Tag Archives: Clive Hamilton

The battle for control of the sexual discourse

21 Mar

One thing that remains unacknowledged in anti porn literature I’ve read is that classification guidelines in Australia already address the kind of pornographic sexual violence to which the campaigners are opposed. This is well explained in Nick Ross’s article on the classification riddle, with these examples of what the “Refused Classification” category disallows:

No depiction of violence, sexual violence, sexualised violence or coercion is allowed in the category. It does not allow sexually assaultive language. Nor does it allow consensual depictions which purposefully demean anyone involved in that activity for the enjoyment of viewers.

Fetishes such as body piercing [and tattooing], application of substances such as candle wax, ‘golden showers’, bondage, spanking or fisting are not permitted. As the category is restricted to activity between consenting adults, it does not permit any depictions of non-adult persons, including those aged 16 or 17, nor of adult persons who look like they are under 18 years….

Depictions of bestiality, necrophilia, incest, drug use, paedophilia, detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime, high-impact violence and cruelty

And with regard specifically to violence associated with sex, the following is in the refused classification category: Violence: rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment. This includes actual violence (shooting, punching, pushing, throwing a person, etc), implied violence (gunshot sound effect, news article, mugshots), aftermath of violence (person with injury, dead body), threat of violence (“I’ll kill you”), and violent behavior (woman holding gun while engaged in sex with man). Note down ANY and ALL violence, even if it looks contrived or unrealistic (plastic swords, etc). Depictions of dead people are also not permitted.

 When we have restrictions such as these already in place, what more can anti porn campaigners want?

In my opinion some campaigners are engaged in a moral battle to control who may desire whom, when and how. Their arguments are founded on conservative moral assumptions about what sex is or ought to be, how it can and can’t be performed, and by whom. To this end they define pornography as not about sex, but solely about violence against women.

Anti porn campaigners conflate sexual violence and exploitation with pornography to strengthen their argument against it, even though there’s a variety of porn available, from the inoffensive to the frightening. They allow no exceptions: their position is that all porn is bad because all porn is inherently violent and exploitative.

They also conflate fantasy with reality. Women who enjoy rape fantasies for example are not usually hoping to be raped. Some 31 to 57 per cent of women are estimated to have such fantasies, and there are other fantasies both women and men enjoy without the desire to act them out, as this article explains. Mentally healthy people know the difference between fantasy and reality. What I suspect anti porn campaigners would like is for people not to have fantasies of domination and submission, or any other fantasy that involves what the activists perceive as contrary to what sex is “supposed” to be. The battle is not only to control how we perform sex, but also to control how we imagine it by casting desire as violent and exploitative if it transgresses conservative boundaries.

For some women the consumption of porn is a radical act, and the acknowledgement that we experience desires not traditionally associated with our sex can be liberating. This doesn’t make us disturbed or bad. One of the dangers of the anti porn campaign is that it seeks to repress desires it considers inappropriate. This includes women’s desires, and as we have not yet entirely clawed our way out of sexual repression we need to be conscious of the possibility of losing what we’ve gained.

Porn undeniably appeals strongly to emotions and desires, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much of it. Pornography conveys a multitude of messages that elicit complicated responses. Sexual emotions are immensely complex. Many of our desires are formed or influenced long before we begin our sexual lives. Pornography, whether those against it like it or not, speaks to us about very real desires. Not all of them are easy to accept, nevertheless we are creatures of the dark as well as the light, and accept this we must, bearing in mind that we have laws in place to deal with real violence and exploitation.

Anti porn campaigners often express a view of sex that is sentimental and euphemistic. Sex should be devoid of messiness, vulgarity, impulses to power and aggression of any kind. Certain sexual acts disgust them, as campaigner Gail Dines makes graphically apparent. What really matters in sex, they claim, is the relationship. Sex as the expression of complicated emotions, not all of them pretty, sex as a performance of erotic power, male or female, and sex as a means of gratifying physical desire without emotional commitment, is apparently abhorrent to them.

As  campaigner Emma Rush wrote recently: “To be anti-porn does not mean being anti-sex. Rather, it promotes sex in the context of loving relationships.”  Yet “loving relationships” are only one avenue of sexual expression. Sex takes place in many contexts, and to imply that unless it is in a context of “loving relationship” it’s violent, destructive, immoral and pornographic is blatantly wrong. For example, is the author saying that couples in the throes of separation ought not to have sex because they no longer wish to maintain their “loving relationship?”  Is she arguing that nobody should have sex until they know they love one another? Just what is her definition of a “loving relationship?” What passes for love may at times be far from what some consider ideal, and love can be as confusing as sex.

Another anti porn activist, Clive Hamilton, makes this observation about “casual” sex: Perhaps this is why many people are left with a vague feeling that each time they have casual sex they give away a little of themselves, that something sacred is profaned and they are diminished as a result. Casual sex truly is meaningless sex.

