Introduction to Porn Part 10: The Rutting Dogs of Capitalism

12 Feb

The porn series needs an update, does it not? I’ve struggled a bit with what part ten should be about, assuming it ought to be the capstone to an anti-porn decalogue, but I’ve realized that this series will never actually end and hence post number ten need not be some kind of revelatory culmination. So I’ll just return to adding posts to the series as topics occur to me. Today’s topic, as it seems so timely these days, will be capitalism.

The title of this post at The Activists, “Pornography Is One of the Most Powerful Weapons in the Hands of the State and the Ruling Elites,” though it is a little reminiscent of a Rolcats caption, held enough promise that I decided to read it. Read the post if you must (especially if you are a dude who fancies himself a political radical but can’t be convinced by women that you should eschew porn because it’s one of the chief obstacles to the ending of women’s oppression), but it’s really not much other than a fairly ridiculous “what about the men” argument against porn use in which men are urged to give up pornography because it is a tool designed to control men. Reading that post shortly after this one from Valerie M at We Won’t Submit reinforced something I confront quite often: surely, the post was written by a man, and the responses I’ve seen to it thus far indicate that, while denigrating or ignoring decades of toil by anti-porn feminists, everyone is going to fall all over themselves for a chance to fellate any dude who makes an anti-porn argument, no matter how incapable he might be of identifying the real (or at least most harmed) victims of the pornography industry.

Well, everyone is going to have to fellate me instead, because I have a better understanding of the relationship between pornography and capitalism than The Activists do, and because I can express that understanding without resorting to jargon-laden, propagandistic language that would make even Komsomol alumni scoff at its lack of style and subtlety.

The problem with most radical anti-capitalist literature aimed at mass audiences is the inherent assumption that the reader is too dumb to understand the complexities of political and economic power. This leads propagandists to make reference to “capitalists,” “capital,” or “capitalism” as if referring to an individual or an entity made up of a small number of people who coordinate and direct the workings of vast social, political, and economic systems. There is a reason that Marxist/communist/anti-capitalist propaganda has essentially failed as a lasting means to directing the consciousness of large numbers of people: its simplistic formulas are easily undermined by complicated realities, and by the fragmented nature of capitalism as a world system lacking in a single identifiable center of power. When “the masses” try to understand the impact capitalism has on their lives, unless they’re anti-semitic fruitcakes who adore Alex Jones and believe the world is run by shape-shifting lizard descendants of the Knights Templar who present as Jewish bankers, they don’t envision their bosses sitting in a room with the CEOs of Anheuser-Busch and Countrywide hatching a plot to keep them in servitude.

Which is why telling men that “the ruling elite” and “the state” sap their vitality and “milk” them of their “essence” via the “pornographic machine” is unlikely to convince them to stop using porn. I know most men don’t need any convincing that they ought to conceive of jizz as their essence and the supreme indicator of their vitality, but the idea that “the state” seeks to enslave the male population by encouraging them to expend all of their semen is a bit much. Even with a firm grip on the interlocking relationship between capital and governance, no one is likely to believe that a cabal of employers and government officials sit around rubbing their hands together in maniacal glee at the genius of their evil plot to addict the populace to wanking to gang bangs. And everyone knows that most people will write off the entirety of a system of ideas once they detect deception or a perceived logical flaw in a facet of that system of ideas that requires that they do anything other than what they want to do at a given moment. Self-justification is the most formidable foe any activist movement faces.

Those who oppose capitalism need to develop new strategies that take account of the proclivities of the contemporary audience and are not proven failures (as is the case with propaganda tactics derived from the mid-twentieth century) to direct people’s attention to the underlying factor that allows the capitalist world system to operate as it does: capitalist ideology. The historical moment at which the long-term endurance of capitalism was cemented was the moment at which people came to believe that every facet of human reality could be quantified and reduced to a mathematical expression. And I do mean “believe,” in the sense that those responsible for capitalism’s development trusted that, despite the fact that abstract concepts such as labor resisted being reduced to numerical tallies, all it would take to tame the world and bring everything under their mental, and hence material, control was for someone to devise the appropriate means to quantify the as yet unquantifiable. Figuring out how to “count” and assign monetary value to labor opened the door to the commodification of nearly every aspect of human existence.

Just how the idea that it was not only acceptable, but desirable, to assign a monetary value to aspects of existence previously deemed uncountable spread across time and space to bring us to the present situation is extremely interesting to me, but I’ll spare everyone my history dorkery. For the purpose of this discussion, it doesn’t matter how everyone came under the spell of capitalist ideology. What matters is that we understand capitalist ideology and how it operates to perpetuate capitalism on a global scale despite the absence of a directing force.

