EU Wants To Fix Gender Inequality… By Banning Porn?

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The European Parliament is set to vote March 12th on a proposal that seeks to ban all forms of  “pornography” from “the media” without really specifying to which pornography or media they’re referring. The proposal is being put forth by Kartika Liotard and comes under the heading “on eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU.” Here are a just a few of the things that this report states:

14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;

17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism.

19. Calls on the Member States to establish independent regulation bodies with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry and a mandate to impose effective sanctions on companies and individuals promoting the sexualisation of girls;

This resolution isn’t legislation and it can’t be legislation, but the report may influence legislation in the 27 member countries. This proposal is being vocally opposed by a Swedish MEP from the Pirate Party, Christian Engström. He is worried, and rightfully so, that pornography is in the eye of the beholder and that this could potentitially mean nudy pics that you take of yourself and consensually send to other adult humans. He has called this proposal “an attempt to circumvent the article on information freedom in the European Convention of Human Rights.” This proposal could also lead to Internet Service Providers policing their customers for porn watching. And because the language is so vague, sexual content on social media networks like Twitter could eventually be under fire. Let’s face it, we know that half of tumblr could be classified as porn if you adopt a very strict interpretation.

Kartika Liotard by Oliver Hansen

Kartika Liotard by Oliver Hansen

There are many, many reasons why this report/proposal/bullshit is a steaming load of terrible, heaped with a side of awful. Here’s a few of them.

There’s A Scummy Side To Every Industry Ever In The History of the World

Okay, show of virtual hands: how many people have seen a mainstream television show in the past year that sexualized girls, that treated men and women unequally or reinforced gender stereotypes? Oh, that’s all of us? So clearly the answer is to ban all television shows from the air, right? NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THESE HOTBEDS OF PREJUDICE!

Of course that’s not the answer. Any sane person would argue for greater representation in the medium, for female directors, writers and actors. The same can be said for porn.

Annie Sprinkle is quoted as having said “The answer to bad porn is not no porn. It’s to make better porn!” Jiz Lee added to this quote in Autostraddle’s Quest for Awesome Queer Feminist Porn: “I’d prefer that the answer is actually to make MORE porn.” With more porn comes more representation and the opportunity to break down sexual tropes and gender stereotypes. Every industry has people are are sexist shit muffins that make crappy products/shows/art/statements that are offensive, objectifying etc. I feel like it’s on us to create the revolutions we want to see, not to eliminate the industry all together, because that would leave us banning pretty much everything. Then we are three steps closer to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (remember? The slippery slope started with burning porn in the park!), and that shit gives me the willies. It’s on us to be educated consumers and, in some cases, educated creators. If we don’t like what we see, why not make something different? Or give our money to the people making something different? In short, if the EU wants to solve the problems created by porn, they should be issuing a proposal calling for more of it.

Say it with me now: porn is not inherently bad or violent or sexist or unethical just because SOME porn is bad, violent, sexist and unethical.

Christian Engström, via his website

Christian Engström, via his website

Sex Panic!

Everyone panic! The sex is going to corrupt women! We are delicate flowers with no agency and we’ve never sullied our virginal eyes with the sexy times before. Also the makers of porn violate women’s rights by exploiting them as performers! Also also, porn targets the children! We, the proponents of porn, are seeking to rip childhood away from the innocent and indoctrinate them into a world of lust and leather.

Nope, sorry. Not true. Sex is something that most people in most cultures engage in, regardless of gender. Not all porn is exploitative of its performers, though some of it is (see the above heading, and note that many industries the EU is not seeking to ban also exploit their workers). And all reputable porn sites begin your journey with a warning. On my sex blog, if you click the link that says you’re a minor and not legally permitted to view porn, you get pictures of kittens. No one’s trying to reach the children here, at least not the legal, sane people of the internet.

