scale, they're not sort of either there or or not necessarily so and what we want, I think, is to help young people catch a vision for how great it can be when those things are present. So that means they need to see us, the adults in their lives relating respectfully, in whatever contexts, and I think it means we need to talk about sexuality, even though it's uncomfortable for many of us, and we haven't had it modelled. You know, like, many of us didn't get sex talks. We certainly didn't get porn talks, most of us who are, you know, now parenting young people ourselves or teaching them or whatever our role is. So it's, it's kind of new, we need to learn how to do it and to be comfortable about it as a society.

LEIGH: Well, upon talk was, in some sense, less necessary. I don't think back to high school where playboy magazines were so expensive that they would be sort of passed around among, among teenage boys. And it was, it was in some sense, that cost barrier in the absence of the internet, which meant that porn just wasn't for you. It wasn't very prevalent. And that seems that that transforming fact today,

CRABBE: yes, and the prevalence of it then shapes the nature of the content. Producers need to find an angle that will sell in the flooded marketplace. And, and apparently what sells is is aggression? Yeah, yeah.

LEIGH: What about for gay and lesbian teen so and certainly heard it said that for young gay men and lesbian women coming into their sexuality sometimes there's a real sense that they don't see themselves in the real world and pornography can actually be a way of making them feel comfortable in their own skin. Do you see that is as a as a reasonable argument for porn is gay porn more egalitarian in some sense?

CRABBE: So I think I certainly have heard young people talk about feeling that they can see themself in pornography in a way that they haven't been able to in the world around them. And so, and I think, particularly for young gay men, there's a sense in which consumption of pornography is an almost essential component in the development of sexual identity. It's just so it's, it's, you know, it's an accessible way of saying that you're not alone. There are other people who were attracted to people at the same sex.

But I was fascinated with my colleague, Dave Colette and I were fascinated when we first started interviewing young gay men, to hear them describing the gender power aggression dynamics in gay male pornography. And you would think that when where all the characters are male, there's no need for gendered identities in the same sorts of, you know, dichotomous way that we do the binary, male and female, but what they described to us, was a feminised male, being treated with the same sort of disrespect and aggression by a hyper masculine male, as the way we see women being treated in straight porn, which I think is fascinating.

You know, it's some, it's as though gender roles are so powerful, that I don't know that gay male pornography can manage to communicate muscle journey in the absence of women, is really quite quite a feat. So I think that on the one hand, you certainly can make the case about pornography playing some role in liberation for young people who's don't see their sexual identity reflected in the world around them in the same sorts of ways. I think, also, we want to ask some really critical questions about the ways that it is that the pornography is representing same sex sexuality, and whether Indeed, it is liberating. One of our films we've interviewed an author called Christopher Kendall, who wrote a book about gay male pornography and and he also talks about the significant level of racism in gay male pornography, where we see you know, stereotyped representations of different racial groups. And so for me, there are there are real questions in there about what's what's the braiding as well, you know, these things are all connected to each other for young women who are attracted to women.

By far the most common representation of women having sex with women in porn is material that's made for a male heterosexual consumer. It's not made for lesbians. So there is lesbian porn made for lesbians, and by lesbians, but it's some, it is a much more minor segment of the, of the sort of porn genre, then. Then material that's made for male heterosexual, which is actually one of the largest genres. And so lesbian porn often comes up as one of the most searched or viewed categories in porn sites, not by women, or not by lesbian women often,

LEIGH: so same sex porn might have some role, but sounds pretty, pretty problematic on a range of dimension.

CRABBE: Yeah, I think I think that there's Yeah, I think that the we want to ask questions of the sorts of representations that have been conveyed and not just not just assume that because it's showing same sex sexuality, that that means it's all good.

LEIGH: So for an ethical adult, like listening to the conversation, should he think of pornography is more like alcohol or ice. Again, you have a little bit of it, and it's okay. You're Should you really stay away from any contact? Because there's a risk of spiralling into a bad place?

CRABBE: I think there are a number of elements to consider. I'm not sure if I want to answer something quite so clearly as alcohol or ice, you know, I think the alcohol. Yeah. So I think one of the things to consider is the production. You know, how do you feel about where and how this content was made? Are you sure that the people in it were consenting? They're not someone who's been pressured or coerced or trafficked? Were they? Did they produce it in safe conditions? Did they have rights as workers? You know? And how can you be sure about all of those things too, because even when sometimes on, you know, in some particular kinds of porn, you see a an interview with the performance, saying that they're consenting or all of that is a performance? Of course, they're doing it for the camera now that it may be genuine. But we don't know that either. Do we like it? That's part of what's expected.

So I think there are questions about consumption, sorry, about production, that that aren't one level. And then there's also the questions around what do you want to be shaped by you know, is is this is this how you want your sexuality to be shaped and fought you know, is, is it is solo with the screen and your hand how you want to do sexuality, if that's what the choice is, you know, maybe you're watching it with a partner and exploring things that you're both into, then that's another that's another conversation, a different way of thinking about it.

