Here’s Why the UK Porn Block will not Protect Children

People in the UK will soon have to prove their age to watch porn online. The new legislation, which was due to be implemented in July but has recently been delayed, will require all adult internet users to prove they are over 18 in order to watch porn.

The UK will be the first country in the world to bring in this kind of age-verification system. To confirm their age, users will have to upload official identity documents such as a passport, credit card or driving license.

The government claims the change in the law will protect children from being harmed by “unsuitable content.” According to Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James: “adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online.” Internet Matters CEO Carolyn Bunting adds, “children seeing content they’re not emotionally ready for can be very damaging.”

I agree that there’s a need to restrict some forms of pornographic content, but here’s why I think the UK porn block is a bad idea:

1. It shames sex

Any ban induces stigmatisation. Even if the purpose is to protect children from misrepresented forms of sex, the main message conveyed is that sex is wrong. As a result, if a young person has illegally consumed porn or has natural curiosity around their sexuality, they will be much less likely to reach out for support for fear of being punished or shamed.

There are many, many issues with the mainstream porn industry – from workers’ conditions to misogynistic and violent depictions of sex. The concept of sexual content itself isn’t the problem, however. The porn ban lumps all sexual content together, stigmatising everything sex-related. If the aim is to avoid emotional damage from unethical forms of porn, such as hardcore or violent porn, we need to single out those types of content.

2. Sex education is still very poor

Porn displays a distorted image of sexual encounters. At the same time, it’s often the only source of young people’s sex education. The lack of an all-embracing sex education programme, along with taboos around sexuality, lead young people to ease their natural curiosities online. Teens learning about sex from porn is alarming, but banning it won’t improve the situation. Instead, we need to focus on providing quality comprehensive sex education (CSE) for all young people.

Education on sex and digital literacy is an urgent need. Children should learn that porn is fiction – an entertainment film genre – just as they learn that actors don’t actually die when an on-screen character is killed. There’s an imperative need for a comprehensive, sex-positive, and inclusive sex education curriculum that takes over porn as the main source of sex knowledge for youth.

3. Elsewhere, porn still exists

In today’s digital culture, everyone who’s halfway tech-savvy will know how to ditch the age verification system. Examples are potentially dangerous and illegal activities like fake IDs or the dark web. There are also simpler and legal ways to avoid the age verification, such as VPN services. These mask browsing locations, making it look like viewers are in other countries – ones without verification systems.

Ironically, the new ban on porn doesn’t restrict social media platforms such as Reddit or Twitter. This will, inevitably, result in increased traffic of porn on social media, where most young people spend vast amounts of their time. The new law won’t apply to pop-up ads either, proving just how flawed it is.

4. It’s a privacy breach 

Watching porn isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an embarrassing or shameful activity. Porn viewers should be able to enjoy online privacy as other internet users do.

Asking people to provide their real identity details will automatically create a massive database of porn users and their tastes. Despite the government’s claims of security, a data leak of these records would have tremendous and humiliating consequences.

The need to protect children and young people from misogynistic and harmful sexual imagery is obvious. But introducing an age block? I don’t think it’s the solution.

Rather than imposing a block without explaining why porn is deceitful, efforts should be put into creating a safe environment for teenagers and adults alike to have open and honest dialogues. Talking about sex and pleasure can ensure healthy and happy sexual lives, away from porn’s misteachings.

It’s Time to Confront Sexism in Medicine

I was told often at school that I was “very good at maths…for a girl.”

It’s been a long time since then. I believe that gender stereotypes in science and maths are a little less rife today. We cannot afford to become complacent though, as unconscious biases still exist.

Now, in my work as a doctor, antiquated comments crop up regularly.  Patients will mistake female doctors, residents and students for nurses. This happens regardless of how a female doctor introduces herself. The idea that a woman could only possibly be a nurse is clear evidence of the sexism that pervades society.

In spite of the steadily increasing proportion of women in medicine, the culture of medicine has not caught up. It’s well-documented that women are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions, such as full professors and department heads.

Stereotyping also exists within specialty programs. Many assume that the nature of the work demands detachment from emotions and an ability to withstand long hours and grueling procedures. To be tough, resilient and to soldier on have traditionally been thought of as male traits.

