28 October 2006
say it loud, say it proud: i like abortion rights!
i'm gonna just paste it and then go on with a few more notes from there. so sorry if you read this twice, patrick.
or rather, yay more abortion rants from me. but then again, yay abortion, too. i'm damn glad it exists and that sentiment prompts me to send along another zoe williams article, which is also prompted by aforementioned sentiment.
it looks like she is doing a multi-part story on abortion, actually, on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of abortion rights being recognized in britain. i really liked the language-oriented stuff of hers that i read earlier, about irony and about the word "cunt", so it makes me happy now to read that she seems to be smart about politics as well. and to be clear by "smart" i didn't mean "agrees with me"; i'm honestly really happy to see HOW she's agreeing with me, which is in exactly the way that i happen to think is right. so yeah, maybe i just mean "agrees with me a lot". haha. but anyway i'm still happy to read these; it's really rare to get to see someone in a mainstream publication call lefties and moderates out for fearfully conceding to anti-abortion-rights people that abortion is "regrettable" or a necessary evil. i don't think it's evil and i'm tired of having to start that far back in the "debate" terms, or to just concede the damn thing and be pissed of it. like, isn't it *unwanted pregnancy* that's bad and maybe traumatic? i really disagree with the entire idea that abortion has to be that way too. in fact, the women who've had abortions mostly report that it isn't. by and large, the few women who say their abortions were traumatic were forced or pressured into the abortion by parents or partners. the rest are women who wished they didn't have to have the abortion -- they wanted to keep the pregnancy but knew they couldn't afford it, or found out that it would result in health risks or birth defects or stillbirth. those ARE awful and traumatic situations; but it's not the nature of abortion that makes it so. and if anti-abortion-rights activists really meant it when they said their aim in hyping up "post-abortion syndrome"* was to reduce the trauma visited upon women, then instead of doing that they'd be working to make it easier for women to keep the pregnancies they do want. they'd be voting to make healthcare more affordable and accessible; they'd be voting to increase assistance to poor families rather than shaming "welfare queens"; and they'd also be adopting disabled, chronically ill, or non-white children at a rate sufficient to fulfill their promises that every unwanted pregnancy can be solved by adoption. but they don't do any of these things, and their claimed position of wanting to protect women is very weak.
*there is no such thing as "post-abortion syndrome," it is not in the medical diagnosis handbooks, and very few women report depression or mental illness after abortions. post-partum syndrome, however, is very real, and it is figured to be one of the most common health problems afflicting women after childbirth.
update on nicaragua, and thoughts on anti-oppression politics
well, the nicaragua bill to ban all abortions, bar none, was passed unanimously in the legislature. it'll probably be signed into law soon. i am really upset that this is what reality is like.
this blogger has a disturbing take on it. her analysis chalks this up to using religion as a cover for plain old misogyny -- which sounds about right -- but also throws in something i'd never thought of, or even heard of:
I don't believe for a moment that people in Nicaragua are so pious as to need to have a theocratic government in place. It's more like this is the way they defend the institutional mysogyny that allowed them to laugh-off one of the biggest scandals to come out of the underbelly of the Sandinista revolution : Zoilamérica Narváez, stepdaughter of Daniel Ortega, the former sandinista president of Nicaragua, accused him of making her his sexual slave from the age of 11.narvaez alleges that ortega abused and intimidated her sexually for years. leftist leaders in the country, and in the region, have said little to nothing about it. that's the spirit of emancipation for you. it's distressing, and so is ortega's strong support for the abortion ban, which appears to be in the service of his electoral interests; but i guess finally i'm also not surprised. i've done a little reading about the sandinista movement and the revolution years and it seems that women contributed a great deal to the fsln, in both support and combat positions, and in return were excluded from the leadership and were told time and again that "women's issues" were not an immediate concern, were a distraction from the revolution, were divisive or counterproductive for solidarity within the movement, and would be dealt with after the revolution had succeeded. women were fine to have along as long as they wanted to help, but their interests did not count in party decisionmaking. this may have been because the leadership genuinely were willing to step over anybody to reach their political goals, or it could be that the narrowly-defined definition of "the goals of the revolution" were simply an excuse for continuing the sexism. the sandinistas are certainly not alone in this; this has happened in lots of leftist revolutionary movements. we should not make the mistake of assuming that all those who fight for equality mean the same thing.
