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More like a-DICK-tion. Get it?!

3 Oct

Two contradictory pieces on the subject of porn and sex addiction emerged recently, both of which — naturally — virtually ignore the role of gender in the rise of the various social and cultural phenomena people have chosen to lump under the rubric of “sex addiction,” as well as the variety of and wide variations between the behaviors that fall under that ill-conceived label. The first, a salacious Newsweek cover story that warns of a growing epidemic of “sex addiction” brought about by the internet’s facilitation of porn use and casual meet-ups, spawned the second, a Salon piece critical of the concept of sex addiction in which Tracy Clark-Flory interviews Liberal Dude author David Ley, whose new book The Myth of Sex Addiction is due out soon. A cursory reference in the Newsweek article to “greater stigma” for women who engage in risky sexual behavior notwithstanding, neither piece even skirts the obvious questions anyone who isn’t personally invested in the perpetuation of patriarchy should ask (I know there are at least seven people who aren’t personally invested in the perpetuation of patriarchy).

While both articles mention the fact that behaviors as different as compulsive porn use, emotionally and physically risky sexual behavior, and the serial pursuit of unhealthy romantic attachments — to which has been applied the unfortunate label “love addiction” — have been grouped under the umbrella term “sex addiction,” neither pays much attention to why that might be so, and neither has anything to say about the ways in which that ham-fisted grouping shapes the “treatment” that this motley assortment of “sex addicts” receives.

Given that gender is a foundational social organizing principle and that assumptions about gender color nearly every interaction a human being engages in, ignoring the role of gender (as well, of course, as class and race) in discussions of sex addiction (and pretty much anything else) places huge barricades in the way of understanding what the hell is even going on, much less what to do about it. Addiction – whether it be to bourbon, benzos, or getting busy in a Burger King bathroom – means very different things for men and for women. Gender roles come with prepackaged social expectations, and the processes by which women and men become addicted to various substances or behaviors and by which they come to consider themselves addicts differ, as do the gendered social consequences that attach to addictive behavior.

Let’s assume for a second that sex addiction — as defined as compulsively engaging in in-person sexual encounters — exists (which I will get to later). If we want to treat it, shouldn’t we at least try to determine its real causes? Those who believe in the existence of sex addiction identify an insatiable need for validation in the form of sexual attention as its root for both women and men, but socially inculcated gendered behavior results in that need manifesting in very different ways, with different consequences for both the addict and her or his partners. Women, when seeking affirmation or attention, tend to self-objectify and to seek out interactions with the kinds of men who value sexual availability over all other characteristics. You know, opportunistic assholes. It’s not difficult for a woman to find a dude willing to use her for sex, nor is it rare for a woman to run across a date rapist or a man who can’t wait to take out his misogyny on her body. Being a female sex addict in the era of porn saturation is thus physically and psychologically dangerous business for the addict herself. From the Newsweek article:

For Valerie, sex was a form of self-medication: to obliterate the anxiety, despair, and crippling fear of emotional intimacy that had haunted her since being abandoned as a child. “In order to soothe the loneliness and the fear of being unwanted, I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” she recalls.

Women — despite the fact that their stories often lead pieces about sex addiction (how odd) — rarely show up at therapists’ offices or Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings claiming to be sex addicts. The Newsweek piece attempts to explain away the paucity of female sex addicts:

If discussion of sex addiction can seem like an exclusive domain of men, that’s because, according to sex therapists, the overwhelming majority of self-identifying addicts—about 90 percent—are male. Women are more often categorized as “love addicts,” with a compulsive tendency to fall into dependent relationships and form unrealistic bonds with partners. That’s partly because women are more apt than men to be stigmatized by association with sex addiction, says Anna Valenti-Anderson, a sex-addiction therapist in Phoenix. “We live in a society where there’s still a lot more internalized shame for women and there’s a lot more for them to lose,” Valenti-Anderson says. “People will say, ‘She’s a bad mom’ for doing these sexual things. As opposed to, ‘She’s sick and has a disorder.’ But very slowly, women are starting to be more willing to come into treatment.”

Despite the plain differences between male and female “sex addicts,” the therapy community insists on equating the kind of behavior Valerie describes with male sex addicts’ exploitative sexual behaviors:

“The addiction will take you to a place where you’re walking the streets at night, so keyed up, thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll just see if there’s anybody out there,’” he says. “Like looking for prey, kind of…”

Addiction leads male sex addicts, it would appear, to obsessively seek female sex addicts. When they fail to materialize, most turn to prostitutes or to porn. While one could make the argument that renting women comes with the risks of sexually transmitted infections (though it’s usually male customers who insist on sex without condoms), there is a clear and gendered imbalance in the consequences for sex addiction. While male sex addicts might lose a romantic partner or two over their philandering, they don’t face the same level of social opprobrium women do for engaging similar behavior, nor do their risky sexual behaviors come with the threat of rape or murder as women’s do. In addition to avoiding the bulk of the consequences that their female counterparts confront, male sex addicts can be a detriment to many others beyond the romantic partners that they serially cheat on, because they often help create the demand in the porn and prostitution industries that allows for their continued existence and continued exploitation of women and children.

But let’s be serious. Is every character flaw going to become a disease that one can only escape from via rehab? If men are wandering around, glassy-eyed and thoughtless, in search of women they can joylessly fuck, is the problem really that these men are addicts, or is it simply that they’ve bought into the idea that life should be like Entourage and thus lost the plot? If there are women frantically seeking attention from soulless, predatory men who don’t value them for anything other than their breasts and orifices, are they diseased, or are they just manifesting the central lesson our warped social and cultural system has to teach women and girls: that they are valuable only to the extent that men find them sexually useful?

Note that every single person interviewed in the Newsweek article has a stake in the addiction recovery industry. The Salon interview — though it is guilty of get-with-it-ism as it presents porn addiction and sexual dishonesty as unproblematic save for their effect on the flowery sensibilities of puritanical weenies — at least takes note of the fact that those in the therapy industry have a personal financial stake in the mainstream acceptance of the addiction model.

I have an idea. Farting in public is rude and often costs people the respect of others, but there are people out there who just can’t help themselves and get a dopamine rush out of doing it. I’m setting up an in-patient farting-in-public recovery center in LA, complete with massage, fitness center, yoga classes, and personal nutritionists for each of our clients who will help them create meal plans that will minimize flatulence and hence help our patients avoid a key trigger for addictive behavior. We’ll take major insurance plans, of course.

That may seem absurd, but it looks like it’s where we’re headed. A pattern is emerging in late capitalism: leaders of a given industry will seek ways to create physical and emotional dependencies on their products among the public in order to ensure their own continued profits, those dependencies will eventually threaten the consumer’s emotional or physical wellbeing, and then a new branch of the therapeutic industry will materialize to make a profit off of helping consumers shake off their dependencies, thus replacing a dependency on the products of the sex, alcohol, drug, or processed food industries with a dependency on the recovery industry. As long as somebody’s making money, everything’s cool.

And the recovery scene is addictive. Where else but a twelve-step meeting can one narcissistically recount booze/sex/drug party stories in front of an audience that swoons over the most depraved details? And where else can one find a community of people who will repeatedly excuse any failure to abstain from damaging behavior as a disease that simply cannot be helped? Not only do twelve-step programs and therapists offer a convenient way out of trouble for those whose behavior has resulted in negative consequences, but they also provide excuses for continued poor behavior with the language of “illness” and “powerlessness.” That’s right: the addiction model tells us that the guy who jacks off to bestiality porn all day long and/or cheats on his wife with prostitutes a few times a week is powerless to control his own behavior. He’s sick, he needs help, he knows not what he does. The poor guy. What can his wife do to help him recover?

Sex is not heroin. Sex is not alcohol. The sex addiction model being put forth by the recovery industry is:

valley-girl science”… They will tell you, and [the Newsweek] article is a good example of it, that sex addiction is like an eating disorder, it’s like a heroin addiction. The reality is this is an incredibly weak form of argument, because it’s so subjective; and when they tell you that sex addiction is like an eating disorder, they don’t tell you all the things that are different about it. They live by anecdotes, because they don’t have good science.

Lumping porn use and compulsive promiscuity under one umbrella term doesn’t do us any analytical favors. Jacking off to porn all day long is not the same thing as compulsively engaging in casual sexual encounters, and they need to be approached as distinct phenomena. Further, treating sex addiction as if it were similar to alcoholism, etc. creates the assumption that the entirety of the problem is chemical or biological rather than behavioral. Yes, studies show that porn use can cause structural changes in the brain and can warp sexual responses to the point that the prospect of in-person sex with a real female human being fails to turn porn addicts on.  But no adult man (the topic of porn’s effects on children’s developing sexuality will have to wait until another day) wakes up one day unable to get a boner without porn out of the blue. It’s a process that occurs over time, and it’s a process that anyone with enough internet access to jack off thirty times a day has to be aware of, since it’s the hottest news story since the PS4 dropped. Even teenage boys are aware of that potentiality.

Sexual compulsions, even if they have progressed to such a point, are at base behavioral problems that can be corrected if there is any impetus to do so, even if correcting them isn’t a mega-fun fuckfest and requires that men exercise some self-control and empathy for the sake of others. Men possess free will. Let’s not get carried away with all this “addiction” business and turn them into hapless victims, thereby granting them impunity from the social consequences of their choices. Remember, they’re listening; Ariel Castro just attempted to use sex and porn addiction as an excuse for rape, kidnapping, and murder.

Does this guy sound like someone who deserves pity?

