Friday, November 16, 2007

Porn and Me

At one point during the fabulous Paris Exmo Expo 2007, I gave my usual spiel on porn and feminism. I can't remember why the hell I brought up porn at the "Kingdom of Beer" (and the other ladies are probably also wondering). But since the subject came up in the meatspace version of Outer Blogness (and because we've been talking about people's biases here lately), I figured perhaps I'd share with you my history (hence bias) on this subject:

I was raised in a religion (I'll just let you guess which one) that is extremely patriarchal as well as repressive and negative towards sexuality.

Then, when I gave up that religion at the age of seventeen, I was free to embrace my sexuality and my feminism with equal abandon. (Obviously feminism and women's sexual freedom go hand-in-hand, right?) So I became more and more interested in reading books and articles about feminism. To show you just how ready I was to accept and embrace any and all of feminism, I stopped shaving and wearing a bra for a few months for no other reason than because I'd heard that that was some sort of feminist thing to do. And as I was reading along, I learned that the feminist movement is opposed to porn.

My first reaction was surprise and bewilderment. Agreeing with the church on any sex-and-gender issue seemed like a humongous red flag. Those shame-sodden lectures that taught me I was a deviant for fantasizing about sex and that I'd be as worthless as chewed gum if I acted on my desires: they also contained a message about how pornography leaves your mind permanently impure. Naturally I had filed all of these hate-your-sexuality messages in the same mental drawer -- and later moved them all together into my mental garbage can.

My post-Mormon experience with porn started when I took a look at the magazine collections of various boyfriends. (Yes, they were physical, printed magazines. Yes, I'm that old.) I also watched some porn movies with another boyfriend. I didn't find any of it particularly objectionable. As a straight woman, I figured that being aroused by the sight of naked women was an appropriate quality in a boyfriend.

Naturally I also looked for materials that would be arousing for me. I found that stories did more for me than pictures, but even sex stories aimed at women left me going "meh" if they were really graphic. I liked the erotic scenario better than having the mechanics spelled out for me. And one of the main themes in my favorite erotic scenarios was the thought of a man being aroused by seeing and/or touching a woman (see here). I guess that makes me a rather unique type of pervert.

Anyway, I'd analyzed my own sexual responses, and found the anti-porn faction of feminism treating me every bit as much like a piece of chewed gum as the church had: they told me, in essence, that I should feel ashamed of turning men on with my body; of letting a man "use me for his pleasure." It was a harsh blow to see feminists -- the people I hoped would counter shame I learned from the church -- were giving me the same "poor, fallen woman" crap in new words.

But I was determined to be a feminist, so I was determined to figure this one out. Then I learned the slogan "Porn is the theory, rape is the practice."

"Aha," I thought. "Pornography is bad because it causes rape. Well, if porn has been shown to cause rape, then I certainly agree that it's bad." The next natural question was "So does it lead to rape? Is there some hard evidence to back that up?"

Um, no.

Reading along in various feminist publications, I discovered a curious excuse as to why it was okay for feminists to fight to suppress porn -- on the grounds that it leads to rape -- despite the lack of real-world evidence to that effect: Women can see intuitively that porn inspires men to harm them, and we women need to value women's type of reasoning (intuition) more highly than we value masculine reasoning (logic and evidence).

Let me tell you that I was about to breathe fire when I saw that argued as a feminist position!!!

Now, I really hope that I misinterpreted that feminist article I read so many years ago and/or that it was just in some student publication or something. Because if any serious, respected feminist intellectual argues anything even remotely like that I really, really, really don't want to know about it. There I was -- a female Mathematics major -- fighting with all my heart and soul to demonstrate that reason and logic aren't something unique to men, and that girls can do math too if they're encouraged to try.

So I fundamentally disagreed with the anti-porn squad on practically every level right from the beginning. (Did I mention censorship? And how obscenity laws often get used first against gay materials and women's health information? And how a Dworkin-inspired anti-porn law has been ironically used to censor Dworkin's own anti-porn book?)

Yet I've never really been an activist about this subject. I read a few books (like Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights). I canceled my subscription to Ms. when I got fed up with its Dworkin-MacKinnonite stance and what a waste of feminist energy it was: a bunch of privileged white women navel-gazing about whether they feel "degraded" because some schlub is masturbating in the privacy of his own bedroom. Then I figured I was being a hypocrite since what am I on this issue but a privileged white woman navel-gazing about my sexuality? So I decided social justice was more important, and kind of put this issue on the shelf for a bit and focused on other issues.

