Thursday, March 14, 2013

The European Union Rejects a Ban on Porn

The European Parliament has rejected a proposed ban on pornography. The ban was a part of a report by the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality to eliminate gender stereotypes in the European Union and its member states. The report looks at all types of gender stereotyping and discrimination against women in the media and recommends several actions - one of which is a complete ban of any type of pornography. On Tuesday, the parliament voted in favor of passing the report but rejected the section regarding the porn ban.

If the report had been passed in full, the ban would not have become law but it would have been the EU's seal of approval on such an action and provided support for any country wanting to pursue censorship of pornography.

I heard about this proposal just last week and was completely shocked. Most countries in Western Europe have a very liberal attitude towards sex in general and access to porn is even easier and more abundant than it is in North America. This report originated in the Netherlands. I wondered where such a proposal could be coming from when lots of members of the EU seem to have a pretty open attitude toward sexual expression. Then I read the recommendations of the report and was torn. I agree with the authors of the report that women are represented unequally in the media and are very often portrayed in demeaning and sexualizing ways. I do believe this is a problem. However, where I differ with the authors of the report is the solution to that problem. They want to enact measures to make it illegal to portray women in these ways. I don't see how that is even possible. This is a subjective issue - what one would consider demeaning and sexualizing, another may not. The message and intention behind any piece of media could be interpreted in a number of different ways. Who will be the one to say which interpretation is correct? And even if it was possible to determine that, how would these laws be enforced? The sheer volume of media produced in the EU (and everywhere else for that matter) makes it pretty much impossible to vet everything before it goes out for public view. It's just not realistic.

The report's proposal of a ban on pornography is even more problematic than it's other recommendations because it doesn't propose just a ban on violent or demeaning porn, it proposes a ban on all porn. This assumes that absolutely all pornography portrays women in demeaning ways. That's simply not true. Sure, yes, a lot of it does, but certainly not all. Do you just go ahead and ban all forms of sexual expression because there might be some that could be considered objectionable? This is a pretty severe form of censorship.

The other problem with the whole approach in this report is that it favors punishment and legalism rather that discourse and education. It doesn't encourage conversations about this issues, it just advocates banning anything that could be a part of the problem of objectifying and sexualizing women. Because this is a subjective issue, I think a much better approach is to put together bodies that create public education campaigns that encourage people to really look at and consider the messages they receive in the media rather than passively consuming them. I think we need to encourage people to question and to make complaints directly to producers of media that we find offensive - tell them that we don't like it and we are not going to support them with our dollars. In the long run, that will have a much bigger effect than just handing down fines. Fines hurt but losing your customer base hurts much more.

You can find more information on the report and the vote here and here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

From the 'What Where They Thinking?' Files

I was just perusing some sex toy catalogues and came across this:

WTF? I am open to pretty much everything and anything anyone wants to do but this one I just don't get. The box says that this strap is meant to help you 'control the rate and depth of fellatio'. Any woman that I've ever talked to has said that she can, and would very much like to, control the rate and depth of fellatio herself. She really doesn't need any help to do that. She doesn't appreciate the hands on the back of her head trying to control her so she sure as heck wouldn't appreciate a strap across the back of her head, pulling her down on her guy. I've never talked to any guys about this but I'm betting that they also wouldn't want a strap around the back of their head pulling them down when they're trying to give a blowjob.

Some people do love it when their partner shows them what to do or they want to be controlled or grabbed and pulled down in a moment of passion. I will concede that that can be totally hot with the right person under the right circumstances. But if you're into that, why would you want a strap? It's much more intimate and immediate to just grab your partner's head. Who wants a freakin' strap around the back of your head? It's not as easy to move your partner around with a stupid strap and it's not as direct. It just seems completely unnecessary to me - one of those things that a toy manufacturer thought was a good idea but has never given, or maybe even received a blowjob and never thought to ask someone who has.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sigh - Another 'Sex Expert' Spouting Gender Stereotypes

I watched the Ricki Lake show yesterday - did you know Ricki Lake has another talk show? - because it was about sex. It was pretty silly. They crammed as many different things in there as possible so there was lots of 'scandalous' interviews with people about 'scandalous' things, but not enough time to have a thoughtful discussion about any one thing in a way that could actually help anyone or shed some light. Typical daytime talk show stuff. I did get introduced to yet another 'sexpert'. Ricki Lake's resident 'sexpert' is Simone Bienne. Although this was the first time I'd ever seen her on TV, it is, sadly, not the first time I'd heard the things she had to say.

I check out her website. Her credentials list only that she is a licensed 'psychosexual' therapist. It does not say what body she is licensed under, what her education was or what degrees she holds and from where. The rest of the credentials are all citations of TV and radio shows she has been on. N.B. one is not an expert because one has appeared on a number of television and radio shows as an expert, one is an expert because one has specialized knowledge and education in a field.

