2 Nadine Strossen, “Why Censoring Pornography Would Not Reduce Discrimination or Violence against Women”Strossen’s ProjectStrossen’s aim is to dispel claims made by the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography and other feminist theorists that pornography is directly causally linked to negative attitudes to, and violence against, women.Additionally, Strossen seeks to show that censorship of pornography is not only unwarranted, but may further result in precisely the opposite effect that anti-pornography advocates hope for.In part, Strossen embarks on a ‘battle of evidence’—attempting to show that evidence against the anti-pornography side is much stronger than evidence for it (if any).
3 The Anti-Pornography Position The admitted assumption made by the Meese Commission and others is that censorship of pornography would reduce sexism and violence against women.This assumption rests on three further assumptions:That exposure to sexist, violent imagery leads to sexist, violent behavior.That the effective suppression of pornography would significantly reduce exposure to sexist, violent imagery; andThat censorship would effectively suppress pornography.Each of these assumptions, however, requires support, as each presupposes the others.Only assumption (1) has received any substantial attention, but even here, the evidence is against the assumption.
4 The Anti-Pornography Position (cont’d) The claim that these assumptions should be taken “on faith” is widespread:“It might be suggested that proof of actual harm should be required…[I]t is sufficient… for Parliament to have a reasonable basis for concluding that harm will result and this requirement does not demand actual proof of harm.” (Butler v. the Queen, Supreme Court of Canada) (99)Even if we assumed that seeing pornography leads to committing sexism or violence, it would still not follow that censoring pornography would reduce such incidents.It would still need to be proven that pornography is a dominant cause of sexism and violence, and that it is even suppressible.
5 Monkey See, Monkey Do?Evidence that anti-pornography advocates cite as evidence for a causal link between pornography and acts of sexism and sexual violence fall into four categories:Laboratory data concerning attitudinal effect of seeing sexually explicit material on volunteers;Correlational data concerning the availability of pornography and anti-female discrimination and violence;Anecdotal data in the form of accounts by sex offenders and their victims as to the role that pornography played in the crimes; andStudies of sex offenders, assessing the factors leading to their crimes.However, “none of these types of ‘evidence’ prove that pornography harms women.” (99)
6 (i) Laboratory Experiments Monkey See, Monkey Do?(i) Laboratory Experiments“[N]o credible evidence substantiates a clear causal connection between any type of sexually explicit material and any sexist or violent behavior.” (100)Even within the Meese Commission, which was poorly funded and undertook no actual research, there was much dissent among members.The final report noted several times that its conclusions were based on “common sense,” “personal insights,” and “intuition.”
7 (i) Laboratory Experiments (cont’d) Monkey See, Monkey Do?(i) Laboratory Experiments (cont’d)Two of the Commission’s harshest critics were members of that Commission: Judith Baker and Ellen Levine. They note:“[T]he social science research has not been designed to evaluate the relationship between exposure to pornography and the commission of sexual crimes; therefore efforts to tease the current data into proof of a [causal] link between these acts simply cannot be accepted.” (100)Even literature surveys conducted for the Commission failed to find any link between “degrading” pornography and sex crimes or aggression.
8 (i) Laboratory Experiments (cont’d) Monkey See, Monkey Do?(i) Laboratory Experiments (cont’d)Then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop argued the only impact of exposure to such material was leading its viewers to think that the variety of sexual practices were more common than currently believed.Experiments also fail to establish any link between women’s exposure to such material and the development of negative self-images.
9 (ii) Correlational Data Monkey See, Monkey Do?(ii) Correlational DataAnti-abortion advocates (including the Meese Commission) allege a correlation between sexually explicit materials and sexual offense rates.Problem 1: A positive correlation between two phenomena does not prove that one causes the other.Problem 2: Indeed, the same correlation could reflect the opposite causal chain—say, that rapists relived their violent acts by viewing violent pornography.Problem 3: A positive correlation between the phenomena could be explained by a single root cause for both—such as a high population of men in areas with this correlation (which is in fact the case).
10 (ii) Correlational Data Monkey See, Monkey Do?(ii) Correlational DataProblem 4: There simply are no consistent correlations. Indeed, there is evidence of a frequent inverse correlation.Among the 50 states, Utah has the lowest availability of pornography and is 25th in number of rapes.New Hampshire is ninth-highest in availability of pornography, but only 44th in number of rapes.Availability and consumption of pornography has been on the increase, where the rates of sex crimes and wife battery have been decreasing or have remained steady.Consistent correlations also fail to be found internationally.Violence and discrimination against women are common in countries where pornography is completely unavailable (Saudi Arabia, Iran, China), and uncommon in countries where it is readily available (Denmark, Germany, Japan).
11 (iii) Anecdotes and Suspicions Monkey See, Monkey Do?(iii) Anecdotes and SuspicionsAnti-pornography advocates often rest on claims by sexual offenders that “porn made me do it” and by evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that sexual offenders were in possession of pornography when they committed their crimes.Arguing that pornography was a cause of sex offenses because some sex offenders use pornography is like arguing that marriage causes rape because some rapists are married.Even if pornography was a “triggering factor” behind some such crimes, this could not justify restricting such materials.
12 (iii) Anecdotes and Suspicions Monkey See, Monkey Do?(iii) Anecdotes and Suspicions“If we attempted to ban all words or images that had ever been blamed for inspiring or instigating particular crimes by some aberrant or antisocial individual, we would end up with little left to read or view.” (103)As pro-feminist literature sometimes depicts incidents of sexism and violence towards women, on the same grounds we would have to censor these, too.
13 (iv) Studies of Sex Offenders Monkey See, Monkey Do?(iv) Studies of Sex OffendersRather that showing a causal link, studies have found no evidence that sexual materials and/or attitudes toward women play any significant role in promoting actual violence.Quite the contrary, these studies have shown:that sex offenders had less exposure to sexually-explicit materials than most men;that they first saw such material much later in life than most men;that they were overwhelmingly more likely to have been punished for looking at them as teenagers;and that they often found such materials more disturbing than arousing.
14 (iv) Studies of Sex Offenders (cont’d) Monkey See, Monkey Do?(iv) Studies of Sex Offenders (cont’d)If anything, there seems to be an inverse causal relationship between exposure to pornography and misogynistic violence or discrimination.For most men, a description of rape or other sexual violence dampens sexual arousal by about 50%, compared with a comparative scene of consensual sex.As feminists themselves tend to state, rape is not centrally a crime about sex, but rather about violence.
15 See No Pornography, See No Sexist and Violent Imagery? Pornography makes up only a small percentage of the sexist and/or violent material in our culture and media.Researchers have found that acceptance of the “rape myth” and other misogynistic attitudes and violent predilections are as likely to result from exposure to other types of mass media, including soap operas and popular films.If we want to purge all sexist, violent representations from our culture, censorship would quickly become widespread.Presumably, this is not an extreme that anti-pornography advocates want.
16 Censor Pornography, See No Pornography? “Procensorship feminists themselves have acknowledged that censorship would probably just drive pornography underground.” (105)Indeed, censorship tends to make viewers more desirous of pornography and receptive to its imagery.“[T]he evidence suggests that censorship of any material increases an audience’s desire to obtain the material and disposes the audience to be more receptive to it.” (105)A world “cleansed” of offending material does not equip its citizens to reject culturally propagated values, for they will assume the media has been purged of all “incorrect” perspectives.“Censoring pornography would do women more harm than good.” (106)
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