Posts tagged free speech

You want proof that criminalization works? Look no further than the feminist movement 

The Nation and Tom Dispatch published an epic, historical look at the successes of the feminist movement over the past fifty-odd years and the long road ahead by Ruth Rosen yesterday.

In the article, Rosen points to various male “behaviours” like rape that, while once were viewed simply as “custom” were redefined, thanks to the feminist movement, as crimes.

Not so long ago, you may or may not recall that there was no such thing as rape in marriage. Husbands were entitled to sex, with or without the consent of their wives. Not so long ago, date rape was a common and unspoken experience for women. There were no conversations about consent when it came to sex. It simply wasn’t relevant.

Rape still happens far more than most would like to acknowledge or imagine and we still have a long way to go towards ending violence against women, but things have changed and things must continue to change.

Lately the issue of banning pornography has been a hot(ter) topic of debate due to the fact that Iceland is considering banning online pornography. noted, in her article for The Observer, that Iceland, one of the most progressive countries in the world, ranking in first place in Global Gender Gap Report 2012, that the ban is widely supported among police, health professionals, educators and lawyers.

In anticipation of the typically silly and ignorant responses from libertarians and pro-sex industry types claiming critics of sexualized violence against women are simply prudish, conservative, freedom-haters, McVeigh quotes Halla Gunnarsdóttir, adviser to the interior minister Ögmundur Jónasson, who says, about the prospective ban:

We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech

In other words, this is a feminist initiative.

Now, talk of bans or of criminalization of things like pornography often lead to people to say things like: “FREE SPEECH!” “RIGHTS!” “CENSORSHIP!” But these people are stupid.

We live in what is commonly known as “a society”. Within said “society” we tend to rely on things we call “laws” in order to help us function in a way that is conducive to living in said “society”. This isn’t to say that all laws are necessarily good laws and, often, criminalization targets the marginalized in disgusting and oppressive ways.

This is not the case for feminist laws that prevent men from abusing women.

Much of the work the feminist movement has done in terms of making the world a more equitable one, has been with regard to legislation. Without changes to legislation, women would still be owned by their husbands and wouldn’t be able to do things like vote or have jobs or get a university education or say no to sex. Laws aren’t bad. Criminalizing certain behaviours is also not (necessarily) bad.

Let’s reflect on the behaviours we’ve criminalized in our society: murder, rape, domestic abuse, animal abuse, advocating genocide, and creating, buying, or selling child pornography. There are other behaviours we’ve criminalized that are silly, like doing certain kinds of drugs, but that’s a whole other political can of worms.

The point is that, as a society, we support the censorship of things we believe are deeply harmful to individuals and to society as a whole. Many of us, particularly feminists and other progressive types,  support the criminalization of behaviours that are violent and abusive. Whether we like it or not, laws do shape our behaviour and agitating for changes to legislation and been hugely successful for feminists (though there is much, much more work to do).

There is no need to share “information” that encourages and perpetuates and supports the oppression of women. In fact, I’m pretty sure that would count as some kind of hate speech. Pornography encourages and perpetuates and supports both rape culture (so, violence against women) and the oppression of women.

True freedom and true freedom of speech would exist in a society without systemic oppression. In a world wherein male violence against women is an epidemic, it is not reasonable to say that we live in a free society. It is also not reasonable to defend behaviours that perpetuate oppression and violence on account of “freedom” and “freedom of speech”. Those who argue this are stupid, narrow-minded jerks who’ve spent too long eating American freedom fries and only care about “rights” in as much as those “rights” provide them with access to the sex/money/power they believe they were born entitled to.

To those who argue that it’s impossible to ban pornography because it’s so popular, universal, or “normal”, well, so was marital rape at one time. So was smoking in hospitals. So was owning slaves.