Bienne seemed to be all about saying 'scandalous' titillating things while being sure to stay firmly on the side of traditional views on sex and marriage that are dripping with sexual stereotyping. She seemed to really want to be out there - by saying things like 'women love to be tied up' and 'you can use clothespins in the bedroom' - but they sat her down next to Dan Savage so that didn't really work out. Next to him, she's about as scandalous as a PBJ sandwich.

I love Dan Savage. I don't always agree with everything he says and sometimes he rushes to the joke or the quick answer at the expense of someone's feelings. But for the most part I really like Dan for two reasons. First, he looks at relationships and sex in a realistic ways instead of holding onto ideals that don't work for most people. He considers what sex really is like and what people really are like and allows for that and doesn't hold them to standards and ideals that have no functional purpose or are impossible to attain. Second, he rarely ventures into territory about which he knows nothing. Although Dan knows a fuckton about all things related to sex at this point in his life, he rarely answers any question having to do with medical things or toys - he almost always asks someone who works in those fields to answer those questions for him. I respect him because these two things are things that most 'sexperts' freely and openly do and they are the things that drive me insane.

Simone Bienne was doing both of them on the Ricki Lake show. She was warning of the dangers of polyamoury and swinging (not in too judgemental a fashion, I will give her that) because of what she thinks these things can do to a traditional monogamous marriage. She ignored the fact that most of the people who are polyamorous or into swinging don't want a traditional monogamous marriage. They want something quite different from that, they talk about it, and they agree of the terms of communication and respect within their relationship. These warning about how it could make one person insecure or jealous are pretty bogus because, in most cases, people go ahead with these relationship styles exactly because they are not the types of people to easily become jealous or insecure and actually find that involving others in their couple makes it more secure. She seemed to not be able to understand that. Why talk about this in terms of threatening a traditional marriage when the people involved are not the least bit interested in maintaining a traditional marriage?

Then she went over to the old talk show standard - the 'walk me through your table o' stuff' segment. This is where she was going to show everyone how to 'spice up your sex life' (eye roll) 'a la 50 Shades of Grey'. First she recommended candles and oils - wow! I bet most people watching the show had never thought of that! She said that baby oil is a good way to start. This is where we come to see that Ms. Bienne's knowledge of toys and paraphernalia is probably not so good. Baby oil makes a terrible massage oil! It's thick and greasy and it clogs pours and causes breakouts. There are much better oils on the market. She kept saying that you 'don't have to go into a sexy sexy shop' to get this. First of all, what the hell is wrong with a 'sexy, sexy, shop' (commonly referred to as sex shops or adult toy stores)? And secondly, you can go to a drugstore, a spa, or a massage therapist and get a great oil that is meant for massage. Then she picked up a pair of fuzzy handcuffs, the kind with fun fur pasted overtop of cheap play metal handcuffs and said that they were really good quality. Not so much. Those are really the worst kind of cuffs you can get. They look innocent because they have fur on them but they are still rigid which means that if you pull on them at all, you are likely to jar and/or bruise your wrist. It's hard to move in those types of cuffs. She really should have had a real soft cuffs like sportsheets or kinklab makes. Those give you all of the fun and none of the awkward wrist bruises. She also talked about tying up your partner with a necktie or a bathroom sash. That's not such a bad thing and I understand that she's pressed for time, but that those suggestions never come with instructions about how to do that safely kind of irks me. It is possible to cut off circulation with a necktie.

The worst part of this for me was that instead of using her time to talk about safety, she launched into an explanation of why moms love bondage - because women have so many things to take care of everyday and are responsible for so much, they love to have a time where they don't have to be in control. Okay - that's true for lots of women. But the gender stereotyping just drives me crazy. It's equally true that there are lots of women who love to tie up their partners and take complete control of them - to be the ones totally in charge - to express a dominate or aggressive side or even a nurturing component to their personality. There are also lots of men who love to be tied up. The immediate assumption that all women are one way makes me nuts.

She had a bunch of clothespins there which she suggested would be good for some pain play. That's all right in a way except that she was quick to point out that it's not something she does and she neglected to mention anything about where it is and is not safe to put a clothespin and the fact that, depending on how tight the spring is, clothespins are actually not so innocent. They can be extremely painful and are not necessarily a starter BDSM implement.

Blah, same old, same old. I really wish they would have had Dan do this tour across the table. It would have looked quite different I'm sure. Although Dan probably would have suggested that a toy seller do this because they know what they're doing.

To top it all off, the show was sponsored by the Magic Banana. Everyone in the audience got one but Ricki Lake failed to mention what a Magic Banana is. Most of the audience probably didn't know. The Magic Banana is a piece of shit toy with a great marketing department. It's a kegel exerciser which is a piece of plastic rope with a plastic tube around it and a plastic handle. It costs $68 and it does not work. Not even worth getting it for free.

I would love to see one of these segments where they put three things on the table instead of 20 so that you actually have time to talk about them and they bring in someone who really knows something about toys. There are lots of us, why won't they ever bother to do their homework and contact one of us? It's probably because we want to show and say things that you can't put on prime time. Sigh.

