In what I consider a wildly misguided attempt to improve gender equality, the EU is preparing to vote on banning all forms of pornography. Rick Falkvinge has described the vote as a deceptively named (Eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU) bill that was “really about tearing down the most fundamental of our rights and liberties.”
While gender equality is a noble cause this is not an ideal way to go about achieving it and would have terrible consequences for our freedom of expression. Whether one believes pornography has intrinsic value or not, should be protected for those that wish to partake in it. I’m not saying that it’s never sexist or stereotyping but rather that it is not that by definition nor does all pornography involve gender stereotyping. As an article from today in the Telegraph points out some of the problems with the thoughts underpinning this vote but a number of them should be obvious.
Gay porn, male on male, has no females in it so how is that contributing to gender stereotypes? It isn’t, yet for some reason it would be banned too. Is sex in general just a physical manifestation of gender stereotypes? No. It can be many things, that included, but more often it’s an expression of love or a way to relax. But if it’s not contributing to gender stereotypes itself then why would a film or photograph of the act suddenly contribute to those stereotypes? It’s a strange jump that doesn’t make sense and completely ignores that there’s often a male protagonist similarly involved.
Not only is the premise misguided but I would also suggest that a ban on pornography would do more harm than good, not only from a free expression point of view. We can see a summary of some of the terrible effects of porn from this paper:
Using data gathered from various governmental records, Kutchinsky (1991) compared the relevant increase in available SEM [sexually explicit material] following the liberalization of antipornography laws in Denmark, Sweden, West Germany, and the U.S. with both pre- and post- liberalization data regarding sex crimes reported in these countries. His research found that, in the countries studied, the rates of rape, sexual assault, and other sex crimes either decreased or essentially remained stable following the ready availability of erotic materials of all sorts. In none did sex crimes of any type increase.
Other countries have been investigated to see if Kutchinsky’s findings would hold across diverse cultures and traditions. Three Asian locations studied, Japan (Diamond & Uchiyama, 1999), Shanghai, China (Diamond, 1999) and Hong Kong (Ng & Ma, 2001) with very different histories and social structures from those studied earlier, also found that available government records showed that, while the amount and availability of pornography increased, the rates of sexual crimes decreased. Reassessment of the situation in the U.S. (Diamond, 1999) also supported this pattern, as did studies conducted in Croatia (Landripet, Stulhofer, & Diamond, 2006) and Finland (Diamond & Kontula, 2009).
There we go. Over and over researchers have found that the availability of porn has decreased sexual crimes. Why would one want to reverse that sort of trend?
One of the problems is that governments have been increasing their interference in people’s lives such that we don’t seem to notice or mind the invasions of our privacy or removal of our rights. The Political Compass shows that all the EU governments are currently more authoritarian than libertarian. Governments should be providing essential services, providing security and making sure society functions in a fair manner. What we don’t need is government interfering in people’s private lives and telling us what we should or shouldn’t be looking at. Although I suppose I should link to a recent post asking when this position is acceptable.
So in summary, gender equality is a great goal but banning pornography is a misguided approach to try and solve the problem and poses a threat our freedoms. When porn is not harming anyone, may actually be benefiting society and is not intrinsicly stereotyping then it should not be restricted by government. If one has a personal aversion to pornography then they can abstain to their heart’s content. Let’s provide warnings so people can avoid what they don’t want to see but let’s not impose those people’s preferences on others. While I am saddened that this occurred, especially in the EU, I am gladdened by a poll in the Telegraph article that I linked at the beginning of this post.
Should pornography be banned?
Yes 20.22% (4,163 votes)
No 79.78% (16,430 votes)