The construction of a sexual ‘ideal’ or indeed an ideal of “love” that is exterior to the imperfect human condition, complete with prescriptives and prohibitions for its attainment, is not entirely dissimilar to constructing a theology, in that both demand an act of belief in a point of origin, an authoritative external presence, from which instruction on the rightness or wrongness of a practice emanates.

Claims of the rightness of a sexuality confined to “loving relationships” and the alleged profanity of casual sex must refer to the commandments of some metaphysical authority, unless Rush and Hamilton assume an infallible authority for themselves. Alternatively, their positions are social constructs, and if that is the case, we need to be convinced why they ought to have more influence over us than any other social construct. Empirical evidence for claims is the best way to establish this. Rush and Hamilton et al need to prove the “sacredness” of sex, the profanity of casual sex, and the need to confine sex to loving relationships, or risk being perceived as founding their campaign in a crypto theology that is of no real consequence to anyone other than those who believe in it.

While there is no doubt sex can be a powerfully binding metaphysical experience, this is not its only function. And isn’t it possible to have an intensely powerful experience with a “casual” partner? Sex can transport us to an altered and exalted state of consciousness. Sexual emotions can break through inhibitions and boundaries. Does it happen every time we have sex? If it doesn’t, even within a loving monogamous relationship, has sex been “profaned?”

Demagogic moral outrage of the kind exhibited by many anti porn activists is fuelled by emotions that cast any sexual practices other than those they deem acceptable as immoral and violent.  As the law already offers protection, anti porn campaigners are likely on a crusade for social purity based on personal preferences.  It’s a battle for control over sexual expression, for what people do and watch in the privacy of their homes. It’s a battle to control the manifold expressions of desire.  It’s a familiar battle for control over the public discourse on sex, and it’s one that must be contested whenever it reappears. Replacing one dominant representation of sexuality with another is no answer and does little but create another class of “deviance.”

Hysteria: Phreudian phallusy or what?

5 Jan

In the latest issue of The King’s Tribune there’s an article by one of the editors, Justin Shaw, titled “Porn is Bad.” It’s a must read for anyone with an interest in the politics (poetics?)of porn from the perspective of an articulate and honest male consumer, rather than that of anti porn activists, or academics arguing against them.

I was delighted to read the piece, as its long been my complaint that voices such as Shaw’s are not  included in the debate. Though I hesitate to use that word, seeing as the anti porn activists brook no debate. You’re either with them or against them in their war on the producers, actors, and consumers who in their view form the pornographic axis of evil.

In the second paragraph of the piece you’ll find this comment: “Gail Dines gave a series of hysterical screeches when she visited Australia last year…” An accurate and unremarkable assessment of Dines’ performance I would have thought, but no. This innocuous observation provoked a surge of outrage on Twitter, with tweeps complaining the comment was misogynist. Everybody knows or should know, they argued, that the term “hysterical” has been used to denigrate and discredit women, especially feminists, for decades, and Shaw was allegedly perpetuating that abuse in his description of Dines.

You’ll get no argument from me that “hysterical” has indeed been used to discredit women. I just wonder though what we will be left with if we demand the discontinuation of all terms that can be used to discredit women, and for that matter, men. I have on more than one occasion used the word “hysterical”to describe the behaviours of certain male politicians, and I think I might have once unkindly attached it to Clive Hamilton after reading one of his more florid anti porn rants. Colloquially, the word is used to mean emotional excess, mental agitation, and loss of self-control.

The term “mass hysteria” is not gender specific, and is used to describe the behaviours of groups containing men, women, transgendered and un-gendered people. In sociology the more frequently used term for mass hysteria, is “moral panic.” I rest my case.

So what is the (potted) history of “hysteria?”

It was apparently Hippocrates who first used it to define “disturbances of the uterus” thought to cause all manner of ailments peculiar to women (“hystera” meaning womb) though there are arguments about that explanation of its origins.

In the mid to late nineteen hundreds the many and varied symptoms of hysteria were attributed to sexual dissatisfaction, and physicians treated their female patients with “pelvic massage”, that is, clitoral stimulation to orgasm. In order to spare physicians this arduous task, women were eventually dispatched to midwives for treatment, and then offered vibrators.

An aside: I can attest to the value of midwife administered orgasms. My second child was born in a bean bag at home, and I was attended by a midwife. At some point in my labourings, she tenderly applied an herbal cream to my lady bits and in the process, brought me to a spectacular orgasm. As I was groaning anyway, none of the assembled spectators were any the wiser. I strongly recommend this practice as an aid to delivery.

Back to hysteria. French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot became fascinated by inexplicable paralysis in some of his female patients. As there appeared to be no organic reason for their troubles, he decided psychological factors were to blame. To this end he hypnotised them, in an effort to discover the repressed traumas he suspected were being expressed physically.

