EU Proposal to Ban Sexual Stereotypes in Media Gets Chilly Reception

This month the European Union had a controversy on its hands when the Financial Times got hold of a secret 26-page draft directive being prepared under the auspices of the European Commission’s Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou.

Article 4 of the draft proposed sweeping censorship of the media in order to banish any and all sexual stereotypes of men and women. As Richard Pollock noted in an op-ed for the Cato Institute on the proposal, Diamantopoulou’s office said that the goal was to,

. . . avoid throughout all forms of mass media notably all stereotypical portrayals of women and men as well as any projection of unacceptable images of men and women affecting human dignity and decency in advertisements.

Some European commentators noted that in order for such proposals to go into effect, they would have to go through a series of ratification processes including among member countries, but just the fact that freedom of speech is seen as something that can be casually interfered with to obtain some social goal or another is disturbing enough in and of itself.

As Pollock, who obtained a copy of the draft, noted,

The document is well thought out, indicating a sizable amount of work had progressed within the European Commission to advance to this late stage. It was not the work of an aberrant or idle commissioner. Apparently, no member of the European media knew of its existence as it passed through the EC labyrinth of bureaucratic offices, reviewers and officials.

This sort of legislation is exactly what feminist group such as the European Women’s Lobby have long been lobbying for with the European Union. European Women’s Lobby policy coordinator Cecile Greobval was quoted by Australian newspaper The Age as saying, “We want action by the EU in areas other than employment.”

The European Women’s Lobby openly called for government monitoring and censorship of mass media in a March 2003 policy statement on the subject,

2.1 Mass media and gender equality

Comprehensive policy frameworks and regulatory mechanisms need to be put in place in order to make the media a useful tool to promote a and contribute to greater gender justice, respect for women?s human rights, sustainable development, and a culture of peace.

  • Governments need to formulate standards, based on equality between women and men that should be reflected in all communication productions, including programming and media portrayal.
  • Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be put in place in order to halt sexism and gender-based stereotypes in mass media, including strengthened policies against sexist images in publicity.
  • Governments must develop policies for the safeguarding and development of public broadcasting, community based media, women?s alternative media, and alternative print media in order to counteract the negative trends of the commercialisation of information in national and transnational media and ICT corporations.
  • Governments and relevant bodies should implement programmes that will increase women’s access to media, including assigning resources to promote gender equality through the use of both mainstream and alternative media.
  • Governments should put in place policies and financial support, including within international cooperation programmes, with regard to support the strengthening of women?s communication and media initiatives.
  • Gender balance need to be established at all decision-making levels within the media industry. This could be achieved through measures such as affirmative action and quota systems.
  • A media critical analysis should be supported, in order to raise awareness of both audiences and journalists on how gender power asymmetries are at play in the media. Feminist analysis should be made an integral part of the curriculum in journalism schools.

    Back in 2000, it summarized its views on government media regulations as follows,

    While the role of governments is weakening, the media is becoming more powerful and complex, therefore, it is essential to re-establish a balance, in order to secure respect for women?s human rights and dignity. In order to impose restraints on sex stereotypes and sexist image in the different media and in the world of publicity, measures, mechanisms and bodies to regulate the content of media productions are essential. Currently, the media is auto-regulated which is often reduced to closed consultation with the managers and the proprietors of the media industry.

    Many years ago in the United States, movies would be reviewed by quasi-governmental film boards before being released to the general public. The film boards would order the elimination of anything that might offend anyone in the audience, focusing especially on anything of a sexual nature. The Pennsylvania Film Board, for example, required that all images of a pregnant woman be excised from Cecil B. DeMilles’ “Kindling” on the grounds that it would raise questions of sexuality among the children who might see the film.

    Some European feminists apparently believe that system was so good that they would like to replicate it for all mass media and have government regulators determine what is and is not fit for audiences to see.


    Sexist ads face ban in gender agenda. The Age (Australia), June 24, 2003.

    Human Dignity At The Eu Stomps On Degrading Women / Men. Grant Swank, Ameircan Daily, June 30, 2003.

    EU: Tabloids’ Topless Attractions Safe. Paul Ames, Associated Press, June 27, 2003.

    The New Europe Looks a Little Like ‘1984’. Richard Pollock, Cato Institute, July 8, 2003.

    Contribution of the European Women?s Lobby to the CSW, New York, 3-14 March 2003. European Women’s Lobby, March 2003.

    Women and the media. Europan Women’s Lobby, 2000.

    Does Michigan’s Sexual Harassment Law Violate the First Amendment?

