Hear Ye, Hear Ye: The Baby Oil King is Dead

Like you didn’t know I’d have something to say about the death of the velvet-clad, baby-oil-coated colostomy bag otherwise known as Hugh Hefner.

I’ve seen posts all over social media in the past twelve hours crediting Hefner with everything from women’s sexual freedom to Roe v. Wade to the protection of all Amercians’ right to free speech. I expect there will be much more of the same and probably some additional horseshit over the coming days.

First off, let’s get a few things straight. Women’s sexual liberation has yet to be achieved. The feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s were headed in that direction, but Hefner and his ilk HIJACKED that process and perverted it into an ideology in which women’s “sexual freedom” ended up looking a lot like men’s fantasies of female sexual submissiveness and objecthood.

Radical women fought for a positive change in women’s lives, then a capitalist dude showed up to rip off their ideas, adulterate and water them down, then sell them back to men — and the women who weren’t conscious enough of their own oppression yet to recognize the difference — as part of a packaged “lifestyle” one could buy. Hugh Hefner and Playboy weren’t catalysts to women’s liberation; they were a backlash to it. Nothing new to see here.

To give Hefner credit for Roe v. Wade (or birth control access) is so ludicrous an insult to the thousands of women who spent their lives fighting for women’s right to bodily sovereignty that I won’t even dignify it with anything other than the obvious: the founder of Playboy only supported abortion and birth control access because it freed MEN from the consequences of sex. (It’s kind of hard to be a playboy when some broad expects you to take care of the child you impregnated her with, nuhmean?)

Finally, what kind of “free speech” was Hefner such an exemplary champion of? The right to publish cartoons celebrating rape and child molestation? The right to publish pictures of naked women in absurd poses that signal complete submission to the male gaze — and hence communicate the message that women are vacant, silly creatures who enjoy being consumed as products? Playboy opened the floodgates that have drowned society in anti-woman propaganda (i.e. contemporary mainstream pornography), which I don’t consider to have been much of a boon to my life or the lives of any of the women I know.

When men like Hefner, Larry Flynt, and that most eminent of turds Bob Guccione fought for their right to “free speech,” they effectively eliminated women’s freedom of speech by delegitimizing their voices in the public sphere. Hefner paved the way for those two and for the oozing horde of latter-day pornographers whose “free speech” enriches all of our lives to this day with the ever-so-revolutionary idea that women enjoy and deserve sexual abuse and violence.

Mainstream (and let’s not pretend porn isn’t mainstream) media that presents women as mindless, childlike, or servile pulls the foundation of personhood out from under all women’s public political speech. Free-speech jihadist memers aside, no one in their right mind believes there should be zero limitations on or consequences for public speech that harms other people. If you’re anywhere on the left end of the political continuum, you don’t get to argue that the right’s public racism is hate speech and is thus not protected under the First Amendment and then turn around and say Hefner was a champion of free speech. Pornography is anti-woman hate speech. Period.

Intellectual consistency isn’t always fun or popular.

More like a-DICK-tion. Get it?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this guy sound like someone who deserves pity?


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

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

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

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.



Strip your way to sexual objecthood with Flirty Girl Fitness!

Am I late on this one? Oh well, I don’t care. I’ve been on break for a few weeks and I’ve been hanging out in Atlanta with Davetavius, which means I’ve been watching WAY more cable than usual since I have no cable in New York. We watch a lot of MTV because, let’s face it, what channel is more entertaining than MTV for people whose chief source of entertainment comes from laughing at others’ expense? And what other network can boast a show like Jersey Shore? I mean, it’s almost better than the first season of Tool Academy (the second season was a serious embarrassment to the franchise). For those of you fools who aren’t watching Jersey Shore, it’s a show about eight people most people (the people on the show included) would call guidos partying at the Jersey Shore for a summer. In other words, it’s Real World: Jersey Shore with narrower casting parameters. The people on the show are unbelievable. They’re such caricatures of themselves and of everything people think about New Jersey that I’m seriously amazed that they exist and that only one of them is actually from New Jersey. They spray their tans on, they douse themselves in cosmetics and hair products, and they spend hours a day at the gym despite being on vacation. The men, that is. The women are less vain than the men, but they still clearly drop a lot of coin on hair extensions, make-up, booty shorts, and plastic surgery.

A few of my favorite elements:

  • Snooki, informing the show’s producers of the qualities her ideal mate would possess, says she’s looking for a “juice-head” who is “half nice guy, half jerk-off.” That’s right. She’s actually seeking a jerk-0ff  ‘roid monkey.
  • J-Woww’s completely insane fake breasts. She looks like she’s had soup bowls implanted in her chest.
  • J-Woww’s style. First of all, she calls herself J-Woww. I do not believe for one second that someone else gave her that nickname. Second, she dresses like a member of the band Vixen (and I mean “Edge of a Broken Heart” Vixen, not whatever the hell they’re doing now, which I’m sure is the opposite of cool).  Half the time, that is. The other half of the time, she looks like a heroin addict on her way to a creative loungewear fashion contest.
  • The Situation. Again, a self-applied nickname. One of the cast members’ name is Mike, but he calls himself The Situation, and so does everyone else. I’m pretty mad I didn’t think of making my friends call me The Situation first, but how about you all start calling me Integri-T? I mean it, dude. No one is ever allowed to call me Nine Deuce again. But back to The Situation – who makes up their own nickname? I’m pretty sure the whole point of nicknames is that they’re affectionate appellations friends bestow upon one, not a dorky attempt at turning oneself into a brand.
  • MTV: the network that doesn’t condone violence against women in bars (anymore). For the first three episodes of the show, MTV played a set of clips from upcoming episodes which included footage of some dude cold-cocking Snooki. It was one of the most jarring things I’ve ever seen on video, and I was aghast that MTV would stoop so low as to use it to promote a show. I suppose it’s pretty silly of me to be surprised at anything MTV does (remember the Ikki twins?), but this shit was really disturbing. Cut to the fourth episode in which the incident actually occurs, and MTV blacks the scene out. We see the guy getting rowdy, we see a black screen, then we see Snooki lying on the ground crying. And not only has MTV all of a sudden decided that showing a man punch a woman dead in the face isn’t kosher, but they’ve also taken it upon themselves to speak out against violence against women with an on-screen message at show’s end reminding us that hitting women isn’t OK. Now that they’ve realized that using real, actual, live violence against women to up ratings is still a bit too much for the average viewer (for now at least), that is.
  • House music. Everyone in the house loves house music in ways that bewilder and fascinate. For example, the men get together and beat their fists on the ground at dance clubs while listening to house music, explaining that the beat is hitting them so hard that they have to beat its ass in return. I swear. Another example: all of the members of the house seem to like to get together on the dance floor and “battle.” And by battle I do not mean anything like what one sees on America’s Best Dance Crew, I mean they all try to win a contest the objective of which seems to be to create the most hilarious combination of simulated sex and the kind of acrobatics one normally only sees on playgrounds. Battling is the opposite of sexual, however, as J-Woww makes clear when her boyfriend accuses her of having behaved inappropriately with another dude at the club the night before. She replies,”It was just house. It wasn’t R&B, it was HOUSE. We were battling all night.” When her boyfriend remains dubious, J-Woww calls Snooki to the phone to back up her story. Snooki confirms that they were indeed battling to house music, and that nothing untoward could thus have occurred. Remember that next time someone accuses you of cheating.
  • Sammi, who might be the biggest asshole alive, goes by the nickname Sweetheart, and can be heard during the intro credits referring to herself as “the sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet.”
  • Everyone on the show is scheming and plotting to get someone to fuck them at nearly every moment, but no one ever scores. It’s bizarre and really kind of funny. Pauly D and The Situation go out every night in search of poontang, only to get “blocked” by their roommates, friends of the women they’re trying to trick into bed, etc. The only people in the house getting any action are Sammi and Ronnie, who are in a relationship with each other, which is hilarious because Pauly D and The Situation are constantly giving Ronnie a hard time for not being out at the club with them trying to score.

I could go on, but I won’t. The show is unbelievable. I strongly suspect that the producers intend for it to serve as a lesson and a warning about where our image obsession, affection for porn, and vapid materialism are taking us. If not, it’s still really funny despite being fairly terrifying. I vote you watch it.

What does all of this Jersey Shore business have to do with the post title, you ask? Nothing, except for the fact that I was watching Jersey Shore when I saw the commercial I’m about to share with you (and except for the fact that the show and the product in this commercial both exist within the patriarchal matrix — starring Keanu Reeves).

Sigh. I guess I’d like to commend the people who schedule the ads for MTV. I can’t think of a more perfect fit between show and commercial than Flirty Girl Fitness and Jersey Shore. Except maybe Manswers and Girls Gone Wild.

Flirty Girl Fitness, for those of you who can’t watch the video or don’t want to, is a series of fitness videos that teach women how to dance like strippers while burning fat. One volume, “Booty Beat,” instructs viewers in the art of “sexy” music video dancing, while another, “Chair Dance,” outlines the finer points of humping a chair. But the real selling point is the Flirty Girl Fitness Pole, which you can try in your own home for only $1! The kick-ass cardio strip workout that one used to have to pay big bucks for at Crunch Fitness can now be yours for only $19.99 plus the $1 pole try-out fee!

The ad presents us with about 20 women who likely spend more time per day working out than they spend in a week eating swiveling their pelvises to shitty dance music (clearly NOT house, to be sure), regurgitating Britney Spears dance moves, rubbing their pubic bones on chairs, sticking their asses in the air, and wrapping themselves around poles. Between those clips are interviews with actual Flirty Girl Fitness users along with their before and after photos. We don’t, however, see any footage of anyone trying the workout for the first time. Hmm. Interesting.  I wonder why that might be? Well, I suppose it could have something to do with the clear message in the commercial: the women in the before pictures are disgusting, the opposite of sexy, useless bags of fat that need to drop 40 pounds and learn how to fuck inanimate objects if they want any sexual attention, but they need to do so in private, because no one wants to have to deal with a woman whose BMI is over 3 and who hasn’t already mastered the booty blast. Not to worry, though, fatty — if you spend a few bucks and several months on this fitness program, soon dudes everywhere will do you the gracious favor of actually wanting to see you degrade yourself for their bonerial pleasure.

Well, fuck. I give up. If this product is filling an actual demand, we’re hosed. The men have won and it’s time to pack it in, throw in the towel, gather up our toys, whatever, and go the fuck home. It’s funny. I’ve always thought women were smarter than men, but men must be geniuses if they’ve convinced this many women that stripping is fun, empowering, cool, good exercise, or whatever the fuck else is going through the minds of those who order this product. It’s basically the equivalent of tricking women into thinking ingesting semen is a good nutritional move, for fuck’s sake, and the fact that anyone has fallen for it makes me want to weep/puke for womankind.

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Who is qualified to speak for ALL women in the sex industry?

