You want proof that criminalization works? Look no further than the feminist movement

Yesterday, The Nation and Tom Dispatch published an epic, historical look at the successes of the feminist movement over the past fifty-odd years and the long road ahead.

In the article, Ruth Rosen points to various male “behaviours” like rape that, while once were viewed simply as “custom” were redefined, thanks to the feminist movement, as crimes.

Not so long ago, you may or may not recall that there was no such thing as rape in marriage. Husbands were entitled to sex, with or without the consent of their wives. Not so long ago, date rape was common, unnamed, and completely acceptable. There were no conversations about consent when it came to sex. It simply wasn’t relevant.

Rape still happens far more than most would like to acknowledge or imagine and we still have a long way to go towards ending violence against women, but things have changed and things must continue to change.

Lately the issue of banning pornography has been a hot(ter) topic of debate due to the fact that Iceland is considering banning online pornography. noted, in her article for The Observer, that Iceland, one of the most progressive countries in the world, ranking in first place in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, that the ban is widely supported among police, health professionals, educators and lawyers.

In anticipation of the typically silly and ignorant responses from libertarians and pro-sex industry types claiming critics of sexualized violence against women are simply prudish, conservative, freedom-haters, McVeigh quotes Halla Gunnarsdóttir, adviser to the interior minister Ögmundur Jónasson, who says, about the prospective ban:

We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech

In other words, this is a feminist initiative.

Now, talk of bans or of criminalization of things like pornography often lead to people to say things like: “FREE SPEECH!” “RIGHTS!” “CENSORSHIP!” But these people are stupid.

We live in what is commonly known as “a society”. Within said “society” we tend to rely on things we call “laws” in order to help us function in a way that is conducive to living in said “society”. This isn’t to say that all laws are necessarily good laws and, often, criminalization targets the marginalized in disgusting and oppressive ways.

This is not the case for feminist laws that prevent men from abusing women.

Much of the work the feminist movement has done in terms of making the world a more equitable one, has been with regard to legislation. Without changes to legislation, women would still be owned by their husbands and wouldn’t be able to do things like vote or have jobs or get a university education or say no to sex. Laws aren’t bad. Criminalizing certain behaviours is also not (necessarily) bad.

Let’s reflect on some of the behaviours we’ve criminalized in our society: murder, rape, domestic abuse, animal cruelty, advocating genocide, and creating, buying, or selling child pornography. There are other behaviours we’ve criminalized that are silly, like doing certain kinds of drugs, but that’s a whole other political can of worms.

The point is that, as a society, we support the censorship of things we believe are deeply harmful to individuals and to society as a whole. Many of us, particularly feminists and other progressive types,  support the criminalization of behaviours that are violent and abusive. Whether we like it or not, laws do shape our behaviour and agitating for changes to legislation and been hugely successful for feminists (though there is much, much more work to do).

There is no need to share “information” that encourages and perpetuates and supports the oppression of women. In fact, I’m pretty sure that would count as some kind of hate speech. Pornography encourages and perpetuates and supports both rape culture (so, violence against women) and the oppression of women.

True freedom and true freedom of speech would exist in a society without systemic oppression. In a world wherein male violence against women is an epidemic, it is not reasonable to say that we live in a free society. It is also not reasonable to defend behaviours that perpetuate oppression and violence on account of “freedom” and “freedom of speech”. Those who argue this are stupid, narrow-minded jerks who’ve spent too long eating American freedom fries and only care about “rights” in as much as those “rights” provide them with access to the sex/money/power they believe they were born entitled to.

To those who argue that it’s impossible to ban pornography because it’s so popular, universal, or “normal”, well, so was marital rape at one time. So was smoking in hospitals. So was owning slaves.

What’s “normal” and acceptable today likely won’t be in 20 or 50 or 100 years. Banning pornography won’t lead to an immediate disappearance of all pornography, just like the illegality of murder hasn’t stopped murders from happening. But it does set a standard and it does teach us what is acceptable behaviour in society. The fact that we’ve criminalized rape has led us to understand that sex should not happen without consent (lest it become “rape” and not “sex”).

(Feminist) changes to legislation won’t solve everything, but are necessary.

Now, pornography is not “good” for society and it isn’t “good” for women (it isn’t even “good” for men!). Because of the Internet, it’s readily available to children which means that this generation and all those that follow learn that women are to be fucked and to be humiliated and to be degraded from the beginning. Pornography shapes and will shape their worldview.

If you think change isn’t possible then you have no place in any progressive movement, conversation about equality, or, really, in a democratic society. If you think your “freedom” should come at the expense of half the population, then you’re the problem and your protests will fall on deaf ears, your cries of “censorship” growing ever more quiet as the rest of us move towards emancipation.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • MLM

    “…If you think your “freedom” should come at the expense of half the population, then you’re the problem…”

    This a thousand times! What the hell’s “progressive” about making arguments which basically serve your own interests and allow others to bear the cost? People have been doing that since the dawn of humanity. Trying to build a better, fairer, safer, more just and equitable society for the WHOLE population is progressive.

    Brilliant post, Meghan. As usual, you’re on fire!

    • Me

      The civilized have long since defined exploitation as progress and got people to the point of debating what kind of exploitation is better. Quite a feat. 🙂 Thanks Meghan for a good post!

    • vouchsafer

      Time to get the petition going. Where do I sign up?

      • Meghan Murphy

        Word. Well, if Iceland goes through with this, I think other countries will follow suit… We’ll be able to say, hey, they did it! And, in this case, ‘they’ are the country that is heads and tails above the rest of us when it comes to gender equality…

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks MLM! Obviously this post was inspired by our conversations on the last thread so thanks everyone for your thoughts and comments – I learn so much from you all!

  • stephen m


    May I point out a couple of links that come quickly to mind and are specifically of Canadian interest.

  • Hecuba

    ‘Children’ comprise girl and boy children and girl children learn from minute they are born that they are supposedly innately inferior to males because their sex is female not male.

    This means malestream pornography is teaching girl children they are not human but merely exist to be males’ disposable sexual service stations’ because that is what females exist for. Boy children learn they are default humans and it is their innate (pseudo) male right to have sexual access to those supposedly dehumanised beings – females. Therefore issue of impact of pornography on ‘children’ is not a neutral one but reinforces male supremacist system and male misogynistic belief that ‘human rights and freedom of speech’ are all about males’ right to dehumanise/sexually exploit majority of the human race – meaning women and girls.

    ‘Freedom of speech’ does not exist because why else do we have laws criminalising racism; homophobia and religion? Because racism/homophobia/religion are directed at groups which contain men and if men are negatively impacted then issue becomes ‘real and important.’

    However, mens’ right to promote male hatred/male contempt for women because they are women is ‘freedom of speech’ because men are not the ones being dehumanised and vilified. In reality promotion of male hatred/male contempt for women is hate speech directed at women because they are women not men.

    Freedom of speech does not exist – but men continue to bury their heads in the sand and proclaim ‘freedom of speech’ exists. Yes it does for men.

    • copleycat

      You’re absolutely right it is not at all a neutral issue regarding children. I grew up when porn mags were being displayed in corner stores and I remember it felt like a threat on several levels. One, the boys would gloat about it and basically say this is what we will inevitably do to you. Two, no matter how bad it got (how violent the covers or the pictorials that found their way out to the streets were) the adults would just shrug it off. Comparing this against all the concern about foreign wars was the tip off as to just how much lying the average adult does. Three, and worst was finding the mags in friends and family’s homes. It was like finding human remains.