    Wayne State University Law School professor Kingsley Browne wrote an op-ed in the Detroit News earlier this month arguing that Michigan’s sexual harassment statute violates the First Amendment. He was specifically referring to Burns v. City of Detroit in which a woman won a $1 million judgment against the City of Detroit for the insulting and vulgar speech directed at her by co-workers. But, according to Browne, both the verdict and the statute are in violation of Constitutional protections of free speech.

    A major problem with the Burns v. City of Detroit case, according to Browne, is that the jury heard testimony about both constitutionally protected speech and speech that was not constitutionally protected. But the jury was not informed that it could only decide on liability for speech that was not constitutionally protected.

    Moreover, so far rulings on sexual harassment have engaged in obvious viewpoint discrimination. Browne writes,

    Judicial scrutiny is at its highest when the government restricts speech based upon the viewpoint expressed, which is precisely what the harassment law does. Progressive statements about women are fine; Neanderthal statements are not. Statements praising women as a group raise no issue; statements critical of women do.

    As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which covers Michigan, has said, harassment law requires “that an employer take prompt action to prevent . . . bigots from expressing their opinions in a way that abuses or offends their co-workers.” This is classic viewpoint regulating, which is almost always impermissible.

    But the truly bizarre nature of sexual harassment statutes comes in with the whole idea of a “hostile environment.” As Browne notes, the hostile environment theory makes it all but impossible for individuals to tell whether or not their speech will break the law. Browne writes,

    The vagueness of the harassment statute is made worse by the “totality of the circumstances” standard. A hostile environment can be created by a collection of different speech by different speakers even though no single statement by itself would violate the law.

    One cannot know, therefore, whether a hostile environment exists without knowing the entire array of speech that will be challenged. Speakers are supposed to be given an advance warning of what can be said and what cannot, but the hostile environment standard is always assessed after the fact.

    So how to fix sexual harassment statutes? Simple, says Browne — require that plaintiffs prove intent. Browne notes that a Michigan anti-stalking law was upheld because rather than simply describing behaviors that qualified as stalking, it also required that plaintiffs show the defendant engaged in “willful” conduct to harass the alleged victim. Such a similar standard should also be incorporated into sexual harassment statutes.


    Harassment law chills free speech. Kingsley Browne, The Detroit News, July 9, 2002.

    Another Professor with a Loyalty Requirement

    A bizarre controversy has been unfolding the past few weeks at Iowa State University where a professor threw a student out of her class because he disagreed with her political views.

    Student Jay Gardner, 38, took a graduate class on “Ethnicity, Class and the Media” from professor Tracy Owens-Patton. After a few weeks, Owens-Patton threw Gardner out of her class on the grounds that he was a white supremacist who was disrupting her course.

    Among other things, Owens-Patton complained that in class Gardner defended racial profiling, pointing out that African Americans commit more crimes. Owens-Patton also said that Gardner criticized the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — a charge that Gardner denies.

    Gardner told the Desmoines Register,

    If you’re going to make claims that white America is intentionally suppressing, holding down, oppressing African-Americans . . . you have to let some students give their opinions on it, and that wasn’t happening.

    Owens-Patton also complained that in a discussion Gardner said that he was biased against minorities, but Gardner told the Ames Tribune,

    Patton asked if we had any problems with stereotyping and others, and I gave both pros and cons for stereotyping. I said that some probably use stereotyping as a quick way to communicate since people tend to think in schemas or generalizations.

    When it comes to deciding who to believe, Owens-Patton did not help herself by apparently lying in her complaint about Gardner. In her complaint addressed to her superiors at ISU, Owens-Patton claimed that police told her that Gardner “could be a third person” in a new white supremacist movement at ISU.

    The only problem is that the police officer she cited, Capt. Gene Deisinger, told the Des Moines Register that, “There are no police reports that I know of, nor any groups that have identified themselves as white supremacists at Iowa State.”

    The best summation of this controversy came from ISU vice provost Howard Shapiro who told the Des Moines Register,

    Whose right it is to determine what is taught in the class and how it’s conducted is the professors’. It’s not a democracy. It’s a classroom.

    Apparently once students step into a classroom at ISU, they leave democracy behind and enter a mini-totalitarian state where the whims and dictates of morons like Owens-Patton have absolute authority to quash any dissent. So much for that vaunted ideal of academic freedom.


    White student fights removal from ISU class Staci Hupp, DesMoines Register, May 22, 2002.

    ISU grad student denies making ethnic comments. Jason Kristufek, Ames Tribune, June 4, 2002.

    Ames police unaware of racist group. Staci Hupp, DesMoines Register, May 24, 2002.

    Feminist Censors Try to Shut Down University of Connecticut Student Television Show

    Do campus feminists have any respect for freedom of speech anymore? Certainly not at the University of Connecticut where 17 women filed sexual harassment charges against a student-run television show for allegedly creating a “hostile environment.”