I still think social justice issues are more important, particularly as they pertain to building a sustainable future for our species.

So why am I bringing this up now?

Hell, this is a blog -- I can talk about whatever I want. Navel-gazing about porn is no more a waste of my time than posting pictures of whale genitals... ;^)

46 comments:

MeL said...

One of my sisters was very actively involved in "Women For Decency" in Utah for a while. I refrained from arguing my stance, because I know it's one of "those" areas in the Mormon Church. Their campaign to get the Victoria's Secret posters in the mall covered, though, made my mind boggle a little.

Having a few (mostly artsy erotica in our case. Because, yes, we are artsy dorks..) DVD's around that stay in the locked drawer while the kids are little? Is not something I am ashamed of. When their brains are ready to deal with the idea of Sex, I hope they learn to explore it in a healthy way -- which, to my mind, will likely involve porn.

Just not MY collection. They can build their own. :)

I think the idea that it is demeaning to women stems more from the fact that most porn is created to market to MEN.

Susie Bright and others have caught onto the fact that the imagination tends to do more for a lot of women, and developed the artform of good erotica.

By the way, if you haven't already explored the Diana Gabaldoon series (starts with Outlander) it's some of the best meshing of really fantastic (and historical!) fiction and perfect erotic narrative I have ever come across....

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MeL!!!

Yeah, Susie Bright is great!!! I have a bunch of her books. I'll have to look into the Diana Gabaldoon series -- thanks for the tip! :D

toomanytribbles said...

off topic -- but on topic as well.

i was just reading through your blog when i got your comment. i really love it and you express so many things i've thought.

i'm a subscriber now.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey TooManyTribbles!!!

I'd been meaning to swing by your blog and thank you for including my blog in atheist blog video!!! I'll add you to my reader as well!!! :D

Jane Know said...

I agree with your article, entirely.

I think people who oppose porn don't give women enough credit, sexually. ;-) They think only men are aroused by porn videos and magazines, when that is definitely not the case. I agree that most porn seems to be catered to men (gay and straight)... yet women are fans, too. I don't know many people, men and women, who have never been turned on by watching or seeing porn.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Jane -- exactly!!! :D

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I'm just laughing that of all we did in Paris, this is what you blog about. Heh heh heh!

Kindom of Beer was fun. I believe the porn topic came up when the after-meal coffee was brought out and caused orgasmic elation. But maybe I'm remembering wrong. ;)

Freckle Face Girl said...

This reminds me of the documentaries on the history channel about the Victorian Era when female orgasms were considered taboo. Doctors used vibrators on women to cure them. Funny, but they just kept coming back for more. I guess some groups just haven’t come very far.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey SML!!!

It's not really that I'm blogging about this instead of a proper post about the Paris Exmo Expo 2007 -- it's just that I'm waiting for other people's photos before writing my real post, since I only got those five...

Hey FFG!!!

Yeah, those Victorian medical female orgasm stories are great!!! :D

JohnR said...

As a pro-feminist male and a father of a precocious girl who is rapidly approaching adolescence, I have mixed feelings about the intersection of porn and feminism. I don't think that there's anything immoral with the uncensored display of human sexuality, I am concerned with the sexual objectification of women. Porn, in general, seems to be a major offender in this space.

The more that I think about it, though, porn and objectification don't necessarily overlap: advertising continually reduces women to impossible to achieve sexual ideals, and there is plenty of explicit media which celebrates sexuality and brazenly titillates while presenting depth, complexity, art, reality (i.e. not reducing women merely to T&A).

Maybe this is my main beef with porn: the bulk of it seems to sell the same impossible dreams as Cosmo and Elle, Chanel and The Limited, Barbie and Bratz that fashion many of society's expectations and pressures for women. There's a wide gulf between, say, raw amateur video, Violet Blue's intelligent commentaries and the tattooed forms of the Suicide Girls on the one hand, and the exploitative Girls Gone Wild franchise and airbrushed Playmates on the other.

So maybe mainstream media and advertising isn't really that much different from porn in its portrayal of women?

JohnR said...

Oh, can I tell you how insanely jealous I am that you all get to have a Paris Exmo Expo?