  • Vouchsafer

    Meghan’s post brings to mind the fact that feminists have been aware of backlash since the first wave. It makes me wonder if the rise of porn is merely just our greatest backlash yet.
    If that’s the case then they must be using the biggest weapon they have to try to keep us down. We must hold firm. take heart, ladies. they cannot paint us into that particular corner unless we let them.

  • EagerBeaver

    Crap. You do nothing about third-world feminism. Fuck this third-wave shit. And a sex-positive feminist, I have no issue *fundamentally* with pornography. At the moment it is simply another form of exploitation – which guess what – is CAPITALISM. Expand your energies beyond the limited laws of the oppressors. REVOLT! (p.s. porn is one realm where women actually earn MORE than their male counterparts – so you maybe you should address male porn actors?)

    • Meghan Murphy

      YEAH! FUCK THIS THIRD WAVE SHIT. Big ups, @EagerBeaver.

    • Lela

      Wow this comment is like a grab-bag of incoherent “radical”-sounding pro-porn arguments. Sweet.

      • Meghan Murphy

        It’s like, what I imagine pro-sex/confused third wave spam would look like:

        “Empowered sexy shoes discount for you! My husband enjoys my pole-dancing classes and makes me feel more woman! Check out these discount Prada handbags! REVOLT!”

    • Vouchsafer


      What? Porn IS capitalism. try comparing the salary of a female porn star with the producer who profits from the footage.
      A war on capitalism would have to be waged on many fronts, porn being one of them.
      And by the way. keeping the balance of power in the hands of men is what capitalism and porn are both about.
      Capitalism is the problem. I’ve said that before. Porn is it’s minion

      • Meghan Murphy

        “Porn IS capitalism” Yep. Porn is a multi-billion dollar industry. Owned primarily by men. Revolt against the oppressors, indeed.

      • valkyrie

        I would like to see the empirical data to which you attribute the pornography industry being entirely run by males? If you actually looked at it, educated yourselves with information that was not derived from studies from 1980, you would see that the “dirty porn world” you speak of is a myth that people like you perpetuate as a weapon of fear. Online porn cam sites like Live Jasmin, MyFreeCams, Streamate, Chaturbate (need I go on?) are on the rise and are SELF run almost entirely by women. Performers join of their own accord, and by and large are not studio-associated, (some are, but after taking a few minutes to peruse any of these sites and you will see that many of them are broadcast from their own homes). No one is chaining them there. No one is trafficking them. They are there of their own accord to make money, choosing their own hours and their own willingness to comply with requests of paying customers. There are thousands of self employed “at home porn stars” on these sites, so how are you discounting them? Can you explain to me how this empowered group of women changing the face of the porn industry are “oppressed”?

        • Meghan Murphy

          Your argument is that because a few web cam sites (and where is your ’empirical data’ on this??) are run by individual women, the multi-billion dollar porn industry hasn’t long been run by and profited off of by men? Really? Ok. Vivid Entertainment IS actually one of the largest porn companies in the US and was founded and owned by men. Same with, same with Digital Playground Inc., same with Manwin. You’re just straight up wrong on this one.

        • MLM

 – a webcam site which gets around 32 million visitors a month, or almost 2.5% of all Internet users, and is the single most popular adult site in the world, pays only $8-$15 US per hour with no benefits. And given that almost all the girls on the site are from eastern Europe or southeast Asia, you don’t necessarily know these women haven’t been trafficked…

          “We have been recently rescuing women trafficked to cyber- or internet prostitution. Young women are made to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam, while a buyer from Australia or the US watches after sending money to the establishment owner via Western Union or by swiping a credit card. The profile of the buyers is the same as those of other sex trafficking cases. The young women, strikingly for us, also suffered from previous childhood sexual abuse experiences”.

          “Today Asian girls constitute the majority of women and children trafficked annually. According to the United Nations Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking an estimated 2.4 million people are forced in labor. Out of this number about 1.4 million people or about 56% come from Asia and the Pacific. The majority come from developing countries and are trafficked for sexual exploitation, especially with the emerging global technologies such as the internet and web resources. The wide spread of the internet and webcams has facilitated trafficking for sexual purposes”.

          (page 61)

          or even that they are not trafficked minors…

          “Neither the police nor the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have accurate statistics, but they estimate that thousands could be working in the back rooms and small apartments that are the usual locations of these so-called cybersex dens.

          All internet sex is classed as pornography and therefore illegal in the Philippines, but what most concerns the authorities is the number of girls who are trafficked into these dens – many of whom, like Maricel and Kim, are well under 18, the legal age of consent.

          The plight of these girls is a major concern for Lesley Ermata, a police officer specialising in women’s issues. She is based in Angeles City which, like Olongapo, has a thriving sex tourism industry.

          “It’s one of the main problems we face here,” she told me, as we got into the car on the way to a small one-storey house about 10 minutes from the police station.

          Last year, she raided this building with a group of colleagues, and found six girls in various states of undress. The youngest was just 13″.

          “During the raid, authorities rescued 17 female minors and seized a host of sex toys and gadgets.

          The minors were being used as nude models in an elaborate cybersex operation serving foreigners.

          According to one of the minors rescued, they were paid P15,000 a month in exchange for posing nude and performing sexual acts while chatting with clients using a webcam”.

          Oh, but you just meant white, middle class western women are “empowered” by this, right? Because they’re the only ones we should ever concern ourselves with, aren’t they?

          Except that they can be victims of trafficking, too…

          “When people hear that teenage girls are being exploited as sex slaves in the United States, they probably think it’s something involving the poor and underprivileged. They also probably believe that if their daughter was being exploited as a sex slave, they would see signs of it and would be able to intervene.

          But people who think that way would be wrong. Just ask Theresa Flores”

          “Trafficking” can be a misleading term. Under U.S. and international law, a person doesn’t have to be carried across a border against their will for them to be legally trafficked. Coercion into commercial sexual exploitation is enough. It is far too difficult in this country to physically kidnap, chain, and force someone to have sex with strangers (difficult but not impossible); so, sex trafficking within our borders looks different than it does internationally. Because the demand for commercial sex within the U.S. continues to exceed the willing supply, pimps and traffickers have to be more creative and audacious in how they cultivate their supply to meet this demand, however unwilling the “resources” may be.”

          So we just always know these women are performing willingly, don’t we?

          Hell, you’re right. What’s anyone worried about? Clearly “empowered” women are “running” the porn industry now. Relax, Meghan. Start blogging about shoes and handbags or something.

          • Meghan Murphy

            If I started blogging about shoes and handbags I would actually be making an income from blogging, as these people like to imagine I am. It’s odd because there;s clearly so much more money in supporting porn than it criticizing it….

          • MLM

            Yeah, it’s amazing how much easier it is to make your “free speech” heard when you align yourself with a multibillion dollar industry which dominates and determines so much of the conversation. You don’t get rich from telling the truth when people are invested enough in the myths, but apparently that won’t prevent them from mythologising about your motives either.

          • Vouchsafer

            MLM you are kick ass.