    Certainly University of Connecticut students Joseph Kingsley and Peter Pietro did not design their show to appeal to campus feminists. “I Did Your Mother” is their hour-long attempt at Howard Stern-style humor.

    As Associated Press described it, “A recent broadcast included simulated sex between a man and woman and discussions of sexual positions and techniques. The hosts also take phone calls from both men and women.

    Of course such a show does not have a chance in today’s campus environment because it commits the only crime that universities teach their student’s to recognize any more — it is offensive to somebody.

    As senior Cheryl Eureka, who plans to file a sexual harassment complaint against the show with the dean, told The Associated Press, “It’s terrible. It’s offensive to everyone who goes here.” She elaborated on her comments to The Hartford Courant,

    It’s just the climate here that makes this kind of behavior acceptable and doesn’t act against it. The university has this diversity plan and wants to make UConn a more welcoming place. If they don’t step up and address this kind of behavior, then their diversity plan is just a piece of paper.

    Well, of course — Kingsley and Pietro offended somebody. How dare the administration not punish them? Why should anyone ever to tolerate anything that’s terrible and/or offensive just for some abstract idea about free speech and freedom of thought?

    Oddly enough, a Google search turns up some rather sexually explicit materials that Eureka herself wrote related to the “Vagina Monologues” for a Women’s Studies course at the University of Connecticut. I will not quote that here, but you can see for yourself.

    Give them credit — one thing Women’s Studies program do excel at is the careful cultivation of hypocrisy.


    `I Love Lucy,’ It’s Not. Grace E. Merritt, The Hartford Courant, May 2, 2002.

    Student-run TV show drawing protest. Associated Press, May 2, 2002.

    Feminists In Scotland Forced to Withdraw Domestic Violence Ad

    Many European countries have boards that monitor advertising and occasionally force advertisers to rewrite or withdraw advertisements that these boards consider to be deceptive. In Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid was forced to withdraw and rewrite an ad publicizing the threat of domestic violence.

    The group had published a poster claiming that “one in five women in Scotland live with the constant threat of abuse.” The Scottish Advertising Standards Authority ruled that this claim was not supported by the study cited by Scottish Women’s Aid and forced the ad to be removed from newspapers and billboards until it could be corrected.

    The new text of the ad, which the Advertising Standards Authority signed off on, now states that “A recent survey suggests that one in five women in Scotland have experienced domestic abuse.”

    The feminists were outraged at the change, with Scottish Women’s Aid training support worker Liz Kelly telling Scotland on Sunday, “The time spent discussing [the ad] . . . would have been better spent on providing better services to abused women and their children.”

    On the one hand, the existence of such boards is ridiculous. The solution to feminist misuse and misrepresentation of statistics is to point out there abuse, not censor them wholesale. On the other hand, while feminists in Europe tend to complain when ad boards rule against them, they usually have no problem running to advertising authorities to try to have ads they think are sexist or demeaning to women withdrawn at a moment’s notice, so it’s hard to generate any deep sympathy for them.


    Ruling on domestic abuse adverts branded ‘childish’. Karen Rice, Scotland on Sunday, March 31, 2002.

    ‘Nuremberg Files’ Web Site Verdict Thrown Out

    The Associated Press reports that a three-judge panel in the 9th District Court has thrown out the controversial civil lawsuit against the Nuremberg Files web site.

    The Nuremberg Files was a web site set up by anti-abortion activists. Among other things, the site listed names and other personal information about doctors who performed physicians. It also included posters that mimicked wanted posters but included pictures of abortion providers and described as “baby butchers.”

    Three doctors whose names appeared on lists maintained by the Nuremberg Files were murdered. Planned Parenthood sued the Nuremberg Files in court under provisions of the RICO statute claiming that the web site was essentially the focal point of a criminal conspiracy. That nobody involved with the web site had committed or even planned any acts of violence was irrelevant — the contents of the web site itself made the Nuremberg Files responsible, in part, for abortion-related violence.

    A jury agreed with Planned Parenthood and the proprietors of the site were ordered to pay damages to Planned Parenthood and several abortion doctors.

    The 9th District Court unanimously agreed that the jury was wrong — what the Nuremberg Files did was speech protected by the First Amendment. In the majority opinion, Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote,

    If defendants threatened to commit violent acts, by working alone or with others, then their [works] could properly support the verdict. But if their [works] merely encouraged unrelated terrorists, then their words are protected by the First Amendment.

    I suspect the Supreme Court will overturn the 9th District’s opinion, even if it ultimately sides with the Nuremberg Files, since the decision provides a gaping legal hole for people conspiring to commit murder to exploit.


    Court: OK to Encourage Abortion Threat. David Kreats, Associated Press, March 28, 2001.