Pretty sure that’s no one, right? I’ve been getting a lot of shit lately from pro-porn people for supposedly speaking on behalf of all women in porn, but I wonder who appointed them the spokespeople for everyone involved. I might be guilty of making some blanket statements (though I avoid the words “all” and “none” when I can), but I try to be cognizant of the fact that there are women for whom my statements aren’t true. There are, I know, women who choose to do every kind of sex work that exists. I’d have to be a complete fool to be unaware of that fact, because I’m bombarded every day with messages from pro-sex work bloggers who want to tell the world how stoked they are about what they do.  But are these women more qualified to speak on behalf of ALL sex workers than anyone else? I don’t think so, and the fact that they do so and then give me shit for purportedly doing so is kind of funny.  (I won’t even discuss the men who call themselves “pro-porn activists,” because the paternalism and glaringly obvious self-interest that drip off of their protestations make it unnecessary.)

The thing is, I don’t claim to be qualified to speak on behalf of anybody. I forcefully state my opinions and recount the observations from which they derive, but I’m not anyone’s spokesperson. Asshole men speak for women. I’ve probably made some gross generalizations in the past, but I’d like anyone to find a quote in any of my posts in the last year that makes any kind of claim that I speak on behalf of anyone.

But what about people who don’t get to have their voices heard? Who is going to speak for them? There are an awful lot of women in the sex industry without the wherewithal (computers, Internet access, writing skills, self-confidence, leisure time, etc.) to speak on their own behalf and whose opinions might differ from those who have chosen not only to do sex work, but to argue on behalf of the industry for their own gain (and who do have computers, Internet access, writing skills, self-confidence, leisure time, etc.). Am I allowed to speak on behalf of the women who e-mail me and tell me they used to strip, do porn, etc. and tell you that there are at least a former few sex workers who think there’s something wrong with the sex industry? Or should I forward their e-mails to porn producers and pimps and let them decide?

We know what pro-porn and pro-sex industry people think. The world is inundated with the views of those who profit from the porn industry and the people who think that anti-woman propaganda and women’s sexual servitude are liberating and awesome. But what about those who disagree? What about the sex workers who, given the choice, wouldn’t be sex workers?

So, to those of you who tell me I have no place speaking for all sex workers (which I don’t disagree with at all), I won’t. But if you’re going to do so, how about we get a little more accurate portrayal?

Or is kicking the truth about sex workers’ lives not what this is really about? Is accusing me of “speaking for” women in porn just a derailing tactic designed to distract people from the point (that porn and the sex industry on balance are a detriment to women’s lives) by calling me a bad feminist or claiming that I’m dehumanizing women in porn just as much as the men who get off on seeing them degraded are? Lunchtime. A red herring burrito awaits me.

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This must be one of those “eye of the beholder” things.

If I ever meet the man in charge of Details magazine’s online content, I’m going to kick his dick off. I mean it, dude.

I know that giving Details any traffic or attention whatsoever is probably ill-advised. I mean, the content of the magazine and the related website is usually so egregiously misogynistic and juvenile that I’m positive that, if it isn’t outright satire (ah, if only), then it’s at least intended to be salacious and alarming for the sake of increasing magazine sales and website traffic. Still, there are plenty of people out there who aren’t aware of that fact and will come away from the site’s articles thinking this is where journalism is at, that aggressive sexual exploitation and objectification (of women, of course) are the order of the day, that it’s time to get on the train to Doublepenetrationville or get left at Homo Station. Hence, I consider it my responsibility to at least direct a few sane individuals over to participate in the commentating on the site’s message boards.

Anyone who has been around on feminist blogs for awhile will remember the old Peter Rubin piece on the Details site about whether it was OK to “demand anal” (see Twisty’s take here, as I’ll not be linking to the original). That article was so outrageous and absurd that I assumed I’d never find anything to rival it, but then along came another Details online article by some likely Adult Swim and Joe Rogan fan named Eric Spitznagel entitled “How Internet Porn is Changing Teen Sex.” Now, one would assume that, with a title like that, the article might contain a sentence or two of analysis, but instead it just reads like a catalog of some slobbering old creep’s wet dreams about sexually abusing underage girls. You don’t have to take my word for it. Click here if you’re in need of a good puke.

If you’d rather not read the article, I understand. Worry not; Deuce will sum it all up for you and contextualize the shit out of it so you can go over there and comment without being forced to read Spitznagel’s mediocre writing or his exhaustive list of revolting statutory rape fantasies.

It all starts off with the article’s subtitle: “Forget awkward fumblings in the back of the bus. Junior’s thinking more along the lines of reverse-cowgirl anal.” First off, “fumbling” is not a noun, and hence it cannot be pluralized. Duh. But really, is Spitznagel about to try to tell us that the average fourteen-year-old boy is so blase about sexual contact with girls that he requires anal sex to muster any excitement? Am I to assume that teenage boys have somehow overcome the social and sexual anxieties and fears that have plagued adolescents since the dawn of time? I don’t make out with a whole lot of teenagers, but I doubt it.

Spitznagel recounts his own experiences with porn as an adolescent — borrowing issues of Hustler from a friend to toss to — and remarks that the average teenager today would consider wanking over copies of the magazine that once featured women being turned into ground beef on its cover “quaint.” Quaint? Doilies are quaint. Small English villages are quaint. I’m pretty sure that images of women having their heads shoved into toilets while some skeezy guido porks them from behind aren’t quaint.

But anyway… Spitznagel then goes on to drop a few facts and anecdotes on us that, were I to give him far more credit than is his due, I’d suspect he chose in order to sneakily intimate what’s wrong with the effects the porn industry has on modern sexuality:

The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8-to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. Considering the standard climax to even the most vanilla hard-core scene today, that means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face.