However, Iceland Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson is writing actual legislation (not just a proposal) that would attempt a ban on internet pornography in his own country, legislation that’s founded in the same worldview as the European Parliament’s proposal. The reasons that he and his political advisor, Halla Gunnarsdottir, are using:

“It is anti-violence because young children are seeing porn and acting it out. That is where we draw the line. This material is blurring the boundaries for young people about what is right and wrong.” – Halla Gunnarsdottir

“It is looking a pornography from a new position – from the perspective of the harm it does to the women who appear in it and as a violation of their civil rights.” – Professor Gail Dines, an expert on pornography and speaker at a recent conference at Reykjavik University

Because apparently Icelandic parents shouldn’t be responsible for the kinds of content their children have access to. No way. And women have no agency when they appear in porn. And people who engage in violence are programmed by porn, not by the wider culture.  Gizmodo hit the nail on the head when they said “Now, by banning access to internet porn, Iceland will join countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other temples of democracy widely known to protect women’s and children’s rights.”

The panic over sexual content controlling our mindbrains and violating women’s rights makes unfair assumptions about all humans, regardless of gender. Dr. Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour) has a lovely take down on the Telegraph in which she makes the following point:

As per ever, the focus of the panic is mainstream, heterosexual porn being viewed only by men. Yet again the assumption is that all men are easily programmed, woman-hating abusers, and all women are meek sub-adults who must be protected from the clutches of sexy, sexy evil. In this worldview, gay people, mutual consent, and women’s sexual agency conveniently do not exist. If you think this represents all or even most of pornography then you need to get out more. Where by “out” I mean “the internet”.

I am sick of sex panic. I am sick of sex panic turning into laws. Almost every person engages in sex at some point in their lives. Errbody gonna have to get over it.

Iceland Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson via Everything PR

Iceland Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson via Everything PR

This Is A Giant Cop Out, How About We Actually Make The World Better?

All of the above points make me furious, but none so much as the title of the proposal itself. “On Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU.” Wouldn’t it be super, super convenient if eliminating porn eliminated all the damage done to women by centuries upon centuries of the patriarchy? But no, that’s not how it works. This, however, presents a nice little package all tied up with a nice little bow. No more porn, no more problem. Never mind that women in Europe still earn less than men. Or that historically, the unemployment rates have been higher for women than men (though right now, it’s pretty bad for everyone). Or! That men still outnumber women in decision making positions throughout the EU (a whopping 3% of board chairpersons). Or Hungary not having a single women’s shelter in a country of  10 million people. Or abortion’s illegality in Ireland. Or victim blaming during rape trials in the strip-club-less zone of Iceland. These are all fixable problems that might actually go a long way toward making men and women more equal. Things like this have been in play long before the boom of the porn industry and, if we focus on blustery bullshit non-problems, will still be in play long after we’re done censoring the hell out of sex. Many of these problems are also addressed in the proposal, some with real suggestions for tackling the problems! But the kind of sex negativity and censorship exhibited in the above quoted statements makes me question the authenticity. Kinda like when American Republicans toss abortion restrictions into budgets and tax law.

At the very least and kindest, it makes me question if the authors of this proposal have lived on this planet and have a basic understanding of human interactions.

I also think we, as humans who are trying to figure out how to govern ourselves, have this backwards. If we’re talking the violent, sexist porn and not just all porn in general, I don’t think it’s a cause of a greater problem of inequality between men and women. I think it’s a symptom of it. It’s an effect. In an open letter by 40 free speech activists encouraging Icelandic Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson to drop the Iceland-specific legislation, “the Internet is not the source of violence, it is merely a medium by which violence is made apparent.” Just because violence is now visible doesn’t mean it was never there. Looking in a mirror of society and seeing that violence is unpleasant, but getting rid of the mirror doesn’t get rid of the ugly problem. If society were to change a little bit (or a lot), mainstream porn might look a little more like Dr. Magnanti points out it does in San Francisco:

Rather, the forms that sexual entertainment takes are a result of gender stereotypes rather than their cause. In sex-positive, queer-friendly San Francisco, porn looks a lot like society there. In image-obsessed, results-orientated mainstream media, porn looks a lot more plastic and uninviting to everyone but straight cis men.

