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Why have feminists historically opposed censorship - particularly of material with sexual content? Because no matter how we are assured that the censorship is meant to protect us, the targets of such censorship invariably turn out to include feminist ideas and ideals, information that benefits women and challenges sexism.
Modern attempts to suppress "pornography" in the English-speaking world have sometimes relied on more modern language, but the aims and results, in the end, are the same. "Feminist" alterations to the law in Canada have resulted in targeting of genuine lesbian material there, made by and for women, and allegedly feminist anti-pornography campaigns in the US and Britain have handed new credibility to the moral right's age-old drive to stamp out sexual openness.
We are meant to believe that the new "decency" legislation in the US Congress will protect us from deluges of child pornography and the predations of aggressive pedophiles who trawl for innocent victims. This imaginary "deluge", like the equally imaginary army of rapacious net-pedophiles, is a convenient myth, but the legislation that purports to curb it mysteriously contains restrictions on discussion of abortion. Does this sound familiar? It should. It is the predictable outcome of moves to censor sexual material.
When we fall for arguments against pornography or "obscenity", we hand repressive agents the tool for censoring our speech. It is not their speech - their remarkably sexist speech - that will be censored; it is our own. Because the view that women really do own, and have a right to control, our own bodies and our own sexuality is still a subversive and modern idea, and the legislators who support "decency" legislation don't like our idea very much. These are people who believe that women's liberation is the very Devil himself. Don't let them exploit your fears to fuel their repressions.
© 1996, Avedon Carol
Submission By Feminists Against Censorship To The Home Affairs Inquiry Into Computer Pornography (1994)In her Submission By Feminists Against Censorship To The Home Affairs Inquiry Into Computer Pornography (1994), Avedon Carol argued against censorship on the grounds that there was no demonstrable link between exposure to pornography and the commission of crime. She quotes Goldstein's research which shows that sex offenders often had a more sexually repressive upbringing than others, the causes of sex crime being mostly found in early childhood, more often than not pre-dating exposure to pornography. She argues that sex education can be used to prevent the practice of child abuse and the development of rapists. In the case of child abuse, teaching the child that its sexual organs are its own and that nobody, not even its parents, has a right to tell the child how they are to be used has been shown to be effective. In the case of rapists, Carol points out that it is in a sexually repressive culture that mysoginistic representations of women's sexuality are widespread. The sexually active woman is seen as 'bad' and therefore 'fair game', deserving of no protection - a view which has often been reflected in court judgments in rape cases where women dressed or behaved provocatively and are therefore considered to have caused the rape. Such an attitude does not derive from pornography, in which there is rarely any suggestion that a provocative or sexually active woman merits punishment. Similarly violence against women who have been unfaithful is not encouraged by pornography, in which, if a man came home to find his partner in bed with another, he would probably join in. Rather violence against the unfaithful woman is encouraged by the broader society which condemns sexually active women. The broader society also inculcates the belief that the male should provide for the family, a belief which, in the face of mass unemployment, often leads to the male venting his frustration and feelings of inadequacy on his partner, leading to an increase in domestic violence which can in no sense be ascribed to pornography. Where pornography does engage in representations of violence (and most of it does not), for example in S&M, then in fact it is often the woman who is portrayed as dominant. In arguing that pornography is especially degrading of women, pornography's critics overlook the fact that it is custom and the law which force pornography in Britain to be principally pornography for men. The major bookstores will not stock any pornographic material showing couples and the portrayal of erections is forbidden - though not necessarily strictly illegal the portrayal of the erect penis and of penetration by objects has been established by case law as 'likely to deprave and corrupt'. Carol argues that this bias in pornography would therefore be overcome by the repeal of the Obscene Publications Acts and the Video Recordings Control Act. At present, the law is so vague that almost anything could be considered to infringe against it, with the result that lesbian magazines are not allowed into the country by Customs and Excise or refused by stockists in Britain just in case they might break the law. In conclusion, Carol states:We therefore submit that it is vital that all anti-pornography activism by the government and its agents should cease forthwith and be replaced with an honest, positive sex education campaign geared to reach even the youngest children to protect them from sexual abuse by adults and each other, and to prevent them from being corrupted by the dangerous anti-sex propaganda which is currently being promoted by the government, the police and the media.--http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/porno6.html
Nudes, Prudes & Attitudes: Pornography & Censorship (1994) - Avedon Carol
Nudes, Prudes & Attitudes: Pornography & Censorship (1994) - Avedon Carol [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Pornography and censorship have carved a divide in the feminist movement and beyond. On one side is an improbable alliance of pro-censorship feminists and the moral right. On the other are civil libertarians of various shades and anti-censorship feminists.
Avedon Carol writes as a feminist, an activist and a member of Feminists Against Censorship. She argues strongly that the movement for sexual censorship gives enormous and dangerous powers to the state, promotes the very repression that is implicated in causing sexual violence, and derails feminist discussion of sexuality.
Nudes, Prudes, and Attitudes is essential reading for students of women’s studies, media studies, sociology, psychology and government, and will be of interest to all those concerned with the civil liberties implications of censorship.
FEMINISTS AGAINST CENSORSHIP
The media may have given you the impression that feminists support moves to censor sexual media, so you might be surprised to know just how many feminists out there have been actively opposing such censorship since long before there was an Internet. And we still do.
Scare stories about the alleged new dangers of the Internet haven't changed our minds. We still see the same dangers in censorship that we always have, and the "new" arguments really seem remarkably familiar.
The equation is simple: Those who have power get to censor, and those who lack power get silenced. If you find yourself in a position to demand and get censorship, you can be sure you are among those who have the power, and you are acting to oppress others.
Yes, supporting freedom of speech means you may have to hear and see expression that you don't like. But if you cave in to censorship, you will still hear expression you don't like - from the Powers That Be - and be left without a voice to counter it. Don't be fooled.
These pages will tell you more about Feminists Against Censorship and other groups that are fighting for free expression, both on the net and off it, from bookstores to libraries, in Britain and America. Follow the links to essays, announcements, campaigns, history, resources, and others who wish to promote the right to speak freely. And join us.
(Except where otherwise stated, all the text at this site was written by Avedon Carol.) -- http://www.fiawol.demon.co.uk/FAC/
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