The porn industry happens to serve as an excellent illustrative example of capitalist ideology in action and the extent to which it has come to direct our thinking. Over the course of the last few decades capitalist ideology has expanded, with the aid of the marketing industry, to dominate the totality of human existence in the US and most other developed nations and to encroach upon it nearly everywhere else.  As disposable income increased over the course of the twentieth century, the marketing industry expanded and its attempts to impress capitalist ideology on the populace in the form of consumerism gained a foothold. Marketers discovered that they could literally sell people a sense of self in the form of marketing lifestyles and the idea of individualism, which made it apparent that anyone who could contrive a new means by which to commodify some theretofore private aspect of human life and create a new “product” out of thin air and people’s desire for self-actualization (whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean) stood to make a lot of money. Sex, due to the misogyny and penchant for literal and metaphorical self-flagellation that characterize the Judeo-Christian ideological heritage the US struggles under, was one of the last frontiers in the commodification of human existence. Sure, women have been bought and sold for sex throughout human history, but American (and, to a lesser extent, European) society was too ashamed of the fact that people have genitalia to deal with sex being sold openly.

Until the sexual “revolution” and the Women’s Liberation Movement and the reaction to them, that is.

To be continued…

If women were human, no one would read books about serial killers.

28 Jan

If people were capable of viewing women as human beings, their murders would not evoke prurient fascination and bolster book sales. Big “if,” I know.

After reading an excellent post at The F Word yesterday related to a serial killer whose existence I was theretofore unaware of, I made the foolish decision to google the Robert Pickton case to learn more about it. In the first page of results I came across a collection of salacious accounts of a man raping, killing, and dismembering prostituted women and feeding their body parts to the pigs on his farm (and, possibly, to other humans, as some accounts claim he mixed the dead women’s flesh with pork and served it to those who visited the farm).

The public just loves serial killers, and this case had all of the elements that make for the kind of serial killer story a misogynistic society can really get down with. First — and most telling — the victims were nearly all prostitutes, many of whom are said to have had drug problems. That element is mentioned early in every account of the case in order to assure the reader that he or she may proceed to revel in maximum prurience without any feelings of fear or guilt, because everyone knows that prostituted women with drug problems are about as worthless as anyone can get and deserved to be raped and murdered. With that concern out of the way, the authors of the stories delve into the gory details of what they choose to pretend was a bizarre aberration, treating the salivating reader to the fine points of how Pickton lured, trapped, brutalized, raped, and murdered up to 49 female human beings.

Each account that I read made mention of Pickton’s farm, the Piggy Palace, where he held parties that hundreds of people attended. They also mention Pickton’s 1997 arrest for the attempted murder of  a woman who escaped after Pickton handcuffed and stabbed her, and of the many times police visited Pickford’s farm on the suspicion that he was connected to a growing list of missing women. Despite those visits and several searches of the farm, Pickton managed to murder several more women before being caught in 2002. Each of the stories also mentioned that, though he had only been convicted of killing six women, police were aware that the number of women Pickton had murdered was likely 49. They were aware of that number because Pickton admitted to an undercover cop posing as a cell mate that he had killed 49 women and wished he could have had the chance to kill one more to make it an even 50.

It doesn’t take a philologist to understand the underlying messages glossed over in the reporting on this and other serial killer cases. Pickton felt comfortable enough to admit to a near stranger that he had killed 49 human beings, which means two things. First, he had to have disclosed his activities to several people with whom he had closer relationships prior to having been caught, and none of those people came forward. Second, he was so secure in the knowledge that other men hate women as much as he does that he didn’t expect his new “cell mate” to blink when he admitted to 43 murders he had not yet been charged with. Then there is the fact that scores of bands played and hundreds of men partied at Pickton’s farm, many of whom recalled later having witnessed violent scenes involving prostituted women and deeming the place creepy. One dude who frequented the farm reported to police that there were purses and women’s IDs all over the place, but that information resulted in a search that — either because Pickton was coincidentally slightly less secure and careless in his assumption that everyone would overlook his murdering prostituted women on that day or because the police did a half-assed job (likely both) — turned up nothing that would put a stop to Pickton’s activities. In short, the hundreds of men who had the chance to didn’t care enough about prostituted women to bother putting forth a smidgen of effort to prevent them from being raped and murdered.

