Sunday, July 30, 2006

Excerpts from The World Split Open: How the modern women's movement changed America, by Ruth Rosen, 2000

p. 189:In 1971, feminists convened a conference on prostitution in New York City, Kate Millet, who chronicled the conference in The Prostitution Papers (1971), described how "all hell broke loose - between the prostitutes and the movement." Although skeptical, the prostitutes had come to the conference as working women, "in the life", looking for support in a difficult and dangerous trade. They were not simply movement women who had once turned a trick or two. "They had a great deal to say," reported Millet, "about the presumption of straight women who fancied they could debate, decide, or even discuss what was their situation and not ours. The first thing they could tell us - the message coming through a burst of understandable indignation - was that we were judgmental, meddlesome, and ignorant." For some feminists, prostitution seemed like the quintessential exploitation of women. In the eyes of the disgusted prostitutes, the movement women reminded them of the middle class wives and mothers who tried to drive them out of their neighborhoods.

p. 190: Millett watched the conference disintegrate into accusations and recriminations: "Everyone talked. No one made any sense. Things rapidly degenerated into chaos...Beyond the absurdly hypothetical threat posed by the term "elimination"...was the greater threat of adverse judgment by other women. For if large numbers of "straight" women congregate to agree that there is an absolute benefit in hte elimination of prostitution - what does this convey to the prostitute?..,.that she is despised and rejected by her sister women. Never mind if this makes no sense - it was there like an edict upon the heart."

just thought it was intriguing to note that we've been arguing about this for over thirty years...

I blame the migraine-archy

So at about 8:30 friday morning my left hand fell totally asleep, and the left side of my mouth felt like someone just socked me with a fistful of novocain - then after about five minutes? 10 minutes? thirty seconds? the tingly numbness went away and the right side of my head felt like it was being shot out of a cannon into a brick wall, then scraped off the bricks and shot out of the cannon again, and scraped again, shot again, scraped again...the words I had planned on saying in my usual cheerful-perky professionally-nice manner just sort of trickled and slithered out of my mouth. Scared the shit out of me.

My boss thought I was looking kind of greenish and offered to take me home. I didn't fight her. I spent most of the weekend drifting in and out of a queasy kind of sleep. Finally today I started feeling a little better. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow. They'll probably say it was a "stroke symptom migraine" (if my internet research was accurate) and to avoid (HA!) stress.

It's crazy - my head feels like a dirty pot all scrubbed out with a brillo pad.

anyone else get scary headaches?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

OK - now that I've calmed down a little maybe it's time for me to say something of substance.

I know, I know - first time for everything...

I forgot where I read it, or maybe some kindhearted therapist said it to me, I can't recall - but somewhere I picked up the idea that in all relationships there will be conflict. From the most bluebird-infested state-sanctioned hetero coupling ever to snuggle smugly inside a patriarchy-reinforcing suburban McMansion to the freakiest nest of polyamorous freaks that ever freaked their freak - in every relationship people struggle between trying to get their own needs met and trying to meet the needs of their partners.

The presence of conflict does not in itself mean that a relationship is toxic, nor does its absence necessarily indicate that a relationship is healthy. However, a key indicator of whether a relationship is healthy or toxic lies in how such conflict is resolved.

If conflict is resolved in a way that seems equitable to all parties, abiding by rules (whether implicit or explicit) agreed upon by all parties, in a way that respects the basic human dignity of all parties - the relationship (no matter how weird/sick/oppressive/bizarre it might look to outsiders) has a good chance of sustaining itself, of succeeding, of offering a healthy environment in which all parties grow to their full potential as they conceive it.

Relationships in which conflicts are not resolved according to the agreed-upon rules, wherein conflict is used as an excuse to shun, humiliate and wound, wherein disputes are not handled in the spirit of preserving basic human dignity - those relationships are sick, abusive and doomed.

I think it is not beyond the realm of reason to generalize this pattern of interpersonal relationships to whole communities, say, for example, the radfemblogosphere.