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The conflation of sex addiction with problems such as alcoholism reaches the realm of comic absurdity when it comes to treatment. AA has a marginal success rate. When it does succeed, it isn’t because the members “work the steps” and fervently adhere to Bill W.’s gospel, it’s because the AA scene (depending on the city in which one attends meetings) offers mid-range alcoholics the one tool that can help them avoid drinking: people to hang out with who don’t drink. Beyond that, it’s nebulous, fruity, quasi-religious self-help folderol that probably puts more people off than it helps. Since most twelve-step meetings for sex addicts call themselves Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous in the hopes of serving both men and women, they undercut the only useful aspect of AA/NA by creating a community that makes it even more difficult for people to abstain from whatever behavior brought them to the meetings in the first place. A room full of male “sex addicts” and female “love addicts” talking about sex is a recipe for unadulterated (hehe) failure, am I right?

David Ley argues in the Salon piece that part of the problem with the addiction model is that it leads people to measure sexual behavior against that of an idealized (and probably non-existent) monogamous, married, heterosexual couple. Anything that does not fit within those parameters is deemed pathological and “treatment” is recommended. That’s only part of the problem. Ley assumes an atomized individual subject without social relationships or responsibilities, and completely elides any discussion of the role of popular culture, male supremacy, or the sex industry in fomenting destructive behavior. The solution to the “sex addiction epidemic” is not to normalize sexual exploitation and sexual dishonesty in the name of smashing prudery, it’s to recognize what actually motivates compulsive sexual behavior and the anxiety that results from it. We have to decide what’s pathological based not on whether it offends Pat Robertson, but on whether it hurts anyone, and we have to deal with pathology by seeking its root. The solution to empty, hyperactive, and exploitative sexuality is political consciousness, not “treatment” or the fuck-first-don’t-ask-questions-later plan. Unfortunately, “treatment” enables men to continue to exercise their right to use and abuse women, while political consciousness comes with social, political, and emotional costs for them.

An Open Letter to Bang-on Custom T-Shirts

7 Dec

Dear Head Canadian T-shirt Bro (or, President and/or CEO of Bang-on Custom T-Shirts Ltd.) Craig Doyle,

I’m not sure that I expect much from people who are making novelty/faux-vintage t-shirts in 2012, but I felt compelled to write after a recent visit to your Atlanta, Georgia outlet in the carnival of ill-conceived attempts at rebellion known as the Little Five Points neighborhood. While perusing the otherwise banal and innocuous bits of disjointed pop culture detritus that make up the bulk of your t-shirt designs, I found myself facing the back wall of the store, where my eyes came to rest upon a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I choked Linda Lovelace” in a VH-1-attempts-a-70s-look font.

While I can probably follow the train of thought that deposited your designers into the trough of depraved stupidity from which they dispatched this particular design, I wonder if you or your management team have done likewise. If not, you’re too stupid to run a company. If so, you’re too big of an asshole.

Let me elaborate. It’s likely (nay, it’s nearly impossible that it’s otherwise) that the dude who brought this sartorial satori to the world was just some thoughtless dick who doesn’t think much one way or the other about the porn industry and its effects on women. He’s probably heard of (or seen — retro porn to match one’s retro camera) Deep Throat, is familiar with the subject matter, and figured he’d stumbled upon a way to make an “I have a big dick” t-shirt clever and/or funny. While that’s a worthy pursuit, he’d have been far better off going with one that said “I have a big dick.” Instead, he submitted — and your company produced — a t-shirt that says, “To me, women’s bodies are just dick-measuring instruments in a never-ending contest between supposedly heterosexual men.”

Your design dude (one would hope) was probably not aware that Linda Lovelace was coerced into participating in the production of Deep Throat and several other works of pornography — including a bestiality film — and that Chuck Traynor, her “manager” and husband, beat her, raped her, allowed other men to gang rape her, kept her prisoner, and threatened her life with deadly weapons on several occasions. Whoops! Making a dick joke at the expense of a brutalized woman is a faux-pas all the way, dude.

As embarrassed as you ought to be by this bit of egregiously obtuse insensitivity, it’s only half of the problem. Let’s say — as might most dudes who are invested in believing that women enjoy being sexually abused so half-wit men like those who design your t-shirts can jack off more efficiently — that Lovelace lied about having been raped and actually participated in the making of Deep Throat willingly (despite never having received any compensation for her participation). Deep Throat is a movie about a woman whose clitoris is located in her esophagus, and who therefore seeks out opportunities to fellate men, inserting their penises down her throat to a point that would make anyone on Earth choke and likely puke. Quick, find me a real, live woman with a clitoris in her throat, or even one who reaches orgasm via deep-throating penises. Not one who is paid to pretend so, but an actual woman who has a clitoris in her throat or enjoys the sensation of impending organ damage. If you find the former, I’ll give you a million dollars. If you find the latter, I’ll be shocked, and I’ll show you a woman who has been so psychologically traumatized by men and the porn industry that her body no longer heeds its own instincts. No man believes that such a woman exists. Ergo, men who are excited by the concept or actualization of deep-throating find it arousing despite (or because of) the fact that they know it causes pain and instinctive fear.

Linda Lovelace — even though you’ve probably seen her blow someone on film — was a human being. I know that this is a difficult concept for porn users to grasp, but she had emotions, she had nerve endings that detected pain and bodily damage, she had an esophagus that existed to protect her digestive system from intrusion. Women’s bodies do not exist to be used and abused by men, even if men are willing to pay a lot of money for the privilege. No one wants to be choked, injured, or gagged for the sake of assuaging some narcissistic dunce’s penis anxiety, nor does the absence of a gag reflex indicate that a particular woman was created by the cosmos as a dick receptacle.

The lack of consideration for women’s humanity evinced in a t-shirt that reads “I choked Linda Lovelace” would be shocking if it weren’t so ubiquitous. That we have been so desensitized to the sexual abuse of women by the porn industry and by societal misogyny that people continue to shop at a store that sells a shirt that basically says my human dignity and bodily integrity are less important than the size of your dick ought to worry you enough to make you question your participation in the perpetuation of that idea. If that’s too much to ask, then at least stick to designs with less room for interpretation. Say, “Fuck Art Let’s Dance!” for example. It’s safer that way.

Until then, I’ll encourage as many people as I can to boycott your stores.

Sincerely,

ND

Bang-on Contact Page

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Porn Part 11: The Difference Between Huffing Dong and Flipping Burgers

15 Mar

For some reason the end note on Porn Part 10 explaining my use of the phrase “commercial rape” has caused an uproar amongst several people who were apparently unable to understand the post itself or the difference between flipping burgers and letting people ejaculate all over you. One of the objections pseudo-intellectual Libertarian dudes like to bring to any discussion of porn and whether it amounts to rape is the fact that no one would consent to do their jobs were they not being paid to do so. This type of objector to feminist discourse casually saunters into an ongoing debate, barely skims the post, completely ignores the comments, plonks his point down in a single sentence surrounded by chimerical “gotchas” and the stench of unwarranted arrogance, and then dips out, assuming he has decimated decades of feminist theory with the epiphany-inducing proclamation he has blessed us womenfolk with.

Naturally, I delete the vast majority of these comments out of respect for the people on this site who actually read and think about what’s being discussed, but I suppose the argument that sex work is like all other work is raised often enough — even in radical circles — that I ought to address it.

In a capitalist economy, labor of any kind, whether physical, mental, or a combination thereof, is assigned an abstract value attached either to a set unit of time during which the work will be performed or to an individual task that is to be performed. All labor relations are considered by “free-market” capitalists to be contract relationships between the employer and the person performing the labor. The person performing the labor, as capitalist ideology goes, is a free agent who chooses the terms under which she or he will perform labor for recompense, limited in only the most basic of ways by federal labor and minimum wage laws. It is upon this idea of free contract labor that political participation and citizenship are founded in the US and most other developed countries.* The problem with the theory of free contract labor has been and always will be the reality workers face when making the decision to sell their labor. The value assigned to a given unit of labor is said to derive from its relative scarcity in a supply-and-demand driven market economy, rather than from the cultural context in which the value of the labor is determined, but that assessment relies on the assumption that markets operate in rational, predictable ways. Clearly, that is not the case.  The value of a given form of labor is not set by the laborer in a vacuum, but is rather constrained by the social, cultural, and economic conditions in which the labor contract is negotiated. There is a reason that most economic predictions fail: economists generally can’t figure out how to account for the often strange contingencies of human psychology and culture.

One of capitalism’s central features, at least according to orthodox capitalist ideology, is universalism. To each according to his merit, as it were. The problem, however, is that capitalism has required racism and sexism as fundamental components of its ability to function on a global scale. The history of the spread of capitalism is inextricably bound up with the history of slavery, imperialism, and the general devaluation of the labor (and lives) of women and people of color for the sake of increased profit. Capitalist ideology is simultaneously universalist, sexist, and racist, because it grew out of and flourished in an intellectual and political climate characterized by all three.**

Most radical anti-capitalism theorists unfortunately fail to recognize that patriarchy has existed far longer than capitalism has and will likely outlast capitalism, and hence must be taken account of if one wishes to devise a politico-economic theory that will actually end group-based hierarchy. Despite the presence of a vocal contingent of purportedly radical men who are pro-sex work, the numbers of those who are anti-capitalism, though growing, are still relatively small, and there are far more regular old dudes who make the “all work is exploitation so porn ain’t so bad” argument.

I’ll pretend for a second that the dudes — radical or otherwise — who take that position are simply expressing an honestly-arrived-at objection to the argument that porn and prostitution are commercial rape.

