the I wrote a blog post regarding Western pornography and its effects on African men, here. And here I would like to further the debate on Western pornography and discuss whether it should be considered freedom of expression, noting the limitations on freedom of expression including harm which may be caused. I would like to then consider the possible harm caused through pornography using the conservative argument, the feminist argument and compare it to the meaning of freedom of expression.
Speech should be context dependent a point illustrated by the judgement by the US Supreme Court in Schenck v Hodges , a case whether defendants were prosecuted for distributing pamphlets arguing against the drafting of soldiers to fight in World War I. “Whether the words used are used in such circumstances and of such nature to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent... If an actual obstruction of recruiting service were approved, liability for words that produced that effect might be enforced.” Proving that freedom of speech would be limited where a real danger or harm could be caused, the law will seek to limit it. But what accounts for freedom of expression?
Article 10 the European Convention of human rights states; everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. Article 10 seeks to expand on speech by including the use of symbols, cartoons, plays, a particular type of dress et cetera in its use of freedom of expression. The first Amendment to the US Constitution states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise there of; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a readdress of grievances. The ECHR expands its understanding of freedom of expression but limits it with responsibility and duty, where as the first amendment concentrate solely on speech with no acknowledgement of limits to that freedom.
It is therefore fair to say that pornography falls under freedom of expression under article 10 ECHR. However, Ronald Dworkin an American philosopher and jurist, questioned whether pornography should count as free speech, thus benefit from free-speech protections and whether it could cause harm to individuals of a wider society. In 1981, he wrote “the majority of people in both countries would prefer substantial censorship if not outright prohibition of ‘sexually explicit’ material with many of that majority themselves consumers of what ever pornography is on offer, who would strongly prefer that their children, not follow them in that taste.” However, since Dworkin made this statement the accessibility of pornography has progressed.
To define what pornography is, Justice Stewart a US judge famously said in 1964, “I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it”. The Oxford English dictionary defines pornography as “the explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, films, et cetera in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings.” However, feminist thinkers Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Macakinnon (1988) defined it as “the graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women whether in pictures or words,” further explaining the representations dehumanising women as sexual objects or commodities, or as experiencing sexual pleasure in being raped. The problem with this definition however, is it excludes gay and child pornography and also assumes wrong morality with no evidence to prove this. Therefore igniting controversy surrounding the definition of pornography.
Should the law restrict pornography? With this question comes the moral, harm and feminist arguments. So we should explore the Conservative argument first. In 2012, West stated the main opposition to pornography from moral and religious conservatives, was due to its sexually explicit, obscene and morally corrupting content. He explained that according to conservatives, “pornography is deeply offensive to decent family and religious values and citizens who hold these values. Consumption is bad for society, undermining and is stabilising the moral fabric of decent and stable society. It encourages sexual promiscuity, deviant sexual practices that threaten traditional family and religious institutions. It corrupts the character of those who consume it preventing them from leading a good family life... The state is justified in using it is coerces power to uphold and enforce a community's moral convictions understood as ‘legal moralism’, to prevent citizens from harming themselves. Conservatives believe it is legitimate for the state to prohibit consenting adults from publishing and viewing pornography, even in private.” It will also be argued that not all conservatives feel this way about pornography or the prohibition of pornography.
With West’s argument in mind, it is necessary to explore the harmfulness of pornography. Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University created a survey of 20,000 young people of which 75% were men. It was observed young men, who played videogames to excess, excess being about five or more hours a day, and their average viewing time of pornography. That viewing time equated to around two hours per week, but Zimbardo, recorded the psychological change in mindset through excessive use of video games and pornography. He noted how rather than concentrating on work in class boys minds drifted to wishing they were playing computer games. And when in the presence of girls, boys would rather be watching pornography due to never getting rejected. Zimbardo, therefore claimed that this was leading and had already led to a crisis. He noted the change in brain function, the change to the reward centre in the brain and the evidence that it happens more in boys brains than girls brains. He claimed that boy’s brains were becoming digitally rewired.
It was argued that we currently see young men of today drink less than they once did, take less drugs than they once did, they are less violent than they once were, and in other words the picture is not as bleak as what Philip Zimbardo was claiming. Zimbardo argued the less violence is due to their not leaving their room. They are not drinking alcohol because they are drinking Coke and addicted to sugar. He argued young boys are becoming ‘fat arses’. With the increase in obesity, that also increases the likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes a consequence of which is reduced libido. Kids are getting turned on by watching video but physiologically they are less aroused. It is called PIED, porn induced erectile dysfunction. The solution offered by Zimbardo, is for parents to become aware of a number of hours the child spends doing these things. He recommends using a time journal and listing how much time children spend with friends, spend exercising, spend reading and writing. The point which will become realised is that the parents will be alarmed when they do this and therefore set more stringent rules, such as don't do play videos until you finish your homework. Zimbardo, believes media especially American media is to blame providing negative images of men being slobs, or being undesirable. Here Zimbardo has provided mental and physical harm created by pornography.
And now we arrive at the feminist argument. As previously mentioned some feminist writers argue pornography should be censored due to the detrimental impact it can have on the women within society. One such author is Prof Rae Langton. Rae Langton uses the feminist definition of pornography explaining the graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women portraying women as sexual objects, as things, or commodities, enjoying pain or humiliation or rape. She goes on to clarify she is concerned only with the type of pornography that does subordinate women and acknowledges not all pornography does that. Rae Langton believes the solution lies in certain material being justified in censorship but prefers an opt in system rather than an opt out system within obtaining pornography through the Internet if you really wanted it. Her concern is not so much that it turns men into rapists but that it dehumanises women and changes the views towards women within society.
As Zimbardo’s study acknowledges, men have become more fearful, not of women but of rejection and therefore avoid them out of preference to their own psychological needs. However, my concern raised in my previous blog post regarding the impact of Western porn on Third World men does reinstate the fear feminists raise with regards to men turning violent having watched pornography. The problem here in lies that those proven to act violently having watched pornography are those who we are deliberately inviting into our society. It would infringe on human rights for studies to take place on particular segments of society to reach a more clear perspective with regards to the effects of pornography on particular societal demographics. With these men now being invited into our Western culture but political correctness suppressing freedom of speech, to dispute this action or discussion the feminist concern with pornography has now become legitimate.
With Mills argument in mind, that is the state should only limit individual freedom if harm is caused to others and having considered all the arguments raised, I now handover this information to you for you to reflect upon and come to your own conclusions as to what should happen with regards to pornography and censorship.