Thanks to jetlag I’m up at 5 AM, which means I’ve got time to blog. I know — you’re all pumped. Here goes:
We all know what a prude is. I don’t need to quote the dictionary here because dictionaries are like assholes: everyone has one and they’re all pretty much the same. A prude, as most people define the term, is someone who is opposed to fun based on some kind of religious conviction that has no basis in logic or in coolness. For example, a prude is a guy who doesn’t drink Pepsi because he’s been told not to by a church (a church that owns a large share of Pepsi Co., no less) started by some asshole in the 1800s who pretended god had given him the sequel to the Bible in order to convince people it was OK for him to have more than one wife. A prude is someone who doesn’t do the Roger Rabbit because her church said dancing is the first step on a road that leads to sacrificing babies to Satan. A prude is someone who thinks we should only have sex to create babies, that it ought to be done in only one (male-led, male-dominated, male-centered) way, that it ought not to result in pleasure (especially for the woman), and that we all ought to feel like singing a Morrissey song about how much we hate ourselves when it’s over. Because some religion says so.
Prudishness, which the prude likes to conflate with morality, is really just piety, however ill-conceived, ill-understood, and misdirected that piety might be at times. However, morality and piety are not, in fact, coterminous. Morality can and does exist among atheists, agnostics, and even a few religious types (well, as long as they don’t go to churches in which pastors baptize people in hot tubs). Morality doesn’t require outside enforcement because morality stems from the natural human tendency towards empathy and the natural human aversion to seeing blood and suffering. It isn’t law or religion that keeps me from killing Joe Rogan, it’s that instinctive human morality that comes naturally to all save a few of us. (Mind you, I’m speaking of the most basic kind of morality, that which governs the most fundamental of human interactions. Stealing and related crimes are another matter and would require me to get into theories of mine on economic systems that I’ll need to leave to another post. And don’t bother telling me we’re becoming more and more callous towards each other – I blame that on the fact that marketers have ever more control of our minds, of course.)
And here comes the ergo: moral objections to morally objectionable things do not of necessity result from prudishness. And hence another ergo: arguing that radical feminists are opposed to porn and prostitution out of some form of prudishness is a straw man extraordinaire. I mean, really, how many radical feminist fundamentalist Christians do you know? Prudes are proud of their continence, prudes love it when people take notice of the fact that they never do anything fun, prudes revel in abstemiousness for its own sake, and their reasoning usually rests either on nothing or on a prideful adherence to the anachronistic and untenable prescriptions for living laid down by dudes who lived during a time when people had never even heard of burritos or synthesizers. Prudes, basically, are dumbasses — and usually arrogant ones at that. So don’t call me one or I’ll take away your birthday.
We’ve dealt with prudishness. What’s dudishness? Dudishness is a special brand of male (and female – no gender exclusion at the ‘chine, man) behavior that might best be described as a striving to approximate a balance between the behavior of the character Buddy Griffith in Just One of the Guys and that of the average Eli Roth fan. Don’t get me wrong – I love Buddy Griffith more than life itself. He’s the funniest caricature of teenage boyhood I’ve ever seen, not to mention the ultimate 80s movie character, and his juvenile obsession with getting someone to touch his wiener, while it did lean hard on the total objectification of women, was at least slightly endearing. But that’s only cute in the movies, and it’s only funny when the only goal is sex in that relatively innocuous way that teenagers conceived of it in 1985 (and I do mean relatively – it was still dehumanizing, but it seems quaint in comparison with today’s youth’s idea of what sex is about).
Something’s changed. Our culture has always hated women, but it’s manifested itself in much more obvious and – I’d say – sinister ways in the last decade or so. We all know about backlash theory: the more social gains women make, the more threatened men (especially those lower down on the social ladder) feel, and we’re seeing that express itself in more and more media in which women are punished simply for being women (and/or for having the audacity to be beautiful but unwilling to fuck any asshole that whistles at them, to enjoy sex, to assert themselves, to be happy, etc.). See porn, the new brand of overtly sexualized horror movies, and the general entertainment media, etc. if you really can’t figure out what I’m talking about, though I’m sure you can.
Well, that’s what dudishness is: a combination of a juvenile obsession with sex and overt misogyny. Some examples: the fascination with seeing some boobies in a Playboy that characterized male adolescence a few years ago has (d)evolved into an insatiable demand for footage of women having sex with dogs, women having their faces ejaculated upon, women performing fellatio after being on the receiving end of anal sex, etc. (I’d go on but I can already sense my WordPress ticker of disgusting search terms skyrocketing.) Men have gone from swiveling their heads to get a look at a retreating woman’s ass to routinely groping women on trains and drunkenly demanding in public places that women “show us your tits.” That’s dudishness. That’s the state of the world. And, apparently, the fact that that scares me makes me a prude according to some people.
Plttth. Give me a fucking break. Sorry, but the fact that I’m not turned on by the average Ludacris lyric doesn’t make me frigid, and fuck you if you think you have the right to tell me it does.