And then came Freud. Fascinated by Charcot’s theories, Freud gave the world his brilliant (if not always accepted) theories of repression and conversion disorder. Initially he confided to his colleague and friend Wilhelm Fliess (a man with bizarre opinions about the purpose of the human nose, but that’s another story) his belief that much of the hysteria he found in his female patients originated in premature and abusive sexual experiences during their childhoods in middle class families. This was perpetrated on them by relatives, or nannies. With no means of expressing their trauma, or even acknowledging it, Freud’s female patients converted their distress into any number of psychological and physical symptoms that were, in his terms, hysterical. That is, without apparent organic cause, sexual in origin, and particular to women.

Unsurprisingly, Freud’s insights into middle class family life did him no good in the climate of the times, and it’s alleged that he dropped them in order to save his reputation. He then came up with his Oedipus Theory, and there’s debate as to whether that did him a lot of good either, but that’s also another story.

The problem is the symptoms of hysteria are still inevitably defined as female, yet we know this is a nonsense. As Freud well knew men are also sexually abused, and can suffer after effects every bit as “hysterical” as those endured by women. Freud would have done us all a favour if he’d coined a non-gendered term to describe the symptoms he observed in both male and female patients as a consequence of repressed trauma, but alas, he did not, and here we are in 2012 still fighting about hysteria.

In defense of Shaw, his sentence doesn’t read to me like a misogynist use of the term: I can think of no other that so accurately describes Dines’ performances and her intention to inspire moral panic (mass hysteria) in her audiences.

And she almost succeeded for this viewer when she used the acronym ATM to describe a sexual practice that I do not find inspirational. In the elegant words of @ruminski this concerns [redacted lower body orifice] to [redacted upper body orifice]. It has nothing to do with cash dispensers, except if you’re paying for it.

Following Meatloaf, I will do anything for love, yes I will do anything for love, I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that. No, I won’t do that.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and attempt to rid ourselves of all language that can be used to denigrate somebody. Intention is everything. In my view, Ms Dines speaks hysterically on the topic of pornography, with the intention of provoking moral panic. I can only hope that the outrage provoked by Shaw’s use of the term does not blind readers to the importance of his observations. I wish he’d publish them on the Drum as well.

Pornography, the Internet and class

8 Nov

On the Drum today, I’ve got a piece on anti porn activists and the internet filter. Thanks, Jonathan Green for publishing another point of view.

It seems reasonable when faced with strident action against a social more to require those opposing it to put forward their preferred alternative. In the case of anti pornography activists, it’s apparently impossible to persuade them to offer a framework of how they think sexuality ought to be expressed. Like Opposition Leader Tony Abbott they just say no, without proffering any other policies.

Viewed in the best light, anti porn activism is a cri de couer for the protection of women who some activists believe are exploited and degraded by the very existence of pornography; for the protection of children who may access internet content they are emotionally ill-equipped to process, and for the prevention of possible individual psycho-sexual harm that might interpolate itself into the fabric of society.

At its worst anti-porn activism is an attempt to control and shape the culture to fit particular religious, ideological and/or moral agendas. The moral entrepreneurs who are at the vanguard of the anti porn movement are overwhelmingly middle class, and it is from a middle class platform that they launch campaigns that express the horror, disgust and outrage evoked in them by pornography, as well as what they believe to be its ruinous effects on sexual relations.

All pornography is positioned by activists as deviant, regardless of the content. It’s extremely difficult to ascertain just what their range of “normal” sexuality includes. One activist, Professor Clive Hamilton, refuses to use the word “vagina” when attempting to describe close ups of “well, I don’t know what” in early editions of Playboy, for example. Many would find this male squeamishness towards female genitalia offensive. Are we to regress to such euphemisms as “down there?”

Those who produce, create and consume pornography are perceived as deviants who must be rescued, punished when appropriate, and hopefully redeemed to participate in non-pornographic sex. Global eradication of anything other than “normal” is the goal, without ever stating just what that “normal” might be.

Accounts written by activists of what they have seen in their forays into the netherworld of porn are like dispatches from Dante’s second circle of Hell:

The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.

Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn.” 

In this account of internet porn by academic Dr Abigail Bray the porn world is entirely comprised of victims. Young girls, women, grandmothers, feminised men, and animals are subjected to horrific violence, and all of it done to them by men.

I haven’t viewed any of these sites. Taking Dr Bray’s descriptions at face value and imagining myself part of such a world feels unspeakably awful, but that’s my personal reaction, not a universal absolute. Pornography is an expression of the vast and sometimes very frightening range of human sexuality, whether I like it or not.

It isn’t made clear if the victims (other than children and animals) have been forced to participate in these acts, but it is an assumption with which the reader initially co-operates. The description asserts “countless sites” depicting such pornography, so there must be correspondingly “countless” numbers of adult human beings engaging in its production, either by choice or under severe duress.

Who are these human beings and how did they arrive in the Second Circle? As yet there’s no comprehensive answers to those questions. Women who work in hardcore porn are, unsurprisingly, resistant to inquiries by outsiders

Women who have consented to interviews disassociate themselves from the kind of porn Dr Bray describes. They also express considerable aggravation with anti porn activists, who they feel are insulting and patronizing. They accuse anti porn activists of making life more difficult for them by portraying them as psychologically sick, morally bad, victimized, and in need of rescue. In so doing, the women claim, activists are in fact supporting porn producers in their opinion of the women they hire as disturbed, and highly exploitable. They also feel unfairly lumped in with women who endure more extreme hardcore violations. In the pecking order of the porn world, some women are proud of the choices they make and resentful of those who see them as part of an homogenous victimized mass.

