I remember, before I started this blog, reading about women bloggers being harassed, threatened, called horrible names, and just generally having to deal with the idiocy of puerile assholes who use the internet’s anonymity to pretend to be tough guys in situations in which they know they can’t get their asses kicked for doing so. I knew I’d have to deal with it eventually, but now I’m really beginning to understand what it’s about. I wasn’t all that surprised when some MRA called me a “femskank” and told me my “girly brain” couldn’t grasp the fact that feminism was an offshoot of Marxism (which, as an intellectual historian, I can tell you is utter bullshit), and I’m not all that bothered when someone tells me I’m a feminazi, but now I’m really bearing the brunt of these fucking weenies’ insecurities. In the last week, as this blog has gotten more hits, I’ve been called a kunt (not sure how that differs from a cunt; maybe the guy’s a Korn fan), a whore, an idiot, an ugly dyke, hirsute, fat, and so on ad nauseum. The funny part is that I couldn’t give less of a fuck what these renobs want to call me, but they still think they’re scoring some serious rhetorical touchdowns with this bullshit. I’m more than willing to argue all day with someone who thinks I’m wrong/crazy/missing something, but I just don’t get what the goal is with these guys. Is this the internet equivalent of shaking a fist in my face, saying, “Woman, you’d best learn yer place er you’ll git whut’s comin’ to yuh!”?
I’ve got a few posts brewing somewhere in the basement, but for now I have a few things I want to ask. First, are there any of you out there who have put me on your blogroll, but do not see yourselves on mine? If so, please send me a comment or an e-mail and I’ll remedy the situation ASAP. Second, how do you feel about advertising? I am toying with the idea of Google ads, since I am a poor grad student, but I’m really not into annoying my readers with ads, or the idea of being a sellout.
Update: I’ve decided against ads and opted for a donation button. I just couldn’t handle the thought of Google Adsense trying to sell Lancome on this page, nor did I want to annoy my readers with ads for mortgage refinancing.
I suppose I’m a bit late on this one, but I’ve been writing papers and marveling at how my blog has all of a sudden started getting a ton more hits (I have no idea why), and now I’m recovering from some kind of alcohol-abetted flu that’s kept me from doing anything but watching What’s Happening on hulu.com, drinking Capri Sun, and complaining.
But enough about me. You’ve all, I’m sure, heard that some munificent plastic surgeon with a heart of gold has written a children’s book in an attempt to ease the confusion and fear that children experience when they see their mothers’ bodies cut up and put back together again in some new configuration that more closely matches what Cosmopolitan and America’s Next Top Anorexic deem acceptable.
What a sport. Basically, he’s clearing up a lot of confusion for the general public. We’ve all heard about the “mommy packages” on offer at the average plastic surgeon’s office that include tummy tucks, breast lifts, implants, and probably some kind of vaginal rearrangement. Modern medicine: the professionals are here to fix nature for us, because nature doesn’t know what the fuck it’s doing. You can’t allow creating a new life from zero, carrying it around for 9 months, and giving birth to salt your game, ladies! I know some of us were thinking that there might be something kind of… I don’t know… unnatural about the whole thing, especially since kids tend to freak out a little to hear their mommy’s going to risk death and disfigurement in order to look like she didn’t give birth to them, but luckily this doctor’s here to straighten us, and our stupid kids, right out.
Women are supposed to look pretty, kid. Don’t worry when some doctor cuts your mom up, removes parts of her, sticks foreign objects inside her body, then sews her back up. When she comes home all bruised, swollen, and covered in gauze, don’t even trip. And when she can’t talk to you or hug you for a few weeks or months because she’s too doped up and because it hurts to much, don’t be a little bitch about it and start crying. Because, just think, once it’s all over, she’ll be hot as fuck, and your dad will want to do it with her, which means he won’t be out looking for some other, younger, hotter woman to leave you and your mommy for. And besides, won’t you be proud when your friends call your mom a MILF?
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?
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.
I thought I was done with this series, but I guess I’ll never be. It’s kind of like the New Kids on the Block that way. OK, not really.
In part five of this series, I tried to explain the ways in which porn use affects all women. My point was that — as study after study has shown — men’s porn use has a net negative effect on women’s lives because men who use porn are affected by it. Men who use pornography are less likely to take women’s claims of sexual harassment and rape seriously, they are more likely to assume that a rape victim was “asking for it,” and they are more likely to disregard women’s physical and emotional boundaries. It’s not as if it takes a rocket scientist (or a radical feminist blogging ninja) to figure out that frequent exposure to media in which women are transformed from human beings into hyper-available sex objects will tend to color a dude’s perceptions, especially when that frequent exposure is tied to orgasm. Pavlov’s dogs and shit.
