Category Archives: censorship

A Valentine for Gene Nichol

So maybe this isn’t your typical Valentine’s Day post. This is in reaction to the letter Gene Nichol addressed to the College of William and Mary community yesterday announcing his resignation as President of the college. It was a love letter, of the sort that comes at the end of a sudden and painful breakup. (Mimi alerted me to it. I found it published by the campus paper,, but it’s widely Google-able. Here is the transcript and audio of a passionate statement he gave to supporters. Video is available here.)Gene Nichol at a rally after his resignation

Nichol resigned after being informed that his contract would not be renewed. The nonrenewal seems to be largely because of controversy regarding four important decisions he made.

I really can’t speak to the quality of his presidency overall. I wish I could, though, because based on recent coverage of his decisions I have a feeling I’d have really supported him. His own statements indicate a love of free speech, open society, diversity, and opportunity that are at the heart of what we support here on Sex in the Public Square.

I’ve excerpted some passages from his Letter to the Community, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing. Here is a passage regarding one “free speech” decision, which was over the Sex Workers Art Show, a traveling exhibitwe’ve supported here in the Square (we wrote about the controversy here), and one “separation of church and state” decision which had to do with the location of a cross on public university property:

First, as is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular College events — both voluntary and mandatory — in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more.

Second, I have refused, now on two occasions, to ban from the campus a program funded by our student-fee-based, and student-governed, speaker series. To stop the production because I found it offensive, or unappealing, would have violated both the First Amendment and the traditions of openness and inquiry that sustain great universities. It would have been a knowing, intentional denial of the constitutional rights of our students. It is perhaps worth recalling that my very first act as president of the College was to swear on oath not to do so.

Then, not a sex or speech related decision, but one that is dear to me for different reasons:

Third, in my early months here, recognizing that we likely had fewer poor, or Pell eligible, students than any public university in America, and that our record was getting worse, I introduced an aggressive Gateway scholarship program for Virginians demonstrating the strongest financial need. Under its terms, resident students from families earning $40,000 a year or less have 100% of their need met, without loans. Gateway has increased our Pell eligible students by 20% in the past two years.

I teach at a community college. This was a choice of mine based on a feeling of commitment to low income students and to the notion that higher education should be accessible to everyone who wants it. Nichol’s work to make a prestigious liberal arts college accessible should be applauded. The fact that such a decision comes with institutional challenges is a given. I’m sure the college community was able to rise to those challenges.

Finally, in an ironic twist, Nichol tells us:

I add only that, on Sunday, the Board of Visitors offered both my wife and me substantial economic incentives if we would agree “not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds” or make any other statement about my departure without their approval. Some members may have intended this as a gesture of generosity to ease my transition. But the stipulation of censorship made it seem like something else entirely. We, of course, rejected the offer. It would have required that I make statements I believe to be untrue and that I believe most would find non-credible. I’ve said before that the values of the College are not for sale. Neither are ours.

Free speech. Paid speech. It really does make a difference.

Listen to Nichol’s statements to his supporters and you hear even more of his love.

I understand that love can lead us into dangerous places. People do terrible things, sometimes, in the name of love. Not having been at William and Mary I really can’t know what the day-to-day feel of the Nichol presidency was like. Was he like the abusive partner who sometimes does beautiful things just to keep you off your guard? I suppose that is possible, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, it seems to be the “beautiful things” that were the controversial ones; those things that had to do with free speech, diversity and opportunity, and a balance between church and state, those are what the fight was over.

At a time when intellectual freedom is being attacked all over the place — just check the Free Exchange On Campus blog if you don’t already know this — people like President Nichol are to be admired and supported for their willingness to defend that freedom.

In an age when college education is both increasingly necessary and increasingly unaffordable, his decisions about opportunity are to be admired.

And in a media climate where it can be impossible to tell the sponsor from the source, the fact that he didn’t take their money to spin the story their way makes me all the more impressed.

I <heart> sexual freedom.

I <heart> academic freedom.

I <heart> openness, diversity and opportunity.

