In the Name of Women, Let Them Watch Rape Porn

Having grown up myself in the midst of the development of information and communication technologies, I’m used to dealing with daily sexist and discriminatory manifestations of technological-related violence against women (TCVAW). TCVAW is a phenomenon that has become omnipresent in cyber-space. Yet I’m not that jaded and I admit that I’m often shocked by the Internet’s hyper-sexuality and proclivity to hate. There is no denying that cyber-space represents an informal stage for violence against women and, in a context of very little legal framing, few policies address TCVAW. With this in mind, David Cameron’s plans to establish a law making rape pornography illegal in the UK seem pretty ambitious. Although producing extreme pornography is already illegal, the future law aims at criminalizing the possession and viewing of videos containing rape pornography. Some may see in this project a step for more equality, but no matter hard I try, I think this law may be as pointless as it is counterproductive.

Although the law intends to address a wider range of fundamental issues such as the critical need to punish those who consume child-abuse material consumers in a more systematic way, in my view, the argument for criminalizing rape porn does better in challenging the freedom of speech than in improving the safety of women on cyberspace. Many feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin, as well as the defenders of the law, see in pornography a theoretical framework for male violence against women[1]. They wrongly highlight the harmful effect of this kind of violent porn on women. Let’s break the myth now; pornography, in fact causes much fewer damaging effects than what society thinks[2]. At the same time, they participate in fuelling the myth that women are defenceless creatures divested of any perverse thought.

Let me stand against MacKinnon[3] and wonder, what if women actually enjoy this kind of pornography? What about our freedom to fantasize? Believe it or not, but according to research, around 52% of interrogated women declared fantasizing about being “overpowered by a man”. Therefore, far from contributing to a culture of sexual violence, watching rape porn should be protected as part of our sexual liberty.

The contentious feature here resides in our understanding of what “pornography” is[4]. It’s a shame that the law doesn’t make any difference between images representing actual rape from simulated rape. Some bloggers didn’t wait long to raise the issue: recording violent pornographic material between consenting adults in a secure environment is the contrary of rape. Even though this type of pornography is pushing the boundaries of what is acknowledged as acceptable, let’s not forget that there is a fundamental difference between judging that something is bad and saying it must be censored[5]. Or, as Nadine Strossen, a feminist and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union puts it: “if the harm of a certain form of speech is that the idea it is promoting is one of which society disapproves, then that is the exact antithesis of a justification for censoring it”[6].

Overall, the very idea of tackling sexism through censorship is problematic. At first glance, taking this step against VAW could be viewed as not only needed but legitimate. Yet, censorship cannot be a viable solution in the long run. It is likely that the rape pornography ban will be envisaged as the first step in an extensive process of censorship of any burning issues as well as a dangerous increase of the power of the state[7]. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t understand what makes pornography more dangerous for women than online guides to build explosives. The essence of the Internet is that people can actually express any type of opinion.  The cyber world is a platform where opposing views can come head to head, and, as sad as it may be, “the Internet failings”[8] are the price that we pay for our freedom of speech.

I believe it is a vain purpose to try to put limits to immaterial sexism–or as Matt Forney appallingly writes, “I’m here to stay and there’s nothing you can do to shut me up”.  If activists are to confront the wrong and the hateful, surely they should fight in the real world. After all, isn’t the sexism of the cyber world a reflection of “contemporary humanity”?


[1] Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography. Men Possessing Women, London’s Women Press, 1981

[2] Wendy McElroy. XXX: A woman’s right to pornography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

[3] MacKinnon, Catherine A. “Sexuality, Pornography, And Method: Pleasure Under Patriarchy.” Ethics 99.2, 1989

[4] Bryson Valerie, Feminist Political Theory, MacMillan Press, 1992

[5] Refers to a supposed quote by Voltaire: “I detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

[6]  Interview of Nadine Strossen accessible at http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/14296#.Uo4cCsQdmp5

[7]Bryson Valerie

[8] Jackie Ashley, “Our exploitative sexual culture must be resisted in the real world too”, accessible at

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/19/intenet-sexual-culture-resisted-in-real-world

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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