in the same vein, i often see liberal boys and anarchist boys get a free pass on their misogyny, or give themselves one, because they "really care" about progressive politics. this happens a ton in high school and even college but of course the interwubs is filled with assholes too, and it's hard to know if they are prevalent in the general population as well. if you follow Democratic political blogs, you might know about one called DailyKos, considered one of the biggest players in the "netroots" and run by a guy who does campaign consulting for Democrats. i saw the exact same dynamic play out there, repeatedly, when Kos essentially told readers concerned with women's rights in politics or with sexism on the blog itself to go fuck themselves because he "[didn't] care" about dissenting opinions (i find it hard to believe he acts that way professionally) and thought the "bitching" was the same kind of "divisive" shit that loses elections for liberals. i had to paraphrase most of it because i can't remember all the details, but that was the sentiment.
anyway, i just wanted to update the abortion ban post, but while i'm at it i think i'll reiterate: we shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that all those who fight for equality mean the same thing. fighting class oppression is worthy and brave; but if you have to use sexism to assert your masculinity in this fight, your fight is wrong. fighting sex and gender oppression is worthy and brave; but if you argue that allowing the "feminine vote" will help counter the "pauperism, ignorance and degradation" of immigrants and former slaves*, your fight is wrong. fighting racism is worthy and brave; but if you resort to religious scapegoating to prove it's not you who is the enemy, your fight is wrong. and so on. i strongly believe that feminism, at its best, impels us to care about the rights of all people, and to stand against all kinds of oppression.
liberation is not a zero-sum game. i wish people would think on this more often. when we treat it like a zero-sum game, we end up politicking against one another for social advantage and polarizing potential allies, instead of supporting one another in opposition to all oppression. it's truly sad to me that members of all groups seem to want someone left underneath them to shit on, or alternately feel they need to shit on someone to get ahead.
*which one group of women's suffragists did do, i read, after being disappointed by their abolitionist allies' supporting the fourteenth and fifteenth amendment's giving the franchise to blacks and not to women. those words were elizabeth cady stanton's. she and susan b. anthony had both been close with abolitionist men like frederick douglass and took the decision quite bitterly. by the same token, of course, their abolition-movement friends had sold them out, too, accepting the feminists' help but not reciprocating in the clutch. same story.
24 October 2006
this bbc article reports that nicaragua's legislature is considering banning all abortions. what this translates to is removing the “life of the mother” exception on its already-existing abortion ban. currently nicaragua, like el salvador, allows abortions only when it would save a pregnant woman's life; and el salvador is no fucking picnic. recent articles i've read, and this post at pandagon, about the law in el salvador report that when a pregnancy is discovered to be ectopic -- "in the wrong place," usually meaning located in a fallopian tube rather than in the uterus -- still nothing can be done until the threat to the woman's life crosses over from certain-and-impending into clear-and-present. what this means is that the pregnant woman is ordered bedrest, monitored daily and hourly until her fallopian tube ruptures, and only then operated upon to remove the now-dying fetus.
that is how doctors have to follow the law in el salvador, and i would not be surprised if the same law in nicaragua is yielding the same results; it's hard to get details because national studies report that legal abortions are rare, but they estimate that illegal abortions number 36,000 yearly and are one of the biggest causes of women's deaths. this is all bad enough, but what is devastating is that nicaragua is now considering doing away with even this one tiny concession to women's wellbeing. the new version of the law would not even pretend to consider women and their fetuses as being of equal value, which to me is already insulting enough and deadly enough. this new version would make the categorical statement that women are LESS important than the fetuses their bodies might support. i still find it absolutely incredible that ANYONE would seriously entertain such a blatantly woman-hating idea -- let alone that the congress will probably pass it, and one of its supporters is legislator daniel ortega (current leader of the leftist FSLN, the party of the 1979 revolution) is backing it. sometimes, reading the news makes me cry.