Does it matter to me whether an individual calls herself anti-porn or sex-positive? no. I'm not going to knock someone based simply on how they feel about the act of fucking under any given circumstances, and the anti-porn position can be a defensible position although that may not be my bag, baby. I certainly respect the right of someone to form her own opinions. We may argue long into the night but as long as we both follow the rules of engagement as we've agreed on them, at the end of it all we may shake hands and part friends, having learned all we can, emerging as stronger members of a stronger community.

The RFBosphere is a truly fascinating community - vibrant, diverse, deeply committed, challenging, intelligent, and damn funny.

But also toxic as hell. We need some serious therapy, y'all, to learn how to fight fair.

Don't Panic! Change is good!

Same bat-time, same bat-channel, same bat-URL, but a whole new title to reflect my stripped-down, high-speed, faster-tougher-smarter (or at least sadder-but-wiser) new attitude for the next millenium.

antiprincess v2.0: I shame the matriarchy.

Well, I do. Seriously - how can anyone argue with that?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

you know all those rules I set up way back in april? about being civil and not punking and crap?
screw 'em.

The more civil I am, the more I wind up looking like a horse's ass.

so, fuck it. I'm out of other cheeks to turn, and can't in good conscience impose a rule on my blog that I myself can't follow.

I can't seem to keep a civil tongue in my fingers for love or money on anyone else's blog - it's the height of hypocrisy to try to maintain any standards of civility on mine.

got something to say? go for it. I'm still not going to mod you, no matter who you are.

but I can't say I'll be as gentle in my discourse with you as I used to be if you piss me off. (yeah, I know - no big threat. just let me have my little temperfit in peace, wouldya?)

look - this is mostly whadayacallit - displacement. I'm ashamed of myself so I'm taking it out on the blogosphere and I probably should be able to restrain myself but I seem to be having a little trouble with that lately.

so if you had anything to say in the last four months, but kept your mouth shut to avoid a scolding, have at it - before cooler heads prevail and I change my mind.

Friday, July 21, 2006

So Jo on Witchy's blog brought this up in a comment:

"how do you reconcile this with the fact that these industries (pornography and prostitution - H.) were built by limiting women's choices?"

which got me wondering about the history of prostitution.

And Belledame wonders about the origin of the term "pornstitution", which I also wonder about.

Is it possible (or desirable) to de-couple those terms? when did it become desirable to create a new word and under what circumstances? Is it just a sort of shorthand?

Any thoughts?

unlike Belledame, I won't hit you with a halibut...I oppose fish/human violence in all its forms... :)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

File this under "things it's too hot to argue about":

Well, I'll go to the foot of my stairs...: "If you're pro-pornography or pro-prostitution you are NOT a feminist. These institutions are the props of patriarchy and have nothing to do with women's self determination, ergo they are NOT feminist."

Well, okay then - thanks for clearing that up. Guess I'll take my picket signs and secret lentil-loaf recipe and go home...think I can get my money back on my slightly-foxed 1st edition paperback Sisterhood is Powerful? Apparently I won't be needing it anymore...

Seriously - I have no problem with Witchy looking upon non-antiporn or non-antiprostitution people with disdain. She makes a good point, don't get me wrong. I'd have no problem at all with this post if she had said "If you're pro-pornography or pro-prostitution you are NOT a feminist I RESPECT", or "If you're pro-pornography or pro-prostitution you are NOT a feminist I AGREE WITH".

But here is what can happen when a non-antiporner (like me) comes across that post, phrased as it is -

She may feel like her voice does not count in the world of feminism - and if, like me, she's been considering herself a feminist for over 20 years, working and marching and donating time and money and resources, this can come as quite a shock.

She may feel like all the work she's done on other issues, work which may have exhausted her physically and drained her emotionally, counts for NOTHING.

She may no longer feel comfortable expressing her true self among people she used to trust.

She may feel like, in order to stay connected to her community, she must either truly have a change of heart, or claim to have a change of heart.

