Boobs on bikes and violent male crime

Source: Stuff

There has been a lot of discussion surround the recent Boobs on Bikes parade in Auckland. Specifically, there is a belief that pornography, which is promoted by this parade, causes violent male crime.

This is a bold claim – a claim I know practically nothing about. However, I’m going to try and describe the way I would frame the issue for analysis, so that we can have a structured discussion on the issue.

Before doing so I would like to note that other New Zealand blogs are discussing the parade – they are linked to here: (Tumeke) (The Hand Mirror *) (No Right Turn *) (Liberty Scott) (No Minister) (Public Address). Now for the discussion:

The claim is appears to be as follows:

  1. Boobs on bikes promotes pornography,
  2. Pornography causes men to become more violent against women,
  3. Therefore, Boobs on bikes promotes male violence against women.

Now the third condition will only hold if the other two do.

Even if we had empirical evidence that showed that attendants of Boobs on bikes were more violent against women we would not have evidence of this phenomenon – as it may be the case that it is more violent men that turn up to Boobs on bikes in the first place.

As a result, we need to first decipher what type of pornography the parade promotes and figure out how that type of pornography in turn influences male violence.

Boobs to porn

Now I am not sure that there is a strong relationship between watching boobs on bikes and getting into downloading nasty videos.

I suppose you could use a slippery slope argument, or you could say it “desensitizes you” to nude women, or that it promotes an industry that goes off and pushes these things in our faces. However, I’m still not convinced.

For the sake of argument I’m going to say that the parade and the groups it is associated with may lead to people getting into stock standard porn – not the super nasty stuff.

Ok, so now we have to ask, if men are into this porn does that get them into being violent to women?

Well does it

I have to admit I have no evidence either way.

Here we have to show that pornography directly leads to men being more violent. Empirical evidence that shows that the two are positively correlated is not enough – we need causation.

Now, this is fundamentally like asking – is porn a complement for male violence or a substitute? The protestors felt it was a complement, however this is not necessarily the case.

Complement how?

Porn could be a complement for male violence against women in two ways:

  1. Increasing testosterone,
  2. Providing a bad example/desensitizing men

In the first case there is a belief that testosterone levels rise when men watch porn, and that higher testosterone leads to violence. Now I know little about this, however wikipedia tells me that there is no clear relationship between testosterone and violence. As a result, this is a factor that needs to be discussed.

The second case tells us that if men watch porn it convinces them to treat women badly. I’m not sure. If you watched some nasty stuff then maybe, but the majority of porn is simply comedy isn’t it 😉 . However, we will also take this as a potential factor – as there may be people that take the wrong bits literally.

Substitute how?

However, could porn also not be a substitute for violent behaviour. For one, when a guy is watching porn and getting busy with himself he has less time to be violent. Furthermore, the act of consuming porn may reduce the perceived benefit from committing male violence, which would lead to less male violence.

Without getting into too much detail, could we not make the case that porn is an experience good, and that watching porn is a substitute for violent behaviour. Therefore, is something promotes porn, it gets people to experience it and leads to less violence as an externality.

Conclusion

If the complaint was that the porn industry exploited women, then we would have a whole different discussion here. The complaint was that Boobs on Bikes implicitly promotes male violence.

We have discusses how to frame the issue of how this event may impact on male violence, and it is not clear that it will lead to an increase, in fact it may lead to a decrease in this type of violence.

Now if anyone has any evidence of the important relationships we have discussed about, or if anyone has any opinions as to what factors will dominate, we can discuss those in the comments.

Update: CPW states that there is at least one study where the substitutability exceeds the complementarity mentioned here. Now this does not prove that the protesters are wrong – it just merely states that the alternative case is valid, something they might not realise.

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  • Is the public display of female breasts pornography ? No.

    What is the difference between a pair of breasts displayed in a parade and displayed by a breast-feeding mother at cafe ? Visually very little, in the minds of the viewer perhaps a lot. Possibly, probably some of the men (and woman) attending such a parade would have sexual fantasies about the breasts owner but then I imagine sexual fantasies I happening all the time anyway in all contexts.

    Some of those fantasies might be violent but that says something about the person having the fantasy and not the subject of the fantasy.

  • Hi Bryan,

    So we agree that the link between the parade and actual porn is ridiculously weak – very good.

    As a result, even if we did convince ourselves that porn lead to violence, we would probably still not care about the parade, as we do not believe the first link holds.

    To be more objective we should have gone to the parade and surveyed people to ask them if the parade made it more likely they were going to go home and watch porn 😉

  • CPW

    There’s at least one study that suggests that porn mitigates violence against women:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2152487/?nav=ais

  • “There’s at least one study that suggests that porn mitigates violence against women:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2152487/?nav=ais

    Interesting – isn’t that guy an economist 😛

  • Michael Kluge

    “So we agree that the link between the parade and actual porn is ridiculously weak – very good.”

    I don’t think it’s so weak.
    Who organised the parade? Steve Crow
    What is his business? Pornography
    Who took part? Porn stars

    It seems like a pretty clear link to me. However, I’m reserved on whether or not the parade directly increases porn revenue – but I’m pretty sure that’s his intention, not some philantropic cause.

