21 January 2007

The New Prudishness -- Or Just Renewed Common Sense?

In my daily travels around the Internets, I routinely come across stuff that makes me just shake my head at how badly wrong some people can twist an issue. An example of this is an article that I was referred to by Anna Lou entitled "The New Prudishness," written by Ada Calhoun. If you want to waste a bunch of your time, you can read it here. Or, you can pass the time by reading me giving my running commentary to this pile of drivel. It's not quite a fisking, but it's not a lit review in the scholarly sense that I did a bunch of for the thesis. Among Ms. Calhoun's insights:
"As I look back on the past few years, I see one thing on which everyone,
neo-con or liberal, young or old, appeared to agree: our culture is
This is the typical conflation of marketed sexuality with actual sex. I don't know how many times I've encountered the argument that porn = sex. Not even close to the truth. Our culture is not oversexed, it is over-pornified. I'm not in the business of spelling out the distinction, so if you need to learn it, I suggest you visit some of the links in the sidebar.

After giving a brief rundown of intelligent people suggesting exactly what I just said, Calhoun states:

"But is it possible that what's actually at work is a kind of neo-prudish groupthink?"

No, it's not prudish, it's just common sense. This is nothing but a typical (again with that word) decrying of people sick of seeing pornography everywhere as being prudes who hate sex and everything to do with it. False. Being anti-porn doesn't mean one is anti-sex. The most absurd false dichotomy is the splitting of feminists into "sex-positive" and "sex-negative" groupings. Many supposed "sex-negative" (anti-porn) feminists have boyfriends, husbands, and children. Doesn't sound like they're really all that opposed to sex to me.

We quickly move from strawfeminism to outright lies:

"We are biologically predisposed to enjoy sex and to enjoy watching other people enjoy sex and to hearing about people having sex and reading in Star or tell-all memoirs about people having sex."

There is absolutely nothing biological about watching television, renting a porn DVD, or paying money to read a book or magazine recounting sexual encounters. Nothing. This also assumes that pornography = sex, and thus watching pornography is simply watching people have sex just like normal people have sex in their bedrooms. Yeah, no. The majority of women out there don't enjoy being penetrated anally by two men they don't know, nor do many enjoy many of the other acts of degradation that are carried out in pornography. One need only read some of Robert Jensen's work to see what are the most popular genres of pornography out there and do some very basic thinking to realize that it's something that doesn't happen in one's regular bedroom life. That's part of the thrill for the misogynists that are watching ever-more degrading pornography: it features women being coerced into doing things that the real women in these consumers' lives would probably (read: definitely) never do. It is dehumanizing to the extreme, and it is so far removed from sex that statements such as Calhoun's lack credibility among intelligent, thinking people.

And then we get into territory that borders on apologism for child pornography, which Canada's Supreme Court has ruled the very existence of constitutes harm to children:

"Anti-porn activists point to violent, hateful or kiddie porn as if it were the standard. But there are as many kinds of porn as there are kinds of sex: some is reprehensible, some is affectionate; plenty is really dull."

Right, porn that features the rape of young children is just another type of porn, no more or less harmful than anything else out there. 92% of the pornography in existence is created involving women who want to get out of their "industry," but who often lack the resources, education, and general ability to do so. Also, that "dullness" that is being spoken of is what leads men to seek out ever more disturbing, degrading, and sensationalized material they can. For some men, there is a progression that goes from "vanilla" porn and ultimately leads to thoroughly degrading and violent material that presents a great danger to the woman/women involved in its creation. There does exist a chain of continuum, and it has a tremendously adverse affect on a young male's ability to relate to actual women. There are numerous studies out there demonstrating this argument, a number of which can be found at Diana Russell's website.

Here, Calhoun describes a species that does not exist:

"But pretty much all the men I know — thoughtful, decent, feminist men — look at porn."

No such thing, sorry. It's mutually exclusive; you're either a feminist or you look at porn. A teacher who gets off on porn on a Tuesday night is not a decent man on a Wednesday morning when he gives his students an exam. The correlation between porn consumption and rape has been shown to be stronger than that which exists between smoking and lung cancer. That porn-lover who rapes a woman is neither decent nor feminist, but he is thoughtful, if only about himself and his desire to exert his supposed right to have sex with any woman he wants whenever he wants, regardless of her consent or lack thereof.

Another bold-faced lie:

"Susan Brownmiller's statement that "pornography is the theory, rape is the practice" has been pretty soundly disproved. In America, rape has declined 85% in the past twenty-five years."