This is just sex panic. It’s sex negative and sets a precent for censorship. It’s also not going to help. The inclusion of a porn ban has all but guaranteed that the rest of the proposal — the parts with meaningful things — will now be called into question and will receive bad press due to these small sections. Even though this isn’t legislative and, even if passed, likely won’t lead to much, it’s still a distraction from real discussion. Let’s keep our porn and actually try to improve the world, shall we? Or even use porn to improve the world

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Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

Ali has written 277 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    First of all, there is a huge difference in banning porn for moral guardian/religious reasons and banning it to protect women from abuse. The main problem with porn is that many, many women are raped, coerced and otherwise abused in the industry, and (especially with more “hardcore” porn) it is impossible to tell whether the actors in whatever video you’re watching have consented to being filmed, to the video being released, and most of all to any to having sex in the first place.
    “Porn is not inherently bad or violent or sexist or unethical just because SOME porn is bad, violent, sexist and unethical.” Okay, sure, there is some porn out there that’s harmless – but the right for you to get off on whatever you want does not in any way take precedent over the rights of the thousands of women being abused by the industry.
    http://earthreview.eu/2012/04/abuse-in-the-porn-industry/ (major TW for violence, rape etc) To brush off stories like this as isolated incidents is incredibly ignorant and harmful – so while some of your points here are understandable, please at least consider these arguments before jumping to your “sex-poz” assumptions. Thank you

    • Thumb up 21

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      Rape already is illegal.
      Sexual assault already is illegal.
      Kidnapping is illegal.
      Human trafficking is illegal.

      Let’s focus on how to get those laws ENFORCED and RESPECTED rather than creating new ones to illegalize porn that will only serve to drive the industry farther underground, make it more crime-friendly, and making it impossible for women to even REPORT being raped during a porn shoot because they’d also be admitting their own criminality by confessing they did porn at all. I don’t know how it is over there, but in America there are a lot of abusive pimps who get away with it because the women can’t turn them in lest they turn themselves in for prostitution (or risk deportation if that’s their situation), which is why sex worker advocates over here are pushing for legalizing prostitution, so that it can be regulated more closely by the government. Let’s work on building a culture that respects women and see what kind of porn that culture produces.

      Porn has a lot of potential for things to go wrong, so let’s get it out there into the light where we can get a better look at what’s going on, rather than driving it further into the dark.

    • Thumb up 15

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      Nope, I disagree completely. It is completely possible to know if performers consent to everything going on with them, which is already in use with some companies: show a clip at the beginning of the film where they explicitly state what they are consenting to (and hopefully fel really enthusiastic about!). As is already stated in the article, the solution to iffy porn isn’t banning it, it’s making better porn.

  2. Thumb up 7

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    Most pornography made in the EU features lower class Eastern European women, who because of the economic chaos that the region has been in the last, well, forever have few other options – for the exact same reason, about 2/3 of sex workers in the EU are Eastern European. If you’re a white westerners who is outraged by legal initiatives to ban porn but not by what happens to us and you go out of your way to publicize your outrageousness at this, but NEVER say anything about all the xenophobia and racism and widespread poverty and sex tourism and domestic violence and ‘mail order brides’ schemes and increased institutional sexism after 1989 and condescension of western feminist groups who refuse to help us etc etc etc – just all the horribleness Eastern European women face, both at home and when we try to move to the West, on a daily basis – you are a horrible person and I hate you.

    Just to be clear – it’s not that I think porn should be banned or that white / western feminists should gallop into Eastern Europe on white horses and save us all from ourselves, it’s just the way you people never care about the shit we go through and never seem to support us in any serious way (especially when your governments / countries / you benefit from our abuse), but you can somehow always band together and take action if something threatens the porn industry.

    • Thumb up 12

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      I am thankful to see more of a specific cultural/political context of what constitutes the porn industry in your comment, and I think that this article perhaps rides too heavily on an evaluation of porn using general USA practice. I think the final fourth of Ali’s article actually does touch on all that – not as explicitly as you do in your comment, but attempting to ban the viewing of “porn” without defining the word is not going to address the xenophobia faced by lower class Eastern European women, widespread poverty, sex tourism, domestic violence, and increased institutional sexism in the past 30 years. And that is Ali’s point in that section – that an approach such as the one suggested will not actually make the systemic changes we all need to be working towards (in solidarity, not savior-ness).

      I absolutely agree, however, that more research into the context of how most porn is produced in the EU and what forms of violence and abuse it causes to those who are pressured to participate is also important to take attention of, and perhaps warrants a rebuttal/op-ed piece. I think Ali’s piece was a good argument against the proposal and suggested legislation, but you’re correct in that what people pressured into porn (rather economically, socially, physically) experience deserves recognition, as well as organizing to make it stop.