Jane Know said...

freckle face girl said, " Doctors used vibrators on women to cure them. Funny, but they just kept coming back for more..."

HAHAHA!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John R.!!!

My main response to your argument is that I don't think that porn can be equated so easily with negative body images.

Here I'm defining porn as sexually explicit materials/media intended for sexual arousal. This includes a lot of things which don't necessarily have negative body image messages such as some stories and images that are realistic. On the other hand the mainstream media (as you point out) can contain plenty of very negative body images without necessarily being about sexuality. For example, in a typical sitcom, it's okay for the father to look his age (dignified), but the mom (and any non-comic female character) has to look young and beautiful. This sends an incredibly negative message (that women have to be beautiful to be central/important/interesting people) and it has nothing to do with porn or even sexuality at all.

I have the same beef with people who oppose porn because they don't like eroticized violence. If you object to eroticized violence (which I do), then say you object to eroticized violence -- it's not the same category as porn. One could easily argue that the fact that graphic violence is considered OK for children and explicit sex isn't is a big part of the problem (as producers replace no-no graphic sex with OK graphic violence in order to excite the audience).

Take this story for example: They manage to combine an extrememly negative female body image message with eroticized violence without getting anywhere near sex. I feel like I'd rather have my kids watching a complete, explicit graphic portrayal of consensual sex than that story, which apparently was on mainstream T.V....

p.s. about the Paris Exmo Expo -- yeah, it would have been fantastic if you could have been there!!! I think for the next one we might invite men... ;^) I'll write a post about it once the others have posted theirs so I can link to them. :D

Hey Jane!!!

The story I heard was even better than that: Some doctors were prescribing female orgasm as a treatment for various ailments, and were manually inducing it in patients. The vibrator was apparently a medical labor-saving device since the doctors didn't have time to perform this popular treatment on all the female patients that kept coming back for it... :D

I wish I remembered where I read that so I could link you to it. It was in blogspace recently -- if anyone remembers where, please post the link here.

Paul said...

I think of erotic art and porn as being two different but similar things. To me, porn is something that reduces its subject to no more than his or her sexuality. In doing that it degrades the person in much the same way that reducing anyone to just one thing degrades them.

For instance: If you reduce a person to no more than the fact they are Black, Jewish, Mormon, a particular nationality, or a member of this or that political party, then in some sense you are degrading them. Likewise, if you reduce a person to no more than his or her sexuality you are degrading them.

Yet, I think erotic art is distinct from porn in the sense that erotic art, as I use the term, reveals someone's sexuality without entirely reducing them to their sexuality.

Having said all that, I would much rather put up with porn than with censorship.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Paul!!!

I don't think one can so easily equate a sexuality-only portrait with an ethnicity-only portrait. Portraying a character as a pure ethnic stereotype (usually for ridicule) is about racism and xenophobia, which is a very different emotion than sexual arousal. It would be more reasonable to compare ethnic stereotypes with gender stereotypes (like the other day when some guy was praising his new iPhone and told me that "It's so simple that even a woman can use it!" then launched into a story about how his wife gets computer instruction from their 9-year-old son...).

I also don't think there's a clear dividing line between porn and erotica. I was at an art museum in Paris the other day and saw plenty of erotic female nudes. This stuff is as highbrow as they come, yet one could look at it and see women "reduced to their sexuality" if that's the message you're looking for.

Paul said...

You're too late to save me, Chanson! I've already blogged about my inane idea. That's what I get for blogging before I've fully woken up.

More seriously, I think your critique is a very good one -- and I'm going to have to give it some thought. Thank you!

JohnR said...

chanson said:

My main response to your argument is that I don't think that porn can be equated so easily with negative body images.

Here I'm defining porn as sexually explicit materials/media intended for sexual arousal.


I think we may actually be in agreement here, though I probably didn't state my argument as clearly as I should have. I'm operating on the same basic definition of porn as you, and I'm not condemning porn as a category.

I think what I'm trying to say is that there's good porn and there's bad porn, just like there are good and bad images of women in the mainstream media. You brought up the example of eroticized violence, which is certainly not limited to porn, and my focus is on those aspects of an entire Western media culture that generally portrays women as a set of limited stereotypes. It's this objectification that I, um, object to, not to porn. And porn <> objectification of women, at least not by definition or default.

