Recently, the news has been ablaze with fierce debates and controversial arguments about decency. There is an increasing amount of feeling that children are being exposed to graphic sexual content far too early, that page 3 is encouraging society to view women as property, and that pornography should be censored on the internet.
Whilst I passionately believe that children need protection from what the 1959 Obscene Publications Act refers to as material considered having “a tendency to deprave and corrupt,” I also believe that this cannot and will not be achieved by criminalising the nude.
As Luke Richmond’s excellent article on rape culture (http://www.cubmagazine.co.uk/2013/08/do-you-really-know-i-want-it-controversy-in-popular-culture/) points out, our society has become a perverted monster, in which women are little but sexual items, existing mainly to gratify men. And as Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project pointed out in her open letter to the Sun (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-bates/open-letter-to-the-editor-of-the-sun_b_3794513.html?utm_hp_ref=tw) this problem stems from the media normalising the objectification of women.
As a feminist, I wholeheartedly agree these attitudes need to be stopped; that porn needs to be more difficult to access, that education needs to promote healthy body attitudes and that culture in general needs to provide a more balanced and realistic representation of women. However I do not necessarily believe that blocking pornography from the internet is the method to achieve this.
On the one hand, there are a whole range of issues of censorship which are also very much in the spotlight at the moment, but this is not the focus of this piece. My concern is what is the government defining as pornographic material that ought to be hidden.
Some critics have pondered whether 50 Shades of Grey constitutes porn under Cameron’s new crackdown but I personally would like to focus on simply the nude.
Naked women are not a new thing. Since the earliest forms of art have been appearing, women have been nude. You’ll be hard pressed to find a fully-clothed women in Greek sculpture, and I would put money on nearly all artist’s having drawn a female nude at some point in their career. With Cameron’s opt-in pornography policy I can’t help but to question, what defines the difference between a pornographic image and an artwork? How is a search engine able to tell the difference between a topless feminist protest or performance artist, and a pornographic film of women with no shirts on being degraded?
Whilst the nude female has been lusted after for pretty much eternity (look up the Greek myth of Pygmalion, where a sculptor falls in love with a statue of a nude female he carved himself) there is now a very twenty-first century line between sexual attraction to a beautiful woman who revels in her own sensuality, and sexual gratification at the expense of a woman who has been objectified, corrupted, and lost possession of her self-worth.
Whilst in previous times, the nude was a sensuous, sexual display of femininity, fertility and (simply) fun, there is now a sense of entitlement, that a woman is nude for someone’s pleasure. The muses of mythology, who were normally naked, gorgeous and totally in control have now been forgotten, and replaced with lads mag babes and the mail’s sidebar of shame.
However, the increase of unhealthy attitudes to sexuality can be seen to correlate with the increase in censorship. Art always portrayed nudes with a casual air, here’s a painting of loads of men fighting… and over here is a naked lady. As the most natural human imagery you can come up with, the nude is a completely dominant theme in art, which we should continue to celebrate. However, once the Victorian era of prudishness and cover-ups began, nudes began to disappear, or at least be covered up with ivy leaves. Lo and behold, nude images began to be circulated secretly, in a medium similar to modern day lads mags.
This has lead to a strange paradox; nudity should not be seen but any nude woman must be perfect. The government is striving to ban online pornography, but still printed, airbrushed images in magazine remain. Yet images of topless protests, which promote a woman’s control over her own sexuality are more hidden and taboo than the massive plastic boobs you will be confronted with when you open The Sun.
Ultimately, whilst I agree it is about time the government acted on the objectification of women, and took measures to protect innocent eyes that do not want to be corrupted with hardcore pornography, I am genuinely worried about how they will distinguish between images of depravity and images that celebrate beautiful women, and the nude in art. Censoring degrading porn may keep the issue hidden but ultimately will not even start to address the problems our society has; the chauvinistic mindset and sense of entitlement to instant gratification which has become prevalent due to years of sexism and unfair portrayals of female nudity.