People say shitty, mean, hateful, and ignorant things all the time. And as a society, at least if you look at the application of law in this country, we have decided that this is okay. Having to deal with people around you saying things you find distasteful is an acceptable price to pay for the “freedoms” we enjoy. Essentially they get to say their yucky things, but you can (and some would argue you have a responsibility to) argue with them about it and put forth your own whacked-out views on the world. That is democracy. That is free speech.
When it comes to sexual expression, though, we seem to lose our nerve. Here we have retreated to censorship in a way that we (and by “we” I mean our courts) have not on other touchy issues, such as race. So we seek to “protect” elements of our society from pornography. But who are we protecting? Certainly, there is heavy desire to protect children but to read many of the pro-censorship arguments, we are also protecting women (sometimes this is expressed in code, as in “protecting the neighborhood” but neighborhood means, even today, women and children).
This reminds me enormously of the reforms that middle class Progressives attempted in the early part of the twentieth century. They closed dance halls and censored movies in an effort to protect vulnerable young people, particularly the “women adrift” (young single working class women living in American cities without family). The assumption behind the progressives and the anti-pornography folks’ arguments is that women are in need of protection – and as soon as someone else (or society) is in charge of “protecting” you, hasn’t your autonomy just been pooched?
As is probably obvious, I lean toward the free speech side of things, but I do have limits because as a woman and as a parent I do not want explicit commercialized sex just 'around' where I am going to casually, unintentionally encounter it daily. I actually sympathize with neighborhood groups that have embraced zoning laws and other measures to keep the peep shows and strip clubs out of their communities. Actually the ones I admire the most are those that say “we don’t like this and we would prefer to see it gone altogether, but we have no right to demand that, so we seek other solutions that will control but not eliminate.”
It is actually the commercialized part of pornography that bothers me the most. My personal suspicion is that many of the worst porn products and worst effects of porn come from the effort some have put into to making money by it. Let’s not get too high and mighty in our free speech arguments, in other words. Those who make a living in selling sex are generally the ones who have lead the free speech crusade. And they may argue free speech til the cows come home but their motivation is not a free and open political exchange, it is profit. For them, this is about protecting capitalism, not democracy.
You see, I can explain to my 9-year old why someone might enjoy looking at a naked woman dancing or a blow job being given, but I have a harder time explaining why someone would promote those just for the sake of making money. It doesn’t jibe with the other messages about sex and sexuality that float around my house. So what if we removed the profit motivation from the pornography equation? You can make any sort of sexually explicit material you want, but you can’t make money. You can get famous, you can get off, you can get a laugh out of it, but you can’t get rich. Makes me wonder how things would change.
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