“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.”
This is an extract from a piece written by Dr Abigail Bray in the Sydney Morning Herald last week on the dangers of pornography. Dr Bray is co-author with Melinda Tankard Reist of the latest Australian collection of anti pornography stories.
On reading this piece I was immediately reminded of a series of articles on the Drum written by Tankard Reist to which I responded with a contrary point of view. Given the publication of their book, and the spate of extracts from it recently, it seems timely to put up my Drum piece again.
One of the big problems I have with many anti porn activists is their apparent inability to distinguish between the rage they feel at the sight of an actor’s cleavage and the rage they feel at violent porn. If you happen to be someone who doesn’t care much about people showing cleavage and do care about violent criminal porn they can’t hear your point of view. It’s all or nothing with them. Problem is, when they get apoplectic about pole dancing and knickers, they’ve undermined their credibility when they come to protest the hard-core sadistic stuff that I’m sure is out there.
The recent Drum articles by Christian sexual conservative Melinda Tankard Reist are based on appeals to presumed universal truths and values. Melinda is in the business of creating totalising cultural narratives, rather than finding solutions to concrete issues women face.
Totalising narratives quite rightly arouse the healthy ire of thinking people, even more so when they are sexually proscriptive. Faced with these attempts to legitimise as universal the limited authority of one particular perspective, a thinking woman has to lodge her protest. So, Melinda, pornify this.
Censor and ban, ban and censor
It seems there is little in popular cultural representations of female sexuality that escapes Melinda’s disapproval. Even, I see on her website the US underwear company Victoria’s Secret,and twenty something TV star Lea Michele appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine showing cleavage, offends her conservative values.
The latter incurs wrath because Michele is, in Melinda’s terms, “sexifying” herself, and in so doing setting a bad example to the teenagers who watch Glee in which she plays a considerably younger character.
Christian sexual conservatives seem to have embarked on a mission to pathologise the entire world, rather than realistically deal with inevitable and at times large pockets of dysfunction. Their solution? Censor and ban.
The problem with the censor and ban approach is that it addresses the symptoms while completely ignoring the cause. It’s the easy way out. Just have the offending song, video, advertisement removed from the public gaze, and then pretend the forces that led to its creation don’t exist anymore.
They do. They’ll erupt again. Repressing them will not make them go away. We have always known this.
The Patriarchy did it
Tankard Reist is about to surpass Derrida in her creative use of neologisms such as sexification, adultification, childification, and pornification, all terms she uses to describe what men are doing wrong to women, and what women are letting men do wrong to them.
Infantalizing women (a psychological action, as opposed to childifying us, which is sartorial) is part of the sexual conservative’s strategy. Women are acted upon. Even when we think we’re exercising agency we aren’t really, because our actions are predetermined by the overwhelming influence of the patriarchy.
This is where Christian sexual conservatism intersects with radical feminism, resulting in, dear God, I don’t know what. Every act of heterosexual intercourse is an act of rape unless it results in a baby girl?
If we follow this infantalizing to its logical conclusion, women aren’t responsible for anything. The only other human beings not required to take responsibility for themselves are babies, and those without the capacity.
Of course, women are also responsible for everything, which makes us goddesses. There’s no middle ground in these metanarratives.
Sexified, pornified women allegedly aren’t politically sophisticated or intelligent enough to recognise their collusion in their own process of -ification. Only unsexified women know what’s really going on. The process of sexifying yourself destroys your brain.
As with all lies that work, there is some truth in it. I recall occasions when I’ve severed contact with my mind and made decisions from another part of my anatomy entirely. But I fought my way back, and I can’t remember what I was wearing.
This attitude puts MTR in bizarre alliance with factions that hold beliefs such as: blondes are brainless. You can’t be a pole dancer and have a PhD. You’re being exploited and you’re only happy in your thong because you’re too ignorant know you’re being exploited. Female sexual power is an illusion, and the notion that it is an expression of assertiveness is false.
