Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
Relaxing after a weekend the massiveness of which cannot be over-estimated, I was watching some of the SlutWalk coverage. More specifically, I was watching my Beloved Megan being interviewed on OneNews, and I happened to catch the article after that – a bit of panic-mongering over images in a magazine which, apparently, my children might have seen. OMG, not my children! So, photos of naked women, tied up. Dreadful.
Let me make it clear that I’m not disagreeing with the censor’s decision. They have guidelines and they enforce them. The definition of objectionable material contains the following:
– acts of torture, the infliction of serious physical harm or acts of significant cruelty
– sexual violence or sexual coercion, or violence or coercion in association with sexual conduct
– sexual or physical conduct of a degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature
– physical conduct in which sexual satisfaction is derived from inflicting or suffering cruelty or pain
I find that last one interesting – it’s bad to portray someone gaining sexual satisfaction from receiving pain. It can only be listed as a separate point from the things already covered because it is considered that the pleasure makes it worse.
No. What upset me about the article were the words of Catherine Delahunty.
I see very passive young women being tied up like animals, and that actually does send out quite sinister messages.
Yes. I shouted at the television. I may have used the ‘fuck’ word.
Thing is, Catherine, you know what I find demeaning? What you just said. See, I don’t think for a second it occured to you that female subs would hear you say that, and be upset about it. I mean, we’re not real people, right? And our sexual appetites don’t really exist, they’re just invented for the pleasure of men.
Yeah. I was never invented just for the pleasure of men.
I like being tied up. I find it sexual satisfying. There are other things I like more, but I’m pretty sure you’d find those passive and sinister as well. I tell you what I don’t look like, and that’s an animal. (I mean, seriously, wtf? What kind of animal would you be binding like that?) When I’m expressing my sexuality, which yeah, is passive, I’m not less than human. I’m not to be pitied. I’m not an animal.* When I’m bound, I’m proud and I’m strong and I’m beautiful – even when I scream and I weep and I beg. I deserve to have my sexuality portrayed, just like anyone else.
I’m lucky in a way, because I’ve fought the long, sordid, guilty battle of self-acceptance. I’ve learned that it’s okay to feel the way I do, to stop fighting my own desires. I’ve been privileged enough to help others do the same. I’ve written, trying to bring understanding to the Vanilla, but mostly in the hope that other people will feel better about themselves, because I remember what it’s like to loathe my deepest pleasures.
The Doms, male and female, without whom that pleasure wouldn’t be possible? They’ve never hurt me as much as casual, thoughtless degradation of remarks like Catherine’s. And I’m pretty sure she’s not going to stroke me down, undress me and put me to bed and hold me while the singing in my skin dies away.
That my desires are wrong, that I don’t exist – those are the “sinister messages”.
*Alright, yes, this is open to dispute.
Of course. Here it is. There was bound to be one, I suppose.
Take back the night” for everyone, in other words – and yes, take it back regardless of how they are dressed.
The media was pretty restrained on Saturday. Yes, we had a few “skimpily dressed” mentions, and the like, but they did seem to focus on the point of it all.
Which is why it is lucky we have Dita De Boni to remind us all that while we have the “right” to dress how we like, we probably shouldn’t. (As usual, don’t read the comments,unless your knuckles are so pristine you feel the need to punch something.) I would blog this at length, but it feels like BoobQuake all over again, and I don’t have the energy, so I am just going to list the points that come to my mind as I read the column. And if you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll recognise all of them, because I have said them all before.
As a typical lefty liberal, I defend the right of any woman to walk anywhere in life at any time of night and be completely unmolested – and would like to see rapists rot in jail. In reality, I don’t think it’s that simple – especially when considering your own daughters (nieces, grand-daughters, etc).
Actually, it really, really is that simple. Don’t be disingenuous.
Call me a prude, but I would be devastated if [my daughter] chose to dress like a pole dancer.
You’re a prude. And a judgemental one at that.
In the same way as I don’t see anything particularly liberating about stripping and prostitution as a career option, I can’t see the value in putting yourself out there to complete strangers as a sexual object – especially in social situations where alcohol blurs the ability of people to moderate their behaviour.
I am not going to educate you on the “liberation of strippers”, but I did a google for you. But the value of putting myself out there as a “sexual object”? Well, I am one. In that I am a person who likes sex. Maybe baring my legs makes me feel good about myself. Maybe my spectacular cleavage might do that, and it might make someone I fancy sleeping with notice me in a positive way. And I would expect that person to moderate their behaviour by NOT RAPING ME, regardless of how many gin and tonics they’ve had.
