Violence and Women : Researchers Condemn R-Rated Films as Worse Offenders Than Pornographic Movies

Times Staff Writer

Repeated viewing of sexually violent movies tends to make men more accepting of violence against women, but R-rated films are five times more violent than pornographic movies, researchers said Friday.

In what has been a long-running debate, the researchers say they are more convinced than ever that violence on the screen has an effect on men and on their views of women.

However, they said, it is not sex in the movies, but “graphically violent” scenes that are the worst culprits. Moreover, many prime-time movies and soap operas have more sexual violence and “have a much stronger effect” than X-rated films, the researchers told a symposium on the final day of the annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.

Two weeks ago, U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin M. Meese announced a government “re-examination” of pornography that, he said, has “radically changed” in recent years “with more and more emphasis on extreme violence.”


Meanwhile, ordinances are pending in Los Angeles and othercities that seek to ban pornography by labeling it as sex discrimination and allowing lawsuits to block the sale of any material that includes “graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women.”

Feminist advocates of the new anti-pornographic statutes, including visiting UCLA law professor Catharine MacKinnon, have argued that there is a direct relationship between sex in books, magazines and movies and crimes against women, particularly rape.

But the researchers, summarizing their own studies and the work of others at the scientists’ meeting, supported only part of that argument.

Edward Donnerstein and Daniel Linz of the University of Wisconsin said college students, when shown several sexually violent movies, tended to have “less sensitivity to the pain and suffering of the victims, a greater acceptance of myths about rape and an increased likelihood that they say they would commit rape.”


The studies obviously cannot prove that viewing a movie would cause a crime, but Linz said the evidence at least supported the notion that there is a likely “spillover to real violence.”

Donnerstein cautioned that it is the “violent message or the violent scenes, not the sexually explicit material” that is the real concern. “We’ve found no effects for sexual content alone,” he said.

The most graphic and gory movies depicting sex and violence are the so-called “slasher movies” such as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” Linz said. These are R-rated and “are routinely shown at drive-ins throughout the country and are popular at most video outlets,” he said.

Though brutal and ugly and likely to have a powerful effect on repeat viewers, these films would not be banned by most anti-pornography statutes, Linz and Donnerstein said.


“I think we’re using the term ‘pornography’ too loosely,” Donnerstein said. “It is the graphic violence and even violent message--that women enjoy rape, for example--that is the problem, and you see it repeatedly on television, whether on ‘General Hospital’ or on prime-time movies.”

Little Violence Found

Joseph Scott, an Ohio State University professor of sociology, said a study of movies shown over three months in Columbus, Ohio, found that X-rated films contained relatively little violence.

The R-rated movies had an average of more than 20 violent acts, he said, followed by G movies, which had 16, and PG movies with 15. The sexually oriented X movies had 4.4.


“No matter how we looked at it or what measure of violence we used, the X-rated movies had the least violence of any type of movie,” Scott said.

He also analyzed which states had the highest number of adult movie theaters, adult book stores and sales of “most offensive” sex magazines such as Hustler.

“We found no relationship,” Scott said, between the states that ranked highest on the availability of sexual movies or magazines and the rates of reported rapes in those states.

Murray Straus, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, added that other studies have found that the Ladies Home Journal and similar mass circulation magazines have “more violence than Playboy.”


However, MacKinnon, the feminist attorney who wrote the pending anti-pornography statute in Los Angeles, countered that the “distinction between sex and violence is a false one.”

Pornography only differs by the degree to which women are “bound, battered and tortured, or merely taken and used in postures of sexual servility,” she said in response to the social scientists.

She described pornography as an $8-billion-a-year industry that puts women into a “subhuman, victimized class.” As such, they should be able to sue those who perpetuate such harm, she said.