as if that wasn't bad enough, yesterday i read some more about it, and apparently the individual who provoked this consideration, starting in 2003, was a nine-year-old girl raped in costa rica, whose parents took her home to nicaragua to request an abortion at a government hospital. public handwringing ensued on the part of many of the country's ministers, half of whom announced their hope that the abortion would be refused; president bolanos, later accused by his health minister of not being sufficiently opposed to the abortion, convened a panel of medical experts, who issued an ambiguous ruling that acknowledged that a pregnancy might kill the girl. finally her parents withdrew her from the government hospital and she obtained an abortion elsewhere, whereupon the catholic bishops of nicaragua announced that "everyone involved with the abortion" was excommunicated. (and you know, i'm actually surprised; i thought the Church was at least better than this.) those who wanted this girl forced to carry the pregnancy to term effectively wanted her sentenced to death. you'd think the public furor would have been over the fact that nicaraguan children face trauma and possibly death thanks to adults raping them. but all that i read about this horrifying part of it was that "a 22-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of raping her" -- but, as far as i could tell, neither excommunicated or nor threatened with death. god damn it.
i said, god damn it. what does it take, in this world, to be more valuable than the multiplying stem cells living off of your blood? in a case like this, not even a misty-eyed shout-out to "the innocence of children" can explain why a potential-mother should be less worthy than the non-sentient creature depending on her: this potential-mother was a child, and an already-born, living one at that, and yet this nine-year-old's right to stay alive caused furor in nicaragua, because it was not considered as important as the "right to life" of the "child" inside her. is a fetus truly more important than a nine-year-old because the latter has had nine years to sin? or did i miss something about "original sin"; does it not take up residence in your soul until the moment of birth?
or is it something to do with the tarnishing nature of sperm? anti-choice assholes tend to frame pregnancy as something that you shouldn't get a do-over on because you fucked up: you already made your choice and that was to have sex, you were a slut who couldn't keep her legs closed, you're irresponsible, you shouldn't be allowed to shirk your obligation now. but let's face it. when some assface raped this girl, she made no such "irresponsible" choice, and the catholic church still thinks she isn't worth saving. a spermed girl is a used up girl, and "sanctity of life" will not restore her hymen or her market value. cut your losses and save the pure, unborn seed of the child's rapist.
21 October 2006
of "man-hating" and "misandry," part 2
i don't know. is it possible to "reclaim" the word man-hater? because if we can realize "man" is just a construct, and define "man" as an embodiment of culturally-sanctioned masculinity -- a sexual egotist, a chest-thumper, blind to his privilege, an abuser, a rapist, the boss, the master, a power-slut, someone who takes what he wants without asking, someone who can't talk about feelings, someone who sees others as objects for his use -- then i definitely hate "men", and i would think that all forward-thinking people should. hell, real-life men ought to be revolting against "men", too. not by attacking women who challenge the conflation of construct and reality, not by calling someone hateful or crazy for putting patriarchy on a stage, not by expressing outrage at the depiction of violence against women in a way that disparages a man -- but by expressing outrage at actual violence against women, which frankly is committed, and justified, in all men's name, and gives men a bad name. if you don't like that, stop condoning it. can't you believe that it's not this playwright who is making you out to be all these things, but the patriarchy? i have a feeling the real offense is that you are used to the patriarchy also giving you moral blessing, and the playwright does not.
[fast-forward sound effect.] yesterday i read a post by amanda of pandagon, and today one by the happy feminist, addressing the "man-hater" accusation and its illogic.
amanda writes about the dixie chicks song "goodbye earl," about a woman and her best friend killing her abusive husband who can't be bothered with restraining orders, and men in texas karaoke bars who "kid on the square that it's man-hating" every time:
This makes me a little nuts, as you can imagine. How is it man-hating, unless you think both that all men beat women and that women should be complacent, or even worse happy, with this? They go to a lot of effort to establish that it’s Earl, a wife-beater, who has to die. At best, this song is wife-beater-hating. I wish they’d be more clear and just say women have no right to self-defense.
The phrase “man-hater” is more an insult to men than to feminists. Anyone who uses it generally means that the person thus accused is a rapist-hater, abuser-hater, sexist-hater. And when you call someone a “man-hater” who is actually hating on sexists, abusers, and rapists, you imply all men are these things. And they are not. So who are really the man-haters when that phrase is being wielded? It’s not the feminists; it’s the men implying that hating rape or hating abuse is the same thing as hating men.
HappyFeminist distills the analysis even further:
If you take male dominance as a given that is beyond question, then feminism comes to seem as a rebuke to men, a statement that they aren't doing a good enough job. In fact, feminism is only a rebuke to those men who believe in their automatic right to dominance, not to men in general.