And this Valentine’s Day I <heart> Gene Nichol.

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Sex In The Public Square

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Filed under censorship, community-building, culture, Education, News and politics, public discourse, sex work, Valentine's Day

Free Exchange on Campus blog supports W&M students over Sex Worker Art Show controversy

Another reason why I love the AFT!The AFT is my national union and I love it because it has organized faculty across the country and we’re stronger for it. I love it because it takes academic freedom so seriously. And now I love it because, in showing its support for academic freedom, it actually, on its Free Exchange On Campus blog wrote clearly in support of the effort by students at the College of William and Mary to bring the Sex Worker Art Show to their campus .Here are some of the most important bits the blog post written by Chris Goff, one of the amazing AFT Higher Ed staffers I met recently at a leadership conference:

First the good news – a forum organized by the College of William & Mary’s Women’s Studies department on the upcoming Sex Worker’s Art Show demonstrated the college community’s willingness to engage in a discussion – an at time impassioned discussion – about controversial issues. …

Also, kudos to the Student Assembly for following the letter and spirit of the law and their own governing processes in approving funding for the show. Rather than making a decision based on the content of the show (a decision that would have been unconstitutional), student government members made their funding choices based on a well-defined set of criteria that can be applied regardless of what a particular activity is going to offer. …

Finally, kudos to the student organizers who are bringing the SWAS to campus. The show does promise to be an engaging look at important issues through the lens of sexuality and the sex work industry, mixing performance and monologues to comment on issues of racism, exploitation, and greed. Sure, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither are abstract expressionism or Proust. …

Unfortunately, though not entirely unpredictably, he also tells us:

What has become abundantly clear is that the students who have organized the SWAS have – against their will – been drawn in to a political game in which they’ve been reduced to pawns to advance the agendas of others. The decision to allow the show on campus is being used to build a case against renewing the appointment of W&M President Gene Nichol, the build-up to which put the organizers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide to bring the show to campus or protect the College’s administrative leader.

Additionally, the organizers are being subjected to harassment by political leaders who have the means to further intimidate.

There is more. I encourage you to click here to read the whole post.Then, I ask that you write a note to the students organizing the show to offer your encouragement. The student groups sponsoring the show include Voices for Planned Parenthood – voxpp (at) wm (dot) edu – and Lamda Alliance (the LGBT and allies group on campus) – gaystu (at) wm (dot) edu. Tell them you applaud them for their courage in standing up for an important program despite a tremendous amount of opposition.Then drop a note to the college telling them you support their putting on the show. (One easy way to do that is to use this email form and select “W&M News” from the drop down menu of subject options.) Whatever you think about sex work, it is extremely important to support the freedom to explore controversial ideas on college campuses.Last, consider writing a letter to the editor of the The Daily Press , the local paper that’s been covering the controversy. You can also use the “reader feedback” link if you want to send them a less formal comment. Tell them you are proud of W&M for taking on controversial issues and exploring them in innovative ways.If we stop students from exploring controversial ideas on college campuses we are headed down a very dangerous path. Perversely, the ones who would lead us down that path are the very ones who put forward legislation with names like ‘Academic bill of rights’ and ‘Intellectual Diversity In Higher Education Act’.All the more evidence for the urgent need to teach students critical thinking skills! The Sex Worker Art Show is scheduled to be at College of William and Mary on February 4.This post is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.Org — kind of like here, only bigger and better. Come join us!


Filed under censorship, public discourse, sex work

Verizon to customers: NARAL 2 CNTRVRSL 4 U

The New York Times reports this morning that Verizon has rejected a proposal by Naral Pro-Choice America to use its network for sending text messages to people who sign up for them. Other cell phone networks have accepted the proposal which allows subscribers to sign up to receive text message updates from NARAL.