          • MLM

            Thank you, Vouchsafer! Ditto to you 🙂

          • copleycat

            Thank you for posting this.

          • copleycat

            Oh to clarify – I meant thank you to MLM. As to Valkyrie I would not call sitting at home masturbating into a webcam “empowered”.

          • MLM

            No worries, copleycat 🙂

    • Grackle

      ” (p.s. porn is one realm where women actually earn MORE than their male counterparts – so you maybe you should address male porn actors?)”

      Haha Jesus, a sex-positive feminist, eh? Sure you aren’t an MRA?

      Also (and this was pointed out by somebody else on yet another thread on this topic) what exactly does it say about the way our society views women that one of the few jobs where we make more than men also requires us to have sex with countless numbers of them on camera?

      If you’re actually okay with that sort of set up, you’re the one who needs to “expand your energy past the limited laws of the oppressors.”

      • Missfit

        And as if what women and men have to go through in porn is equivalent. Let’s not forget that men in porn, usually, are getting paid to orgasm, while women are getting paid to have their bodies push to the limits of endurance.

    • ashley

      “p.s. porn is one realm where women actually earn MORE than their male counterparts – so you maybe you should address male porn actors?”

      as has been pointed out in another blog, there are two jobs in which women are paid more than men – pornography and prostitution. not coincedentally, the two jobs in which women must participate in explicit misogyny and their own degradation and oppression.

  • AM

    It is precisely this kind of thinking that places sex workers at greater risk for oppression and abuse, not less. Additionally, you might want to read some of the educated, pro-sex work publications that exist before merely dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with you as an “idiot.” Doing so only detracts from your argument. Included is a link to one study that considers sex-work in a positive manner, just in case you are looking for some constructive material to engage with.,Gender,%2520Class/feminsits_pornography.pdf+&hl=en&gl=ca&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiZ1WM_ovdCPEkG6BIpSK_-BWmCH6uuWsIWfmwLqqzOdEa1louaiHAZW3Ne3IyqNdbCX8iMqjHBOTwzXaA6zy9wf8L17Z_yUJKmQ7zM_WPoPBkQRgvWgJW1ryPPYAm8vVJ3RwXZ&sig=AHIEtbRmumqZbHfc-oug5XlWCqQpV1WgqA

    • Meghan Murphy

      I have read many, many pro-sex work publications and articles. And responded to many of them. Here, for example:
      as well as in other various articles under the ‘prostitution’ tag:

      Check it out!

      How do you think a ban on sexist, violent pornography would place sex workers at “greater risk for oppression and abuse”?

      • Max

        What of the non-violent pornography?

        We’re not very good at deciding what porn is. Some of the comments on your Lena Dunham piece from the other day showed that even amongst your anti-porn allies there’s a fair bit of dissent about what constitutes objectificaiton (and ergo, porn).

        I’m not suggesting prohibition would necessarily deny the world Lena Dunham playing table tennis in her underwear, but where (and how) do we draw the line?

        Please don’t read this ramble as support of violent porn (I don’t think I like it any more than you do); but there are some very real and very complex questions tied up in this – and I’ve never seen a satisfactory explanation of how we’d go about banning porn beyond it being a nice idea.

        • Lillian

          I think the absolutist jargon in this anti-porn essay is deeply flawed and simplistic. I am anti-porn, but I don’t think criminalization is an effective means of reducing harm to women, or impacting the repressive nature of our culture of inequality. I identify as a feminist, but the so-called third wave is partly about women leveraging their sexuality within the structures of patriarchy, which I believe is wrong-minded. I would compare it to enjoying music with lyrics that degrade women because it has a great beat. I would not want to criminalize all music that contains offensive lyrics about women. Porn is violence toward women, just as offensive song lyrics are violence toward women. Making the comparison of porn to rape or murder or child abuse is just as offensive to me. Like it or not, our culture accepts most porn. In fact, one of the largest segments of porn culture is the so-called amateur porn, where neither the men nor the women are paid, and provide their products at no charge. Criminalizing it will not produce the desired result. While rape and murder are far too common, they are not accepted in the norm, and a very large percentage of our population are against child porn, rape and murder. The laws are unenforceable in this context. Criminalizing porn may in fact put the most vulnerable women at further risk as it is driven underground. I continue to believe that the interests and safety of women are best advanced by treating pornography as a public health issue (even while it is much more than that), by taxing and regulating it more aggressively, and focusing a full on public educational campaign aimed at young men and women. I choose to support this path over criminalization because I believe it will achieve progress in the near term, and not rely on a legal and academic process that continues to fail us all.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Yaaaay! Lillian’s back!

          • Lillian

            Yeah. I get to be vilified for dissent to the orthodoxy expressed here. If I am a cheerleader, nothing but rah, rah, rah! I remain Lillian.

          • Meghan Murphy

            You’re not being vilified, Lillian. You keep repeating the same thing over and over again and it’s annoying. You also exaggerate, by saying you are being harassed by other commenters when you clearly are not. You also put a lot of effort into derailing the last thread, so excuse my skepticism/sarcasm re: your intentions.

          • marv

            For the record here is Dworkin’s and MacKinnon’s description of pornography to be outlawed. I believe it represents abolitionist consensus.

            “We define pornography as the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words that also includes women dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; enjoying pain or humiliation or rape; being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised, or physically hurt; in postures of sexual submission or servility or display; reduced to body parts, penetrated by objects or animals, or presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior; bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual. Erotica, defined by distinction as not this, might be sexually explicit materials premised on equality. We also provide that the use of men, children, or transsexuals in place of women is pornography. The definition is substantive in that it is sex-specific, but it covers everyone in a sex-specific way, so is gender neutral in overall design.” (Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine Mackinnon, p.176)

            It is a no brainer, liberals. Only over scrupulous fanatics (the desensitized), who are so apprehensive about where to draw the line, would dispute such a sensible position. I know you will prove me right.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Thank you, Marv. Yes, this is the legal definition we (feminists) are talking about. Not easily confused with Girls.

          • Max

            Thanks Marv – good reference.

            Megan – agreed, not easily confused with Girls; but that still leaves a fair old grey area. There’s some sexually explicit stuff out there (which I’d cheerfully call porn, but a lot of people would call erotica) that has a woman as the (sole) object of the picture, but I’d say is far from degrading. The makers present a bit of context with the video to give the “star” an identity and a backstory (which I’ll acknowledge is probably at least partly artifice, but there’s at least a fig leaf of performer identity), and go out of their way to get rid of the sleazy feel of most porn (lighting that doesn’t feel like a doctor’s surgery for a start).

            I dig it anyway. I don’t think it’s that much more objectifying than Lena Dunham and Patrick Wilson going hell for leather. Well, not to the extent that it needs banning.

          • Melissa

            Why is it that when men enter a feminist conversation, they always find a way to talk about their favorite type of porn?

          • Lela

            True. Note that they aren’t in the least interested in talking about the reality of porn and the way it affects women on all levels. The harms of porn are only theoretical to them, comfortably remote. They can turn the page and forget about the whole argument, women cannot, because it is our reality, against our will. This post by Rebecca Mott is all too pertinent:

          • Lillian

            Yes, and this definition was struck down by the courts. So you can have the academic high ground, and we are no further along in ridding ourselves of porn. The law is insufficient in dealing with this issue.