Another common belief is that feminism is an effort to render men unnecessary or superfluous. Again, this belief about feminism only makes sense if you believe that a man's role is to be in charge of women. The distinction that is missed is that feminism only renders traditional roles superfluous, not men themselves. That distinction is easy to miss if you identify men with their traditional roles so thoroughly that you cannot see a value for men otherwise. In fact, feminism is about getting rid of arbitrary roles so that we can all, male and female alike, be seen as necessary and valuable for the individual abilities and characteristics we bring to the table.
amanda also talks a bit about this very common word among a certain subgroup of feminism-backlashers: "misandry". she calls bullshit on it, arguing that to make a word that sounds like the mirror-image of misogyny is fine, except that nobody hates men like women are hated. she refers to the two school shootings in one week, quite recently, in which men told boys to leave the classroom before molesting and/or killing the remaining girls. these incidents are something i've wanted to say something about for a few weeks now, and i just haven't been able to. but bob herbert wrote an op-ed about it for the new york times, and although it's timesSelect (i.e. hard to get to) i think it's worth a quick read, so i'll make a separate post with the text in it: read it here.
anyway. and some dude in the comments argued with amanda that yuh-huh, some women do too hate men. and she argued quite succinctly that there was nevertheless no equivalence between misogyny and what some people call misandry. and she responded "There are people who hate men, notably anti-feminists who think very little of men. However, attempts to equate the two will get you returned to telling me when someone sent the girls out of the room to rape and kill the boys." i thought this was a succinct and solid response, but the dude thought otherwise. then i tried to explicate her comment with a comment of my own, which produced more or less the following:
amanda already acknowledged that "there are people who hate men, notably anti-feminists who think very little of men." there are women anti-feminists who do this, too, so there is your man-hating woman. anytime someone is trying to sell you “boys will be boys,” they are hoping that you’ll think little enough of males to not hold them to a standard of human decency. and that sucks. but, in case you haven’t noticed, such people — men and women — tend to restrict that “hatred” of men to dismissing their humanity and potential for goodness. that is, though they may "hate" men thusly, they still do not go around singling men out for assault, rape, enslavement, or murder.
update: this topic is making the rounds in the blogs i read, and shakespeare's sister writes about what it is like to talk about sexism in a relationship with a good-intentioned man; reviews sara robinson's post on the subject of male violence, disenfranchisement and our modern, "toxic" culture of manhood/manliness; and addresses what a positive movement for redefining men might be like: "...if nothing else, it would provide that long-absent framework that men who are already interested in such an endeavor have been missing, the tools to finally begin extracting what defines manhood according to men from what defines manhood according to a patriarchy. They are very different things indeed." good stuff.
20 October 2006
foodblog 2: butternut-lemongrass soup!
one was. so imagine that, then mellowed out by the deep warm smell of browning sugar.
anyway, i'm getting a little carried away describing my butternut squash when i want to get to bed. so imagine a light, nearly-fruity version of butternut squash that echoes the melon smell with a little bit of apple, but supports the autumny side of squash with a few robust vegetables (carrot, celery, onion, garlic) and chicken stock. on impulse i threw in some lemongrass to bridge those two sides, and after a little more thought grated in some ginger. is this sounding good to you? i promise, it was good.
after a long simmer, i blendered and salted it. i decided i wanted a smooth soup, so i ran it through a sieve. set it in shallow bowls. topped it with cracked pepper and green onions, just like for a black bean soup. then i decided to try something a little different. i wanted an extra starch for the meal, so i piled a few spoonfuls of soft, short-grained rice into each bowl (i had to be careful not to let the rice fall into the soup and drown, but it helped that it was a bit sticky). and then, instead of sour cream or heavy cream, i pulled out some coconut milk (the unsweetened kind). just a spoonful or two, directly on top of the rice. it was a subtle taste but really pulled the dish together, i think. i am happy i made up a recipe as i went along, found it really simple, didn't have any accidents or emergencies, and pulled off the balance i was hoping to get quite well.
took pictures. the light underneath the microwave was on, it turned out, and i think that's why there's that gleam on the soup. it certainly wasn't congealed like the reflections seem to suggest. anyway, here are two. yay.
well, none of the pictures came out that great. it was evening when i tried, and i had a terrible time getting the light in the kitchen to a) be strong enough that i didn't have to set the shutter speed really low, and yet b) not look horrid and garish. but anyway here's a picture.
