Friday, March 8, 2013

Because Nothing Cures Economic Failure Quite Like....Banning Porn?!?!? The European Parliament's Grand Folly

It is usually typical that governments who have failed to serve their people with adequate polices will turn to scapegoat campaigns designed to target some group of people or some speech that the majority of citizens might find objectionable. That particular group of mode of speech might be harmful in some contexts, but totally neutral in most...but, nevertheless, the few and limited harmful effects are greatly exaggerated by the new commisars to push for censorship of the entirity of that speech or expression. All of this, of course, done for the protection of the defenseless "victims" of such speech, who need such "protection" because apparently they are incapable of speaking for themselves and need the full force of the State to enforce their stated will.

Except, of course, that it turns out that the "stated will" doesn't represent the actual beliefs of the public, but rather the expressed drive of an interest group who is more motivated with imposing their vendettas and personal myopias on everyone else...and getting themselves paid and power in the process.

It is not too surprising that adult explicit sexual media (aka "pornography") has been a standard scapegoat for governments and special interest groups alike who want to exploit confusion, shame, and self-loathing about sex to invoke socially reactionary policies. Usually, it's been the traditional forces of the Right -- religious conservatives -- who have been the most vocal and strident in calling for wiping out sexual speech and expression that they see as a threat to God/Allah/Yawheh, Country, Tradition, Family, Property, Capitalism, and all other shibboleths of "family values". They haven't gone away by any means, but now it seems that there is a similar breed of antisex censorship and sexual fascism building...but this time it comes from the putative "Left": from certain elements of the more radical fringes of the feminist movement, which have now apparently infused their ideology onto the dominant Left parties in Europe.

Most people by now know about the proposals now being enacted in Iceland, where a left-of-center majority party is attempting to impose extreme limits, if not outright bans, on the availability of adult explicit sexual media in that country. Most of you have also heard of the collorary group of laws known as the "Nordic Model" or "Swedish Model", which attempts to regulate sex work out of existence by targeting the (mostly male) clients and managers (aka, the "johns" and the "pimps") for punishment. All this comes from the same school of radical feminism that was founded by the likes of Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, Kathleen Barry, Shelia Jefferys, and Catherine MacKinnon during the 1980's; and is now being further enhaced by the activism of folk like Chyng Sun, Robert Jensen, and (especially) Gail Dines today.

And this week, they got a fundamental boost, through a proposal put forth to the European Parliament that would basically expand what is now being proposed in Iceland to the entire breadth of Europe.

It would do so under the guise of not only "protecting" women from what they see as the deliberate harms of porn, but also raising the notion that the very existence of porn (especially the "violent" and "degrading" kind) in and of itself is a "violation of the human rights" of women.

The proclamations are part of a much larger proposal which seeks to undermine and eliminate "gender stereotypes" in the workplace and generally increase the number and strength of women in European society. Most of the proposals are simple common sense goals that no progressive person would object to, such as comparable pay, paid sick leave, and increasing the number of women in more powerful economic and political entities. The problem is, though, that through their radicalfeminist ideology, the creators of this proposal decided to stick in some of the most corrosive attacks on free expression via these initatives:

17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism(10);

18. Calls on the EU to conduct research into the links between child pornography and adult pornography and the impacts on girls, women, boys and men, as well as the relationship between pornography and sexual violence;

19. Calls on the Member States to establish independent regulation bodies with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry and a mandate to impose effective sanctions on companies and individuals promoting the sexualisation of girls;

20. Calls on the Commission to assist Member States in combating the sexualisation of girls not only by compiling the necessary data, promoting good practices and organising information campaigns, but also by providing financial support for measures taken in the Member States, in particular for women’s organisations fighting against sexualisation and violence against women and girls;
In other words, straight out of the Gail Dines/Melissa Farley hymnal. And...straight out of the Old Testament of St. Andrea and Mother Catherine.

You may also notice that this proposal was also propsed back in 1997, but strong opposition from civil liberties groups did manage to dampen support enough to kill it back then.