Some of you may remember an exchange that took place in one of my recent (OK, I know that when I’ve not posted anything of substance in a month I can’t exactly call it recent) posts’s comment sections between myself, a commenter named Sarah, and a few others. There was a serious misunderstanding going on in that exchange, as well as some clearly willful misrepresentation, and this post was inspired in part by that. Sarah took offense to my claiming that certain sex acts were degrading, and she thought I was calling her a slut for engaging in them. I wasn’t. I think people know that (and I think Sarah does too), but the topic still wants intelligent discussion.
You see, every time I bring up an objection to porn and to men’s increasing sense of entitlement to treat women like objects, women come over here to tell me I’m calling them sluts because I’ve got a problem with male behavior. Say what? I’ve addressed that specific issue before and won’t get into it again, but I am going to address these absurd and insulting (not to mention misogynistic) claims that I, and women like me, must be boring, selfish, sexless PRUDES because we take offense to the dehumanization of ourselves and our fellow women. And I’m going to do so without discussing my own private sex life, which, frankly, I’m tired of having to tell people is none of their fucking business. I don’t ask anyone to give me the details of their exploits, for fuck’s sake (though I still get plenty of unsolicited details — thanks).
There are several problems with the “you’re a prude!” approach when presented as an argument against my (or any other radfem’s) positions on porn and sex work. First, it makes the incorrect assumption that radical feminism is about telling people what they ought to desire. I’m pretty sure you could go through every word on this blog and not find a single instance of me telling people what they should like or not like (unless we’re talking about bands and TV shows — seriously, STOP watching Family Guy). I know we don’t grow up in vacuums free of the kind of social conditioning that creates desires that may not be politically correct or all that feminist. I don’t think anyone ought to be ashamed of those desires or their sources, but should rather just be aware of them and consider what they mean. That does not translate into me telling people not to do something, all it is is my meager attempt to get a few of the nine (OK, maybe 500) or so people who read this here blog to think about the connections between sex, power, and the social structure we’re all stuck in. A commenter on that post mentioned above had the following to say on just that, and I think it’s worth considering:
First, why do some women choose to take jobs as porn actresses? Why do they want to have sex for money rather than getting themselves off? Do you think a lack of options or a difficult economic situation factors into that very much? How do you think they feel about the fact that strangers and people they know alike can watch them having sex as long as they’re willing to pay? Do you think they maybe feel cheapened by it? Could they better express their sexual autonomy by reserving their sexuality for people that turn them on and treat them in ways that make them feel good, rather than by allowing their image to be mass produced to give others jack-off material? Do you think there are very many women who actually enjoy being in pornography? Do you think the patriarchy’s eroticization of treating women as objects has anything to do with that?
Do you think pornography expands our conceptions of human sexuality, or do you think it limits the potential range of it? Do you think that the only way to go outside the box in terms of human sexuality is kinkiness? What other forms of expression might there be? Do you think we might dream up more fulfilling means of keeping sex interesting if left to invent our own fantasies, rather than watching full-color explosions of what other people think our fantasies are? Do you think pornography alters our expectations of sex? Do you think that alteration is generally positive or negative? Realistic or unrealistic? Do you think missionary (or simple forms of mixing up sex, like changing positions and locales, but still ultimately remaining vanilla) are inherently boring, or is it only because we now expect sex to be crazy-exciting with lots of kinks (essentially, to be like pornography)? Do you think there are women for whom kinkiness is a burden more than a freedom? Do you think women ever feel pressured to perform a particular sexual act because it is regularly depicted in porn (and thus expected)?
Do you think there are any kinds of pornography which might show images which are harmful or which it might be better to choose not to view? Do you think porn depicting women in pain or coerced into sex acts is harmful (to men and women, to our conceptions of sexuality, to the way we relate sexually to each other, to what we consider erotic, etc.)? Do you think the majority of porn relies upon sexual stereotypes, unrealistic depictions of women’s sexuality, economic pressure applied to actresses, or any other unfeminist things? In light of the porn that is currently out there, do you believe the burden is upon feminists to prove that it is harmful, or on pornographers to prove that it’s acceptable? Do you think wanting to watch videos of other people having sex is a natural and healthy impulse? Do you think wanting to watch the kinds of standard porn videos that are out there is a natural and healthy impulse?
Why do you (or any woman) want to have your partner ejaculate on your (or any woman’s) face? Why does your partner (or any man) want to ejaculate on your (or any woman’s) face? Given the power relations that are culturally predominant, do you think domination or humiliation could have anything to do with it? If not, why else would it be sexy? Do you think this alternate explanation for why it is sexy is the reason most porn viewers find it sexy?
My point with all of these questions is, there’s a lot more to this issue than “all consenting adults! that means we’re all free to do whatever we want!” Well, duh. Obviously porn actresses who accept money for their services made a choice. Obviously women who allow men to ejaculate on their faces made a choice. We’re not saying to shame people who make those choices, and we’re not saying we should legally ban them. But it’s important to consider, why do people make these choices? We know that the culture we live in makes some assumptions about gender roles and sexuality. How does porn interact with those power relations? How do we make sex and sexuality empowering for all participants?