Well, that’s not good. (Of course, the “one study” isn’t cited, so we don’t know whether that figure is accurate, but I suppose it’s conceivable that it is.) He then quotes Seth Rogen (you don’t say), who reads porn message boards for fun:

“It’s hilarious how much these kids know,” Rogen says. “There’ll be arguments like ‘This is classified as gonzo, but I would say it’s more of a feature-BDSM. Also, they say this clip is taken from Handjobs #8, but this scene was actually first featured in Killer Grips #7.'”

And then two college dicks:

“Pubic hair is disgusting,” Travis says. “Girls should keep their vaginas porn-star trim.” Cody describes his first real-life ejaculate-to-the-face finale like this: “It was the happiest moment of my young life. There is just something about blowing a load in a chick’s face that makes you feel like a man.”

I suspect sometimes that over at Details these quotes from first-name-only dudes are phonied up in order to get a reaction out of people, but it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that these two assholes exist. If they do, their attitude is certainly repugnant, but, as Spitznagel says, “boys have always been perverts.”  What about the girls? Well, apparently at least one young woman thinks taking one in the face is “empowering.” Here’s Spitznagel (re)quoting a 22-year-old woman named Lindsay:

“Even if she has eight dicks on her face, she’s still the queen of those eight dicks,” she says. “I definitely like come on the face.”

Lindsay, having internalized the prevailing argument of pornographers and smirking perverts everywhere, has added hers to the roar of voices that would drown out the protestations of those of us who don’t think black is white, down is up, and getting jizzed on is the road to equality. How very, very sad. But it gets worse. Spitznagel, altruistically shouldering one of the heaviest burdens that the male pop journalist must bear, trolled a few porn sites, dug through mounds of pornographic images to find female porn stars’ blogs, and found that many of the “veterans” were surprised at how “porn-ready” adolescent girls seem to be these days. There are thirteen-year-old girls who idolize Jenna Jameson, 250 of 1000 adolescent females surveyed in Great Britain hope to one day become strippers, teenage girls come to porn sets already well versed in what’s expected of them, and so on ad nauseum.

Alright, dude, we get it: widespread porn consumption among teenagers has led to an expectation among young men that sex ought to mimic porn, and hence that women ought to submit to all manner of the degrading and potentially harmful acts that mainstream porn depicts. That’s fucking terrible news, as us anti-porn feminists have been saying all along.

Oh, wait, that’s not where you’re going with this?

Sigh. I knew it:

For most men over 30, facials aren’t something you actually do. They’re like car chases or hurling someone through a plate-glass window—the difference between cinema and life. But the ubiquity of porn has blurred the line [among young people]…

To those of us who came of age in the eighties and nineties—the dinosaurs once naïvely content with even the most terrible, chafing teen hand job—it feels a bit like looking down from an attic window onto the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love. Let the young have their Twitter and their Jonas Brothers—we have no interest. But this kind of hurts.

How in god’s name could anyone trot out a laundry list like that of porn’s social effects and come to the conclusion that things have changed for the better with the growth of the internet porn industry? I think I might know the answer to that. If, let’s say, one was so blinded by privilege and entitlement as to conceive of women chiefly as dick receptacles, one might come to the conclusion that a media genre that is helping to brainwash an entire generation of young women to believe that being a dick receptacle is a real party is a boon to the young men who reap the “benefits” of the success of that media genre.

And, really, who can blame Spitznagel? When he’s able to find, like, six women willing to confirm his hopeful supposition that young women just love being used, abused, and ejaculated upon, why would he give it any more thought? Why give up the privilege of using and exploiting women’s bodies by proxy when one can point to a few women who like being degraded, having it taped, and having it broadcast around the world via the Internet? Why think about the damage that the porn industry does to the real women involved in it, to the real women who might not want to rip their pubes out by the roots, who might not want eight dicks on their faces, who might not be cool with their partners expecting them to submit to the degradation and humiliation that characterize almost all Internet porn, when you can choose instead to listen to the women who find it easier to join ’em than try to beat ’em? Why empathize with the young women who haven’t bought into the porn industry’s ideas about what women are here for when they are sexually abused by boys who have when you can point to thirteen-year-old whores (come on, like that wasn’t the intimation) who wanna be Jenna Jameson when they grow up? Essentially, why take any responsibility for your complicity in an aggressively misogynistic and exploitative sexual culture when you can blame the victims?

What an asshole.

PS – To those of you who like to come over here and argue that men can tell the difference between porn and real life, and who claim that porn has no effect on the way men treat their sexual partners, I give you Eric Spitznagel’s take and respectfully ask you to shut the fuck up. Also, I think y’all might want to head over to the site and tell him he’s blowing your cover.

*Word up to O.A.G. for the tip.

If anyone cares to write to the mag editor, his email is dan_peres@condenast.com
If anyone cares to write to the author, his email is vonnegutsarsehole@yahoo.com

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Dear “sex positive” “feminists” who think I’m a dick for having a problem with bukkake…

I often get comments from people telling me that my raising questions about acts such as men ejaculating on women’s faces, bukkake, ATM, etc. equate to “the patriarchy” trying to limit women’s sexual freedom. They claim that I’m “trying to use the master’s tools to tear down his house” by making arguments against women’s participation in porn and other activities that derive from and abet misogyny. I understand the reasoning behind that argument (though I don’t agree with it), which I explained here (short version: men have been telling us we can’t like sex for so long, and now that we’ve gotten some freedom to like it, how dare you – as a woman – come and try to tell us what we like isn’t OK). But I’d really like an answer to one serious question: how does participating in the production of misogynistic porn “tear down the master’s house”? How does participating in sex acts intended to degrade, whether you personally enjoy them or not, result in the destruction of male supremacy? I don’t know that all that many people claim that it does or will, but I’ve gotten the distinct impression from several commenters that they think that it’s a better route than trying to extirpate the systemic misogyny, both external and internalized, that allows the sex industry to exist and that creates a situation in which some women take enjoyment from acts that their male partners enjoy specifically because they’re degrading.

