Friday, May 12, 2006

So I thought about it a little last night, inspired by and her most recent post on pornography and healthy male sexuality, and I started to wonder if simply being anti-porn was enough. Because if it's enough to bring about the profound social change necessary for a better world, I should probably consider revising my opinion about it.

It's not hard to do, right - just don't buy or use, or associate with anyone who buys or uses, any photographs, printed matter, motion picture, illustrated hypertext, or any other so-termed creative work product, or idea derived from such work product, depicting women in an exploitive, humiliating, degrading manner - i.e., pornography.

Piece of cake. So easy to do, and with the promise of instant sure-fire liberation and happiness for all humanity, how could I resist?

It's hard to remain pro-porn when I consider that some people are hurt by it. I don't want to hurt people. what am I, some kind of monster? I don't want people to suffer.

But I am not sure that being opposed to any and all naked pictures in any and all contexts really gets to the root of the problem. And being all radical and stuff (haha) I like to get to the root of problems.

First, there is an incredible diversity of material that may fall under the rubric of "porn." I guess the reasoning goes that if it looks humiliating and degrading, it is humiliating and degrading. And even if it doesn't look humiliating and degrading, it's humiliating and degrading because visual media is by its very nature deceptive. All sorts of tricks can be used to make the horrendously awful appear delightfully enjoyable. However, would that not also mean that similar tricks can be used to make the delightful appear awful? I watch enough Law & Order - I know that television can make an otherwise-living actor appear absolutely and convincingly dead, and that the convincing illusion of murder does not mean that murder took place.

So although I can accept that some pornography hurts some women, I cannot say that all pornography hurts all women all the time in equal measure. (I sometimes wonder if some porn is like professional wrestling, in that it gives a more-or-less convincing illusion of a sex/power dynamic that does not necessarily exist between the parties making it. To borrow from Andrea Dworkin, it's real, but not true.)

And I started to wonder further - where did this idea come from that women are humiliate-able? degrade-able? where does that kind of porn come from? what mindset creates it? is it hatred of women, pure and simple, the reason lost to the mists of history? Judeo-Christian concepts of sin and shame? is it just the Patriarchy's way of keeping Womankind in its place?

Or does it come from men who are just fearful and desperate to prove their worth in the world of men? If a man's power and worth were measured in something other than penis size, wallet size, harem size, muscle size - would there be this seemingly-overwhelming drive to prove one's worth to other men by amassing ever more evidence in the form of sexual conquests and the documented evidence of those conquests?

I think that the scariest and most gut-chilling pornography comes from men who feel frightened and (yes) oppressed. Porn can say to the man who feels small and inferior, "find a woman and perform this act and you will feel better and you will gain respect in the world of men." maybe it's not the humiliating of the woman herself that is really the key act, but the humiliating of other men by proving one's own superior strength and dominance and ability.

consider that a schoolyard bully is a lot more effective in his/her bullying behavior when there is an audience to his or her act of humiliation - and it doesn't really matter who the victim is, as long as it's someone easy to pick on.

So finally I came to the conclusion that hating on dirty pictures, or the makers of the dirty pictures, or the lookers at or tolerators of dirty pictures, is not truly the radical solution. eliminate all the dirty pictures in the world and you will STILL have men judged by other men, men looking for validation from other men, men looking for proof of their worth in relation to other men. Eliminating all the dirty pictures in the world will not stop one single woman from being humiliated to make a man look more like a man.

I think the radical solution is to work towards releasing men from the tyrrany of their own delusion, that things like penis size and wallet size and muscle size and harem size really matter. I think the radical solution is to gently - GENTLY - and with unfailing lovingkindness towards our fellow human beings, wear away at the idea that men should dominate and control and humiliate other men to prove their worth to the world.

If you want to eliminate humiliation from the world, eliminate humiliation from your world. Maybe the best thing to do is just demonstrate behavior that does not engage in punking others, over anything, at any time. even dirty pictures. Maybe we should say to men "You have worth and merit as a human being just the way you are. You do not need to constantly prove your superiority over anything. You don't need money or a big dick or a big car or thousands of hot chicks to be useful and necessary in the world. You are not a walking pile of wrong - you're okay. you're human. you belong here." But I think women should say that, gently and consistently and incessantly, and mean it.

I'm pretty sure that the zero-tolerance policy on anything that could possibly be construed as pornography, or a near occasion of pornography, will not really do anything helpful over the long term except engender endless hairsplitting over what counts as porn.

In the end, we might still have depictions of people engaging in sexual behavior in any number of ways. But they might lack that humiliation aspect that many people feel is so damaging because the root cause of humiliation has been addressed.