The value of a given form of labor is determined by demand for that form of labor in a sense, but both demand and the value assigned to labor are socially constructed. In your average office job, the amount of money a worker is paid is determined by how much her employer has determined her set of skills and time are worth, usually about 75% of the amount they would pay a male worker for the same work. Were market forces to operate according to capitalist theory, that pay gap would not exist. “The market” doesn’t work as indicated in this scenario because the market operates within a social system of beliefs. US law, for the majority of the last century, treated women’s work as supplementary to that of a putative male breadwinner, and thus as deserving of a lower wage than men’s work, regardless of whether the female worker in question was married. Despite the 1963 Equal Pay Act, the pay gap persists because the social and cultural expectations that undergirded prior laws and court decisions upholding sex-based wage discrimination continue to exist. Law and economics are not extra-cultural. Because the social and economic gender roles of the wider culture defined manhood in large part as the ability to provide for a family through either wage work or business ownership and defined womanhood as caring for a home, husband, and children, the law and the market followed suit by restricting women’s ability to do as they saw fit with their own labor and by devaluing that labor relative to that of men.***

Women’s labor, then, is undervalued in the sense that they are paid less for work that both women and men do. In fact, there are only a few forms of labor for which women are not paid less than men, and they have a very important feature in common: jobs for which women are paid more than men require both self-destruction and complicity in the propagation of misogyny. For example, female fashion models are paid more than male fashion models because female fashion models, through starving themselves and posing for photo spreads that will later be edited to make their already rare looks even more unattainable, help inculcate a sense of self-loathing among women when they realize that they don’t measure up to an ever-changing and impossible beauty ideal based on the sexual desires of men. Women in porn are paid more than men are because the women in porn play an active role in communicating messages about women that a misogynistic world wants to hear and which help to solidify and expand that misogyny. Consent, in a scenario in which women can only out-earn men by offering themselves up as objects to be debased and consumed, means something far different than it does to the men who love the concept so much. Under non-commercial circumstances, consent’s already noxious definition is “I’ll allow you” rather than “I want to.” In a commercial context, it means, “Because you are paying me, I’ll allow you even though I don’t want to and it likely hurts and makes me feel subhuman, and I agree not to call the cops afterward.”

Porn and prostitution are qualitatively different from other remunerative activities because penetration has long been a metaphor for and a literal act of domination. Most men conceive of their bodies as impermeable, discreet, sovereign units. They are aware that penetrating another human being’s body has a deep psychological impact on the person being penetrated, and it is thus no surprise that men reared in societies that valorize violence, aggression, and competition would come to equate penetration with vanquishing the penetrated.**** Women who participate in the production of pornography not only allow themselves to be penetrated — often violently and often by many men — but they usually evince (paid for/faked/half-hearted) pleasure, which communicates a very clear message to the audience: women like to be dominated, humiliated, vanquished, and used by men; a desire to be dominated is an essential component of femaleness that inheres in women in the form of a vagina, which exists for men to penetrate. It is on this view of femaleness and the use of sex as a tool of domination that societal misogyny rests.

So, yes, allowing one’s body to be penetrated for money, even if it causes a pleasurable physical sensation, is a greater acquiescence to exploitation than agreeing to make $5 Footlongs for $7 an hour, even though it pays more. Participating in the making of anti-woman propaganda requires far greater emotional, physical, and political compromises on women’s part than any job men do for equivalent pay. The relatively high (for women) wage porn work and prostitution command does not represent our society’s great love for the female form, it signifies the fact that we are willing to pay somewhat dearly to uphold and jack off to misogyny.

Of those men who come here and make the simplistic and dishonest argument that porn isn’t rape because all work requires us to consent to things we wouldn’t do for free, I would like to ask how much your boss would have to pay you to let him fuck you in the ass while you blow his assistant before he, his assistant, and the janitorial staff ejaculate all over your face. Video of the event would, of course, be posted on the internet and would be available to anyone with basic internet search skills until the day you die. I am truly interested in hearing the figures, which are surely more than $1000.

* See Alice Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America.

** See Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Ideological Tensions of Capitalism: Universalism Versus Racism and Sexism.”

*** Kessler-Harris, chapter 1.

**** See Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse.

Porn Part 10: The Rutting Dogs of Capitalism

16 Feb

running dog

… a literal translation into English of the Chinese/Korean communist pejorative zǒu gǒu 走狗, meaning lackey or lapdog, an unprincipled person who helps or flatters other, more powerful and often evil people. It is derived from the eagerness with which a dog will respond when called by its owner, even for mere scraps.

Capitalists are not often the root cause of social change. They just aren’t the geniuses capitalist ideology would have us believe they are. More often, they take note of social trends and find ways to latch onto and misdirect social change to their own benefit. Hugh Hefner was a shrewd capitalist. He saw the push coming from women for greater sexual freedom and autonomy, and he also rightly detected (probably because he was afflicted with it) the 1960s trend toward the idea that the only means to expressing one’s “true self” was through consumption. What looks like an ingenious anti-feminist usurpation of women’s liberation ideology in Playboy is really nothing more than Hefner’s realization that the women’s liberation movement had pushed sexuality into the public eye to the extent that he could now sell sex to men along with watches, colognes, and esoteric cigarette brands.

At the moment at which women seemed on the brink of overthrowing patriarchy, Hefner succeeded in turning women into yet another object for men to consume in the pursuit of projecting a fashionable lifestyle and thus — probably accidentally — in driving a wedge between those who could see what was happening and those who didn’t want to that has yet to be dislodged. The story from that point on is a familiar one that leads to the present, when anyone with internet access can find hundreds of pages of rape porn with very little effort.

The cultural journey from half-naked women frolicking in fields to readily-available gang rape porn illustrates a few of the fallacies and problems in capitalist ideology, especially as deployed by defenders of the porn industry. Pornographers claim, as does everyone else who makes a profit selling anything, that they are just meeting a demand (though pornographers doth-protest-a-little-too-much to a greater extent than those who sell products that can’t be shown to be direct causes of rape and human trafficking). Most readers of Playboy in 1969 would likely have been disturbed by the content of a modern mainstream porn clip. For that matter, most viewers of hardcore porn from the early 1990s would be at least mildly alarmed by what is readily available on the internet today. But once something becomes a legitimate target for commodification, all bets are off. Marketers left meeting demand behind nearly a century ago (see the BBC series The Century of the Self) for the more fertile ground of creating it themselves by means of hiring psychological experts to tell them how to manipulate people into believing that they truly needed what was being offered to them for sale. The porn industry is a leader in the psychological manipulation of its customers and makes use of expert advice on addiction psychology and neurological science in order to ensure its continued profits. Scores of studies have shown that long-term porn users find themselves compulsively viewing material that would have upset them had they viewed it months or years earlier, but pornographers disingenuously claim that they are just making what the people want. Horseshit. Some weirdo in Belarus might have decided one day that his ultimate dream was to see a woman get fucked by a dog, but it took the porn industry to create a situation in which every dude over the age of fifteen has seen a video of a woman getting fucked by a dog at least ten times.

Profit is the supreme end of capitalist ideology, and that renders capitalist ideology amoral. There is no realm of human existence that capitalist ideology cannot be applied to, which is one of the soundest arguments against capitalism. That is, if one realizes that there are certain aspects of human existence the application of capitalist ideology to which is immoral. War, health, and sex are the examples that spring to mind first. Capitalist ideology holds that profit is always good, even if extracting a profit from something adulterates or destroys it. The extraction of profit from commodified sexuality has reached a point at which it threatens to destroy sexuality even for those who do not consume its commodified form. (To give one relevant example, extracting profit from commodified sexuality routinely destroys the bodies and minds of those being commodified in the commercial rape industry.*) Pornographers, despite their patently absurd claims to the contrary, do not want you to have a healthy sex life. If you had a healthy sex life, their product would become irrelevant. When porn producers read studies of erectile dysfunction in men under twenty, they rejoice, because it means that they have scored a customer for life who cannot get his sexual needs met without creating demand in an industry that reflects and exacerbates societal misogyny and takes that misogyny out on real women’s bodies. When porn producers read articles about young women who believe that if they don’t embrace their own degradation and physical and emotional discomfort they will be as good as invisible, they shit their pants with glee at the thought of their labor costs decreasing as more and more women flood into the pool of willing performers.

Porn producers are capitalists. They justify commodifying and debasing sexuality to the brink of its destruction on the basis of the capitalist ideology that underlies the entire global power structure. They don’t do it to help the state or the managerial class to control citizens and employees, they do it to make money for themselves. The fact that half of the population is so obsessed with porn that they don’t have any spare time to spend on thinking about the ethical problems inherent in capitalist ideology is nothing but a by-product bonus that the porn industry happens to accidentally contribute to the global capitalist order. Beer companies don’t set out to keep the population mired in drunkenness, hangovers, depression, and alcohol-fueled family dysfunction to prevent them from reaching an emotional and intellectual position from which to confront capitalist ideology, they do so to ensure their own continued profits. That their interests dovetail with those of the managerial class and the world’s governments is a happy coincidence born of the ideology that drives them all. Therein lies the key: within the capitalist world system, everyone in a position of power, whether governmental or financial (the difference between which being diminished to a terminal extent at this point), approaches the task of making decisions from an ideologically capitalistic position. Government officials, when asked to decide whether to regulate the porn industry, don’t opt not to because they believe that the porn industry will keep the population docile by sapping all of its “essence,” they opt not to because they are products of the capitalist world system, the linchpin of which is a capitalist ideology that has assured them since birth that profit is always good.

It is truly bizarre to witness purportedly anti-capitalist or leftist men performing Libertarian mental gymnastics to defend their porn use when it is evident that the porn industry is one of the best examples the radical left could point to as an illustration of the flaws inherent in capitalist theory and practice. But even those who aren’t all that interested in political or economic theory ought to be aware that they’re being manipulated to their own detriment and understand the difference between their own interests and those of corporations for whom nothing matters save profit.