And, it appears, opposition is mounting to this latest proposal now as well. One such MEP, Christian Engstrom of PiratPartiet (the Pirate Party), today posted at his own blog his reasons for opposing this initiative. He emphasizes that while he supports the concern of gender stereotyping and favors strengthing the power of women, this latest proposal sets a dangerous precedent for civil liberties and for privacy protections, especially regarding the Internet:

Magazines and cable television would presumably be considered to be ”media” by most people, but what about the internet? Without any definition of ”media” in either of the two resolutions, the answer is not obvious from reading just those two articles, at least not to me.

But the resolution we will be voting on next week has other things to say about the internet. Article 14 reads (again with my highlighting):
14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;
This is quite clearly yet another attempt to get the internet service providers to start policing what citizens do on the internet, not by legislation, but by ”self-regulation”. This is something we have seen before in a number of different proposals, and which is one of the big threats against information freedom in our society.

The digital rights organisation EDRI has produced a booklet called The slide from ”self-regulation” to corporate censorship, where they point out that:
…now, increasing coercion of internet intermediaries to police and punish their own consumers is being implemented under the flag of “self-regulation” even though it is not regulation – it is policing – and it is not “self-” because it is their consumers and not themselves that are being policed.
In the battle against the ACTA treaty, the fact that ACTA contained similar ”self-regulation” proposals to get internet service providers to start policing their customers was one of the reasons why the European Parliament rejected the treaty in the end.

Many members of the parliament (including me) felt and feel that this kind of ”self-regulation” is nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the article on information freedom in the European Convention on Human rights, which says that everyone has the right to receive and impart information without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers, and that any restrictions to this right have to be prescribed by law and be necessary in a democratic society.

Next week’s resolution is a so-called ”own initiative report” by the parliament. This means that it does not automatically become law even if it is adopted, but is just a way for the European parliament to express its opinion.
But the purpose of these own initiative reports is to serve as the basis for the Commission when it decides to present legislative proposals to the parliament. If this own initiative report is adopted by the parliament, it will strengthen the Commission’s position if and when it wants to propose various ”self-regulation” schemes in the future.

Although I completely agree that eliminating outdated gender stereotypes in the EU is a worthwhile goal, I will be voting against this resolution next week.

 Of course, the proposed censorship regulations now under consideration in Iceland, which the proponents of this initiative would love to impose on all of Europe, hardly reflect the desire of "self regulation"; they exist to use the power of the state to force ISP's to filter out sexual content that would violate extreme radfem principles of 'proper" portrayals of sex involving women. And, those standards could be used just as easily against any kind of sexual speech or expression that some radfem deems to be "degrading" or "promoting violence" or otherwise "enhancing gender stereotypes".

 And when I say "any kind", I mean ANY KIND....even the type of "feminist porn" produced by the likes of Candida Royalle, Ms. Naughty, Tristian Taormino, or Cindy Gallop which actually challenges the traditional genres of male-oriented porn; or even gay male porn (which, in case you don't know, contain NO women to abuse or degrade).

One of the most interesting ironies is that the week that this initiative came to light, there was also news that the principal trade organization for supporting the British adult sexual media industry, AITA (Adult Industry Trade Association), announced that they were shutting their doors for good come March 31 due to lack of financial support. It is possible that a group like the Free Speech Coalition here in the US could ultimately fill in the gap and provide needed support for European porn performers and producers...but until that happens, the situation will remain in total flux.

The best reaction to this madness I could find at this time comes from sex worker activist Amanda Hess, who also blogs for the sex worker collective Bound, Not Gagged, who wrote this editorial for Slate today. Her comments bear special witness, especially given the tedencies of radfems to silence and make invisible the voices of women who actually do porn for a living and don't feel like they need such "protection" from their own desires and actions.

