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Why not censorship

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 18:36 EDT
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The issue of “Why not censorship?” came up in the thread below making fun of the Buttman videos and the rationalizations you hear for misogynist, racist pornography. I denounced censorship as firmly as I could to quell the “FEMINISTS ARE ALL PRUDES AND CENSORS” nonsense, but then of course I didn’t adequately prepare for people saying, in essence, if you think that a lot of porn is racist, misogynist hate speech, why not ban it?

I thought I’d distill my reasons for this free speech absolutism. This post will assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s possible to create a fair government definition of “hate speech” that could be enforced. I don’t believe that’s true, and that any such standard would immediately be mostly used to oppress feminist and pro-gay speech, but let’s just assume for the sake of argument that it’s possible. Censoring hateful pornography would still be wrong, for a few major reasons.

Censorship is a distraction from constructive progressive work.

The thread below is a classic example of this. I called out for creative ideas on how to subvert hateful pornography by using its existence for feminist ends—to illustrate what we mean by “misogyny”, to open up a discussion about ways to celebrate sexuality without hating women, to talk about the ways that racism and sexism work together, to work as a warning signal to women about who not to date. The idea of censorship was floated, and all other potential responses were thrown out the window while everyone obsessed over how to censor, whether to censor, how to define what is and isn’t eligible for censorship. That’s a huge waste of energy and time.

Censorship cannot kill ideas, particularly widespread ones.

So, let’s say we come up with a regime that is able to wipe out all hardcore pornography organized around the idea, “Women, especially sexually active women, suck and need to be treated like the dirty cunts they are.” That’s probably not going to do a damn thing to wipe out that widespread and super-popular message. It will still be out there in forms like Maxim magazine, beer commercials, the pulpits of anti-choicers, and the party platform of the Republican party. Trying to censor all that basically would mean a complete end to all forms of freedom of speech. And even after all, I’ll bet that misogynists will still be misogynists.

Tyrants suppress what they cannot argue with.

People tend to get this intuitively, and would assume that the only reason that the government is out to suppress the message, “Women, especially sexually active women, suck and need to be treated like the dirty cunts they are,” is that it’s the truth and they can’t handle the truth. By suppressing people who want to express their hatred of women out loud, or in commercial forms like porn, we would allow them to paint themselves as bold rebels speaking truths the rest of us are afraid to confront. When, in fact, they are assholes promoting easily debunked, hateful arguments.

But Amanda, don’t you ban disruptive trolls?!

This is why there’s got to be critical distinctions between actually suppressing speech and creating spaces for certain discussions. I’ve heard the argument, “Women (or fill in whatever group) suck and deserve to be treated like they’re subhuman.” It’s been debunked. If I wanted to write a blog that was just about debunking that argument over and over and over again without saying anything new or interesting, then that’s what I’d write. This is a different blog. That someone has a right to say whatever they want doesn’t mean they’re entitled to an audience. No one has a right to commandeer this audience that Jesse, Pam, and I (and our gracious commenting community) built up to have certain discussions. We’re no more obligated to print some troll’s nonsense than Random House is obliged to publish it.

Indeed, I would say disruptive trolling is essentially anti-freedom of speech, in that the troll wants to shut down certain conversations that he thinks shouldn’t exist here or anywhere. He’s denying the right of us to run a blog that communicates what we want to communicate. We have a right here to conduct conversations on our grounds, not just hand it over to some guy who has managed to hone his skills at shouting others down and making intelligent discussion impossible.

The best reaction to offensive speech is more speech.

I’d like to think my post below is an example of the best way to resist hate speech, by exposing it for what it is. Instead of driving curiosity about what’s being censored or making the targets of criticism seem like freedom fighters, I just pointed out that it’s a rather tedious and frankly juvenile form of misogyny, consumed mainly by life’s losers who spend their energies hating on women instead of working on not being losers.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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