Tag Archives: popular culture

Pornify this revisited

17 Oct

“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.

Pornify this

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!

The conservative sexual crusader wants kilos of McFadden’s flesh

3 Mar

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website today there’s a list of tweets from the hapless Brian McFadden, promising to donate money to rape crisis centres, and saying he’s sorry that his lyrics have been misunderstood.

He reiterates that he intended them as an intimate song for fiancee Delta Goodrem, and not as triggers for women who’ve been sexually assaulted while drunk.

I’m inclined to believe the bloke. I don’t think for  minute he wrote that song with the intention of glorifying or encouraging the rape of senselessly drunk women.

But his apologies and donations are not enough for Melinda Tankard Reist. Not a truckload of money, she writes, will make up for the damage he has done to women.

Even in a court of law, intention counts when you’re passing sentence. But not in the courts of Christian sexual conservatism.

MTR also holds Delta Goodrem partially responsible. Why didn’t Delta check the lyrics before allowing Brian to record them, she asks. Is Delta so inured to sexual violence that she didn’t even notice what Brian was on about?

This would be unfortunate, MTR implies, as Delta is a spokeswoman for Avon Voices, a group that raises awareness of violence against women.

I guess the sexual conservatives also hold women responsible for what the men they live with do.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty low and unnecessarily malicious swipe.

Then there’s a letter from a victim of sexual assault whilst she was drunk, telling how McFadden’s song has brought it all back and is severely distressing her.

Nina Funnell then writes a long reassuring response to the victim, and I hope the woman follows this up with counselling.

There are triggers that cause memories of sexual assault, and many other traumatic experiences to flood back into consciousness, often without any warning.  This is very hard for the survivor to deal with.

Triggers can be almost anything. I once worked with someone whose flashbacks were caused by pieces of green soap with a particular smell. Triggers are impossible to predict, extremely individual, and powerfully connected to the original trauma.

As much as the survivor would like never to have encounter these triggers, it is literally impossible to clear the world of them.

In some instances they may be so particular as to rarely emerge. Sometimes they aren’t known until the moment they strike. In many instances the triggers are all too common, and people have to deal with them on a daily basis.

It would be a foolish therapist indeed who recommended total avoidance of anything likely to act as a trigger. That would be condemning the survivor to a miserable life.

What we can do is teach cognitive behavioural techniques that can be used to manage the distressing flashbacks. This has the added advantage of empowering the survivor, both with the skills to handle bad times, and with the sense that she or he has some control over circumstances that can feel uncontrollable.

Given the proliferation of sexual topics in popular culture, it’s unrealistic to blame any artist for triggering a survivor’s flashbacks. As the triggers are so individual, its impossible to know what they might be.

As stupid as you might think McFadden’s song is, blaming him for activating post traumatic stress disorder is wrong. You might as well blame the manufacturer of green soap, and I believe McFadden, in his intentions, is as  undeserving of blame.

The world is not an easy place to live in when you’re suffering post traumatic stress disorder. Many people don’t understand it, and have a low tolerance of sufferers who can seem difficult, withdrawn, moody, angry, weepy, and generally not interested in much. It’s tough, having first to withstand the trauma, and then to spend your time dealing with the aftermath.

The most difficult part is working with people towards an acceptance of their experiences, in the sense that they cannot be changed and must be lived with, as must the aftermath. The survivor has to take responsibility for learning to do this. This is the cornerstone of recovery. It can take many years, and nobody can do it for them.

I don’t think it helps survivors to be encouraged to look for someone to blame in the world around them. Nobody deliberately triggers someone’s flashbacks, unless they are entirely sadistic and know the survivor well enough to be able to do it.

If a creator of any kind must first consider if something in their work will cause distress to someone somewhere, and then abandon it in case it does, then nothing will be created.

I think Tankard Reist’s crusade against McFadden, and now Goodrem as well, is bordering on the vicious. She wants what she wants, which is an abject confession that they’ve caused immeasurable distress to women everywhere by recording the song. If she doesn’t get that, she will hound them, of that I’m certain.

She is displaying all the signs of the outraged self-righteous good Christian woman bent on vengeance, not only on him but on the woman he loves, and that is not a pretty sight.

And let’s remember, he isn’t a rapist. He wrote a song.

KanYe West, Melinda Tankard Reist, and the control of the representation of desire.

26 Feb

by Lucero Design via flickr

At Melinda Tankard Reist’s website underwear manufacturer Victoria’s Secret is under attack, two hapless tools from the Gold Coast trying to sell real estate using a woman in her undies are copping it, and oh no! Not that, still! Yes, the KanYe West Monster video clip, months after we all got into that epic tussle at the Drum, is still absorbing the Tank’s attention.

