Rethinking Democracy: Legal Challenges to Pornography and Sex Inequality in Canada, Sweden, and the United States

73 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 20 Jul 2012

See all articles by Max Waltman

Max Waltman

Stockholm University, Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2009


© Max Waltman 2010 This paper rethinks democracy in light of evidence and analysis finding pornography a harmful practice of sex inequality, prostitution, and a form of violence against women – not a moral problem of obscenity. Evidence has found that pornography incites rape and other violence against women, desensitizes societies to sexual abuse, and supports rape myths. Social studies documents that pornographers, a multibillion dollar industry dominated by organized crime, rely on violence and exploit inequalities to make pornography, and that its consumption, which is common, spreads violence and inequality in society. If pornography systematically reproduces and sustains a group’s domination of another, and one democratic ideal is equality among citizens, existing democracies are inadequate when they do not regulate it effectively. What are the obstacles for democracies to address these harms? Explanations and democratic alternatives are sought by analyzing political responses to legal challenges where subordination based on gender was the driving rationale for change, in a comparative case selection representing similar consumption and distribution of similar pornography across a broad range of legal frameworks and approaches: 1) Canadian legislative efforts and the 1989 Butler “law”, 2) the Swedish 1998 Act Against Purchase of Sexual Services and related topics, 3) State- and federal responses to antipornography civil rights legislation in the U.S. Tentative conclusions show a void in institutions, laws, or political venues articulating the interests of those victimized. These constituencies need empowering civil rights remedies defining pornography as a violation of democratic equality in order for their interests to be properly accounted for. Democracies must identify practices and groups responsible for subordination, as do international law, if successfully combating this form of inequality.

Keywords: Pornography, Prostitution, Gender-Based Violence, Freedom of Speech, Democracy, Equality, Feminist theory, Comparative Judicial Politics, Democratic Theory, Freedom of Expression, Men's Violence Against Women

Suggested Citation

Waltman, Max, Rethinking Democracy: Legal Challenges to Pornography and Sex Inequality in Canada, Sweden, and the United States (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Max Waltman (Contact Author)

Stockholm University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stockholm University
Stockholm, 106 91

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