Men should stop using porn because the porn industry rapes, traffics, and kills women. Men should stop using porn because men who use porn make shitty lovers, terrible partners, and are an embarrassment to humanity. Men should stop using porn because men’s porn use makes women’s lives nearly unbearable. Clearly, none of that seems to matter to most men, so how about men stop using porn because it’s bad for men? The porn industry, in seeking to enrich itself, is turning men into sexually dysfunctional robots with no capacity for emotional bonding through the act of sex.

Men, please, have a word with yourselves. The porn industry does not give one fuck about you, and in fact they think you’re just as stupid as they do the women they abuse in the making of their product. They sit around in boardrooms laughing at the thought of you sitting up in your room at four in the morning with your dick in your hand jacking off to images of a bunch of other guys’ dicks doing something to a female human being who is at best incidental. They joke about turning you all gay by directing your sexuality away from women and molding it around other men’s behavior and genitalia. They know their product makes you feel guilty, empty, disgusting, and lonely. But they also know that they can only continue to exist to the extent that you allow them to control and damage your sexuality. Please, for our sake and your own, quit being such a bunch of fucking dupes.

* For those of you new to the site, I call the porn industry the “commercial rape industry” because the women in porn are paid for consent they would not otherwise furnish. If someone has to be paid to consent to something, they have not actually consented to it but have rather agreed not to make their non-consent an issue in exchange for money.

An open letter to Creative Loafing Atlanta on the occasion of the inauguration of Are You Shaved

21 Dec

Dear Creative Loafing,

The cover story for your December 15-21 issue, sporting the title, “Melysa Martinez, our new sex columnist, asks, ‘Is Atlanta uptight?‘” has forced me, at last, to write the letter I’ve been meaning to write ever since I read your embarrassment of a “college guide” issue a few months ago (of which I re-purposed fifteen copies to protect my hardwood floors from cat piss while training my cat to use his litter box).

The title led me to a few related assumptions before I had even opened the paper. First, since Creative Loafing had hired a woman to write its sex column, I figured I could look forward to a little less of the doltism – and, often, brazen misogyny — exhibited by the dude who preceded her. But second, I worried, as I am wont to do whenever a faux-progressive media outlet hires a woman to talk about sex, that once again I’d be seeing consumerist, destructive, male-centric ideas about sexuality insidiously smuggled into the minds of the unthoughtful under the guise of being woman-approved. It was worse than I thought. It appears that not only will CL be selling hackneyed rehashings of bro-ish sex fantasies in boxes stamped with the woman-approved seal, but the (empty) “punk rock” imprimatur will also help ensure that no one analyzes or criticizes those fantasies lest they be deemed uncool.

There are things I like about Atlanta, but Atlanta’s take on counter-culture is not one of them. I understand that many of the people who live here have come here to escape reactionary, conformist realities of which most people may never be able to apprehend the depths. Still, I expect that anyone claiming to occupy a socially transgressive role actually do so, and that is simply not the case with many people in this town. It’s 2011. Getting tattoos, advertising one’s love for tits/tacos/booze by means of wacky novelty t-shirts (vintage or not), or involving oneself in the local horror movie lovers’ scene does not make one a revolutionary, but rather a consumer of one or more commercially conceived and marketed lifestyles. The fact that the bulk of the counter-cultural activity in town revolves around Clothing Warehouse and people getting wasted in one of eight or so bars can be blamed in part, I’m sure, on the gentrification of the city in recent years, as well as on the corporate media concentration which began in the late 90s and saw all of the avenues for rebellious expression bought up, repackaged, and sold to kids who would never be the wiser. But Creative Loafing is also complicit in the devolution of the city’s cultural life. There are smaller cities in this country with far more interesting music, art, and political environments. What they all have in common is a thriving, responsible alternative media presence, not a choice between a weekly headed by a Republican asshole and a weekly that exists to advertise the fact that some dude partied with some shitty band, that yet another new junk food chic restaurant is trying to sell $18 burgers with sous-vide dog turds on them while no one knows where to buy dumplings on Buford Highway, and that there is a chick in town with tattoos who drinks whiskey and likes to fuck (you don’t say!). In the text of the article, Martinez makes reference to playing tug-of-war with her “four-legged daughter,” mentions a thwarted desire to move to New York City, and recounts a conversation with a male friend from San Francisco in which she bemoans the fact that men don’t ask her out, concluding that men are intimidated by her. Where have I heard this before?

I don’t expect much from Atlantans anymore when it comes to thoughtfulness, especially when it comes to discussions of human sexuality, but I suppose I’ll scream into the void anyway and voice my grievances with the article itself.

A sex column called Are You Shaved? Really, now. Martinez claims in comments to the online version of the article that she chose the name after hearing the question posed to the title character in the movie Amelie. I’ve (unfortunately) seen the movie, but I forgot that line. So did everyone else. Leaving aside the juvenile asininity of such a title, is there a female human being under thirty (surely, Creative Loafing imagines its audience, roughly, to be 18-30-year-olds) who isn’t? I was under the impression that the porn industry had ensured by this point that there are only nine heterosexual men alive in America who don’t pressure their female partners to remove their pubes regularly, to the point that women, when surveyed on the subject, have come to feel such shame over the natural state of their bodies that they claim to remove their pubes in toto because they think they are “dirty” or “unsanitary.” Martinez says that she likes “to see the question as a metaphor for whether or not we can be stripped of what makes us insecure, leaving us naked and vulnerable.” So, shaving one’s pubes metaphorically equates to shedding decades of social conditioning that has resulted in epidemic proportions of women (and men) feeling ashamed of their bodies because they don’t measure up to an ever-changing – and always impossible – standard created by an industry that exists to make a profit by manipulating and exacerbating human insecurity and sexual shame? War is peace, I guess.

Martinez claims there is no such thing as a pervert. What the fuck are we supposed to do as a society when there is no such thing as a pervert? I’m pretty comfortable with labeling anyone who pursues non-consensual activity a pervert (e.g., rapists, pedophiles, etc.) In fact, I’m cool with labeling anyone who finds the dehumanization of a human being orgasmic a pervert, because that’s what the definition of sexual perversion is: a warping of human sexuality such that one finds something other than sex – such as power – more orgasmic than sex itself.

The term “pervert” has been used as a tool for shaming and dehumanizing sexual minorities, which is unacceptable, but it still has uses. The problem with people like Martinez is that they can only see two options with regard to sexuality: reactionary sexuality and sexual (lower-case L) libertarianism. Reactionaries deploy the concept of the pervert — and other forms of psychological and physical violence — in order to shame women, homosexuals, and anyone else who doesn’t follow the patriarchal sexual script into either getting on board or disappearing themselves from public view. Sexual libertarians have taken things too far in the other direction, beginning from the assumption that any criticism of any form of sexuality ought to be verboten. That would be a great thing, were it not for the fact that we still live in a straight white male supremacist society in which the range of sexual expression for those who are not straight white men is limited by what straight white men can deal with. It would be nice to see some sexual liberationists take things a step further by taking it as a given that people ought to be free to explore their sexuality, but questioning the bases of the social construction of sexual desires and how they might affect our social and political realities. With freedom comes responsibility and shit.

The general thrust of Martinez’s monologue is that she’s devoutly anti-shame, but there’s a decided “get with it” tone present throughout the discussion. She ham-fistedly insinuates that Atlantans are uptight because we don’t all act like rockabilly teenagers and aren’t keen to shout our most private fantasies over the first PBR. She assures us that there’s “nothing wrong with [our] likes and dislikes” but then tells men whose girlfriends “won’t give in” and submit to some “backdoor action” to find someone who will. Shaming people for wanting to do something consensual might not be cool, but shaming people who don’t want to do something – which amounts to pressure, which is a form of social and interpersonal coercion — is downright fucked.

Martinez asks men what kind of porn they watch and what their fetishes are, she writes, quite early in the getting-to-know-you phase. It’s the fear and hostility people feel with regard to sexuality that underlie many of the most destructive forces in human psychology, and thus creating space for frank and realistic sexual discussions is necessary to a healthy sexual existence and to a functioning society. But is the goal really to reduce every potential relationship to whether or not the two people involved like to have the same kinds of props in the room when they fuck? No one ought to be ashamed to engage in a sexual discussion, no matter what the content of that discussion, provided that the time for the conversation is appropriate. But if a dude were to go straight from asking me whether I’m into the Black Lips to asking me whether I do anal, I’d sneak out before he got the chance to stick his dick in my face unannounced. A woman broaching the subject of fetishes with a near stranger doesn’t carry the implicit threat that a man doing so does, but it’s still creepy. Boundaries matter, as any sex columnist who gives a shit about the concept of consent ought to know.

Still, let’s say the context isn’t creepy, and that Martinez is simply bemoaning the fact that men can’t seem to deal appropriately with a woman who discusses sex openly. She writes that, when she does so, men either “retreat into their good-boy shells,” or that they “assume [that her questions about sex mean] they get a straight pass to the bedroom.” Maybe these men aren’t uptight. Maybe the explanation is that the men she hangs out with — as most men do — suffer from a virgin/whore complex and have learned to deal with sexually open women by shunning them as “whores” or attempting to take advantage of them, deeming them good for nothing else. Where is the suggestion that men learn to view women as human beings rather than as caricatures who exist solely as extensions of men’s egos?

