Screw the Feminists Who Are Trying to Ban Porn

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UK feminist groups Feminista and Object have begun a campaign to force retailers to stop selling magazines with images of naked and semi-naked women, using the Equality Act of 2010. This is bad news for sex-positive, individualist feminists for two reasons. First, it’s extremely off-putting from an outreach perspective. Second, it actually endangers individual liberty.

Look, porn is a mixed blessing. Where porn is prevalent, rates of violence against women fall. It may reinforce objectification of women. And its proliferation has wilted many an erection for real-life, unairbrushed and un-extreme partners.

There is a strong anti-porn movement in the United States as well. Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin have led the charge against porn since the 1980s, and their supporters are still holding strong. But the thing about the First Amendment is that it’s not really supposed to be subject to our own personal, mercurial feels about things like porn.

Now, the UK doesn’t have the same kind of speech protection we enjoy in the United States. We have spent many-a-long year attempting to decide what counts as “obscenity”—which is the kind of speech governments can regulate—and what just counts as pornography—which they can’t. After a long time fighting about it, the Supreme Court came up with the following guidelines for what counts as obscene:

  • Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (which has, of course, become complicated with the advent of the Internet).
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Why is this? It’s not as if the founding fathers and the Courts were like, “Congress shall make no law, unless, ya know, misogyny.”

I take umbrage to this crap because as a sex-positive, individual feminist, this makes it much harder to defend feminism. Most of feminism’s flaws are really just annoying. Oh, you get too upset with slut-shamers and don’t have a sense of humor? Well that’s unfortunate and makes feminism a harder sell.

But when sex-negative, collectivist feminists propose laws that limit individuals’ right to free expression and prevent business owners from selling the wares they want to sell in their own businesses, it’s actually dangerous. This is where I have to agree with people who say feminism is bad. This kind of feminism really is.

One interesting aspect of the move to ban porn is how it dovetails nicely with the evangelical drive to ban sex toys. Both groups use ideology to justify using the state to police what objects people use, voluntarily and in the privacy of their own homes, to get off.

That women feel harassed by having to work with and around porn magazines is one argument for the law, depending on how the UK defines harassment (it probably wouldn’t be here in the U.S.). But couldn’t the same argument be made by men who, for whatever reason, feel harassed by Cosmo? Should the law intervene anytime someone is uncomfortable? This is where the liberty to work where you want to work is essential. I suspect Great Britain could do a lot to expand that freedom, and that would be a great place for individualist feminists to start.

In addition, if women feel that porn, in and of itself, constitutes harassment, that sounds like a great opportunity for a public awareness and education campaign. Convince consumers that porn is bad and shouldn’t be consumed, don’t try to outlaw its sale.

Certainly too much infighting can make movements less effective, but when feminists make moves that are antithetical to individual liberty, individualist feminists must step up to proclaim that this does not represent feminism. I cannot support any moves to limit free expression or infringe on business owner’s rights, regardless of their intention.

Image via androlib.com

  • AuntMerryweather

    Nice post, Cathy.

    AFAIK, the anti-porn feminist movement is a marginal, if vocal, minority of radicals. The value judgment they make (that all issues – including concerns over free speech – are secondary to goal of liberating half of the human population) is pretty compelling if you accept their premise that pornography is a tool with which women are kept in (metaphorical, sometimes physical, har har ) chains.

    As a sex-neutral individualist feminist, I’m skeptical of that premise. Although, I’d reckon that the choices of women to pursue a career in sex-work, porn, or stripping deserve as much feminist scrutiny as progressive feminists tend to give to stay-at-home-moms who “choose their choices” to devote themselves to domestic life. And critics of both positions should keep things in perspective: raising children as a SAHM is not akin to a 15-year-old being sold into marriage/coveture, and collecting $200 for stepping on some bloke’s jamjars while he rubs one out is not the same as being forced (directly or by circumstances) into prostitution.

    • Does sex work deserve as much scrutiny as dropping out of the workforce to stay home? I’m not sure. “Should” women do sex work or stay home? Depends on our goals. If freedom is the goal, yes. If equality is, then no.

