Where “Reefer Madness” Meets “Raunch Culture” (Or, Radfems Gone Wild…Again)

Dig, if you will, this picture:

A putatively "liberal feminist" writer for a neoliberal website writes an essay for the website of the not-so-liberal Wall Street Journal Op-Ed section decrying the antics of Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis (who is still, in my book, a grand insult to assholes everywhere for using young women for his profits)….and, as a means of granting protection to young adult women from such sexual predators, calls for legislation raising the legal age for consenting to perform in adult sexual media from 18 to 21….for their own protection, of course.

It is true that teenagers become legal adults at the age of 18, right around the time they graduate from high school. The age of consent to serve in the armed forces is also 18 (17 with parental consent), as is the minimum voting age since 1971, when an amendment to the Constitution lowered it from 21. But the federal government is already happy to bar legal adults from engaging in certain activities. Most notably, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 raised the drinking age to 21 (by threatening to withhold highway funds from states that did not go along). In practice, the age limit is flouted on college campuses and in private homes. But it has still had a positive effect, not least by driving down fatalities from drunk driving.

A new legal age for participating in the making of erotic imagery–that is, for participating in pornography–would most likely operate in the same way, sometimes honored in the breach more than the observance. But a 21-year-old barrier would save a lot of young women from being manipulated into an indelible error, while burdening the world’s next Joe Francis with an aptly limited supply of "talent." And it would surely have a tonic cultural effect. We are so numb to the coarse imagery around us that we have come to accept not just pornography itself–long since routinized–but its "barely legal" category. "Girls Gone Wild"–like its counterparts on the Web–is treated as a kind of joke. It isn’t. There ought to be a law.

— excerpt from Garance Franke-Ruta: Age Of Innocence Revisited (OpinionJournal.com)

Never mind that most of the regulations on alcohol she cites deal not with private consumption or even age limits, but with blood-alcohol level and purchasing of alcoholic beverages, or that the law she quoted did not legislatively raise the age but simply threatened to pull highway spending to those states who refused to go along. But that’s moving away from the main topic here…

Anyways….said writer gets deservedly whacked for her proposal as a infantilization of otherwise legal adult women who are simply not to be trusted with their own judgement and free will on such matters; as a gross paternalism that dictates that young women old enough to be drafted to die in war and old enough to be executed as adults for capital crimes simply can’t be allowed to make basic decisions about their sexuality; and as an ineffective solution that ignores the modern technology that allows such "hostile" and "damaging" imagery to show up without the aid of GGW cameras.

How does said writer respond to such criticisms??  By breaking out the old "my critics are evil liberal men who care more about their dicks than the damage of raunch culture to women" card:

If I had intentionally set out to write an article intended to provoke a backlash that made liberals look like a bunch of leering louts eager to ogle 18-year-old girls and transform society into a deregulated libertarian paradise where low-income women are routinely exploited, I think I could scarcely have come up with a better approach than the Wall Street Journal piece I published on May 4 arguing for raising the age of consent for appearing in pornography to 21. Such a backlash was, perhaps, entirely fitting, given that the topic was a soft-core porn company that has cut deals with major Democratic Party donors and preys mainly on young women in red states But it was also disappointing in the extreme.

Critics of my article have raised some good points, but by and large the responses were disturbingly marked by a far greater concern for access to pornographic depictions of teenagers than for the exploitation of young women. “I Want My Barely Legal Porn!” Matthew Yglesias trumpeted at his eponymous blog, boasting his argument “befits a man whose blog was once featured in Playboy‘s ‘Girls of the Pac Ten’ issue (really!).”


Other[s] liberals, finding the present raunch culture wanting, posited a need for an even more sex-saturated media environment. “If the brain-damaged idea of sex as explotation [sic] is the problem, I say let us militate against that idea,” wrote thespian Roy Edroso at Alicublog. “Let us have wide and unapologetic dissemination of sexual imagery.” And yet others called for a loosening of existing laws intended to prevent the exploitation of the young. Avedon Carol, a UK-based founder of Feminists Against Censorship, argues that existing child porn laws go more than far enough. “As if being treated ‘like a child’ when you are a child – and therefore not recognized as owning your own sexuality – were not bad enough, Garance wants to treat us as children when we are well past childhood,” she objected.


Sadly, in the rush to defend raunch culture, neither Yglesias nor the other critics closely examined the record of “opportunities” provided by Joe Francis’ firm (or others in its genre), the cases against them, and the long history of failed legal attempts to prosecute firms like his for abusive treatment of 16-21 year olds under existing laws. Nor did they look at the major Democratic donors who have helped Francis expand his reach and normalize his approach of creating “gratuitous nudity, end to end,” even though such efforts have helped fuel the backlash against “Hollywood liberals” that has been so successfully used against would-be Democratic office-holders.

— excerpted from Garance Franke-Ruta: Porn Again (CampusProgress.com)

…and recruiting a well known antipornradicalfeminist to her side.  Entree’ vous, Ann Bartow:

Can the harms that attend our new raunch culture be resolved, as some suggest, by amending the consent waiver process? Or will it require something more?