          • Meghan Murphy

            We’ve gone over this again and again, Lillian and I’m losing my patience. The law is PART (a necessary part) of effecting change. It can’t be the only thing. We have to do everything. Education and media literacy are very important. But creating feminist legislation is also important.

          • Lillian

            I support feminist legislation as part of the solution too. I don’t support criminalization.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Do you support the criminalization of rape?

          • Lillian

            Yes. And we’ve been through this already. Rape has been criminalized for centuries, even while its definition has changed. Almost everyone supports the criminalization of rape, as in the case of murder or child pornography. This is tiresome. I’ve been crystal clear on this. Criminalization of porn is not supported in the majority, even if I wish it was. It is a violence toward all women. What we need is more restrictive legislation, high taxation, and a sustained public education program. Because that’s what I believe will have the greatest impact in the reduction of harm to women. Criminalizing adult porn will cause more harm to the most vulnerable women. While you may not agree Meghan, even you can understand my position.

          • Meghan Murphy

            But it sounds like there is a great deal of support for the ban in Iceland? And I don’t think that many feminist laws, when they were first made, were universally supported. Like, at all.

          • Lela

            Because nothing says “violence against women is unacceptable and unconscionable under all circumstances” like collecting tax money made directly from the perpetration of violence against women.

          • Lillian

            Which “feminist laws” are you referring to? Voting rights? The declassification of women as property? Sexual harassment laws? I was expressing the idea of majority support, not “universal” support, and there is a significant difference. But to say that women attaining increased social justice through legal means was not broadly supported broadly before laws were changed is not factually correct in many cases.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Legalized abortion, for one…???

          • MLM

            The following is from a document called “History of Child Protection Services” by Allister Lamont and Leah Bromfield (link below)

            “The first manifestations of child protection services with a legal mandate to intervene to protect children from abuse and neglect emerged in the late 19th century, initially in the form of charitable and philanthropic endeavours (Jeffreys & Stevenson, 1996). Often referred to as the first wave of the child rescue movement, developments in the United States and the United Kingdom helped to pave the way for change in Australia. In the United States, the much-publicised case of Mary Ellen McCormack in the 1870s is widely accepted as the catalyst for the creation of laws to protect children from maltreatment by caregivers. Mary Ellen McCormack was a 10-year old girl who experienced ongoing physical abuse by her adoptive mother in New York. As there were no laws to protect children from cruelty, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was approached to assist. It took the case to court on the basis that Mary Ellen was a “human animal” and therefore entitled to protection comparable to that given to animals. The case saw Mary Ellen placed in an orphanage and her caregiver imprisoned. This soon led to the establishment of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC). Founded in December 1874, the society was the first child protection agency in the world (NSPCC, 2000; NYSPCC, 2000). The establishment of the NYSPCC also led to child protection legislation and the establishment of juvenile courts in the United States (Fogarty, 2008)

            In the United Kingdom there was considerable resistance towards protection of children from their parents as this was seen as “interfering” into the private sphere of the family. Specific child protection legislation was viewed as an invasion of the family (Fogarty, 2008). Nevertheless, child protection did emerge in the United Kingdom after Thomas Agnew, a banker from Liverpool, England, visited America in 1881 where he observed the work of the NYSPCC (NSPCC, 2000). Agnew returned to England in 1882 where, inspired by the NYSPCC, he went about establishing the first child protection service in the United Kingdom, the Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, founded in 1883. This paved the way for the establishment of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1884. The society changed its name to the British National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 1889 and expanded its charter to include all children living in the United Kingdom. In the same year, the lobbying efforts of NSPCC were rewarded with the passing of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, commonly known as the “Children’s Charter”. The Act enabled society to intervene for the first time to protect children from cruelty or neglect perpetrated by their parents, where previously a parent’s ownership of a child gave parents the right to treat their child in any way they saw fit, barring murder”.


            The concept of child protection is relatively recent, has a very short legal history and was once also a very unpopular proposition. In the past many people argued against the criminalisation of child abuse, too, (and probably even some who were opposed to child abuse itself). Many still argue vehemently against anti-smacking laws today, in spite of building research that corporal punishment is an ineffective discipline tactic and potentially damaging, psychologically, to a child.

            Public popularity can not always be allowed to influence legislation. And, as has already been pointed out, public opinion can change substantially after laws preventing certain things/behaviours are passed.

          • stephen m

            @Lillian: I prefer criminalization to taxation. Taxation gives license and formal approval to the activity, in this case all of the harms that pornography inflicts on the vulnerable. The only up side is that one hopes that the tax money raised can somehow bolster the health system enough to mitigate the damage. Taxation in this case is a bit like having a doctor present while someone is being tortured. We keep them alive today to allow us to torture them tomorrow.
            I favour criminalization, it sends a very clear message. The current problem as I see it is enforcement. Is enforcement the elephant in the room? Could this be because the the justice system still has strong patriarchal roots?

          • Lillian

            Are you claiming that legalized abortion was opposed by the majority when anti-abortion laws were struck down? Do you have any evidence of this? Ironically, when abortion was criminalized, it put the most vulnerable women at risk. It is “similar” to the point I am making about criminalizing porn. It would make the most vulnerable women more at risk. While almost every feminist supports reproductive choice (I can’t think of an exception), most of us would prefer to not be in the position to have to make that choice. Public education makes a difference in regard to unwanted pregnancies. Now, please be clear that I am not equating abortion with porn. I am equating the effects of criminalization policies.

          • Meghan Murphy

            As you may or may not recall, there was intense (and still is) opposition to legalized abortion. As you may or may not recall, intense opposition ensured the the ERA was not passed in the states, which is insane. I’m not sure that majority rules or opposition is always the best way forward when it comes to feminist or anti-oppressive legislation. There are a lot of sexist, racist people in this world…

          • stephen m

            For the Canadian contingent I offer some insight on pornography within a feminist/legal framework. I suggest reading the following which I posted above but should have annotated.

            LEAF and Pornography

            This revolves around the Butler decision and is 20 years old but the issues are still relevant. It is good to know the past to understand the present and how to improve the future.

          • Meghan Murphy

            This is interesting:
            “Central to these prohibitions is the elaboration of what is obscene in section 163(8):

            For the purposes of this Act, any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence, shall be deemed to be obscene.

            Whether there is “undue” exploitation is almost invariably determined by reference to community standards, i.e., if a dominant characteristic is the exploitation of sex or of sex and any other enumerated quality, the trier of fact must determine the community standard of tolerance. Would the community tolerate the presentation, publication or distribution of the material as presented or published? If not, the material is deemed obscene. As the Supreme Court of Canada pointed out in the Butler case, the community standards test is concerned not with what Canadians would not tolerate being exposed to themselves, but with what they would not tolerate other Canadians being exposed to.

            It should be noted that crime, horror, cruelty and violence by themselves are not obscene; it is only when they are portrayed in conjunction with sex that obscenity exists for legal purposes.

            The obscenity standard is flexible – it responds to shifts in public acceptance of explicit material.”

          • Lillian

            I am interested in what the contributors here feel in regard to the criminalization of same sex porn?

          • Meghan Murphy

            I suppose that would depend on whether or not it was violent, degrading, and/or hateful? Obviously girl on girl porn is sexist and dehumanizing also, for the most part.