  3. Thumb up 4

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    Amanda,
    while your posted link is probably a true example of abuse, your statement “it is impossible to tell whether the actors […] have consented […] to any to having sex in the first place.” This is pretty ridiculous.

    If a movie comes from any major production house, you can bet that the actresses are treated and paid well. Production company Kink even has interviews after harder BDSM acts to prove that the girls enjoyed performing. If you watch movies with lower production values (aka cheap), then you can bet that the girls get little to nothing in money and respect. If you watch amateur, it was probably put online without consent, unless the girl posted it herself on a voyeur site like newbienudes.

    • Thumb up 1

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      What? This is a completely spurious argument.

      “If a movie comes from any major production house, you can bet that the actresses are treated and paid well. Production company Kink even has interviews after harder BDSM acts to prove that the girls enjoyed performing.”

      However that doesn’t mean there can’t be any problems at kink.com. See for example this article by Maggie Mayhem: http://www.xojane.com/issues/kink-com-peter-acworth-maggie-mayhem

      “If you watch movies with lower production values (aka cheap), then you can bet that the girls get little to nothing in money and respect.”

      Maybe they don’t want money. And respect – from who? From you? Personally I generally prefer amateur porn as I find it is more likely to be a ‘real’ representation of sex and less likely to be something misogynistic that I feel uncomfortable watching.

      “If you watch amateur, it was probably put online without consent, unless the girl posted it herself on a voyeur site like newbienudes.”

      Do you have anything to back this up? I simply don’t believe that profession porn = nothing to see here but amateur footage is likely to be non-consensually shared.

  4. Thumb up 0

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    If were talking about preventing or diminishing workplace abuse that is certainly a worthy cause, but the idea that any Government body could “…eliminate stereotypes in the media…” to the point of creating a “…genuine culture of equality on the internet..” is ludicrous. Given the highly subjective nature of this proposal there is no way to guaranty some hateful idea can’t still seep through in some coded message or the over-stressing of an other was begin word. You not going to eliminate bad idea just by suppressing evidence they exist and not without suppressing a lot of good ideas as well. Especially since so few of us can agree on what degrading and what isn’t, let alone how to define pornography. Even a movie like Romance (1999) can feature un-simulated sex and widely considered lacking in sexiness and sympathetic to a woman’s worldview.
    While there’s no question that many woman working in pornography are more likely to be abused, there is reason to question if that abuse is so frequent that the industry is DEPENDENT on it or that outlawing all types of porn (assuming we could all agree what qualifies as porn) would solve the problem. Given the millions of new releases of pornographic or erotic media put out each year, it seems very hard to believe that the number of cases where involving abuse was even as high as 20% (not impossible mind you, just hard to believe). That’s doesn’t mean the abuse of various kinds is small by any means. Even .1 percent of a million cases is 10,000! But is it possible that level of exploitation may be due in part to lack of support for ANYONE associated with disdained profession? Couldn’t further prohibition potentially make it harder for redress of abused worker by driving the business farther underground?

  5. Thumb up 1

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    I would rather there be no porn whatsoever and also no women being raped, brutalised, trafficked, and otherwise abused by the porn industry. I don’t give a flying fuck about the tiny, tiny amount of pornography that is made to reasonable ethical standards when the industry at large is perpetuating the actual and aspired-to assault of women every single day. This is not a situation for handwaving and moral quibbling, this is an emergency situation for women all over the world. Nobody’s orgasms are more important than stopping violence against women and girls.

    Also how fucking typical that a couple of straight dudes have shown up in the comments talking about how porn is totes the kewlest and women love being beaten and throttled and having gross dudes jizz on their faces. Vomit.

    • Thumb up 14

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      if getting rid of all porn would end all rape, sex trafficking and brutalization of women, i’m sure ali would be the first to sign on to that. you’re making a huge leap by thinking that’s even what’s up for debate here.

