Ali Raisman, Olympic gymnast and victim in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, recently posed for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue – without the swimsuit. Some have called her out for a contradiction between her blistering confrontation of Nassar’s immoral behavior and her own moral example.
Raisman reacted by claiming there is no moral equivalent between being a sexual abuse victim and creating pornography, even so-called “soft porn” masquerading as art. She is right, to a point. There is no causal relationship. When a man abuses a woman, it is always his fault – completely. Men are responsible for their choices. Abused women are victims, not vixen.
Denying a direct cause/effect in her specific situation, however, misses the point. There is a connection, less direct but still significant. Women who pose nude – no matter their artistic claims in doing so – reinforce men considering women as objects of their sexual gratification. Whether Raisman recognizes it or not, millions of young men who view her photo aren’t thinking “artistic expression;” they are thinking “sexual gratification.” Pornography conditions men to objectify women – seeing them as people to be used, not respected.
This is the fundamental flaw in Raisman’s reasoning. Yes, her nude photos have nothing to do with past crimes. But they do contribute to shaping the way a future generation of young men view women as objects of sexual satisfaction. Porn producers depend on continually feeding that mistaken, baser instinct in men as the lifeline of their industry. Abusers and harassers are men who objectify women to the extreme – and who act destructively on those impulses.
While Raisman’s actions did not contribute to Nassar’s crimes, it’s naïve to think they are not connected to shaping how future potential abusers and harassers view women. They are and they will.