There's something else in there, I was gonna say. Then I think also that even the very best pornography for me there's still questions around objectification. If it's not like, it's not an educational piece that you're kind of looking at to learn something from if you're using it for masturbation and arousal, then, what do we do with questions around objectification? You know, can you hold on to that the person you're looking at on the screen is a multi dimensional human being who deserves your respect? And your care? Whether or not you know them? or? Yeah, or is or is there something kind of intrinsically objectifying in a way that is problematic? I, the project that I coordinate is not anti porn.

So I'm and I don't think I'm conceptually anti porn, as in I'm actually having spent a lot of time thinking through that issue, because I think you start having a conversation about content that is pretty marginal. It's not what most people are watching. When you're thinking about ethical porn. I know that people talk about that there are increasing amounts of it created, there are increasing amounts of porn, you know, there's just an enormous amount of porn made. So I'm not saying it doesn't exist. But I think in order to be consuming pornography, that's more ethical, you probably need to be paying for it. And that's not what lots of people do. And you might need to be searching fairly hard to find it. And I'm, yeah, alright. So for your ethical male who's listening, thinking, what do I do with it? I think what I'd encourage people to do is to ask hard questions.

LEIGH: I can understand certainly in your role and reporting on the industry and working with education programmes that you wouldn't want to be seen as somebody who was just just say, No, but so much of what you said does does seem to point in that direction, does seem to suggest that if if it isn't heroin, cocaine and ice, then no, it's got enough common characteristics with extremely dangerous and addictive substances, that the careful consumer should probably stay away.

CRABBE: Well, I think that I think that mainstream pornography has a whole lot of problems. Yeah, I absolutely do think that it does.

And, and I guess part of what I what I say to young men is it is a choice to not watch pornography, it is a valid choice that you can make, there's no biological imperative to consume pornography. In fact, never before in human history have we had endless supply endless novelty, you know, this kind of content. So It is a valid choice for you to make. And maybe no one's talking about that with some young people. But then if you are going to choose to use it, then what sort of a consumer you're going to be, you're going to be a choosy consumer, you know what if you were never to consume content where someone looks like they've been hurt degraded, we can't be sure that they will consenting. That's going to cut quite a lot of content out

. So you might, you might add, so I would probably argue a harm minimization approach, which is more like an alcohol, you know, conversation, but I would, but I would also want to talk about the the levels of harm associated with the, you know, its production and its consumption, some of which I think are just not very obvious as in we are so used to seeing women being sexually subservient and sexualized that we perhaps don't have alarm bells in our head saying, hang on a minute, she's a human being.

LEIGH: So that point about nonconsumption upon being a valid choice is so interesting, I hadn't thought about it from that angle before. But you know, to, to talk to boys about the fact that their dads, their Grandma, or grandfathers, in most cases, didn't grow up with the internet around So by definition, didn't grow up consuming internet porn. And so the the role model men in their lives managed to move through their teenage years without this tsunami of, in many cases, violent images.

CRABBE: Yeah. And yeah, and you mentioned addiction, and I don't sort of I don't talk about addiction in relation to pornography, I do, I do think that it's possible to have compulsive use of pornography, to feel out of control of one's use of porn to be watching more content than you want to be watching, or to be watching the sort of material that you're not comfortable with using and gets feel drawn back to it. And some people would argue that, that that's addiction, and I just, I don't talk about addiction, because then we'll end up in a discussion about the science of addiction. But I think for, for, you know, the purposes of the, the meaning behind that is that it is content, that's for some people, they'll find, you know, compelling in a way that is compulsive and unhealthy for them. I don't think that that's how it is for everybody.

However, I would want to argue that a lot of what's passes is just normal porn to consume is deeply problematic content that we ought to even if we don't feel uncomfortable about it, or we don't feel compulsive in our use of that we ought to be asking harder questions as individuals, but from my perspective, more importantly, as a society, you know, is this how we want the sexuality of the 21st century to be defined and shaped, particularly for young people? And my answer is no, we can do better.

LEIGH: Or you've had this fascinating career moving through youth work and to now become one of Australia's leading experts in pornography. Looking back at how your career has unfolded, what advice would you give to your teenage self?

CRABBE: So I, I think, I think I would say to myself, probably not probably, you know, partly shaped by my experiences in my career, but I'd say be ambitious. Think Big, this stuff to do, you know, the world's a big place, there are lots of things that fantastic about the world, but there's a lot of things that need to be changed. And you can play a role in being you know, in part of that, and we all can. And I think what as a, as a teenager, I was pretty social and pretty crazy and not, you know, I kind of wanted to do fine at school and get on with life, but I wasn't, I wasn't thinking ambitiously about what I might do with my life and how I might contribute. And it's, yeah, it's been a fantastic journey to go on to now feel like I'm in a position where I can contribute and not and I'm actually not particularly passionate about pornography. I'm interested in equality and, and gender inequality in particular agenda, addressing gender inequality. So I won't stay working on pornography for the rest of my life, I don't think but it's been it's been fantastic to be to be able to learn and grow in this work and be in a position And to be able to contribute.