There are marathons of biographies of serial killers on television nearly constantly, and books written about serial killers perennially occupy the upper reaches of bestseller lists. People revel in serial killer stories because serial killers generally tend to kill women, and the culture is so desensitized to the murder of women that it can be taken as pure entertainment, especially when those women are prostitutes. Prostitutes, in the fictional account of their existence provided by libertarian, individualistic, boot-strap ideology, became prostitutes out of some moral failing of their own, and thus deserve far less sympathy and police resources than other women (whose murders are still entertaining, though slightly scarier — to women).

Serial killers take revenge on women on behalf of misogynistic society for rejecting men and for straying outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and they scare other women back into line by doing so. Serial killers punish prostitutes for being prostitutes — despite the fact that their being prostituted in the first place is already usually punishment for their having been born poor or having been victims of abuse — and everyone but prostitutes and feminists seems to find that acceptable. Societal obsession with men who compulsively murder women and the fact that no one seems all that interested in the thoughts of men who routinely shoot other men indicate that the fascination comes not from the purportedly bizarre landscape of serial killers’ psyches, but from the fact that they are murdering women. What is interesting about serial killers and the cultural enthrallment with them is not how aberrant their psychology is, but how banal and pedestrian their hatred of women is. An obsession with serial killers might go really well with the general thoughtless consumption of macabre bullshit like Norwegian death metal and horror movies, but it does not indicate anything about the obsessor other than that he has mistakenly come to believe that men who sexualize violence by murdering women are doing anything but reflecting the logical conclusion of mainstream societal misogyny.

The third (and probably last) trans post of my life

16 Jan

I’m going to restate my position on all of this as simply as I can:

  • Radical feminist theory is founded in part on a separation of sex and gender, with “sex” referring to that which identifies the the material body as female or male and “gender” referring to the social roles enforced on the sexed body. A male supremacist society constructs gender roles out of thin air and horseshit in order to enforce social behavior on women and men that turns women into negative foils for sets of purported male attributes that amount chiefly to the valorization of that which allows men to dominate women (physical strength, violence, “bravery,” lack of discernible emotion, etc.).
  • Gender roles feel constrictive to almost everyone to some degree, and especially to the women who sense that the expectation of “femininity” is actually an expectation that they sublimate all of their own desires and interests so that men may more freely express their desires and interests (most of which are detrimental to women’s existence). Feminism, in general, aims to eliminate gender roles as the social foundation upon which male supremacy is constructed. The ultimate goal is thus to overthrow male supremacy and create a social environment in which behaviors and feelings don’t come in pre-packaged sets and are completely divorced from body parts that they are only nonsensically attached to now.
  • That there are people who feel so uncomfortable with the difference between their sexed bodies and their socialized conception of themselves that they would choose to risk deformity, death, and disability is to be deplored. Women have been conditioned to harm their own bodies in service of a social gender role grounded in misogyny and male supremacy. Radical feminism seeks an end to this practice. Women seeking surgery in order that their bodies will appear like male bodies, or men who undergo surgery in order that their bodies will present as female bodies, face huge psychological and physical risks and social ostracization. Adamantine gender roles are the source of the demand for these medical procedures and the dangers that attend them. Radical feminism also seeks an end to this practice.
  • The existence of transgenderism appears to strengthen the already sturdy bond between gender roles and sexed bodies when an individual comes to believe that their body must — but does not — match their thoughts and feelings and seeks to alter their body to resolve that conflict. However, the existence of sexual reassignment surgery and hormone therapy alerts the public to the disturbing and destructive power of gender role expectations, which might result in a gradual reassessment of the way we think about gender. On balance, it is difficult to determine whether transgenderism does more to strengthen or to undermine gender roles, but to expect an individual human being to suffer for the entirety of their life in order to fight for a political goal they may not even share is not appropriate.
  • Banning reassignment surgery is also not an option. Engaging the state in enforcing what should be a cultural prerogative will only lead to harm when people seek incompetent help outside of a medical establishment that can barely be considered competent itself. The male-dominated and capitalistic medical industry seeks constantly to arrogate to itself greater and greater authority to dictate our understanding of our bodies to us, and to decide for us what constitutes an appropriate application of medical technology (hence the plastic surgery and pharmaceutical industries). An outside entity must limit the power of the scientific and medical establishment and urge the reassessment of how to approach the phenomenon of human health. That outside entity should not be the state, but rather a movement of people who have reached a political and social consensus on how to approach the human body and mind more effectively, humanely, and holistically. This movement should obviously operate in tandem with a general shift in thinking about sex and gender informed by radical feminist politics.
  • Gender roles have served as justification for the rape, murder, and silencing of women since men figured out how to enforce them. They have also been used as justification for extreme physical and psychological violence toward men who do not conform to male gender roles (homosexual men; men who dress, present, or live as women; etc.). Both cases are expressions of misogyny. Men absolutely loathe and fear trans people. Transmen are seen as intruders, but transwomen are seen as traitors. Men cannot understand why someone born male would choose to take on what they see as a subordinate position in society. It threatens their sense of order in a fundamental way.
  • There is a difference between men who were born male, live as men, and reap the benefits of male privilege every time they come into contact with another human being and people born male who, while they may have absorbed enough social conditioning to exhibit a male sense of entitlement, have also experienced oppression at the hands of men who are recognizable as men (i.e., as no threat to gender hierarchy). It is not the same  kind of oppression women face, but it is nonetheless oppression and can include forms of violence just as severe as those women face. And it comes from the exact same feature of the average male psyche: virulent misogyny. That means transwomen need to be approached differently than men, and that transmen need to be approached differently than men or transwomen (though it does not mean that radical feminists ought to not analyze and critique trans theory) if the discussion of transgenderism and trans politics is to have clarity.
  • Radical feminists, while they do at times seek to make use of state power to reach limited goals, generally do not see the state as a vehicle for the good of women. The state’s existence is inextricably bound up with its ability to use violence and coercion. The state can thus be used as a tool, but it usually lags quite far behind the public and requires strenuous prodding by social movements to do anything right. That means that radical feminist ideas need to be impressed into the minds of the largest number of people possible in order to create a social movement. In the event that enough people absorb what radical feminism has to say, we will either find ourselves in a future in which the state will no longer exist, or in which the state can be used as a tool to bring us closer to wholesale liberation (the former obviously being preferable). In either case, there is work to do, and a shitload of it. No one wants to spend time explaining to men why they should behave like human beings, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel because separatism is only a viable option for a very small number of women, of which I am not one. That means I have to spend my life repeating myself in the hopes that a few small improvements will be made in the lives of some women before I die and that men will stop killing, raping, and dehumanizing us a few centuries after I die. I’m cool with that because it’s right. The only thing left is to determine how best to convince other people that it’s right.
  • In the face of a constant barrage of misogyny, and in an environment in which women who speak out in defense of women are besieged from all sides, anger and the desire for some form of camaraderie with the few women who have seen through the bullshit is to be expected. I am nearly constantly furious and quite often have an extreme sense of isolation in my political views. Still, when that camaraderie takes place on public blogs and contains words that men use to subjugate transgendered people, it presents a problem for radical feminism if the aim is to inject radical feminist ideas into public consciousness. Anger is one thing, slurs are another. Slurs shut the reader’s mind off. What cannot be allowed is for the public face of radical feminist theory to appear reactionary, and right now it does. When trans activists bully radical feminists and attempt to force their way into women-only spaces, women should be angry and should speak up — and should express anger when they do speak up — but should do so responsibly and intelligently, so that the radical feminist perspective won’t be written off.  Analyzing competing gender theories is not as simple as telling people how stupid and offensive a Burger King ad is. It’s complex, touchy, and very difficult to sort out and should be approached carefully.

In which Nine Deuce uses the word “trans” a second time

12 Jan

The cognitive dissonance that plagues the thinking radical feminist when ruminating over trans people matters and needs to be confronted, discussed, and theorized about, but it needs to be done in such a way that some good might come of it. Radical feminism, at a bare minimum, is characterized by the rejection of essentialism, of the idea that reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics come packaged with sets of social behaviors termed “feminine” and “masculine.” Gender role performances are simply a load of bullshit posturing forced on us by a male supremacist society that requires symbols of difference, no matter how fictitious, in order to continue to operate unchallenged. When we argue that plastic surgery exists to aid those who seek to more closely adhere to a gender role concocted by the partnership between capitalism and patriarchy, it’s easy to assume that the same impulse is at work when someone claims to identify with one gender role or the other and pursues sex reassignment surgery. It’s a very simple logical progression; having parts of one’s body surgically removed or having foreign objects inserted into one’s body as a result of a warped obsession with gender conformity illustrates the deleterious effects of socially enforced gender roles on the human body and mind in the case of the “beauty” industry, so the same must hold true for sex reassignment surgery.

