This House believes that the feminist movement should seek a ban on pornography

The feminist movement is difficult to define. In essence, it is composed of people who adhere to an ideology, feminism, which originates from philosophical principles of equality. As such, they oppose any kind of dehumanisation or exploitation, in particular when targeted at women. In practice, feminists are particularly opposed to the existence of patriarchal structures in society and to the social construction of gender, as opposed to sex. This common ideology has led to some great successes for feminism in the past, such as women’s right to vote since the 19th or 20th Centuries, or equal pay in most developed countries. (Global Wage Report 2012/13: Wages and Equitable Growth)[1]

It is important to note that the feminist movement is, however, severely fragmented on more nuances social questions. On particular issues such as prostitution or the burka, many feminists disagree as to what empowers women and what oppresses them, as to what liberates women because they do so freely, and what harms them because are pressured to do it by the patriarchy.

Pornography is a particularly contentious issue. We take pornography to be any sexually explicit material, usually commercially distributed, acted or containing acting with the intention to arouse its viewers. It is currently legal in most liberal countries, although Iceland, for instance, is attempting to ban it in the near future (Henscher).[2] Where it is not yet illegal, it is under serious scrutiny: its currently immense role in society (over 70% of young men are estimated to watch porn at least once a month (Paul)[3]) gives it great leverage in promoting, or reverting, social change. Social change, arguably, is the next key fight for the feminist movement. The question, then, comes down to whether pornography is a causal factor or a potential solution of the status quo of social oppression of women.

[1] Global Wage Report 2012/13: Wages and Equitable Growth. Geneva: International Labour Office, 2013. http://www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/global-wage-report/2012/WCMS_194843/lang--nl/index.htm

[2] Henscher, Philip. “As Iceland says no to pornography, will the rest of us follow?” The Independent 1 March 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/as-iceland-says-no-to-pornography-will-the-rest-of-us-follow-8517183.html.

[3] Paul, Pamela. “Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging our Lives, our Relationships and our Families.” St. Martin's Press 2006.

 

Title 
The feminist movement should not allow women to sell themselves
Point 

In most cases, pornography is not entered into willingly. Similarly to prostitution, the sale of one’s own body and one’s dignity is so drastic that consent is often not sufficiently informed to be legitimate. There are patriarchal structures in society that force women into these industries, particularly when they are vulnerable and this seems to be a good last resort. This leads to a loss of integrity, a strong stigma in society, and most importantly, abusive conditions in the production process. As well as high risks of unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, violent sex practices and abusive conditions after filming often occur (Lubben).[1]

Furthermore, the harms of pornography do not exclusively affect the consenting participants. Other women across the world who are not supporting this industry are equal victims of society and the norms promoted by pornography of how women should be, and how it is acceptable to treat them. These people have not consented.

[1] Lubben, Shelley. “Ex-Porn Star Tells the Truth About the Porn Industry.” Covenant Eyes. 28 October 2008. http://www.covenanteyes.com/2008/10/28/ex-porn-star-tells-the-truth-about-the-porn-industry/

Counterpoint 

What is the difference between working as a pornographic artist and working as a street sweeper, or someone who unblocks the drains? Neither of those is an ideal job, and will rarely be a youth’s first career option. Both involve the use of my body for a sometimes unpleasant task. Yet one of them is considered dehumanising, and the other a valuable service to society. The fact is there is little difference between pornography and any other job. The comparison to prostitution is invalid: the key problem faced by prostitutes is the lack of security, since it is set in contexts that make them particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In pornography, health and security risks such as STDs are addressed in many countries, and can be done so more: in California, for instance, porn actors are required to wear condoms on set. These problems can be tackled in the same way as is the failure to comply with regulations in any other industry. Non-consensual sex, violence, extreme pornography, and child pornography, are all illegal: the problems with pornography must go beyond these (Section 63 - Possession of extreme pornographic images).[1]

[1] “Section 63 - Possession of extreme pornographic images.” Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. 2008. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/4/part/5/crossheading/pornography-etc

Title 
Porn is inherently dehumanising
Point 

Pornography necessarily objectifies people: it presents a sexual desire, an urge, which is immediately attended by another person, often performing acts which we would find demeaning, until the original urge is satisfied. The use of others for pleasure treats them as means to one’s own ends, and denies them any value as rational subjects with a will of their own. This affects, naturally, the participants in pornography, but also their viewers who adopt corrupted notions of what to value in others, and furthermore other women who are later affected by men using the same metric to interact with them.

