Feminists fight porn in liberal Iceland

by Angela Lu Fulton
Posted 3/11/13, 10:04 am

The liberal country of Iceland is taking on the seemingly conservative task of banning pornography—both in print and online—to protect the country’s children. 

The new proposal is the result of a female-majority parliament that also banned strip clubs in 2010 and views these activities as a denigration of women. Opponents call the porn ban a move to censor the Internet. Supporters of Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson’s proposal say it is needed to protect children from harm. 

"When a 12-year-old types ‘porn' into Google, he or she is not going to find photos of naked women out on a country field, but very hardcore and brutal violence," said Halla Gunnarsdottir, political adviser to the interior minister.

Gunnarsdottir said the proposal won’t introduce new restrictions, since pornography has been banned in Iceland for decades. But since the term was never defined, the law was never enforced. The proposed ban would define pornography as material with violent or degrading content. 

But enforcement will be difficult. Gunnarsdottir said one possibility would be to make it illegal to pay for porn with Icelandic credit cards. Another would be to create a national Internet filter or a list of websites to be blocked.

That has Internet-freedom advocates alarmed. 

"This kind of thing does not work," said Smari McCarthy of free-speech group the International Modern Media Institute. "It is technically impossible to do in a way that has the intended effect. And it has negative side effects—everything from slowing down the Internet to blocking content that is not meant to be blocked to just generally opening up a whole can of worms regarding human rights issues, access to information and freedom of expression."

But countries often regulate the Internet for child pornography and other illegal material, and service providers in many countries block offending sites.

Feminist and anti-porn activist Gail Dines lauds the steps Iceland is taking to limit pornography. She applauded Iceland for being the first country with "the guts to stand up to these predatory bullies" in the Los Angeles-based porn industry: "It is going to take one country to show that this is possible."

Iceland is not the only female-lead country that has cracked down on the hyper-sexualization of society. In 1999, Sweden criminalized buying sex in—but not the women who sell sex—which resulted in a sharp decrease in prostitution. The law has been adopted in Norway and Iceland as well.

Lisa Thompson, the Salvation Army’s National Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking, said some veins of radical feminism resonate with Christian ideals. 

“They view all porn and prostitution as male misogyny, the mere existence of it is prima facie of women’s subjection to men,” Thompson said. “There’s no such thing as a good kind of prostitution or porn that isn’t degrading, God didn’t put any women on this earth for stripping, and that is something the church believes that puts us in parallel with radical feminism.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a reporter for WORLD Magazine who lives and works in Taiwan. She enjoys cooking, reading, and storytelling. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.

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