The thing is, none of the radical feminists I know are trans, nor am I. I have no way of knowing whether my battle with what society wants out of me as someone born with a vagina resembles in any way the conflicts that occur in the mind of someone with male genitalia who feels a desperate need to undergo reassignment surgery. I’m guessing, however, that it doesn’t, and I’m thus not going to tell trans people how their minds work, nor am I going to make the outrageous and dehumanizing claim that they must be mentally ill. (Let us please not forget the history of the use of psychiatric authority as a justification for the marginalization, institutionalization, sterilization, rape, and murder of women.)

An even more difficult aspect of this issue is the relationship of male privilege and what society teaches male children about women and what it means to be female. Some radical feminists are offended at what they have perceived as a caricature of womanhood, or a reduction of the experience of being female to whatever a misogynistic society tells us womanhood is about (e.g., boots, bitchiness, and boobs). If all transwomen all the time interpreted and expressed femininity by channeling Bugs Bunny’s take on womanhood and ran around exclaiming that all one needs to be a woman is a facsimile vagina, a sense of fashion, and the ability to gossip, that would be the end of it. But that isn’t the case, and reality requires that we approach this discussion a little more thoughtfully and adhere to our own professed ethics and logical proclivities.

Straw Transwoman

Transwomen, it is argued, cannot ever understand what it means to be female in a male supremacist world in the exact same sense that women who were born female do. That is almost certainly the case, but who cares? Is anyone even claiming that they can? It would appear to be the opposite, in the cases in which transwomen enter into discussions with female-at-birth women and urge that their unique concerns as transwomen be taken into consideration. That leads to another problem. Some trans-critical radical feminists argue that transwomen display that most unseemly of male characteristics, the sense of entitlement to absorb all available discursive space and the totality of the available focus. Seeing as women have so few opportunities to discuss our own issues without men’s obnoxious intrusions, and seeing as there seems to be no space men do not feel entitled to intrude upon, I see the point. The problem lies, however, in whether we want to lump transwomen in with men. I don’t feel comfortable doing so. For one thing, the fact that many transwomen did not adhere to male gender norms even as children likely drastically altered the experience of male gender conditioning, and probably also sharply decreased the ability to relate to other boys and men as allies in the preservation of male privilege. Men perpetuate male privilege by “having each others’ backs” and bro-ing down in their shared misogyny and homophobia/transphobia (being unthoughtful dudes, they can’t distinguish between one kind of person they call “faggots” and another). How many little boys do you know who wouldn’t shun a little boy who displayed characteristics they’ve been taught to disdain since birth? And how many little boys who are shunned by other boys feel invested in upholding a male privilege that they feel fundamentally excluded from? Maybe some transwomen lived as boys long enough to absorb the idea that they are entitled to talk over women and that their concerns come first, simply because parents and society treat children with penises in such a way that they come to expect that. Or maybe the individual transwomen some of the radical feminist community has problems with are just self-absorbed, abusive assholes. In either case, we aren’t dealing with men. We are dealing with transwomen, and it is important when discussing something as complicated as conflicting gender theories to be very specific and delineate exactly what it is we’re talking about.

The argument goes that the existence of trans people strengthens the gender binary, but no one save the few trans activists who have attempted to force their way into female-only spaces truly considers transwomen to be women. The general public who consider themselves intellectuals because they read Time have even begun to evince an awareness, due in part to news stories regarding trans children, that there is a fundamental flaw in the gender binary. It is likely that, in a world without a binary gender hierarchy, gender roles would cease to serve a purpose and people would cease to feel the need to resort to dangerous medical procedures in order to feel at ease in the world, but we aren’t there yet. Even if everyone agreed at the stroke of midnight tonight to cease seeking out hormone therapy and reassignment surgery, trans people exist, and they exist in a no-woman’s-land between between the two ill-fitting gender roles male supremacist society has devised. We have to find ways to reconcile their existence with our mental frameworks and the physical world. Solutions need to be found to the problems that arise when people who do not fit the gender binary come up against it when standing in front of a public bathroom door sign, for example. “Fuck you, stay out” is not a solution. (Lobbying for single-user bathrooms — which make sense for several reasons not limited to trans people’s needs — is.)

The internet is probably the single most valuable recruiting tool history has handed us for ending the oppression of women, children, people of color, and the poor. If the sites people come across when looking for information on radical feminism revolve chiefly around esoteric denunciations infused with snotty, juvenile insults, how can we expect anyone to get on board with the cause? There are venues for the elaboration of theory and there are venues aimed at drawing in outsiders, but the proprietors of both have the responsibility to make themselves clear and accessible — rather than repulsive — to their audiences. That is not a request that women “play nice.” It is a request that feminists use the forums they have at their disposal responsibly.