    • Thumb up 3

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      I expected that some people would dislike my comments and I welcomed respectful disagreement. What I did not expect was a hateful straw man straight out of Ann Coulter’s playbook. No where in my post did I defended the despicable way that some many woman are depicted in so much porn as you describe. Those are YOUR words not mine. If you had actually bother read what I had written you’d would see that I said even a percentage of abuse cases should be taking seriously. My only question is will the ends justify the means.
      As for being a “typical straight dude” I will have you that my uncle is a gay man working with the NGLTF, who not to look ago found his pet cat slashed to death with his throat cut out and found out those responsible bragged about showing up “fags.” My mother said shortly after words that Republicans were responsible for this crime. I was equally appalled, but argued that no should be held accountable for anyone else crimes through indirectly teaching hate. I feel the same way about pornography.
      It seems like a lose-lose situation when trying to debate concepts like obscenity, blasphemy, and hate speech. If you denounce certain kinds of expression as being hateful, your hypersensitive and accused promoting censorship. If you say censorship isn’t the answer and that not all aspect of that speech of uniformly bad, your indifferent to the suffering of others that has or might occurred and accused of adding abuse. Well it’s not an either or situation. That they way so many people who oppose equal right constantly want us to think. “This is always right and anything else is always wrong.” While I will admit that some of the critics of pornography have been unfairly dismissed as well, posts like your help illustrate way some many followers of the Dworkin model have been compared to the politically reactionary right.

  6. Thumb up 7

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    Sex panic is right. And I am sick and tired of Gail Dines, whose radfem rhetoric gets trotted out every time someone wants to shut sex positive people up.

    • Thumb up 7

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      Yes. Too often certain people, writing from a feminist framework, make it seem like feminists who oppose censorship or use a pro-sex framework are simply prioritizing their orgasms or sexual desires over feminism and commitments to ending gender violence. But this is far from the case– there is a rich tradition of feminists who have sought to claim pornography and the field of sexual representation as a vital space *for* feminism. Unfortunately, while theorists like Dworkin, Dines, or Mackinnon are associated with “the feminist approach to porn”, the contributions of other figures like Angela Carter, Gayle Rubin, Susie Bright, even Luce Irigaray, to the feminist discussion of porn have been forgotten. I don’t want people who share my positions to feel like they don’t have heritage, tradition, or history to back them up.

      I’m anti-censorship, I’ll admit that. But I acknowledge that anti-porn positions have a tradition within feminism, and anti-porn feminists are working within that tradition when they oppose porn. They aren’t misguided anomalies who have misplaced their feminist priorities– they are rational beings who analyzed the facts and came to a conclusion different from my own. It would be great if anti-porn feminists could extend the same courtesy, and stop treating pro-sex or anti-censorship feminists like selfish little girls who aren’t thinking with our heads.

      • Thumb up 3

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        I wish, but one of the marks of any form of fundamentalism within any ideology is a refusal to acknowledge that different or more moderate strains of their movement are legitimate (I don’t know if I believe that sex-positive feminism is “more moderate,” I think it can be just as radical in its own way, but that’s beside the point here).

  7. Thumb up 2

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    Just FYI, the Icelandic porn issue specifies a proposed ban of “violent porn,” not porn in general. Reading the article about this proposal in the Guardian’s “Comment Is Free” section, it’s pretty clear that if you want to scare men, all you need to do is threaten to take away their porn.

  8. Thumb up 1

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    Iceland does not belong to the European Union. Even their discussion about porn is interesting to follow, it has nothing to do with the one from EU. And the porn-banning-plan will never pass, it is too ridiculous.
    And doesn’t Norway or Sweden has a discussion about it every now and then, too? (Sweden is in the EU, Norway not)

  9. Thumb up 3

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    I’ve spent several years working in marketing departments of the adult industry and this is one of the most spot-on deconstructions I’ve read of the proposed EU ban on porn. Thank you so much Ali for writing this, and for Autostraddle for publishing it.

  10. Thumb up 2

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    What I’m finding difficult with this proposal is that fact that banning pornography is with the intention of ‘banning gender stereotypes?’ It isn’t even about violent abuse; it is simply to eliminate gender stereotypes. However, does porn create gender stereotypes? Where is the evidence to prove this? And what gender stereotypes are we talking about? By mentioning ‘gender’ instead of female, am I right in assuming porn also creates ‘male stereotypes? What stereotypes are these?
    Confused!

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