The issues that surround censorship encompass many topics on sexual grounds. Some of these topics embrace education and pornography. Both of these subjects are highly controversial; whereas within the education system censored literature has touched on subjects such as rape, masturbation, homosexuality, gay marriage, unwed mothers, prostitution, and eroticism. Censorship and pornography has reached a political level. Pornography has been discussed with conservatives, liberals, and feminists. The conservative stance is strictly against pornography as they consider it obstructive to society. Liberals believe that by censoring pornography one is denying the individual their right to expression and feminists believe that a woman’s right for expression is regulated through pornography.
Sexuality and Censorship
Literature, film, and social media are all outlets of expression. These outlets have been closely regulated and during these regulations writers/actors, and bloggers have had to work under some form of censorship be it imposed by themselves or by regulative bodies. Censorship in a nutshell is the regulation of what is acceptable and what is not. According to the United States Supreme Court in 1957 upholding “Social importance” was the terming factor as to determine whether or not a certain form of expression/communication should be accepted.( Karolides, Bal, and Sova 2005) However, what is acceptable to one may or may not be to another. Being placed in charge of deciding what is appropriate for the public is a daunting task; many issues are of great concern to the censors. One crucial issue that has stirred up public morals and values over time is that of the expression of sexuality. Censorship within sexual grounds can find supporters and those who strictly oppose it. Topics on sexual grounds, education, and pornography are the main focus of discussion within this article.
The struggle faced by the educational authorities on the grounds of suppressing sexually explicit literature is difficult and while some may only see the pros others may only see the cons. “Sexual topics are frequently deemed to be inappropriate for a high school audience. In some cases, the desire to suppress discussions about sex overcomes common sense as well as respect for free speech.” (Karolides, Bal, and Sova 2005) Parents, teachers and those on the educational boards oversee and have in some degree the power to silence specific literary works. Such is the case of Forever by Judy Blume when “in 1982, the parents of students attending Mid-valley Junior-Senior High School in Scranton, Pennsylvania, challenged the book charging that it contained “four –letter words and talked about masturbation, birth control, and disobedience to parents.” (Karolides, Bal, and Sova 2005) To some individuals literature can be too erotic with no social importance or academic value, and these books often find themselves on a banned list.However, many believe that this is still a stab at ones’ freedom of speech. These individuals believe that literature can challenge public morals while containing literary value.
Within the educational system some believe that there needs to be stricter policies. Age appropriate material is one of these ideas implemented within the educational system. This policy which is just another form of censorship has the intent to protect the innocence of the child. Supporters of this policy argue that a grade school student should not read books that depict a sexual act such as: rape, masturbation, or even promiscuity.
However, if one supports this policy than at what age should these literary works be considered acceptable? Those who oppose the policy argue that by censoring specific materials one is depriving an individual by: robbing them of an education, by removing books that may foster social awareness, or even worse by teaching that their freedom of speech can be silenced. The National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC) Joan Bertin stated in defense to the novel Forever “No book is right for everyone, and the role of the library is to allow students to make choices according to their own interest, experiences and family values. No one has to read something just because it’s on the library shelf.” (Karolides, Bal, and Sova 2005 ) The U.S. educational system struggles greatly the debate on censorship on sexual grounds.
Pornography is yet another concern in regards to censorship. Liberal, Conservative, and Feminists all have their own view on censorship and pornography. The liberal viewpoint incorporates John Stuart Mills Harm principle. The Harm Principle states “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Van Mill 2012)This also emphasizes another Liberal concern that one should not take away from the individual’s their right to express themselves. Pornography according to a liberal philosophy does not cause harm to others and by censoring pornography, one is denying the individual their right for expression.
Feminists have a strong counter argument; they declare that a woman’s freedom of speech and expression itself is regulated through pornography. By facilitating pornography one is depicting women in such a manner that it has adverse setbacks such as; women being represented as lesser beings. Woman’s voice is heard but in porn films it really isn’t being heard. “Pornography may silence woman by causing their speech to fail to be understood or to be misunderstood”. (West 2012) Women who are victims of rape may be screaming “no” but to her assailant her words mean nothing. Some feminists and Liberals agree that if there is a matter of harm done to woman and a ban on pornography is warranted, than censorship itself may draw more attention, and foster curiosity towards pornographic material; ultimately creating a greater harm towards women. Catharine Mackinnon, a strong supporter of feminists, raises a few key concerns. In MacKinnon’s eye’s she believes that pornography should not be censored; however, pornography in fact should not be legitimatized. She feels that by censoring pornography one is allowing or acknowledging that there are forms of pornography that we as a society deem acceptable. “If a woman is subjected why should it matter if the work has other value?”(Van Mill, 2012) Mackinnon believes that our society revolves around male dominance and power. In this world view Mackinnon acknowledges that woman may act in ways that they feel is expected of them by men. However, she believes that there is a curtain a veil that has shrouded a woman’s beliefs as to what is appropriate. This shroud or in other words a social reality is at its core the true harm that is being caused to women. She argues “Male power produces the world before it distorts it. In a world produced by men woman have little choice but to become persons who than freely choose women’s roles: Hence the reality of women’s oppression is finally, nether demonstrable nor refutably empirically.” (Coetzee 1996)
The conservative view consists of upholding public morals and values. Such values are the deciding factor as to what is obscene or indecent. Protecting society is the immediate concern for conservatives. If pornography is found to demoralize or diminish a societies values than the censoring of such pornographic material should be upheld in order to protect the society.
Sexuality has facilitated many hot topics to the forefront of censorship. Topics such as teen sex/teen pregnancy, homosexuality, gay marriage, unwed mothers, rape, prostitution, masturbation, sexually transmitted diseases, adultery, and even bondage have all been pushed to an unseen degree in debates surrounding censorship. Every controversial topic revolves around the public morals. In some cases writers, actors, and bloggers are faced with a form of self-censorship that denies them of original thought.
Some writers may wish to address these topics but choose not to out of fear of the public’s reactions. One example of a man who challenged this can be seen in the autobiography Always Running La Vida Loca Gang Days in L.A. by Luis T. Rodriguez. The book was considered indecent on sexual grounds. In his defense Luis stated “There’s no way to write this kind of book without getting as close to what these young people are going through.” (Karolides, Bal, and Sova 2005) By acknowledging this Luis made clear that writers should feel free to write and express themselves and not fall victim to self-censorship. Luis did not play into self-censorship; he exposed the truth, he was honest in his depictions, and he utilized sexually erotic literature to reach his audience. However, some may agree with the conservative viewpoint such as they may argue that by writing, acting, or blogging about these hot-topics one may cause harm to the society and still choose to censor themselves.
Sexual expression is not the only concern for the censors; religious, political, and social concerns also present many challenges for the censors. It is very apparent that there is a multitude of strong opposing viewpoints. Just within the realm of sexuality the liberals, conservatives, and femenists have created debates. By being socially aware and debating upon these issues is a form of self-expression in itself. Unfortunately society continues to silence these writers, actors, and bloggers rather than allow discussions on controversial topics. Censorship appears to be a means to an end to original thought and a struggle between one individual’s values and an individual’s right to expression.
Coetzee, John. Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. 61-82
Karolides, Nicholas, Margaret Bal, and Dawn Sova. 120 Banned Books. 2. 2. New York: Checkmark Books, 2005. Print.
van Mill, David, “Freedom of Speech”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved March 10, 2013, from, <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/freedom-speech/>.
West, Caroline, “Pornography and Censorship”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved March 10, 2013, from, <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/pornography-censorship/>.