What’s “normal” and acceptable today likely won’t be in 20 or 50 or 100 years. Banning pornography won’t lead to an immediate disappearance of all pornography, just like the illegality of murder hasn’t stopped murders from happening. But it does set a standard and it does teach us what is acceptable behaviour in society. The fact that we’ve criminalized rape has led us to understand that sex should not happen without consent (lest it become ‘rape’ and not ‘sex’).

Changes to legislation won’t solve everything, but is necessary.

Now, pornography is not “good” for society and it isn’t “good” for women (it isn’t even “good” for men!). Because of the internet, it’s readily available to children which means that this generation and all those that follow learn that women are to be fucked and to be humiliated and to be degraded from the beginning.

If you think change isn’t possible then you have no place in any progressive movement, conversation about equality, or, really, in a democratic society. If you think your “freedom” should come at the expense of half the population, then you’re the problem and your protests will fall on deaf ears, your cries of “censorship” growing ever more quiet as the rest of us move towards emancipation.

Free speech in Pornland 

No surprise here. The adult entertainment industry has followed through on their promise to file a suit against Los Angeles County, challenging Measure B, which passed in November, mandating condom-use on porn sets in L.A.

The suit, filed Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Vivid Entertainment and performers Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce, states that porn companies have the right to freedom of expression and speech, which includes the right to film sex acts without a condom. (via Huffington Post)

Free speech, in the porn industry, has always had less to do with freedom and more to do with profit, male orgasms, and also profit. It is an industry that cares little about people’s actual lives (unless the life in question is a penis). That they’ve extended their warped understand of mastubatory material as ‘free speech’ to challenge a law that is intended to protect performers from STDs is unsurprising, but ridiculous, of course.

Pornography has long been defended based on libertarian ideals that sees freedom as something that only exists on an individual basis. “Freedom = My right to shoot you/fuck you/own you/use you” stands in the minds of those who are too lazy or stupid or selfish to understand that negative liberty is regressive rather than progressive.

Last year, when this debate began, I wrote that the whole thing struck me as a faux-progressive derail – as though condom-use would make the porn industry ‘safe’ and therefore ethical. While I would agree that generally, advocating for condom-use on porn sets is a good thing (Gail Dines outlines why this kind of legislation is important, very well in two articles she wrote for The Guardian), my interest in writing about Measure B and the suit filed by Vivid Entertainment is not to argue for or against condom-use on porn shoots. My aim is to point out the ways in which liberals and those who would consider themselves to be or present themselves as otherwise progressive people, are making arguments that are in opposition to the creation of a free and equitable society, and have been suckered by libertarian language that, in fact, works against our collective liberation.

Measure B has been opposed by many in the industry based on arguments such as:the porn industry will leave L.A. and film elsewherethe porn industry might lose money,condom-use interrupts the ‘fantasy’ aspect of pornthe porn industry might lose money, andlaws such as these interfere with the rights of individuals to do what they want, whenever they wantthe porn industry might lose money.

It’s shocking and depressing to see performers go to bat for their billionaire bosses — it’s like watching the lower class attack organized labour on account of some deluded, neoliberal understanding of freedom that imagines the free market and privatization will somehow, some day, work in their favour.

But this is what happens when we understand freedom in individualistic terms.

The porn industry has done a great job of selling this idea that pornography equals freedom of speech and have convinced many performers to toe the party line. People who understand censorship as necessarily conservative and oppressive hear sex industry advocates say the words ‘freedom of speech’ and, without thinking, leap to their defense (for the record, almost everyone supports censorship in one way or another, otherwise child pornography would be legal).

So we have folks arguing that Measure B is  ’paternalistic‘ (because grown-ups can exploit themselves if they feel like it, goddamit!).

We also have folks arguing that porn is fantasy and that what people see onscreen has no impact on our real lives (you know, like how advertising and product placement has no real impact on people’s lives and their choices as consumers). Hey, if kids learn that condoms aren’t sexy and that women loooooove double penetration and gang bangs, that’s their problem.