It’s fairly disheartening – though by no means surprising — that porn use is a given, and that all that’s left to discuss is which version of commodified sexuality one consumes, how degrading it is, and whether one partner can emotionally withstand knowing what forms of dehumanization the other finds orgasmic. We can simply no longer imagine a sexuality, apparently, that transcends scripts dictated to us by an industry that banks on fulfilling (and manipulating) male desires to the detriment of women’s humanity. But let’s not discuss that and what it might mean for our sex lives and our emotional development as human beings. That shit wouldn’t give anyone a boner.

This might be hard to believe, but one can tire of constant exposure to banal, unreflective, heteronormative/heterosexist discussions of fucking, and there are people in the world – Atlanta included — who might like to read and think about something a little more complex.

Martinez and Creative Loafing have both got it wrong. The problem with Atlanta is not that its people are uptight, but that they’ve somehow gotten the mistaken idea that being pro-porn, pro-microbrew, and pro-Rob Zombie is the opposite of uptight. Probably at least in part from Creative Loafing.

Please try a little harder. This is embarrassing.

Love,

ND

Nine Deucian Socio-political Theory Part 1

20 Oct

Before I proceed, I would like to announce that the independent coffee shop from which I will dispatch this post sells a “light bodied” coffee called Dirty Nekkid Lady.

A reader by the name of Gaffa moseyed on by here t’other day, shortly after I had published my Dr. Pepper Ten™ post, to inform me that she (I’m assuming Gaffa is a she, since women are the default humans, according to me) feels frustrated and disappointed in my recent choice of post topics:

There’s the law Congress is trying to pass about no longer requiring Catholic hospitals to at least transfer women to another hospital in cases of medical emergencies rather than perform abortions; there’s Scott Brown’s pronouncement on the fuckability of Elizabeth Warren, and there’s the NYPD mace-ing of women who were simply watching the Occupy protest, and all you can bring yourself to blog on lately are Avatar, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Slim Jim ads? Really?

Most people bristle at being told what they should be writing about, but I initially felt like a terrible feminist, probably due mostly to the fact that I haven’t written much in the last few months, but also because at least some of the people who read my blog apparently find what I choose to write about trivial. I have a lot of reasons for not writing as much as I used to and am still working out where this blog as a whole is going and why, but I’m not all that worried about explaining any of that right this second. What I am interested in doing, however, is explaining my choices with regard to post topics, as it appears I haven’t been clear enough in illustrating just why I think stupid movies and shitty commercials are such a BFD. I mustn’t forget that I write this blog in order to build a movement, not to have a radical feminist intellectual circle jerk with people who are already familiar with the theory that underlies my flip phrases (not that I don’t enjoy radical feminist intellectual circle jerks).

As to the suggested alternative topics, I don’t make a habit of writing about US electoral politics — even when politicians prove that they are misogynistic wangs — because US electoral politics is a professional wrestling league designed to distract the public from what genuinely warrants attention and energy (my somewhat recent post on the Anthony Weiner fracas notwithstanding, though that post has as much to do with just how ridiculous a distraction electoral politics is as with my opinion of Weiner and his wiener). I don’t write about abortion all that often because I’ve said all I have to say on the subject and am aware that the right to safe and legal abortion is constantly under siege, and because every liberal feminist blog covers every abortion story that emerges, mostly satisfactorily. And cops macing female protesters, though it is of course fucked up, is the kind of thing Liberal Dude protesters will blog about plenty in an attempt to “get pussy” by pretending to chivalrousness.

This might disappoint Gaffa (and probably several other people), but I will likely continue to do what I have done since the advent of the ‘chine, which is, among other things, write about popular culture (including porn, BDSM, entertainment media, and marketing) and the ways in which it reflects and shapes societal misogyny. I will do so for two reasons. First and least importantly, writing about popular culture affords me the opportunity to entertain myself and (so I hear) a few others. Second, I actually believe popular culture to be chiefly to blame for the continuation of misogyny. The fact that we have gendered diet sodas might appear trivial due to its brazen absurdity, but people are going to buy Dr. Pepper Ten™, billions of people have uncritically absorbed the ridiculous messages Avatar™ managed to communicate, and men are going to eat poisonous sticks made of lips, assholes, and chemicals because they hate everything associated with femininity so much that they’re willing to eat Slim Jims™ when they’re told that Slim Jims™ will save them from faggotry.

It is essential to understand why these chunks of cultural detritus that we, the non-befuddled, rightly identify as absurd manage to influence the behavior of the general public. My view, derived chiefly from my understanding of radical feminist and anti-imperialist theory, is as follows:

In order for a hierarchy to exist, one must be able to identify who belongs to which status group. That is usually accomplished by defining a subordinate group (or groups) in relation to the dominant group. As in, dominant group A claims to exhibit characteristics X, Y, and Z, so subordinate group B is purported to exhibit characteristics L, M, and N, which are usually the opposite of or “complementary” (the language of hierarchy apologists) to characteristics X, Y, and Z. But difference alone doesn’t make a hierarchy, so the (real or purported) characteristics of the subordinated group are devalued in relation to the characteristics of dominant groups and are generally derided. In the case of gender hierarchy, for example, the prevailing ideology is that men are strong, women are weak; men are rational, women are emotional; men are high-minded, women are petty, jealous, and vain, etc. In order for male (or white, or Anglo-American, or upper class) supremacy to continue, the members of the dominant group are taught that they must do everything within their power to distance themselves, by means of whatever markers possible, from the subordinate group. Because women and men within the same social classes interact and, indeed, live in the same households in most cases, boys and men must go to much greater lengths to disassociate themselves from people they exist in such close association with. Hence, boys are inundated from a very young age with lessons on how to avoid what are most likely natural human behaviors (crying, displaying compassion and emotions other than anger, and so on) because such behaviors are deemed “feminine.”

There is a reason that little boys loathe pink while little girls either like or have neutral feelings about blue. There is also a reason that boys put “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” signs on their hideouts while little girls don’t shun boys — and then only do so half-heartedly — until they perceive that boys dislike them and react accordingly.

Coca-Cola™ and Con-Agra Foods ™ (the makers of Dr. Pepper Ten™ and Slim Jim™, respectively) and the ad outfits that work for them don’t likely have a nuanced, lucid, or even conscious understanding of how and why these mechanisms of identity differentiation and hierarchy affirmation work, but they know they exist. And being corporations, which are entities characterized by absolute amorality, they use the tools available to them to attain their only purpose, which is profit. By taking note of men’s perceived need to disassociate themselves from women and the misogyny from whence that perception arises, these corporations both reflect the level of woman hatred that characterizes contemporary American culture and solidify (and, in my view, increase) it.

Next time I find myself here at the Dirty Nekkid Lady-pushing coffee house, I will further infuriate those who want me to stop talking about Dr. Pepper Ten™, Slim Jims™, and stupid movies by using all three to elucidate my theory of emergent neo-masculinity that relies upon the extreme rejection of the survival instinct in excruciatingly verbose detail, and by finding the most ridiculous possible means by which to relate Avatar™, DP10™, and Slim Jims™ to my hypothesis as to the origins of patriarchy itself!

Coming Soon: Coca-Brola

15 Oct

The number of comments I’m required to delete that attempt to defend butthole bleaching tells me that I am not yet free to retire from blogging and bask in the glory of a post-male supremacist utopia, so I suppose I had better get back to it. It’s often hard to decide which squash to pluck from the cornucopia of examples of societal misogyny at my disposal, but I received a comment the other day from GraceMargaret regarding an ad campaign for Dr. Pepper Ten and was confronted not hours later with a dude brandishing a Dr. Pepper Ten, so this one fell into my lap, as it were.

Ad campaigns designed to sell products to men that had previously been marketed chiefly to women aren’t exactly novel at this point, but they seem to be getting more bizarre by the month. What were marketing departments thinking, targeting only women with admonitions to buy, buy, buy beauty and diet products? By associating diet drinks, diet pills, shower gel, and eye firming serums with womanity, the fuckability industries effectively precluded any chance they’d be able to sell any of their wares to people who’d rather die than be associated with women. The challenge overcoming the vagina stigma associated with these products poses to marketing, product development, and advertising departments has resulted in some fairly hilarious material. A recent trip to Target highlighted that for me when I wandered through the shower gel section and found shower pouffes in neon green, neon pink, cream, and aqua, then found the men’s shower gel section, where the pouffes were labeled “men’s shower buffs” and came in navy, maroon, black, and dark gray.  They were also four cents cheaper, which means Target had to — in addition to instructing the factory to create these additional “manly” colors — create a separate SKU for the “men’s shower buff” in order to differentiate it from the faggoty ol’ regular shower pouffe.

But that ain’t shit. Does anyone remember the Axe Detailer Shower Tool (thanks KendallMcK)?

Unilever created a men’s shower “tool” that looked exactly like a tire, then took the automotive theme even further by terming the item a “detailer” and putting out a commercial in which they refer to men’s balls and wiener as the “undercarriage.” Just ridiculous. Men will balk at no suggestion for how they might disassociate themselves with women, apparently, no matter how stupid it makes them look. Just look at the Slim Jim “Manbulance” campaign.

But we’re here to talk about soda. “We’ve been telling you that men drink Coke and women drink Diet Coke for decades, but forget that and start drinking it now, OK, bro?” is a pretty hard sell, but Coke figured, once they formulated a new zero-calorie Coke variant by mixing aspartame and Acesulfame K, that they could solve that problem by marketing the new formula to men as Coke Zero. The can is black and it purportedly tastes more like Coke. Add that to an ad campaign that appeals to the turgid male ego and sense of entitlement and you’ve got an officially non-gay diet soda:

The plan worked. Ask anyone who works in a restaurant who asks them for Coke Zero and opts to order regular Coke when the answer is no.

