If you’ve ever called anyone a cougar, fuck you.

I was walking around in some park yesterday with a friend and we ended up discussing the utterly stupid phenomenon of people calling women who date younger men “cougars.” We agreed, of course, that the term is totally passe and is usually deployed by the kinds of people who think having “Shake and bake!” as their MySpace headline is clever. But that, obviously, is not all; “cougar” is yet another dehumanizing term that our culture uses to reduce female human beings to gross and blunt stereotypes based on their sexual choices.

Let me tell you a small story. Wednesday night I went out to some asshole party at the local pub where Americans pretend to be English while drinking Guinness and watching sports they have no business being into (English soccer). The asshole party was called Trivia Night. I’ve never been to pub trivia before because I usually don’t have the chance to get wasted on a Tuesday, and because I’m not on a co-ed softball team, so it was a real experience. Myself, my friend Nate, and my other friend Gay Steve formed a little team called Lambda Lambda Lambda and we did pretty well considering the fact that we were playing against teams with 10 or 15 people on them. Still, we blew it because we didn’t know how many emirates made up the United Arab Emirates. Weak, I know.

When the trivia was all over, I had some spare attention to spread around the patio area and I saw something that nearly blew my mind. Some dude had a beard that had more net volume than Osama bin Laden, Fidel Castro in his heydey, and Scott Ian could muster in a cooperative effort — and not only that — he had on some plaid emo cowboy shirt with the sleeves cut off, and a trucker hat with a patch on it urging me to buy some tractor or other (I say trucker hats are unacceptable and always will be — they’ve used up their irony cachet at least four times over, and will never, ever be cool). I didn’t check, but I’m sure he also had on a giant belt buckle that said something stupid about guns or bourbon on it. I wouldn’t have been able to see it, anyway, because he had the gut to match the outfit. He basically looked like he’d been in the forests of Idaho doing nothing but cutting logs and motorboatin’ for about four years, but he hadn’t been.  The whole thing was some kind of kit he put together to let everyone know what a hip motherfucker he is. For this guy, every single day is Halloween, and he trick-or-treats for hipster points (which I think can be cashed in at Urban Outfitters for books of drinking games or forty cozies). Shameful.

What you may not know about me is that I’m kind of an asshole, especially when I’ve been drinking in a room full of people that bring me close to fainting with embarrassment. As such, I decided to go tell the guy I was really impressed with his kit and that he should definitely keep the look up, no matter what anyone says. Apparently, though, my sarcasm didn’t make its way through and some bald dickfore that was hanging out with the guy took my completely backhanded compliment to mean I was interested in the faux motorboatin’, deer huntin’, Jim Beam swillin’ trucker. The bald guy made some hand signal that, as far as I know, is the SCUBA diver signal to indicate that there’s a barracuda nearby, so I asked him what it meant. I was curious, you know. I wish I hadn’t asked, though, because the trucker apologetically told me that it meant Kojak was calling me a cougar in code. Uh huh.

I’m only 30. Plus, I don’t even look 30, because I haven’t been abusing myself with beauty rituals for the last 15 years, and because I don’t wear make-up and refuse to dress like a responsible adult. In fact, I’m pretty sure I look younger than the trucker, who, despite being only 21, looked about 40 due to his ridiculous fashion choices. And I might be and look a decade younger than the bald cockface who made the signal in the first place. Added to that is the fact that I’d sooner get a tribal tattoo than hit on a dude who thinks dressing up like someone named Cletus or Skeeter is cool. I’m not telling you any of that to impress upon you how purty I am or how much cooler I am than anyone else, but rather to point out one small bit of the absurdity of this ass clown thinking he was witty for using a term to insult me that didn’t even apply to the situation.

But, of course, germanity isn’t the central issue here. The central issue is that this guy thinks he’s cool/funny/edgy/impressing someone by being snarky by trying to shame me for having the temerity to be a woman outside doing what I feel like doing, including talking to a dude without having been spoken to first. As such, I deserved to be put back in my place, and how better to achieve that than to verbally reduce me from a human being to an animal/undesirable sexual stereotype? This stupid, drunk, mouth-breathing, bald, old asshole conceived of himself as a bigger deal than me, as higher in the hierarchy than I am, just because he has a wiener (which is, unfortunately, true, no matter how much smarter, cooler, and better I am than he is – IBTP), and he was threatened enough by my refusal to fulfill his expectations of what women ought to act like in public to put down his drink, stop trying to show off his spider web tattoo, and dehumanize a total stranger. Fuckin’ A. I made some witty-as-fuck reply like, “At least I have all my hair and don’t have to take out my frustration over my impotence, baldness, and low IQ on people I don’t even know.” I’m sure there was a “fuck you” and some mention of his stupid tattoos in there, too, but it all just happened so faaast.

So I’ve been thinking about the term “cougar” for the past few days. Well, really, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I used to have a friend named Leo who was in a New Wave band (in 2002) called Cougar!, and the first time I heard someone use the term “cougar” to refer to an older woman who dated younger dudes I got really pissed because I knew one of the coolest New Wave band names ever had been ruined. I also knew I was going to be hearing a lot more of yet another derogatory term for women that had arisen out of yet another double standard. SNORE.