Duck season! Rabbit season!

A post at B‘s place has gotten me to thinking. “Sex-positive” types often object to my posts on porn, sexuality, etc. in comments that accuse me of being anti-sex or of attmempting to shame women. They tell me they have fought long and hard for women’s freedom of sexual expression and against the idea that women who like sex are sluts. Did it ever occur to anyone that I take for granted that women’s sexuality ought to be freed from the constraints placed on it by the virgin/whore dichotomy? That I approach everything with the assumption that women’s sexuality should not be a source of shame? It’s foundational and unassailable for me, and so I’ve moved beyond it; I operate under the assumption that we ought to be free to express our sexuality without the fear of being condemned as sluts by the agents of patriarchy. But that doesn’t mean that all sexual activity is inherently feminist. I see three stages of thinking about women’s sexuality: 

  1. Reactionary: People who have absorbed what the patriarchy has to teach about women’s sexual suboordination are frightened by women exercising their sexuality and voicing their desires, so they attempt to shame women who transgress patriarchal norms to force them back into line. 
  2. Libertarian: Anyone with a brain can see that’s bullshit, so many women have fought for our right to participate in and enjoy sex without the fear of recrimination. That’s a good thing, but women’s sexual liberation has yet to be achieved, and sexual libertarianism has led to some problematic ways of looking at things. Many women have absorbed the idea that women’s sexual liberation is the goal, and then have gone on to assume that any sex act a woman might want to participate in is liberating and thus unproblematic and/or unassailable.  
  3. Liberationist: It is taken for granted that women ought to be free to express and explore their sexuality, but that does not mean that sex is a sacred cow and that we have no right to question the morality of a sexual behavior. Does a sex act hinder the cause of women’s wholesale sexual liberation or the progress toward women’s legal, social, and cultural liberation? Does it pose the risk of harm to individual women? A sexual Liberationist would never argue that a sex act ought to be banned or that women ought to not be allowed to participate in whatever activities they deem appropriate, but she might question the choice to do so and the impact that choice has on women as a whole. With freedom comes responsibility, blah blah. 

What often happens is that sexual Libertarians and sexual Liberationists often go in circles, with the Libertarians calling the Liberationists reactionaries and the Liberationists calling the Libertarians sell-outs. I understand the Libertarian viewpoint: the smidgen of sexual freedom we do have has been hard-won, and other women coming in to question what we do with it might seem outrageous coming so close on the heels of our wresting that small bit of freedom away from the phallocrats. But Liberationists want to push things further. We’ve got the freedom to fuck, but how about the freedom to be treated like human beings with sexual desires that might not match up so well with what men want out of us? How about the freedom to develop our sexuality in a world free of misogyny and the message that we ought to be aroused by being used? I wish that these Libertarians would quit pretending they don’t understand the difference between a Liberationist and a Reactionary. If we could all acknowledge each other’s real positions and quit getting caught up in a circle of accusations, we might actually get somewhere. 

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Please, somebody, come and defend Kink.com. I triple-dog dare you.

This post contains some fucked up shit. Please be warned and think carefully about whether you want to read it. 

Everyone knows I went to peep some of the shit on Kink.com as a part of the research I did for my BDSM posts. I don’t make the claim that what goes on on their sites is representative of what goes on in the typical real-life BDSM relationship (I mean, fuck, how many people can afford to buy all that shit?), and I’m not really planning to discuss that website in relation to the wide world of BDSM, but I feel it necessary to discuss what I saw on that site. 

I’m not easily thrown into a state of despair about the world unless I’ve been watching A Double Shot at Love or Bad Girls Club for over three hours (posts to come), but send me a story about human trafficking, about the abuse that women in war zones suffer, about the rampant torture of children by rape tourists in Southeast Asia, or about a submissive woman’s “journey” (brainwashing) and I’m likely to have to go lie down and think about moving to Mars for a few hours. And, of course, looking at images of women being tortured had the same effect, differing only in that it has yet to abate and it’s been over a month. 

For those of you lucky enough to have never seen anything those piles of shit at Kink.com have put out, I’ll just characterize it as torture mixed with the most degrading sex acts possible. The variety of cruel and bizarre devices, contraptions, machines, and objects that the producers have accumulated for use on the women featured on the site is terrifyingly mind-boggling, and the  entire vibe more closely approximates the contents of a nightmare than anything I’ve ever seen while awake: the logos for the site are designed to look like titles for a horror movie; the page backgrounds are dominated by black, gray, and brown to the extent that they remind one of that stupid Tool video; and the videos are nearly all taped in the site’s building at the Armory, a pretty dungeonesque joint by the looks of it. The text describing each of the sites is fucking petrifying. An example from the Device Bondage site:

Device Bondage is a BDSM sex Website with the best porn around. Our naked women in BDSM play are whipped, tied up, chained, fucked, and humiliated. Amazing things that happen on our site include kinky sex with tit torture, steel bondage, hard nipples, nipple clamps, rope bondage, girls being caned, torture sex [What in the FUCK is “torture sex”? ], girls being spanked, leather bondage, and other BDSM play.