Though the Coke Zero marketing campaign indicated that it was a product designed for men — who, unlike women, deserve both zero calories and “real Coke taste” — women were never explicitly excluded from the right to quaff the new wonder beverage. Dr. Pepper, however, is letting women know that their new diet soda is for men only, and that women are welcome to fuck off and die before they’ll be invited to drink a DP10 with the boys. Dr. Pepper Ten has ten calories — from actual high fructose corn syrup — in addition to a machine-gun gray can, but the differences between Dr. Pepper Ten and Diet Dr. Pepper don’t end at minor formula adjustments and can design changes; the slogan for the new product is “Dr. Pepper Ten: It’s Not for Women.” Women can drink Diet Dr. Pepper, which “tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper” (than other drinks that weren’t Dr. Pepper or Diet Dr. Pepper before the advent of Dr. Pepper Ten, I’m assuming) or they can drink water or some other gay shit, but they are not welcome to DP10.

The ad mimics Predator, Sniper, Commando, Rambo, etc. and features a generic Action Asshole™ riding around in a Jeep, shooting a giant gun, and battling snakes and bad guys, all the while keeping his cool and nonchalantly informing the women in the audience that this is a movie for men, and Dr. Pepper Ten is soda for men. He then tosses an empty soda can from the vehicle — which triggers a net that catches the antagonists following his Jeep — and triumphantly points at the camera and declares, “catchphrase!” in an attempt to make idiots feel smart for realizing that action movie cliches are cliches in 2011, when everyone else figured it out sometime around 1993.

The question has been raised whether the TV spot is satirical, given the absurd tenor of the Coke Zero and Pepsi Max ads. I would be inclined to take that view if it weren’t for the fact that Dr. Pepper is trying to sell a product to half of all Americans, not fans of the good bits of  The Colbert Report and The Onion, or the fact that Dr. Pepper is planning a “mobile Man Cave” tour in the test market cities to promote DP10 (one of which I unfortunately live in), or the fact that this campaign looks exactly like every other example of dudevertising in recent memory (see the Burger King Seven-Incher, the Slim Jim Manbulance, every commercial ever aired on Spike or FX, etc.). Unclever, self-aware, faux snark deployed by people who don’t understand what they’re parodying or why it deserves derision does not satire make.

Men are going to start drinking Dr. Pepper Ten because men are stupid, but women, according to focus groups, are cool with the no-bitches-or-hoes marketing approach to the extent that they plan to drink the new product, incorrectly assuming that the new formula will come with slightly less cancer than Diet Dr. Pepper. That leads me to two depressing conclusions. First, so many women have absorbed the message that a woman who wears a size four or above is a fundamental failure as a human being that a multi-national corporation can safely assume that, even if they accompany it with a misogynistic marketing push that explicitly states that the product is not for women, women will buy any low-calorie product that appears on a shelf. Women will buy something that they think will help them avoid gaining weight even if it is being sold by an entity that expresses overt disdain for women, which means women have had their self-respect and dignity beaten out of them by the fuckability mandate. Second, men hate women and fear anything associated with womanliness to such an extreme extent that corporations can now sell products to men on the basis of nothing other than their not being for women. What men are buying here is not a diet soda, which was already available in the exact same flavor, but rather a diet soda with a “suck my dick” label. Societal misogyny and the absurdity of gender symbolism have infiltrated the diet soda market to the point that there are now formulas and can designs for men only. Think about that.

If your kindergartener’s ass isn’t hot enough, Skechers can help.

30 Apr

Ever since the the early 90s when they began pumping out “skate shoes” and those ridiculous high-heeled sneakers, I’ve been wondering who the hell is buying Skechers. They seem to have a storefront in every town in America and an astronomical ad budget, but I can’t remember ever having known anyone who has owned a pair or even seeing anyone wearing them. According to the Wikipedia entry on the company, the CEO founded Skechers after jumping ship on the LA Gear brand, which ought to make a lot of sense to anyone who remembers LA Gear. What makes less sense, however, is the claim that Skechers started out making “skate shoes.” Having grown up in San Diego at the dawn of the skate brand era and surrounded by skateboarders, I can aver that not one skateboarder in town owned a pair of Skechers. In fact, I’m pretty certain that a kid showing up at a skate spot sporting a pair of Skechers might have suffered an ass-kicking, and would at a minimum have had to endure extremely vocal opprobrium. As such, Skechers made a real impression on me as a teenager as yet another dorky brand whose marketing directors were trying to latch onto a sub-culture they had no understanding of and were putting out a product that ended up being nothing but a mark of poseurdom. I know, I’m a dork for having had an opinion about a shoe brand and its relationship to illegitimate claims to skateboarderism, but whatever. I was a teenager with pretensions to punkness and Skechers were the Airborne of shoes.

The company quickly gave up on making skate shoes and moved on to producing a full line of footwear featuring boisterous iridescent accents and marshmallow soles, and I continued to wonder where they were making their money. Was every single person east of I-15 and west of I-95 wearing Skechers unbeknownst to me? I’m still mystified, though I didn’t really care one way or the other about Skechers until the recent launch of their Shape-Ups™ and Tone-Ups™ lines. For those of you who have managed to avoid hearing about Shape-Ups™, they are sneakers that curve up at the heel and toe, thus creating a constant instability that purportedly causes the leg and butt muscles to contract as one walks around. Despite the fact that they don’t work, look ridiculous, and have the potential to cause injury, Skechers has put considerable cash into advertising for the line, including for a Super Bowl ad featuring Kim Kardashian (who the beans is Kim Kardashian and why should I know her name?).

These shoes, apparently, have such a drastic effect on one’s physique that they can replace a personal trainer/boot-knockin’ partner, all for under $100. So Kim Kardashian, despite rumors that she works out several hours a day and only eats calorie-free superfoods imported from Jupiter, in reality just wanders around a mansion in hot pink-accented sneakers. But you don’t have to be a rich, famous (for some fucking reason) sex symbol to benefit from Tone-Ups™. Regular models wear them too.

As annoying as these shoes and their attendant ad spots are, they’re nothing new. “Hey, we know you hate your _____ because we’ve been screaming at you from magazines, billboards, television, movies, and porn since the day you arrived on Earth that you should, but we’ve got the solution! Buy our newest product, and this time it will work and you’ll be a slightly less worthless human being!” At this point, the fuckability industry’s attempts to ensure its ongoing profits at the expense of women’s relationships with themselves and their bodies are so redundant and obvious that many feminists don’t even bother to call attention to them save in particularly egregious cases. These ads, while plenty offensive and retch-inducing, aren’t really all that noteworthy as beauty industry ads go, but there’s more. While watching a little Spongebob last week, I happened to see this ad for Shape-Ups™ for girls:

The laser-like focus on the ass isn’t as prominent in the ad for the girls’ version, but what else is the point of these shoes supposed to be? No one has ever made the claim that they help burn calories in general. Nor are the shoes offered for both girls and boys, despite the fact that all of the kids in the US could use more exercise to counteract the “food” industry’s attempt to turn us all into diabetic corn syrup addicts. The adult model of the shoe is marketed specifically to women, specifically for improving one’s gluteal beauty-mandate adherence, and the girls’ model is no different. Female children want to emulate their adult female role models, and if their adult female role models are concerned with the shape of their asses enough to buy Shape-Ups™, then those girls will get the impression that they ought to do so as well. Why does a female child need a pear-shaped ass? Why should a little girl think about her butt at all? Why would a girl want a gaggle of boys wearing junk food costumes to follow her around and stare at her behind?

The sexualization of female children becomes more audacious at every turn, as do the attempts by the beauty industry to reach into the psyches of ever younger female children and foment a paralyzing sense of inadequacy and worthlessness that can only be partially assuaged by spending money in an endless and fruitless quest for a respite from self-hatred. Please take a minute to contact Skechers and tell them it isn’t cool, that not only do adult women not need to obsess over how hot men think their asses are, but that it’s also disgusting and immoral to sell the idea to female children that they ought to be doing so.

Career College Ad Sums Up What’s Wrong with US in 60 Seconds

31 Oct

Being as wasting time seems to have become my latest hobby, I recently found myself watching an afternoon episode of Jerry Springer and its attendant ads. I realize that admitting that might set a process in motion that will culminate in some kind of cyber-intervention aimed at forcing me to stop watching American culture and society swirl down the toilet bowl, but I’ll take my chances. I’m willing to take this risk because watching that hour of television on the subject of “lesbian” love triangles and suffering through the audience comments (which I assure you is the hardest part of the show to endure) alerted me to the existence of OmniTech Institute. Some of you might be wondering why one medical billing/office management/CNA/”technology” school would stand out from the seventy or so advertising in the Atlanta market, and I’ll tell you: OmniTech just happens to have the (unintentionally) funniest ad I’ve seen in years, an ad I attempted to find on YouTube yesterday in order to share it with all of my pals. Unfortunately, the aforementioned ad is not yet on YouTube (though I’ll be sure to forward it on as soon as it becomes available), but I did find two others, and those two others proved far more valuable than the one I’d been searching for in the first place. Let’s have a look:

Ahem.

