Melbourne’s Ormond College takes bold position against porn, students turn to liberal feminism in protest

Melbourne University

In what might be deemed a radical move, the University of Melbourne’s largest residential college banned access to pornography on campus. This means students at Ormond College will be blocked from accessing “adult sites” on Wi-Fi networks.

The reason for this is straightforward. As college master Dr. Rufus Black stated, pornography is exploitative and “presents women primarily as sex objects who are a means to the end of male pleasure.”

Simple, right?

Wrong!

While Black told Jill Stark at The Age that “allowing the college’s 400 students to access porn on its network would be condoning the objectification of women,” some students felt the ban limited “freedom of expression.” Apparently, for men, facials are an art form.

But, in truth, it isn’t “sexual expression” that’s being banned (if that’s the line of argument we’re going with), it’s just men’s “right” to access websites that sell female degradation. So “expression” is not limited in the least. No one has banned masturbation and, of course, men are still free to think about gang raping women or to sexualize “schoolgirls” inside their own heads as always. Vive la liberté!

Luckily male students angered by the ban have liberal feminism to fall back on, so they don’t need to defend their misogynist interests as such.

Stark reports that first year law student Thibaut​ Clamart​, 24, “wrote a newsletter response objecting to the ban, saying it was a ‘moralizing statement’ and that not all pornography was demeaning.”

“We all agree there is an issue with the current state of mainstream porn but banning it is not the answer. It won’t educate people, it is condescending and paternalistic,” he told her.

Do “we all agree,” Thibaut? Oh good. Good. I’m so glad to know “we all agree.”

Let’s just quickly test that statement though… You know, just to be sure. We’re all in this together, right Thi?

He tells Stark, “If their argument is that it’s about respecting women and enabling young people to discover their sexuality without having the repressive influence of porn, that makes the assumption that looking at porn is going to perpetuate those attitudes and you’re going to behave like a porn actor.”

Hmm… Seems like we may not all agree, after all. First, it’s very clear that the media we consume impacts our worldview. This is how advertising works, for example. Simply, we receive messages about products which convince us we need to buy said products. It is through advertising (as well as other forms of media, but ads were the first to do this) that we learn about supposed “flaws” we must fix — yellow teeth, perspiration, body hair, cellulite, visible pores, etc. Media teaches us how we are supposed to look, what “sexy” means, which body parts we are to sexualize, how thin we should aspire to be, and even, yes, appropriate ways men should behave towards women. To pretend as though porn has no impact on our ideas about sex, sexuality, women and men is silly.

We can simply look to culture at large to see that lessons about male entitlement are widespread and ever-present in media. Anita Sarkeesian’s recent video addresses the way in which gamers learn, quite literally, that female bodies, affection, and sexualities are things that are owed to them and that they will be rewarded with if they simply press the right buttons. When men sexually harass, catcall, grope, or rape women, we see this entitlement in action. Pornography very much exemplifies men’s sense of entitlement to access female bodies at any given moment. So much so that many see pornography and masturbation as interchangeable. This is why men believe that attempts to limit porn use are, in fact, attempts to limit “sex.”

Black, too, understands that the messages in porn are clear, arguing that his decision was based on a “well-held view that pornography depicts women for the gratification of male sexuality”.

Interestingly, Stark points out that back in the 90s, when Dr. Alan Gregory, former Master of Ormond College, was accused of sexual harassment, he responded to the complainants by accusing them of “puritan feminism.” Sound familiar?

Liberal feminism: the gift that keeps on giving. To misogynists.

When we equate male entitlement to “sexual expression,” women pay the price.

Rachel Withers, president of the University of Melbourne Student Union, told Stark she “would personally prefer to see colleges tackling issues around respect for women’s bodies and consent through educational programs and ensuring students receive comprehensive information on consent as part of their college orientation.”

Now, that’s a good idea too. A necessary part of changing attitudes is, I believe, real, good, feminist education (sex education, as well as just regular old “woman are human” education). But the problem with teaching “consent” within a context of liberalism is that, when it comes to porn and prostitution, “consent” is used against us. I mean, how would students who believe pornography equates to “freedom of expression” want consent to be taught? Would they learn that simply agreeing to exchange sex for money is good enough — end of story? Or would they talk about larger contexts of male domination and financial need as things that limit or at least shape women’s ability to “consent?”

What’s clear is that “consent” is not enough. People consent to unethical things all the time. Technically, women have “consented” to abuse for eons. They marry abusers, they agree to participate in rape porn, they go on second dates with men who’ve sexually assaulted them. We know now that women’s consent does not necessarily negate rape — they can say “yes,” but what actually goes down after that may very well constitute assault.

As Catharine MacKinnon wrote in her  book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State:

‘‘The unquestionable starting point has been that rape is defined as distinct from intercourse, while for women it is difficult to distinguish the two under conditions of male dominance.’’

Our very understanding of what constitutes “sex” is rooted in notions of male domination and female subordination. Therefore, teaching “consent” to men is insufficient so long as we live in a rape culture and a porn culture.

So please give me a break with this “men have a right to porn, we’ll just teach them about consent” garbage. Not only do men already feel entitled to jack off to abuse, but now they’ve learned about “consent” from liberal feminists and are using that discourse to defend their right to degrade, exploit, and oppress us. Because we “consented.”

Black’s move is “radical” in a way, but only because we are so far gone, as a culture, we can’t even make the most obvious connections. The decision to ban access to porn on college campuses — places where rape and sexual harassment are ever-prevalent — is one that shouldn’t even be up for debate. This is not about criminalizing porn users and it won’t, in truth, even prevent students from looking at porn. They can easily go off-campus to seek out degrading images of women if they must. This is about teaching students what is right and wrong. It is about sending a larger message.

Black said, “We’re not in any way restricting their ability to do what they want with their own personal resources but the college’s internet is a common resource therefore what it gets used for is a question of community values.”

The message here is that misogyny is unacceptable on campus. And this is something we truly should all be able to agree on.

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 The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, 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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