Even though the number of women taking up surgery has significantly risen in recent years, surgery is still very much a male-dominated field.

Sexism in medicine is deeply ingrained.

It is difficult for most young doctors to gain visibility and recognition. The situation is even more complex if you’re a young woman. Misogynist jokes and remarks about physical appearance or potential are obstacles that many have to deal with.

One challenge I have frequently faced is assumed incompetence. As a woman, I have had to fight for people to take me seriously. I hear doubts like ‘Can she provide medical care or take critical decisions when required?’ Often, a patient asks to see ‘the real doctor’. Translation? The male doctor.

There is no easy fix. On one side, you should not let any of the gender stereotypes thrown at you affect you. But neither can you ignore the bias.

The #MeToo movement has shined a light on the many places in our society where insidious or obvious sexism have long gone unremarked.

Medicine is no exception. There have been moments when I have been interrupted by an irrelevant comment and I have had to listen to sexist jokes. I have had to work hard to be heard and recognized. I’ve had to go the extra mile to earn the trust of patients, and even to identify with the scientific community.

I am learning that the most important thing is never to lose confidence. I try to stay focused on what’s important: doing great medicine.

What the medical profession needs is a drastic culture shift.

Sexist comments and inappropriate behavior in the medical field are evidence of a much larger problem. They show the insidious misogyny in our culture.

Doctors do not exist in a bubble. We are, to a large extent, products of our society. This includes people who make sexist jokes or commit sexual harassment. It also includes people who laugh along or accept sexism as normal. A shift this great requires courage and concerted efforts.

As one of the underrepresented populations in STEM, I believe I am making a difference simply by existing. I believe that it is really important to #balanceforbetter. We must put forward diverse, inclusive visions of the kind of future we would like medicine to create.

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Nia Wilson: Say Her Name

On Sunday 22 July, an 18-year-old woman was fatally stabbed on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station platform in Oakland, California.

Her name was Nia Wilson. 

The following day, John Cowell (27) was arrested for the attack, which killed Nia and seriously wounded her sister, Latifah. He has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Credit: Nichelle Stephens

In the days since, thousands of people have gathered to mourn Nia’s death and honour her life, and tens of thousands of social media posts tagged #NiaWilson, #JusticeForNia and #SayHerName have swept the internet.

Although the BART Police Chief has reportedly said that there is currently no evidence to suggest that Cowell is part of any terrorist or white supremacist group, Nia’s murder – along with the subsequent police and media response – have reignited national and international debates on race.

Celebrities, artists and all those horrified by the brutal, unprovoked murder of a young woman have been speaking out against the racism, white supremacy and misogyny that – as writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted“is so deeply embedded within our culture that we marinate in it at every level.”

In the past, when #SayHerName has been used to shine a light on murders of black women, I am ashamed to say that I have stayed silent. I’ve worried that it was not my time to speak, not my space to occupy – worried that I’d say the wrong thing. But I see now that those worries are privileges in themselves, and that the choice to remain silent is one that many women do not share with me when violence and fear remain threads woven tightly through the fabric of their daily lives.

As a white young woman, I cannot call myself a feminist if I don’t express the sorrow and disgust I feel about what happened to Nia with the same outrage, and at the same volume, as I would if a white 18-year-old was murdered where I live. Feminism that is not intersectional is irrelevant, and in this instance, silence is compliance.

What can I do? What can you do?

Firstly, you can donate to the Wilson family’s ‘Justice for Nia’ page. Then…

– Ask yourself what you are doing to disrupt systemic racism, answer honestly.

– Challenge yourself to acknowledge the ways you have personally benefited, and will continue to benefit in the future, from that racism.

– Think about how, as a white person, you can use your words and actions and networks and finances to help make the world a safer place for black people.

– Call out people around you who demonstrate hateful or oppressive behaviour. Stop ignoring racist comments or laughing at racist jokes.

– Read and learn and be willing to change. Listen to people when they tell you about their experiences, while remembering that asking black people to explain racism, or for guidance on how you can help, is asking those already doing the majority of the emotional work to dismantle white supremacy to work even harder and carry an even heavier burden. Do your own work, challenge yourself and those around you.