And then, of course, there’s the argument that the ‘adult entertainment industry’ will have to go elsewhere in order to be profitable, leaving L.A. based porn performers out of work. You know,  just like how we should work against organized labour because unions force corporations into bankruptcy (big business is the real victim here, folks!) which, in turn, causes the working class to lose shitty, exploitative, jobs that keep us exhausted, poor, powerless, and in debt.

Tricky, tricky. It’s incredible how many fall into this trap.

What it comes down to is that all defenses of the porn industry are based the concept of negative liberty, which can be easily translated to mean: “Me, me, me. My money. My gun. My property. Also, my dick. Me.” Anything that infringes on me/my money/my dick counts as an attack on freedom in Pornland. We are manipulated into believing that laws, by nature, are condescending and necessarily infringe on our rights as individuals.

While it’s pretty obvious why those who run the multi-billion dollar porn industry would oppose a law of this nature, the fact that porn performers themselves would speak out against the measure seems a little more surprising. Why reinforce the fantasy that condomless sex is the sexiest sex? Why endanger the health and lives of people working in the industry even further than they already are? We can see the ways in which people have been impacted by libertarian/neoliberal discourse to the detriment of even their own lives.

Porn actor, James Deen, who is doing the good work of opposing even the semblance of safe sex, is quoted as saying that “he was “disappointed” that sex workers were being “continually bullied and used by others.” It wasn’t his wealthy bosses that he was talking about. It’s evil organizations like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (the group who led the campaign to mandate condom-use on porn sets) who are, apparently, intent on ‘bullying’ and ‘using’ porn performers.

And it’s not just Deen who opposed the passage of Measure B. Porn star, Jessica Drake spoke out against the bill saying: “As a performer, and also as a woman, I don’t like the idea of someone telling me what I have to do with my body.

This is not a progressive understanding of liberty, though the pro-sex feminists/libertarians/porn industry would have us believe that they are the true freedom fighters. Considering the constant accusations that feminists who oppose the sex industry are ‘in bed with the right’, it’s odd that the folks who oppose Measure B seem only to understand freedom in a completely individualistic and capitalist sense. As Dines pointed out in The Guardian:

Echoing the usual ideology of the right wing of the Republican party, the anti-Measure B campaign had three main purposes: to promote the economic benefits of the sector to the regional economy; to deny a need for governmental regulation; and to encourage workers to make their own choices, however dangerous or exploitative the conditions.

It’s also worth noting that these are the very same arguments made by those who advocate for the decriminalization of pimps and johns. Critics of prostitution are accused of meddling with jobs, free will, and of encouraging repressive, paternalistic laws which interfere with individual women’s ‘choice’ to sell sex, as well as men’s individual ‘right’ to buy it.

Dines also notes that Diane Duke, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition (a porn industry lobby group) “is on record as saying that Measure B was not about “performer health and safety”, but rather about “government regulating what happens between consenting adults”. Sounds familiar?

“Consenting adults”: the magic phrase that ends every conversation.

“Consenting adults” erases the social conditioning that teaches women their bodies are to be looked at.

“Consenting adults” erases poverty and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

“Consenting adults” erases the gendered nature of poverty and the particular ways in which women are impacted by poverty (which, in turn, often leads women into the sex industry).

“Consenting adults” erases the growing inaccessibility of post-secondary education and the insane levels of debt students are forced to acquire in order to attend university in North America (more and more we are hearing about women turning to the sex industry to support their educations).

“Consenting adults” erases male violence and sexual abuse (which is sexualized in porn and is part of the history of many women in the industry).

“Consenting adults” erases all circumstances and context that might lead women into the sex industry and refuses to address inequity and systemic oppression.

When you hear the words ‘free speech’ and ‘consenting adults’ being used by owners of corporations that make billions off of objectifying and degrading women, approach with caution.

When we’re actively opposing condom use because we’re afraid the porn industry might lose money, it’s time to admit that these arguments are not progressive and don’t promote freedom, liberty, or justice for anyone but those who are too stupid or selfish to care.