ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — While the nation’s largest beauty pageant is proudly covering up in the name of women’s empowerment, Americans increasingly believe pornography to be morally acceptable — a trend that one Catholic commentator finds to be incoherent.
“On one hand, it seems like the media wants to say ‘yes, you shouldn’t treat people just according to their bodies,’ and on the other hand, they seem to be saying ‘it’s actually a very liberating thing if you want it to be a liberating thing,’” said Matt Fradd, a Catholic apologist, speaker and author whose work focuses largely on the consequences of pornography.
A Gallup poll released on June 5 found that 43% of Americans find pornography to be “morally acceptable.” This is a 7% increase in the past year — more than the cumulative increase over the previous seven years combined.
The poll was published on the same day that Miss America Organization Board of Trustees announced its termination of the swimsuit competition portion of the pageant. Instead of the swimsuit competition, women will have the opportunity to verbally highlight their strengths and passions in conversation with judges.
A press release from Miss America said that candidates “will no longer be judged on outward physical appearance.”
Chair of the Miss America Board of Trustees Gretchen Carlson was quoted in the press release as saying, “We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”
Fradd noted the irony in a culture that decries the objectification of women in some contexts while accepting the same objectification when it occurs in pornography. He suggested that this demonstrates contradictions within the cultural mindset.
“So, at one minute, we are being told that if a woman wishes to undress and engage in pornography or pornography-like actions, that this is somehow liberating,” he told CNA. “But on the other hand, we seem to be championing this … Miss America contest and saying that this is a real victory for women, that we’re not just judging them on their bodies.”
Participation in Miss America swimsuit competitions was a voluntary action, he noted, yet contestants presumably did not find it liberating — hence its removal from the program.
The “cultural revolution” that Carlson referenced — the recent #MeToo movement criticizing the sexual harassment and objectification of women — “has done some good things, but it hasn’t gone nearly far enough,” said Fradd. It doesn’t “address why pornography and consuming it degrades the human person and is therefore always inappropriate.”
Church teaching aside, he said, decades of scientific research have proven pornography to be physically, mentally and emotionally detrimental.
“Right now, there are 38 neuroscience-based studies on porn uses,” said Fradd. “Every single one of them supports the addiction model. And that leads to all sorts of complications, like erectile dysfunction in men, sexual dysfunction in women. It leads to depression, nervousness, irritability, marital breakdowns — the list goes on.”
However, Fradd also supports the Church’s reasoning against pornography.
“I would say we should trust the Catholic Church when it comes to human dignity and morality for the same reason we should trust a nutritionist when it comes to what food is good for us,” he said.
“The reason is the nutritionist knows the material of the human body, like, the material cause. Certain foods are good for us or bad for us because it’s who we are and what we’re made of, and I think, analogously, the Church knows who we are and why we are, and therefore, it knows what acts are at odds with our human dignity, or which lead to our flourishing.”