Well, if it is such an illusion, why the struggle to keep it in chains?
That which we most fear becomes our obsession, observed Hélène Cixous.
How to pornify yourself
A woman doesn’t have to do much to sexify and pornify herself in the world of MTR. Just wear lacy panties and an uplift corset from Victoria’s Secret, and you’re in.
If childification is more your thing, pull on a pair of white knee socks and suck on a lollipop while tugging at your t-shirt. You can also sit on a bench and show your panties. Either of these looks (and many others shown on her website) will incur MTR’s pity, and her undisguised contempt.
You may like these looks, or you may find them silly, but are they really part of an orchestrated patriarchal attack on women’s human rights? Think about the real attacks on women’s human rights round the globe, rarely mentioned by MTR, by the way, and only when they comply with her ideology as an anti choice feminist, and then answer that question.
The beast in them
The message I am taking from these articles is that for MTR there is no acceptable public representation and expression of female sexuality.
In holding a belief shared by, among others, the Taliban, she seems to feel that public (I don’t know why, but I hardly ever type “public” without leaving out the l) displays of female flesh lead inevitably to a culture of exploitation and rape, turning sane men into the beasts they all secretly are.
The beast in me, is caged by frail and fragile bonds…
Ergo, women must not reveal their flesh, or not the bits that could be seen as erotic. That’s pretty much everything, if you’re imaginative.
All those KanYe West and Brian McFadden lyrics churning round in men’s animal minds, causing them to lose what little sense of decency they might just have been born with, if they were lucky, and then, dammit, a woman in a sparkly thong hoves into view, and she’s not wearing it on her foot, either.
In the world the conservatives inhabit, not only are all women too stupid to know if they’re being exploited, all men are too base to think about a woman as anything more than a root, a drunken root if possible, or if it’s KanYe West we’re talking about, a dead root.
The discourse of sexual conservatism, like that of radical feminism, depends on stereotypes and generalisations. Without them, they both implode.
The contempt these attitudes reveal for humanity in general is disturbing. Add to that the conservatives’ insistence that young men in particular have no capacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality, learning from the lyrics of pop songs and videos to behave very badly towards women, and the sexual conservatives are unmasked as religious and anti modern fascists.
As a mother of young men who negotiate popular culture and emerge with loving and generous hearts, I find their attitude offensive.
So, tell us the right way to show off our tits
If I’m doing you sexual conservatives wrong, just tell us what kind of public (oops, that wretched l again) representation and expression of female sexuality you do approve of. Show us a picture. You’ve shown us plenty of pictures of what you don’t like. Now show us a picture of something that fits your criteria. If you have a positive vision of how a woman can express her sexuality, now’s the time to share it.
This is important because it isn’t enough to tell young women what they shouldn’t emulate. You need to be able to offer a positive alternative model. So far, all we’ve heard is unrelenting negativity, and the ongoing, indiscriminate blaming of all men.
Are your husbands, sons, brothers, dads, uncles, cousins, boyfriends, lovers and friends included in the generic “men,” by the way? Or are you lucky enough to have scored the only good ones on the planet, and the rest of us copped the duds?
Some women want to show their bodies, and I can’t see a single thing wrong with that. The human body can be glorious. Breasts can be wondrous. Read the Song of Solomon. In itself the body is always wholly innocent, and tainted only by the perceptions and judgments we inscribe upon it. Prove me wrong.
Decades of feminist rage against men and the patriarchy has not solved our problems with each other. Rather than continuing to rage about what men shouldn’t do and should be, can we focus instead on what women can do and can be, and leave perceived male failings aside for a while?
It will take the whole village, rather than an individual sarcastically demolishing a hapless male writer of really stupid songs. But such a redirection of energy might just lead to empowerment in a way that victimology, complaint, ideology and blame never can.
This piece resulted in some 472 comments, the majority of which were in whole or partial agreement, except for someone hiding behind the screen of anonymity who pursued me round the blogosphere for weeks, and I finally figured out just who she is. Ha ha!