EasyCard Corp’s decision to feature images of a Japanese adult video star on a series of special-edition cards is probably the first time that so much public money has been splashed out on overseas pornographic products — not to mention the 24-hour media coverage, especially when nobody is denying that the cards are almost exclusively serving “male interests.”
This is what the so-called “white force” political arrivistes — a group that gathered around Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) during the election campaign — have managed to accomplish. The white force has become very fashionable and it has succeeded in becoming the third political force in Taiwan. With political players of all weights pandering to it for support, who knows how far Taipei’s patronage of pornography will go?
The “devil” and “angel” images on the new cards are the kind of provocative images of women that you can see just about everywhere. Even groups advocating wholesome social values could not find too much fault in the images.
The pictures would not have been so controversial if the person featured in them did not represent pornographic culture and the pornography industry. Therefore, the controversy is not about the photographs per se, but rather in the sexual fantasies that they evoke due to their association with the pornography industry.
Critics who want to protect social values say that these values will be harmed should these cards — bearing the images of an adult video star and all the associations to sexual fantasies that come with it — be distributed around Taipei.
Sexual rights advocates counter this argument by saying that there is nothing wrong with sexual fantasies. They also say that sexuality should not be demonized and that these images should not be discarded in the name of protecting children and minors.
The critics are viewing this as an issue of morality, saying that the pictures ought to be suppressed, whereas sexual rights advocates see this as an issue of freedom and think that society should be more open to the use of images of this nature.
A balanced view would be that there is no need to suppress sexual images that do not promote discrimination, but that any sexual oppression that leads to inequality should be opposed, and that deregulation will not necessarily counter oppression.
Therefore, the questions that need to be asked are: What kind of sexuality is the pornography industry producing? Does it foster freedom of sexual expression or does it create harmful sexual oppression? Whose sexual freedom and whose sexual oppression is involved in the fantasies of men who grope women on public transportation?
This kind of freedom of sexual expression is, in fact, a form of sexual oppression. Not all forms of sexual expression lead to discrimination or harm.
Pornography is an issue of gender discrimination, but it has long been mistaken for an issue of social mores or an issue between the sexual majority and sexual minorities.
The Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretation No. 617 allows for the freedom of expression with sexually explicit material and says that sexual minorities’ rights of freedom of expression should be protected, but only when it does not harm the values and sensibilities of the sexual majority.
At first glance, this would seem to protect both the majority and the minority, but in fact, the more you say it — sexual morality and guarantees for minorities — the more problematic it becomes.
How can you guarantee the rights of sexual minorities without offending the community standard?
This raises two questions: First, is the morality of the majority a problematic issue? And second, where do the moral values of the sexual majority and sexual minorities overlap?
Compared with the stance in relation to moral standards, the Canadian Supreme Court redefined the standard for determining whether something can be considered pornographic by using the concept of harm. The court said that whether a material constitutes pornography depends not on whether it offends people’s moral sensibilities, but on whether it causes harm as a consequence of sexual exploitation.
That is, freedom of sexual expression is only considered to constitute pornography if it is harmful. Just the kind of sexual fantasies that the pornography industry creates.
The significance of women as a social group can be better understood if you consider that when you let an individual woman be treated in a certain way, it means that all women can be treated the same way, even if this treatment exists only within the realm of sexual fantasies.
In Taiwan, the unprecedented situation where the two major political parties are both fielding female politicians as their presidential candidates, and Taipei and the EasyCard Corp are pushing pornography makes it clear that the emergence of a female president will be an isolated example of one particular woman getting ahead.
There is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality, which for the time being is still somewhere off in the distance.
The white force, just as it is starting out, is unable to disguise the sexual discrimination it has put to practice. Its attitudes toward women were not formed overnight and they will be difficult to change.
EasyCard Corp is probably over the moon given the positive reception to the company’s pornography push, but this whole affair has also been an unfortunate misstep for a political star in the ascendancy, where it has created unnecessary political risk.
The question is whether this would be a good time for people to reconsider their political support for this new force. The white force has already proven that it possesses considerable skill when it comes to suppressing dissent. Is it now going to show us that it can use this skill to protect the pornography industry? Will this suppression also turn their female critics into sexual objects, simultaneously showing that pornography has won?
The answers will be known sooner rather than later.
The questions that remain are whether Taiwanese want to live in this kind of a society and whether this is the kind of future that the nation is marching toward?
Chen Chao-ju is a professor at National Taiwan University’s College of Law.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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