Activists put forward hypotheticals in an effort to explain why women participate in violent and degrading porn. For example, they claim they are frequently women who were sexually abused as children. They are women who have developed high levels of tolerance for abuse, and have “abnormal” attitudes that permit them to accept degradation and violence others would find abhorrent. They are women who can’t or believe they can’t obtain employment in any other field. They are poor women, uneducated women, ignorant women. They are women who have sustained such damage that the question of choice doesn’t even arise: they don’t know that they are suffering because they have lost or never had the ability to recognize abuse.

There is little research available to confirm or deny these assumptions. The hypotheticals originate from middle class sexual morality and values, and/or religious beliefs about women and sexuality. There is often little attention paid to the social and political contexts in which the alleged early life abuses take place, or the economic systems that cause female poverty. This lack of analysis could lead to accusations of attempting to treat the symptoms while ignoring the cause, always an exercise in futility.

Assumptions about women who perform in porn need to be investigated through empirical research before they can be evaluated, rather than accepting classist, moralistic and religious prejudices as a basis for public policy. As things stand, a deviant underclass is constructed by anti porn activists, against which the moral values of middle classes voices raised in protestations of “isn’t it awful” and “what about our children” can be reassuringly measured. This is not helpful.

Very little hardcore porn is currently produced in Australia. There is not much homegrown activists can do to rescue women in sovereign nations that do produce it, and many of those countries already have legislation against some if not all the violence that is acted out.

However, activists are concerned that hardcore porn is easily accessed on the internet and is inserting itself into everyday Australian life. It’s claimed that a degradation of sexual values inevitably occurs, particularly amongst young people, many of whom are allegedly taking their sexual education from sites such as those described by Dr Bray, and enacting loveless, violent and genital-focused sex that uses women as objects for male gratification, and not as equal participants in a mutually satisfying act.

Anti porn activist and academic Gail Dines claims that 11 year-old boys are viewing violent porn that “deforms their minds,” though she offers no research to substantiate this claim. If 11 year-old boys are accessing hardcore internet porn, the responsibility for that must rest with their parents, who also bear the responsibility for offering their children intelligent sex education. Presumably middle class parents are considered more likely to do this, so are Dines and her followers referring to lower status families who apparently can’t be trusted to do the right thing? Where do Dines’ porn-consuming 11 year-olds come from? She doesn’t reveal the demographic.

Many activists such as Clive Hamilton see the problems presented by the internet as a matter for the state. They want internet censorship. In other words, the state must assume the role of disseminator of middle class religious and ideological sexual values, by imposing a ban on anything that class considers deviant and polluting. The activists apparently do not trust parents, or at least parents of a lower socio economic class to monitor their children’s internet adventures, for example with software that will filter content on the home computer. They argue that this responsibility belongs with government, and they seem to be entirely oblivious to the dangers of giving any government control over what its citizens may and may not view in the privacy of their own homes.

An Australian internet filter will do nothing to assist women who are unwillingly enslaved by pornography producers. It quite likely will exclude innocent sites, or be easily bypassed. The proposed list of banned sites is itself banned from public scrutiny, and that restriction alone should give us serious cause for alarm. As the link also reveals, there are already strict if somewhat mysterious classification laws in place in Australia.

But activists need to justify their existence, to show effectiveness, and to win respect from their peers. In this situation, the only possible measure of their “success” will be an internet filter. Their message is: you can have a sexual life like ours if you follow our sexual rules, (though we have yet to be told what they are) and our government will help you do that by forbidding you access to anything else. This places the government’s authority above God’s: at least God apparently permits free will, and the right to go to hell any way one chooses.

As the late Susan Sontag, American author, feminist, literary theorist and political activist, put it in her 1967 essay “The Pornographic Imagination”: If so many are teetering on the verge of murder, dehumanization, sexual deformity and despair, and we were to act on that thought, then censorship much more radical than the indignant foes of pornography ever envisage seems in order. For if that’s the case, not only pornography but all forms of serious art and knowledge–in other words, all forms of truth–are suspect and dangerous.


 

 

 

 

 

 

The woman and the octopus, or how anti porn activists sabotage their own message

20 Oct

This article was first published in On Line Opinion

It ought to be de rigueur for anyone warning society about the perils of pornography to first state what they consider to be pornographic. As it is, the word is used to describe everything and anything to do with the public display of sexual behaviours, from the most innocuous, to the most stupid, to the most alarming, violent, and frightening. In fact, the word is rapidly becoming meaningless as anything other than code for “here come the wowsers,” and activists have only themselves to blame for this. They are heeded largely by those who already agree with them, which is useless in terms of getting any serious action going against the kind of pornography that damages people. They refuse to see that in tarring all pornography with the same brush they are sabotaging the message with generalizations and stereotypes, and that this deafens people.

