...there’s apparently been a lot of hand-wringing over the increasing skinniness of fashion models after some countries have taken it upon themselves to pass entirely sensible worker safety regulations demanding that models have BMIs that are considered not overly underweight. People are worried to death that this is some kind of slap at free speech or what have you, but since the impetus for the laws was a supermodel who starved herself to death, the truth of the matter is this is basically a necessary protection for the workers so that their employers can’t demand they sacrifice their health in order to keep their jobs.That sounds just about right. These women are working for wages after all, and it is plainly exploitative to demand they choose between their safety and their meal-ticket (which they ironically won't need as much if they do land the job).
I'm reminded of a conversation I got into a few months back on a very similar issue where people tend to view the exploitation of women in the context of free speech and not worker safety: pornography. SugarBank, a porn-centered blog, recently discussed (careful, link very porny and not safe for work) the tension between exploitation and freedom of expression when it comes to violent and extremely degrading pornography. It began with an intraindustry discussion about simulating violence and degradation versus the various (and really, not that convincing) reasons to film it actually happening. Sam says:
Commenter Aurelius is also worried about the light extreme porn casts run-of-the-mill porn in:
Halcyon makes it clear that while most people see porn as pure entertainment, a minority use it to vindicate their ideas, making any judgement against the porn they like a comment on their lifestyle. If we take steps to limit what’s done on video, Halcyon sees
herhis private life as next inline for censorship. It’s a trap for the industry that pornographers are complicit in building.
Hollywood is allowed to portray anything it can imagine as long as performers are protected. If we need an actor in a movie to drink a bottle of vodka we replace the alcohol with water and ask them to act. Porn’s reluctance to embrace simulation, ironically in an industry where orgasms, pleasure and names are all routinely faked, makes the debate about extreme porn a referendum on people’s personal predilections. We should be able to take risks in our own lives which we don’t tolerate being forced on the people who entertain us.
So, we’ve pretty much agreed that the assaultive, coercive porn is at least potentially harmful to consumers as well as participants, that consumers of this type material are probably troubled although most don’t go on to become predators ala Bundy, Gacy, Dahmer or the BTK killer, that there may be a valid reason or reasons to supress this type material, and that stopping it is probably impossible. What we can’t quite figure out is whether the mainstream can or ought to try to accept standards or to self-impose standards, a point beyond which they will not go.I responded:
See, I find it more useful to think of this in the context of safety at the workplace, less than an issue of free speech. While it mixes both issues, the porn biz is more of a money-driven industry than a collective of artists trying to get the word out. There aren’t a lot of people starving so that people will truly understand the message of their being pegged on-screen after all. I’ve heard a little about OSHA-like standards being enforced on a sort of volunteer-basis amongst some production companies, but why shouldn’t it be regulated by OSHA itself? If “pornographer” is an occupation, shouldn’t it meet with occupational safety and health standards?Unfortunately, Aurelius' motivation to regulate degrading and violent porn is to make sure he can still obtain the sort he feels comfortable with (and I do to, by the way), so I found his eventual thinking to be a little too small. I think he's wrong to think that can (or should?) do nothing to regulate the production of such harmful types of pornography, and I think that the labor angle is the way to do it. It is absolutely important to maintain the right to free speech, your right does not extend to where you are speaking through another. If you're paying someone to be hurt on screen, you're making them do the heavy lifting for your speech and introducing an element of economic coercion to boot. After all, you can't force your employees to stand on the "not a step" of a ladder so as to express yourself. If you can get your friends to do it for free, that's another issue, and I have to wonder where you'll get such dumbass friends. But, to each his own. I can only surmise that exploitative and harmful pornography isn't seen in this light due to women's bodies being controlled by men being a social norm, but maybe that's my inner cynical feminist talking. (Being inner, cynical, and feminist doesn't make her wrong, though, does it?)