The solution, as paraphrased from The Last Temptation of Christ, may not be the axe, but love.

Of course, that would mean taking on men's issues as our own.

That's either the dumbest idea in the history of ideas, or I'm really on to something...

mmm. well.

one thing that keeps getting brought up is: if the problem truly is exploitation, as opposed to sexxxy stuff per se, then would it not make more sense to look at this particular issue through the lens of capitalism first? After all, there are a *lot* of ways to be exploited and objectified. If you're an uninsured, under-the-radar, underpaid and overworked migrant worker doing hard and dangerous labor in a sweatshop (which is emphatically NOT OSHA-approved), isn't that exploitation? Objectification, even? Is it somehow more degrading and abusive to be I don't know a self-employed freelance fetish model, or a writer of (text) erotica/porn, than to be in the migrant worker's situation? How about a woman trying (and failing) to scrape a living as well as clogged-up grease traps from her minimum wage job at Burger King?

I dunno. Obviously there are a lot of ways in which to approach this, and a lot of gradations on the pro-anti scale. BB is, well, on the extreme end, and frankly...well, I've made my general opinion on that subject pretty clear, I think.

But to address the "objectification" issue wrt her writings in particular, okay: if you've noticed, she has a couple of essays up about "fantasizing responsibly." Which right there shows me that we are coming from completely different understandings of how human sexuality, hell, human *nature*, actually works. I don't have time and energy at the moment to go into all the various ways in which that idea is hopelessly messed up, of these days.

briefly though: the thing about "objectification" is, it's about creating what Martin Buber terms an I-It relationship rather than an I-Thou: in other words, you are denying the other person agency, *subjectivity.* "I know better than you who and what you are, or should be."

and, well, if you're gonna try and control what's going on in someone else's *head*--sheeit, that's about as "objectifying" as it gets.

which is what has driven me so absolutely bugfuck about this whole thing. admittedly most of the (for instance) anti-BDSM people don't put it as bluntly as BB, and probably wouldn't go that far.

but, I mean, how many times have I heard variations on this:

"It's not good for women."

Well, excuse me, but unless you're Whitney, you are *not*, in fact Every Woman; speak for your damn self. I am *also* a woman; I keep saying that BDSM *has* been good for me. Note that I'm *not* saying that "therefore, everyone should do it." But you know, if you're gonna keep insisting that "no, you are misinformed or brainwashed by the patriarchy; here, let me educate you"--girlfriend (or boyfriend; speaking of BB, have I mentioned how completely aggravated I've been at the straight boyfriend attempting to inform the world about the nature of lesbian BDSM? i may have, once or twice)--girlfriend, *that* is objectification. Oh yes. *And* it's a power game, which is completely ironic particularly in a BDSM argument; what the hell d'you think putting yourself in the role of educator/help-the-world is? particularly when aspects of the world keep telling you they don't *want* that particular form of help? It's control, baby. Sorry to break it to you.

as for the way around that particular trap (which is of course not limited to anti-porn/BDSM/whatever, but is rampant in political activism all over), I refer to this quote from "Ally Work:"

"If you have come to help me, please go home. But if you have come because your liberation is somehow bound with mine, then we may work together."

and an addendum: the decision of whether your liberation is truly bound with mine is a MUTUAL one.
as for what the "idea" of porn is-- you might be interested in this piece. "The Ethical Spectacle."
I took a quick look at that particular missive, now, and...yeah. Power and control: bad. And, my partner (for whom I'm speaking) used to be all into that stuff, but I learned him better. Or, I'm learning him better. and if that doesn't work I "scream and bellow" at him all night, "brutally" lecture him about his past sins not just against me, but in his entire life, (grin), post his financial sins and other on a public board for all the world to see, freeze his bank card from our mutual account, ("if he wants frappuccinos he can sell his body to get them!") threaten to kick him out if he doesn't shape up, and generally turn him into a little mousie to my big Mama Bear. Nope! No power dynamic going on here! Move along, folks, nothing to see here.
...I mean, seriously? There's a shitload of porn/erotica, falling into the general D/s category, that would probably find this sort of set-up primo material...for a fantasy. Enraged, abused woman finally has enough and takes revenge! the Man must be Punished for his sins! Take away his credit card, berate him mercilessly for his disgusting sexual appetites, post humiliatingly intimate scenarios about him in public to a group of scornful women, reduce him to a small cowering mousie whilst strapping on the Bearskin Of Power...yeah, baby! Femdom power! rrrrRRRRRROWR!