That said, I might even go so far to say that sexual objectification is kind of like junk food--a horrible thing if it makes up the bulk of your daily intake, but not a bad thing if it's a small and tasty part of a nutritious media diet that includes plenty of portrayals of women and men (and everyone in between) that show their humanity. :)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Paul!!!

Thanks -- to be honest, my main goal in blogging is to provoke some thought-provoking discussion, so I take it as a major compliment whenever I inspire someone to respond to one of my posts with a whole post, whether they agree with me or not!!! :D

Hey John!!!

Actually, it looks like we're essentially in agreement. I really like your junk food metaphor -- sexual images shouldn't be the bulk of your (narrative) diet, but should be balanced with a variety of more substantial images/portrayals. :D

The Exterminator said...

C.L.:
Feminists who complain about women being objectified are the very ones who are doing the objectifying. To suggest that their "sisters" could not be interested in sex, even as a business, unless they're tools of men is insulting and degrading -- to women. It's just like suggesting that women could not be interested in food or cooking, unless they're slaves to men.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Exterminator!!!

I feel exactly the same way, and that's a good way of putting it. It pisses me off when women try to "help" me by telling me that my natural expression of my own sexuality turns me into a man's stooge or his kleenex.

It's like the women who say that porn is about "men possessing women": If they can't tell the difference between posessing a woman and possessing a picture of a woman, then they're the ones who are confusing women with objects...

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you hate mormons. If so, you'll love this story.

http://www.fightpc.net/showthread.php?t=75

sacred slut said...

Good post and thanks for raising this issue. I get pretty sick of much of the feminist party line, despite being, in my own mind at least, a feminist.

I love porn, which may not come as a surprise to my blog readers. Apparently I'm in the minority among women, or at least that's the story I hear. I like erotic pics, erotic fiction, movies, whatever.

What I don't like is men treating women disrespectfully (or vice versa, but that may be another story). I'm not sure that has anything to do with porn.

I have seen some really disgusting and degrading porn online. But I think this has more to do with modern American culture and the general atmosphere of disrespect and disdain for all people than it does specifically to degrading women relative to sex.

In my ideal world, men and women would both have a healthy interest in sex, a strong sexuality, and respect and reverence for each other and their bodies as a result. The respect/reverence probably has more to do with raising our children as humanists than anything else.

That's my theory anyhow.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous!!!

I certainly do not hate Mormons!!!

In the case of this post, I'm just talking about my personal experience with what I was taught about sexuality growing up. To be honest, many women who are active believing Mormons aren't happy about some things they were taught about sex and gender by the church. And I'm also not claiming that Mormonism has a monopoly on the patriarchal anti-sex crap -- it's just that this is the religion where my personal experience comes from. And all I've stated here is that Mormons preach against porn, and that they sometimes do object lessons comparing a sexually experienced girl with a piece of chewed gum (among other things). Most Mormons will freely tell you that this is an accurate description of what the youth are (or were?) taught.

Nothing I've written here earns me the charge of "Mormon-bashing" as the link you've posted appears to suggest. It's particularly sad that you've chosen to link me to a hate-escalating thread about how Mormons should hate Mormon-haters, etc. ad infinitum. If you read some of the other posts here on my blog and at Main Street Plaza, you'll see that one of my goals is to try to foster constructive discussion between current and former Mormons. If you have a constructive comment about any point I've made on this post or any other, please feel free to post it, and we can talk about it! :D

Hey Sacred Slut!!!

I know how you feel about feeling at odds with "the feminist party line". But feminists believe a lot of different things, and as far as I'm concerned, this post represents the feminist position on this issue even if some people believe that the feminist position is exactly the opposite of what I've written. I'm not going to just lie down and cede to them the title "feminist." I say let's discuss it, and may the best ideas win!!! :D

Anonymous said...

Three disjointed comments:

I've heard (don't know from personal experience) that the internet has helped facilitate the growth of the "eroticized violence" category of porn, which I find very unsettling.

But then I also find it problematic that the number of rape scenes in movies and television shows has gone up dramatically, while not being visually explicit. These scenes in general do approach rape as something to be condemned, but still, I'm unsettled by it. Do you suppose all the Law and Order SVU episodes serve to spread moral reprehension against rape? Or just to freak out women and parents?

And as is often the complaint among women, most of the porn I see (usually in a hotel room with my dh) is yucky. Unlike the soft porn we used to see on late-night TV in France, which was very female friendly.

