Porn Part 8: Rights vs. Privileges

There is a lot of confusion in the world today as to what constitutes a “right.” Seriously, if you think about it, the idea of a “right” that inheres in a human being but transcends the will of human beings is pretty weird. That’s why there are very few cultures outside of those that inherited the idea from ancient Rome that even have a linguistic equivalent for the word “right.” For example, the Chinese translation of “right” is the word quanli, which also means “privilege.” If you take the two characters quan and li on their own, they mean “power” and “benefit,” so the Chinese equivalent for the word “right” could be translated as “the benefits that derive from power.” The “right” as it is conceived of in the western legal and social traditions is not an easy concept to grasp in its entirety, even for those of us who have grown up with the concept. Even in western countries in which the definition of the word “right” is more or less agreed upon, we can’t seem to come to a consensus on what should be considered a right for every human being.

Let me tell you about a rather stupid situation I found myself in a few weeks ago. I’m going to Kauai in January and have a reservation for a rental car, and I need to have a driver’s license to pick that car up. I realized a few weeks ago that my California license was expired and that it had been for just over a year. I don’t drive in New York because I’m neither rich nor stupid, so I hadn’t given the status of my license much thought since I moved here. I called the New York DMV and told them I needed to come down and trade in my expired California license for a New York one, and they told me to piss off since it had been expired for over a year. In an attempt to weasel my way out of dealing with the tests and driving lessons involved in getting a New York license, I called the California DMV and tried to get them to send me a renewal. They also told me to piss off and that I had to come back to California if I wanted a California license. I made up some sob story and told them I couldn’t live without a driver’s license, and the DMV agent repeated the line I first heard in License to Drive and would come to hear on a daily basis as I made my way through driver’s ed: “A driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.”

Whatever your thoughts are on whether the government has any place deciding who can and can’t drive a car, you have to admit that in the grand scheme of things my “right” to drive legally is really not that important when one compares it to other phenomena to which rights normally attach; I’m a little more concerned with my right to not get killed, raped, or detained by government officials for no reason. Arguing with the woman at the DMV that I have a “right” to rent a car and drive it around does, on final analysis, seem pretty stupid and whiny, does it not? Eh, fuck her. The DMV and its employees are all assholes.

Still, it got me to thinking. People seem seriously confused about the difference between a right and a privilege these days. Deciding what falls under the rubric of “rights” is a difficult task, and gaining any kind of universal consensus (even on the most basic of human rights) is nearly impossible because the discussion is landmined with the participants’ conflicting cultural and religious values. Fuck, we haven’t even reached the point where we can agree that we all have the right to not be murdered. “Culture” gives everyone who wants one a handy excuse for barbarous behavior, and the weenies who come from places where rights have come to include the right to act like an asshole if one’s “culture” says it’s OK don’t seem to want to raise any kind of serious objections to people in Afghanistan stoning women to death for having the temerity to have been raped, to gangs of soldiers raping women and children left and right in Darfur, to the international sex trade in which women and children are held against their will and raped repeatedly not just in filthy dens of iniquity in Asia, but even in American and European cities.

It’s a little odd to think that we don’t seem to see many people taking a serious stand in their daily lives to secure and protect basic human rights for these people, but that we have dumbasses like Lars Larsen harping on the radio every day about the government’s having violated his “rights” by forcing him to wear a seat belt when he doesn’t feel like it. Or people like [insert local Libertarian idiot radio talk show “personality” here] whining about the fact that inheritance taxes infringe upon the “rights” of people like Chuck Bass. Or Larry Flynt crying over a perceived threat to his “right” to free speech coming from feminists/human beings with morals who don’t think he ought to be allowed to profit from hate speech and disseminate anti-woman propaganda with impunity.