Why are there more ads for low-grade, for-profit schools for “technology” and “medical” jobs on during daytime television broadcasts than there are chat line ads after midnight on the same networks? Why are “technology” and “medicine” supposed to excite people who watch talk shows about people having sex with people they shouldn’t and the zany consequences that derive therefrom? Well, I suppose the people who produce and book ads for the CW have some idea what they’re doing. It doesn’t take a demographics expert to know that people who watch daytime network TV are unlikely to have steady “nine-to-five” (when are we going to admit that people work at least from eight to five and stop using that phrase?) jobs, that most of them are women at home who might rather not be, that they don’t have a shitload of money on hand or else they’d have cable and wouldn’t be watching the CW at all, and that most of these people have absorbed the idea that “education” is good, that one needs a “career,” and that “medicine” and “technology” are, like, total BFDs. They’re also aware that their audience is generally made up of people of color and that it’s a safe bet to market career education to that audience, because any dumbass knows that the intersection of a Venn diagram of non-whiteness and limited career opportunities is pretty big. Really, if you went for a three-circle Venn diagram with circles representing women, people of color, and people with limited job opportunities, it’d look a lot more like a circle drawn by a four-year-old than Mickey Mouse’s head. I used to watch the CW when it was the WB from time to time when I lived in LA, where the ethnoracial demographics are different than they are here in Atlanta, and it won’t shock anyone to hear that the same ads exist there, but feature Latina/os instead of black people.

I understand what’s going on in the minds of the people who produce the spots for career training schools and decide when and to whom to broadcast them. That’s the easy part. But why are there so many schools out there offering career education in the medical and “technology” fields? Why didn’t I see more ads for other types of businesses that take advantage of people in precarious socioeconomic positions? Why weren’t there more commercials for title loans, personal injury attorneys, or rent-to-own furniture joints? (Not that there aren’t plenty of those, but there are more career training school ads than all other ads put together.) It would seem like a good thing that it’s education rather than outright usury that’s being marketed to the CW’s demographic, were it not for a few things.

First, every single one of these schools is for-profit, and lord knows whether any of them are even accredited. Most of their website addresses are so bootleg as to remind me of the fly-by-night mortgage joints that swarmed like cockroaches onto the radio in the early 2000s (mybrownmackie2.com? Come on, now.), and some of them don’t even have websites. They’re all cagey about exactly how much they charge for their “bachelor’s degrees in three years” or their ten-month career training programs that purportedly lead to jazzy jobs in medical billing and IT, likely because the price is outrageous. I don’t care if it’s $100 a month. The price is outrageous because it’s absurd that someone is making a profit selling education that ought to be offered in every high school and community college in America for free. And let’s be serious here. Are the people graduating from these programs even getting jobs? I only know two people who have gone to schools of this sort, one who went to ITT Tech in order to jump start his career in the hot, hot, hot IT field, and another who went through an EMT course at Atlanta Tech. Right now, they’re selling mattresses and substitute teaching, respectively.

Twenty-four percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher — which is why there are so many people with business degrees selling Playstation consoles at Best Buy and waiters who know what “endogamous” means — and that means there’s a serious problem with the way we’re approaching secondary education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning tracking or making the argument that teachers or administrators ought to be able make decisions about students’ futures based on their own cracked and biased criteria, but students should be able to choose to earn an MCSE or other certifications, take business courses, or learn other practical career skills at school rather than being shoved toward “college” and not offered any other options, when at this point the vast majority of college students are only there to get drunk, major in pretending watching movies makes you an intellectual, and avoid getting kicked out of their parents’ house and off their parents’ balance sheet. Ideally, we’d prepare all students for entry-level jobs in high school and close three quarters of the four-year universities and colleges in this country, replacing them with federally funded community colleges designed to either offer useful, practical job training or the foundational courses one needs to transfer to one of the remaining four-year universities that offer degrees that actually give students the opportunity to expand their world views and do something other than become generic suits. Of course, it’d be awesome if primary and secondary education were federally funded and equalized so that students in one neighborhood aren’t sitting on the floor during class while kids three miles up the road are voting on whether to get custom embroidery on the frosh volleyball team’s new uniforms or spend the cash on a few more iMacs in the graphic design lab. It would also be awesome if we had the kinds of social safety nets we need to provide kids with the homes, health care, and food they need if they’re to have a fighting chance to succeed even in well-funded schools, but this ain’t France, so community colleges are my answer. They’re cheap, they’re accessible, and they create a path for non-traditional students and poor people (read: people who have a real motivation to learn rather than a desire to extend high school for a few more years) to four-year university degrees that would otherwise be out of reach.

In sum: dodgy for-profit career schools bad, career training in high schools or community colleges good. No one should have to buy a job.

On to issue number two: each of the ads makes a point of citing mainstream media stories in which “technology” and “medicine” are listed as the top (and, really, only) growth career fields. I won’t say much about technology (I mean, I wouldn’t be able to express myself to more than four people at once were it not for technology) other than that I often wonder just how much technology each of us has to have at our disposal before we realize it isn’t leading us toward some blissful utopia scored by our favorite MGMT tracks in which we do nothing other than order new fashion accessories telekinetically and communicate with people we never actually see in person by means of 140-character not-so-witty witticisms. The medical industry is another story. There’s a reason that there are jobs to be had in the medical industry — especially in the medical billing sector — and that reason is that the medical insurance industry continues to grow and swell and spread and suck up everyone and everything in its immoral, depraved path because Americans are too stupid to question the ethics of medical capitalism and get together in their own self interest to put the medical insurance industry out of commission. I’ll readily admit to getting bored and tuning out over the course of the ninety years or so it took the 111th Congress to figure out how to pretend to do something about the travesty our health care system has blossomed into, but I do know that no one ever discussed the only thing that would have done any good: shutting down the health insurance industry in toto and giving all Americans the right not to die because they aren’t rich enough to pay a hundred times what medical services should actually cost in order to enrich people with no interest in patients’ well-being. Obviously I’m not going to blame someone who needs a leg up out of poverty for going into medical billing because it pays $10 an hour instead of $7.25, but I’m also not going to pretend that there’s anything sustainable or ethical about that career field. Health care and insurance billing may be growth sectors, but that’s only because parasites tend to flourish — at least in the short run — when given unfettered access to the host’s internal organs.

Finally, there’s the presentation of both ads, which is so absurd and offensive that I almost suspect Martin Lawrence was involved.  First we have the commercial aimed at black men, in which the message is, “Get your MSCE at OmniTech, and the next thing you know mad career women will be jumping in yo’ convertible to give you summa dat ass!”  I mean, really. My friend Jackalope just finished a nine-month EMT course, and he isn’t reporting droves of women jumping into his car everywhere he goes, nor did the course result in his ownership of a convertible. (As a matter of fact, he has yet to even get a job in the purportedly booming medical field, despite graduating at the top of his class.) Then there’s the ad aimed at black women, in which we see a group of friends shopping and marveling at all the skirts they can afford. At one point a woman literally says, “I can afford to buy whatever I want!” I’m not black, but I highly doubt that when a black woman is considering career training shoes are at the forefront of her mind, and even though I’m neither black nor male, I have a hard time believing that black men choose to go to computer school with the only motivation being that it’ll result in poontang. Despite the fact that the people at OmniTech clearly don’t agree, I figure I can safely assume that these ads don’t reflect reality because I don’t think black women and black men are one-dimensional caricatures out of an episode of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

In addition to making plain OmniTech’s demeaning take on the black community, this pair of ads displays some extremely tiresome attitudes about gender. The most obvious example is their decision to advertise their IT program to men and their medical billing program to women. Medical billing, a traditionally pink collar field, boasts salaries that top out near $20 an hour, which OmniTech fails to mention when they feature an erstwhile OmniTech student purchasing her own home. Conversely, IT salaries are virtually limitless given that there are innumerable paths to advancement within the IT field. Then there are the gendered stereotypes with regard to the meaning of success.  The symbol of success for men, as usual, is sexual access to women, whereas for women it’s unlimited cosmetics and clothes. No surprise there — and not really all that noteworthy as ads go, though this one is considerably more ham-fisted in its presentation of that hackneyed idea than most — but if you put that message together with the other messages in these two ads, you’ll get a fairly clear distillation of just how cannibalistic and self-destructive the American economy/advanced capitalism really is: you have unscrupulous individuals using racist and sexist insults and promoting mindless adherence to destructive gender roles and sociopathic marketing directives as a means to sell overpriced career training that rarely leads to a more lucrative career. If it does lead to a more lucrative career, that career will be in an industry that is completely immoral and unsustainable because it exists solely to avoid actually providing what it sells, which is a product that ought to be a human right rather than a product in the first place. And that industry is most clearly negatively affecting the exact communities that these ads are targeted at. Really, it’s an epitomic instance of the promotion of short-sighted, self-destructive, selfish, individualist cosumerism: “Who cares whether this industry will hasten the deaths of both individual human beings that you probably know and the American economy as a whole? If you get on board, you can buy a car, a woman, or some shoes! Why ask why? Try Bud Dry!”

I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.

3 Oct

Where in the samhill have I been? Sorry, y’all. I have excuses, but posting them would be both narcissistic and boring, and I’ve got other things I want to talk about.

Whilst enduring a flight from Portland to Atlanta last week, I decided to read this month’s issue of Harper’s rather than watch the same three episodes of The Office that Delta has been playing on their flights for the last three months, an issue that included an article by Susan Faludi entitled “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide.” How could I resist, right? A cover story in a tweed brigade northeastern intellectual rag intimating that young feminists — in accordance with the boring old trope derived from the progenitors of classical western misogyny — are literally (OK, fine, figuratively) killing old feminists, which explains what the (weighty pause followed by the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) Problem with the Feminist Movement is. Not only was I going to read the shit out of that, but I even got a pen out to take notes. I mean, there might be a letter to the editor in there somewhere, might there not?

I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Faludi had accepted a position as the shoeshine girl of the mainstream media establishment that she had eviscerated in Backlash, but I will admit that I did start skipping in that direction. How could I not? From the title alone, I surmised that I was about to read another tired rehashing of the same old bullshit line: there’s a fundamental and inherent flaw in the feminist movement, and that flaw is women, whose very nature requires that they scratch each others’ eyes out and steal each others’ boyfriends and precludes them from accomplishing anything other than inspiring the coining of the term “fashionista.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were some pretty serious problems.