Girls are also pulled in and out of cages, their tongues clamped, their bodies pinned, and their arms and legs strapped. We also have contraptions used in countries such as China for torture. Our girls like to be tied up with leather belts and harnesses, spanked hard, punished, and humiliated. When the girls are done spreading wide for their bondage sex shoot, they have red asses, intense pleasure, and big smiles.

There’s footage and photos of naked women locked in cages too small for rabbits, of broken skin and blood, of women being waterboarded and subjected to other near-drowning tortures, of naked women being humiliated and tortured in public. Machines, metal, wood, electrodes, hooks, needles, hoods, and every other possible thing some sick motherfucker could come up with to use to torture a woman are in evidence on one or more of Kink.com’s sites. 

Each of the galleries that the sites use to sell their videos features a shot or two of the woman’s face looking absolutely terror-stricken. And it’s those photos that bother me the most. I know why they’re there; the people who pay money to watch the shit on these sites need to see that the woman who they’re watching get tortured is hurting and is scared because she doesn’t know what is going to happen to her next. 

The fact that the site owners always include a shot of the woman after the shoot looking happy doesn’t matter. The men who go to these sites aren’t there to revel in women’s pleasure, they’re there to see women tortured. They’re not watching public humiliation videos to fantasize about iconoclasm and bucking societal norms, they’re there to get boners thinking about degrading and humiliating human beings. These sites aren’t about “exploring our dark sides,” they’re about giving free reign to the sickest of human desires, desires that are inculcated by a sexually repressed and guilt-ridden society that has yet to figure out how to deal with the detritus of religious dogma and has thus intertwined fear and hatred with sex to create the misogynistic shit heap we now live in. This shit ain’t revolutionary, it’s so fucking obvious and stupid that I’d  laugh if it didn’t look so much like RAPE. If exploring your “dark side” entails wanking to women being tortured, it might be best to leave it unexplored. Or kill yourself. 

You know what I don’t want to do? Live in a world where people jerk off to women being subjected to “contraptions used in countries such as China for torture.” Know what else I don’t want to do? Listen to women (or men) tell me that the women who participate in the creation of these videos for these disgusting motherfuckers to jerk off to do so because the shit feels “amazing.” Nor do I want to hear how subversive the people who are into this shit are because they “explore the dark side.” First off, what person over the age of sixteen talks about “exploring the dark side”? Seriously. And why does “exploring the dark side” have to be such an unimaginative, tired, boring, intellectually insulting, misogynistic cliche?  

But besides the ridiculous aspect of someone fancying themselves a revolutionary because they get boners from seeing women hurt or get orgasms from being hurt when we live in a society that encourages that shit like UFC encourages tribal tattoos, it’s pretty goddamned obscene. The way I see it, if you think you’re punk for getting off on reenacting the kinds of abuses that real women and children in this world suffer on a daily basis (and thus mocking their suffering), you can go fuck yourself. 

Did I mention that Howard Stern is a fan of Kink.com? The end.

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BDSM (the sexual equivalent of being into Renaissance faires) Part 4: Bullshit Posturing

Sorry for the delay. I just forgot to finish this series and got carried away with telling everyone what gutterballs Dov Charney and Ralphie May are. Polly Styrene, who is a badass, has got a post up that inspired me to get back on task, so here we go. 

Some qualifications (radfems can skip this paragraph): This post will revolve around my interpretation of M/f BDSM and nothing else, and I’m not going to suffer any relativistic bullshit about whether my interpretation is more or less “valid” than anyone else’s. I obviously think I’m right or I’d be out asking other people what they think rather than telling them what I think, and I admit up front that I think people ought to agree with me.  I know there are readers whose experiences may not have been as fucked up as some of the things I’m about to describe (though many of them may very well have been more so), but I’m here to discuss the general nature of a vast phenomenon, not get lost in the minutiae of every single individual’s private experiences. I’m going to say this again: I’m not discussing anything in this post but men dominating women. I’m going to do that because a large proportion of BDSM involves a man dominating a woman, and because that dynamic warrants separate discussion because it involves the eroticization of an oppressed group’s submission.  I’m not approving any comments on this post about anything else. You’ll have to wait for a later installment if you want to talk about women dominating men or lesbian and gay BDSM. Seriously. That said, I welcome argument and would like to have a discussion here, though it must be a civil one.

When considering sexual matters and their relationship to the general misogyny that pervades our culture, I generally pretend I’m a justice in the Supreme Court of Gender Issues and apply the ol’ strict scrutiny standard (albeit my own modified version of it). Sex, as it has been used throughout history as a tool of domination and as it is the locus of the negotiation of gender roles and a large majority of our social behaviors, requires close analysis. If I’m going to give a sexual practice a free pass and the Nine Deuce seal of approval, it’s got to meet three criteria:

  1. First, I ask myself whether women are ever hurt as a result of the practice under consideration. If the answer is yes, the practice has not earned immunity from examination and analysis.
  2. Second, I ask myself whether those who engage in the practice ever do so out of a hatred of women. If so, it’s up for discussion and judgment (a nasty word for those with po-mo leanings, I know, but a necessary one nonetheless). 
  3. Finally, I have to ask myself whether the practice would occur in a society that wasn’t characterized by male supremacy and the hatred of women, both of which tend to manifest as the mixture of sex and power. I’ve got a really impressive imagination (I invented unicorns), so if I can’t imagine a sex act having the power to excite in a post-patriarchal world, I get a little dubious. 