I fucking hate Sex and the City and refuse to watch it, but I knew when a show came out that revolved around women who weren’t 22 fucking dudes who were — and when that show became a huge cultural phenomenon among the kinds of women I don’t want to hang out with — that we’d be hearing a lot of bullshit about some purportedly “new” sexual trends among women spawned by the show’s popularity. That doesn’t mean I have a problem with women who want to go out and hose around with younger men, it means I don’t think it’s anything new, and that I don’t need to hear any more ill-informed, misogynistic, ham-fisted speculation in the mainstream media about women’s sexuality that amounts to nothing more than translucently-veiled condemnations of women who don’t adhere to patriarchal mandates for female sexual behavior; there’s nothing more insulting to women’s intelligence than some fool in the media pretending to celebrate the “spunk” of “women who break the rules” when he/she’s really just telling us why such women ought to be ashamed of themselves and worried about their man-less, lonely, desperate futures.

“Cougar,” like “whore,” “slut,” “bitch,” “nag,” “ho,” “skank,” “cunt,” etc. (golly-GEE, there are so many), has no counterpart that can be leveled at a dude. I mean, you could call a dude any one of those terms, but it wouldn’t carry the connotations, the baggage, or the power it does when directed at a woman. It’s kind of like the difference between the n-word and “cracker.” You can call a white guy a cracker, but it’s not going to sting too bad when he can reply, “Whatever. I still run everything.” There’s no power to dehumanize in calling a white guy a cracker, because white guys, being as they are the default humans, are always human beings. Similarly, you could call a dude who dates younger women a cougar (or something similarly stupid), but you’d have a hard time bumming his party out because being able to hump younger women is, like, the ultimate indicator of prestige among men.

Not so with women. The Sex and the City people may want to portray humping dudes half your age as empowerful as fuck, but it just isn’t. If you’d like some evidence as to why that’s so, see if you can find a clip from an April episode of SNL called “Cougar’s Den.” I, unfortunately, was present at the taping of that episode. I got some free tickets and decided I’d go, just to see how they pull of the stage changes and whatnot, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure there are episodes of Touched By An Angel that are funnier (and maybe even less boring) than anything SNL’s done in the last decade, and despite the fact that Ashton Kutcher was the host and the musical guest was Gnarls Barkley.

Cameron Diaz was apparently in town for some reason and decided to stop by and do a cameo, and that cameo was a fake talk show called “Cougar’s Den.” I’m sure you can imagine how groaningly stupid the skit was, but I’ll give you the pertinent details: it was basically three women who were supposed to be about 40 swilling multi-colored drinks out of martini glasses, swapping tips on how to bag younger men, and making idolatric (coinage?) references to the Sex and the City character that fucks the most young dudes on the show (I think she’s the one that was in Mannequin and the first Police Academy). The tips included going to bars late, when the “prey” are all too drunk to notice how old (and hence worthless) you are, doing it with the lights off, and taking off before they find out you’re not actually fuckable. Then one of the cougars brought out her “boyfriend” (played by Kutcher), who talked about how he liked dating cougars because you could treat them like shit and they’d still fuck you any way you asked them to and give you money. Niiiice.

I realize that making an SNL skit a central part of an argument might seem ill-advised, but it just seems that way because you haven’t thought about it. SNL skits are a fairly decent indicator of what the LCD in this country thinks. As such, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a grip on what the average dude who does Borat impressions is thinking when he calls someone a cougar.

In case I haven’t already leaked what that might be, here it is: when someone calls a woman a cougar, he (or she… fucking appeasers) is saying she has lost the one thing men find valuable in women in this culture, her fuckability (which derives from youth and how closely one matches whatever absurd beauty standard Bebe and Maybelline are flexing that day), and has thus become an object of ridicule. Even though the term assumes that the woman being discussed is a successful urban type who has most likely achieved something in life and is probably interesting to talk to, she’s worthless. Because she has lost her one source of esteem, she has no real power over men, and no ability to get anyone to love or even like her, even dudes her own age. As such, she must be desperate, and what’s more repugnant in our culture than a desperate unfuckable woman? Desperate women resort to trickery: cougars go out and try to entrap younger men with alcohol, offers to service them sexually, and the money that a mature career woman can offer.

So, once again, a woman attempting to go out into the world and exhibit the exact same behavior men exhibit in droves is derided, dehumanized, and humiliated by a culture that won’t stand for women acting like full human beings. When a woman oversteps the bounds of acceptable female behavior and dares to pursue something she desires, men get threatened and have to remind her that, while she may be able to fuck a dude who is young enough to be her younger brother, she’s still powerless and worthless; because she’s not young, hawt, and demure, he may fuck her, but he’ll never place any value in her as a human being. And neither will anyone else.

You know what that is? Terrorism.

(Please, one of you dumbass MRAs, try to tell me how that’s the same thing as an older man dating a “gold-digging” younger woman.)

I’ll be back later with a sloppy attempt to discuss my vacation in the context of feminism.

UPDATE: Some people have been giving me a hard time for making fun of these two dudes and then getting mad at them for insulting me. The difference is twofold: my making fun of them does not deny their humanity, but rather their judgment; and my insults all revolved around things they have control over (not their gender or age, but their foolish fashion and tattoo choices). Duh.