Sam-I-am

BetaCandy said...

I think we talked about this once before :D, but:

One of the problems I encounter in talking about porn is the difference between how women and men perceive it. Example: I'm convinced the vast majority of men who watch Girls Gone Wild see it as a bunch of stupid girls getting manipulated into stuff they wouldn't ordinarily do, just for a hat. I'm convinced most of the men watching it - and certainly the creator, who is just hideous - are turned on by the feeling of power over women rather than by healthy sexual feelings.

What the women in the videos feel, however, might be a sense of liberation. So am I against GGW? Damn straight. Am I against the women in it, or do I look down on them? Nope.

Ironically, those of us on the other end of the spectrum - who've perhaps experienced sexual abuse or something and decided "sexual freedom" meant the freedom NOT to have sex unless we damn well felt like it - feel just as shamed and scorned by the majority of feminists, who are still trapped in heterocentric thinking. I know that's not precisely a porn argument - I'm just saying that it's all a symptom of feminism still being locked into the idea that a healthy heterosexual relationship is one marker of a woman's success. For the patriarchy, it's the mark of her laudable acceptance of male domination; for feminists, it's the mark she's overcome domination and gotten a man to treat her right.

Sexual freedom has GOT to get redefined as relative to the individual, not an independent value judgment.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-am!!!

I had not heard about the Internet facilitating the growth of eroticized violence, but it stands to reason that it would. The Internet is a way to get images anonymously, and all kinds of images that one would be ashamed or afraid to seek in person can be found at the touch of a button. However, this could easily be a case where people are seeking these images because they're aleady having such fantasies, not that the availability of such images created the desire for them.

On the other hand, I think you're right about eroticized violence increasing in mainstream television and movies (and probably also video games). That's the sort of thing I would be more worried about because these materials are broadcast to young people across the spectrum, and have a lot of potential to influence them. Allowing more in terms of portrayal of healthy sexuality could potentially counter the trend (along the lines of your example: I'm pretty sure that European television has more sex and less violence than American).

Hey BetaCandy:

You're right to point out the potential for women to be exploited because it is very real. To suggest that every woman who participates in porn enjoys it and feels liberated by it is as wrong as to suggest that they're all exploited and self-hating.

My hope is to throw off the simple view that "all porn is bad" -- not to replace it with an equally simplistic pendulum swing towards "all porn is good" -- but rather to allow for a more nuanced analysis of media portrayals of women, including erotic portrayals. Your analysis of GGW and its message is a perfectly reasonable one, and although GGW was the trigger for our earlier discussion, I don't claim to have an opinion on GGW in particular (I've never seen it).

Regarding the choice to have sex vs. not to have sex, you're right that we've talked about this before, and I think we're essentially in agreement. Liking sex and wanting to have sex when you want it naturally goes (in my mind) with the right not to have sex when you don't want it, which is probably one of the main reasons why rape decreases as porn availibility increases. However women seem to make a huge personal connection with one side of this coin or the other, and different choices represent liberation for different women. Since and people naturally project their own feelings on others, there's a danger of seeing the opposite camp as having chosen wrong, hence must be brainwashed, not liberated. So feminists unfortunately end up attacking each other. But I think the answer is to try to emphasize how sexual liberation requires that both answers -- yes and no -- be available as real choices.

MattMan said...

There was a great article on the porn/harmful topic a while back on alternet. It can be viewed here. It doesn't really offer any conclusions, just kind of lays out both sides of the argument. I don't totally agreed with all the points made, but some resonated with me and some didn't.

For example, the argument about violence and disrespecting women in the porn, how men get off by seeing women enjoy things that most "normal" women wouldn't -- that argument doesn't float at all for me. Ass slapping, anything that would hurt or demean (such as a facial or anything like that), I would have a hard time doing. It would simply go, well, limp. Maybe I'm not a typical male. I've heard that *some* women do actually like some of that. It would have to be proven for me, and the partner I happened to be with would probably have to beg me, several times, assuring me it was desired, and even then I'd still probably have trouble doing it (again, using hurtful or demeaning examples). And frankly, I'm having a hard time finding porn anymore that really appeals to me because I find much of it too demeaning. Why aren't there producers of more "normal" sex for porn? Surely I can't be the only one that would like to see some. But alas, I'm left trying to scrounge through 'amateur' or 'reality' porn that's often very mislabeled as well. sigh.