12 October 2006
freaky queer weirdos are your friends
i've heard a lot of people say things like, "i don't have a problem with gay people, but why does [lgbt person] have to talk about it all the time?", or "i hate it when people wear their sexualities on their sleeves like that", or "every time I hear someone identify as 'gender queer,' i.e. 'LOOK AT ME I AM SPECIAL,' I want to claw out my eyes". and i think it's easy to say these things if you've never felt your freedom or happiness threatened by hetero-normativity or by the sexual hierarchy.
because i don't have direct experience with non-heterosexuality, my understanding of this comes in two indirect forms. the first is through people who identify as queer or as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans-. some of them are writers whose project it is to make others aware of their existence and rights, and others are just friends of mine who happened to help me learn along the way. i don't want to claim to represent all or any of them or their experiences. i just want to lay out something pretty personal, which is how i've come to be more perceptive of my heterosexual privilege and more receptive to the desire some people have to make "coming out" a whole project, or to identify as "gender queer" or some variant, or to live their sexualities in a way that seems loud or insistent compared to how easy it is for straight people to live ours. the second avenue i've had for thinking about this is through my experience of being female. i know that you can't just map one oppression onto another, but realizing how my experience has been shaped by being a non-default, and an Other, in matters of sex and gender has supported my understanding of heterosexuality as being a default and a privilege too. so, onward.
heterosexuality means that when i choose a romantic partner, i don't worry that my choice will cause me alienation from my family or friends, the verbal and physical assault of strangers, the loss of employment, or legal obstacles to sharing property and having children. these are things that i pretty much never have to think about when i make deliberate choices about my love life, much less every day of my life. i'm immensely privileged in that respect. i recognize that these are concerns which could not only weigh heavily on one's mind but also lead one to chafe fiercely at such marginalization.
i also don't have to work too hard for potential sexual partners to make themselves available to me. that is, i'm a woman and if i'm interested in men i don't have to do very much to signal to men that i am interested in men. they just assume it. if i were interested in women instead? not only would it be way more difficult to have to actively signal to women that i consider them potential sexual partners, you can bet i would also have to find strategies to deal with the men who would assume they were in the game. i am privileged in this respect too. i recognize that if you're not straight, it might not always easy to "be subtle about it" and still pursue a romantic life.
these are very tangible threats to happiness that non-straight people might have to deal with all the time. another is the psychological strain engendered by being a peg with a hole cut out for you, one that defines the way you'll live your life, based on the genitals you pop out with at birth, and not liking or feeling at ease in that hole. for example, "penis and balls > will have sex with women, will support a family, can throw a punch, doesn't cry." a lot of the aspects of these expectations have slowly been weakened, but not all of them and not everywhere. making this one or that other one ("vagina and ovaries...") the only two available options in society -- and anyway, at birth you are simply assigned just the one -- can cause terrible pain for the rather significant number of people who don't feel comfortable with them, and sexual orientation is one those aspects.
if these things have never been a threat to you -- because you're straight, or you're financially comfortable, or you're surrounded by people who happily accept all kinds of sexuality, or you don't mind being hit on by the wrong people, or you're a relatively femme-y girl or studly guy, or something else -- then maybe it's never occurred to you to play with sex- or gender-role expectations, other than perhaps as a novelty among friends. but if your everyday life involves being aware that you're oppressed by norms of sexual orientation and gender, then wanting to revolt makes a lot of sense.
it could be said that i talk about feminist issues, and about being a woman in a patriarchal world, all the goddamn time. it's because i've come to see that it MEANS something, to be a woman in a patriarchal world -- it has an effect on your identity and your situation and your opportunities -- and i'm pissed about that. so, yeah, gender both exists (and is real and worth talking about) and is a construction (and is wrong and worth taking apart), and i think that answers why people can be against sexual discrimination but use their sexuality to define themselves. so i talk about how being a woman matters AND about how it shouldn't matter. and because i'm pissed i want to revolt fairly often and i can't blame others for being brave enough to try. i care about this shit -- and yes, having a stake in it, feeling personally threatened by patriarchy, pushed me into the realization that it's wrong -- and consequently i talk about it a lot. maybe it makes people want to claw their eyes out, but i can guarantee it's not frivolous or forced, which is what gender-fuck and vocal lgbt-identification are often dismissed as. i'm not big on physical accessories of femininity, for example makeup or heels (which in my life are for playing dress-up), but i've considered dropping altogether the ones i do indulge, like shaving or certain kinds of clothes, and i know that that would brand me in some people's eyes as "trying too hard" or "too strident" or "wearing it on my sleeve" or something like that. but i think it's a worthy idea, and the people who would make such judgments probably haven't had occasion to understand why the personal might be so political.