          • stephen m

            Same sex porn only removes one factor. Violence, racial stereotyping, coercion, involvement of children etc. can still exist in same sex porn.

            Is the question, are there sexual practices that define same sex relationships but are unacceptable or pornographic in heterosexual materials.

          • vouchsafer

            You say criminalization is not supported in the majority. Well maybe there hasn’t been an encompassing enough poll?(or has there?)

            Given that almost all the men surveyed most probably think it should be legal makes it hard to judge this question by majority rules.
            That can’t be the deciding factor.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “Given that almost all the men surveyed most probably think it should be legal makes it hard to judge this question by majority rules.
            That can’t be the deciding factor.” No fucking kidding.

          • MLM

            A lot of gay male porn actually mimics the same misogynist violence as heterosexual porn, with one man occupying the same kind of role as a woman would in heterosexual porn.

            “If gay pornography is free speech, suggests Kendall, then what would a paraphrasing of the speech look like? Turns out it looks a lot like the same old homophobic, humiliating pornography for heterosexuals that eroticizes domination and sexualizes violence between a hypermasculine “top” and a feminized “bottom”. Instead of breaking down heteronormative gender binaries, gay porn reinforces oppressive sex roles regardless of the actual gender of the participants…

            …feminized gay men are the subjects whose rape, battery and degradation are meant as a stand-in for women’s usual roles in pornography. Traditional masculinity is glorified and femininity is an instrument of abuse. Predatory, violent men attain the usual male position of superiority by mistreating less masculinized men to make clear one of them is the “bitch” or “cunt” and one of them isn’t. Such pornographic depictions promote inequality and subjugation as the preferred model of gay male sex as well as reinforcing homophobia and racism.


            And given the rise in domestic violence in the LGBT ( communities, who is really to say that porn may not be having a hugely destructive effect on same sex relationships as well?

            The real difference is, though, that heterosexual porn contributes far more substantially to gender inequality, undermining the status of one entire gender – women – as human beings. The misogynist rape culture messages it enforces about women are more blatantly obvious and pervasive.

          • Vouchsafer

            I think Lillian that you need to reevaluate your stance on this issue. You think taxation is the route to bring about change? You think criminilization is going to drive the industry underground?? You know what drives big business underground, Lillian, what makes them misreport their earnings? TAXATION!!! You seem like a smart person, I’m sure you realize the absurd ease with which porn companies could get away with not reporting their full income. How they could spend lots of money hiring experts to find them loopholes. that’s part of the problem. It’s a very hard to oversee industry taking place as it does in private dwellings and the dauntingly hard-to-chronicle world of internet credit card sales. That’s why taxation won’t mean shit, other than to give the sub-humanization of women credibility.
            As a Canadian woman I feel disgusted that our government collects the tax that they currently collect off the backs and vulvas of women being exploited in this fashion anyway. And you argue that they should be collecting more?
            I agree with Lena. nothing says end sexual exploitation of women like raking in income from it.
            (Sorry Lena for the misquote, I’m drowning my sorrows at the mo).
            Oh, and as for your inquiry as to what contributors on this forum think of same sex porn, I say, let them argue that on their own forums.
            Here we are discussing feminist issues, namely that of entrenched sexualized objectification.
            Nothing against my LGBT friends. I just hate the fuck out of this whole, ‘oh, if you’re going to argue things from a feminist perspective you must also argue them from the perspective of every other marginalized group as well at the same time’ bullshit. Cause you know that shit aint being brought into a malestream conversation.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “Oh, and as for your inquiry as to what contributors on this forum think of same sex porn, I say, let them argue that on their own forums.
            Here we are discussing feminist issues, namely that of entrenched sexualized objectification.
            Nothing against my LGBT friends. I just hate the fuck out of this whole, ‘oh, if you’re going to argue things from a feminist perspective you must also argue them from the perspective of every other marginalized group as well at the same time’ bullshit. Cause you know that shit aint being brought into a malestream conversation”

            I nominate Vouchsafer as new comment section moderator.

          • stephen m

            Just a quick clarification, this quote is from the “The Evolution of Pornography Law in Canada.”


            Wrong reply button, like I tend to do?

          • Vouchsafer

            “I nominate Vouchsafer as new comment section moderator”
            Love to help, must be very time consuming for you.
            (I wouldn’t know as no one ever comments on my blog.)

          • Comparing misogynist song lyrics to porn is a bit of a stretch. What you hear in the lyrics is vile, but it’s just words, what happens on the screen is actually happening to a real woman.

            It’s a filthy meat grinder of an industry that is trying to sell what they do as fiction, but it’s not fiction. Women get real injuries on set, they get real semen in their eyes, they get real STDs ( I know worse things happen too, but I don’t want to get too graphic.)

            Porn is prostitution.

          • Lillian

            Misogynist song lyrics are not the same as pornography, but they are damaging to all women. By the logic presented by most of the posters here, it too should be criminalized.

          • Meghan Murphy

            That isn’t logical, no. We aren’t outlawing sexism. We are talking about a ban on violent, degrading pornography.

          • Lillian

            The “logic” I was referring to, was the idea that porn as expressed in images is harmful to all women. I agree with that concept. Are misogynist lyrics harmful to all women? I think they are. I don’t believe we should criminalize misogynist lyrics.

          • Lela

            Did you even read Martine’s comment, above? The one you replied to.

          • Lillian

            I would agree that most “girl on girl” porn is made for men. I am referring to same sex porn made for same sex consumption. So-called gay porn.

    • copleycat

      You know even if you are pro-porn, you would be for putting limits on it if you were realistic. There are people in the industry who acknowledge that the exponential increases in demand have the industry barreling toward extremes they can’t produce with out breaking existing laws – about assault, murder, and pedophilia. However, in order to acknowledge this one has to still be in touch, at least tangentially, with reality.
      Maybe though the issue of whether those laws get broken isn’t an issue to some in the industry because they aren’t close enough to the bottom – yet.

  • Lela

    We need to be pushing for a society wherein ALL women are hired and paid fairly to do jobs that don’t involve sex. We need to encourage MEN to give up consuming porn and prostituted women and direct that time and energy toward developing a just society and human relationships with women. We have to make them see the necessity of helping women in poverty achieve true self-determination. Perhaps you have some ideas, AM?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes, I think the ‘ALL women’ part is key. For some reason, there is this categorization of women nowadays: ‘sex workers’ vs. women. It makes no sense, in part because women who work in the sex industry are still women who, like all women, are oppressed by patriarchy, but also because it’s this weird prioritization of individual rights and like, this temporary job that a woman might hang on to for a few years before being kicked to the curb for a younger, fresher version. Making a living is important, but I don’t see how any progressive movement will be able to make change if we’re focusing on individual rights over collective rights. The porn industry isn’t on the ‘side’ of women, even when they pay women. Don’t side with them.

  • Lela

    Women, collectively, have been goaded into confused silence by the porn industry for too long. We have been driven to minimize our own pain and human response to injustice, and minimize the pain and suffering of other women.

    Thank you for your incredible courage in making this argument, and forcing this conversation; this desperately needs to be done, regardless of the likelihood that it will actually be considered as an option. Your blog is like a port in a storm.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thank you, sister! And I completely agree about the “confused silence”. I’ve felt that myself, to be sure. The kind of discourse coming from what’s sometimes called ‘sex-positive’ or even ‘third wave’ discourse (but that really stems from a kind of neoliberal, Hugh Hefner-version of faux-empowerment) seems to bully women into adopting a certain kind of language that marginalizes a radical analysis. It’s frightening.