I don’t think it’s far from the truth to suggest that many men view women differently – and not really positively – if they present themselves in this way – and that as a general rule, a woman is doing herself no favours by doing so. Even if it is her ‘right’.
I could not give less of a crap if men, or in fact women, (those pesky lesbians, always getting away with this stuff) view me differently based on how I dress. The people I care about, the people I choose to associate with, the people of Quality don’t, and anyone else can Fuck Off. I dress for ME. Attention is a nice side effect, but my outfit today (purple dress – hello, Emma – belt under my boobs pushing them up, heels) was chosen for the express purpose of making me smile. And if a person views me as “available” or “willing to be attacked” because of it? That says significantly more about me than about them.
What a shame we’ve been side-tracked onto this issue when there are so many more important ones awaiting our attention.
Because we can’t do more than one thing at once? Seriously? If I care about slutwalk, I can’t care about female representation in politics? If I care about Alasdair Thompson’s idiocy, I don’t care about human trafficking? Is it because us sex-pos, third wave feminists aren’t serious? We’re ‘lifestyle’ or ‘lipstick’ feminists? Because I would argue that caring about, and fighting against, rape culture is a Pretty Fucking Important feminist principle.
And the biggie.
Instead of a march to defend how sluttily we should be allowed to be dressed, what about a march to demand safe towns that women and men, old and young, can walk through at night without being set upon?
Because, Yes, that is what SlutWalk was ACTUALLY FUCKING ABOUT. So, in your immense concern trolling, you managed to miss the entire point of a global phenomenon, that you could have found out about simply by googling. But, no no, you carry on telling us we’re misguided and frivolous and you get on and do the important work. Which is what, exactly?
Slutwalk. Can we do this every weekend please? Seriously, as we walked up towards Waitangi Park, me and my band of merry men and women, I was awed by the sight.Women, men, roller derby girls, signs, and so many people. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was kind of emotional.
Being the shy retiring type that I am, I flitted about, catching up with the many, many people I knew there (I have very good people), and completely neglected to take photos or anything. I barely even had time to tweet.
For a moment, amid much squeeing and girly jumping up and down, all four garden ladies were in one place. Thank you to Emma and Deborah for making the trip, and Coley, who made a brilliant speech, even as she lost her voice. You can read Deborah in the paper, and check out Emma in this week’s Listener. And a huge thank you to MJ and the other organisers – you were brilliant.
We marched with men we respect and love, and it was a brilliant thing to see so many men there, so many people, in fact, and so many media – even if most of the stories I’ve seen talked about “scantily-clad” women – of which there were few, and I admire their bravery in the face of the cold. I was surrounded by a group of friends, but I can only imagine that for some people, that walk, that standing up, that declaration, can only have been incredibly hard. For you, thank you, and you’re amazing.
For Reasons, a lot of people I know saw me walking. The vast majority of them have been incredibly supportive, and understand the point the march was making. But I’ve had one or two comments along the lines of “so it’s OK to call you a slut now?’ and one particularly vile message. And this, my darlings, is why the march was so important, and why now, we have to not shut up.
I missed a lot of the speeches, but what I did hear were emotive, angry, and fed up with this society that teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape”. It is an event I will always be proud to have been a part of. And darlings? I looked amaaaaazing.
And so, some of the posts. Feel free to add more in comments.
And because it wouldn’t be a post from me if I didn’t give you something to rage over, Yahoo Mews completely misses the fucking point. (Go vote no.)
Since history was recorded, male human beings have built whole cultures around the idea that penis-envy is “natural” to women – though having such an unprotected organ might be said to make men more vulnerable, and the power to give birth makes womb-envy at least logical. In short, logic has nothing to do with it. What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? The answer is clear – menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event:
Men would brag about how long and how much.
Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stag parties.
The US Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts.
Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. (Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of commercial brands such as John Wayne Tampons, Muhammed Ali’s Rope-a-dope Pads, Joe Namath Jock Shields – “For Those Light Bachelor Days,” and Robert “Baretta” Blake Maxi-Pads.)
Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“MENstruation”) as proof that only men could serve in the army (“You have to give blood to take blood”), occupy political office (“Can women be aggresive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priests and ministers (“how could a woman give her blood for our sins”), or rabbis (“Without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean”).