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I sure hope my parents don’t read this.

L posted a comment on my Cosmo post (the comments section of which has gotten a little racy, be warned) that has got me tuh thankin’:

Usually, period = blowjob week, at least in my experience.

I for some reason forgot to comment on this before, but it really struck me as odd when I read it (probably at least in part because I’m sure it isn’t the case for L’s radfem self these days). I don’t know very many dudes who would refuse to have sex with a woman when she’s having her period, but assuming there are men who will refuse, I’d hope they wouldn’t expect oral sex. I mean, that’s completely nonreciprocal! (Note my feigned surprise.)

I had a conversation with a male friend once about women having been brainwashed by our culture’s conception of what sex is to the point that women tend to consider their own orgasm a part of foreplay rather than the actual “sex” that is intercourse. I told him that a lot of women don’t assume that they will even be having an orgasm in a sexual encounter, and that many women feel guilty for taking up valuable time with their silly little sexual needs instead of letting the man get on with the “sex” part.

He told me that was ridiculous, and that he’d never have sex with someone who didn’t care whether he came.

That isn’t such a startling concept coming from a dude, but it’s important. It should strike us as just as ridiculous as it struck him that women would be engaging in nonreciprocal sex.

I don’t think women should have sex with men who don’t care whether they have orgasms. The orgasm ratio needs to be equal, if not skewed in the woman’s favor (I mean, we’re the ones who can have multiple orgasms, sheesh). That means that if a dude isn’t into having sex and doing what it takes to give his partner an orgasm when she’s on her period, he ought to just go without until the period’s over, and he CERTAINLY ought not to expect oral sex. There are plenty of ways to make it happen, and if the guy gives a shit about anyone’s pleasure but his own, he’ll figure it out.

And that goes for non-period sex, too. I’m a sexual revolutionary, I know. Get on board with real sex-positive feminism here. I mean, what’s more sex-positive and feminist than demanding orgasmic equality?

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I’m pretty much all about sex-neutral feminism, but I’m going to take a break from taking online “how emo are you?” (not very) quizzes to talk about sex now anyway. As much as I hate the fact that “sex-positive” “feminists” have nearly succeeded in reducing the feminist movement to arguing over whether waxing one’s pubes is or is not a revolutionary act, I do have to admit that sex plays a large role in my view of feminism, if only because it lies at the center of a large majority of the most visible forms of oppression that women face. That is not to say that I think that rape, pornography, sexual harassment, or objectification are about sex — I know they are just as much, and usually more, about power as they are about sex — but it does mean that I think sex needs to be talked about, a lot.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about his views on infidelity, and he told me that making out with people didn’t count, that it was intercourse that was out of bounds. This struck me as very strange.  I mean, I know that having sex with people outside of a supposedly monogamous relationship carries the risk that the offender will bring various cooties back to his partner, but is that all that matters? I’m pretty sure that most people’s problem with infidelity is the idea of their partner being intimate with someone outside the relationship, which would include even the mildest of make-outery, would it not? I realize that plenty of people have drawn this distinction in order to ease their own consciences, but what can that thin line between third and fourth base tell us about our culture’s view of human sexuality?

I’ve been thinking here and there about how sex is defined and imagined in our society since my first disappointing experiences with dudes, but a comment from reader M (who likes Panic at the Disco, which I will forgive since she brought up a good point) on one of my posts on porn has planted the subject into whatever part of my brain my thoughts on feminism hang out in, where it’s been mingling and making friends. When I heard this dude’s Joe Rogan-esque demarcation of the line between harmless tomfoolery and cheating, I decided the time had come to address this topic.

I know I’m not exactly blowing the lid off of anything huge or shocking the hell out of everyone by saying this, but sex in our society is defined by men. That means a lot of things for women, most of which are pretty uncool. Actually, it means a lot of things for men, too, and a lot of those are also uncool.

“Sex,” in the sense that we commonly use the term, refers to the act of intercourse. That means that our colloquial (read: widespread, common, main, chief, primary) definition of “sex” is “the act through which men reach orgasm,” and that whatever comes before intercourse is not sex, but rather “foreplay.” Since a very, very small percentage of women reach orgasm through intercourse alone, that means that women’s sexuality and pleasure is not a part of sex, but is rather a side dish. (And that completely leaves aside the issue of whether orgasm, male or female, ought to be considered the sole and ultimate goal of all sexual activity.) Sex starts at penetration and no earlier, and it ends at ejaculation and no later, because that’s how it works for men. Everything else is women’s stuff, and we all know that means it’s of little to no significance.

Well, that’s fucking stupid. Men, in a big hurry to get to the point, to close the deal, to score, are missing the fuck out.

Everyone knows how sex works for men because we’re bombarded daily with sexual images and narratives that center on the path to male orgasm, but what do we know about women’s sexuality? We know a bunch of bullshit generalizations, that women purportedly like wine, candles, flowers, incense, and Whitney Houston (no thanks on all counts), but what do we really know about female sexuality? Female sexuality, according to our popular culture, is wrapped up so tightly with male sexuality that the two are inextricable. In fact, the common picture of female sexuality is one that is completely dependent on and subservient to male sexuality. And that picture doesn’t just exist as some kind of fantasy that men have created, but rather has been absorbed by women and has actually come to dominate women’s own sexual identities. Women, as I’ve discussed before, have been trained by popular media to see themselves as if through the eyes of an onlooker, to derive their arousal and pleasure from their ability to excite their partners. In such a scenario, women don’t have the opportunity to find out what their “natural” sexuality might look like, because it’s been sublimated, it’s been erased and replaced by male fantasies turned inward.