i am not going to argue that everyone who considers themselves lgbt needs to come out and do it loudly, or that everyone who has a problem with traditional gender roles needs to start gender-fucking. i pick my own battles and decide what strategies i'm comfortable with, and you do the same. lord knows i'm not that much of a rebel myself, when it comes to this; the best i can manage is to look dowdy. but, from the perspective of someone who hasn't chosen that route, i nevertheless want to make a defense of it. we are all aided by people who are willing to be really loud about how they are not cut out for the hole society says is theirs. these people are someone to look up to: they are brave and they are committed to their selves and to the truth. have you read about the Stonewall riots, and the early gay pride parades, and the radicalism of people shouting "we're here, we're queer, get used to it!"? do you remember the eye-rolling that attended our parents' mention of those crazy Gays, the ones who made it orders of magnitude safer for those after them to be out, whether loudly or quietly? i see this as more of the same. these people frustrate the attempts of society to say that they, and others in their boat, don't exist. the fight against that kind of identity fascism is not going to be won for all of the world's Others if we all adopt the strategy of saying "really, we are just like you!". as someone noted about the movie "guess who's coming to dinner" (a white couple struggles to accept sidney poitier as their daughter's boyfriend), "really, black people are just like us!" is both true and not true, and it does everyone a disservice to acknowledge only one side of that coin. you can't just statement-away oppression, so saying "we are just like you" is only half of the battle. it's true, in that no human being has more intrinsic moral worth than another; it's false in that society's prior judgments to the contrary have created two different ends of the oppression stick, and two (well, very many) different experiences of life.
the point is that for the people *i* can think of who have chosen to identify as some kind of queer, the motivation is that life is getting too difficult, or too nonsensical, having to be "feminine woman who likes men" or "masculine man who likes women" when they don't feel themselves to BE one of those things. it's not about making a fashion statement or getting attention or gaining cool, edgy friends; it's about already BEING something "queer" (that is, not-being something "normal", by society's own judgment) and finally fucking calling yourself that. it's no skin off my back, and in fact i see it as a positive social/ethical act, for me to support the validity of that kind of choice.
06 October 2006
porn, and a pandagon reading assignment
there is a post up at pandagon about pornography as an idea, the violence and misogyny in porn as it actually exists, the divide between feminists who consider themselves for or against porn, and a possible middle ground to bridge that divide. it's a very good, very thoughtful post, and it addresses almost all of the things that i consider important points about porn. i would really like it if people read it.
it does omit a few things that i do think are worth considering about porn.
1. currently a lot of porn hurts women in its production. i don't want to make it sound like by "a lot" i mean "100 films, which is too many, but thankfully not a majority." if you use porn and it isn't drawn or written, there is a good chance your porn is NOT "eco-friendly," so don't kid yourself. deep throat, arguably the most mainstreamed porno ever, involved rape and abuse, not just in the economic-dependence and emotional-pressure sense but complete with gunpoint and beatings, in case you are the type that needs to see non-sexual violence to convince you of sexual violence. i would hazard a guess and say that MOST porn involves some degree of coercing women, abusing women, and/or taking advantage of the prior abuse of women. MOST porn, for sure, involves a certain degree of exploiting women financially, in that they are generally paid peanuts compared to the profits and are sometimes lied to about the money they will receive. so even if you think that porn consumption has no negative effect on women, porn production very definitely has a negative effect on women. if you boycott shampoo that is tested on animals, you should probably be avoiding pornography.