Me personally, I have not truly come to jesus on these issues yet - I don't think I ever will. So that means that, to stay a feminist, I have to SAY I agree, or risk being alienated from the community I have worked for 20+ years to build and to reinforce. The movement has just given birth to a great big stinking hypocrite. Was that the plan?

If it is true that non-antiporn women are not feminists, then that means we are not welcome in feminist spaces, but merely (barely) tolerated. What does this mean to our participation on other issues?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett died today.

Shine on.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I have got to get off this subject before I lose my mind.

But one more thing:

From Amy: In all the anti-censorship arguments, I have yet to hear anyone explain the social value of sexually explicit materials. I’m not saying there isn’t any; I’m saying I’ve never heard anyone discuss what positive effects “erotica” has, except of course as an aid to masturbation.

ok - in yesterday's post I tried to address the isssue of the "social value of sexually explicit materials" - probably not sufficiently by any means, but I did take a stab at it.

I'd now like to open the floor to antiporn people (or anyone, really) who might like to help me through (or over, or beyond) the part of antiporn feminism upon which I stumble.

In all the anti-porn arguments, I have yet to hear, and I am yearning to hear, anyone address the issue of where porn (that which is to be discarded, abandoned, ignored, forsworn, banned, burned, whatever) stops, and useful information (that which is to be kept, saved, protected, expanded upon, made widely available, whatever) begins.

This question goes beyond the okay/not okay list, because "okay" will always boil down to a matter of personal taste on a case-by-case basis, and I don't think any two "okay" lists will be exactly alike.

One might say "any vulgar and obvious display of woman-hating" or "any content focusing on sexual acts" or "anything someone could successfully masturbate to" should be considered porn; but each of those definitions are not really inclusive of what is truly pernicious, and may be construed to include stuff that doesn't really belong. I'm put in mind again of one of Heart's posts and this excerpt I quoted in a previous post of mine:

"If you haven’t had cock shoved down your throat until you gagged and vomited and bled and could not breathe, with ”bitch” and “cunt” and ”whore” ringing in your ears, then maybe you don’t understand."

Content focusing on sexual acts? check. Vulgar and obvious display of woman hating? check. And sadly, somebody somewhere is probably successfully masturbating to this paragraph (or one like it) right now.

But all it is, is a woman discussing a part of her human (unfortunate and painful, but human) experience. I strongly believe that this paragraph falls under the category of "Useful Information to be protected", and not under "Pornography to be discarded". I mean, nobody in the radfemblogosphere would even think of avoiding Heart's posts because they're "pornographic".

Is it just a matter of context?

One could probably argue that, if there was no such thing as porn, women would not have such experiences. Is that a chicken/egg issue?

A final rumination - in junior high we all read Fahrenheit 451. It scared me, scared me for some reason more than Philosophy in the Bedroom scared me. It scared me so much that whenever I hear that people would prefer a world free of certain types of books and printed matter, I stop listening to why they would prefer such a world, and they become THEY, the bad guys, the ANTIs - Anti-porn, anti-sex, anti-ME, anti-my-friends-and-loved-ones. This is unfortunate because I bet they have good reasons for wanting a such a world, which I will never hear as I am desperately trying to gather up all the stuff that they'd rather do without (even the stuff that I find objectionable), saving it from a pyre that maybe they have no intention of igniting.

I fear that the very relevant baby of people discussing their sexual experiences, in order to share information and celebrate such experiences, will be thrown out with the contaminated bathwater of what is so obviously damaging and harmful.

I would like that fear assuaged. It is the one obstacle between me and antiporn feminism. Any takers?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

In other news, it has been 35,112 hours, or 1,463 days, or four-years-plus-three-days since I got on a plane with $200 and a tiny green suitcase and left the litle white house in Virginia, never to return to my abusive ex.

So far I've managed not to die, in fact to thrive (and occasionally to blossom).