So what does that mean in real life? Instead of learning what kinds of things appeal to them, women learn what kinds of things appeal to men. Instead of learning about how their own bodies work, women learn how to use their bodies to titillate. Many women, especially young ones, engage in completely unfulfilling sexual encounters, not knowing that there is more to sex than male orgasm or, knowing that there is, being afraid to ask for more. Even those women who have figured out how to incorporate their own pleasure into their sexual encounters still labor under the dominant narrative of what sex is, and often feel pressure to hurry up and get their silly business over with so that the “sex” can commence.

One might argue that, as long as both parties get to their final destination, it doesn’t matter what terms we use to refer to the different parts of the journey, but it does matter. It matters because we live in a male-centric culture in which the default human identity is male, and in which women are not afforded the same measure of humanity that men are. When sex is defined as intercourse, and when the completion of the act is synonymous with ejaculation, men control sex, and women’s sexuality disappears completely, or is acknowledged only if men choose to do so. Women in our society are considered adjuncts to men, and such a view forces women to conform their sexuality to that of men. It takes an abnormally self-aware and thoughtful dude to take full account of female sexuality, and I’m therefore not very comfortable leaving the definition of sex up to men.

It isn’t just because women’s ability to get off is at stake that I’d rather not leave the delineation of what sex is and isn’t up to men, it’s also because I’m more than a little concerned at what men have come up with since they’ve been in charge of defining and elaborating on what sex means. Sex cannot be divorced from gender relations; the dynamic between men and women in this culture is hostile and sick, and it’s just getting worse.

We’re in a downward spiral (it’s Trent Reznor week here at RATM). Men feel threatened right now. The gains women have made socially, politically, and economically scare men who believe that women’s equality can come only at men’s expense. They don’t want to lose the power over women that our culture has told them is their birthright, and the anxiety that women’s social gains cause in such men expresses itself in their degrading, and often violent, misogynistic fantasies. See advertising, entertainment media, strip clubs, and porn if you need some examples of what I’m talking about. It’s hard to come away from any of these with any impression other than that men, threatened by the loss of their privilege, are attempting to put us back in our place, and that they are doing so in the most sinister of possible ways.

I often attempt to recreate for myself the instinctive, subconscious processes in the minds of men who go in for the objectification and degradation of women, and it goes a little something like this: “I feel like my economic and social position is precarious, and I feel powerless in the face of the men I see as my superiors and the institutions they have created. I’m supposed to be above women in the social hierarchy, but they are getting too close to me, they are threatening to take the things I thought were mine. I’m afraid, and so I am angry at the people who are making me afraid. But I need women in order to fulfill the most essential of my biological desires, and I also need them in order to have a full life, according to the ideal that my culture has set up for me. I want women, I desire women, but I can’t have them unless they will allow me to. I am angry at them for not wanting me, and I hate them for making me afraid that I’m losing my tenuous grip on my rung of the ladder.” Is there anywhere for that train of thought to lead but to Max Hardcore’s house?

As pornography infiltrates mainstream culture to a greater and greater extent, women’s sexuality, which has always been constricted and defined by men, is being forced into ever more painful contortions. As weird as some of the things I’ve seen in my life have been, thank fucking Christ I’m not a teenager right now. Every time I read about the way young people approach sex I get terrified. It seems everywhere I turn I read some heinous anecdote or survey in which I have to hear about the horrific things young women are putting up with, or about the disgusting and degrading things young men “expect” (fuck you) out of their partners. Men who’ve grown up watching internet porn don’t seem to think it unreasonable to ask their partners to allow them to ejaculate on them, don’t think there’s anything wrong with demanding that someone “do anal,” don’t know why their girlfriends might not enjoy being called “bitch” or “whore” during sex. (It really makes me wish that lesbians wrote books and put on camps that could train people to go queer, kind of like the ones the JC lovers put on claiming to “teach” people how not to be.)

Why would we elect to let people who hate us dictate our sexual identities to us? Why would we rely on people with such dim views of our humanity to treat us with dignity, respect, and care? Why don’t we decide for ourselves what sex is and should be, and tell these motherfuckers to get on board or get to wanking?

Fuck, now that I think about it, why would men even buy into such a limiting and dehumanizing picture of sexuality? I know that power is seductive, but it’s a pretty bad trade-off for men when they don’t actually gain any power in any real sense, and when they lose so much of their ability to experience the best things sexuality has to offer in the process.

Leaving aside the degradation of and violence to the human spirit that is pornography, our more mainstream cultural pictures of male and female sexuality are still pretty fucking stupid (though they are, of course, heavily influenced by and have a heavy influence on porn). Human sexuality isn’t a simple matter of “women want love, men just want to fuck.” That, despite the pseudo-scientific bullshit pumped out by our media that would have us believe otherwise, is not the “natural” or “instinctive” state of human sexuality, but rather the creation of the commingling of sexuality and power that characterizes our current sexual milieu.

