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May 24, 2016

Op-Ed: Washington Post Posts 'Debate' Over Banning Porn

WASHINGTON, D.C.—One might think that the newspaper currently owned by Jeff Bezos, whose other company, Amazon.com, will be only too happy to sell pretty much anyone porn books, DVDs and other sexually explicit fare, might have thought twice before opening up its Opinion page to a debate over "pornography regulation"—but hey, controversy sells, even if one side of the controversy is total horseshit. The topic was apparently inspired by Utah's recent passage of a joint resolution declaring pornography a "public health crisis," and WaPo enlisted as the debaters Matthew Schmitz, the literary editor for First Things, a neocon religious journal founded in 1990 with the aim of "advanc[ing] a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society," and Mireille Miller-Young, associate professor of Feminist Studies at UC-Santa Barbara and the author of A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography. Schmitz, of course goes straight for the toilet in his first full paragraph: "We find it perfectly acceptable that smut, no matter how bestial or misogynistic, should be widely available. We even think it a moral imperative, a dictate of freedom. It does not trouble us that children can view acts of rape, real or simulated, with a click of a mouse, but if someone proposes that we prevent them from doing so, dirty old Uncle Sam begins to shudder. Respected citizens stand up to object. Gallant young civil libertarians come riding into town, ready to defend the imperiled modesty of Lady Liberty." Of course, almost nothing about that paragraph is accurate. The adult industry doesn't make bestiality movies, nor mysogynistic ones unless one accepts the claim by such critics as the late Andrea Dworkin that any depiction of consensual intercourse is a depiction of rape. And while it's true that civil libertarians support the concept of free sexual speech, if Schmitz is worried about kids seeing "acts of rape, real or simulated," he ought to check out what Hollywood's producing these days, not the porn industry, the legitimate side of which takes some measures to keep kids from viewing it. And one hopes that Americans still remember the First Amendment and support it, though with conservative religionists taking power in many state legislatures, the fight is becoming harder and harder (no pun intended). Schmitz goes on to discuss Gail Dines' and Dworkin's highly distorted "surveys" of what sexual material is out there, claiming that "the most popular acts depicted in internet porn include vaginal, oral and anal penetration by three or more men at the same time; double anal; double vaginal; a female gagging from having a penis thrust into her throat; and ejaculation in a woman’s face, eyes and mouth." Actually, we'll give Schmitz the appeal of the facial, but not the conclusion he draws from the bogus "popularity" of any of these acts: "This is not sex-positivity; it is hatred of women." In fact, Schmitz thinks these consensual acts are legally obscene, and that they should be prosecuted. Continuing in his whacko vein, Schmitz apparently believes not only that "the Christian right has lost its power"—tell that to Ted Cruz!—but also that "activists on the left" are beginning to "criticize the misogyny of porn" and are "ready to take up the censor's task." And what's his evidence? The fact that some college professors are delivering "trigger warnings" before discussing some topics that conservative students might be uncomfortable with, and that some campus groups are taking it upon themselves to try to protect women from the rapists and sexual assaulters who have infiltrated some schools—and are only now being outed and discussed exactly because young folks are willing to be more open about sex and personal privacy issues. But what's really hilarious is Schmitz's idea that "limiting" porn wouldn't violate the First Amendment because—get this—"Recent fights over the free exercise of religion demonstrate that interpretations of the First Amendment can be quite flexible. Law bends to the contours of culture, and more or less liberty will be granted to activities—be they religious or pornographic—depending on how harmful they are perceived to be." BWAH-HAH-HAH! What Schmitz is referring to are the plethora of "religious freedom" bills that have been passed or are being considered by state legislatures to allow "deeply religious" people to discriminate against gays, lesbians, transgendered people and any woman who'd like her health insurance policy to include birth control, if not cover abortion. So if you're a baker, a florist or a photographer who offers products or services to the general public, they'd like you to be able to use your "religious convictions" not to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, or deliver flower arrangements or take photographs for same, and for pharmacists not to be forced to fill a legitimate prescription for birth control pills. All that, of course, is rank discrimination outlawed in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a denial of America's most basic tenet: "All men [and women, of course] are created equal," and are considered to be equal under the law. But Schmitz saves his (arguably) best zinger for last: Porn