Male radicals, left-wing politicians, and mystics, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could enter their ranks if only she were willing to self-inflict a major wound every month (“You must give blood for the revolution”), recognize the preeminence of menstrual issues, or subordinate her selfness to all men in their Cycle of Enlightenment.
Street guys would brag (“I’m a three-pad man”) or answer praise from a buddy (” Man, you are lookin’ good”) by giving fives and saying, “Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”
TV shows would treat the subject at length. (“Happy Days”: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still “The Fonz,” though he has missed two periods in a row.)
So would newspapers. (JUDGE CITES MONTHLY STRESS IN PARDONING RAPIST.)
And movies. (Newman and Redford in “Blood Brothers”!)
Men would convince women that intercourse was more pleasurable at “that time of the month.” Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself – though probably only because they needed a good menstruating man.
Of course, male intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguments. How could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics, or measurement, for instance, without that in-built gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets – and thus for measuring anything at all? In the rarefied fields of philosophy and religion, could women compensate for missing the rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of symbolic death-and-resurrection every month?
I try really hard not to use gendered insults, but I think it is apropos in this case. Alasdair Thompson is a dick.
Because, ah, you know, once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do. They have children that they have to take time off to go home and take leave of.
In fact, the interview could fill an bingo card. “”The two highest paid lawyers in my firm are women.” (Some of my best friends are black!) “Nanny state”, “Men and women are different”. “It sounds like I am sexist, but I am not”.
Here’s the thing Alasdair, I’ve never once, in nearly 20 years of menstruating, taken a day off work because of it. I am childless, so I don’t have child care issues. And I am probably lucky enough to not get paid less than my male colleagues. But that doesn’t hide the fact that there is a pay gap of about 11 percent in this country. It doesn’t hide the fact that this goverment isn’t doing anything about it.
I did an informal, not at all scientific, completely bogus, poll on Twitter. (Actually, maybe that’s where you go, Mr Thompson, to get your stistitstics?) Most of the women agreed with me, that they’ve never taken a day off. A couple pointed out that for some women, their periods are actually quite debilitating. But even if they are, even if some chick just decides she wants to stay in bed with a hot water bottle on her back, because the cramps hurt, who cares? Isn’t that what sick leave is for? And if she is productive the other 30 days of the month, why is she being penalised for those days as well? As for childcare issues, yeah, more men should step up, maybe. But should a woman be penalised in her hourly rate because of that? And do no men in your world take parental responsibility? Is there no such thing as “man flu”?
There are real, serious, important issues involved in addressing the age gap, and yes, some of them involve our genitals. Women do take time out of the workforce to have children. But would you rather we didn’t? There are real, serious, important issues, and systemic inequalities that need to be addressed. And they are not being.
And when you dismiss the issue, when you pretend it boils down to us women and our oogie bleeding once a month, you are part of the problem. And you represent the fucking employers. You should be finding ways to close the paygap, not ways to avoid thinking about it.
But hey, I am probably just PMSing. You can ignore me.
A couple of days ago, I discovered a long-buried comment telling me men would like me more, if only I “knew my place”. Let me tell you something, my anonymous friend, men like me fine. Were that where my self worth comes from, I’d be doing OK.
And this weekend, I will be marching with some of my favourites. The ones who agree that women don’t ask to be raped, whether with their clothing, their attitudes, or words. They understand that it isn’t just women who are raped, nor that stranger rape is the most common. They aren’t just coming to SlutWalk to check out all the sluts.
I love these men, and I hold them to a high standard. It’s the same standard to which I hold everyone, but it seems that it is a high standard. Because apparently all men are, at base, raping, dick-pxting assholes. Or so says one of them. I mean, it’s Scott Adams, so take it with a grain of whatever condiment you like. At least he had the decency to categorise it as “General Nonsense”.
The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn’t ask to be born male? Or do you blame the society that brought him into the world, all round-pegged and turgid, and said, “Here’s your square hole”?
The way society is organized at the moment, we have no choice but to blame men for bad behavior. If we allowed men to act like unrestrained horny animals, all hell would break loose. All I’m saying is that society has evolved to keep males in a state of continuous unfulfilled urges, more commonly known as unhappiness. No one planned it that way. Things just drifted in that direction.
Let me paraphrase:
bitches ladies! You’ve castrated men! You’ve set up a society that means men have to conform to your rules, and supress their natural desires to send pictures of their bits to all and sundry. Men want to rape, monogamy is anathema, and even though we don’t blame the victim, you should know it is All Your Fault.