The task at hand is not to define feminism in such a way that only eight people (of whom I am not one) qualify, it’s to figure out a way to create a world in which no one is beaten, raped, murdered, dehumanized, worked to death, devalued, or shat upon by men as a means for reinforcing male power. That will not be accomplished by using the master’s tools to try to tear down his house, i.e., using dehumanizing language that makes us sound like MRAs against oppressed people, even if some of them act like assholes. Transwomen are not in a position of power, they are not privileged over women except when women choose to efface themselves to give transwomen the stage, even if an individual transwoman feels entitled to talk over everyone. Is the claim that feminist blog discussions are a zero-sum environment in which transwomen’s issues are to be considered only to the ouster of women’s concerns? That’s ridiculous. The internet is a big place, and there is room for everyone who isn’t a complete dick to discuss their perspectives. If a site silences radical feminists (for illegitimate reasons), stop going to the site. There are places that won’t.

Transwomen who call themselves feminists are feminists, if we use the baseline belief that women are human beings as a basic definition of feminism. That some transwomen’s conception of  feminism reflects their own experiences rather than those of radical feminists who were born female is to be expected. It’s time to move away from the Second Wave/Third Wave dichotomy and move past the fragmentation of the feminist movement of recent decades. We can find ways to work with feminists who have varying priorities without descending into a radically relativistic individualism that isolates us all from each other, but we’ll have to attempt to figure out how rather than spend our time coming up with clever ways to delegitimize other feminists. Picking someone else’s position apart is far easier than building one of one’s own, but it’s a fairly dead-end pursuit. If the argument truly is that trans people demand more intellectual and political space than is their fair share, why are radical feminists creating entire blogs about them? How much effort needs to be expended on deconstructing trans politics? Does doing so really build radical feminist theory? Or change individual women’s lives for the better?

Note 1: I realize I only discussed transwomen here, which I did because I am responding to discussions in which transwomen are the chief subject. I tend to agree with the view that women transitioning to become men evince internalized misogyny, but that isn’t for this post, nor is it that shocking of an idea, given that everyone in the world is a misogynist.

Note 2: I will be moderating the fuck out of comments.

To be continued…

Get ready to shit your pants. I’m going to use the word “trans.”

10 Jan

I have resisted commenting on this whole thing for a long time, but I guess I have to do it. Still, I am going to post my thoughts in snippets, since this requires thoughtfulness, subtlety, and some other shit.

I’ve been absent for quite lengthy periods over the course of the last year, which I suppose means I’m not entitled to an opinion on what goes on in the feminist blogosphere, but which is also due in large part to the state of the feminist blogosphere in the last year or so. I’ll readily admit that I’ve never been a voracious blog reader, having barely enough time to read the comments on my own and force a post out of myself every few months in between working, studying, drinking, etc., but I do check in from time to time to find out what’s going on and to seek out new blogs. There are a lot of new blogs. A lot of excellent new blogs. However, I’m a little bewildered by a trend that I noticed emerging over a year ago that seems to have taken over the radical feminist blogging world.

I’ll take a deep breath, prepare myself to be deleted from tens of blogrolls, and say it: why the fuck is everyone so obsessed with “the trans issue”? And why is it that otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate radical feminists turn into complete assholes when discussing it? Any attempt to approach this issue has at this juncture been rendered nearly pointless by the vitriol and cliquishness that characterize the current state of the discussion of the relationship of transwomen to feminism and to womanhood as a meta category, and that is unfortunate.

Sure, a few asshole transwomen are to blame in part for this state of affairs, but so are a few radical feminists. Since when do people who care about oppression use dehumanizing tactics such as demeaning and belittling people who are trying to fight against their own oppression and trivializing that oppression? Since when is using a snotty, crass word like “twanz” to refer to a member of a group of oppressed human beings considered acceptable behavior for a radical feminist? Referring to transwomen as “men who cut their dicks off,” “twanz,” “she-males,” and whatever other terms are de rigueur among those who call themselves trans-critical radical feminists isn’t clever, it’s gross and embarrassing, and makes all of us look like assholes. I’m aware that there are several trans activists online who use terms just as bad (if not worse) to attack radical feminists, but if trans-critical radical feminists want to claim to be the bigger woman, they need to act like it.

To be continued…

 

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!

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