Except for, this sitch isn't a fantasy (apparently), and doesn't appear to have terribly clear boundaries. technically, as it's set up, I think it'd be more accurate to describe this set-up as...abusive.

The fact that it's not (just) man-over-woman, and the fact that there is no physical contact or (apparent) erotic pleasure going on here may be enough in BB's world to preclude it from being abuse, or at least very much about power and control. It ain't in my book.
personally, btw i am down with the notion of wimmin starting with exercising lovingkindness toward other wimmin, or even a small subset of other women, if that's all you feel up for. I mean, I agree with you also; but I can totally understand why a woman who's spent her wholedamnlife around abusive, invasive men who filled up all her space wouldn't be feeling terribly sympathetic toward the gender as a whole, and would rather concentrate on herself, and on being with other women.

for myself, I don't come from that experience, quite; and currently I do find myself in a somewhat more...expansive position. (which could always change, and frequently does). so, but yeah, I am into exploring a broader view of gender and sexuality and power issues, for a number of reasons.

and I do get my nurturing and community from a wide diversity of people. (wrt BB for example; I wonder a bit that needing to ask a question about the car comes down to either asking the abusive ex or asking the group of online friends. it sounds kind of...isolated).

Meanwhile, my feminism is based upon the notion that sexual *shaming* is very much a part of the patriarchy. and that BDSM is one way (not for everybody! and it's not the only way it's used either, of course) *can* be, paradoxically, a way to work through some of that shame. You establish a strict structure, and you exercise what it seems to me is a life force impulse...the transformational impulse, the rechanneling of pain and trauma into pleasure. And, it's your scene, your fantasy: you can rewrite your ending, you can turn the scenario on its head, you can do whatever you like with it.

I have a theatre background and am heading into psychology, and am currently in a psychodrama group. It has often occured to me that BDSM "scenes" are in fact a form of erotic psychodrama. (I mean the "heavier," more power and emotion-driven scenes, obviously, as opposed to "hey, couldja spank my ass, the vibrations from the thud really turn me on, say).
belledame - no, seriously, tell us what you really think... :)

thanks for the link. I'll follow it forthwith.

as for those who are not feeling full of lovingkindness towards men...guess they're just not as radical as ME! haHA! I'm finally More-Radical-Than!

kidding. totally kidding. I absolutely understand that, if I am correct in this assertion (by no means a foregone conclusion) I am also probably quite alone.

I have a little more to say on her heterosexist/ageist/ableist assertion that sex is not important. but I think I'm still on Double-Secret Moderation and so the comment I made on that issue has not shown up yet, and may never.
You're not alone; I'm just trying to be more, like, fair 'n' balanced. frankly I think that...well, I may be leaping to conclusions. but I do think being queer is part of my *not* feeling like "it's you and me agin' the Mens, sister" so much; I've just never felt all that invested in the mens to begin with, and thus, *maybe,* can afford to feel a bit moer charitable.

that's one going theory anyway.

anyway, you might also find Carol Queen's stuff to resonate right now, I'm thinking, based on what you're saying here.

I think BB and has suffered through a lot and I'm glad she seems to have found a little bit of happiness in her life as well as a way to express why she thinks what has happened to her has happened to her. I also think she provides a valuable perspective.

I wouldn't say this on her blog, though ... but I can't help but note how Augustinian it all sounds. That's what I'm alluding to with the "triumph over the carnal" business. She has, as I said, a good point about a lot of things, but the way she expresses what to *do* about it is, well, in terms of self-triumph over the inner demon. That love is cerebral and everything good, including carnality, follows from its perfect cerebral truth. I like things that are cerebral, don't get me wrong, I'm totally all for cerebrality...I can't help but imagine that her interpretation can only come. from the background of a post-Pauline/Augustinian Christian-influenced culture.
This is basically the reason why I don't consider myself anti-porn. First of all, it's basically impossible to have a clear non-arbitrary cut-off line between pornography and other media (using the "women being degraded" definition or the obscenity definition). The "intent" definition (material intended to arouse) is as unclear as you can get. So as a hard and fast lifestyle decision to avoid all porn and porn users, you can never really know if you're doing enough for the cause.

Then even if you could put together a clear definition, you haven't even begun to deal with the underlying conditions in which a media industry which hurts women is created (not saying that porn hurts women, because whilst I recognise that the porn industry is regularly incredibly misogynistic, I don't believe that porn hurts women as a blanket statement).
Geesh Belledame, obsess much? I mean, I know I'm charismatic and all that but you know, maybe getting a life somewhere along the line would be a good idea.