According to a communication with Verizon that NARAL gave to the times, the company’s policy is to reject proposals from groups that “promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its [Verizon’s] discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”

There are at least three very troubling pieces of this rationale.One is that a communications company should be allowed to censor the legal content that is transmitted over its network in the first place. This would seem to erode the “common carrier” rule and tremendously limit free speech. Cell phones now are as important to political activity, community organizing, and ordinary everyday life as landlines and the US mail have been in the past and we would never accept such a limitation from either of them. Can you imagine if Verizon’s landline division made a ruling saying that NARAL could not phone anybody who uses a Verizon phone service? Why should text messages be any different? (Sunburnt Kamal, I think we really need your “on the Internet there are no sidewalks” essay! Can you include cell networks too?)

Beyond that, even if Verizon’s policy is legal, applying it in this way is illogical. The messages sent by NARAL would only be sent to people who requested them by texting a 5 digit code specfically subscribing them to the updates. These are people who, by definition, would not find the messages controversial or “unsavory.”
Last, until I’ve had more coffee and thought a bit more about this, it would seem that just about anything could be “seen as controversial” by some user or anyother and Verizon’s policy is written to reject any program that might be seen as controversial to any of their users. To really be consistent then, they should accept no text message advocacy programs at all. Presidential candidates use these programs and have not, apparently been rejected by Verizon and yet presidential politics is by its nature controversial. Even the Repblican National Committee has such a program.

Jeffrey Nelson is Verizon’s media contact for Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs and he’s is quoted in the Times article indicating that Verizon might be considering a change in its policy:

“As text messaging and multimedia services become more and more mainstream,” he said, “we are continuing to review our content standards.” The review will be made, he said, “with an eye toward making more information available across ideological and political views.”

Want to let him know that you don’t think that a communications company ought to be restricting the kinds of information its customers can access? His phone and email info are on this Verizon Wireless Media Contacts page but in case you don’t want to go look him up yourself, his email is jeffrey.nelson (at) verizonwireless (dot) com and his phone number is 908-559-7519.

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Filed under abortion, activism, censorship, civil rights, Education, feminism, New York Times, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, technology

Meanwhile in The New Yorker

This week’s New Yorker contains a cartoon showing a man looking at Internet porn as a way of celebrating the online filing of his income taxes. The drawing includes a computer monitor with a naked woman on all fours looking behind her as if for the partner who is standing just off the screen. It’s a pretty explicit drawing, and the caption makes it as clear as it needs to be. And this is not exceptionally racy for The New Yorker, in that naked women, and couples in bed seem to be staples of New Yorker cartoonists, but it is interesting that this one actually depicts pornography itself. And I think it raises some interesting questions.

When it comes to all things sexual-thus-potentially-dangerous-to-unsuspecting-readers-or-children, is it the things in themselves that are presumed to the be danger, or is it the representations of the things? In other words, is it the woman having sex for money and an audience, or is it the representation of the woman having sex for money and an audience that is understood to be the danger?

Because if it is the thing itself, then one would imagine that any representation that does not condemn the dangerous thing, or warn against it, would be equally harmful.

And if it is the representation that we claim is harmful, how important is the context to deciding whether or not harm is likely? For example, if the New Yorker cartoon was not in The New Yorker but was instead in Playboy, would it be seen as more harmful for being located in a context that is more overtly sexual? (I can’t tell you how many cartoons in The New Yorker include naked people, especially women, and especially showing their nipples, these days.) Does being in The New Yorker make the cartoon safer, or does the cartoon make The New Yorker potentially more dangerous? Certainly The New Yorker hangs out in many doctors office waiting rooms and other places where children could accidentally see the cartoon. And then, too, there it is right online, where any unsuspecting child could happen upon it.

I don’t raise this because I want to see The New Yorker begin to censor its cartoonists. Far from it! I want to see less censorship around all things sexual. I raise it only to point out that when it comes to portraying sex in the mainstream media — or media in general — there is a system of privilege. And as with so many systems of privilege, I think this one needs to be examined and, perhaps, dismantled.

I wonder what the Terms of Service of The New Yorker’s ISP say about nudity and sexually explicit content!

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Filed under Art, censorship, culture, feminism, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and the media

You have the right to speak freely (in an increasingly limited number of spaces)

Whose Terms of Service control your access to the increasingly private “public spaces” where you express yourself?