      Thanks, as always, for your contributions here.

      • Lela

        You’re very welcome, Meghan. Keep up the great work.

  • copleycat

    Thank you for this awesome post Meghan. The whole freak out about free speech drives me up a tree every time I hear it. Especially when there are so many unofficial, informal, day-to-day ways in which women are silenced.

    Hell, I’m involved in groups where women get together to discuss their traumas and then directly forbid each other from talking about their trauma histories. As crazy as that sounds, in some instances I can actually understand why, because there are a minority of women who, when speaking of their trauma will suddenly, without warning or anyone’s consent, lapse into a re-enactment of it with whoever is listening to them re-cast as the person without any power.
    I witness this and have to wonder if the power dynamics of porn have infiltrated our minds to the extent that we can’t even have effective support groups anymore. It seems like the template for communication (I’m using the term loosely here) that’s exemplified in porn is becoming the one that’s used almost everywhere.

  • copleycat

    Does anyone remember a few years back in the U.S. when there were nation wide town-hall debates about the possibility of a nationalize health care system? Remember how all those tea-baggers and folks who were opposed to single payer showed up and shouted everyone else down? The ACLU supposedly supports the hecklers’ veto – which is to say they’re OK with people being shouted down like that. Yet how do you have the open debate with all sides considered that is supposed to flow from freedom of speech when you’ve got people who won’t stop shouting and let others talk? How were people with COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis suppose to shout back? They couldn’t, so they didn’t get a say and there’s your freedom of speech.

    This freedom of speech illusion is kind of like if the government was giving away cars at a location hundreds of miles away from anything in the middle of the desert. If you say, “Well I can’t get to that location without a car” the response would be, “But you can have a car! You have a right to a car! Your car is waiting for you to claim it! Not our fault you can’t miracle yourself hundreds of miles out into the middle of the desert.” So you bust your ass to get a used, old, falling apart car or you even build your own the best you can but you keep getting run right off the road by guys in their porsches, audi’s and other sundry gifts from their daddies.

  • sporenda

    Great post, flawless argumentation, thanks Megan.

    “. At the moment it is simply another form of exploitation – which guess what – is CAPITALISM.”

    Women where exploited by men thousands of years before capitalism was invented.
    Pornography–the word and the industry– dates back to Ancient Greece; of course the scale was small, but the main features of modern porn where already present: you can find images of gang rape on 500 BC Greek urns and frescoes.

    And this revolutionnary stance is hot air when it comes to women’s rights: in this respect, it’s not clear that the Left has done better than the Right.
    So far, Socialist states have always been run by men, just like capitalist states; that’s one basic feature of political power that no revolution has ever changed.
    In fact, when it comes to the status of women, modern capitalist states are significantly better than non capitalist, traditional societies.
    If you doubt that statement, take a trip in Afghanistan or Yemen.

  • Thanks, Meghan!

    The “free-speech” argument has been really over-used. A long time ago, Dworkin debunked the idea that porn has anything to do with free speech. I believe she said “women’s genitals are not words men are trying to say.” The only way pornography is an issue of “free speech” is if violence against women is “speech”. I’m not buying that bullshit.

  • Great article Meghan. Totally agree with your words. Laws support freedom and rights esp feminists laws. I am working very hard to genederize the Criminal Code of Canada in relation to torture. In Canada only State torture is a crime. Non-State torture, a crime whose victims are predominately women and children, is minimized to assault – thus the patriarchal divide. As feminists we have lots to do this century and many after us will have much better lives.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Indeed! Thanks for your efforts! We can’t abandon legislation as feminists, we need to change laws in order to create a feminist world.

  • BK

    The thing that really pisses me off with all of this is the “free speech” argument. There’s NO speech in porn other than calling women whores, sluts, and cunts – aka. sexist hate speech. The REAL LIFE, non-simulated acts are not “speech” in any way shape or form. They are real people taking part in real activities that can cause REAL harm to those engaged. From the media reports I have heard and read, it seems they are mostly going after hardcore porn, the stuff that most pornsick dudes are watching online, the really violent stuff. So many people are defending this shit as if it is something worth preserving – something that is akin to the Arts, written and spoken word etc…as if hardcore pornography is akin to some amazing, whistle-blowing essayist who is being censored or an artist’s nude pieces being restricted from public view. This libertarian view of “everything goes because everyone has the “right” to make money doing whatever the fuck they want” is pretty disturbing to me. If Iceland was moving to restrict erotic materials or actual speech or art, then yeah, that would be problematic…but no one, especially a billion dollar industry, has a “right” to put material online that depicts REAL acts of violence and degradation against women with the intention of sexually arousing viewers to make big money. That’s not a “right” and that’s not certainly not related to “free speech” – I think opponents should go check out popular hardcore sites that are racist and sexist like “Ghetto Gaggers” and tell me how that’s not fucking hate speech.

    • vouchsafer

      Yeah, BK. I’m hearing you. It is bullshit that anything goes as long as there’s money to be made, and its sickening that making videos of violent acts is seen as a legitimate business opportunity for wealthy men.
      its got to stop.
      just like Meghan said, there’s billions to be made. The brutal thing is the demand for ever more hardcore shit. The companies don’t care about the content, they just all want to be ‘cutting edge’ and best their competitors with the next new and even more degrading thing cause that’s where the money is, and to hell with the consequences of their material, which effects every level of society, as long as they get to make money.

    • copleycat

      Does anyone know what the laws are regarding speech that encourages or seeks to incite genocide? Didn’t one of the judges who struck down Dworkin and MacKinnon’s ordinance basically say that, yes porn does encourage violence against women, unequal pay, and harrassment but that this was proof of its power as political speech and therefore it deserved to be protected speech? If that’s the case, and it’s on record, then isn’t there a way to move forward with classifying it as an effort to incite (at the very least) enslavement?
      I also think it should be attacked from the public health angle. It is a conditioning program and it does change men’s brains for the worse.

  • Lotus

    In her essay, “Pornography as Free Speech: But is it fair?”, Betty McLellan distinguishes between free speech and fair speech. She asserts that not everything called “free” is necessarily good unless it is also “fair”. She gives the example of free trade versus fair trade and then writes:

    “…for free speech to have any legitimacy at all , it must also be fair speech. If justice and fairness are to be served, then any activity which invokes the defence of freedom of speech must be scrutinised on two counts: the power dynamics involved, and the potential for harm to others.”

  • sporenda

    I mentioned that I was re-reading Brownmiller.
    In her book, I came across a paragraph that’s spot on about the double standard of the “liberals” who defend pornography as free speech. It’s so good I post it here:

    “Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda. Yet the very same liberals who were so quick to understand the method and purpose behind the mighty propaganda machine of Hitler’s Third Reich, the consciously spewed out anti-semitic caricatures and obscenities that gave an ideological basis to the Holocaust and the Final Solution, the very same liberals who, enlighted by blacks, came to understand that their tolerance of “nigger” jokes and portrayals of shuffling, rolling eyed servants in movies perpetuated the degrading myths of black inferiority and gave an ideological base to the continuation of black oppression–these very same liberals now fervidly maintain that the hatred and contempr for women ..found in adult books and movies are a valid extension of freedom of speech that must be preserved as a Constitutional right.”