LEIGH: That's really useful to, for me to have your work on pornography situated and that broader conversation around equality. What's something you used to believe, but no longer do?

CRABBE: I think when I was a child, and probably an adolescent, I used to think that adults had it all worked out, you know, like, adults are mature, and have a whole lot of knowledge and kind of have their Lodz together. And as I've grown into an adult, I realised that were actually kind of just bigger kids, you know, like, we may grow into being more mature, and certainly, I feel more competent and confident and all of those things, but we're still vulnerable, you know, frail, we stuff up, we do the wrong thing by people, we, you know, it's not like you sort of hit a certain age, and you've got it all together. When you're most happy. I think there are lots of times when I'm happy, I'm happy often and in different settings. So I'm happy in, in nature, you know, when I'm somewhere beautiful, I'm happy when I'm engaging with people who I'm enjoying people who I love, or even people I don't know, but that I'm, you know, enjoying their company. I'm happy when something that I've been working on for a period of time comes together, you know, when the successes and exciting things that happen? Yeah, so a mixture? And probably, I'm happy when there is a mixture? No, I wouldn't just be happy in nature. And I wouldn't just be happy engaging with people or, you know, being successful in whatever.

LEIGH: What's the most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy?

CRABBE:  I can't I think it's probably a combination of things. So there's probably not a single thing, I guess you might, one might say balance. But I know we're meant to say that. That I don't know that it's actually often the things outside of work, like our connections with our family, and people we love and those kinds of things that are what gives us life. But I think for me, it's it is, I actually feel like my mental well being is also partly significantly contributed to by my work. So actually feeling engaged and energised. And but having a combination of that with other things. I recently last year, I took up hockey, because my, my kids had said to me for some years, he should play hockey with us. And so I now play hockey on a team with two of my daughters. And I'm terrible at it. But I've never played before in my life. But I liked doing something active. And it's been great during that with my kids and also with you know, all the other women that I play with and against. So I think that yeah, that in the mix of in terms of the sorts of things that I do that keep me Well, I think something active stuff, that social stuff, that's fun. And stuff that's getting me thinking,

LEIGH: It’d be good for your kids to to see mum as a beginner rather than just an expert. So I imagine yourself in that slightly more vulnerable position.

CRABBE: Yeah, I think it's probably good for all of us to do some things that we're not good at. Yeah, and yeah, I'm sure I'm sure that that's I think they probably have a good laugh at me here and there, which is fine.

LEIGH: Do you have any Guilty Pleasures?

CRABBE: Chocolate? Excellent. Yeah.

LEIGH: And finally, which person or experiences most shaped your view of living an ethical life.

CRABBE: This is a hard one. I think the other thing that I've come up with is, I'm gonna say an experience when I was in my early 20s. I visited El Salvador just after the war had finished there. And I was there for a few months, and I lived with and visited people whose life had been so profoundly different from mine. I come from a context that has been safe. You know, where I've been cared for and loved and not at real risk from anyone in government or, you know, I've been somewhere where it's a privileged position in the world. And so to spend time with people who'd been tortured and raped and whose communities have been burnt, and you know, people disappeared. I came away from that experience, feeling like I couldn't live my life in such a way that didn't acknowledge that those realities of inequality They exist. So that can mean different things for different people. And of course, I knew that there was inequality beforehand like we, you know, we're exposed to to that at some level, but I think going and sitting and living with people and actually got profoundly unwell while I was there and ended up in a cholera quarantine in Outback El Salvador, with people with cholera around me, I didn't have colour, but it was kind of a feeling like a near death experience as well. But yeah, the combination of those things made me think I actually need to, I need to live a life that responds to the realities that are unfair, you know, not okay, globally. And, and then I guess I've tried to find different ways of doing that, since.

LEIGH: So the experience of saying that degree of profound suffering inspired you to live a bigger life?

CRABBE: Yeah, I think so. And also, it wasn't like, so there was profound suffering, and in that there was also joy. So you know, singing and dancing and beautiful people who've cared for each other, and I stayed with one family who had run a hospital in their home, it was a mud brick home with a dirt floor, and they had up to 70 people sometimes staying in their home, that who they were caring for who'd been hurt injured during the war, in a remote community, you know, three hours hike from the from the nearest road. So incredible children with smiling faces, and you know, who lived in that environment that was their was their home. And so I think that, yeah, it wasn't just that there was suffering. So the challenge, I think, is Yeah, is to somehow respond in a way that that honours, and awareness of the inequalities and also embraces joy and hope and, you know, love and care and respect.

LEIGH: That's a wonderful point in which to finish, Maree Crabbe. Thanks very much for joining us and the good life podcast today.

CRABBE: Thanks for having me.

Thanks for listening to this week's episode of the good life. We love getting feedback, so please leave us a rating or a comment on Apple podcasts, formerly known as iTunes. Next week, I'll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.