If a sex act fails to meet any of these three criteria, you can expect that I’ll be questioning the fuck out of it, and BDSM really blows it on all three. I know what you’re going to say: mainstream “vanilla” (a term I’ll not be using again because it’s insulting, hackneyed, and really not clever) sex doesn’t pass Deuce’s strict scrutiny standard. Fuckin’ A right it doesn’t, but I’ve never made the claim that it does. Many of those who responded to my previous posts in the series created that false dichotomy and pretended that I was out campaigning for the kind of sex we see in the average Michael Douglas movie, but I think we all know that’s bullshit. BDSM, just like mainstream sex that seems to mirror porn more and more every day, won’t be escaping my jaundiced eye just because a few people tell me they do it “right.” There’s too much ambiguity involved in BDSM with regard to my criteria for that (as is the case with pretty much all sex acts — in a misogynistic society, there may not even be such a thing as a sex act that’s free of the influence of patriarchy, though that thought makes me want to start an emo band). But the fact that I urge scrutiny doesn’t mean I’m here yelling, “Real feminists don’t engage in BDSM!” It does mean we all need to think about what our desires and choices mean to us as individuals and in relation to other women. If one does so and still decides BDSM is where it’s at, whatever, but it needs to be discussed in an open forum where those who are working things out for themselves can get access to the experiences and opinions of others and where issues can be raised that will help us all figure out how to try to move toward a future in which sex isn’t used as a tool of oppression.  

A few things stood out in the responses I received to my little personal ad, the first being that a lot of the men who responded told me they were feminists themselves, and that they didn’t think there was anything incompatible about D/s relationships and feminism (they’re obviously not advanced feminist theorists). They wanted to make sure I knew that their idea of an ideal BDSM relationship was one in which the power differential in the bedroom stayed there. Mmm hmm. Many of them, because the fake woman in the ad was new to BDSM, explained the concept of the safe word and warned the poster to be wary of the men who responded because “there are a lot of sickos out there who just want to hurt women.”  No shit. 

I’ve heard plenty from commenters and from the many, many articles I’ve read on this or that BDSM-related website about the proper way to do BDSM, about the importance of ensuring that one’s BDSM activities are always “safe, sane, and consensual.” I appreciate the fact that the thoughtful people of the BDSM scene are concerned with protecting the physical and mental health of the people who engage in practices that have the potential to get out of hand if not approached in such a manner, I really do. But I’ve got to ask whether the fact that such discussions are necessary ought not to be a red flag. What of those who don’t follow the rules, who get fucked up before engaging in emotionally volatile and physically hazardous activities, who don’t ensure consent before they get into whatever they’re going to get into? What of the women who engage in BDSM because they’ve got emotional problems, and what of the men who seek out BDSM relationships as a venue to exercise their hatred on women’s bodies? How many people don’t follow the guidelines more responsible BDSM practitioners have devised? And how do other members of the BDSM community deal with those who don’t adhere to the safe, sane, and consensual line? 

How does a woman who has given her consent to one act withdraw it, especially while restrained, in the event that a safe word is ignored? And what, exactly, does consent mean in such a context? There is a pretty large measure of psychological ambiguity involved in BDSM, and I’m not sure that the idea of consent is as clear as people make it out to be. As is the case with any “scene,” there is unvocalized pressure on the members of that scene to be more authentic, more down, more hard core than others. BDSM is often practiced in semi-public contexts in which the sub might feel pressure to go farther than she’s ready to, and in private there’s always the pressure to perform in a way that will excite one’s partner that infuses every sexual encounter. And almost every dude who responded to my fake personal ad made mention of pushing the sub’s limits, a problematic idea if one really wants to emphasize consent. If the BDSM community is such a shining beacon of respect for the concept of consent, then why did so many of the men who responded to my ad make sure to let me know they weren’t interested in people who try to “top from the bottom” and wanted “true submissives” ? That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that a dude who has any respect for his partners’ emotional safety (much less free will and human agency, the key elements without which a discussion of consent cannot even occur) would say. 

And what about the legality of consent as it is conceived of in BDSM? What does a woman who has been raped in the course of a BDSM encounter do to prove she did not consent to an act (remember, as our current legal system operates on the “innocent until proven guilty” model, that women are required to prove that they broke a state of — as the law conceives of it — constant consent in order for a rapist to be punished)? 

How safe and sane is BDSM? Those are some pretty slippery concepts, safety and sanity. There are plenty of people who would question the idea that there’s anything safe or sane about BDSM, myself included. I conceive of a safe and sane sex act as one that does not pose the risk of bodily or emotional harm for the participants. The mixture of sex and violence and the eroticization of women’s submission to male domination do not fall into the “sane” or “safe” columns for me because I don’t believe either would occur if we didn’t live in an insanely misogynistic society that is detrimental to our emotional health. But let’s say my opinion doesn’t matter (ha!). Who decides what’s safe and sane in the world of BDSM? No one, apparently, because every time I’ve read or heard a discussion among people involved in BDSM about some of the more extreme practices, I get the distinct impression that “to each his own” has gotten wildly out of hand and that there is a marked unwillingness to condemn anything but the most egregious of abusive behaviors (and I really mean egregious, as in permanent bodily harm or worse). 

But what does all this talk of separating D/s in the bedroom from real life, of taking “safe, sane, and consensual” as one’s creed, of female subs being empowered by the emphasis on consent really mean? Methinks the Sisters of Mercy fans doth protest too much, that someone is pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining. I read 400+ e-mails from men interested in a young woman curious about submission, I looked at a shit-ton of BDSM porn, I went to a BDSM club, I read tens of thousands of words on BDSM-related websites, and I didn’t feel very safe or sane when I got done, nor did I feel like participating in the shit I’d seen or read about would make me feel particularly empowered.