On the topic of feminism, this will make me unpopular, but in recent years, I've learned to cringe at the word feminism. Allow me to explain, though. I'm a victim of an abusive marriage that I only recently escaped from (not completely yet though). Under conditions that common sense would dictate that I would be a better custodial parent and not be screwed in the outcome of divorce proceedings, almost the opposite is the case. I'm clearly the victim, as are my children to an extent, yet because of the heavy feminist lobby that has swung the pendulum way too far in that direction, and because I haven't been beaten repeatedly to a bloody pulp, my ex gets custody (although I do get decent visitation and rights) and an overly unfair split of the community assets, which will be squandered instead of held dear for college educations like I will do with my portion.

Anyway, I digress. As a male victim of domestic violence, I was largely simply ignored or even laughed at. I've had a cop show up on my doorstep after I left the abusive situation to ask me questions, instead of the other way around. And trying to ask for help from DV agencies, *I* get questioned as to my motives, as if I'd make the shit up and be the abuser myself. WTF?!

I guess my point here is that labels are just that, labels. If I were you, I would not lose any sleep over not identifying with the label 'feminist' -- that word, in my opinion, has been hijacked in large part by a group of people who are often a disgrace to their gender and humanity as a whole. Why can't we just focus on *human* issues and be completely gender neutral? Why does that defy so many humans' common sense?

I firmly believe men and women should have equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunities. Gender should not factor in any of that. Are you an author writing a computer language book? Great! That pays $x. Shouldn't matter what gender you are.

Somebody abused you and your children? Fine, you are granted a divorce, an equal split (or even in your favor split) of community assets, and evaluation of parenting skills is done to determine primary custodial parent. Gender doesn't factor.

Same goes for sexual orientation, race, and every other thing that's used to discriminate (or reverse discriminate). What the hell is wrong with the world?

Ok, rant over. Sorry for dumping in your comment section. :) If by feminist you mean something similar to what I described above, in terms of gender neutrality/equality, then I'm all for that. Unfortunately, that's not so much what the word feminist has come to mean any more. IMO, of course. Before learning this lesson the hard, I would have strongly identified myself as a male feminist. Now, not so much. A new word/classification that's more, well, un-defiled, is needed.

Aerin said...

In my mind, part of the issue is that we don't know what causes rape. I understand that it's about power and violence. But I think that it is more complicated than that. If we had a real answer that understood rape, why it happens - how to prevent it (which as far as I know, we don't) it would be different.

Blaming porn makes it easier.

I agree that sexually explicit materials shouldn't be blamed for what is clearly a more complicated problem - that has to do with patriarchy, men, women, self-esteem, mental health, abuse, violence, etc.

Alon Levy said...

The internet has made all sorts of porn that doesn't get made in San Fernando Valley more available. Part of it is way more hardcore and violent. But another part of it is amateur porn, featuring couples who have sex in front of a webcam; that tends to be a lot more realistic than garden variety porn.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MattMan!!!

Regarding your first point, interestingly enough Greta Christina was just talking about how she likes spanking porn. I think a lot of scenarios (such as facials) are more conceived to show as much as possible to the viewer than they are respresentative of what the viewer desires to do. It's true much of it can be demeaning, boring, repetitive, but I don't see that as a reason to reject sexually explicit subjects entirely.

I remember your posts about your relationship, and I'm sorry to hear they didn't take you seriously. I would hope feminists (and people in general) would realize that a woman can be the abusive partner. It's statistically less commmon, but that's not a reason to laugh it off. I can definitely relate to feeling put off by a lot of the things the word feminism seems to represent. I'd like to think the movement isn't beyond hope, though...

Hey Aerin!!!

You're right, these kind of questions of human behavior are extremely complex, and you're not going to get very far by looking for a simple answer. Still, if there were a positive correlation between porn consumption and rape, I would be interested in studying it to try to understand it. But the actual numbers seem to point to an inverse correlation, so as a feminist who is interested in decreasing rape, I'm working on analysing this (see my other two articles on porn and feminism, linked above).

Hey Alon!!!

Very true!!! It seems like one of the innovations of the Internet is the presence of erotic imagery around ordniary people -- not just airbrushed models and people with super-endowments. This counters some of the complaints about some of the negative/unrealistic messages in porn. Really, improving the offerings seems like as good a solution or better than complaining about the bad.

BetaCandy said...

MattMan, I think you've misidentified the problem. It's not that feminism is in denial that women can abuse men; it's that only a small minority of people in our culture actually get how emotional abuse works.

My father was a very sneaky emotional abuser - he never said words or left bruises you could take to a judge. He held us hostage with the implied threat that if we tried to leave, he'd sweet-talk a judge into custody of me and finally get around to that sexual relationship he'd been trying to manipulate me into since I was 9.

He was a Baptist minister, a pillar of the community. I still believe even most feminists not particularly educated on emotional abuse wouldn't have believed my mother and me. But neither would... well, virtually anyone who hasn't lived through it.

I'm not saying you're wrong, precisely. I just think our entire understanding of abuse is so newly formed that we can't blame feminism for not single-handedly sorting it all out.

So I do what I can. I talk about my personal story, and I run a website that critiques film and TV's portrayals of women, and on that site I often talk about the disturbing lack of female abusers on shows as well as the disturbing lack of female heroes. My grandmothers were both abusive, too, and also pillars of the community.

I do identify myself as a feminist because if we abandon the term and leave it in the hands of people who've got it all wrong, then "feminism" gets a bad name and the alternative we'll be offered is to retreat to the kitchen and let the menfolk take care of us, and the very idea of depending on a man in any way terrifies me to this day, for reasons I assume are now obvious. Much better to reclaim the term, keep sending out healthy messages and eventually weed out the nutcases.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey BetaCandy!!!

That is an excellent point, and you've stated far better than I did what I really wanted to say about the term feminism:

Women are more than half the population, so a movement that promotes the interests of women is naturally going to come up with a variety of different positions and ideas, including positions that seem to be opposite one another. Just because I disagree with some of the things said by some who claim the label feminist, there's no way I'm going to react by saying "Well I guess I'm not a feminist, then."

Being opposed to feminism essentially means being in favor of traditional gender roles and subjugation of women, which is a lot farther from my position than even most feminists that I have disagreements with. Most of my disputes with other feminists have been more a question of priorities, strategy, nuance on complex issues, etc. I think it's a lot more productive to work within the feminist movement than to denounce the feminist movement (and all it has accomplished) and take our chances on whatever else is out there...

MattMan said...

Hey BetaCandy and chanson. I can buy both your arguments regarding feminism, and I am certainly nowhere near those who push traditional general roles. I applaud any and all efforts to reclaim feminism from those who have hijacked much of it.

I am for empowerment, so long as it does not oppress or deal unjustly in the process. I think both that, and making assumptions, are what cause most of the problems.

I would never want to make light of actual abuse cases (and I agree with BetaCandy that understanding emotional abuse is a serious hurdle we're far from overcoming) of men hurting women. However, the current stereotype of abuse being some man bruising up a woman, is grossly unfair now, and the numbers are hovering around and dipping below 50%, so it's not really even equal anymore (probably even less so if more men actually reported it, but that's another discussion).

But the assumption is still made that battering means male on female. If a guy calls the police to report abuse, the most likely scenario to play out will be that *he* goes to jail, even if he's covered with scratches, bruises, even blood and there's not a shred of evidence of battery on the woman who did it to him. Maybe he was verbally or emotionally abusive -- maybe -- however, in my opinion, words never justify physical violence; so that would be a separate case. And that's just the physical abuse cases. Trying to report emotional abuse is even worse, as we all know.

So my point really was that it's a human problem with both victims and perpetrators on both sides of the gender line, and instead of making assumptions that lead to the injustices I've suffered and gave a hypothetical example of earlier, why can't we instead rely on evidence and evaluation without any preconceived notions based solely on gender. Preconceived gender notions hurt men just as much as they hurt women.

That being said, I completely disagree with the statement that being opposed to feminism means being in favor of traditional gender roles. I am opposed to feminism as I've encountered (and been hurt by) it merely on the grounds that in my situation, it has succumbed to exercising the same inequality it claims to oppose (only with the gender roles reversed). And I'm certainly opposed to traditional gender roles -- those are some of the most sexist, unenlightened ideals ever held, and I agree they're worse than the inequalities I've experienced.