Chris Hall of Literate Perversions recently made a very cogent comment on my post, “My Way or the Highway’s Way.” He was pointing out how much of the limiting of “acceptable use” of public spaces involves a shift from citizen to consumer as the model for the individual. When we think of ourselves as citizens, we are thinking of ourselves as members of a community and as having collective rights, responsibilities and needs that we must act together in order to protect. When we think of ourselves as consumers — or when governments and corporations frame us as consumers — suddenly our rights, responsibilities and needs are framed in individual terms. “I” need something, “I” don’t want to pay for something, “I” am offended and don’t think certain messages should be transmitted. I come first (or my family comes first) and I am not so encouraged to think of myself and my family as part of an extended network of people whose needs all need to be negotiated somehow.

That got me thinking about how much our “public” spaces have been privatized. The New York State Thruway’s rest areas are not really public spaces in the traditional sense. Really they are a collection of private businesses that team up to provide a public service. The mall has become the new town square. And no, I don’t mean “mall” in the sense of “wide avenue or grassy space where people walk, gather and discuss the events of the day.” I mean “neon lit enclosed commercial space where people walk, gather and discuss the issues of the day so long as they don’t offend the owners of the space.”

And then I started thinking about the Internet and got very optimistic and then very depressed. The Internet and the World Wide Web, are incredible tools for creating powerful, decentralized, democratic spaces where free exchange of ideas is managed across nations and continents, not just across towns and neighborhoods. But who controls our access to the Internet so that we can make our spaces on the World Wide Web available to others? It was in answering that question that I got depressed.

For me, the first “who” is Verizon and when I looked at their Terms of Service I was very disappointed. (To spare my regular readers I will not revisit my TOS discussion in this post.) Verizon, the vehicle I use to connect to the internet, not only prohibits my using their service for illegal purposes like, say downloading or distributing child pornography, but also prohibits using their service in a way that is “sexually explicit, or graphic in nature.” They can immediately terminate my service at their sole discretion if I am found to be in violation of their policies. There are things I like about Verizon. For one, many of its workers belong to unions. But I looked at their terms of service and realized that I could be regularly in violation of it and that they could, should they choose, terminate my access to the Internet.

That’s my ISP. But let’s say I find an ISP that won’t consider what I do to be a violation of their Terms of Service. I still need a place to host a web site. Powweb, a hosting company recommended to me by a friend who has used them for years, prohibits material that would commonly be considered indecent, or would appeal to the prurient interest, and would also prevent me from linking to sites that do those things. Open Source Host, another company recommended to me by a friend who has been happy with their service for a long time also prohibits “sex-related links” including sites that “infer sexual content.” Not only could I not post such content myself, but I could not even link to it. And again, the company will be the sole arbiter of what counts as “sex-related.” I did find some hosting services that did not expressly prohibit sexually explicit content. AN Hosting and DreamHost, both recommended by, only prohibited sexual content that was illegal — i.e., child pornography. Another open source host, Laughing Squid, actually took the time to distinguish between “erotic photography” sites and “porn membership” sites, and explained that they don’t host the latter because of traffic issues. But the breadth of the prohibitions made by companies like Verizon, Powweb and OpenSource was startling. And there were others. Yahoo! Hosting prohibits material that “(ii) is threatening, obscene, indecent, defamatory, or that otherwise could adversely affect any individual, group, or entity (collectively, ‘Persons’)” and later excludes material that is vulgar or obscene. BlueHost, a company recommended by prohibits “pornography, nudity, sexual products, programs or services. Escort services are not allowed or other content deemed adult related.” All policies make it clear that the company itself is the “sole arbiter” of what violates its policies. (And of course these sites all separately prohibit expressly illegal behavior.)

Is this insane? No nudity? Nothing that could “adversely affect any individual”? And with these companies being the sole arbiters of what might be harmful, enforcing their policies at their “sole discretion”? How many of us are in regular violation of the terms of service of the major corporations — or small businesses — that control our access to this otherwise democratic world wide web?