I’d like any dude who reads this to ask himself if fucking random strangers is really as fulfilling as Entourage makes it look. It’s made out to be pretty fucking exciting, but it can’t live up to its promise and is really a poor substitute for what human sexuality has to offer. It’s dangerous, awkward, embarrassing, dehumanizing, and completely deadening, even to those who have an easy time of getting strangers to get naked. Fucking is the realm of those with huge ego problems and insecurities, and it’s disappointing to me to see women latching onto the practice as an ill-conceived attempt to clamber toward some kind of equality with men.

Now, I am not saying that women ought to face censure for their sexual behavior. I’m not saying women ought not to be as free as men are to have sex with whomever they choose, whenever and however they choose. What I am saying is that men, inasmuch as they’ve come to view sex as a tool of domination, have lost a key part of human sexuality that women still possess for the most part. Without sinking into gender essentialism, I think it’s safe to say that women, in general terms, have retained the most desirable elements of human sexuality because we haven’t gotten sex mixed up with power to the same extent men have. We ought not to be in a big hurry to toss that away. Equality doesn’t necessarily derive from imitation; no matter how much we emulate men’s piggish sexual behaviors, they still hold the power in our society. Fulfilling male fantasies might get us some short-lived attention and might allow us to manipulate individual men for a few hours or days at a time, but it amounts to dick in the long run, and it robs us of the best of what human sexuality has to offer.

I don’t mean to sound like a fruitcake, but humans have some pretty unique and important abilities when it comes to sex. We can empathize, we can love, and we can reach levels of emotional understanding through sex that pigs can’t. We should be exploring those abilities rather than suppressing them so we can be more like men, and men ought to be asking women how sex should be done instead of telling us.

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Porn Part 9: The Opposite of Dudishness Is Not Prudishness

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?

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Porn Part 6: Stockholm Syndrome

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.

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Why’s it gotta be like that?

I’ve written about this subject before, but I feel like I want to address the problem with sex scenes in TV shows and movies. Why is it that every sex scene I see these days has to be completely fucked up and dehumanizing to the women (and arguably the men) involved? I was watching a show last night called Breaking Bad (which I highly recommend you avoid like genital herpes) and there was a scene at the end of the first episode where the husband, who has been out cooking meth because he found out he has cancer and wants to provide a nest egg for his family (I know), comes home and spontaneously and aggressively porks his wife, who is so taken aback by the onslaught that she has a look of fear and surprise on her face even once the act is done (which comes at the start of the second episode, in case the bit in the previous episode wasn’t gross enough). I was fairly shocked that this all took place on a channel that still censors the “god” in “goddamn it,” but I guess I shouldn’t be, since it seems to be the standard way to depict sex in entertainment these days. Apparently people getting naked and getting busy just isn’t exciting enough anymore for our porn-crazed culture. Now it has to be coupled with emotional or physical abuse if it’s going to titillate.

Is this just another example of the race to the bottom media producers have entered into in their quest for ever more shocking footage with which to lure in prurient viewers? I’m inclined to think so, since in the second episode of the show the two main characters had to clean up a mess produced by their attempt to dissolve a corpse in acid, picking up flesh chunks and bits of bloody bone and waving them around for the camera. But it isn’t as if it’s the only example of gross sex I’ve seen in the media lately. The only place I’ve consistently seen sex scenes that don’t involve themes of humiliation, force, or general degradation in the past few years is in gay soap operas on Showtime. Why is that? Is the gay audience more interested in seeing people who want to be with each other, rather than watching someone dominate someone else emotionally or physically? Why do most sex scenes have to be either violent or animalistic in a way that I would think only people who are into Nine Inch Nails think is cool? Has the world’s conception of sex actually been so warped that depictions of people who seem to be into each other having sex (we’ll leave out the problem of objectification and the male gaze for now) are no longer exciting? It seems like sex just isn’t sexy enough anymore.

Maybe this case isn’t about titillation. Maybe this sex scene I’m referring to wasn’t meant to arouse but to illustrate the state of mind of the male character. A common trope in these stupid dramas is that a man who has had some bullshit “intense” experience that makes him question his path in life or whatever will come home and sort of rape his partner (I know, there’s no such thing as “sort of” rape). What in the fuck is that about? Why is sex used as a tool for expressing anger or aggression in entertainment media? Asserting one’s bullshit idea of manhood by forcing a woman to have sex when she doesn’t feel comfortable doing so is rape, even if she’s too shocked to object. Entertainment media writers just seem too eager to resort to this disgusting and fairly scary practice of depicting a male character using a woman’s body to make himself feel masculine or “putting a woman in her place” through violent sex.

Is that really the best way to communicate the ideas going on in a character’s head on screen? Actually, fuck that. Is that how people really act? Do normal men nearly crash their cars, then come home and rape their wives to celebrate the fact that they’re still alive? Does the average dude quit a job he hates, then come force himself on his girlfriend or use her like a blow-up doll because he’s feeling fucking rejuvenated? Do men frequently sexually abuse their partners to make themselves feel like real men? As much as I hate most dudes, and as underreported as partner rape is, I still find that shit a little hard to believe. So then why is it that this bullshit is so common in television shows and movies? Do I put it down to the same kind of general hatred of women that fuels the exponential growth of degrading and violent porn? Has the degradation that characterizes pornography really seeped into mainstream entertainment to such a large extent?