I used to live in San Francisco. There is a fucking awesome building in the Mission called the Armory that I loved nosing around at whenever I found myself in the neighborhood. It sat basically unoccupied for many years until Kink.com bought it in 2006, an event that seriously bummed my party out. I’d always thought of the place as an ideal art space, or maybe a music venue (possibly both), and when I heard that they’d be filming BDSM porn there I about fell off of my chair. I had no fucking idea, dude. Like I said, before I posted that ad, went to the BDSM club, looked at these sites, and read up on BDSM in more than a half-assed way, I had kind of a silly conception of BDSM, so when I went to the site I nearly had a heart attack. I know that porn is not the same thing as real life, but porn is fantasy fuel, and I’m pretty sure that I don’t EVER want to run across a Kink.com fan in a dark alley.

Don’t read the next paragraph if you’re squeamish about descriptions of women being abused. 

Almost all of the videos on the Hogtied site (a branch of Kink.com billed as the “sensual” bondage site) feature shibari, that Japanese rope bondage shit that’s absolutely terrifying to see. Almost every photo I’ve seen that involved shibari featured a woman whose breasts were so constricted by ropes that they looked as if they’d pop, and every single video I saw on Hogtied featured a woman suspended by ropes, gagged, and clearly in heinous pain, followed by a short clip of the woman in the video talking about how cool the experience was. Their other sites feature bound women with electrodes hooked up to their genitalia, a site where women are fucked by terrifying machines, a site called Device Bondage in which women are bound with every manner of nightmarish machinery, and The Training of O, a site that features women undergoing “slave training” that includes such weird shit that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just say that there were suction devices, dildos, blood, and hooks everywhere. The looks on the women’s faces in the photos that the sites use to promote the videos that they sell can best be described as anguished. The logos for all of the sites looked like the main titles for horror movies, especially the Device Bondage site, which included a terrified-looking woman’s face with a gag in her mouth along with that shitty grainy font overlay that every horror movie producer seems to love. What a disturbing combination, sex and horror. Visually confronting the fact that men are looking for images of women who are clearly in pain to wank to really scared the piss out of me. 

Out of fourteen sites Kink.com puts out, three feature men as submissives. Eleven focus solely on women submitting to various forms of abuse (their term, not mine). I’ll leave the interpretation of that ratio up to you (as long as you don’t give me some evolutionary psychology bullshit about men being more visually stimulated than women). Really, ask yourself, what do you think it means that M/f relationships seem to dominate the BDSM world and that straight BDSM porn is almost entirely comprised of images of female submissives? It’s OK, make the comparison to mainstream porn. It only proves my point. 

I know that all of the sites that Kink.com operates make a big show out of how much the actresses supposedly enjoy what’s being done to them, but that’s almost more worrisome than had they not done so, because it supports the idea that women can’t get enough of being sexually dominated and abused. The message in these videos, basically, is, “It’s OK if you get off on hurting women, because they’re sluts for pain!” 

What in Billy Zabka’s name would make a woman want to submit to such treatment, and how in the fuck could anyone get to the point that they derive sexual enjoyment from severe pain? No one ever seems to want to get anywhere near that question, because it’s nearly impossible to provide an answer for it that doesn’t sound silly if compared to the completely reasonable suggestion that women who are into submission are into it because our culture eroticizes male domination and female submission. Honestly, I can’t really think of many forms of the expression of human sexuality in our fucked up culture that don’t include an element of that, but BDSM is probably the clearest distillation of such a dynamic, and protestations to the contrary just seem absurd to me. And the same goes for male doms — the idea that any convoluted explanation for why a man enjoys hurting a woman has even a third as much explanatory power as the simple fact that men are raised in this culture to conceive of sex and power as one and the same is hilarious. The paternalism, arrogance, and unalloyed sadism evidenced in the ads I read both by men looking for subs and in response to my ad confirm what I saw in that heinous fucking porn and what I’ve read and seen elsewhere. 

So, should women who are into submission be ashamed of themselves? I don’t think so. It’s shocking to me that there are any women in this warped society who aren’t. But I would like to ask submissive women who read this if they think that what I’ve postulated is far off from the truth. I don’t think it’s healthy to mix sex and violence, and I think submitting to the will of other people is detrimental to our mental health and human development. I’m certainly not going to blame submissive women for sexual inequality or for the continuation of patriarchy because that’s completely ridiculous. Men are to blame for that because they’re the ones who benefit from it. So should men who are into domination be ashamed of themselves? That’s a harder question. Men, being that they’re the ones with the privilege and power in this society, bear more responsibility for the dominance and submission dynamic that pollutes human sexuality and romantic relationships. Human sexuality is a complicated matter, as are the hierarchical structure of human interactions and the way that structure interacts with our individual emotions and desires. 

But BDSM, as it intermingles sex with power and violence, is highly suspect for a feminist like me. All of the claims about women’s sexual agency and the focus on consent within BDSM sound awfully weak in the face of the reality of the misogyny that pervades our culture and the very real sexual and emotional abuses that women face every day. I’ve heard the claims that by playing with gendered power dynamics, people who practice BDSM are subverting the gender hierarchy, but I find that a little difficult to believe when so much of what I’ve seen just looks like garden variety sexual abuse at a Halloween party. I find it hard to believe that a sexual practice that fetishizes women’s pain and submission is so different from mainstream misogyny, that I ought to think M/f BDSM is a step forward for feminism because the women who participate in it like it. Orgasms don’t necessarily equal progress.

Enough of this shit. I’m going to bed. 

To be continued…

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