The belief that pornography, as a genre, discriminates specifically against women is one still favored by leading anti-pornography activists like Gail Dines, Shelley Lubben, and Catharine MacKinnon. In an interview for the MAKERS series, MacKinnon reiterated her view that “exposure to [porn] makes life more dangerous to women” and “promotes a range of atrocities and violence” against them. When we find gender disparities in other sectors—from literary journalism to tech—we urge industry leaders to assess the problem and encourage women to lean in. But when it comes to porn, the impulse is to just shut the whole thing down.

That’s unfortunate, because it reinforces the expectation that women can only ever be innocent bystanders to sexual material, never producers or consumers in their own right (banning all porn would mean negating the contributions of proudly feminist pornographers like Tristan Taormino, Nina Hartley, and Cindy Gallop). It glides over the experiences of female porn viewers (who have leveraged the Internet to find and distribute porn that appeals to them, even when it’s not marketed that way). It totally ignores the men who are "sexualized" in porn (if pornography discriminates against women, can we all keep watching gay porn?). And it curtails discussion about the challenges faced by some men in the industry (like Derrick Burts, who contracted HIV in 2010, and Erik Rhodes, who died from a heart attack at 30 after heavy steroid use).
Enforcing a government ban on pornography won’t actually rid the world of smut (and the proposal, which has been raised before, is unlikely to lead to a legitimately enforceable ban). But the effort does make it a lot harder to talk about porn honestly, and to advocate for better representation of women in the industry. In a misguided effort to advocate for women, these activists are negating the sexuality of women, gay men, and all the straight guys who’d like to see more diversity in the porn they’re watching, too.
And you thought that the condom mandate was the worst that could happen.


  1. I couldn't believe that crap when I read it. It's one thing to hear that a tiny, geographically isolated country like Iceland is considering this, and another to hear a serious proposal to impose something like this across an area as large and diverse as the European Union.

    This is just the latest fiasco from a very retrograde element among the European "left" (and I use quote pointedly here) that has been trying to push the "Nordic model" on sex work across Europe, though thankfully that idea has had few takers. It's also a symptom of Europe's "democratic deficit", that is, the tendency of European governments to follow the policy recommendations of an unelected class of technocrats, planners, and "experts" of various kinds, something that gets even worse at the EU level than at the level of national governments. In the case of policy toward the sex industry, this "social engineering class" has been taken in by a seriously retrograde strain of conservative feminism that's guiding their policy. It's not something that seems to be supported by the electorate on the ground, even in countries like Denmark that have voted in parties that support such policies.

    I'm hoping this proposal arouses some widespread opposition, as Europe has a large libertarian left, after all, and many genuine liberals. It also has a large, visible porn industry in several countries, notably France and the Czech Republic, and while I don't think they have anything like the Free Speech Coalition there, I would hope this will wake the porn industry and its performers there up to the fact that they're going to have to actively stand up for their own interests. There are also several countries in Central Europe that are now part of the EU who have their own history of sexual repression during the Soviet Era and made a very deliberate decision to go in the other direction, notably Hungary and the Czech Republic, which put in some very liberal laws around porn and the sex industry more generally after 1989. Hopefully they're not going to let the "New Europe" take that away.

  2. Anyone who is surprised by this, or looks to the European left of whatever stripe for possible resistance to it knows zero about the history of modern European leftism and the effectiveness with which it has imposed its sexual orthodoxy on otherwise tolerant and open-minded societies.

    It was a bizarre alliance of the PCF and the Christian Democrats that rammed through the Loi de Marthe Richard in 1946, criminalizing prostitution in France for the first time in history. Richard, for what it's worth, was a proto-Shelley Lubben, a former prostitute who sought to erase her own "horizontal collaborationism" as the French called it, by declaring war on the bordellos where, conveniently, many witnesses to her trysts with German officers were to be found.

    It isn't just Stalinist remnants who attempt to impose their institutional prudery on the public there. The U.K. in particular has long been a hotbed of anti-sex-worker and anti-pornography "progressivism," as evidenced in the passage of the "extreme pornography" law imposed throughout the U.K. in the past couple of years.

