Thursday, January 13, 2011

Government Censoring of Pornography Degrades Women

In Issue13, Wendy McElroy helps us understand Voluntaryist philosophy using a very controversial issue: pornography. This piece, titled “Pornography Peril” is a transcript of Ms. McElroy’s presentation from a 1984 debate held in Madison, Wisconsin, where an anti-pornography ordinance was being proposed.

Her presentation is full of intelligent, clear thinking on an issue that is often discussed only in the emotional realm, which can lead to ignoring basic principles. Wendy makes clear from the outset that this discussion is not about our personal reactions to porn or what pornography may do to promote certain cultural views about women. It’s about using government to censor:
“The question under debate is: at what point are we justified in translating a personal reaction into a legal process which limits the material other people may hear or see? When is censorship justified? My opponent and other members of Women Against Pornography believe censorship is justified whenever pictures or movies debase and humiliate women, especially when those movies or magazines depict violence against women. I believe censorship is never justified. Under any circumstances.”

She also helps clarify the focus by accepting certain viewpoints that come up in all debates concerning pornography, such as how pornography is to be defined and whether there is a direct correlation to other behaviors.

Then, setting up the main point she says:
“So, what has all this assuming and conceding and forgetting left me with? On what grounds can I possibly oppose banning pornography? I oppose such a ban for one reason and one reason alone. Pornography is a voluntary activity.”

(Wendy adds that there certainly are cases where voluntary consent is not given, but points out that those are crimes worthy of restitution and of course laws already exist for those aggressive actions.)

What I find most interesting in this presentation is how she counters the argument that voluntary consent is not really possible because of cultural attitudes regarding women and sex. In other words, the women who participate are in essence coerced by societal pressures.

McElroy contends that this point is absolutely degrading to women because it asserts that women have no ability to work within societal pressures and make independent judgments before acting.

Cultural attitudes and pressures exist in many areas of our lives, not just around sex. So to say that cultural pressure affects a woman’s ability to make a decision to participate in pornography is to say that women are weak, that women are unable to think things through, to come to their own conclusions, to make their own decisions and then accept whatever consequences come with those decisions.

This viewpoint is saying that women need government protection because we are incapable of giving informed consent.

If a woman decides to participate in pornography, whether as a model, or selling it in her store, or buying it, or whatever, she must at least be respected as an individual capable of making her own decisions as she sees fit, for her own life.

The argument that women are damaged by societal pressure and therefore need extra protection, as if we are not strong enough to make our own decisions in these matters is not only ridiculous but dangerous. If women aren’t free to make decisions about their own lives in all areas, then who will decide?

The transcript contains much more, including voluntary actions you can take if you want to change degrading stereotypes of women. I trust that you are capable of reading, understanding and thoughtfully pondering her arguments.

Even if you’re a woman.


Less Antman said...

Wendy has been heroic on this topic for a long time. A recent review of the many studies done on the effects of pornography at the University of Hawaii further supports the cause of liberty. Rapists and child molesters consume LESS pornography, on average, than non-rapist males, countries that increased availability of porn had reductions in sex crimes relative to other countries, men who frequent pornography tend to be more favorable toward equal treatment of women under the law, etc. Much like studies of violent movies and music that show a reduction of actual violence as these increase.

Respecting liberty builds respect between the sexes.

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