The proposal — first suggested to me by Ann Bartow, author of the Feminist Law Professor blog and a professor at the University of South Carolina Law School — to build a waiting period into the consent to participate in pornography is an intriguing one, and would do much to mitigate the impact of alcohol on the burgeoning porn-star for a day phenomenon. Yglesias also suggests this, as a counter-offer to my proposal that the age of consent to participate in porn be raised to 21. It’s a fine idea as far as it goes.

Revising the consent process, unfortunately, does not get to the heart of the problem, which is about the right to privacy and the costs to young women of the cultural and technological changes of the past decade.

And in the next paragraph, Franke-Ruta gives the game away….it’s really all about protecting young women’s privacy and "intimacy", regardless of whether they want such protection or not…..and mostly, it’s about wiping out "rauch culture":

The issue is only partially about consent, or even impaired consent. The issue is also that over the past decade and a half there has been a massive decline in the space of life that is private in the sense of being undocumented for all posterity, even if publicly conducted — and that there has been a simultaneous increase in media outlets, distribution channels, and commercial interest in the “scandal” of young female nudity.

Yglesias pretends that a young woman’s “decision” to have nude pictures of herself floating about without her consent is no different than picking a college major or “getting tattoos.” But he’s wrong. People don’t lose their jobs – or become permanent public spectacles – over “buying lottery tickets” or choosing to major in chemistry rather than physics. The difference is that there is an active harm being done to young women when pornographers take control of their images, without their consent (but with the consent of the courts), and that what people are choosing to do when they pose for pictures and what ultimately becomes of the images they choose to be in are often very different things. Miss Nevada Katie Rees lost her crown after pictures of her, bare-chested and kissing other girls, surfaced on the internet. She was 19 when they were taken, grown in form, but clearly not yet a mature individual. Or look at the case of the friends of American Idol contestant Antonella Barba, 20. Semi-nude pictures of her surfaced soon after she joined the show, leading her to say, “The pictures that were released of me – the ones that are of me – they are very personal and that is not how I intended to portray myself nor do I intend to portray myself that way in the future.” And it wasn’t just pictures of her, either. There were plenty of shots that exposed her young friends, too — women who were not looking to become famous or trade on their figures, and whose momentary goofing around at a beach outing is now public for all posterity.

Should such women have the right to control their own images? And do young women have an interest in not being manipulated, whether through drink or through peer pressure, into situations where they sign away what rights they do have? Those are the real questions at stake. The laws, as they currently stand, err too greatly on the side of protecting pornographers’ rights to transform unwitting or intoxicated young women into sexual commodities, and favor men like Francis, who reportedly earns $29 million a year, over the impecunious 18-year-olds off whom they have become rich. Raising the age to consent to be in porn to 21 may seem like an overly broad solution; alternative proposals that would address the issue of involuntary distribution and publication of private images, in addition to the questions of drunken consent, may ultimately prove superior. So far, however, I haven’t heard them.

Now, I could go into the basic fact that Franke-Ruta completely mistates and distorts Avedon Carol’s objection to her proposal as "loosening existing laws designed to protect the exploitation of the young", even as she herself further down decries those existing laws as woefully insufficient (she does the same to Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon by quoting her in support..ignoring the fact that she goes on to state her ultimate opposition later on); or that she completely takes out of context various male liberal commentator’s glib snarkiness as tolerance for kiddie porn predators….not to mention that she doesn’t even bother to post links to Lance Mannion (who has a nice rebuttal to GF-R’s lunacy here) or Roy Edroso to show what they really said (or didn’t say) about her proposal); or that she basically uses the old APRF slam of "(male) liberal Democrats" as essentially sexual slavers and child traffickers (she quotes several Democratic politicos who recieved money from Joe Francis’s enterprise as proof that liberal men are covering up his rape and pillarging..perhaps that explains why the WSJ Op-Ed site managers were so quick to promote her column.

But it’s Ann Bartow’s entry into this that fascinates me most of all. Of course, you’d expect her to rise to the defense of wiping out porn and all things "raunchy", but really, Ann….how in the hell does soft-core kissing and panty flashing and boob flashing lead directly to "trafficking in women" or double anal or other "degrading" activity??  And how would limiting the rights of 18- to 20-year old women to willfully engage in such behavior help protect the rest of womenhood, anyway?? And what would prevent you from moving the goalposts further and saying that 22 year olds aren’t mature enough to make such decisions, either, and thusly the age of consent should be moved up even further to "protect" women from their own actions?  After all, they don’t need GGW to get them drunk or even to flash their goodies; anyone with a decent digital camphone and access to the Internet can put out compromising photos on the ‘Net…and for free, no less. 

After all, if Jessica Valenti’s bare midriff book cover for Full Frontal Feminism and Teri Hatcher’s "see my panties" cover for her feature article last year at Vanity Fair was enough to raise Bartow’s pressure about "raunch" images, why should we think that she would rise to the occasion and diss pictures of young inebrieated women flashing and kissing as "damaging" to their future career?

Fascinating how sexual conservatism makes for strange bedfellows, ehhh??

(For the ultimate defense of the girls who do such dastardly deeds of posing for porn or such; see Greta Christina’s seminal article here.

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