      Can you elaborate further on your point about staying home being unlike human trafficking?

    • DKendall

      I don’t think the idea that they’re a marginal minority of radicals within the feminist movement holds up to scrutiny. Not in the UK and Europe at least.

      UK Feminista is the largest feminist organisation in the country, and their anti-porn campaign is supported by other large feminist organisations like the London Feminist Network (who organise Take Back the Night). These are the feminist groups with influence in media and politics in the UK. For example, when four “leading women’s organisations” were selected for consultation on press standards during the Leveson enquiry, Object was one of those chosen, and all of them took an anti-porn and pro-censorship stance.

      If you look at other examples of Object/Feminista’s authoritarian activism (e.g. their campaign to close down strip clubs and sex shops), you’ll find that they received support from most significant British feminist organisations. The European Women’s Lobby, a large coalition of European feminist groups, pushes similar anti-sex industry policies across the EU. In my experience there’s generally little effective opposition from more liberal/libertarian feminists.

      If anything it’s feminists who disagree with the anti-porn lobby who are a marginal voice within European feminist activism. There certainly isn’t much sign of an organised and influential sex-positive movement over here.

      • AuntMerryweather

        Feminism in the mother country may be a bit different. In my experience, most “progressive” groups in the US are also free-speech advocates. It might just be a US/UK difference.

  • miguel_gomez

    Cathy, you are now the one feminist I actually like. Your arguments are eloquent and well-presented. Bravo.

    • Thanks so much!

      • miguel_gomez

        The pleasure is all mine. I hope to get better acquainted with the US cause for freedom. It has moved me to start Romania’s first-ever libertarian party. I’d really like to get involved with the US. After all, it’s my home country 🙂

  • Salome

    “[Why is this? It’s not as if the founding fathers and the Courts were like, “Congress shall make no law, unless, ya know, misogyny.”]”

    Ahem: “Founding FATHERS”, being, you know, the key word here.

    Women will liberate themselves from this Patriarchal system of oppression.

  • Sex Kitten Party

    Cathy, there is a vast amount of scientific research out there that completely undermines your argument on the basis that porn is inherently anti-woman and anti-child. It promotes sexual deviancy. I am a proud feminist and am a very VERY sexually minded person. If you go to yahoo and search for porn you will very quickly come across child pornography depicting children as young as 6 and media depicting rape, sodomy, and torture of women. I have an educational background in human sexuality and sociology of sexuality and there is another category of “porn” that does not involve the degradation of women and children. It’s referred to as “erotica” by professionals in the specific industry.

    Porn is inherently dangerous to women. It contributes to our rape culture and the notion that rape is somehow sexually appealing. If two consensual people want to get together in their own bedroom and act out rape role play, then by all means- have at it. However when that type of violence becomes the “norm” in the porn industry (which it has) it desensitizes men to violence against women. In turn the violence and degradation gets increasingly more significant. It’s come to a point where such violence isn’t taboo enough and children are being thrown in the mix. I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of guys who have outright admitted that to me.

    Feminism is about creating a society that’s safe and healthy for women. Porn undermines that in every conceivable way. I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU to do a search for yourself and report back on what you believe is the most pervasive type of porn out there. I guarantee it’s going to be rape/molestation/violence against children, teens, women. The ONLY true female friendly “porn” is erotica.

  • pheminist doosh

    Man haters (feminists) are human garbage, nothing more.
    The religion of man hate and perpetual victim hood has destroyed women and made them weak, useless men.
    I am waiting for nigbama to crash this fucker so that we can start torture killing useless cunts, such as yourself.

    • pheminist doosh

      Understand, I already beat the shit out of useless cunts, such as you, now.
      I’m just really looking forward to the time when I don’t have to put so much effort into disguising myself to avoid prison.
      I’ll be able to focus that energy on beating or killing a few additional man haters instead.

  • r

    i am 30 and never and had sex… if they ban porn i wonder what will happen.