    And if you believe this kind of thinking hasn't already crossed the Atlantic, I would direct your attention to Measure B, which was supported by virtually every left-leaning political organization in Los Angeles.

    The most effective tactic the weird alliance of neo-cons and radfems have thus far employed has been covert pressure on banks and credit card processors not to do business with online pornographers whose content is regarded as particularly objectionable. Since the DOJ under John Ashcroft first threatened to charge InSex's acquiring bank with money laundering under The Patriot Act, BDSM sites have been virtually starved off the Internet. Right now, FetLife, a social networking site for kinky people with over a million and a half members has no way to accept the modest five bucks a month is charges to pay for its bandwidth because one of the scanning programs card processors have begun using to detect potentially problematic content based entirely on TEXT (not on pictures or videos, which the scanners can't identify so easily) picked up too many words among member posts it didn't like. And once a site has been bounced by a CC company, its URL goes into a database and no other processor will take its money.

    Though this tactic was ginned up in W's DOJ, it's caught on in Europe as well. Once a haven for off-shore billing for sites that couldn't process charges in the U.S., European banks are now imposing the same content restrictions first put in place here in 2002. While it may have been a right-wing tactic here first, it became a standard practice in the most liberal countries in Europe during the intervening years. Spain, once the most tolerant of all European countries when it came to sex commerce, has become among the most draconian in the practice of "TOU censorship."

    The only political support worth mentioning that sexually explicit speech ever got from outside the ranks of pornographers themselves came from the kind of libertarian liberals "true leftists" love to shame and deride, and in this area, as anyone who reads AlterNet or Counterpunch knows, they've done so with great success.

    Those favoring freedom of sexual expression now stand completely friendless in the political arena both here and in Europe as liberals have scrambled for the ratlines with the ascendency of anti-porn feminism as a litmus test of politically correct thinking on gender bias.

    Fuck them. They're worse than social conservatives, who at least admit to their true intentions and don't hide behind progressive rhetoric to conceal a craven capitulation to the enemies of free speech.

  3. And speaking of the Swedish solution, check out this article, courtesy of the Tits 'n Sass website:

    Top prosecutor nabbed in prostitution sting

    Published: 26 Feb 13 17:18 CET - from The Local (Swedish News inn English)

    Police in Stockholm were surprised on Monday to find that a man they had arrested for buying sex from a prostitute was the duty prosecutor to whom they were obliged to report the crime.
    The chief prosecutor spent Monday evening with a female prostitute in a central Stockholm hotel. A police squad, however, had been tipped off and was waiting for him in the staircase outside the room.

    Officers were surprised to learn of the man's status while arresting him, as he was the prosecutor on duty to whom they should report the crime.

    The man paid 1,500 kronor ($232) for the sex, according to the Expressen newspaper.

    He had allegedly found the escort online, when "surfing around on his iPhone" during a train trip, during which he consumed half a bottle of wine and a beer.

    "And then I did what I am suspected of - I went out into the staircase and the police arrested me there," the prosecutor told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

    He has confessed to the crime, and his family has been notified.

    "My wife will leave me and my children think I have behaved like a pig. Even my friends think the same," he told Expressen.

    The man told Aftonbladet that in his experience as a prosecutor, he knew that the "stupidest thing" he could do was to lie.

    "I have done what I've done, I'm standing with my pants down. The worst is what I have done to my family and friends," he said.

    The arrested man explained that another prosecutor would take care of the case, and that he was unaware of his punishment, or when it would likely be determined.


    Why, it's an Eliot Spitzer smorgasbord!!

  4. Repression breeds corruption. How many bent vice cops have had non-consensual sex with sex workers over the years under the threat of arrest?

    The so-called "Swedish Solution" provides plenty of opportunities for just such vile conduct. Though nominally sex workers themselves can't be prosecuted for soliciting under these laws, virtually every other aspect of the transaction is criminalized, so they're still at the mercy of crooked cops and will be until full decriminalization is achieved.

    And right now, the wind is clearing blowing from the opposite direction.