When we answer those questions, we try to see the whole context. We think that context includes uneven gender roles, and believe that patriarchal thinking warps mainstream expressions of sexuality like porn. As an alternative, we don’t see a world where everyone engages in every sexual act without analyzing it, but rather one in which we consider each other’s feelings and in which we occasionally step back to see whether what we think we want is really sexually good for us. We see a world where people probably don’t want to intentionally spray bodily fluids on other people’s faces (perhaps you disagree), and a world where people have their own satisfying personal fantasies and sex lives that pornography seems like a cheap substitute for real human sexuality.
You might come to different conclusions, but the rad fem critique is not meant to return to “NO! YOU CAN’T DO THAT! GOOD GIRLS DON’T DO THAT!” Rather, it is to move towards a future conception of sexuality that is more personal and more satisfying for all participants. Maybe there’s a way to incorporate face-shots into that world. (I personally think probably not, or at least not until both partners have seriously deconstructed power roles.) Maybe there’s a way to incorporate anal sex into that world. (I personally think probably.) In all honesty, that world probably looks different for all of us (for some people it may involve waiting for sex until marriage or at least love). It’s okay that those worlds all look different. But I promise, promise, promise that when we say that we don’t think a particular act meshes well with a positive sexuality, it is not a referendum on the people who choose that activity. It is not us scolding and saying no. It’s just us saying “Hey, I’m not comfortable with this, and here’s why I think you might want to think it over again too.”
Props to B for that. It’s a much more diplomatic (and hence probably more effective) way of explaining the difference between asking people to take the relationship between sex and power into consideration and slut-shaming (AKA prudishness) than I might have been able to muster.
There’s another problem with calling radfems prudes. Isn’t feminism about women’s freedom, sexual and otherwise? Does someone who knows exactly dick about my sex life telling me I do sex wrong fit that definition of feminism? That’s a negative. It’s presumptuous, pushy, judgemental, sexist, and exactly the kind of behavior sex-pozzers (wrongly) accuse me of when I discuss the relationship between power and sexuality as it relates to sex work. Hypocrisy isn’t cool, man.
And that leads me to the most serious problem with the prudishness/dudishness binary that sex-pozzers have tried to create in arguing with radical feminists. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I thought sex-positivism was all about freedom of sexual expression. Where’s the imagination? I don’t mean to sound like a hippie or anything, but John Lennon would really be disappointed in these sex-pozzers. They’re really not thinking outside the box (I could make so many stupid pun jokes there, but I won’t). I take a very dim view of media, marketing, and the general sale of packaged lifestyles, and I think pornography and the objectification of women in the mainstream media has seriously limited our ability to imagine sexuality unalloyed with power. But it isn’t impossible, and that’s what I’m asking people to help me do. Do people really believe our only two options are to thoughtlessly join in the big porn party or to hate sex? Seriously? Come on.
I’m stoked that there are women out there who are trying to expand the parameters of what sex is about, to decouple sex and male domination, to reclaim female sexuality from the swirling abyss of misogynistic porn, to illustrate the ways in which sexuality and social inequality intersect. Why can’t we talk some more about them, and about ways to do those things, than about whether letting men ejaculate on our faces is cool? I’m honestly tired of that conversation. I’ve written nine-plus posts now on this subject, and I think it’s clear that I see porn as a force that damages women’s lives, that I believe it’s anti-woman propaganda, and that I believe that anyone who has read the series and disagrees is in serious denial. I’m no longer interested in arguing about whether porn is or is not detrimental to women, because its negative effects on women’s lives, women’s safety, and human sexuality in general couldn’t be plainer, and because the counterarguments are all too tautological and simplistic for me to entertain any further.
But as to prudishness, when we allow men to re-enact scenes from anti-woman propaganda on us, we aren’t being loving partners, we’re allowing ourselves to be debased. When we do things we don’t enjoy out of fear that our men will look elsewhere for someone who will, we’re capitulating to terr’rism. When we don’t do those things, we aren’t being prudes, we aren’t being selfish, we aren’t being cold, we aren’t on the road to crew cuts and combat boots (not that there’s anything wrong with those), we’re respecting ourselves as women and as human beings. Anyone coming here and telling me and my readers that we’re bad lovers, that men find us undesirable, and that we’re slut-shaming them for participating in such behaviors just because we question the basis of the forces behind the desire to participate in them is an asshole and an agent of patriarchy. Patriarchy has us convinced that our chief worth lies in our desirability to men, and its greatest tool for keeping us in line is threatening us with erasure. That any woman would abet that is beyond me and is honestly vastly more frightening to me than the similar comments I get from men (which I completely expect to receive).
In that same comment thread I referred to above, Sarah also asked me repeatedly (being, as she is, the head of the Department of Redundancy Department) if I think that there is such a thing as an inherently degrading sex act. That’ll be the subject of Porn Part 10. You didn’t think this series was ever going to end, did you?