2. the psychological effects of porn aren't limited to reinforcing misogyny, entitlement and resentment of non-submissive, non-acquirable women -- which amanda does a good job of covering. there's also that really obvious effect, something that i think the conversations i have tend to skip over these days because it's practically passe to talk about this, but anyway i'm talking about the false expectations it creates even in people who aren't outright misogynistic. it feeds ridiculous expectations of what women's bodies are like, of course, and this is something we talk a lot about with respect to advertising and young girls and such; but it affects older women too, and not just our ideas about our weight. breasts, of course, are a big one when it comes to porn; tons of actresses have fake ones, but even the ones on cinemax that might not be fake never--freakin--move, which is nuts because i know MY boobs jiggle when i run, not to mention fuck, so what is the deal exactly? but it's not just breasts; for example it freaks me out that there are cosmetic surgeons out there making big bucks on changing the appearance of women's vulvas, but i guess given that not a lot of us see other, unmodified vulvas that often and that playboy-style porn is becoming more and more mainstream, it's not that surprising that so many women are so insecure about their genitals. i know when i first took a look at mine i was horrified, and how are you supposed to figure out what's "normal"? in the days before all grade-schoolers had internet, that was pretty much impossible. unfortunately my introduction to the internet didn't help right away, either. i found the smooth, pink, bald, rounded versions of girl-parts BEFORE i found the wide variation that actually occurs in nature. way before. i used to worry that the first guy who saw my crotch would be horrified, too. and what if my asshole wasn't pink? i wouldn't even know!
anyway, but it's not even just the weird expectations about what we're supposed to look like. porn shapes expectations of what SEX is like, and how we're supposed to *behave*. was i really supposed to wail like a siren or shout obscenities during an orgasm? was i really supposed to have an orgasm as soon as a guy shoved his cock in me? was i really supposed to have an orgasm, at all, from penetration? it didn't feel orgasmic when i put a finger in my vagina; actually i didn't feel much of anything in there.. ohmigod was i DEFECTIVE? etc. was i really supposed to get rid of my pubic hair? was i really supposed to go THAT far down on a guy? if i didn't do any of these things, would i be weird -- or would i be letting somebody down?
it's pretty apparent to me that my first sexual relationship included some expectations, or at least strong suggestions for desires, that came straight out of porn. i never said anything -- because what are you going to say? -- but my suspicion put me in a weird position, because i silently felt that if i didn't fuck/suck/pose/whatever like a porn star, sex would be a disappointment. and i didn't want our sex life to be disappointing, did i? i think the exposure to porn (and the absence of honest mentoring about what sex IS like, but that's a whole other post) played a big part in neither of us actually knowing what else to expect when we got around to losing our virginities. this is not to say that the entire sexual relationship was ruined; only that as a young woman i would have been better off not internalizing what pornography suggested women are like in bed ("bed" being almost 100% metaphorical, of course), with my sandbox for finding out what sex is really like already colored by those same suggestions.
3. similar to that, i think porn stunts your sexual imagination. i think the repeated use of porn limits your own, organic capacity to imagine what sex could be like. you might think that it gives you new ideas, but even when it's doing that in terms of verbs ("i've never seen a girl do THAT before!"), it's drawing a line around "what sex is like", that is, in terms of adjectives, in terms of dynamics. the biggest thing is that pretty much all porn, to a greater or lesser extent, replicates or exaggerates male domination, transfering it onto the sexual encounter in ways that become an unquestioned basis rather than an added element like all the others. and arousal and orgasm are powerful feelings that basically reward whatever you did to get there (not that different from pavlov's drooly dogs); so even if you don't think you are getting off on the patriarchy of it all, you kind of are, on a chemical level, and after repeated reinforcement that is going to have an effect on what gets you off. maybe this is a different point from "stunts sexual imagination," i don't know.
all of this is not to say that i am positive pornography can never be acceptable. i'm not. i think in a much better, much less misogynistic world porn would not be so harmful, though i am not sure if it would be free of all of the various things that make it harmful. i'm open to the possibility, although in the meantime the whole industry is very, very fucked up and i'm not convinced it's worth holding out hope for. amanda's post contains a theory about why it's so fucked up when the majority of men we know do not appear to want to rape women or ejaculate on their faces or fuck them in the ass until they cry.
agh, i have to shower and do some productive things, it's gotten really late in the day. i'll try to come back to this later but i think i've hit the big ones. anyway, i hope you've already clicked on the link above and read the pandagon post, but if not, please do.
