Tag Archives: julie bindel

Report: Debate vs Julie Bindel at Essex University

Those familiar with the state of anti-porn argument will know it’s pretty comparable with anti-climate change argument: very little in the way of evidence, but plenty in the way of noise, indignation, conspiracy theory and “it stands to reason”-type arguments.

The foundation of today’s anti-porn rhetoric was laid by Catharine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin (“the Macdworkinites”) in the 1980s, and the arguments appear not to have evolved greatly in the intervening decades; today’s anti-porn feminism lacks the flair and (evil) genius of the Macdworkinites. For this reason, it’s increasingly easy to demolish claims of harm caused by pornography; the problem is that the media is still largely in the sway of the “OMG what about the children?!” brigade. It’s for this reason that I founded Sex & Censorship: to present evidence-based argument against the combined religious/feminist weight of porn panic.

University debates are a rare opportunity to be heard equally in a fair environment (rather than the 90 seconds of shouting allowed by the news media), and I take every opportunity to participate in these (contact me if you’d like me to debate or speak at your university or college). I therefore seized yesterday’s opportunity to debate the radical feminist Julie Bindel with glee.

Things warmed up on the day before the debate, with the publication of an article in the student newspaper that managed to disparage both myself and Bindel at once, referring to her as a homophobe and transphobe, while I was simply branded a “multi-millionaire”. Sadly (for me), this claim wasn’t true, but even if it had been, I failed to see the relevance in this context: surely “sexual freedom advocate”, “free speech activist” or even just “blogger” would have been more useful.

So when I met Bindel on the train to Colchester, we were able to find some common cause, and jokingly speculate about which one of us might be more protested-against: her, the transphobe; or me, the spokesman for patriarchal oppression.

The debate took place in a packed lecture theatre; Bindel had been scheduled to speak first, but the chair asked if we could switch places, for fear that protesters would shout her down and end the session early.

In my introduction, I made mention of the importance of free speech on university campuses, including (in fact, especially) speech that we might consider offensive or otherwise unpleasant. Universities are supposed to be hubs of free thought, but there is a disturbing, and rising, trend among student unions to shut down “bad” speech, from bans on the Sun newspaper, to closing down a rugby club for speech crimes, to multiple bans on Bindel herself.

I then took a statement from a piece Bindel had written about pornography, and set out to demonstrate that it is not backed by solid evidence; indeed, it runs counter to the known evidence:

There is … a direct link between violence against women and pornography

I made the following points:

  • The term “pornography” tends to refer to all sexual/erotic imagery, so that arguments deployed against porn are then used to attack  Page 3, music videos and other media that most people wouldn’t consider pornographic.
  • To claim that large numbers of women are abused by the porn industry, without being able to point to any actual arrests or prosecutions is strange indeed. Where are the victims that anti-porn campaigners so often talk about?
  • Why are only women (supposedly) harmed by sexual expression, and not men? This seems to perpetuate the old fashioned view that sex is something men do to women, rather than something both men and women can enjoy.
  • The sexual objectification concept – the curiously vague idea that men who view sexual imagery become more dangerous towards women – is backed by no statistical evidence. To the contrary, the availability of porn widely correlates with a declines in sexual violence.
  • Why does “objectification” only seem to work in sexual contexts? Why can men see a woman run a marathon but not assume that all women must be marathon runners?
  • To blame porn for sexual violence is to remove blame from rapists.
  • Although the porn industry is often painted as a male-dominated one, there are many female, and feminist, porn directors.
  • Nobody could judge whether “women are demeaned by porn”, except for pornstars themselves; I then read a series of statements from pornstars in answer to the question “Do you find working in porn to be demeaning?” – they all answered no, of course.

Short on time (I actually overran the 15 minutes allowed), I had little opportunity to go through much of the evidence; but I pointed out that the UK government (via Ofcom) has conducted its own research into whether porn is harmful, and could find no evidence of harm. It also polled 20 other European governments about their own research into whether porn might harm under-age viewers, and stated:

No country found evidence that sexually explicit material harms children

Despite this, the government has introduced various censorship laws and regulations, just in case…

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Julie Bindel’s contribution (thankfully not shouted down by protesters) was packed with familiar claims and anecdotes, many obviously drawn from her campaigning colleague Gail Dines, and the UK anti-sex group Object. Various scare words and stories were dredged up; the term “porn baron” was thrown around, and links between the porn industry and organised crime were hinted at, but not backed with evidence. Choosing an ad hominem attack, she suggested that I currently make a living from the porn industry (actually, I closed my website business in 2012).

Although there was no formal vote at the end of the session, the chairman asked for a show of hands partway through on the question of whether pornography should be banned; no more than half a dozen, of an audience of perhaps 150, raised their hands. I hope that my contribution had made many change their minds.

But perhaps the culture is simply changing. Maybe young people, having grown up with the Internet and pornography, no longer fear sexual expression, and cannot easily be persuaded to. This would be good news indeed!

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Coming Up: S&C in Debate

I will be involved in the following events over the next month, both close to London:

  • On 22nd October, I will meet the journalist and radical feminist Julie Bindel to debate the question: “Does Pornography Degrade Women, and If So, Should It Be Banned?” This will take place at the University of Essex in Colchester, at 2pm.
  • On 13th November, I will be taking part in a discussion on pornography at Royal Holloway University of London, at 6pm.