Last week MTR was described by Stephen Harrington at the Punch as “Australia’s Helen Lovejoy,” for her complaints about this video clip, as well as the “what about the children” rhetoric she invokes as an argument against just about everything.

(For those not familiar with the Simpsons, Helen Lovejoy is the ultra conservative wife of the local Christian minister whose catchcry is “But what about the children!”)

Melinda pours retributory scorn on Harrington here. The West video is, she claims, a “significant watershed in the de-humanisation of women.”

That’s a bit hyperbolic, in my opinion, given the on going, grave, and global abuses of women’s human rights that certainly do de-humanise those groups subjected to them.

The psychotherapists’ interpretations

At New Matilda, psychotherapist Zoe Krupke interprets the video clip from her professional perspective, and explains that violence such as is portrayed therein can be a consequence of “denial of personal weakness and fragility,” resulting in projection of these qualities onto others, in this case the strung-up, zombiefied and helpless women.

In other words, controlling others through violence allows the perpetrator to bury feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, and replace them with an illusion of power.

All of which is true enough, but if you read the lyrics it’s clear that they are about nothing but West’s feelings of personal weakness and fragility; rage at perceived exploitation by the music industry, and women, rage at his admitted inability to behave in any way other than monstrous; identification with other monster figures, and a pathetic plea for someone to love him.

by Maximillian Dinslage via flickr

None of which are expressed in ways that are likely to get him any of the things he seeks, but rather are an explosion of fury, frustration, and self-mockery.

I’m a monster
no good blood-sucker
everybody know I’m a
muthaf*cking monster
None of you n*ggas know the carnage I’ve seen
I still hear fiends scream in my dream…

And so on. The thoughts and feelings of a disturbed being, a rapper having a laugh, or both, depending on your perspective.

Feminists aren’t the only ones with opinions

You've Been Dickrolled. by David Jackmanson via flickr


What is certain (I’m sorry, at this point I can’t help myself, the only certainty is the certainty of uncertainty, thank you so much for the philosophical insight, Tony the Tool, another of the known unknown unknowns littering the political landscape, and pictured here damn near naked) is that while a feminist analysis of the work is worthwhile, it’s far from being the only possible analysis. The video and lyrics are complex, with racial references as well as those mentioned above, and to attempt to have it censored because it “dehumanises” women is, in my opinion, the kind of sadly unimaginative reaction we’ve come to expect from some media feminists these days.

What the video clip certainly is: the concretisation of one rapper’s subjective vision of his world. If it weren’t as popular as it is, there would be no need for further discussion. But it is tremendously popular, (listed in Rolling Stone’s best 30 albums of 2010) and has received critical acclaim from that magazine’s  informed commentators

These accolades suggest West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasies strike a chord, so to speak with millions of others. It may not be the kind of chord MTR wants struck, whatever that is, and I can’t figure that out. What do these women want? Nevertheless, it’s popularity alone makes it culturally significant, and worthy of examination.

Not that I’m suggesting popularity is the only criterium for cultural significance because clearly it isn’t. The bizarre and complex vision represented in this piece lifts it out of the mundane.

It isn’t everybody’s vision of the world. Then again, neither is a man nailed to a cross, blood seeping out of his wounds and a hole pierced in his side everybody’s vision of a healthy religious experience. John the Baptist’s bloody head on a silver platter doesn’t cut it as inspiring religious commentary for all of us either.

I have a strong visceral response against most moves to censor. No matter what you think of the aesthetic quality or otherwise of the KanYe West video, it is the expression of an artist’s vision.  Are we to live in a world bereft of all dark and difficult imagery? Are we to censor all representations of emotions and passions because they make some people uncomfortable?

Cindy and that sexy thong. by Dave Lee via flickr


When women choose to earn their living from their bodies

Women who model for Victoria’s Secret do so of their own free will, and are well paid for their work. Likewise the women who appeared in the West clip as simulated corpses and zombies.

The luscious woman in the Gold Coast real estate agents’ ad was also, presumably, paid for her work. Many women with lovely bodies enjoy using them as a source of income. Many other women and men enjoy looking at those bodies. Is this really “objectifying” women? Or is it merely admiring, and maybe sometimes envying their beauty?

I’m not likely to meet any of them. They are likely to remain only one-dimensional images to me. So why do I have any responsibility at all to see them as anything else? Why is it wrong for me to take pleasure their beauty? How am I offending them?

If I were to treat the women and men around me as one dimensional, then I would be objectifying and insulting them. But like most people, I know the difference between an image and a fully fleshed human being.