I am convinced that, sexually speaking, we are about as schizophrenic as we can be. Yesterday I talked with my sister in Atlanta who told me that when she got up in the morning morning and turned on the television the news was reporting the story of a veterinarian in Japan who had had his arm bitten off by a crocodile (the event happened on April 11th). This was on a mainstream media channel on a large screen television. They showed the crocodile with the man’s arm in its mouth. Before breakfast. This is not going to be disturbing to children? The same channel also showed graphic coverage of the man who jumped from the Empire State Building yesterday. Not disturbing for children? But let a glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple escape onto the airwaves again — a nipple being something that lots of children are intimately familiar with and probably have happy memories of — and no doubt we will have another cultural panic about how disturbing that must be for kids. Severed limbs, okay. Healthy bodies, not so much.

Is there a cure for a schizophrenic society? I think there is, and I think we are part of it. We need to be inserting sensible, playful, compassionate, honest, difficult, and open discussions of sexuality (and bodies) into absolutely every cultural venue we can manage.

Of course in order to do that we may need to violate the policies of the companies that control our access to those “public” spaces.

Extra credit: Who controls your access to free expression online? Read the Terms of Service documents for the companies that control your Internet access or hosting. If you find that they are sensible and don’t exclude legal expression, drop a note in the Comments section below. I’d love to compile a list!


Filed under activism, censorship, culture, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and the media

My Way or the Highway’s Way?

I still haven’t received a reply from the New York State Thruway Authority to my e-mail about their filtering software and its settings. I thought I’d look for a customer service phone number, but the two on the Thruway Authority’s WiFi brochure are automated lines for technical assistance. I’ll go through their web site soon and find a real-person phone number. I’ll also resend the email.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking: highways are like public utilities. They are infrastructure supported by government money because without them the economy would wither. They are “public goods” because we all get to use them regardless how much we contribute to their upkeep. (Another blogger can discuss highways as “public bads” given that they encourage too much driving and discourage funding for rail and other public transit.)

Would you allow the electric company or the phone company to tell you what you could use their services for? While its true that many “public utilities” are privatizing, we still expect them to behave like protectors of public goods and back when there was only one local electricity provider we’d never have put up with their telling us what appliances we could buy, or what television stations we could watch. Likewise with phone companies. They don’t tell us who we can call, only what it will cost to do so. The Thruway Authority is offering a public good by providing WiFi access at its rest areas, and it should not be restricting the use of that access, even if their motivation is to “protect children.” I wonder what their rationale is. Perhaps they are acting preemptively, imagining that they will face the same kinds of challenges that public libraries have faced.

Libraries have already been around and around on this issue, and generally speaking, have lost. The Child Internet Protection Act requires public libraries that receive federal subsidies to install filters on their Internet access so that kids don’t accidentally come across pornography. Of course these filters also block a lot of mainstream informational web sites. But in any case, the US Supreme Court found CIPA constitutional and it remains the law. (Libertine reports in the comments on the previous post that his public library has never blocked access to his blogs, one of which is sexually explicit. Perhaps they have a better filter! Or perhaps they don’t receive federal funding?)

I would argue that the Thruway is more like a utility than like a library. And even if someone wanted to argue that the Thruway might be like a utility but that the rest areas are like libraries (libraries filled with McDonalds and Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts), I would point out that you can only even get to a rest area if you have a legal driver, and that person would have to be at least 16, and so nearly an adult (age-wise, anyway). Any young children would very likely be with their parents who could certainly make decisions about their Internet usage (and would probably be providing the machines).

Another issue raised by this policy is the differential treatment of print and electronic media. This is one focus of Susie Bright’s post from a few weeks ago, and also a comment made by Alex on my previous post. The Thruway doesn’t tell you what you can read, by way of magazines, in their public spaces. You could sit with your Big Mac and a Penthouse and presumably nobody from the Thruway Authority would throw you out. “Ah, but they’re not selling Penthouse in the little convenience store,” you say? Well they’re not selling the WiFi access or directing you to any specific sites, either. They’re simply providing the connectivity. Why do they care what you look at? It isn’t as if you are displaying it for all to see (and even if somebody caught a glimpse, how is that different from catching a glimpse of a dirty magazine?