I think the proliferation of these sorts of depictions of sexuality is a manifestation of the central problem in American society with regard to sex: our cultural life is absolutely saturated with sexual messages, but there is still a huge amount of shame attached to sex. The long-term legacy of Judeo-Christian ideas about sex has brought us to a point where we give our kids dolls that pretend people don’t have genitalia, we don’t have suitable words to refer to sex organs, we lie outright to adolescents about sexuality, and we can’t have honest public discussions of sex, all of which points to a profound cultural discomfort with sexuality and the human body. I know very, very few adults who can talk openly about sex without resorting to juvenile language in an attempt to hide their embarrassment, yet we’re completely inundated with sexualized images in our daily lives, thanks to entertainment media, advertising, and the ever-expanding pornography industry. It’s no wonder people have developed warped and even hostile notions with regard to sexuality. Shame over natural desire is bound to create some cognitive dissonance. I believe that it’s this conflict that lies at the center of problems like sexual abuse and assault, pornography, and misogyny in general, and it’s the route by which elements of emotional and physical violence creep into our conceptions of sexuality.

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What the fuck is wrong with Portland?

This whole vegan strip club thing has really gotten me thinking about my old hometown of Portland, Oregon, and I think there might be something seriously wrong with the citizens of that riverside burgh. I say that because Portland has spawned not only the most ideologically screwy idea of the month, the vegan strip club, but also the fucking Suicide Girls, a company/group of renobs that offends my sensibilities on so many levels that I may have a hard time getting to all of them in one post. There is clearly a screw loose in the collective minds of those that make up Portland’s counterculture milieu that both of these phenomena bring to the fore. To wit: the young people of Portland have found a way to be fashion and culinary iconoclasts without having to deal with any of the complexity and uncertainty involved in actual iconoclasm.

It’s pretty easy to get all indignant when your boss forces you to take out your stupid piercings when you go to work or to feel a tinge of remorse for eating a fuzzy cow, but it’s not so easy to come to terms with the larger forces at work behind those discomforts, because doing so requires a fair amount of intelligence and usually results either in uncontrollable rage (if you’re into nu metal) or a feeling of weltschmerz and utter hopelessness (if you like Morrissey). What I am referring to, of course, is the patriarchy’s not-so-invisible hand in nearly all of the small oppressions these pseudo-punks find so uncool. Talking about resisting authority is fairly embarrassing at this point in our cultural development, but I think it’s important to realize that there is a difference between resisting authority in superficial ways while still perpetuating the patriarchal status quo and actually seeing oppressive authority for what it is, wherever it may crop up, and resisting it in a meaningful way. I’m not claiming that doing so is easy, or even that I’m doing it (although I’m trying to in at least a small way with this blog), but I’m also not going to congratulate people for a bunch of bullshit posturing that revolves more around dumb tattoos and ugly haircuts than thoughtfulness.

And that’s exactly what the Suicide Girls phenomenon is all about: superficial and cliche rebelliousness masking a tired rehashing of the pornographic exploitation of women. The idea that the women involved are empowering themselves is revolting; the company is owned and operated by a man, the women are paid nearly zilch for the honor of degrading themselves for an audience of perverts who listen to Reverend Horton Heat, and the company locks its “models” (prostitutes) into contracts that forbid them to “model” for any other sites and rob them of any rights to their own images. Where’s the empowerment? Is it in the fact that they don’t adhere to the mainstream blond porn ideal? Then I guess that means that women who participate in any kind of non-mainstream porn are empowering themselves. If that’s so, then what’s the criterion by which to judge how empowering a particular kind of porn is? The less mainstream, the more empowered the women are? Snuff films must be empowering as fuck, then.

I had a friend who was in a band that I won’t name, who were opening for another band that I won’t name, and when they went on tour the headlining band brought a few Suicide Girls along to go on stage first to, uh, warm up the crowd. I went to see my friend’s band when they came to town and was unfortunately exposed to the absurd and insulting spectacle of the Suicide Girls before I was able to get drunk enough to not notice. It was quite possibly the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen. Two emaciated women with black electrical tape over their nipples and generic rockabilly tattoos came out and danced around, pretended to molest each other, and flailed their arms around to the tune of Peaches’s “Fuck the Pain Away.” The audience included more women than men, but I still felt like I was one of about four people in the room who thought it a bit odd that I had gone out to see a rock band but had instead ended up in a strip club in which the strippers all looked like Murder City Devils fans. The dudes who were there, despite considering themselves to be some countercultural motherfuckers, acted just like any NFL-loving asshole at Dirty Dan’s and whooped it up whenever the women pretended to make out with each other. Punk as fuck.