In reality, many of those who dispute the anti pornography position are decent people, highly indignant at the activists’ lack of discrimination in determining the pornographic, and understandably resistant to having someone else’s moral perspective imposed upon them. One person’s sexually objectifying and degrading music video is another’s reference to surrealism and the politics of race, yet it could likely be that both are in agreement on the undesirability of violent porn.

From the outset the activists are frequently defensive, oppositional, and cult-like in their fervor and insistence that their interpretation is the “right” and only one. This is no way to get a message out to anybody other than those who already agree with you.

Agreeing on the pornographic

While what is considered pornographic can be very subjective, there are some criteria which most of us would agree could be used to set a community standard. Government regulation is already in effect in every medium other than the Internet, and I think, outdoor advertising. The Internet is a rogue beast. I would agree with the same restrictions on Internet content as are in place in every other medium. The problem is technical: how do we do that?

It’s likely true that since the advent of the Internet, public tolerance for sexually explicit images has risen as they are more easily accessed than ever before by greater numbers of people. The anti pornography crowd can rail as much as they like, they aren’t going to stop the production of these images, and they aren’t going to stop people viewing them. The very best we can hope for is enough restriction to protect children and limit access, safeguards we already have in place for other media, and that should be in place for outdoor advertising as well.

Woman with octopus

There is also no reason to oppose all sexually explicit images, as if the sexually explicit in itself is dangerous and anti social. This past weekend, for example, I visited the Queensland Art Gallery and came upon a work by Japanese artist Masami Teraoka called “Sarah and the Octopus/Seventh Heaven,” in which a woman is being pleasured by an octopus. (Yes, I would have laughed if someone just told me about it. Seeing it was another thing altogether.) In Japanese erotica images of women enjoying sexual pleasure with tentacled sea creatures is nothing remarkable, though the images are often interpreted in Western culture as being pornographic depictions of rape.

I found the painting erotic, and could see no signs that the female subject was feeling anything other than intense pleasure. I did wonder momentarily what Gail Dines would say about it, and assumed her comments would likely be stridently negative. As I gazed at the painting I thought that there are people who would like to stop me looking at an image such as this one, because they believe it will do me and the wider society psycho-sexual harm. Such people see sexual violence in every pornographic image. They see pornography itself as an act of violence against women, and they want me to “see” as they do.

Their vision casts images such as this painting in a negative and destructive light. I would never consider Teraoka’s work as dangerously pornographic unless that had first been suggested to me as a lens through which I ought to view it. So it is that the careless manner of speaking negatively about all pornography causes everything to be viewed as dangerously pornographic, and we are left with no other possible or legitimate ways of seeing. This is a tyranny and oppression we should resist.

For example, Clive Hamilton argues in his essay on photographer Bill Henson’s controversial images of adolescence that:

It is tragic that those who are responsible for sexualising children have robbed us of the ability to see Bill Henson’s photographs the way he intended. In destroying the sexual innocence of children they have destroyed the innocence of innocence.

Those who are responsible for “sexualising” children have not robbed us of anything in my opinion. On the contrary, those who like Hamilton and Dines demand that we relinquish our “innocent” gaze and replace it with the gaze of, in this case, the paedophile, are those who are responsible for attempting to if not rob, certainly alter for the worse our ability both to see innocence, and to see innocently. Henson should have known better, Hamilton concludes, and he should have realized that in today’s world photographs such as his cannot be “innocently” viewed. Therefore they should not be offered for viewing at all.

Personally, I will resist to my dying breath the efforts of anti pornographers to make me view the entire imaged world through a sexually dangerous and dysfunctional lens, whether I’m looking at Henson, music videos, Japanese erotica or Cosmopolitan. To look in innocence means to look without prejudice and preconditions, and to trust in the integrity of one’s own gaze. Hamilton’s ability to innocently gaze may well have been irrevocably damaged by those who seek to “sexualize” children. Mine has not, and I do not wish to join him in that trauma.

How to stop people wanting and making violent porn

The only way people will not participate in violent pornography, either by producing it or as viewers, is if they have a sense of self-worth that prevents them demeaning and abusing others or allowing themselves to be demeaned and abused. How are we going to produce human beings like that, given the culture in which we live and raise our young? The degradation of human beings is endemic in Western capitalist society indeed it’s a necessity if this form of society is to survive. Violent pornography is but one expression of this degradation. Like drug trafficking and people smuggling, it will never be “stopped” because there’s too much money and too much corruption involved in its production and distribution.

The best we can do is to educate our young to care for themselves and others, with the goal of creating a society in which degradation isn’t inherent. The rest is just sound and fury, unless the activists open their minds and hearts enough to engage with those who might not entirely agree with them, but who may well be on their side in some aspects of their battle.

ABC promotes private interests: what happened to impartiality?

6 Oct

Between June 15 and October 5 2011, the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Online and the Drum have published eight articles written by anti pornography campaigners and colleagues who share the same perspective on pornography.