Every now and then I remember that it was the day before Independence Day, 2002, that I finally took steps to save myself - and it was a really radical step, to just jump on a plane with what amounted to some pocket change and a change of clothes, not knowing what was going to happen next, not knowing if my dad and stepmother would take me in for the time being, not knowing how I'd handle seeing my mother wasting away from the bone cancer that was eating her, not knowing if AbEx was going to try to come up and find me and make good on those macabre promises...the only thing I was absolutely dead solid certain of was that I had just made the best decision of my life.

My mother was still pretty with-it when I first went to visit her in the hospital, and after I heard all about her journey through cancer and got updates on all the family members with whom I'd lost touch over the years, I told her I was leaving the Abusive Ex. She was philosophical about it. She said "the next time you meet a man, make sure he's a man, and not just something walking around in a disguise."

A few weeks later she died. But boy, talk about words of wisdom!

It's kind of sad she never got to meet my husband, in all his hairy, hulking, warts-n-all undisguised glory. She would have dug him.

Anyway, good for me for leaving the ratbastard who beat me, 1,463 days ago. Go me!

I'm pretty sure Amy at Feminist Reprise doesn't give two shits about me or my opinions. Nonetheless I'm moved to explore this post she has up re: porn vs erotica. I mean, I can only assume I am a flyspeck on her windowsill - filthy, but ultimately ignorable and meaningless - but boy she raises some fascinating questions that really make me think. And of course, I'd like to open it up to y'all's comments, that is if any of you feel moved to say something.

She makes a really interesting point about the distinction between porn and erotica having a class basis - porn for the blue collar guy, erotica for the white collar guy. She also says of erotica that she "perceive(s) an attempt to dress up its sexually explicit nature by appealing to the middle-class tastes of an educated audience."

I had never really picked up on the class distinction.

But this is where she starts getting really interesting:

I’m personally not interested in dialogue with folks who defend porn.

(I guess that's why she doesn't answer my gushy and starstruck email I sent her a while back when she referenced a post of mine...I didn't really care that she was negative about it - she was quite reasonable and didn't call me a poopyhead or anything.)

The question is this, and I ask this seriously, not rhetorically: Why do you want sexually explicit material? Why do you want “erotica” to be “okay?” Why do you need it? What does looking at naked pictures do for you? What is the personal and social value of the spectrum of materials from Britney Spears Pepsi commercials to “art” photographs of nude women to the latest Herotica volume of short stories to Playboy? What exactly would happen if this material vanished tomorrow in a puff of pale blue powder? How would our lives be worse? How would they be better?

Well, ask some serious questions, get some serious answers - the best I can manage, considering I'm not at all a scholar, just a really avid reader:

Why do I want sexually explicit material?
I certainly don't want ALL sexually explicit material ALL the time - but some of it is intriguing to me. Some of it I just find fun to read. Some of it comes quite close to documenting my own experience, which makes me feel less alone in the world. Some of it diverges wildly from my own experience, and by reading it I may deepen ad broaden my understanding of the experiences of others. Literature should increase empathy, even sexually explicit literature.

(Maybe Amy is implying that sexually explicit literature, by its very sexual nature, automatically decreases empathy? that once a work is rendered sexually explicit it is no longer literature?)

What exactly would happen if this material vanished tomorrow in a puff of pale blue powder? How would our lives be worse? How would they be better?

I could see where some (maybe many) people would feel a great weight lifted off their shoulders as all that pressure they feel to conform to certain standards is suddenly released in the absence of Plaything magazines and collections of dirty short stories and so forth. I remember back in my more ardently leatherdykey days getting very angry at Pat Califia and throwing her (this was pre-transition) works against a wall with extreme prejudice, because I did feel a strange pressure (not the good kind) when I read certain of those stories. So, life would absolutely be made better for those who feel pressured or otherwise interfered-with.

However, I'm pretty sure that not everyone feels that kind of pressure all the time with every work, and a lot of my negativity could have been due to my own weird and unhealthy headcake at the time. For my own part, I found parts of Rubyfruit Jungle and other works to be truly arousing - and I don't think I could have gotten through my adolescence without it. I needed to read about the aspects of human experience wherein women could love other women and not die. I needed that then, and I bet there are still people out there who need that now. My life would have been made worse without it, no question.

