Guest Column: Free speech shouldn’t include violent porn

anne.bradley

Free speech is an issue that affects all Americans, whether they realize it or not. Hanging an American flag upside down in a window, declaring communist views and walking in a protest are all protected under the First Amendment, and all seem to be weighty and important ways to communicate an idea. However, I doubt many people think about the First Amendment.

One person, Professor Catherine MacKinnon of the University of Michigan law school, has been spearheading the anti-pornography movement, forcing people to think about porn as free speech. She believes there is a direct link between the prevalence of pornographic material and crimes against women, and defines porn as material which shows women (or men, or children) being degraded, hurt or raped. This is different from erotica, which is sexual material in which both parties involved in the sexual activity can be perceived by the viewer as being equal participants.

Viewed in this light, should the right to view pornography be protected? When violence is involved, I believe restriction may be warranted. When it comes down to free speech rights in making porn to the equal protection of women under the law, we have to strike a balance.

Traditionally, the religious right has criticized the pornography industry for its ‘moral degradation’ and its ability to corrupt those who watch it. Religious leaders often claim pornography is an affront to family and religious values.

They maintain the corrupting force of pornography is severe enough to warrant government control over the media. These leaders have gained allegiance from an unlikely source-portions of the feminist left.

Pornography has recently come under attack from this group because of the idea that the material being distributed is inherently degrading to women. Porn, according to MacKinnon, leads to women being harassed in the workplace, leads men to believe women enjoy being humiliated and raped and leads society to feel women hold a lesser place than men.

MacKinnon argues that all pornography which depicts degradation of women is harmful not only to the woman in the pornography, but to women as a whole. She pioneered legislation in Canada which would allow women to seek civil remedies if they believed they had sustained damage as a result of viewing pornography.

However, there is another side to feminist thought about this issue. Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU and former law professor, takes the opposite angle and argues women do not need to be protected through laws. She also holds that all pornography is protected speech, as long as it is consenting adults in the films. Since those who make porn, even violent porn, are in the minority, she believes their viewpoint should also be protected.

Violent and degrading pornography, material that depicts women enjoying (or not) rape, pain and humiliation, is fundamentally wrong. Violent porn is different from violence in movies because the person watching porn is associating himself as the good guy, with hurting someone in conjunction with having sex with them. What is this teaching men and women who watch these violent, sexual films? That men are men if they hurt the person they are having sex with, and women should be hurt and degraded, because that’s how they (or their partner) get sexual satisfaction.

The statistics on Internet pornography are staggering. According to Internet Pornography Statistics by Jerry Ropelato as a part of the Internet Filter Reviews, over 12 percent of the Internet contains pornographic Web sites. Some 25 percent of search engine requests were related to pornography every day, and 35 percent of all peer-to-peer downloads were of pornography. Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography worldwide. With such huge numbers, is it possible women can overcome the stigma transferred through pornography?

One could perhaps look at the civil rights movement for inspiration. It is no longer acceptable, at least most places in the states, to (openly) call someone a racial slur or any of the multitude of terms which were in wide use through the American vernacular years ago. However, you can still call a woman a sexist slur or any other derogatory term.

The Ethical Spectacle puts it best, “The racial taunt says, ‘You are an animal, not a human being,’ and the sexual taunt says, ‘You have no identity, no personality-you are a collection of appealing body parts.'”

Pornography where the woman is seen as a target of violence is not speech which will help disabuse society of the notion that women are not as worthy of protection as those who make and view pornography.