Men apparently find my saying that offensive for some reason. I suppose being told that you aren’t in complete control of your attitudes and feelings is pretty unsettling, especially to dudes (who usually manage to make it through life without being told they’re hysterical every time they get upset). Nonetheless, it’s a fact. Each and every one of us suffers under the heavy load of bullshit that advertisers, entertainers, government officials, news media, pornographers, our parents, our friends, and geeks off the street have heaped on us since we were born. I mean, yeah, some of us try to exercise a little critical thinking here and there, but no one has completely escaped social and commercial influence to attain some ultimate state of mental autonomy. Sheeit, I’ve been complaining about the beauty industry since I was, like, twelve years old and I still shave my legs, so what hope is there for the average unthoughtful, unquestioning, Red Bull-drinking porndog? (Thanks, Laurel, it’s in the mail tomorrow.)
Porn has an impact on the way men see and interact with the women in their lives. It’s a fact (one I’m sure 30 Helens would even agree upon). But that isn’t what I want to talk about here.
What I want to talk about is how very odd it is that men who use porn will often make the argument that they can separate porn from real life. Is it just me, or is that a tacit admission that what is going on in porn is objectionable? And also, are these men not admitting that they have virgin/whore complexes? (Seems that way to me, but it might just be hysteria. Or maybe jealousy.) How can a dude say that he can separate porn from real life without admitting that he is a misogynist?
Porn is the first exposure most men have to sex in this day and age, and is usually their only source of information as to what women want and like in bed until they get together with real women (who are still not likely to set them straight). As such, to hear a dude argue that porn doesn’t have an effect on how they end up behaving toward real women is almost funny (or would be, were it not for the tragic results of their incredible cluelessness). Any woman who has slept with a dude who has used porn repeatedly knows the impact of porn on male sexuality: men who are really into porn are generally thoughtless, rude, insensitive, fumbling, and boring to sleep with. They also tend to display a fairly pronounced inability to relate to women emotionally, because they’ve lost the ability to see women as full and complex human beings (which also makes them shitty sex partners).
But let’s pretend for a minute that tying orgasm to images of women being dehumanized doesn’t introduce any problems into the sexual and emotional relationships men have with real women (har har). Let’s say that a man can wank all day to the most egregiously degrading and emotionally and physically violent porn on the internet and then turn around and treat his partner like an equal in every sense of the word (snicker). Is there not still a problem? How about the fact that the fluff-from-reality-separating porndog needs two kinds of women, one that he can respect and love, the other that he can use like a toilet? That he needs the world to provide him with both good girls and whores in order to be satisfied? Uh, doesn’t that mean he doesn’t see women as complete human beings but rather simplistic caricatures of sex roles? That, to me, doesn’t sound much like any kind of equality I’ve ever heard of, nor does it sound like there’s much separating going on besides the sorting of human beings into the limiting, dehumanizing, and wildly misrepresentative categories of “virgin” and “whore.”
And even if I wanted to let these “separaters” off of the misogyny hook (I don’t), I’d still have a pretty rough time not noticing that they are totally down with class exploitation, that they don’t mind taking advantage of the fact that a woman’s social, political, educational, and financial opportunities have been limited by her having been born poor and female in order to supply themselves with cheap tossing fodder.
The sense of entitlement bewilders almost as much as how much the new episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia suck does. More on that sense of entitlement to come.
To be continued…
L from Editorializing the Editors posted a comment on one of the blogs in this series referring to the internalization of porn culture by women as a widespread case of Stockholm Syndrome, an apt characterization if there ever was one. I’m of the opinion that women who participate in and defend the production or consumption of pornography have been conditioned by our porn-crazed culture to believe that the choice to capitulate to the porn industry’s demands on women’s sexuality is something that they themselves desire. Don’t get all upset with me and tell me that I’m robbing women of agency. I’m not. I’m arguing that women, consciously or not, choose to participate in their own objectification because the rewards for doing so are better than the difficulty that comes with resisting porn culture’s demands. The parameters are laid down by the forces that be (patriarchy, capitalism, etc.), not by women. Women who choose to participate in porn culture are just exercising what instrumentality they have within a restrictive system.
I’ve suffered through reading, deleting, and even responding to a lot of comments that center on the idea that some women choose to be involved in the making of porn, that some women like to watch porn, that some women like to be treated like the women in porn, that women are “taking control” of some aspects of the porn industry, that there are forms of porn that are not misogynistic, blah fucking blah. There are as many arguments for the continuation of women’s exploitation and subjugation as there are varieties of pornography, and none of them are right. Almost all arguments in defense of porn production and consumption spring from the kinds of libertarian economic and social positions that most people who aren’t comfortable with the religious right but also aren’t comfortable with the idea that their actions have consequences beyond their own lives exhibit. Libertarianism is naive and myopic in almost every sense, and porn is no exception.
Men who use porn know that, deep down, they think it’s odd that the women they’re jerking off to have “chosen” to participate in pornography (more on that concept here). It is odd that a woman would choose to work in porn, would choose to use porn, or would choose to defend men’s and their own porn use to other women. It’s odd because women should instinctively sense, when confronted with the vast majority of pornographic images, that what they are seeing is degrading to the human spirit. Evolutionary psychologists can make whatever bullshit claims they want to about men being “naturally” prone to becoming aroused by visual stimulation (which is utter horseshit), but no such claim has been made when it comes to women’s porn use, most likely because it would be absurd to argue that women’s porn use stems from anything other than a quest for acceptance in a world dominated by entitled and oblivious porn-using men.