Counterpoint 

Pornography does not objectify people, for they are portrayed as acting. Objects do not act, subjects do.

Telling people what they cannot do is a greater loss of identity than any way by which they may be portrayed by pornography, for only the latter can be challenged.

Sex is not negative towards women, repression is, sex is liberating not dehumanizing! The only thing that is dehumanizing is the belief that natural impulses as sex should have negative moral conotation, including the expression of it(in this case porn). 

Title 
Pornography fuels unreachable ideals
Point 

Pornography presents a distorted perception of people, sexuality, and relationships, which has a further effect on a broader societal level. It promotes unreachable ideals of how both women and men should be in bed, and pushes both in the direction of what is idealised in pornography. This may push men to be more dominating than otherwise and women to suffer from anorexia, low self-esteem, and promiscuity. We can expect women to be the most affected by this, simply because the porn industry is owned almost entirely by men, and because there are pre-existing patriarchal structures in society ready to promote the idea that women are there to serve men.

Altogether, pornography merely promotes a new stereotype: that women are generally happy to have sex at any time, that they will respond positively to any man’s advances, and if a woman does not, there is something wrong with her.

Counterpoint 

Women may indeed be harmed through these ideals. However, all forms of media, fashion posters,[1] and razors, all carry the same risk of people potentially hurting themselves with it. This is not grounds for a ban.

Furthermore, placing the blame on pornography for this kind of attitudes is very problematic in that it removes responsibility from the real culprits in society, the men who treat women in this manner when they are not acting.

[1] See the debatabase debate ‘This House would ban sexist advertising

Title 
Pornography eroticises violence
Point 

Many forms of media are often accused of inciting violence, promoting stereotypes, or indoctrinating in some form or another. While this is contentious, the key principle that ‘sex sells’ is more obvious. Pornography is not like other media in that, while most other films are aimed at entertainment, this is aimed at arousal. That is, it is aimed at immediate and fully selfish pleasure, which is much more forceful and addictive than mere laughter.

The psychological effect of pornography is harmful due to the associations it conditions its audience to make. It eroticises violence through portrayals (fake or genuine) of rape and a general treatment of women that is comparable to torture, yet presented in a context that necessarily biologically excites its viewers. Through continuous exposure to the link between abuse and intense pleasure, this link is easily extended to personal relationships. The master-slave dialectic suddenly becomes acceptable. Compulsive rapists, such as Ted Bundy, are often found to have consumed mass amounts of pornography (Benson).[1] More subtle, yet certainly still present is the force of such associations on young teenagers who have not yet had a sexual relationship and rely on pornography for guidance. This has a potentially massive impact given that 11 is the average age of first internet porn exposure (Techmedia Network).[2]

[1] Benson, Rusty. “Vile Passions.” AFA Journal August 2002. http://www.afajournal.org/2002/vile_passions.asp

[2] Techmedia Network. Feminist Porn Award. http://internet-filter-reliew.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics.html

Counterpoint 

We live in a society in which no judge will recognise “I saw it on the TV” as a valid excuse for a crime. We allow people to watch violent films believing they will be able to distinguish between pornography and reality. For cases such as Ted Bundy, clearly issues other than pornography must have been at play: there have to be pre-existing anti-women values and, in such extreme cases, mental instability.

Furthermore, the link between pornography and violence is not intrinsic; it is nothing the feminist movement cannot change through greater influence and/or restrictions.

