Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

This Feb. 12, 2012 photo shows Rihanna at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. CBS had issued a memo to Grammy Awards attendees against baring too much skin at the ceremony Sunday. The network requests that “buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered” for the televised award show. (Chris Pizzello/AP)
This Feb. 12, 2012 photo shows Rihanna at the 54th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. CBS had issued a memo to Grammy Awards attendees against baring too much skin at the ceremony Sunday. The network requests that “buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered” for the televised award show. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

What does a proposed porn ban mean in the sex-friendly age of Rihanna? Add to ...

There’s been a lot of chatter in the air lately about how gender equality should work. Everyone seems to agree that it’s an admirable goal, which is a good thing, I suppose, and one we might almost consider “progress” if it wasn’t so drearily obvious. The divisive issue these days, it seems, is how best to get there. Do we put our noses to the grindstone or turn a critical eye on the culture? What to fix first, ladies, ourselves or the world? It’s a tricky one.

More Related to this Story

That’s why the new report, called Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU, recently put before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, is so topical, but also confounding. It recommended, among other measures, a complete ban on pornography across the 27 member states. Yes, you heard that right. No more amateur Albanian sexy-time videos for you! The ban, which was initially proposed by a female Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP), recommended pornography be scoured from all European media, including the Internet.

Now before you get your French knickers in a knot shrieking “censorship!” be advised that the EP did the very sensible thing earlier this week by rejecting the ban. The rest of the proposal, which was voted through (though not in a legislative capacity – lord knows what the EP actually does ) and is widely available online, makes for interesting reading – provided you’re not more in the mood for a German bondage video (also still widely available online).

In the section on media and culture, the report’s authors point out the illuminating statistic that in European advertising, women account for only 27 per cent of professionals shown but for 60 per cent of those shown doing housework or taking care of children.

This, my sisters, is a much bigger problem than any degrading depictions of fake-boobed ladies fluttering their falsies to cheesy guitar riffs. And that’s because the lameness of porn is the result of a world in which women still don’t have equal power in the home, the workplace and politics, not the other way around. Banning it was never going to eradicate the problem of gender inequality – if anything such a move might have the opposite effect.

Consider for a moment the many socially conservative groups throughout history who have sought to “protect” women by banning depictions of them engaged in sex acts. This very week, in fact, the conservative Islamist Al-Nour party in Egypt has sought a similar ban on the grounds that, “Pornographic sites have taken Egypt’s youth down an immoral path that has had a negative effect on families leading to divorce and rape.”

According to Al-Nour’s strict view of Sharia law, women are not permitted to hold positions of power over men. Needless to say, this ban – so similar to the one proposed by the EU – is not a bid for gender equality. On the contrary, this kind of cultural suppression is about as progressive as the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on depictions of nudity during Francisco Goya’s lifetime, which kept the Spanish painter from publicly exhibiting some of his finest works. One of his most famous paintings, The Nude Maja , is thought to be the first-ever European depiction of a female nude with pubic hair. Looking at it today, Goya’s masterpiece seems a far cry from porny. But in its day it was so shocking it was sequestered for a time by the Spanish Inquisition.

And speaking of culture and porn, it’s a well-established truth that desire and its depictions are not the enemy of Western culture, but the inspiration for it. British art critic Jonathan Jones, author of The Loves of the Artists , argues that Europe’s great artists were in the business of porn long before videographers came along, let alone the Internet. He writes that “sexual gratification – of both the viewers of art, and artists themselves – was a fundamental drive of high European culture in the age of the Old Masters. Paintings were used as sexual stimuli, as visual lovers’ guides, and as aids to fantasy.”

In the age of Rihanna, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting off on the Venus de Milo; back in the day that’s exactly what happened. According to Jones’s book, Leonardo da Vinci himself was proud to have once painted such a smokin’ hot Madonna, its owner requested that the religious iconography be removed from the painting “out of shame for the inappropriate lust it inspired.”

So it’s decided then: no porn ban for Europe. But the larger question of gender inequality remains. As the Western world nudges toward the ever-hallowed goal, let’s hope our porn gets better. Not Leonardo level, perhaps, but maybe just a little bit less … gross. In the meantime, I suppose, we end up with the smut that suits us.

 

Topics:

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular