Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Putting porn in its place

Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about porn. This is in part inspired by some of the articles around (Catharine MacKinnon was in the Guardian today) but mostly from noticing just how much free porn is available on cable tv. It’s everywhere and I’m beginning to feel worn down by constant attack. As you can probably tell from the last sentence, I am anti-porn. I have all of the usual reasons for disliking it – objectification, damaging to relations, encourages rape to be regarded more leniently etc ( I shan’t bother to list them all, we all know what they are) – and some more subjective ones, which I find hard to articulate in everyday argument because they upset me. I guess you could say that I have a bias against porn – my argument could hardly be called impartial – but I’m beyond the need to feel apologetic about this now.

However, when I do engage in debate, I find it hard to believe that the arguments for porn are considered convincing. They are the same kind of arguments that originated in the original split between feminists, and some of the most plausible objections to porn as a Bad Thing rest on the idea that women should not be protected from things judged unsuitable to them – porn today, novels tomorrow and so on. These arguments may have seemed relevant in the seventies, but they seem somewhat empty today. Back then, the issue seemed to be one about invasion into the private sphere – about private choices of individuals, that should not suffer state interference.

Porn no longer solely inhabits the private sphere. In my Oxford (supposedly extremely liberal) college, men sit in the bar and loudly discuss porn and the women in it. In their conversation there is no respect for the ‘liberated’ women in the films or pictures, and the women in the bar have to endure often unfavourable comparisons. They laugh over the idea of raping women (extract from the termly magazine’s ‘amusing quote’ section: “ I’d Rohypnol -----. And I’m not ashamed of it.”) This dazzling lack of respect and understanding is echoed in their relationships, where women are forced to do things they find uncomfortable in both the mental and physical sense. Porn has become so acceptable in modern society that it is brazenly, terrifyingly public.

It is this change in context that those who are pro-porn need to address, and that those of us who are anti-porn really need to hammer home. Old arguments will no longer do – they need to be reassessed and rejected in the face of the increasing threat posed. The public face of porn has changed, and it’s about time the structure of the debate about porn changed too.

4 comments:

asdgasdfaserwe said...

Hello,

I always remind myself of the motivation behind any defence of porn. No matter how clever an argument a person may present in favour of porn, it all boils down to one thing: the person producing/consuming/defending porn always considers their privilege to be over and above the basic human rights of any person that may be harmed by it.

Justine said...

Sorry, I dislike porn in general but I don't buy your argument for some sort of legal action against it. Whatever happened to the old "...may not like what you say, but will defend your right to say it."

It IS quintessential free speech, and -- even from a definitional, practical viewpoint -- any abridgement of same (just short of yelling "fire!" in the proverbial crowded theatre) is devoutly to be eschewed.

Yours is a well-written, attractive blog, though. I'll be back!

Justine
http://devifemme.livejournal.com/

Heloise said...

I guess I'm just not that much of a classical liberal! Although from a liberal perspective, the public/private sphere argument is fairly compelling. It certainly wouldn't amount to an argument to ban *all* porn, but certainly to limit its encroachment on the public sphere. Things like advertising, contents of certain magazines, tighter harassment laws, ensuring porn stopped being a socially acceptable thing to discuss in meetings with women (a huuuuge chip on my shoulder there). I guess it's like JS Mill's harm principle in action. However, as you can tell, I'm a political theorist, not a lawyer, so you may be right.

Heloise said...

Thanks for your posts though guys!