Monday, March 4, 2013

It's Too Late to Apologize

So unless you've been hiding under a rock this week, you know that Tom Flanagan, Stephen Harper's buddy and ex campaign manager said some pretty stupid things about child pornography at the presentation at the University of Lethbridge on Wednesday. There was an enormous amount of media coverage about this but it all amounted to the same thing. They reported that Flanagan said child porn is okay, he lost pretty much every job he had, he apologized. No one seemed to really look at what he was saying and why the whole thing is so troubling. So here's my top 5 list of things that make you go 'hmmmmm' about this.

1. He never needed to address this at all. He brought it up voluntarily. If you look at the video , you can hear the question that was asked. It was a long-winded question with many components to it, mostly addressing Flanagan's treatment of First Nations people and he views on the Indian Act. The upshot of the questions was 'Mr. Flanagan, you're an asshole, n'est ce pas?" The bit about child porn was one small part of that question and arguably, the least important. Why in the world did he choose to address that first? I can think of only two reasons. One is that perhaps he thought that was the least controversial place to start. Wow! If your batshit crazy views on child porn are the least controversial part of your public record, there's a problem. The other, even more problematic possibility - and the one I think is probably correct - is that this is an issue that's really important to him. He seems to actually believe that it's an important issue of personal liberties that people be able to look at child porn if they want to. Given all the other important issues he's dealing with and the crowd of first nations students he was talking to, his choice to address that first is bizarre and just plain wrong.

2. He openly admitted that he was on the mailing list of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Very few of the comments I heard about this incident mentioned this or just mentioned it in passing. Why are we not concerned about this? Now he said that he 'ended up' on the list through the course of his career. That makes it sound as if it happened as a result of some research he was doing or as a part of his job. That may very well be true, but why would you stay on it for 'several years'. And why in the world would you mention that in a classroom setting like this? Even if there is nothing suspect about this fact at all (which I doubt) he shows and stunning lack of political savvy to mention this to anyone, much less to a group of students at a public event. It's not something people are likely to understand or have sympathy for. Someone on a message board I was reading pointed out that it's important to know what NAMBLA is doing. I would argue that it's not important at all unless you are an investigator who is tracking child molesters. Nobody needs to be on their mailing list for any other reason.

3. His apology was complete bs. I can't get into Flanagan's brain (wouldn't that be interesting?) but it seems to me that what he was trying to say in that class is that he thinks that our government does not have the right to put people in jail because of their personal thoughts and tastes and for just looking at pictures. He said he thinks its 'a real matter of personal liberties the extent to which we put people in jail for doing something that causes no harm to others'. I agree with that statement. I know this is a difficult subject and one that's very hard to remain objective about, but I do agree that we shouldn't charge people for possession of something that does not harm anyone else. The problem is that looking at pictures and videos of real children really being harmed does harm someone. If you are doing this, you are looking at evidence of a crime. Failure to report that evidence to the police is, and should always be, a crime. If you don't, you are aiding the people who committed the crime to continue to do it. Reporting it and how you came to be in possession of it helps police track down the people who produced it and were responsible for an assault against a child. Flanagan's apology shows that he doesn't make a distinction between looking at things in which real children are pictured and things that are just fictional representations like an animated movie or a written description of a fictional event. Looking at those things, in which real children are not involved, could be considered harm to others, but looking at pictures of real children certainly is not. In his apology, Flanagan said only that he condemns the abuse of children and the use of children to make porn. He did not retract his statement that looking at child porn is harmless. I think he still believes that.

4. He's said this before. After this video came out, the morning after the class, the Wildrose Party dropped him like a hot potato. Danielle Smith said that his views are not linked to the Wildrose party in any way. The problem is that Flanagan has done this before. In 2009, he was quoted in a Manitoba newspaper saying almost exactly the same thing. I remember there was quite a bit of press about that too. Yet he was still hired to be the Wildrose Party campaign manager. Hmmmmmmm......... Smith claims she did not know about the 2009 incident. I find that hard to believe. Flanagan is a public figure and this was a big deal. If you googled him (before this current incident) that incident was pretty easy to find. So one has to wonder if they knew about it and made the decision that it didn't really matter. It's just now that this is front and centre again, they can't afford to associate with him anymore.

5. Further to number 4, this is not something that nobody knew about. Yet he still maintained all of the positions that he had and was only fired when people got angry about it. It's pretty clear that he's had these views for a long time and that he's not been all the hesitant to share them. He was buddy buddy with our prime minister for quite some time and was the key person in crafting his leadership campaigns and the conservative election campaign in 2004. I think we have to really wonder about the kind of people Harper surrounds himself with. The scary thing is that this little 'personal viewpoint' of Flanagan's is not necessarily the most objectionable of his views. This man was a close advisor of Harper's for quite some time and had a lot of influence on our governement's policies. If that doesn't tell you something about Harper, I don't know what does.