Talking about what is and isn’t punk in 2008 is pretty silly, mainly because whatever was going on in the punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s has been supplanted by marketing campaigns that have brought us to the point where Panic at the Disco is called a punk band, but I do know that dressing up everyday sexual exploitation and patriarchal gender roles in flaming cherry tattoos isn’t punk. It’s fucking nonsense. What Suicide Girls are doing is meeting a market demand created by dudes who want porn that matches their “alternative” hairdos and love for the Misfits, not representing an alternative kind of sexuality in which women are seen as sexually autonomous human beings, which is where the real sexual revolution is at. The mere fact that a large proportion of the Suicide Girls are Bettie Paige impersonators should tip even the most brainwashed of “sex-positive” “feminists” off to the fact that the company is selling little more than the idea that women exist to be used by men.

Larry Flynt isn’t a political hero, he’s an asshole.

I recently heard a disgustingly fawning interview with Larry Flynt on a left wing talk show, with a female host no less, in which he was made out to be a champion of free speech, and that’s all. There was no mention made of the horrendous shit his company pumps out, no mention of the fact that the only reason he fought for his “freedom of speech” in the first place was because it would allow him to turn bigger profits, and no mention of the fact that it has been repeatedly PROVEN that the kind of misogynistic bullshit he publishes contributes to increases in the numbers of sexual assaults on women and children, not to mention the general piggish attitude of most men – and many brainwashed women – in this country toward women and their right to sovereignty over their own bodies.

Well, fuck that. I don’t give a shit if Mr. Flynt and I agree that Jerry Falwell was an asshole. Falwell’s dead, and I am much less threatened by religious fanatics who most people consider insane than the ever more pervasive and mainstream porn industry. Am I really supposed to forget that Larry Flynt regularly publishes cartoons in his magazines that revolve around rape (by donkeys, no less), incest, and child molestation because some other group of assholes I don’t like are opposed to him? I’m not getting in with any strange bedfellows. Flynt is coming from essentially the same position patriarchal religious assholes like Falwell are when it comes to women: we men decide what gets done with them women’s bodies. Fuck the both of them.

And that brings something else up. What the fuck are these women thinking walking around with Hustler T-shirts on? Have they ever seen a copy of that rag? I know that pretending that smut peddlers are culture heroes can help a “chick” gain the approval and attention of the average gross asshole, but is that really the goal? Is it enough for you to have a few disgusting dudes pretend to like you (but only just as long as it takes to get you to take your pants off) because you’re pretending to be too stupid (or too deluded) to realize your entire gender is being degraded for men’s titillation? A boner is not a compliment, no matter how many times you have been told that it is. The fact is, any dude who is into Hustler (or porn in general), even if he’s unable to admit it to himself, has a low opinion of women and their place in the world and thinks our desire to be treated like human beings with autonomy equal to his own is unreasonable. No thanks.

And don’t even get me started on the idea of the Hustler coffeehouse, which I unfortunately went to for some reason when I lived in LA. I think the mainstreaming of hardcore porn through stores like the fairly posh Hollywood Hustler store and its attendant coffeehouse is worrisome, not to mention a cheat. What I mean by that is that, in the past, anyone who wanted to buy porn or the kind of humiliating “lingerie” that the Hustler store sells used to have to endure the shame of being seen going into a shady-looking store with no windows in a dodgy part of town. That seems fair to me, or at least a little closer to fair — a little humiliation as payback for creating demand in an industry that banks on women’s humiliation. But now it’s fucking COOL to go to the Hustler store, and all the same heinous shit is for sale there as at Dirty Dan’s Sex Shack, but with nice lighting, big windows, and lattes. But I digress…

Larry Flynt isn’t cool. He thinks a picture of a naked woman being turned into ground beef is funny, he thinks rape and child molestation are funny, he thinks women ought to be glad they have the opportunity to get treated like subhumans so that the kinds of shitbags who get excited by seeing people degraded can jerk off, he has no problem with the fact that most of his “models” (prostitutes, come on) have been sexually abused and/or have drug problems, and he thinks it’s intellectually honest to argue that any feminist (i.e. woman who doesn’t like to see other women abused) who dares to point out the noisomeness of what he does is “pro-censorship,” a bad word as far as he and 2 Live Crew are concerned. He even molested his own kid, for fuck’s sake.

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Who castrated Keema?

I watch The Wire. It’s an interesting story, it has some insightful things to say about some of the biggest problems in our culture and political system, and it manages for the most part to avoid excessive use of clichés and dumb dialog. But this is HBO we’re talking about, which means one thing: people are going to be getting naked and doing gross shit that makes you wish you hadn’t seen it. HBO is just plain incapable of producing a sex scene in one of its shows that doesn’t include some gross element of domination, humiliation, or borderline rape. People on HBO don’t have sex, they get banged, and the bangees are usually women, while the bangers are men. I suppose you could say that the women in Sex and the City were doing the banging, but I wouldn’t know because I’d sooner cut my own Achilles tendon than watch a single episode of a show that might as well have “Being a real urban woman means fucking as many strange men as possible while being independently wealthy and wearing shoes that increase your chances of breaking your ankle by 6000%” as its motto. And I suppose Oz did have that one female guard who forced some of the inmates to bang her.

