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  • Gabrielle Galchen

Iceland's Pornography Ban: Fascism or Feminism?

Since its enactment in 2016, Iceland’s ban on pornography has been beyond controversial. The crucial question arises: is porn inherently abusive to women, or can porn be equitably reformed? 

The printing and distribution of pornography has been banned in Iceland since 1869. However, the advent of online pornography raised relevant questions of potentially amending this law to include restrictions on online pornography. 

Though Icelandic officials believe porn viewership should be heavily restricted, free speech activists in Iceland claim otherwise, drawing comparisons to North Korea, Iran, and China. Granted, this harsh comparison is grounded in fact: the technology used by Iceland to restrict access to online pornography would require automatic serveillance of all telecommunications, which is the same method used by totalitarian regimes. 

There is also the issue of personal liberties and the role of the federal government in regulating the public’s sense of morals. Arguably, restricting the public's access to information online in the effort to alter or mold their views is censorship that represses personal freedoms. Pornography varies in its content, and the theoretically ideal democracy would enable individuals to watch pornography according to their personal preferences or to refrain from watching pornography at all. 

In 2016, 20 nations wrote to former Icelandic prime minister Ogmundur Jonasson urging him to revoke the ban on pornography. In the letter, parallels were drawn between the ban on porn and prohibition in 1920s America: the letter warned that blocking pornographic content online may create demand for an unregulated underground porn industry that is affiliated with other illegal activities.

Iceland’s controversial ban on pornography is opposed by free speech activists. 

In response to the letter, the Icelandic government offered a crucial clarification of its porn ban: it was not a universal ban on all porn. According to Halla Gunnarsdottir, advisor to the interior minister, the goal of the ban was to restrict access to solely violent pornography. Violent pornography has been proven to have lasting damaging effects on adolescents, who are indirectly taught to normalize violent sexual behavior towads women. Watchers of violent pornography, especially male viewers, may later mimic the violent acts they have watched. This indirectly perpetuates rape culture, as men are shown that abusing women sexually is acceptable. 

The government’s plan to amend the legal definition of pornography to differentiate between typical sex and degrading material is an attempt at promoting a more feminist culture that respects women sexually. 

In fact, this is not the first piece of feminist legislation that Iceland’s liberal government has passed. In 2010, the parliament passed legislation requiring a gender quota for all company boards that included more than 50 employees. The same legislation banned companies from profiting from the nudity of workers. These laws were passed not to restrict female independence, but to prohibit external parties from profiting off of the sexualization of women’s bodies. One year later, the government went further by permitting authorities to remove domestic abusers from their homes and implementing gender budgeting in the national budget. 

Given its extensive history of feminist legislation, it makes sense that the Icelandic government believed banning violent pornography would promote a national pro-women culture. Straight women who have male partners that watch violent pornography are more likely to self-objectify, body-shame, and and be coerced into unsafe sexual acts. Regarding men, watching pornogrpahy lowers male relationship satisfaction by promoting unrealistic standards for women’s bodies and sexual acts. Men who watch more violent pornography are also six times as likely to engage in sexually aggressive behaviors, sexually harass women, and desire degrading sexual practices, such as gagging and choking. 

Disturbingly, an alaysis of top-selling and top-renting pronography titles found that 88% of scenes display aggression. This means that intrinsic to the porn industry is a sense of violence towards women; in which case, a theoretical universal ban on porn would likely have very tangible effects on sexual assault rates and feminist culture. 

However, there is the issue of the practicality of such a ban. Since pornography has such a strong presence in global culture, it would be virtually impossible to eliminate it. This is why Iceland’s ban has been, for all intents and purposes, ineffectual. 

One alternative is having more comprehensive sex education in schoools. Curriculums on pornography can teach youth to assess and respond to pornography’s influence critically. In fact, in a Dutch study, the more a young person had learned about the use of pornography from their school sex education, the less likely they were to see women as sex objects. 

Another alternative is creating more ethical pornography in terms of production, use, distribution, and content. Participants should consent to their involvement, consent to its viewing, and consent to its distribution. Porn industries must also be held accountable for eroticizing sexist hostility and degradation. Instead, social norms should be reinvented to reinforce consent and intimacy. 

Above all, the porn industry should incorporate feminist ideology, as sexual freedom and pride is an integral part of women’s rights. 

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