All this filtering is said to be a way to protect children. But do parents really want the government deciding what is appropriate for their own individual kids? Wouldn’t parents typically want to decide that for themselves? Again, we’re not talking about what is being displayed on the ubiquitous rest area TVs. We’re just talking about what you, on your own portable wireless device, might browse while drinking your coffee.

I’m thinking that the New York State Thruway Authority is just trying to play it safe. They’re probably worried, given the case of public libraries, that Congress will require state thruway authorities to install filtering software at rest areas in order to be eligible for Federal highway dollars.

This false and unnecessary “safety” irritates me, as I’ve written many times before, and it certainly points to a continued need for people to speak out against censorship, and in favor of sexually explicit material, and to advocate for reasonable policies around public access to the Internet, which is not a trivial thing. The US Supreme Court, explained the value of public Internet access in libraries by noting that they provide “a vast democratic forum, open to any member of the public to speak on subjects as diverse as human thought.”

Meanwhile, in New York, the next time you see a “Your Highway Dollars At Work” sign, you’ll know that at least some of those dollars are used to ineffectively limit access to that diverse range of human thought.


Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sexuality and age

This Blog “Not Safe for Thruway”

The New York State Thruway has put wireless Internet access into all their rest areas. This came in handy recently when my partner and I had to go back to his childhood home to be with his family as his father was dying. There was — until just a few days ago — no Internet access at his parents’ home, and so we went in search of WiFi spots when we could.

The Thruway WiFi was very useful when, on our drive up to his family’s home, we were called and asked to send an e-mail to family in the Netherlands with the day’s update on his father’s condition. It was useful when we were on our way to pick up one of Will’s nephews from the airport in Rochester and, while stopped at a rest area for a cup of coffee, we got a call saying his flight had been delayed. We stayed at the rest area for a while checking email, and checking blogs. And that’s when I discovered that this blog is “NSFT” (Not Safe for the Thruway). I was happily clicking through email messages and found some comments in need of moderation. When I clicked on the link to the comment moderation page, I got the following message:

“This site has been blocked due to content.”

I tried again. After all, the content on this blog is not obscene. Sure, the words “sex” and “public” are in the title, but it contains no very explicit material. Again I saw:

“This site has been blocked due to content.”

I was baffled. I tried some sites that I know are much more explicit (note: if explicit writing or naked pictures bother you, don’t follow these links). I tried Chelsea Girl’s Pretty Dumb Things, one of my favorite sites for smart explicit writing about sex. Her current post was about having anal sex with her boyfriend. (This is something she writes about with some frequency, great style, explicit detail, and much intensity.)

I tried Deviant Delyte’s DeviantsLair for photos that outraged a small but vocal number of community members in her small Oklahoma town, and ultimately resulted in her husband (the chief of police) and other town officials resigning their positions.

Hoping to find out more about the filtering software I picked up the Thruway Authority’s brochure promoting their WiFi service. Not much help. All it said was:

“The Authority reserves the right to filter content that may be inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza.”

Could the content on Sex in the Public Square be more “inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza” than the content on DeviantsLair or Pretty Dumb Things? I can’t imagine so. I’m sure this is the result of filtering software that casts a very wide net with very large holes. It apparently filters key words in site names and URLs rather than screening the words on the page.

Let me put aside for a moment my perennial complaint that fast food — ubiquitous at (Thruway) Travel Plazas — is more harmful to the general public than is sexually explicit material. We can debate what is or is not “inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza,” and we can debate whether or not public utilities ought to be filtering at all, but I cannot dispute that I agreed to the filtering when I accepted the terms of service. Still, if they’re asserting this as a “right,” I’d say they are not exercising their right very effectively.

In any case, we moved on. I found that I had unfettered access to my blog at the local Subway sub shop. I am not a fast-food fan, as you might have guessed by my statement above, but they had free WiFi and, better yet, did not filter sites. I was able to check in on my blog, and was happy to see a new comment or two and saddened that I did not have time to write any new posts.