Time to compare notes if you ask me - Times I mention Belledame? 0 Times Belledame mentions me? God only knows. Hell, entire posts devoted to me, I'm not sure if I'm flattered or just plain freaked out by the seeming obsession :)
Biting Beaver - I am very glad you are here and look forward to what you have to say, as long as it's on topic and civil.

At the moment, you are in violation of Blog Rule #2 - no ganging up. Although nobody else but you is on Belledame's case, I can guess that your main aim is not to add to the discussion but to put another commenter in her place. Regret to inform that such behavior is not allowed here.

If you have actual concerns as to the state of Belledame's mental health, it may be wise to email here directly.
>but I can't help but note how Augustinian it all sounds. That's what I'm alluding to with the "triumph over the carnal" business.

Funny you should mention--I've just started reading a book called "Deadly Innocence: Feminism and the Mythology of Sin," by Angela West, who ID's as a Christian feminist. Haven't yet gotten far enough to determine what her conclusions might be, but so far it's ringing some bells for me:

"I began to suspect that in the very act of affirming our innocence we appropriate the structures of our particular community of language--of Western post-Enlightenment culture--and thus also our inheritance in its characteristic structures of violence and repression.", yeah, the whole idea of "women aren't like *that*" (or wouldn't be in an ideal, non-patriarchal world), is what she's addressing here, I think. Which is a lot of what's been troubling me in the 'sphere: the (at least implicit) idea that women aren't (as) aggressive, lusty, cruel....not of their own volition, anyway. Which is partly why, I think, there's so much charge-up around BDSM: it's not just "this hurts women," it's the idea that women might be capable of being dominant or sadistic or "perversely" lusty, all by themselves.

BB: well, now, we've all got our little hobbyhorses, haven't we. way I see it, what with so many of my favorite movies and other entertainments apparently on the Feminist Verboten! list, well, what's a girl to do? gotta have something to go with all this popcorn.
"At the moment, you are in violation of Blog Rule #2 - no ganging up. Although nobody else but you is on Belledame's case, I can guess that your main aim is not to add to the discussion but to put another commenter in her place. Regret to inform that such behavior is not allowed here."

No ganging up? Seems that insofar all the ganging up being done was done by yourself and belledame on BB, with the not so innocent help of a few not so innocent bystanders. As such, your comment is of such a ridiculous nature that I can only hang my head in amazement.

This all looks like highschool drama to me, and needless to say it is... unbelievable bizarre. I would have never guessed the extent to what some people would go to in order to defend their little porn habit... but I guess I'll add this to it.

"Is it somehow more degrading and abusive to be I don't know a self-employed freelance fetish model, or a writer of (text) erotica/porn, than to be in the migrant worker's situation?"

I guess BB did hit a little too close to hme for your own comfort.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wait, are you suggesting that I'm a fetish model?

"little porn habit"--no. read more carefully. Try: "complete and utter disregard for the notion that anyone's reality might not jibe with yours." Try: "constant, astonishingly nasty and vicious dismissal and seemingly willful misrepresention of people I love and respect, all in the name of supposed 'women-loving.'" whore-bashing and heterocentricity: plenty patriarchal in my book.

as for high school drama: well, yes. welcome to the Internets. life, for that matter. don't worry; I'm sure we'll each be on to bigger and snarlier dramas shortly, today's attention spans being what they are.
and that doesn't really answer the question, really, but I am taking it as a potential "no." (No, it is in fact far worse to be involved in the sex industry in *any* way than to be an exploited migrant worker). Is that a correct reading?

I mean, speaking of monomania. there are other issues in this world, you know? even ones that could conceivably be addressed by (gasp) feminism.
and yes, soopermouse: I am *all* about pandering to the Mens. that is so much a part of my life.

seriously, as annoying as I find the "political lesbians," (which I had *assumed* are fairly extinct anyway), there are few things I find more deliciously ironic than some straight chick with a hate-on trying to explain away my (by extension) failure to get with the program with the notion that it therefore *must* be about pleasing men, somehow.
anti princess, im surprised at your warning of bb tbh, i thought you were inviting discussion and different perspectives here?