Judging from many of the comments on some articles, the views of this collective are regarded as extreme, and pushing right wing Christian conservative values.

Seven of these articles were written by contributors to Big Porn Inc, a collection of anti pornography essays edited by activists Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray.

In five of the articles reference is made to the soon-to-be-released Big Porn Inc, and three of them are extracts from the book. Clive Hamilton‘s article in Religion and Ethics reads like a book launch speech, and his last two paragraphs enthusiastically promote Big Porn Inc.

Gail Dines, also an author in Big Porn Inc, appears in R&E on September 15 promoting her anti pornography position. Meagan Tyler writes in the Drum on October 5th defending Gail Dines against critics, and promoting the same anti porn position. Tyler has another anti porn piece in the Drum on September 20th.

During this period the ABC has published one, yes that’s one alternative perspective to that put forward by all the above authors. That piece was by academic Alan McKee on September 23rd. McKee addresses many of the criticisms launched at him and his colleagues by some of the above authors.

Editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics forum, Scott Stephens, is launching the book the ABC has been blatantly promoting in Brisbane next week.

The ABC Code of Practice states as follows:

4. Impartiality and diversity of perspectives

Principles: The ABC has a statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective  journalism.

Aiming to equip audiences to make up their own minds is consistent with the public service character of the ABC.  A democratic society depends on diverse sources of reliable information and contending opinions.  A broadcaster operating under statute with public funds is legitimately expected to contribute in ways that may differ from commercial media, which are free to be partial to private interests.

Judgements about whether impartiality was achieved in any given circumstances can vary among individuals according to their personal and subjective view of any given matter of contention.  Acknowledging this fact of life does not change the ABC’s obligation to apply its impartiality standard as objectively as possible.  In doing so, the ABC is guided by these hallmarks of impartiality:

• a balance that follows the weight of evidence;

• fair treatment;

• open-mindedness; and

• opportunities over time for principal relevant perspectives on matters of contention to be expressed.

By neglecting to observe the required balance, the ABC has promoted both a specific position on pornography, and  a book written entirely from this position. This has continued for five months, with only one article that challenges this perspective published during that time period.

At the editor’s website, the launch of Big Porn Inc is headlined thus: “ABC Editor Scott Stephens to launch Big Porn Inc in Brisbane October 14.”

That the ABC should promote a book that is subsequently launched by one of its employees is bizarre. The ABC is not publishing this book. It isn’t written by ABC employees.

There’s a big difference between noting publications in an author’s biography, and the kind of intense promotional activity immediately prior to a book launch we’re seeing here. There’s a big difference between the ABC interviewing an author about his or her book, and the promotional activity seen here. There’s a lot of cosiness between the book’s editors and the ABC Religion and Ethics editor. None of this is good for a public broadcaster whose mission is to convey as many perspectives as reasonably possible on issues that affect the whole of our society.

Comments on all pornography articles on the Drum in 2011 reveal a wide variety of community views, the majority of which dispute those purveyed by the collective currently dominating the issue at the ABC. There are many comments calling for the publication of other perspectives.

New born babies, and gender: what is it good for?

4 Oct

As I welcomed a baby boy into the world last Wednesday,  I wondered just what kind of a planet he’ll be inheriting from his elders.

For a start I’d been unable to buy any decent clothes prior to his birth in either the US or here, because the parents decided they didn’t want to know their baby’s sex. Access to prior knowledge has come to mean insanely stupid gender divisions in the infant clothing market, and if you say you don’t know shop people look at you as if you’ve come out of a cave. So the infant had nothing much other than hospital garments to wear for his first couple of days on Earth, as everyone waited to hear about the newborn genitals before they went on a spend.

If I was still bringing children into the world I’d dress them in primary colours from birth, stuff the pinks and the blues, and anybody who said girls always or boys always would be banned from the infant’s presence.

Which reminds me that I am seriously pissed off with the likes of Clive Hamilton telling me all about women and men, as if the possession of a vagina or penis is the only determining factor in the life span of one’s entire being. Women, according to Clive, are supposed to provide an ameliorating presence that soothes the warring and destructive instincts of men. The very idea it’s the role of women to soothe the violence of men is so ludicrous that you wonder what Hamilton’s on that he’d even suggest it, let alone seriously argue for it.

Well, Clive, I could tell you some stories about a few warring and destructive women that would make your hair curl. Sorry, I forgot you haven’t got any, but you know what I mean.

I could tell you some stories about tender, pacifying, nurturing men that would turn all those essentialisms of yours right on their heads (is that another new word I made up? Essentialisms?) because the argument you’re running flat-out denies the possibility of such men, and shame on you for that.

I just watched a young man with his first baby and I’m telling you Clive, he’d match any woman any day in the nurturing stakes. Talk about feeling the love.