Title 
Freedom of expression is essential for women
Point 

Social movements should limit themselves to pushing for the rights of social groups, not restricting them. The feminist movement, as a social movement, should not limit the voices of women in the same way their oppressors have throughout history. Banning pornography would directly restrict the freedom of choice of women who want to manifest their sexuality and express themselves in revolutionary ways in art and media. Examples such as amateur and improvised porn, which are independent of a director, show the deep value of self-expression and self-definition women can find in this form of art. The desire of some actresses to become internationally recognised as ‘sex symbols’, become porn stars, or simply convey that sex is for women too, is a legitimate one, and not an act of desperation. This must be taken into account in cases of pornography between consenting adults, for consenting adults.

Counterpoint 

The consent women supposedly show in the pornographic industry is no more valid than it is considered in prostitution or sex trafficking. Non-pornographic actresses are often coerced into pornography by their agents or producers. The pornographic industry preys on vulnerable parties: poor, psychologically vulnerable, or dependent people.

Furthermore, even if some do give full consent, this does not apply to all the women who are forced into prostitution or pornography, raped, sexually harassed, or generally oppressed as a result of the harms produced by pornography. Pornography makes the emancipation of women from men impossible, and the feminist movement cannot condone it even at the expense of a few women who want to express themselves. Other safer forms of art exist for this purpose.

Title 
Pornography liberates women
Point 

Pornography is massively produced and distributed: this provides women with a vast platform through which to define their sexual identity. This has been a great tool in the past: in the 1920’s America, the flapper became a great role model for women by promoting revolutionary values of a strong, sexual woman: she danced wildly in jazz clubs, was openly lesbian, and sexually active. This image spread throughout the country thanks to the boom of the film industry in the Roaring Twenties (Rosenberg).[1] Now pornography plays, or at least can play, this same role.

Pornography breaks the taboo of sexuality for women, and promoting the continuation of taboos is a label and a stereotype which the feminist movement must oppose. Instead, it should use pornography to spread its values. There is nothing intrinsic about pornography that makes it anti-women. There is female-friendly pornography, and in fact there are Feminist Porn Awards granted every year since 2006 (Techmedia Network).[2] There is also homosexual porn and porn that presents women as dominant: this can empower women and break current stereotypes, not only that women are not sexual, but that women in general cannot be powerful in society. The feminist movement should seek to promote this flow of ideas of what gender can be and allow women to influence the way their sexuality is perceived by men.

[1] Rosenberg, Jennifer. Flappers in the Roaring Twenties. About.com, http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet.pornography.statistics.html

[2] Techmedia Network. Feminist Porn Award. http://internet-filter-reliew.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics.html

Counterpoint 

It is simplistic to assume that the problems women face now, are the same that they faced in the 1920’s. All they have in common is that, in some sense, women are used for men’s ends. In the 1920’s it was primarily as housewives, but now, it is as sexual objects. The kinds of images of women employed in advertisement and most kinds of media testify to this, and in pornography these views are expressed in a particularly forceful way.

Furthermore, it is a misconception to say that pornography can lead to revolutionary gender stereotypes when fundamentally it depends on stereotypes, the sexy teacher/nurse/friends’ mother being common themes. Through pornography, the best women can achieve is to jump through one label to another. Why? Because it is an industry fundamentally controlled by men, for men.

As a result, furthermore, there can be no self-expression when you are doing what a director (often male) tells you to do.

Even if the feminist movement has in fact succeeded in promoting their values in a portion of pornographic films, this will have no effect if people do not watch it. There is nothing to indicate that soft, female-friendly pornography will be more appealing to men than what is currently all over the net: over 100,000 sites offer illegal child pornography, and over 10,000 hard-core pornography films are released every year and the numbers increase exponentially (Techmedia Network).[1]

[1] Techmedia Network. Internet Pornography Statistics. TopTenReviews, n.d. http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics.html

Title 
Attempting to ban it would only cause further problems
Point 

There is no guarantee that a ban on pornography would improve gender stereotypes: in fact, it seems to be quite the opposite. Pornography is a flourishing industry with incredibly high demand, and much like with prohibition in the past, it is naïve to believe a ban can make a difference. It is actually even harder with pornography, because of the ease through which it can be distributed through the net. Rather, a ban would expand the black market with all the problems that come with it today: child and non-consensual pornography, violence, unhealthy conditions, and a general lack of regulations. Furthermore, the extent that a ban could ever limit pornography, this would lead to further problems. On one hand, the feminist movement sends a worrying message that sex is harmful to women, and by extension that sex is for the benefit of men. Restoring a taboo on sexuality actively confines women to being dominated in bed, and in society in general.