Another place that had wireless access was the Valvoline Instant Oil Change spot we dropped in to on our way to the hospital one morning. (If you are getting a sense by now that I am rather dependent on my Internet connectivity, you are perceiving the situation accurately!) I checked my email (all four accounts!) and then tried to check my blog. No luck! Turns out the VIOC used a filtering software and this blog was blocked as “Pornography.” I hope their oil filters are more effective than their web content filters. There is nothing pornographic on this blog, though it has the words “sex” and “public” in the title and in the URL. Interestingly, just as at the (Thruway) Travel Plaza, I checked a few erotica blogs I read and none were blocked.

I’m especially interested in this because I have in the past recommended parental controls on web browsers as a way of helping parents keep their children from seeing material that they — the parents — don’t want them — the children — to see. I’ve known, abstractly, that these “parental controls” and filters have weaknesses, but I hadn’t realized quite how weak they could be.

I’m very interested in your stories about using such filters or blocks or parental controls. Have you found them useful? Have you found that they screen out too much? Please tell me about your experiences in the comments section below.

Oh, and by the way, I sent an email to the Thruway’s customer service department asking about their filtering software and its settings. I’ll let you know what I find out!


Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, public discourse, sex, Travel

Susie Bright Brings Sense to the “Not Safe For Work” Pink Ghetto Bizarreness that is our culture

I have never once made a post that is really nothing more than a pointer to another blogger’s post, but this one, by Susie Bright, is so relevant to the discussions we’ve been having here, and is so well done, that I am simply tipping my hat to her and asking that you go read her piece and then come back here and discuss it with me.

It makes me wonder why we, at, are even discussing the issue of “mature” tagging when publications like The New Yorker or the New York Times publish sexually explicit material regularly without being labeled “mature” or “not safe for work.”

It makes me wonder why we are so ready to accept self-censorship and self-ghettoization.

It makes me wonder where my head was when I suggested that we should ask for a separate set “adult” tag pages.

Read her piece. Now. It’s long, so if you’re short on time read the first half (though I bet once you start you won’t stop).


Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, sex, sex and the law, sexuality

Segregating Sex

“As long as we equate sex with dirt, weakness, and guilt, a powerful weapon exists for demagogues who not only flatter supporters that they are disciplining their own erotic instincts correctly, but also advertise the values they profess as essential to living a good life.” – Jay Gertzman, “There has been no sexual revolution,” p. 315 in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong, The Disinformation Company, 2006

I’m still thinking about the discussions we’ve been having about what is “mature” and about what people should be protected from stumbling across accidentally. There is no question that most of the “what” here is sex, or sexually explicit, or erotic material. That made me think back to the Jay Gertzman quote, above.

By making sexually explicit or erotic material the stuff from which we protect people – or to be more clear, the stuff we segregate into a separate space so that people don’t come across it accidentally, we continue to link sex with “dirt, weakness and guilt,” which Gertzman warns us against. We could add all kinds of things to the list of “dirt, weakness and guilt.” We could add “shame,” “secrecy,” “fear,” “embarrassment,” and perhaps other things as well, but “dirt, weakness and guilt,” seem to form the foundation for all those other things.

Of course there are people who don’t want to come across sexual material. But why should we cater uniquely to those people and not, say, to people who would rather not accidentally come across movie reviews, or blogs about gaming, or blogs about gambling, or blogs about politics? Why segregate sex?

It is true that the values of our dominant culture in the US assume sex to be something reserved for private spaces, something that is supposed to be shared only between partners in long term loving committed relationships. But our own dominant culture is riddled with examples of where that is not the case. One only need to look at advertising to see that. Yet that is really just an aside.

It is true that our dominant culture values assert that sex should be private. But that, as Gertzman claims, supports a dangerous ideology, so why should the public sphere of ideas be governed by that? Isn’t the public square or the public sphere the place where we are supposed to have the most open exchange of ideas, where we test ourselves and our worldviews against others and where we persuade others to change their minds, or where we change our own minds in the face of persuasive arguments?