It seems to me that the gender card is usually brought into play when somebody wants to use it as a blaming weapon. Like, men never do the dishes properly, women never read maps right. Men abuse women, women are the victims of men. Women are compassionate, men would rather fight. Men are from Mars Bars, Women are from Venus fly traps. Gender, like race, is a construct and it pays to have a long hard look at who is currently constructing it and why.

I’m all for acknowledgment and appreciation of difference, but not for using difference as a reason for discrimination, accusation, blame,and lower pay scales.

OMG! I just got up to close the door and shut my finger in it. There’s a gender devil in the room, and it’s looking to hurt me!

I told our baby boy, whispering it into his tiny (pink) ear, that he can be as tender, nurturing and ameliorating as he wants, and he’ll probably feel violent and aggressive now and again as well, but somebody, likely his dad and mum, will show him how to handle that without acting it out on somebody. I told him he could grow up to love men or women or both and none of us will think twice about it because he’s ours and we love him, and love is love whether there’s a penis or a vagina involved. By the time he gets round to thinking about it, I told him, gay marriage will be legal and that’s one less battle he might have to fight on his own behalf or that of others.

I hope, I told him, that the climate change deniers will have gone to their god, and somebody in charge will have attended to the situation before it gets so bad his life will be spent in a hostile environment. I am so very sorry, my darling, I whispered, that we have let it come to this, and that we’ll die off and leave you with the wreckage.

The world is an amazing place, I told him (I watch a lot of SBS) in spite of all its problems, enmities and murderous ways. There’s still wondrous people in it, and thrilling things to see and do.  I’ll shout you a trip around the globe when you finish school, if they still do gap years then, so you can see its marvels for yourself.

I’ll mind you as often as your parents will let me, I promised him. It’s a family tradition that at some point in adolescence, everyone goes to live with a grandmother when their parents get naff. I did it, your dad did it, your uncle did it, your aunties did it, and I’m pretty damn sure a few of your cousins will do it as well. I’m here for you, then and always, I told him, if I’m the granny you choose.

And here the infant opened his eyes and looked at me for the very first time. How, I wondered, as I fell immediately and irrevocably into love, can we live with such disregard for the futures of those who’ll succeed us? They are newly formed human beings. They come in utter helplessness and trust. They come with a vulnerability that makes the heart ache.  Don’t we owe them everything?

 

Licensed to Kill

3 Oct

Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s decision to allow women to assume unrestricted combat defence roles has caused ethics Professor Clive Hamilton to despair that “it is time to sound the Last Post over the rotting corpse of feminism.” Hamilton goes on to argue that the pursuit of equality has brought us to a sorry state of feminist affairs when women, like men, are granted a license to kill. This step signals the “final annihilation of difference,” and the end of women’s role as a “subtle, civilising power that has always worked to restrain the violent tendencies of men.” Without much success, one is obliged to point out.

In order to earn a license to kill, women must prove themselves psychologically, physically and mentally up to the job, a job that is on offer only from that bastion of hegemonic masculinity, the defence forces.

There are many men who would not fulfil the requirements and indeed, would not wish to. I recall my sons singing to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, “Join the army get your balls blown off” whenever a recruitment advertisement appeared on television. Being licensed to kill isn’t for everyone, regardless of genitals.

Instead of throwing in the feminist towel at this strike for equal opportunity, perhaps it’s valid to note that licensing women to kill is recognition that some women are capable of acquiring and practising the violent arts, therefore the capacity for deadly violence is not gender specific. The Defence Department has, perhaps unwittingly, subverted culturally imposed gender roles of the kind espoused by Professor Hamilton that would have women incapable of or unwilling to perpetrate violence. The Department has now acknowledged women as trainable as men, should we choose to embark on that course.

We can’t have it both ways

I’m at a loss to see how debunking that particular gender myth can be anything but positive for everybody. The majority of women will not choose to earn their killing license, just as many men do not choose that path either. At least it is now acknowledged in public policy that women are human beings capable of a wide variety of behaviours including state-sanctioned killing, just like men.

This is in direct contrast to another Gillard Government policy designed to prevent violence against women and their children. This policy defines domestic violence as overwhelmingly perpetrated by men. The policy does not acknowledge that female violence against children and other women is of equal concern, despite increasing international research and anecdotal evidence that this is indeed the case. The designers of this policy seem, like Professor Hamilton, to be labouring under the misapprehension that women are not capable of violence because it isn’t in our nature. It is only in our nature to be victims and/or soothers of male aggression.

You really can’t have it both ways. Women either are or are not capable of learning to use violence, either from the state or from the influences of their environment and their genes, just like men. You really can’t have the Defence Department heralding this as equality, while at the same time the Office for Women portrays us as overwhelmingly victims and rarely perpetrators. You really cannot insist on contextualising women’s violence (when it’s actually admitted) while leaving male violence out there as if men are born bad and it’s their base nature.

If the Defence Department has shown us anything, it’s that they consider the ability to engage in deadly violence to be non-gender specific. If we are to accept that, we must accept women are equally capable of violence in other situations as well. Joining the armed forces isn’t going to cause the sudden emergence of a brand new aggressive characteristic in the human female. It’s going to nurture and nourish what already exists.