There are some who try to make the people in their lives more closely resemble a one-dimensional image they’ve seen on screen or in a magazine. Their problems, and the problems of their partners, won’t be solved by banning the images. I’d suggest their difficulties are deep, and if no images are available they’ll manifest in some other equally unfortunate way.

The desire to be desired

The desire to be desired is a normal human need. Practically everyone at some time wants, indeed needs, to bathe in the glow of somebody’s desiring gaze. But desire and its expression and representation are intensely personal matters. Lacy panties or cottontails, stilettos or bare feet, cleavage or buttoned up modesty – there’s a place for everything, but not in the world of Melinda Tankard Reist. In that world there’s only one possibility for the expression and representation of desire, and that’s hers.

Baffled by her negativity, I’m as yet entirely unable to ascertain what her vision actually consists of. Though she unrelentingly castigates us for our unhealthily fetishistic and voyeuristic gaze, I’ve never once heard MTR give an example of how she thinks female sexuality ought to be represented and expressed.

We should pretend we aren’t sexual beings, and deny that we love to look at each other, even though much of the time society requires us to do that with a furtive gaze?

We should pretend that erotic zones are not of intense interest to us, starting when we emerge from the latency period laughing ourselves silly at jokes about underpants?

If every publicly revealed body is an exploited and objectified body, are we all to cover up to protect ourselves from a gaze that MTR would have us believe can only be interpreted as exploitative and objectifying?

The battle for the control of the representation of desire

by Breezer, via flickr


MTR is fighting a two fronted battle for  the right to determine not only what we should look at, but how we should look at it. She wants to be inside our heads, telling us how to see things. Where she see exploitation, so must we.

She wants to control the representation and expression of human desire. She wants to control the interpretation of the gaze.

MTR seeks to superimpose her moral vision upon everyone else, a vision that cannot allow the possibility of a benign desiring gaze, a vision that insists the desiring gaze is always dangerous, unless it is confined to encounters between to consenting adults (preferably married) in the privacy of their own homes. Once desire is provoked outside of the marriage bed, her thinking goes, it must inevitably result in damage of some kind. I have long suspected this to be at the heart of MTR’s crusades. Now she’s proved it, by taking on Victoria’s Secret.

In her vision, the free flow of desire in the world, far from being a driving creative force, is miserably reduced to a threat to women.

This is why MTR does not offer her vision of an acceptable public representation of female sexuality. There isn’t one in her moral framework.

In this, she’s a bit like the followers of Sharia law.

But feminists fought for freedom

MTR and her followers justify their desire to impose their desire, by dressing their arguments up as feminist rhetoric, and indeed there are some conjunctions.

But feminists fought for freedom. If a woman chooses to use her body to earn her living then it’s nobody’s business but hers. Melinda Tankard Reist makes an unfortunate conflation between free choice and exploitation. That exploitation and abuse of women exists is not at issue. However, it does nobody any good to confuse the two, and in the process attempt to shame women who are making a free choice, and attempt to deprive them of that right. That’s an anti feminist move, in my book.

The argument that we’re brainwashed to think we must do our best to look like underwear models or we’re inadequate, holds some water. There’s a great deal to critique in fashion magazines that manipulate insecurities in order to get us to go out and buy something to address those perceived failings.

On the other hand, one of MTR’s fellow campaigners, journalist and researcher Nina Funnell, whose tirade against the KanYe West video can be read here recently took part in a Cosmopolitan (October 2010) competition to find the year’s most influential woman. All the competitors were young, and had the Cosmo look, including killer heels, and sexy masks. There were obviously initial selection criteria that had everything to do with the contestant’s physical appearance. Only after those requirements were met, were the women’s career and personal achievements considered.

There were no older women in the contest, baffling, given that older women are often excellent mentors and influential figures.

In my book, an outrageous and insidious abuse and objectification of women right on our doorstep, sending the message that how you look matters much more than what you do and are, from a magazine read by thousands of young Australian women. Yet not a  murmur was raised in the MTR camp.

To wrap it up…

The Gold Coast tools are pretty funny, I thought when I watched their video clip on Melinda’s website. Their ad is so over the top as to be bordering on a spoof of using sex to sell. It wouldn’t make me want to buy their penthouse, so in that sense it’s an advertising failure.

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown via Wikimedia

Corset, Paris 1902. Unknown, via Wikimedia

As for Victoria’s Secret well, good luck with that one. While the sight of stunning women in lacy thongs and balconette bras might not be everyone’s idea of beautiful or sexy, it is currently a dominant cultural expression of those qualities. Once the sight of an ankle did it for us, and who can forget the practically (in my opinion) only good bit in Jane Campion’s The Piano, when Harvey Keitel caressed Holly Hunter’s leg through a hole in her stocking? Aaaargh, the recollection can make me shiver with delight even now.

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