UPDATE: oh yeah, i remembered #4. amanda sort of glosses over what exactly the anti-porn feminist activists of the 1980s tried to do. i feel like this is a relatively unknown or misunderstood part of the work done by the anti-porn contingent of feminists and they are often reviled by people who don't even have a grasp of what it is they did that got so much attention. catharine mackinnon and andrea dworkin (this is why their names are linked in tirades) led an attempt to change the framework of laws on pornography, to replace the obscenity-law framework with a discrimination/civil-damages one. most laws about pornography were and are about obscenity, and about how "obscenity" is excluded from the free speech that is protected by the first amendment. obscenity laws rely on "community standards" and a social enforcement of morality, and they constitute censorship of speech that is considered not worth protecting. censorship is a problem for a lot of us, because it's highly illiberal and most of us value the first amendment. a more appropriate way to respond to pornography, these activists felt, was to create laws that classed it as discrimination against women and would allow women who were harmed by porn to file suit against its creators. this seems like a pretty sensible idea to me. if porn is actually harmless like people say it is, then the industry should do just fine. if it isn't, victims can be compensated and try to prevent the harm from being repeated in the future. unfortunately, the movement had some unsavory bedfellows, namely republican conservatives who were not known for their defense of sexual expression, were trying to prevent sex shops from opening in their neighborhoods and attracting a clientele of undesirables, and had been just as much in favor of obscenity laws (as well as zoning laws intended to that effect) as of this latest strategy. the attempt to pass civil-suit laws succeeded in two different cities in the midwest, but i think they might both have been repealed since then. anyway, it sounded like a good idea to me, but even i know that if right-wingers are jumping into bed with you it's time to adjust your strategy. there is some very interesting reading out there about this, i'll try to find my bibliography when i get around to unpacking all those damn boxes.
04 October 2006
inaugural post: feminism Q&A! (blog intro to come.)
repost: livejournal entry from 9/14/2006
ok. i have a proposition. first a little background, which is that i read several feminist blogs.
--and here i have to digress and plug the one i hit up most often, pandagon, which updates several times daily and is pretty fucking good. it covers a wide field of feminist issues, and also race issues, religious fundamentalism, economics and poverty, neo-conservatism and the war, and so forth, and any intersections among those things. it's pretty strongly focused on how these things play out in the states and in current domestic politics, with most of the posts inspired by current news stories, and since i am so tired of most newsmedia lately it's basically where i get my u.s. news these days. hey, it works for me. doesn't hurt that the writing is no-nonsense, trenchant and mostly spot-on smart, AND occasionally wrings out a laugh from a pretty depressing state of affairs. so yeah.--
ok. so amanda marcotte, one of the pandagon writers, wrote a post that led me to check in on another feminist blog, one that i used to read but had lost over the summer. this one is called molly saves the day, and in her latest post molly has invited readers with (honest, good-faith) questions about feminism, no matter how basic or "dumb", to go ahead and ask them without fear of being a nuisance to the more versed feminists or of being sent off to read more stuff. as she disclaims, though, feminists are within their rights when they say things like "it's not my job to teach you about this, it's your job to teach yourself about it". (quick mini-paragraph about this: this is true, and it's something feminists will often say to those questions, the same way a lot of people of color say that they do not want to be teaching "black people 101" or similar such things, and you could imagine the same about queers who don't feel willing to make it their life's work to educate others about being them. i mean, you might think that anyone would WANT to or feel a DUTY to do that sort of thing -- but there is one group of people who essentially never have to do any of that stuff, because everyone else already lives in their reality and has to know about it just to function. and i don't think it makes sense for well-off able-bodied straight white men to demand explanations of everyone else, they ought to have to do some active learning too, and there is plenty of stuff already put out there by people who DO want to spend their time educating everyone else.) but on the other hand, an occasional boost from someone who knows the material like the back of their hand can be really helpful and engaging, and if someone feels like going the extra mile for others then that's great, so molly's offering her (personal, individual) answers to whoever wants. and, since no one feminist speaks for "all of feminism", amanda in this post, and jill at feministe, and who knows who else, decided to do the same.
so, i like this idea, and if i thought more people read my posts, i'd do it too. i'd like to add my voice to the variety of voices, i just don't know if there's anyone reading this who'd have any questions they'd want me to answer. because this is still definitely a "journal" even though i've been running it a little like a "blog" lately, and by that distinction all i am really saying is that i haven't publicized it and strangers don't read it (i think). that said, i'll still extend the offer. so, thing-one is, if you want me to answer any questions in this vein, ask away. thing-two is, if you just want to get a sense generally of what various feminists out there are wondering about and stating, you should visit one of these blog-posts' comment threads. they touch on things like tensions among feminist women, tensions between feminist and non-feminist women, internalized sexism, what men can do to be pro-feminist, reading resources for more edification, etc.
ok, that's all. in the next few days i hope to post some other, really worthwhile blog reading i found recently.