"But I am not sure that being opposed to any and all naked pictures in any and all contexts really gets to the root of the problem."

this is a misunderstanding of radical feminism. first: we arent opposed to any and all naked pictures in any and all contexts, we are opposed to pornography. naked pictures does not equal pornography.

second: radical feminism is not *just* about being anti-porn. we believe that one of the most visible ways that patriarchy works to oppress women and express violence towards women is through pornography.

your analogy with law and order doesnt really make sense. you are looking at pornography in an individualist way, as if the only women to consider are the ones that are in the particular movie that you are looking at at the time. the influence of the pornography industry affects much more than any specific woman in any specific movie. i think we have to look at the wider effects of this industry. im always surprised that leftists can look at the media in general and see how it actively promotes racism and sexism, but dont see how all of these are magnified many times in the porn industry. and how porn has got to a level of acceptance that it is a major influence on other media, so that my daughters favorite cartoon characters are recognisable porn characters, and that even childrens clothing design is influenced by pornography.

"So finally I came to the conclusion that hating on dirty pictures, or the makers of the dirty pictures, or the lookers at or tolerators of dirty pictures, is not truly the radical solution."

i personally find it quite patronising that you minimise all the work and discussion among radical feminists about pornography to "hating". it implies not only that you dont understand the radfem perspective but that you cant even be bothered to listen and respect another point of view.

and i disagree with this:

"eliminate all the dirty pictures in the world and you will STILL have men judged by other men, men looking for validation from other men, men looking for proof of their worth in relation to other men. Eliminating all the dirty pictures in the world will not stop one single woman from being humiliated to make a man look more like a man."

first: in using the phrase 'dirty pictures', you are projecting a moral position onto radical feminists, when im sure you know that this is not an argument about morals. second - this is a non statement. we dont think that patriarchy will stop if we get rid of porn. porn is one tool that patriarchy uses to controlus, but there are others, language, education, religion. you are projecting an argument we do not hold, and i dont know whether this is due to deliberate misinformation or a lack of understanding.
soopermouse, you are absolutely right.

BB was not at all in violation of rule #2.

she was in violation of rule #1 - no punking. I maintain that she was not trying to add to the discussion, she was trying to put belledame in her place.

now V on the other hand is absolutely trying to add to the discussion, although she strenuously disagrees with my stated position. V has, in my opinion, the right idea as to how to disagree respectfully.

to that end:

but V - if the main aim of antiporn activism is NOT to eliminate porn, what is its aim? why bother to be anti-anything if you don't envision a world where the thing you're against doesn't exist? I'm not at all trying to minimize the years of hard work and dismiss it all as "hating". (although I could see where it would look that way.)

and if you didn't think porn was "dirty", why would you be against it?

I further maintain that a zero-porn tolerance approach may indeed involve any and every depiction of a naked human body that isn't for medical purposes.

but that's just my opinion, muddled as it is.

thanks for staying on topic, V. I'm glad you're here.
>this is a misunderstanding of radical feminism. >first: we arent opposed to any and all naked pictures in any and all contexts, we are opposed to pornography. naked pictures does not equal pornography.

See, I've seen people who *do* seem to be opposed to any and all, and not just sexually explicit pictures, but text as well. in the name of feminism. or rather, (I believe Twisty has said something to this effect, still haven't tracked down that exact quote), in a patriarchal society, any such expressions must be somehow...tainted...with patriarchy. so, it's not that we're against the *idea* of sexually explicit media, we're only against it until such time as the culture is no longer patriarchal. which, effectively, to me, is: jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today.

But the point being made with the Ethical Spectacle link, from someone who does *not* like "extreme" porn, is that it's very very difficult to determine "context" from an "objective" POV. and right now, the "obscenity" laws, the "community standards," are 1) enforced, perhaps inevitably, by Big Daddy, pretty much, and tend to end up reflecting his values and 2) are often arbitrary and (frankly) unfair. at any rate, "I know it when I see it" isn't good enough, not for legal purposes at least; and no one seems to be able to come up with a better definition.

>when im sure you know that this is not an argument about morals.

Well, again, it depends who you ask. If it's not about morals, what is it about? How do you define "morals?"

Finally: okay, the influence of the media. Sure, it factors. Thing is, though, if patriarchy is being defined as this ancient and pernicious system, predating even Biblical-based "morality" and so on and so on, then...why would one put the main focus of one's work on a such a recent phenomenon? I mean, if pornographic movies and websites and even magazines were so crucial, then wouldn't it logically follow that before they appeared on the scene, things were actually *better,* from a non-sexist perspective? But, is anyone actually arguing that that's the case? I know I'm sure not.

and yes, I know that you're saying it's only one factor of several; but what I don't understand is why it's even put in on the same category as language, religion, etc. one of these things is not like the others, istm.
btw, per "ganging up:" I defer to antiprincess' rules, as it's her blog. I understand her not wanting this to devolve into a slapfest. personally, wasn't feeling ganged up on, especially. my own blog rules, if I ever feel the need spell them out, are probably pretty simple: keep me entertained.
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