Exciting news! Sexting Panic won NCA’s 2016 Diamond Anniversary Book Award.

Sexting Panic is the rare book that advances scholarly conversations while also promising to enrich family conversations around the dinner table.  Amy Adele Hasinoff offers a timely, practical, and comprehensive analysis of the social understandings that spawned the current wave of public anxiety and legal backlash over youth sexting.  Challenging the prevailing views that young women are inevitably victims of sexting and that new media practices warrant moral panic, Dr. Hasinoff instead offers a more nuanced view of young women and men as active producers.  Informed primarily by cultural studies and feminist theory, her treatment of consent and agency lays the groundwork for more sophisticated, realistic discussions of the ethics of privacy and digital technology.  Rather than criminalizing communication practices based on topic and medium, she concludes that parents and policy-makers should distinguish consensual from malicious sharing of content. Well-researched and engaging, Dr. Hasinoff’s book demonstrates the value of communication scholarship to educators, policy-makers, and technology users of all ages and genders. Already reviewed in eight interdisciplinary journals and the subject of dozens of public media stories, Sexting Panic also exemplifies this year’s NCA convention theme of “Communication’s Civic Callings.”

New Mexico moves toward legalizing teen sexting

New Mexico recently exempted minors from prosecution for for possession of child pornography. The new legislation appears to be modeled on Nebraska’s child pornography statute, which was modified in 2009 to exclude teens from prosecution for possession. Florida’s recent sexting legislation accident not withstanding, New Mexico and Nebraska appear to be the only states that exempt teens from child pornography felonies, at least for possession.

This news from New Mexico is a significant development, since a lot of other states have passed misdemeanor or diversion bills since 2009, which still criminalize sexting but apply lesser penalties than felonies.

The New Mexico legislation still does not go far enough, since it does not protect consensual teen sexters from prosecution for creating or distributing child pornography of themselves. What we need in every state are age-span exemptions, like we have for statutory rape, in all child pornography laws so teens close in age cannot be charged. This should cover any sexting–including the creation, possession, and distribution of images–as long as it is consensual.

More coverage from Reason and The Cut. NM Governor Martinez (R) was not happy about the sexting amendment.

Sarah Lamble: Can there be justice without punishment?

Punishment lies at the heart of most criminal justice systems within western liberal democracies. But is punishment a necessary component of justice? What does punishment achieve? What is the relationship between punishment and accountability? In this talk, Dr Sarah Lamble considers what justice might look like in the absence of punishment and explores what non-punitive justice might offer for preventing, reducing and responding to violence.

Drawing from Dr Lamble’s research on community-based restorative and transformative justice practices in the US, Canada and the UK, the talk will focus specifically on cases of identity-based violence to untangle some of our taken-for-granted assumptions about punishment and explore the possibilities that alternative visions of justice might offer.

Click here to see a video recording of the lecture.

Revenge porn is named for sex work, and the outrage against it exists in the shadow of sex work. It’s not merely an invasion of trust or a terrible shattering of privacy. The harm of revenge porn comes from the illusory conscription of a nice lady into sex work.

— Sarah Jeong, in an article about revenge porn

“Raw data” is an oxymoron

“Raw data” is an oxymoron:

A few moments of reflection will be enough to see its self-contradiction, to see, as Bowker suggests, that data are always already “cooked” and never entirely “raw.” It is unlikely that anyone could disagree, but the truism no more keeps us from valuing data than a similar acknowledgment keeps up from buying jumbo shrimp.

— Lisa Gitelman

Why do people think I’m saying ‘sexting is empowering’?

Empowerment is outstretched arms and a lens flare.

Students reading my “Sexting as media production” article sometimes think I’m saying that sexting is empowering, though I make no such claim. In that article, and elsewhere, I am critical of the urge to label practices as agentic or not, empowering or not, as resistance or subordination. I have been taken with Saba Mahmood‘s view of agency since the day I read it. She challenges us to see that space between agency and conformity that we all reside in.

