People demonstrating at an anti-porn protest, London, UK, 15th March 1979.
Image: Getty

Conservative college men at a handful of campuses across the country are calling for a ban on pornography. The campaign, launched by students at Notre Dame in October, has since spread to Harvard University, Princeton University and University of Pennsylvania, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Their goal, Nortre Dame senior Jim Martinson explained to the Daily Beast, is to ban porn from campus WiFi by installing filters similar to once recently implemented by Starbucks, McDonalds and Panera. It’s also fairly pointless, though, given that students can easily stream porn from their phones by using data or access porn via a private WiFi network. Martinson is the lead writer of a letter imploring the university to implement the ban. He told the Daily Beast in December that he’s since heard from at least 40 students who want to campaign for an anti-porn filter at their own campuses.

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While conservatives have been leading anti-porn movements for decades, Inside Higher Ed notes that unlike past anti-porn crusaders, who have claimed porn is immoral, college men are adopting the language of feminists, focusing on abuse against women. “Pornography is the new sex education, providing a disturbing script about what men find sexually appealing and what women should do to please them. Notre Dame’s sincere efforts to educate students about consent and other aspects of healthy sexuality are pitifully weak in light of the fact that by the time students arrive on campus, many have been addictively watching pornography for years,” Martinson wrote in his letter. “Porn is not acting. The overwhelming majority of contemporary pornography is literally filmed violence against women — violence somehow rendered invisible by the context.”

Research on the relationship of porn and violence against women is mixed: Increased viewing of pornography can contribute to negative attitudes towards women, but there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between watching porn and committing sexual assault. Researchers have found that aggressive men interpret porn differently from non-aggressive men, and there are “reliable associations between frequent pornography use and sexually aggressive behaviors” for men who consume “violent pornography and/or for men at high risk for sexual aggression.” That doesn’t mean the problem is porn—the problem is aggressive men.

While mainstream porn is certainly overrun by men who exploit women (both on and off the screen)—and so much of it is unethical—some feminists are challenging that by creating ethical porn that focuses on the pleasure of women and values consent. Martinson’s campaign may be couched in the language of a progressive activist, but the argument is the same as his conservative predecessors. Harvard senior Will Long, who launched an anti-porn campaign inspired by Martinson’s, told Inside Higher Ed that porn “is really the ultimate example of abstracting away a person, someone’s daughter, into an object of gratification.” Interesting, a lesson on objectification from a man who describes a human being only as “someone’s daughter.”

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While the campaign has generated buzz, it hasn’t moved the school’s policy. Notre Dame spokesman Paul J. Browne told Inside Higher Ed that, while, “We recognize that pornography is exploitative and not a victimless crime,” students are expected to “self-filter” the sites they visit.

Feminist writer and sex educator Jaclyn Friedman, whose book Unscrewed asserts that women live in an era of empty sexual empowerment, told Philly.com that the campaign is “wrongheaded.”

“If social conservatives on college campuses want to do something on sexual violence, they should start by allowing survivors to lead the conversation,” Friedman said. “There are very few [survivors] who are calling for a porn Wi-Fi ban.”

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Amen to that.