One could not possibly blue-powderize each and every creative work with sexual content - you'd always miss something, some weird little tale slipping under the radar because it does not contain obvious sexual content that appeals to the prurient interests of many people, but instead is laser-targeted to focus tightly on the obscure desires of a tiny fraction of the population. And what about the accidentally-erotic - the Sears catalogue, perhaps? Medical books? (I was big on medical books as a kid.)

And it seems to me that as feminists, we ought to place a premium on understanding whether any phenomenon under discussion contributes to ending women’s oppression. I’m drawing a blank about how “erotica” gets women free.

Empathy, baby. Sharing experiences. Consciousness-raising. At its best, erotic material can speak truth to experience, if not to power. It may not be true to say we can "fuck our way to power", but I'd say that talking about sex, even if that discussion causes blood to rush to parts of the body that are normally concealed under clothing, is better than not talking about sex. I don't think that being allowed to discuss sex in ways that just happen to produce a mad rush of endorphins is too much to ask. It may not set us completely free, but its absence would, in my opinion, only contribute to our oppression.

So chew on why you want “erotica” to be acceptable.

With all due respect - I think it's acceptable whether or not I or you or anyone wants it to be, acceptable in theory and acceptable in certain forms of practice. Some of it is, in actual fact, objectionable - but some is not.

And while you do that, I’ve got another point to make. Let’s just assume, for a moment, that someone succeeded in writing an erotic story that was arousing for many women but did not rely on pornographic conventions for its charge. I don’t think it’s possible, but let’s imagine for a minute some brilliant feminist writer managed it.

Ah - the task is clear. Maybe tomorrow morning I'll wake up and by some crazy twist of fate I'll be a brilliant feminist writer (HA!) and whomp up some totally arousing yet totally clean erotic material. (I mean, stranger things have happened...the Berlin Wall came down, after all...and I think a monkey flew out of my butt yesterday...) Seriously - I'd be very interested in attempting such a challenge.

The problem that I would still have, with this hypothetical politically pure, sexually arousing, fulfilling-in-every-way story, is that it externalizes sexuality. (emphasis mine)... All the other myriad harms of pornography aside, this is, in my opinion, what all material created with the express purpose of arousing and titillating does. Instead of experiencing our sexuality from the inside—the sensations, sounds, emotions that are present in a sexual experience whether we’re alone or with others—we’re experiencing somebody else’s idea of what’s sexually arousing, and we’re experiencing it exclusively through our brains.

That's okay with me sometimes. The brain is the most important sex organ the body has, in my opinion.

And if we masturbate to an externalized sexual narrative, we’re associatiing and reinforcing those thoughts, that storyline, with orgasm. But no matter how much we might wish otherwise, an “erotic” story can’t stroke our clitoris or tell us we’re beautiful or love us or respond to our touch. Externalized sexuality is a one-way street, download-only, instead of an experience of participating in the intricate web of feedback loops that are present when touch creates sensation which creates response which creates thought which creates pleasure which creates motivation to touch, whether we are alone or with others.

I feel like Amy's saying "why read about it when you could do it?" - and I can't argue with that. ;)

...I think, rather than attempting to differentiate “erotica” from pornography, our energy is better spent on a collective rejection of sexually explicit materials and a collective attempt to create sexuality based on feminist values.

Oh wow - see, this I can argue with.

I think that as a woman, I have an opinion that matters. I think that I have an opinion on what feminist values are that may conflict with the opinions of others. I think I have an opinion on what constitutes sexually explicit material and why it ought not be rejected, and that may (indeed does) conflict with the opinions of others. So there's plenty of room for argument here.

(Amy, I hope that, if you do bother to read this at all, I don't come across as disrespectful or rude or even the least bit snarky - I'd rather you see me as straight-up stupid than disrespectful.)

So - any thoughts?

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