But still, those are exceptions. Look at Entourage (Sex and the City for dudes), The Wire, The Sopranos, Rome, Deadwood, and whatever else is going on at HBO, and you’ll see that 99% of the sex scenes involve some woman being either forced to do something sexual or being used like a fifi bag and then treated like shit afterward. I suppose that’s not surprising coming from a network that thinks it’s being progressive when it hires the biggest swine on television (Bill Maher) to host its one political show. (Apparently it’s not only OK with the HBO execs that Maher is still telling Bill Clinton jokes in 2008, but it’s also OK that he’s overtly misogynistic and completely dismissive of the female guests on his show.) So I didn’t really expect much out of The Wire in that respect, especially since it’s a show about cops on a channel that allows nudity and swearing. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Bunk and McNulty banging away in nearly every episode, nor was I surprised to see Carcetti banging some political consultant while looking at himself in the mirror. It’s HBO. If there isn’t at least one sex scene per episode that makes me want to be celibate, there’s something wrong.

But there was a character in the first three seasons of the show that didn’t fit in so well with HBO’s sex scene SOP, Keema. She was also in the fourth and is in the fifth season, but whoever that woman is, she isn’t the Keema from seasons 1-3. First of all, the real Keema was gay, and not just sort of gay, really gay. Her gayness came up just as often as Bunk and McNulty’s interest in bar sluts did[1]. It wasn’t a secret: she had a partner, she had affairs, she looked at women with the guys. And that leads me to another interesting facet of Keema’s character: she partied with the guys and was one of them. I suppose it’s a little stereotypical that if a female cop is going to be accepted by the guys she has to be a lesbian, but at least she was being accepted as one of the guys and the show didn’t revolve around her constantly having to prove herself. (Too bad that part was practically science fiction.) Keema was a flawed badass, a real 3D character in a televised world full of female characters that are either shadows or caricatures. Until the end of season 3.

One of my favorite comedic exercises is to imagine that I’m observing a creative meeting for a commercial, television show, or movie. I recently pictured a meeting taking place about two years ago at HBO headquarters in which a numbers guy named Todd is talking to the writing team responsible for The Wire about their plans for the fourth season. Todd is saying, “Keema just isn’t appealing to a wide enough demographic. She’s too butch. We want our female officer to appeal to housewives and single women, not just black lesbians. Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an anti-gay thing, it’s strictly numbers.” That has to be what happened because in the fourth season, and what I’ve seen of the fifth, Keema has been… well… uh… emasculated. In the fourth season she was shunted back from Major Crimes to Homicide, which meant that she would have to stop wearing Adidas track suits and sneakers and start wearing pantsuits and high heels. Not only that, she dropped the ultra-utilitarian ponytail for a shoulder-length minivan hairdo. The general effect was reminiscent of a Jenny Jones “Makeover My Butch Mom!” episode. Not only that, but she no longer had a partner, she stopped partying with the guys (even though she was now working among the heaviest drinkers in the precinct), she stopped chasing women, and she virtually disappeared from view. The only hint that she was a lesbian came when she visited her ex-partner in one episode, a scene that lasted maybe 30 seconds. To add insult to erasure, in the last episode I saw of the fifth season, she was carrying some kid out the back of a building in which a murder had been committed, leaving the boys to do the investigatory work while she stood outside playing mommy.

It’s pretty early in this blog, so I ought to say up front that I’m about as into gender roles as James Dobson is into abortion. I don’t like that word I just used, emasculated. I also don’t like the title of this blog, because referring to Keema as having been castrated means that only men are capable of being drunken, philandering badasses. Nor do I like the idea that taking care of a child is something that only women do. Very few entertainment sources, from music to movies to television to magazines to, to a lesser extent, books, allow men or women to tread outside the confines of the gender roles our society has assigned to them, so I get quite excited when it does happen and, conversely, I get irritated when I see a character who had been allowed to transgress the boundaries of “male” or “female” behavior get forced back into the gender-role box.

I’m not a lesbian (unfortunately), so I’m not going to take it upon myself to discuss the meaning of Keema’s de-lesbianification (or get too into the aspects of Keema’s character that were a bit stereotyped), but I am a woman who is tired of finding nothing to identify with among any of the female characters I see in the media, so I will say that I am disappointed that, once again, HBO has proven that it has little room for female characters who amount to anything other than brainless conglomerations of tits and ass designed to appeal to base male urges. (I don’t want to hear anything about Sex and the City here; those women were nothing but personifications of male fantasies, which is probably why they appeal so much to the kinds of women who aspire to be personifications of male fantasy themselves.) I’m not going to stop watching The Wire; it does have interesting points to make about our cultural and political condition, but I must say that I am disappointed to see one of the few media outlets with anything like a progressive slant prove my theory that the only way to be a liberal and not be called a faggot is to be a misogynist. HBO’s programming is yet another example of Playboy liberalism, in which there’s just no room for (real) lesbians or women with their own personalities and sexualities.

[1] HBO’s sexist stereotype, not mine. I’m not into the idea of bar sluts, or slutdom in general. Not only do they not actually exist – especially in the one-dimensional way that they are portrayed on film and television – but the idea that women hanging out drinking and looking for someone to have sex with is something shameful seems a bit unfair, no? I think anyone hanging out looking for a stranger to have sex with has lost the point of what sex is about, but until it’s shameful for men to do it, I’m not harping on women for it.

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