    The link that’s harder to make is the one between porn and sexual violence, but I have heard there is some research that suggests causality. Obviously it’s not a case of everyone who watches porn commits violence and sexual abuse, but those who have latent desires/problems in this area can have it exacerbated by viewing porn. To put it really simply: some men become so obsessed with what they view in porn that they want to live it out. Now, they’ll obviously have some trouble finding a consenting participant without money – so for some men, I would argue watching porn does lead to rape. I don’t have research results on hand to support this, but I’m quite confident previous studies have drawn this conclusion. Also, it’s no mystery why psychiatrists interviewing males entering institutions have the stock questions of “Do you watch pornography? How often? What type?” etc.

    Now for the value judgement. I still don’t think this is enough reason to ban or prohibit pornography, I’m fairly liberal in my views – but in my opinion, it’s naive to assume it doesn’t cause any social problems. I think some really clear parallels could be drawn between the increase in sexual offending among teens and the prevelance of the internet today.

    So the argument against Boobs on Bikes goes:
    Parade -> + revenue for porn industry -> industry causes social harm

    But I’m opposed because if we adopt that argument then we come back to the classic of shouldn’t we also prohibit alcohol, tobacco, fast food etc.

    My argument against the Boobs on Bikes is from a completely different angle: I think the fact that on one day so many people get excited by the public display of breasts shows that there clearly isn’t enough public breast display on a daily basis – but then of course we need to regulate the displays to maintain quality issues. I’m also opposed to the blatant waste of fossil fuel – those boobies should be running down queen street, or least riding moon hoppers.

  • “ask them if the parade made it more likely they were going to go home and watch porn”

    Who needs to go home to watch porn ? 🙂 That’s what free wifi at Esquires Cafe is for!!!

  • Hi Mike,

    “It seems like a pretty clear link to me”

    The link between the porn industry and the parade is clear – but we are discussing the link between the parade and the consumption of porn itself. This link is not as clear.

    “Obviously it’s not a case of everyone who watches porn commits violence and sexual abuse, but those who have latent desires/problems in this area can have it exacerbated by viewing porn”

    Maybe, maybe not. This is the complementarity vs substitutability argument.

    Porn shows people degrading things which they may want to act out, which makes it a complement to these activities. However, it also provides a medium to consume these types of activities without the externality (which is where you actually go and do it to someone) – which is where porn and male violence to women may be substitutes.

    Ultimately, it is a question for the data methinks – however finding causation in such a dataset would be difficult. More links to research will help us figure things out.

    “My argument against the Boobs on Bikes is from a completely different angle: I think the fact that on one day so many people get excited by the public display of breasts shows that there clearly isn’t enough public breast display on a daily basis”

    How very true 🙂

    Hi Bryan,

    “Who needs to go home to watch porn ? 🙂 That’s what free wifi at Esquires Cafe is for!!!”

    I think that some people, who wish to consume large quantities of porn, may wish to do so in private rather than in a public cafe 😛

  • goonix

    Good piece Matt and nice link Chris.

  • I think it would be fair enough however to say that (again while having a caveat of Correlation does not equal cause) that those countries where adult literature is banned, that women also have fewer rights, and there are higher rates of violence against women.

    I seem to remember seeign something about access to high speed broadband leading to less cases of rape and violence against women, as those who might have been prone to it were about to ease their frustrations over a bit of redtube.com rather than in real life.

    And the world would be much better off if these guys were just fantisising over something over a couple of dirty movies, rather than acting it out in real life.

    It is also interesting that these women do not protest against these countries where such violence is common (i.e islamic states, parts of india, pacific islands etc).

    I wonder if these protesters understand the concept of unintended consequences.

  • See Sam Cameron’s piece, “Economics of Pornography”, in Bowmaker’s edited volume “Economics Uncut”, Edward Elgar 2005.

  • Steve

    Boobs on bikes was clearly a publicity stunt to let everyone know about the erotica expo – that is the link with porn. forget who was at the parade, even if no one saw anything and the parade had been shut down. Steve crow would have achieved his intent, which was to promote the erotica expo.

    The question is should pornography(erotica) be advertised to the entire public or should advertising for pornography be directed at those who are of legal age to purchase pornography (attend erotica)?

    I think forget the protest about linking port to violence against women. That is a stupid protest because they are protesting all porn. That is a matter of opinion and therefore not something the law can rule on; hence the reason the parade went ahead; who are we to judge? Those against the parade should have instead come up with a specific argument about the specific event, (such as advertising porn to the underage) and the protest would have been more successful in the eyes of the law.

  • “Boobs on bikes was clearly a publicity stunt to let everyone know about the erotica expo – that is the link with porn”

    “I think forget the protest about linking port to violence against women”

    But the entire point of the post was to discuss the specific protest – and as a result, the appropriate link will be, how does the event lead to increased porn consumption.

    As advertising it might (although I feel it is more about him enjoying the attention than anything else) – but even then does that lead to more violence. If porn does lead to violence, then the protestors had a point – but that link does not necessarily exist.

  • Who are you picking in the super bowl?