Secondly, if pornography is limited, the vessels through which men can satisfy their sexual urges are also restricted. This can lead, at best, to greater sexual harassment, greater pressure on women to provide sexual services, and to more infidelity. At worst, and most probably, it leads to higher levels of rape.

Counterpoint 

Even if achieving a fully effective ban is impossible, it is the responsibility of the feminist movement to take a stance and not condone practices that harm women in practice and promote dangerous messages. Making it illegal will limit it at least an extent, and due to all the harms pornography causes the smallest improvement is an important goal.

It is an exaggeration to claim pornography would have such an effect. The reasons for banning pornography would be the same as for banning prostitution (coercion issues for the participants) and other forms of media that incite to directly offensive acts towards particularly vulnerable people.

It is, rather, the actual sexual culture and view of people’s relationships promoted by pornography that leads to higher levels of rape and harassment. 

Title 
The feminist movement cannot afford to alienate itself from society
Point 

The term ‘feminism’ is often associated with men-hating and the radical view that women are superior to men as opposed to gender equality. This happens because extreme feminists who uphold such opinions are consistently given greater media coverage by virtue of having the loudest voices and creating headlines that sell. As a result, the feminist movement is currently lacking the support it deserves and even those who take feminist positions often don’t want to call themselves feminists. (Scharff)[1]

It would be a bad move for it to further radicalise itself and attempt to ban something as present in society as pornography. It will never work, and it will merely make women and men more reluctant to espouse feminist ideologies for fear of being associated with a ‘hate group’.

[1] Scharff, Christina, “Myths of man-hating feminists make feminism unpopular”, Economic & Social Research Council, 7 March 2013, http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/press-releases/25291/myths-of-man-hating-feminists-make-feminism-unpopular.aspx

Counterpoint 

The feminist movement must, above all, strive to protect the people who are oppressed by anti-women structures in society: it cannot ignore the problems women face. Social movements are there because the rights of minorities in society are being ignored: they are necessarily going against the flow of public opinion, and sometimes they need to be radical in order to uphold the rights others ignore. A big problem requires big changes.

Bibliography 

Benson, Rusty. “Vile Passions.” AFA Journal August 2002. <http://www.afajournal.org/2002/vile_passions.asp>.

Global Wage Report 2012/13: Wages and Equitable Growth. Geneva: International Labour Office, 2013.

Henscher, Philip. “As Iceland says no to pornography, will the rest of us follow?” The Independent 1 March 2013. <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/as-iceland-says-no-to-pornog....

Lubben, Shelley. “Ex-Porn Star Tells the Truth About the Porn Industry.” Covenant Eyes. http://www.covenanteyes.com/2008/10/28/ex-porn-star-tells-the-truth-abou..., 28 October 2008. <http://www.covenanteyes.com/2008/10/28/ex-porn-star-tells-the-truth-abou....

Paul, Pamela. “Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging our Lives, our Relationships and our Families.” St. Martin's Press 2006.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. Flappers in the Roaring Twenties. http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet.pornography.sta... About.com Guide, n.d.

Scharff, Dr. Christina. “Myths of man-hating feminists make feminism unpopular.” 7 March 2013. Economic and Social Research Council. 14 March 2013. http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/press-releases/25291/myths-of-man-...

“Section 63 - Possession of extreme pornographic images.” Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. 2008. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/4/part 5/crossheading/pronography-etc.

Techmedia Network. Feminist Porn Award: Good For Her, n.d. http://internet-filter-reliew.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-sta...

—. Internet Pornography Statistics. TopTenReviews, n.d. http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-sta...

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