Faludi starts out illustrating the misunderstandings between Second and Third Wave feminists and the ways in which those misunderstandings undermine the cohesion of “the feminist movement” (whatever that is), then extrapolates the purported generational rift that characterizes the contemporary world of feminism back to previous eras. To sum it up, the First Wave earned women the right to vote, and the consumerism of the 1920s created a generation of frivolous, ungrateful young women who rejected their mothers’ idealism in favor of a new image of womanhood that advertisers had sold them. Cigarettes and mass-produced flapper fashion came to replace the ballot as the symbols of women’s freedom, and the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not. Then came the Second Wave, in which young feminists expressed hatred for their mothers and the stifling brand of conformist femininity they represented. Finally, we have the current round of matricide, in which Third Wavers are waxing poetic about pube waxing while pronouncing Second Wavers and their methods and ideas irrelevant in the age of the iPod.

It’s a tidy little picture, and it works well with a sleek and misogynistic cliche like the ol’ Electra parable. The problem, as is always the case with these attempts to misrepresent feminism in order to sell magazines, is reality.

The first problem is that the argument isn’t actually all that smooth, which I suspect might be the result of the fact that Faludi herself doesn’t truly believe that feminism as a movement is fucked and that it’s fucked because women hate their mothers. Faludi’s sympathies clearly lie with the Clytemnestras in her formulation, or at least with the First Wave and Second Wave Clytemnestras, but there seems to be a giant break in her cyclical progression of ritual matricide; the daughters of the First Wavers, having been duped by Edward Bernays and his disciples into believing that projecting an image of liberation by means of Lucky Strike cigarettes was good enough, eschewed further substantial feminist agitation and shat all over their mothers’ dreams, and then we jump to the current Second vs. Third Wave throwdown, in which the younger generation’s narcissism and consumerism has destroyed the unity and potential of their mothers’ movement. The picture, a few quotes from Second Wavers about hating their mothers notwithstanding, looks more like a parallel with a two-generation gap than a steady progression of generations of matricidal women. First of all, who were the Clytemnestras to the Second Wave Electras? Stereotypical 50s housewives? I thought this was a story about inter-generational squabbling within the feminist movement, but Faludi doesn’t make a single reference to the existence of feminism between the 20s and the 60s*, which is a major problem. If I’m to give any credence to a historical argument, the person making the argument needs to know something about history. She could have easily made the argument that Second Wavers jettisoned the difference-based ideology of labor feminists in favor of smashing gender roles and achieving equal legal protection for women (or at least some of them did), but I don’t know whether she even knows those labor feminists existed.

The second problem, provided that we look only at the two generational conflicts that Faludi presents as parallels, is that young women in both instances come off as lazy inheritors of a legacy they don’t deserve or make the most of. I’ve obviously got mixed feelings on the Second/Third Wave issue, being that I’m a 33-year-old radical anti-porn feminist whose activism has, until recently, consisted of writing blog posts under a pseudonym, but I do take issue with that characterization, if only on behalf of other young feminists I know, who do an awful lot more actual (as opposed to virtual) stomping around and kicking ass in the name of women’s liberation than they’re given credit for. But anyway, it’s 2010. Does anyone pay attention to groups of people in public with signs? Isn’t making use of modern communication media a more effective means by which to raise awareness of an issue? Tactics evolve with movements, and the internet has allowed more and more women to join the discussion when they might otherwise have been excluded. Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

We’ve got a third problem: why are we always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the feminist movement? At what point will there not be something wrong with the feminist movement? When every single person who uses the word “feminist” agrees on every single issue that affects every single woman? Sorry, but that shit ain’t coming any time soon, and when it does we’ll know that the movement has been taken over by men. What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward? Faludi’s piece ends on an extremely bleak note, with a professor of Women’s Studies lugubriously recounting her program being cut as a result of the fact that young women just couldn’t be bothered to learn about anything other than Lady Gaga and exclusionary Judith Butler-esque abstractions that take the focus off of real women’s lives and allow privileged, narcissistic brats to feel superior in their ability to understand what the fuck is even being discussed. I understand her concern, I truly do, but that ain’t all there is out there, and Faludi comes dangerously close to doing what she accuses the mainstream media of having done throughout the course of the history of the women’s movement: pronouncing feminism dead. Constructive criticism is one thing, but sounding the death-knell for the feminist movement and blaming it on some threadbare trope from gynophobic folklore is quite another thing for a feminist to do.

I’ve got some constructive criticism: feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists who someone has mistakenly anointed the arbiters of intellectual rigorousness. I know we all have to make a living, but let’s at least try not to sell out that hard. And I say that honestly, because Faludi touched upon something far more interesting, important, and potentially revolutionary than the ridiculous Electra complex style device: the role of marketing and advertising in the co-optation and attempted destruction of feminism. It’s no surprise that she detects increasing danger in the attempts of marketers to repackage and neuter feminism, and it’s no surprise that she sees these attempts increasing in intensity in direct response to the threat posed by the progress women have made in society (she did write Backlash and all). She’s right. But how about we place the blame for that where it belongs rather than with women themselves? I realize that such an approach makes me sound like an arrogant dick who thinks she’s the only one who “sees through the bullshit” while calling young feminists in the 1920s and the 2000s dupes of the highest order, but I’m not writing this post from Jupiter a thousand years from now. I’m a dupe, too. We’re all dupes (and I mean all of us, not just women and/or feminists), and we need to face it or we’re fucked.

But what does it even mean to be a consumerist sap? What makes us susceptible to buying into watered-down commodified versions of feminism? Why and how do the powers that be rip us off and then sell our own ideas back to our kids (or little sisters) in an adulterated form? It seems to me that the cycle is fairly consistent, at least with regard to consumerist “democratic” societies since the 1920s (things tend to work out serendipitously for the power elite, I know): a group of people gets tired of being shat upon and makes their presence known, the people who sell us things freak out and worry that these people represent a threat to their continued existence and dominance, they then calm down and try to figure out how to sell things to these people, they put all their resources into analyzing and manipulating this new target market, it starts to work because buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades, and then the power elite regain their grip on things until the next upheaval comes to pass. (Of course, you have to believe that under capitalism the interests of government and the capitalist class dovetail in order for this to ring true, but if you don’t believe that, you should probably not be reading this blog.)

That’s where I agree with Faludi’s analysis: consumerist co-optation of feminism has become ever more insidious and effective over the course of the past half century or so. But I don’t believe the outlook is so dismal. Maybe it’s because I’m young (we’re optimists!), maybe it’s because I’m a radical (we’re idealists!), maybe it’s because I’m a fool (most likely), but I think I may have found a nugget of the solution in Faludi’s piece.

The problem is the obsession with the concept of individualism, and if we can either temper our desire to be “individuals” or find a way to actually be individuals, we may just be alright. Group movements, posing the huge threat that they did to the status quo, provoked too much retribution in the late 60s and early 70s to survive, and people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves. Self-actualization and self-realization took the place of group action and unity, and the power elite took note of that turn and exploited it. Republican politicians encouraged identity politics and the division of the working class and along racial** and gender lines, capitalists found ways to market “lifestyles” in order to help people create and maintain the illusion of their own new-found individuality, and selfishness and self-absorption triumphed over cooperation and empathy as the world (and especially the US) made the transition from the fairly radical liberal consensus that characterized the 30s through the 60s to the conservative consensus that has dominated our lives and political culture since at least the late 70s***. Individualism has, of course, always been a part of our political culture and our foundational sense of who we are here in the US, but the fragmented, mistrustful, and generally selfish tenor of American society in the last three decades is a direct result of the purposeful manipulation of that concept by politicians and corporations in their continued effort to get greater control over and to better be able to predict our behavior as voters (subjects) and consumers****. And just think about the billions of dollars that have been made by opportunists who have capitalized on our belief that we are all special little snowflakes and that we need to express our uniqueness to the world in order to be understood by other “individuals” that, if the cult of individualism has any internal logic, have no hope of ever doing so. We’re being divided and conquered, my friends. And duped. Marketers have convinced us all that we’re discreet units, complete individuals, totally alone and unique, which precludes us getting any of our needs met by anything other than consumerism. That was at work in the 20s, but it’s been so successful since the 80s that even the attempts at thinking of “women as a class” that characterize Second Wave and Marxist feminism have been lost to “my experience.” *****

There has probably never been a bigger threat to the foundation of our social hierarchy than the specter of women’s liberation from patriarchy and the misappropriation of our labor under capitalism. It stands to reason, then, that those with capitalistic or patriarchal leanings would put their back into sucking the qi out of any movement that posed that threat, and that they’d do it the same way they always have: by doing their best to dupe us into taking the easy way out and buying symbols of our liberation rather than sustaining the fight to actually win it. Feminism became yet another lifestyle that could be marketed to women as a means to express their individuality and power. So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.******

That process of co-optation and chicanery has continued apace, and recognizing that and moving away from it might be the key to the future of the feminist movement, if it is decided that there needs to be one. I obviously do believe we need a feminist movement and that it’s possible for one to exist without any matricide or filicide, but you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called “women” and can’t conceive of the word “feminism” without “my” preceding it.

* See Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation; and Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism.

** See Hugh Davis Graham, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America; John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America; and Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution.

*** See David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America.

**** See Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

***** This paragraph is the result of a combination several years of  school and a recent viewing of The Century of the Self, a super rad BBC documentary series.

****** See Susan Faludi, Backlash.

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