Pornography in the public eye: Reflections on a New Zealand social action project

Stream: Gendered Identities: Exploring Sexual Violence
Date: Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Time: 3.15 pm – 5.00 pm


In this paper, I will discuss the contested presence of gendered violence and violations within mainstream heterosexual pornography. I will argue that irrespective of how much is counted as aggression or violence, its gendered dominance-submission dynamics, as well as its racialized elements, demand critical attention. While pornography consumption is normalized within New Zealand, particularly for young men, its content, meaning and impact have for some time received little serious public discussion. “Pornography in the Public Eye” is a New Zealand social action project that was designed to create spaces (both literally and discursively) for revitalized discussions about the ethics and politics of porn. Activities have included a gallery-based art exhibition, collaboration with a community fringe programme, workshops with young people, and other forms of social engagement ( In describing these elements of the project, I will discuss the theoretical underpinnings and the challenges we have navigated in attempting to bypass the conventional binary terms of debate around the issue. These include a more dialogical approach, situating our interest in pornography alongside wider cultural politics, adopting a deliberately slippery stance towards the genre as a whole, and focussing critical attention instead on the sexism, misogyny and racism within it.


Nicola Gavey (Presenter), University of Auckland
Nicola Gavey has published widely on the intersections of gender, power, and sexuality, with a particular interest in understanding the cultural conditions of possibility for male sexual violence against women. Her 2005 book Just sex? The cultural scaffolding of rape (London & New York, Routledge) received a Distinguished Publication Award from the US Association of Women in Psychology. Her current work, supported by a Marsden Fund grant (with Virginia Braun and Linda Tyler), is a social action project that seeks to facilitate spaces for new forms of critical discussion about the gendered and racialized sexual politics of contemporary pornography.