BRUSSELS, Belgium—In a meeting held today by the European Parliament, 368 of its 625 members voted to eliminate from a wide-ranging Resolution a clause that "[c]alls on the [European Union] and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism."
The Resolution, which was introduced by Kartika Tamara Liotard, the Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing the Dutch Socialist Party, was titled "Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU," and presented a number of claims of harm that women suffer as a result of certain "unequal" portrayals of that gender in the media.
In the section of the Resolution's preamble titled "Media and culture," Liotard and supporters claim that "gender discrimination in the media, communication and advertising is still frequent and facilitates the reproduction of gender stereotypes, especially by portraying women as sex objects in order to promote sales," citing particularly the influences of alcohol advertising, and claiming that "gender stereotypes" in, among other areas, children's TV programs, video games [which "show provocatively dressed women in sexual poses"], ads, and "attitudes in schools, the family and society"influence the kids' perceptions of gender inequality "which have implications for the rest of their lives and their future aspirations."
The Resolution further claims that "the lyrics of songs for young people contain sexually suggestive content, which often promotes violence against women and girls," and perhaps most important for the adult industry, "young women and men are most affected by pornography’s new cultural status; whereas the 'mainstreaming of pornography', i.e. the current cultural process whereby pornography is slipping into our everyday lives as an evermore universally accepted, often idealised, cultural element, manifests itself particularly clearly within youth culture: from teenage television and lifestyle magazines to music videos and commercials targeted at the young."
Apparently, in Liotard's view, underlying all sexually-explicit depictions is a meme where the women in the sex scenes implicitly have less power over their lives than do the men (though it's unclear how that would apply to, for example, the all-girl features released by Girlfriends Films, Filly Films and other such production studios).
But the main problem with Liotard's proposed ban is that the underlying "facts" are, for the most part, completely bogus. For example, as an article by Zack Beauchamp on ThinkProgress.com noted, "Professor Milton Diamond, director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, [found] '[t]here’s absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative'," while a 2007 study by Todd Kendall found that, "internet access appears to be a substitute for rape; in particular, the results suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in internet access is associated with a decline in reported rape victimization of around 7.3 percent."
But perhaps most damning for the Resolution is something pointed out by journalist Amanda Hess in an article posted on Slate.com: Women like porn too!
"The belief that pornography, as a genre, discriminates specifically against women is one still favored by leading anti-pornography activists like Gail Dines, Shelley Lubben, and Catharine MacKinnon...," Hess wrote. "When we find gender disparities in other sectors—from literary journalism to tech—we urge industry leaders to assess the problem and encourage women to lean in. But when it comes to porn, the impulse is to just shut the whole thing down."
"That’s unfortunate," she continued, "because it reinforces the expectation that women can only ever be innocent bystanders to sexual material, never producers or consumers in their own right (banning all porn would mean negating the contributions of proudly feminist pornographers like Tristan Taormino, Nina Hartley, and Cindy Gallop). It glides over the experiences of female porn viewers (who have leveraged the Internet to find and distribute porn that appeals to them, even when it’s not marketed that way)."
Many Europeans also found reason to oppose the Resolution.
"[A]s a woman, I resent the portrayal of women as innocent bystanders to sexual material of all sorts," wrote UK blogger Allyson Werner. "Believe it or not, women are sexual beings. In other words, WOMEN WATCH PORN TOO. Statistics show that one out of every three viewers of porn is, in fact, a woman."
"[T]he vague proposal fails to define two critical terms: one, 'pornography,' and two, 'media'," she further noted. "What constitutes pornography? Videos found online? Dirty photographs exchanged between lovers? Sex scenes in Hollywood films? Furthermore, does this piece of legislation only apply to film media found online or does it also apply to print?... As I read news coverage of this new proposal, I found myself, for the first time in my life, contemplating gay porn. Sexual relations between two men certainly does not demean women. Women aren't present. If passed, will gay porn be included in the ban? Clearly, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality needs to spend a little more time drafting concrete legislation that isn't open to a wide array of interpretations."
And she was hardly alone.
"This horrendous attack on our fundamental freedoms of speech and expression needs action now," wrote Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, an internet freedom group.
And indeed, emails from all over Europe flooded into the European Parliament's email system... but never reached their intended MEP targets.
"This is an absolute disgrace, in my opinion," said Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom. "A parliament that views input from citizens on a current issue as spam, has very little democratic legitimacy in my opinion."
A Parliament official attempted to excuse the blockage, but that statement served only to underscore the voluminous nature of the protest.
"This [spam filtering] system was triggered because of an enormous influx of mails," the spokesperson said. "The measures are automatic and technical and independent of any content or sender." [Emphasis added]
Sadly, however, once the parliamentary vote was finalized, some troubling text still remained in the Resolution; notably the reference to the Resolution passed on September 16, 1997, which itself called for a porn ban. Though the current Resolution eliminated the new call for a direct ban on porn, the presence of the 1997 Resolution's reference may still encourage EU member countries to attempt some sort of ban or restriction on adult content, much as Iceland is currently attempting.
In response to striking the porn ban text but leaving in the 1997 Resolution reference, Falkvinge charged that the new Resolution would have "no other effect than deliberately obscuring the purpose of the new report," while Engstrom deemed the vote an "absolute disgrace."