The feminist struggle for equality

The mainstream feminist struggle for equality has always been about escaping restrictive gender roles and that escape has been perceived as our liberation. It has always been about ensuring women have equal opportunity and that has been perceived as our liberation. Mainstream feminism has rarely interrogated the type of masculinity that determines the Western capitalist culture within which it has sought equality. Mainstream feminists have not sought to radically change this culture, but rather to find an equal footing with that specific masculinity, within its parameters.

Thus we have our first female Prime Minister who is determined to deny the human rights of women and children in her urgency to pursue entrenched masculinist policies of sovereignty and border protection. Such a goal is far from feminist, yet mainstream feminists were (and some still are) ecstatic that we have a female PM. How long will it take to grasp that ownership of a vagina does not a feminist make?

What’s gone wrong with the feminist debate?

What has gone badly awry in the equality debate is a shocking lack of clarity and truth. For a movement that railed against the destructive consequences of stereotyping women, we’ve certainly done more than our fair share with regard to both sexes, and this has brought us undone.

There is no such animal as “men” and there is no such animal as “women.” Such erroneous concepts are the foundational lie on which much equality rhetoric rests. It’s a lie feminists railed against on behalf of women, yet enthusiastically embraced when it came to men. It’s a lie Stephen Smith confronted and faced down, whether he meant to or not. This lie is what is bringing feminism to its knees, not, as Clive Hamilton would have it, women being licensed to kill, or vomiting drunk on a Saturday night just like the boys.

We are rightly outraged when all Muslims are cast as terrorists. We are outraged when all Indigenous people are cast as drunken child abusers. Or we should be. Yet we don’t bat an eyelash at the use of “men” and “women” by just about everybody who has something to say on the subject. “Women’s morality differs from men’s,” writes Professor Hamilton, for example. Both sexes ought to be outraged at this stereotyping. It is an untruth, as all generalizations are untruths. I am not Woman. I’m a woman. My “morality” is the product of all of my experiences and what I have made of them. Here’s a male ethicist prescribing my female moral life, while claiming to have feminism’s best interests at heart. What is wrong with this picture?

A common enemy

It’s rarely acknowledged that many women and men share the common enemy of hegemonic masculinity. Recognising that there are infinite ways in which we are all undone, devalued and dehumanized by this dominant form of the masculine would allow us to co-operate in its demise. Instead, hegemonic masculinity pits us against one another, and we co-operate by couching our grievances in terms of gender warfare. The debate ought to be couched in terms of the dominant masculinist principles to which some women are as bound as some men, and that disadvantage whole subcultures regardless of sex, though sex may determine the manner in which the disadvantage is enacted.

Mainstream feminists have embraced these principles, with the result that some women have successfully adapted to the institutions, and the institutions themselves remain intact and largely unchallenged. The goals and aspirations of the majority of people demand a capitulation to masculinist forces that govern every aspect of our Western lives from cradle to grave, forces that remain largely unchallenged by feminism.

Who’s going to take away their license to kill?

Issuing women with a license to kill is a formal recognition of women’s equal capacity for sanctioned violence. Equality within the status quo was the intention of mainstream feminism, not radical structural change. This move by Defence is entirely in keeping with feminist goals.

We were never going to be much more than tokens in the patriarchy, and we aren’t. This isn’t going to change until we stop being victims. We will never stop being victims until we acknowledge our full capabilities, including those for violence and harm. This is what finally liberates us from victim-hood: owning our capacity for behaviours that are collectively denied in women because our culture doesn’t want women to have them, and because when the chips are down neither do we. How much nicer to be romantically imagined as “those who pacify the beast” than as those who are complicit in the beast’s violent projects.

The Defence decision acknowledges that women are first human beings, capable of feeling and acting in ways that have long been regarded as exclusively male by the orthodoxy. While in the short-term this may result in what can seem undesirable female behaviour, in the long-term it will allow us a fullness of humanity we’ve been denied for far too long. Human beings can be violent, destructive and murderous. Human beings have to learn to deal with these impulses in ways that do not bring about devastation. This can’t happen if we continue to deny that the female half of the human race has these capabilities, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Women who feel liberated enough to publicly express violence will initially do so in destructive and copycat ways, and they will call it equality because male acting-out is all they have to measure themselves against. They’re quite right. Equality is exactly what it is. The right to be equally human, for better and for worse, is what any feminist worth her salt should work towards. We can’t cherry pick equality.

As long as violence sanctioned or not is perceived as gender determined, no society can adequately address its causes, its effects, and what can be done about it. Rather than gnashing and wailing that women are becoming as awful as men, we should be questioning the limited means of expression both sexes have within a hegemonic masculinity that depends for survival on strict gender roles. We should be recognizing that these expressions are determined and controlled not by “men,” but by a specific manifestation of masculinity that disadvantages and dishonours both sexes. Then we can really examine violence and war, not as fought by men or women, but as perpetrated and fought by human beings on and against other human beings.


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