I think I’ve got an explanation for why some women get into porn, and maybe even some alternatives to offer to women who are involved in their own objectification simply because they don’t see any other options. Women get the message from a very young age that their value lies in whether they are attractive to men. It’s hammered home by television, movies, ads, fairy tales, toys, music, etc. These outside influences are so strong that they can completely transform female (not to mention male, but I’m tired of talking about men) sexuality into something vastly different from female sexuality in its natural state. Women come to see themselves as if through a lens, as if through the eyes of someone else, after a lifetime of exposure to media that teach them to conceive of themselves in such a way. It is no surprise, then, that many women find that their own sexual arousal is highly dependent on the ways in which others seem to perceive them. Almost everyone is aroused by the feeling of being desired, but in our culture, that tends to become the chief element in women’s arousal. Many women see themselves as if watching from somewhere beyond themselves, and derive their sexual arousal from viewing their own sexuality as if through the eyes of an onlooker. Put simply, women in our culture are conditioned to be aroused by the idea that they can cause arousal in an observer.
It’s not a very big leap from that idea, which I contend exists to some degree in all women, to the idea that a woman would be excited by being viewed as a sexualized object, or by viewing images of other women as sexualized objects. In fact, I’d say that seeing beyond such systematic and forceful conditioning is the big leap, which is why there are so many “sex-positive” “feminists” and women who use and defend the use of porn, and so few outspoken anti-porn feminists. BUT… that doesn’t mean that the pro-porn crowd is right. Remember, everyone used to think slavery was OK, that women shouldn’t get to vote, that cocaine was a good beverage additive, that menthol cigarettes cured colds, and so on. I mean, look at how many people still think Family Guy is a good show and that Panic at the Disco is a good band.
How many times have you heard some woman who prostitutes herself in the pornography industry say that she’s “just an exhibitionist”? It’s exactly this process of women being conditioned to identify with their own objectification that allows such a woman to make that claim, and I wouldn’t argue that she’s being dishonest. What I would argue is that she’s either consciously or unconsciously avoiding thinking past that idea, because doing so would cause some serious emotional discomfort and require some difficult decisions. Participating in your own objectification comes with some major rewards; you get attention (although not respect), you get (limited and questionable) affection, you get a bunch of dudes lusting after you. In short, if you don’t think too hard about it, allowing yourself to be objectified can make you feel valuable and powerful in a system in which women don’t have a lot of access to power (and in which they are fairly consistently undervalued as human beings). Defending men’s right to use porn, and using porn yourself, gets you the approval of men who want nothing more than a woman who is just as into her own objectification as they are. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a dude tell his friends how pumped he is to have found a girl who is as dirty as a porn “star,” or how excited he is that his girlfriend likes porn as much as he does. It’s funny, though, I’ve never heard one of these same guys tell his friends how stoked he is that his pornified girlfriend is a cool person, or smart, or interesting, or funny…
What does going along with porn culture require of women? I’ve already argued that women, as a result of social conditioning, generally come to be aroused at the thought of arousing a third party, but is that the whole of women’s sexuality? Of course not. Human sexuality is very complicated (I would even argue that female sexuality is more complicated than male sexuality), and there are so many factors involved that I won’t even try to tell anyone what female sexuality “is,” but I will say that I’m pretty sure it involves more than just being aroused by being seen as a sexual object. Porn culture, in tandem with our mainstream media, has taught women and men that the object of sexual interaction is male orgasm, and that everything else that takes place is corollary to that. Even the most indoctrinated of women cannot derive all of their sexual pleasure from arousing men, so this poses a serious problem; women’s sexuality is almost completely ignored in porn, and is treated as a side dish to male sexuality in most other media. That’s ridiculous. Women’s sexuality, the more complicated of the two, is treated as if it were so simple as to be almost non-existent, and women who want to go along with porn culture in pursuit of male acceptance are being forced to make do with having only a very small portion of their own sexuality acknowledged and having the vast majority of their sexual needs ignored.
It’s a dilemma: is it worth the trouble to demand that our sexuality be taken as independent of male sexuality, that our sexual needs be met, and that we be seen as fully human individuals who approach sex with motives that extend beyond the desire to titillate men? It might not be for some people. There don’t seem to be a huge number of men who are interested in understanding female sexuality or in relinquishing their perceived right to define what sex is and should be. For some women, learning to make do with a less-than-perfect sex life might be the easier option when the alternative is risking being shunned, ignored, or called a feminazi, lesbian, or prude for demanding that their sexuality be accorded the consideration men’s sexuality is.
But the only way that will change is if more of us do exactly that. I’m of the opinion that a lot of men, if they actually knew what real female sexuality was about, might find it more interesting than what goes on in porn. I also think that a lot of women would be surprised to find out just how complex and full of possibilities female sexuality is. Instead of thinking about new ways to sexually manipulate men, why not think about new ways to experience your own sexuality? Women need to start thinking about themselves more and about men less in almost every arena in life. It’s difficult and it goes against everything we’ve been taught, but it’s ultimately the most rewarding path in life, even if it is uncomfortable at times.