Separating sexually explicit material out from the rest makes it seem equated with “danger,” “dirt,” “guilt,” and “shame,” and contributes to its usefulness as a weapon – a weapon that is useful for instilling fear into anyone who wants to be ‘respected’ by neighbors, co-workers, families, or bosses, and who has ideas that deviate from the dominant sexual script. For that matter, it is a tool that is useful for cowing anyone, because it becomes a source for accusations that are nearly impossible to refute. Remember how sex was used to keep blacks down? Whites just had to assert that black male sexuality was dangerous to white women. No proof necessary.

As long as sex is segregated from all other kinds of material, we will continue to let it be a tool for exploitation, oppression, discrimination, fear, and hate. The danger of sex is not in sex itself, but in the hiding of sex and the shaming of sex.


Filed under censorship, community-building, Homophobia, life, Personal Reflections, public discourse, sex, sexuality

Breast Cancer Society of Canada to Exotic Dancers’ Group: Your breasts might scare away our donors

Thanks to my friend Tom J. for sending me this article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The CBC reports that a group of sex workers, strippers to be specific, have a fundraising organization — Exotic Dancers for Cancer — that holds an annual fundraising event in memory of a friend and coworker who died of cancer. The money they raise is donated to cancer research, and to people fighting the disease.

So far it sounds good. But this year their offer of a donation was rejected by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC). According to the CBC article, the BCSC’s “other major donors” balked at any connection with sex workers, and so the BCSC turned down the strippers’ donation. (Last year they raised $6,000, half of which went to the BCSC, so we’re not talking a tiny donation, and we’re not talking an unprecedented action.)

The Vancouver Courier reports the rejection this way:

In a letter to Ricketts [an organizer of EDC], the society’s executive director Rany Xanthopoulo, wrote: “Unfortunately we will have to decline your kind offer as we have certain major donors that are not in favour of this connection. This decision came as a result of donor disgruntlement and together with the board of directors we have decided not to accept any donations from what donors consider controversial sources.”

How terrible to give up serious money because of the stigma attached to the work done by the donors. And it’s legal work! These aren’t people donating money gained by criminal activity. They’re workers — in fact workers who lost a colleague to the very disease for which the fundraising is being done to combat — and yet because their jobs are stigmatized, their money is not accepted.

In this case, because we’re talking both about breast cancer research and about exotic dancing, the sex stigma seems particularly problematic. Sex workers are workers for whom bodies are incredibly important. Certainly breasts are among the physical features people come to strip clubs to see. And yet, the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, this year, won’t accept a donation from exotic dancers who are donating as exotic dancers. It’s like saying that breasts can be publicized for some reasons and not for others, or that they should be hidden except when they are sick and need attention.

I understand that a foundation like BCSC has as its mision to raise as much money as it can for its cause. It does that most effectively by enticing large donors, and if those donors are inhibited by their fear of being associated with exotic dancers, that might get in the way of BCSC’s ability to raise large donations. This is one reason stigma is so hard to combat.

But that raises another issue: Given how many large corporations sell products by eroticizing women’s bodies, isn’t it likely that some of the “major donors” are such corporations (or their highly placed executives)? It would be sadly ironic (and evidence of the problems of concentrated corporate power) if, in order to avoid upsetting a corporate donor that uses women’s bodies in its advertising, the BCSC had refused a donation from a group of women who used their bodies in the course of earning a living.

Exotic dancers are stereotyped in the dominant culture in ways that support their continued stigmatization. The stereotypes depict strippers as drug-addicted, dysfunctional, self-involved, shallow, unintelligent. Exotic Dancers for Cancer is a group of women whose actions undermine those stereotypes. But the stigma is so strong as to potentially render their actions invisible. This is another reason stigma is so hard to combat.

They are still looking for a cancer-related organization to accept their donation. I can’t find contact information for Exotic Dancers for Cancer, but Trina Ricketts, one of the organizers, is also a sex-worker advocate who helped found the Surrey Girlz drop in center and I suspect you could contact her there.


Filed under activism, censorship, culture, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sex work, sexuality