All Your Breasts Are Belong to Us (Unless We Tell You Otherwise)


Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the very sharp Garance Franke-Ruta suggests we rewrite First Amendment jurisprudence to keep 20-year-old breasts off the Internet:

Joe Francis is a cultural pollutant. But as he contemplates life in prison, the rest of us ought to contemplate what he has wrought—or what kind of society we have allowed him to create on our watch…

consider how much has changed in recent years. Once upon a time, a picture was just a picture…Just as Google transforms us all into archivists of previously fleeting moments, so too does the new digital recording technology give youthful acts a permanent life. In the case of Mr. Francis and his empire of imitators—not to mention angry ex-boyfriends with digital flash cards and a long memory—it can transform the playful exhibitionism of young women into scarlet letters that follow them around for life.

Is there anything to be done? Curtailing the demand side of such a "market" is difficult, requiring moralistic sermons and abridgements of speech. But the supply side is more vulnerable to change. It is time to raise the age of consent from 18 to 21–"consent," in this case, referring not to sexual relations but to providing erotic content on film.

Franke-Ruta is right! We don't want "playful exhibitionism" to morph into future-killing "scarlet letters." So let's channel a little Nathaniel Hawthorne circa 1850: Woman engages in sexual act, is shunned by society, dies alone. In Franke-Ruta's moral universe, the ideal response to this situation is: Prevent the sexual act, or at least prevent anyone from knowing what transpired. The problem isn't norms that sentence a sexual woman to societal exile; it's the ease with which naïve, silly adult women find themselves showing some nip.

It'd have been nice for Hester Prynne if norms had evolved to tolerate, rather than stigmatize, the sexuality of women. We're obviously headed that way. In an important sense, the reputational cost of stripping down on camera has never been lower. (Thanks, Paris!) By the time the current crop of flash-ready 18-year-olds graduate college, the cost will be lower still.

To retard this (ultimately beneficial) evolution, you've got to perpetuate the idea that the display of adult mammaries is an earth-shattering, life-altering, and above all shameful event. One way to do that is to jack up the age of consent and the cost of participation, turning adult women into victims and amateur filmmakers into sex criminals. I see how that's an ideal outcome for Rick Santorum-ites, the Independent Women's Forum, and Concerned Women for America; young women in general, not so much.