    This book was published in 1975, but it’s as good as new. A testimony of how nothing has changed since.
    If anything, you might think feminism lost ground in this department, due to the ever increasing violence of porn, it’s ever increasing availability, and it’s ever increasing acceptance in the medias and public opinion.

    Anti-semitic, anti-black propaganda is hate speech, anti-women speech is Free speech.
    Chaining and whipping a man (like sadistic members of the US Army in Abu Ghraib), raming a bottle up his anus is torture; chaining and whipping a woman, raming a bottle up her vagina is sex.
    Double standards regarding hate speech and sadistic violence are particularly absurd and disgusting.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “If anything, you might think feminism lost ground in this department, due to the ever increasing violence of porn, it’s ever increasing availability, and it’s ever increasing acceptance in the medias and public opinion.”
      Yes, and because of neoliberalism and a focus on individual empowerment/freedom that misunderstands the difference between negative and positive liberty and why that matters. I don’t think the efforts of some factions of the feminist movement to frame self-objectification and/or prostitution/pornography as potentially empowering or subversive helps either.

      The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism is another great book, published 20 years ago and is totally bang-on: Particularly the chapter by Catharine MacKinnon: Liberalism and the Death of Feminism, is excellent.

  • Lela

    I love the people mocking this article on Twitter by saying that, in suggesting a ban on violent and misogynistic pornography, you’re an evil purveyor of authoritarianism and censorship. Hey guys, women live in a brutal authoritarian regime already; it’s called patriarchy. It’s called rape culture. It’s called having violent and hateful imagery that incites sexual harm against us WIDELY AVAILABLE at the click of a mouse. Get some perspective. There is a whole world, populated by vulnerable human beings, past the end of your dick.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Unsurprisingly, those people are all porn-users. But you’re exactly right, of course it seems authoritarian when feminists suggest this we take away male access to women. They’re championing free speech while advocating for a rape culture.

      • Lillian

        “Those people are all porn users”. Are you just joking?

        • Meghan Murphy

          No… They are.

      • Lillian

        Under the Harper Conservative government in Canada, there was a similar argument advanced in regard to online surveillance, by saying that if you were against this proposed legislation, you were advocating child pornography. This is where there is common ground between the far right conservatives and those who are abolishonist anti-porn advocates. One can be fervently anti-porn, and not be an abolishonist. The analogy of murder laws has been used here, but there have been murder laws for millennia and they have almost always had wide support. There is not clear and wide support for the criminalization of most forms of porn. And some people think there is a big difference between what they deem as more violent and abusive porn, and what they believe are less harmful kinds of porn. In my view, while I might be able to discern what others see as a difference, I think that the vast majority of all porn is a type of violence and subjugation of women in general. Under different definitions, there have been rape laws for millennia too. How effective have these laws been as an effective deterant on rape and murder? Indeed, the death penalty has not been shown to be a deterant to murder. But porn is not murder, nor is it the same thing as rape, even while it shares many of its violent characteristics. Criminalization (banning) is not an effective tool in regard to eliminating porn and its harmful effects on women or men.

        • Meghan Murphy

          OH REALLY?? REALLY? The Harper government wanted to ban sexist, violent pornography in order to advance gender equality??? Bullshit. The abolitionist movement applies to prostitution, for the record. There is widespread support for the ban in Iceland. Porn is not murder, but it is a human rights issue. The comparison was not to show that porn is the same as murder and you’re breaking comment policy rules (check the ‘say things that are true’ rule) so I’m giving you a warning. And yes, laws against murder and rape are a deterrent. Not the death penalty, no one is arguing for the death penalty (But, surprise! Derail!). Porn participates in, perpetuates, sexualizes, creates, and advocates for a rape culture.

        • vouchsafer


          If you’re so”fervently against porn” and think that the vast majority of it is a type of violence against women, why aren’t you in favor of the ban?
          I don’t understand what your opposition to that kind of legislation is.

        • MLM

          “Under different definitions, there have been rape laws for millennia too. How effective have these laws been as an effective deterant on rape and murder?’

          When the law is upheld, and the society is encouraged to view rape as a crime of significance, it can be effective in reducing the incidence of rape (which is surely, at least, some indication of how effective it is as a deterrent)

          “Reported rapes have fallen to the lowest level in 20 years as DNA evidence helps send more rapists to prison and victims are more willing to work with police and prosecutors, victims advocates and crime researchers say…

          “Use of DNA evidence has expanded gradually over the past 15 years and can put a rapist in prison the first time he’s caught, preventing him from harming other women, Berkowitz says. Many rapists are repeat offenders.

          Attitudes about rape also have shifted since high schools and colleges adopted public awareness campaigns in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Berkowitz says.

          “There is a much greater understanding that this is a crime,” he says. Surveys by his group show women are more willing to report rape now than two decades ago because they expect police will believe them.”

          If you’re defining “effective deterrent” as “complete elimination of the problem”, then it goes without saying that will not follow, because the consequences for the crime will not necessarily have equal deterrent impact on all individuals. But to suggest that criminalising rape and murder does absolutely nothing to prevent rape and murder would be ludicrous.

          “But porn is not murder, nor is it the same thing as rape, even while it shares many of its violent characteristics.”

          Calling for people to be murdered based on their ethnicity is not actually murder either. It’s still hate speech, it’s still an incitement of violence and it’s still a crime.

        • copleycat

          “But porn is not murder, nor is it the same thing as rape.”

          Actually, a lot of times it is rape and with the rise of home made porn there’s even less of the filmsy safe guards to make sure that it isn’t.

          • Meghan Murphy

            So true, copleycat. Often when women and children are prostituted they are filmed without their consent, which of course becomes pornography and is out there forever.

          • Lillian

            I think you make an excellent point here. When I am saying it is not the same thing, I am referring to the rape and murder laws that exist. I should have been more precise.

    • copleycat

      “Hey guys, women live in a brutal authoritarian regime already; it’s called patriarchy. It’s called rape culture.”


  • Laur

    Beautifully written article as usual, Meagan.

    I do think if the porn industry is to be stopped, women are going to have to use some kind of force. And the law is one kind. Not that I think the law will *solve* the problem–it won’t–but, as you point out in this article, but the same reasoning, there should be no rape law, law against battery, etc.

    • vouchsafer

      Maybe we should organize a day of protest, something like what the women of India did after the terrible rape that happened there.
      I’m picturing a coordinated protest in every major city across Canada with thousands of women holding up a sign showing a brutal image from porn and the words:
      “we don’t deserve this.”
      It pissed me off this week that Harper designated 5 million bucks to protect religious freedom in other countries while the women and children in Canada don’t have the freedom to live without exposure to these hurtful images.
      its such a crock. He comes off looking all humanitarian while turning a blind eye to the epidemic of sexual violence for profit that’s going on inside our borders.