Absolute malarkey. Down 85% you say? Then why is it that 1 in 3 Canadian women will experienced sexual violence in the course of her lifetime? I could also swear that I've read that in the past forty years, the rape rate has increased by 400% Bear in mind, too, that less than 1 in 10 rapes are actually reported. Calhoun has written a complete lie that the statistics say otherwise. The tens of thousands of women who are raped every year would take absolutely no consolation in hearing the bullshit statement that we're on the verge of eliminating rape as a feature in our society, especially when lads mags are giving advice to potential rapists on how to make roofie cocktails.

Yet, there is one place where Calhoun and I come to agreement:

"I'm tired of hearing about how teen girls today are debasing themselves now more than ever."

Me too, we need more people talking about how teen and adults males are debasing teen girls. It is men who are raping them, taking advantage of them with roofie cocktails, slipping them drugs, and filming the entire thing. Joe Francis, the misogynist behind Girls Gone Wild (of which Calhoun is a fan), debases women far more than the nearly passed-out participants in his videos. That plays no small part in why he's been accused of rape more than once. Speaking of, when it comes to those preyed-upon participants:

"But what other kind of fun is there for teenagers to have?"

Really? That's the only role you can allot to teenaged girls is it. I believe that you qualify under the internalized misogyny program. Misogynists everywhere would be more than a little happy if you were to be in charge of the after school programs for girls.

But wait, there is something in it for the girls:

"It makes him feel hot to make the girls do what he says. And the girls (whose boobs they are, after all) are exploiting him to feel hot."

Yeah we really should feel sorry for the poor exploited menz shouldn't we? After all, they're only making millions of dollars with GGW, but the girls, they get to "feel hot." However, given that beauty is fleeting, and all it takes is one guy to take away that "power" by criticizing the girl's breasts or other body parts, it doesn't seem to even out the balance sheet a whole lot. You'll notice that there is no multi-million dollar gonzo industry out there whose sole objective is to get drunk college guys to drop their pants and show off their penises. No, it's simply the continued classification of women as the sex class, but it's become more democratic now. Every woman can be a porn star, and she even gets a hat for the deal. Meanwhile, for the cost of a cheap hat, that woman can be used as a masturbatory tool for the rest of her life.

Celebrities? Caricatures for our own entertainment:

"Paris Hilton is a national joke, our very own screwball comedy star. The Lindsays of the world? They're fodder for clever drag-queen Halloween costumes, not role models for impressionable teenagers."

There aren't many feminists out there who will defend Paris Hilton, though they do exist, and I enjoy their blogs. What Paris and Lindsay and any other starlet out there exemplify is that any woman, no matter how rich, how powerful, how successful, how creative, is simply there to act as a sexbot or other tool for patriarchal entertainment. She can be reduced to a "fire crotch," a sex tape, a piece of paper or a computer image to be consumed by teenaged punks on the Internet. And where Calhoun is, yet again, wrong is that whether they want to be or not, Paris and Lindsay and Britney are role models for impressionable teenagers. They're everywhere on TV, and just about anytime they're on TV, a comment is made about their bodies; how they're perfect, desirable, hot. For impressionable teenaged girls, nothing is more important than being accepted as a sexual being, because that's what the big advertising & beauty industries need: a supply of anxious women who hate their bodies seeking a fix that only these industries can provide. Got pimples? We have a fix for that. Need to lose 15 pounds to fit into that dress that Paris has? We have a fix for that. Just like Charles Barkley was, in fact, a male role model for aspiring male athletes, so too have we created a cult following for Britney, Paris, and Lindsay that makes them idols for young girls to seek to emulate.

Here's a laugher:

"Both men and women have always tried to dress as provocatively as possible."

Nope. There's no huge lingerie, thong, or skimpy clothing industry out there for guys. What is the "look" that is held up as the "hottest" for a man: a suit. Look at all the guys at the awards shows: they're all in suits, and nobody talks about what they were wearing at the water cooler the next day. Remember that dress that J'Lo wore years ago? Of course you do, because it was promoted as hot, sexy, all of that stuff. Why? Because it was so provocative. Sorry Ms. Calhoun, but you only got that one half-right.

More strawfeminism:

"I guess we have to say, yes, we can wear lipstick and be feminists."

The internecine wars of the blogosphere aside, that one is a no-brainer. The objective of feminism is to allow women to choose what they want to do with their own lives, to seek their own happiness in their own way, without any external (male) judgment deeming what is acceptable and what is not. The mythology of the unshaven, hairy-pitted and -legged, makeup-less, sex-hating lesbian feminist is just that: a phony creation by men to make it scary for women to identify themselves as feminists.