caused Donald Trump. "Even the rise of Donald Trump provides evidence of pornography’s social harm," Schmitz writes. "How to understand the success of Trump’s makeup-caked, misogynistic candidacy, except as an eruption onto the political stage of the pornographic subterrain? If you cringe at Trump’s sneering misogyny, then join me in calling for a ban on the thing that made his crude appeal possible." Ooh; how about... NO FUCKING WAY!!!!! Mireille Miller-Young, of course, has her shit totally together, as is evident from her first paragraph: "Is pornography a public-health crisis? Of course not. While it is not surprising to see the Utah legislature unanimously declare it one—the anti-pornography movement has been quietly building momentum for a state-by-state takeover for some time—what remains shocking is the perceived legitimacy of anti-porn activists, despite the profound unreliability and inconsistency of their hyperbolic claims about porn’s harms to society." Miller-Young asks but never quite answers the question of how these anti-porn activists, with absolutely no science behind them, have managed to be so successful in convincing people that porn is "responsible for an epidemic of sexualized violence against women and children; the rise of a zombie army of emotionally robbed and sexually desensitized men; and the explosion of an underworld of prostitutes trafficked directly from porn sets to street corners across the nation?" The best she can come up with, and it might be the best that anyone could come up with, is that people like Gail Dines essentially use the force of their personalities coupled with being able to sound like they know what they're talking about—even if they are actually full of shit—to sway those with even less scientific knowledge and intellectual curiosity than the Dines compatriots into believing that the supposed "peer-reviewed anti-porn studies" they constantly cite have any basis in fact—which, of course, they don't. Taking on Dines' "content analysis of 304 hardcore porn scenes" as recounted above, Miller-Young comments, "Studies like these make researchers like myself cringe because they make problematic assumptions about what constitutes violence, agency and consensual pleasure in pornography. They often obscure proper methodologies for selecting an accurate sampling across the myriad porn sub-genres and modes of production and ignore the fact that porn sex—sex performed for entertainment, display and profit by professional actors—is about fantasy, boundary crossing and exploration of all that lies outside of the charmed circle of good old-fashioned vanilla, heterosexual sex." In other words, a lot of people watch porn to see what they don't—or don't want to—do in their personal sex lives! True, some of the more repressed watchers may finally get to see what a blowjob or pussy-licking looks like, or cowgirl or doggie fucking—or any kind of fucking that isn't the aptly named "missionary position"—and apply that new-found knowledge to their own bedrooms, but if modern porn has any lesson to teach, it's that what happens between sexual partners should be consensual; that is, agreed between both (or all) of the participants. Or as Miller-Young puts it, "Creating a space to examine sexual taboo and to take pleasure in sometimes radical sexual ideas is what pornography has historically been all about." She's also a bit puzzled as to why anyone would want to make porn illegal "when it is clear that many more people find expression, release, connection, identity and even sexual freedom within it." "Unlike the drugs and tobacco anti-porn activists compare the medium to, porn has never killed...," Miller-Young writes. "Nor has porn proven dangerous for the public, although activists such as Michael Weinstein, a lawyer and head of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, are determined to convince the public otherwise. Weinstein’s California Condoms in Pornographic Films Initiative will appear on the November ballot, inviting California voters to choose whether to allow any citizen to sue porn companies when they do not see a condom or other barrier method used in a sex scene. The initiative may seem to support worker health and safety, but in reality it is an effort to drive pornography out of business and from the state, while creating even greater risks to worker safety and labor rights." Miller-Young then briefly discusses the "porn as a public health crisis" resolution recently passed in Utah, and opines that kids today aren't about to be dissuaded from watching porn just because somebody puts an anti-porn app on their phones, because the kids today are "savvy"—and as a college professor, she should know! "Anti-porn logic never gets to the important questions about how sexual media dynamically reflects and shapes our lives and how we think about and use porn in complex ways," she concludes. "Instead of continuing to allow anti-porn activists to prescribe the discourse and policy about porn, proper sex and sexual danger, we might actually turn our attention to the deeper and more complicated problems of gendered sexual exploitation and violence, and our abysmal record on youth sex education in this country. Porn is a scapegoat, and scapegoats never make us more free or safe." Amen, sister!

 
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