– Notice when the media uses language to vilify black people, or to excuse white people.

– Educate yourself on the intricacies of white supremacy. Admit to yourself if you find it uncomfortable and difficult then carry on anyway.

– Remember that good intentions are not enough.

We have to do better. We have to stand with black women. Please share any other suggestions you have! None of us are free until all of us are free. 

Nia was 18. She deserved a full and long and safe and joyful life. Say her name.

Misogyny Kills: One Week on from Toronto

Minutes before driving a rented van into a street of pedestrians and killing 10 people, 25-year-old Alek Minassian posted on his Facebook page: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

One week on from the attack, the term ‘incel’ remains all over news sites and social media. Short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, it refers to online groups of men who believe they are unable to experience sexual relationships because women unjustly deny them sex. Within such communities, frustration seems to manifest into a blanket hatred of women (Stacys) and attractive men (Chads).

Elliot Rodger, the “Supreme Gentleman” referenced in Minassian’s post, killed 6 people and injured 14 in an attack in California in 2014. The 22-year-old released a ‘manifesto’ and a ‘retribution’ video shortly before turning his gun on himself. Both the document and the video outline Rodger’s belief that he was a victim of attractive women who refused to have sex with him.

Alongside incels, other online groups making up the wider male supremacist landscape include the ‘men’s rights movement’ and the ‘pick up artist movement’. As Jessica Valenti explains it, men in these spheres share a belief in the idea that women “owe them sexual attention”. They also share a belief in the idea that male desire is an inevitable force that we can – as a society – attempt to manage as best we can, but must ultimately bow down to due to its sheer power and importance.

Misogyny is something we still feel very uncomfortable talking about because to acknowledge a problem of such scale requires us to acknowledge the huge amount of time and energy required to fix it. It’s far easier and quicker to say there are a few awful, disturbed men out there in sad online forums.

In fact, much of the response I’ve seen to recent coverage on ‘incel’ groups is pity. I understand this reaction, because to say you feel sorry for someone strips them of at least some of their power. It’s also easy to mock an easily-recognisable trope from film and television – the ‘eternal virgin’, the loser who can’t get the girl. But one week on from a mass-murder fuelled by sexist ideology, laughing at members of these groups for being pathetic, porn-addled saddos starts to sound empty. It’s well past time to face up to the consequences of these ‘pathetic’ ideologies.

Over the last week, calls for governments to monitor more closely the online corners where extreme violence lurks have grown louder. There have been previous attempts to do so – in 2017, Reddit banned an incel group with 40,000 members because it was advocating for rape as a solution to men’s ‘celibacy problems’. But we need to stop this kind of hateful, violent way of thinking long before it reaches Reddit.

To focus all the attention on internet groups suggests that misogyny is contained in extremism. Perhaps that’s a comforting way to look at it, because it allows us to believe that by tackling the existence of the groups we can tackle the existence of the ideology. But violent misogyny is not contained in extreme corners of internet forums. It’s everywhere.

It’s in the homes of the hundreds of women around the world who are subjected to domestic violence every day and it’s on the university campuses where female students are groped and assaulted by peers. It’s in courtrooms where rape victims’ clothing is examined and it’s in the language we use to talk about female sexuality. It’s in the lyrics of the songs on the radio, it’s in the tweets directed at women in positions of power and it’s in the Whatsapp groups of rugby players. It’s everywhere. We have to stop acting surprised when somebody is beaten, or raped, or killed as a result.

We have to agree that receiving regular death and rape threats on social media is not a condition of any single job in the world. We have to agree that online communities with tens of thousands of members coming up with strategies to rape as many women as possible are more than just gangs of weird losers who can’t get a date. We have to understand that such deep-rooted sexism damages men and boys and prevents them from living life as full human beings. We have to stop treating violence against women in any form, on any scale, as unfortunate and tragic yet ultimately inevitable.

What happened in Toronto last week was fuelled by misogyny. Until we can acknowledge and address the existence of the pervasive hatred of women that underpins this tragedy, it won’t be the last of its kind.