Time for some fatalism and a reductio ad absurdum:

"But once we've thought it through, even if we did agree that our culture is saturated with anti-woman sexuality, what do we do? Unplug the internet? Ban porn? Drop Catharine MacKinnon leaflets onto the beach at Spring Break?"

How about urging some common sense? Is it really beyond the scope of her thinking abilities to suggest that we seek to instill some intelligence, knowledge, and most importantly of all, empathy into one another? Given that she can't think of anything for teenaged girls to do but take off their shirts, I realize that I may be pushing up against some cognitive abilities. It's amazing what happens when people talk to each other and share some insights. Opinions can be changed on an individual basis when one is informed and aware of what happens to make pornography, prostitution, and how it affects its participants and its consumers. I know, I've been through it. I may be more receptive and capable to process facts than most, but I know that I'm not the only male in the universe who has forsaken some of his male privelige to do the more difficult thing and say, "This is not right, and I don't want to be associated with 'masculinity' if it entails things such as consuming mass amounts of porn, treating women as receptacles, and being a misogynist ranting asshole."

Another bit of strawfeminism and something that just seemed absurd. After talking about porn and misogyny, apparently all of this is meant to capture

"the most natural thing in the world, the one thing that unites the history of humankind: trying to look cute."

Huh? This is what feminists and right-wingers are adamantly opposed to? I know that this article is having some real problems contorting itself to be acceptable to a mainstream audience and get that patriarchy seal of approval, but this is just bizarre. I honestly don't know how to respond to this because it just has no bearing on reality, and I can't deal with things like that.

But at least she is honest here:

"What these cultural arbiters fail to realize is that we're not doing it for them."

No kidding, you're doing it to gain that patriarchal stamp of approval. Nothing can be more important than being accepted by the menz right? How about demonstrating independence, the ability to succeed or fail on one's own terms instead of those imposed by a culture that rigs the game in favour of the latter, and "doing it" just for yourself? That would seem a much more notable objective for a woman than the nonsense that is being advocated here. Telling girls that if they just conform and keep on doing exactly what the boyz want them to do is telling them that success for a woman is to be deemed a success by a man. Never mind that that success can be instantly revoked, much like a dictator that changes policy on a whim without any accountability. Feminists define themselves according to themselves, as a subject, not an object.

And this says what I'm saying in its own bizarre, twisted way:

"Nine times out of ten, what turns us on is completely embarrassing. Porn is embarrassing. Dressing slutty is embarrassing. The mechanics of sex are absolutely, entirely embarrassing."

Yikes. The objective of one who wants a fulfilled life is to do things that are enjoyable and beneficial to oneself, maximizing his or her own happiness and pleasure. It should, thus it follows, never be "embarrassing" to seek pleasure in a sexual manner. If one is embarrassed by one's own actions in that regard, perhaps it is time for a little more introspection to realize more fully what it is that you want so that you can seek pleasure without the embarrassment. I speak as someone who is in an equal loving relationship with an incredible partner: there is nothing embarrassing involved in my relationship.

And the coup de grace, which is shameful when you really think about the indifference to the very prominent dark side of our modern sexuality:

"Every time someone casually refers to the horrible hypersexualizing of our culture and encourages us to be more responsible about what we wear, what we look at and how we behave with each other, let's nod and smile and thank them for opening up a discussion about modern sexuality."

Yes, let's just nod and smile about a sky-high rape rate, endemic misogyny, women being used and abused and ultimately discarded when they are of no further value, and everything else that is unfair and unjust about the sexual politics of our era.

The saddest thing of all of this? The problems we have here are but the tip of the iceberg when you compare our society to places in the developing world, where women have it so bad it is on a scale unimaginable to people here. The topic at hand here doesn't even discuss female genital mutilation, human sex trafficking, systemic rape and mutilation of women & children in wartorn societies, and the practice in some countries of raping young girls in the government-sponsored or -ignored belief that sex with a virgin can cure AIDS. We would all do well to ponder these issues when we are examining the world at large, because all of these things, in addition to pay equity, political representation, and fair treatment are feminist issues.

1 comment:

Anna Lou said...

This is excellent. Reading Calhoun's article made me roll my eyes and grumble a bunch, I only wish I could write something as brilliant as this in response. I doubt that the site her article is on has any kind of credibility, but I'm sure there are a lot of silly kids that eat it right up. You need to start writing newspaper editorials or something...this stuff needs to be published in a place where many nimrods such as Calhoun can be enlightened.