      • Me

        Harper comes across as a humanitarian in the father country perhaps, but it’s possible at the other end of the stick he comes across as a zealot. He starts up a Bureau of Crusade Legitimization, names a Catholic Christian to run it, and has the nerve to mention of its goals the protection of persecuted Christians in Pakistan–after having helped wage war and profiteered from war against Muslims and civil society there for how many years, and therefore having also participated in causing increased hatred toward Christians. It’s perfectly in line with his other antisocial policies, though 😀 I’m sure he truly believes in the goodness of his actions and that it is all for the betterment of humanity. At once believing both in the need to educate and promote cultural diversity (i.e. promote the value of Christians), because the animosity felt towards Christians is misplaced, primarily a thing of the mind and a misunderstanding, and also believing in the need to use force to make recalcitrant Muslim populations accept the order that’s being imposed on them so profitably. I would guess that if anything, giving the wars a further religious twist like this makes it easier for hardliner Muslims to portray the whole deal as a war of religions, and to portray their position as an essentially religious one (which according to a lot of Muslims it isn’t), and to point to religious law as the answer.

        I think initiatives like that one perfectly illustrate how patriarchal, imperialist governments think and work. They may even be popular for their it at home. Which is why feminists advocating for a porn ban need to accept nothing less of them than the Dworkin-MacKinnon definition of porn, and educate other feminists and supporters why that’s crucial.

        In my opinion, there is such a thing as a legalistic approach to women’s rights and to human rights, or however one would like to call it. I’m talking about the approach that’s ingrained in much of the expert-NGO culture. People who believe in lobbying, petitions and “credibility”, or people who more generally believe in doing the work “their way” are the ones who stay, and the ones who don’t believe in that approach or grow disillusioned with it leave, and are replaced by a new generation of naive activists who have not yet either been disillusioned or bought into the expert-NGO framework. It results in mindless report and grant application writing and lobbying for laws that don’t even bite. It legitimizes a certain kind of activism and discredits everything else. The thing to worry about is when those groups are invited to the table by governments like Harper’s. It’s always to the exclusion of more radical elements who are putting on the actual pressure to make effective laws and effective changes that are thereby pushed aside. I can well imagine the Harper government negotiating a “civil rights” based solution to porn and prostitution with leftist or left-leaning pro-porn and pro-prostitution men, who can invoke the spirit of the civil rights struggle to make the legislative changes meaningless or harmful. The question then becomes who sustains the political pressure, based on how good of a political consciousness, and how the actual work is done. In a way it’s a good thing that people can expect governments play as dirty as possible before they begin to imagine how they will win against them. I’m not blaming so much the expert-NGOs as I’m blaming the government and in economic system, but the NGOs often really are a part of the same structure that’s successfully externalized basic welfare and social security functions to foundations, who are often grant and volunteer dependent, in effect externalizing costs and giving minimal social responsibility the look of largesse. In some of the comments like Lillian’s and others in earlier comment threads, I think I see similar criticisms and points made as these, but only similar and not the same, because they’re made so that the only way out is a supposedly whole new and “different” kind of feminism that’s difficult if not impossible to comprehend or move towards except by “accepting” it, and what I think is important is careful feminist planning and effective feminist organizing, and I’m not writing this because I think nobody knows it or has thought about it already.

        As for the protest idea Vouchsafer, I don’t want to say don’t organize a day of protest, but I do think organizing protests for the purpose of protesting is problematic. I mean, if that comes naturally to you, go for it, you really should! But also, I find that usually it’s next to impossible to build sustained political pressure that way, because the people who may take part in a protest have usually nonetheless so much bought into the corporate-government line of how change happens and how daily decisions are supposed to be made, that as soon as there’s a hint of a response from the other side, a lot of people are practically trying to give the ball away and go home and go on with their lives. So keep an eye on the ball, I guess that’s all I’m saying 🙂

        • vouchsafer

          Thanks for the advice, Me, but I was at the free trade agreement of the Americas protest in Quebec city more than a decade ago and I’m not giving in on my anti capitalist views yet no matter how hard they try to appease me 🙂
          I’m just saying the India tragedy and ensuing protests brought international attention to a very important women’s safety issue and maybe we should follow their example.
          Maybe if enough women around the world spoke up we could actually all have a voice and end this bullshit patriarchy (aka capitalism) before the fricken ramrods bulldoze their way through what’s left of the climate.

          • Me

            Yeah, you’re absolutely right! Sorry about that, it was something of a turd from me.

          • vouchsafer

            No worries 🙂

  • Missfit

    It is funny how the pro-porn crowd keep chanting ‘free speech’ while never daring to address the violent misogyny so widespread in porn. Would they be so careless if we were talking about a huge number of whites consuming images of blacks being choked, dragged, their anuses wrecked, bodily fluids thrown at them by whites while they are being called the ‘n’ word? Would they be able to not even see a link with this widely available material and similar real-life crimes being committed by whites against black people? Would they be able to scream ‘free speech’ without even adressing the blatant racism it reinforces and propagates? Someone who would defend the unlimited propagation of such material would be defined as someone promoting racism, nothing less. And to pretend otherwise would be seen as disingenuous. I guess, as someone else already mentioned, as long as no men is being targeted, there is no problem here, no violation of human rights being committed. Isn’t it just sex anyway?

    Why is it so important for these people that some men have access to misogynist violent material for sexual gratification than for girls to grow up in a world where they feel safe and respected?

    • Grackle

      It’s interesting to consider since so much porn is full of absolutely vile racism–mostly towards the women, obviously, but even sometimes towards the men (the common “big black dicks & little white chicks” trope caters to the idea of the beastly, uncontrollable black guy coming after delicate white women, an old racist favourite which resulted in countless innocent black men being hanged or otherwise murdered) and yet somehow it’s excusable…

    • copleycat

      I think the answer is that far too many men, and sadly a significant number of women too, feel very much entitled to be misogynists. It’s so strong an impulse for them that they don’t let things like concurrent racism get in the way. Porn is a self propagating phenomenon, in that it’s expectation that fuels entitlement’s momentum. Less momentum, easier to stop. So any way we can decrease people’s expectations that women exist to be scapegoats and service stations is going to help put the brakes on misogyny.

  • Freedom of speech is a red herring, a deliberate distortion of the issues. For one thing, the idea behind protecting freedom of speech is to protect the expression of unpopular ideas from the tyranny of the majority. Pornography hardly qualifies as unpopular. The alleged difficulty of distinguishing pornography from erotica is another red herring. In this patriarchal culture it may be difficult to identify any form of sexual imagery that is not tainted by objectification in some form, but eroticizing violence against women is a real problem, not a harmless fantasy. How can it be harmless to pour fuel on the conflagration of violence against women?

    Gloria Steinem wrote this about thirty years ago, in the beginning of the chapter Erotica vs. Pornography in her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions: “These two sorts of images are as different as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain. Yet they are confused and lumped together as ‘pornography’ or ‘obscenity,’ ‘erotica’ or ‘explicit sex,’ because sex and violence are so dangerously intertwined and confused. After all, it takes violence or the threat of it to maintain the dominance of any group of human beings over another.”

    The defenders of pornography have a vested interest in maintaining this confusion. For them, sex is not an expression of mutual desire, but of male power over women. If sex were about mutual desire, pornography could not be confused with sex.

  • Maggie

    Superb writing on this subject, as usual.

  • WakeUp3

    Rape has declined in the US and Canada. This sociologist maintains that the women’s movement and greater equality are responsible for the rape decline. I tried to post the link. Look up “The Decline of Rape,” by Mike Males.