Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MacDworkin Redux

A piece of legislation that has largely flown under the radar of the free speech and pro-sex advocates passed through the Minnesota Senate this week. The legislation proposes a ban on MN government business travelers from staying in hotels that offer premium porn channels, at least those offering what the legislators are defining as "violent" pornography. Note that this has nothing to do with MN State workers purchasing porn viewing on the state's dime, which is presumably already prohibited, but represents a state-mandated boycott of lodging that does not meet the "clean hotels" designation. (There is an exception in the legislation for state business travelers who cannot find a "clean hotel" in the area they are traveling in, however, they are also required to provide written proof to that effect.)

Clearly out to win some kind of Orwell award, the bill's sponsor, Democratic State Senator Tarryl Clark stated, "This bill is not about policing personal choices. The bill is about taking another step in reducing sexual violence in our society."

Also, proof that the usual suspects from the Stop Porn Culture crowd have had an influence here, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault executive director Donna Dunn notes that the legislation is meant to target material that "show[s] degrading and body-punishing sex".

Further details here, here, here, and here. Text of the legislation here.

What stands out about this legislation is that it has not come from the usual suspects on the religious right (though the "clean hotel" list in the US is maintained by these groups) nor is it justified on "decency" grounds. Rather, the bill was sponsored by a Democrat, lobbied for by a coalition of feminist anti-sexual violence groups (specifically, the Mens' Action Network (who maintain a page on the subject here), the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and, notably, the Minnesota Department of Health Injury and Violence Prevention Unit), and specifically touted as prevention of sexual violence. More chillingly, a document by the MDH Injury and Violence Prevention Unit, "The Promise of Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence: A Five-Year Plan To Prevent Sexual Violence and Exploitation in Minnesota" specifically highlights porn and "sexual objectification" as a causal agent in sexual violence and recommends legislative and other state-sponsored strategies against it.

If this kind of thing coming out of the great state of Minnesota sounds familiar, one needs to go back some 25 years to the heyday of the Dworkin/MacKinnon Ordinance, which was first passed by the Minneapolis City Council in 1983 (though vetoed by the mayor, who recognized the legislation would clearly lose on constitutional grounds). The language of the present legislation comes right out of the earlier Dworkin/MacKinnon legislation. While the authors claim that legislation does not target all sexually explicit material shown at hotels, it broadly defines the targeted material as follows:
"pornographic image or performance" means a sexually explicit image or performance that objectifies or exploits its subjects by eroticizing domination, degradation, or violence.

(Also, as is typical of the hypocrisy of such legislation, while it broadly defines a wide range of pornographic content as "violent" by definition, violent non-porn movies shown on hotel movie channels, such as Saw or Captivity, get a free pass.)

Unfortunately, there seems to be little sustained opposition to this legislation (other than from the hotel lobby), and the Minnesota ACLU website doesn't see fit to mention it. The legislation has a good chance of passing, though how it will stand up if challenged in court is less clear – the bill uses the same ideologically-loaded language struck down in Booksellers v. Hudnut. I urge readers in Minnesota to write their legislators and raise awareness of this issue.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a bill passed last year charging a $5 per head "pole tax" on strip-club patrons is scheduled to go before the Texas State Supreme Court this week. What is notable about this legislation is that it too was passed on grounds of "preventing sexual violence", mandating that the tax be used to fund anti-sexual violence groups. While this may seem non-problematic on the surface, it once again, mandates a direct link between the sex industry and violence against women, and proposes a sin tax as a partial solution.

Like the Minnesota legislation, the Texas bill was sponsored by a Democratic legislator, State Representative Ellen Cohen, and backed by a coalition of anti-sexual violence groups. It should also come as no surprise that Robert Jensen was one of the consultants on this piece of legislation and that a women's center at Jensen's institution, University of Texas, is one of the proposed recipients of the largess of this tax.

More here, here, and here.

While these pieces of anti-porn legislation are a great deal less far-reaching than many earlier anti-porn legislative efforts in the US, or current ones in some European and Commonwealth countries, such legislation is clearly meant to set a precedent. Laws specifically linking pornography to violence against women that might stand up to constitutional challenges may be used as justification for more far-reaching legislation in the future.


  1. As Obama and the Democrats move steadily rightward politically, so do the cultural liberals.

    Attacking porn -- especially the "violent and degrading" variety -- becomes a much easier scapegoat for liberals seeking legitimacy in a steadily rightward-moving climate....and it also may give them a faux populist issue to consolidate with social conservatives not of the Teabagger variety.

    Slapping a "we're preventing violence against women" label on censorship doesn't make it any less censorship.

    I thought that we had ended this nonsense with Obama. I suppose not.


  2. Well, pretty much as expected. Under the old regime, porn bashers from the religious right got their turn. Now, under the dubious neo-liberalism of Mr. Obama, the secular anti-porn feminists get their hooks on the bat.

    I've been predicting this all along and I'm not a bit surprised to see it happening. I've pointed out here before that Ms. MacKinnon gave Obama a hand with her WSJ op-ed when he was struggling with the backlash from knocking Hilary out of the race, and that he'd owe for that.

    The pay-off is starting to take shape and the extent to which liberal opinion, which has been a vital firewall against this kind of idiocy, has been allowed to drift unopposed into the APF camp, makes it much more dangerous, as free-speach liberals were the only political allies we had.

    Those who were so quick to dismiss the importance of liberal support have only themselves to blame for the coming of various iterations of The Swedish Solution to these shores. Supporters of First Amendment protections for sexually explicit speech failed to counter the shaming of liberals by rad-fems regarding pornography, did not respond to the lies being told in the forums where liberal opinon is formed and essentially ceded the ground to the enemy.

    Pushing them back now won't be easy. It may not even be possible. What's going on in California is a pretty good example of what happens when liberal support for freedom of sexual expression is allowed to erode under constant heckling over the need to "protect" women from the harms of pornography.

    And all those sex pozies lined up with their gripes about "commercial porn" and "mainstream porn" certainly haven't helped.

    This is only the beginning. Much worse is yet to come and our side's failure to step up and engage when the APFs began their advance under this administration will bear a heavy responsibility for the likely results.

  3. To be fair, I don't see the hand of the Obama administration in this so far, in the form of directives or rhetoric for individual states to start going after porn. These moves seem to coming from the state governments, who have a long history of pushing for prohibitionist legislation in advance of their federal counterparts. For example, Republican states vis a vis abortion.

    What does stand out about these pieces of legislation is that like the recent indoor prostitution ban in Rhode Island, these pieces of legislation weren't initiatives of the old "decency" groups (though they were certainly supported by them), but rather points out the strength of the new "liberal" anti-porn/abolitionist movement.

  4. I never suggested Obama's people were directly involved in these things. I do think they've sent no signal that would discourage others from pursuing this agenda at a more local level, at least for now, and I doubt any suich signal is coming.

    My point here is that for a variety of reasons, we can't look to the Obama administration or its key supporters for any help in fending off initiatives of this kind. They'll simply avert their eyes from the spectacle, as will the Roberts court. All they have to do to insure the success of these measures is what they're best at doing - nothing whatsoever.

  5. ""sexual objectification" as a causal agent in sexual violence and recommends legislative and other state-sponsored strategies against it."

    What would be absolutely hilarious is if someone demanded that hotels cease hosting wedding receptions on the same basis, that as women under a patriarchal system of marriage, brides are sexually objectified and oppressed.