Neither are public events, but outside attendees may be admitted by request. Please let me know if you would like to attend.

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I don’t get paid (other than expenses) to take part in these events, but consider it essential that moral panic and misinformation are countered with evidence-based argument. The alternative is to see sexual freedom and free speech continually eroded based on fear and ignorance.

If you would like to support the campaign and help us grow, please make a donation, large or small!

UK Pornstars Fight Back!

On March 15, the Stop Porn Culture circus will come to London, representing a coalition of the loudest anti-sex and pro-censorship voices in the English-speaking world. Former pornstar Renée Richards calls on UK pornstars, strippers, models, sex workers and their supporters to take a stand and join us to protest against those who have, for so long, labelled and lied about the women in the sex industries.

When I woke up yesterday morning and saw the Stop Porn Culture event being tweeted, my first inclination was to get out the banners and sit on the Blackfriars Road for the next four weeks in angry anticipation. This was soon overcome with a worry; a worry that to protest outside the event would be conflicting with Sex and Censorship’s free speech ethos, and that surely if I were to protest outside the Stop Porn Culture’s conference then I would be trying to censor or prevent women such as Gail Dines, Julie Bindel and the women who speak on behalf of the organisation OBJECT, from achieving their goal of spreading their lies* and prejudices about the porn industry and sex workers.

So instead of trying to find my CND tent, I did what most Brits do and passively grumbled to my husband. “But if people don’t protest then surely this gives across the message that you don’t care? Silence can be read as compliance…” He followed this up with “anyway, you wouldn’t be protesting to silence them.” This soon had me flying back to my laptop keyboard and tweeting all of the porn performers I knew.

So if I’m not protesting to silence these women, then what I am I protesting for? Well, I’ll tell you:

  1. Protecting Women

On Stop Porn Culture’s website it has a section called ‘Survivor Stories’ where, as you can imagine from the title, there are lots of accounts from women who have worked as sex workers within the porn industry, as strippers and/or as prostitutes. These accounts are all very harrowing and upsetting, and I am sure that they are real, but my annoyance is this: These things do not happen to all women who work as sex workers. I, and many, many other women I know who have worked and continue to work as sex workers in the porn industry, strip clubs and as prostitutes have not had these harrowing experiences.

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This, of course, does not mean that these horrible events are okay just because they have only happened to some women. But instead of banning porn, which is what the women at the Stop Porn Culture conference would like to do, which would push the industry into an illegal terrain where human rights are not accounted for and more harrowing events could freely occur, we should be recognizing it for the legitimate industry that it is. I wish that the likes of Gail Dines, Julie Bindel and OBJECT would put as much effort into trying to unionise sex workers and creating better working environments for sex workers, as they are into trying to ban them.

  1. Get your facts right!

So, again, I’m not protesting to silence the women at this conference, I’m protesting for these women to get their facts right.

The website also contains links to websites which state that new studies from Cambridge University that ‘MRI scans of test subjects who admitted to compulsive pornography use showed that the reward centres of the brain reacted to seeing explicit material in the same way as an alcoholic’s might on seeing a drinks advert.’ Therefore, porn is addictive, right? WRONG! Just because the self-identifying excessive users of ‘pornography show similar brain activity to alcoholics or drug addicts’ does not therefore mean that these excessive users are addicted, or that porn is addictive.

A problem with studies such as these is that the information provided, with words such as ‘similar brain activity’ are then removed to make the information more accessible, or palatable to those who have already made up their minds on the subject. So ‘a small test group of excessive porn users have an MRI scan and show similar brain activity to those who are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs’ which are not yet tested against other porn users who are not deemed as excessive users (what is excessive use anyway? And who gets to decide? Is watching three films a night excessive, or one film a week?)

Neither have these MRI scans taken place on a small test group of excessive porn users who claim not be addicted to pornography. So, the information gained by these limited experiments are then misinterpreted as ‘everyone who watches porn will become addicted’. If these continual studies show that porn is addictive to a small percentage of people, similar to that of alcohol being addictive to a small percentage of people, then surely this is not an argument against its ban. Unless of course the likes of Julie Bindel, Gail Dines and OBJECT think that the prohibition experiment of the United States between 1920 and 1933 worked, of course…

  1. If I don’t object to OBJECT, who will?

This final point is probably the most important: We have the right to protest!

Both articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act protect our rights to free speech and protest. We have the ‘right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express [our] views’. In this instance the pro-porn and/or the pro-sex industries’ voice is very rarely heard. Gail Dines is a well renowned author, Julie Bindel regularly writes for The Guardian and OBJECT are no stranger to protesting or speaking out. Yet the men and women who perform in adult films, prostitutes and lap dancers who are regularly spoken about are very rarely heard from themselves. This is our chance!

This is my rallying call… (if only I had a ‘XXX’ beacon to project into the sky à la Batman):

If you work within the sex industry and do not want to stop, do not want other people to speak on your behalf and do not feel as if you voice is being heard and/or want to protect your job, then join us outside the Stop Porn Culture conference on 15 March from 3pm till 5pm.

Location: Outside Wedge House, 36-40 Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London, SE1 8PB

Join the event page on Facebook.

See you there!

 Renée x

* I use the word ‘lies’ because some of the ‘facts’ that I’ve read on the SPC website are completely unfounded, and through empirical evidence of my experience as a porn performer, I find these not to be true. And ‘prejudices’ because the definition of this word is ‘preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience’.