If enough feminists work to reclaim the title then I will once again support it wholeheartedly as I have before (and continue to support the noble ideals, minus the reverse oppression that has crept in). Until then, I'll continue to cringe at the word, as would any victim at the sight of their batterer. I sure hope this is fixed in the near future because humanity does not deserve to continue making these huge pendulum swings back and forth between extremes rather than embracing humanity and rising above oppression. If that's what feminism is about, then I'm all for it.

To make things a little more clear, knowing what I know of you, chason, and what BetaCandy wrote in her comment, the feminism to which I'm opposed has nothing to do with what you write that you stand for. I just need some aversion therapy on that word, I suppose, and am caught up in my own assumptions about what feminism is about based on my own experiences with some of the worst it has to offer.

MattMan said...

I'll just post one more thing, then shut up because my comments may come across to some that I'm a traditional gender role guy in disguise, which couldn't be further from the truth.

I couldn't possibly make my point any more clear than my domestic violence / children's rights advocate, Tami, who, as a woman, "gets" me. Here's a recent blurb she wrote on the topic:
http://tamikay23.multiply.com/journal/item/314/June_Domestic_Violence_Against_Men_Awareness_Month

And with that, I'll apologize for raining on the 'feminist' parade -- my own hangups with that word have little to nothing to do with this blog and the ideals of chanson. It would be great, though, to have someone like chanson behind this fight against the insidious usurpation of power of a great movement involving the long-awaited equalizing of women.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MattMan!!!

Don't worry -- your insights have been quite interesting and relevant. And I'm already on that beat, as you can see from my blog. ;^)

pornstudent said...

It's a pleasure to read a feminist who isn't opposed to porn.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey PornStudent!!!

They're not as rare as you may imagine...

Bull said...

Any time I've gone to an adult store at least 1/4 of the patrons have been female. It's obviously not just guys that are into it even though it mostly seems aimed at them.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Bull!!!

That's encouraging news!!!

I've always felt that -- for those who think porn gives negative messages about women -- the best solution is to take the initiative and create the type of erotic images that you like (and create a market for them) rather than standing on the sidelines decrying all porn.

JohnR said...

Here's an article from a feminist looking for "woman-friendly porn." It speaks to the struggle that many women (and men!) have to find porn that is not formulaic (and actually interesting).

The market creation idea is intriguing, but we're not ready to add film-making to our already overwhelming distractions. :P The problem is that there is a market for quality erotic film that includes women in its target audience (Zalman King has tapped into this), but I think it's viewed as high-risk. It's easier for producers to churn out what they know will sell.vd

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John!!!

Great article!!! I love the line "The unfashionable truth is that I have mostly embraced pornography on principle rather than as a personal practice." That's me to a T. She's right that it's weird that the stuff is so repetitive, given how much of it there is -- normally the "long tail" produces more interesting choices. Hopefully her plea for better porn will succeed. :D

rschauer said...

C.L. happened to stumble in here from a post on http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/
and I've given you a bookmark. Sheesh, what a thought provoking site!

And this thread on porn...I have to say it's so necessary since the memes we've (at least I've) been raised under were so wrong and false that at least you have the gumption to get the conversation "on track" that I feel the well worn phrase: you go girl!...is well earned.

Before I ask a pressing question I'd like to raise the issue of marriage...and all that that means in the xtian, muslim, mormon worlds and to simply say if porn is so bad...what about the memes in marriage? I'd also like to ask...so where does this leave us?

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Rschauer!!!

Regarding memes in marriage, are you saying you think marriage and marriage expectations should be defined differently? I've written a little about how marriage is evolving here and here.

Paul Sunstone said...

OK, it's been years since you posted this. But a link to it somehow appeared on my blog stats page today. So I clicked through, it was a new post of yours.

At any rate, I read your post, Chanson, and it is excellent. I wish that in blogging old posts like this one didn't just end up neglected, because they deserve to be read and re-read.

As for feminists and porn: I never have figured that one out. Perhaps it's just a manifestation of the tendencies the genders have of trying to meddle in each other's sexuality. I mean, men are always trying to remake women's sexuality in the image of their own, and women are always trying to remake men's sexuality in their own image to. So maybe that's what it's about. But I wouldn't know.

Paul Sunstone said...

That should have read, "So I clicked through, thinking it was a new post of yours."

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Paul!!!

Yeah, that's also why I added a sidebar widget that randomly selects old posts -- I hope people occasionally look at it and see an interesting old post they might have missed. :D