The interesting question is: If I am saying: “Sexting is not necessarily disempowering or victimizing or the result of coercion,” why do so many people hear instead: “Sexting is empowering.”

In the sense that “empowering” means making someone stronger or more confident, then in the case of sexual expression and communication, then certainly, sexting could be empowering for a person.

But like any sex act that some enjoy and others don’t, that carries risks and offers benefits, sexting is not, in and of itself, empowering. Would anyone say that oral sex is empowering? Is eating chocolate cake empowering? If it is just a form of pleasure, we don’t tend to write empowerment into the narrative.

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What is empowerment if the Onion was already mocking it in 2003?

So there must be something else at play here, and that highlights my discomfort with the word “empowerment”–it is often used to describe the actions of people we think normally lack the will to empower themselves. Rich white men learning about investing is not empowering because we expect them to do that. Women learning about investing is seen as empowering. Boys playing football is not seen as empowering, because they are supposed to play football, but girls playing soccer or learning to code is seen as empowering because we think it’s exceptional.

What I’m getting at here is that looking at someone else’s behavior and labeling it “empowering” says more about the observer than the observed. It says that observer (1) does not expect that behavior from the observed and (2) that they approve of that behavior. It’s a bit like calling an African American speaker “articulate,” which demonstrates the observer’s racism in assuming that the speaker would be incompetent–whites never get praised for being “articulate” unless they are children.

Looking at others’ gendered behavior and calling it “empowering” may be part of a profound ambivalence that we hold about gender roles. We want to enforce gender roles and police their boundaries, but we also don’t want to think that anyone is coerced by culture or social norms to behave in so-called inauthentic ways. We are so uncomfortable with the idea that social norms might be choosing our choices for us, that we are enamored with examples that say we can resist and transcend gender roles in small, particular ways.

For example, according to a Prevention.com article, I said:

When you don’t have someone in front of you, gender roles slip away and you feel disinhibited about expressing what you really desire.

If you’ve ever met me, I’m sure you’re aware of how unlikely it would be for me to ever say that “gender roles slip away.” I tend to harp on and on about how gender roles are inescapable–I rant about how we work with and against them, but they are always there. You might be tired of me saying all the time, “But that’s because gender!” or, “Isn’t gender a factor here?” or “WHAT ABOUT GENDER?” Because I am trained to see the social construction of gender and sexuality everywhere and at all times. You might accuse me of seeing gender more readily and easily than race, class, or ability (and I am working on that), or of holding on to a Foucaultian view that there is no outside of power, discourse, etc. (no apologies for this one). But, no, you would never hear me say anything like “gender slips away” without a million qualifications.

I had carefully explained to this particular Prevention.com journalist that there are some studies that suggest that some women may be able to transcend the gender roles that women are supposed to politely tolerate sexual harassment and to not be too expressive about their sexual needs. That the online disinhibition effect predicts that some people may be more disinhibited (in both positive and negative ways) when communicating online. I can see how he rounded all that up to “gender roles slip away.”

But I think it’s a bit more than just the typical journalistic mangling of scientific research into a overly simplistic soundbite. This one’s certainly not the first to misquote and misunderstand me in this particular way. Maybe they mishear because they really want gender roles to be something that can “slip away” by merely turning on a mobile phone. The idea that we mindlessly follow cultural norms is at odds with our assumptions about individuality, so we want everyone to be agents, willfully and happily choosing their choices, able to transcend social norms at any moment if they choose. And able, by extension, to solve sexism and end inequality simply by sexting, by simply doing pleasurable things that we label “empowerment.”

And this is why I have to resist the label “empowering.” In my experience, the word “empowering” is usually used to describe a person’s feelings and not their actual power or agency in the world. Feeling empowered is great. But I want women to be actually, genuinely empowered with the social, legal, and economic resources they need. Women need wage equity, maternity leave, and to not be assaulted by police or to die in police custody. Simply feeling empowered isn’t going to address any of these systemic problems.