What we are seeing in each of these examples is classic rights inflation coupled with willful myopia. These over-privileged, whiny little assholes who’ve never had to deal with any sort of serious infringement upon their rights (even if we conceive of the term “rights” broadly to include life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, a big house, a pure-bred Labrador, unlimited micro-brews, a big-ass truck, a higher salary than their talent and skills warrant, more social prestige than their worth as human beings can account for, and the freedom to act like Larry the Cable guy and then ask people to take their points of view seriously) have come to see their privileges as rights, and to use language that ought to be reserved for decrying the most egregious of abominations to defend those privileges. They think they have a “right” to say/publish/broadcast whatever hateful, demagogic bullshit comes into their Coors Light-saturated cortexes, but are totally unwilling to take the rights of those affected by what they’ve said/published/broadcast into account. They have a “right” to drive around with no seat belt on, but want to reserve the “right” to sue someone who hits them for causing injuries the seat belt could have prevented. They claim a “right” to keep every cent of money they receive in an inheritance, despite the fact that it’s a windfall that they didn’t even earn, ignoring their debt to the social and economic structures (which can’t exist without government intervention) that allowed that wealth to accumulate.

And don’t even get me started on MRAs. Those motherfuckers think that their “rights” are in danger every time someone sneezes.

And this is where porn comes in. Men have come to assume that using porn is a right. How many of my readers have been in a relationship with a dude who thinks he’s entitled to use porn and that it’s your responsibility to “get over it”? How many of my male readers have used porn while in a relationship, knowing that it made your partner uncomfortable (or worse)? How many of my readers know someone who is struggling with the feelings of anger, betrayal, and inadequacy that a partner’s porn use has created? Why, might I ask my male porn-using readers, do you feel entitled to do something that hurts someone you (purportedly) care about?

I have a suggestion for women who are dealing with a porn-using partner: start making out with other men until he stops. Tell him it isn’t cheating because there’s no penetration — and because you don’t feel anything for the other men — and that he’s lucky because you’re coming home to him. Tell him that, since it isn’t technically cheating, he has no right to try to tell you what to do. And then tell him he’s being a hysterical, whiny little bitch if he doesn’t just get over it, that he’s just jealous. I know, yeah right.

I know men don’t want to give up using porn. Why should they when they know they don’t have to? It’s there, it’s often free, it does the job they want it to do, and they’ve already convinced everyone that they’re entitled to do so. Maybe because it hurts the people involved in its production, it hurts the women who have to deal with men who use it, and because it hurts the women they are in relationships with. A man who uses porn while he’s in a relationship is basically saying to his partner, “I care more about the fact that I want jerking off to be quicker and easier than I do about the fact that someone I’m jerking off to might be being raped, about the fact that it hurts you and damages your self esteem and security in our relationship, about the fact that it is detrimental to our sex life.” He’s also quite plainly telling her that he sees women as objects, herself included (unless he’s a “separater,” in which case he sees some women as objects and others as Snow White).

I’ve said this before, but let me make myself perfectly clear: using pornography in a relationship amounts to emotional abuse. It is not a woman’s responsibility to “get over” the damage that her partner’s porn use causes. It is his responsibility to stop causing the damage. Despite what our ever more porn-addled culture wants to tell us, men do not have a right to use pornography. Pornography exists because men run shit in a patriarchy, and because the use of women’s bodies is one of the chief privileges men reap from a patriarchy. Sure, almost everyone may do it, but what the fuck does that mean? Just because a privilege is a norm does not make it a right.

Men might not come out and say they conceive of using porn as a right, but their arguments in the face of their partners’ objections make it fairly clear that they see it that way. The men who take issue with my analysis of the porn industry consider using porn to be a right, or else they wouldn’t bother arguing that they ought to be able to continue doing something that has been proved to be detrimental to women’s lives. Dudes in general feel entitled to unfettered access to women’s bodies, and to unfettered access to footage of any pervy thing they can dream up being done to women’s bodies. They’ve gotten so used to privileged access to women’s bodies that they’ve come to see it as their right as men. That, my dear readers, is complete fucking bullshit.

Heterosexual women have three choices when it comes to this: avoid men (if only it were possible to will oneself into lesbianism), find a dude who will respect our emotional boundaries, or tolerate being abused emotionally. Only one of those options is acceptable, and when more of us start making that clear, more of them will have to come to grips with the fact that they are not, in fact, entitled to shit, and that having sexual access to women is a privilege, not a right. Think of it like driving.

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