But don’t worry, Mr Adams has a solution.
But in general, society is organized as a virtual prison for men’s natural desires. I don’t have a solution in mind. It’s a zero sum game. If men get everything they want, women lose, and vice versa. And there’s no real middle ground because that would look like tweeting a picture of your junk with your underpants still on. Some things just don’t have a compromise solution.
Long term, I think science will come up with a drug that keeps men chemically castrated for as long as they are on it. It sounds bad, but I suspect that if a man loses his urge for sex, he also doesn’t miss it.
Chemical Castration! For all those men who can’t contain their rapacious urges. Who can’t help but break out of the virtual prison constraining their desires.
Let me tell you something, Scott. Most men can contain their desires. They don’t want to rape anyone, and they only want to send pictures of their genitalia to people who have asked for them. Also, most women don’t wish to constrain all of men’s desires. Some of us like men, and also like sex. Consensual, hot, awesome sex. Men winning does not equal women losing. But misogyny, sexism of this kind, the words you put on the internet, and have people follow, your woman (and man) hating little diatribe? That’s where we all lose.
So. All men are not rapists, and all women are not victims. And if you believe that, I hope you’ll be attending slutwalk. There will be a full contingent of Lady Gardeners. The WYFC is holding a prewalk gathering. And if you aren’t on Facebook, here’s the details:
We will be gathering in Waitangi Park at 2pm. At 2.15pm we step off, walking along Cable Street to Civic Square. We will arrive in Civic Square at 2.45pm, where we will have a rally with speakers to talk about victim-blaming and sexual assault, wrapping up at about 3.30pm.
See you there.
At this point, I want to take a minute to examine the way people were living, and how that affected their attitudes to sex. Again, the same caveats as the last column: these are very broad brush strokes, things happen gradually and are always more complicated than a brief run-down can accommodate.
So, in medieval times, people live much more communally than now, and this includes sleeping. Everyone sleeps together in the hall. Even if the lord and lady of the manor have a separate room – a solar – they will share it with their servants and children. There is no concept that you have a room that you go to to sleep – or have sex – in private.
In the Renaissance, the bedroom becomes something of an audience chamber for your closest friends and advisors – rather like your room in a student flat, you take your friends in there to talk. Bathing and dressing would happen with an audience.
By the Georgian period, this starts to change. Even for the middle classes, houses become big enough, and easy enough to heat, that children have their own rooms, and so do servants. The bedroom becomes a private place. By Victorian times, well-mannered married couples sleep alone, in adjacent rooms.
It’s important to note that this progress to privacy for sleeping – and for sex – lagged behind for the lower classes. So in that same Victorian period, the working class were still living in dismal two-room dwellings, and having sex in the same room where their children slept.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive enough to expect that bed has ever been the only place to have sex, but also if you’re working a twelve or sixteen hour day, bed may be the only chance you get.
Another strand of the weave. In 1805, William Wordsworth wrote a poem called Intimations of Immortality. In it, he explores the idea that children have purer souls: they’re more innocent and closer to God, and have a purity of vision that people lose as they grow older. At the time these ideas are actually pretty controversial, and he enters a spirited debate with Coleridge. By the mid-Victorian period, the sentimental idea of childhood innocence is pretty much standard. We still cling to it now, even those of us who’ve actually raised children. It is, however, fairly recent, and came out of an age when the children of the working class were being sent up chimneys and down mines.
So, now our children are sleeping apart from us for the most part, and we believe they have a special purity that is tainted by adult things.
At the same time, social and technological advances – notably the printing press and universal schooling – were making visual and written art available on an unprecedented scale. Along came Fanny Hill, and non-political censorship.
The Americans were particularly keen on sexual censorship, as championed by Anthony Comstock. Comstock’s battle against pornography included his championing the banning of anatomy textbooks and birth control information. One noted distributor of “marriage manuals”, Ida Craddock, explicitly blamed Comstock in her suicide note. (Much as I hate to say so, in Comstock’s defence, it seems likely Craddock was not of entirely sound mind.)
Comstock’s aim was to protect those of “weaker mind”:
the assumption always was that if you were well-educated, if you were upper class, you could consume erotica, you could consume pornography, with no ill effects. And there’s a sort of built-in prejudice against what we assume to be sort of uneducated minds, and this was the way Anthony Comstock sort of characterised the danger. He thought that the real problem was that what he called ‘immature minds’ might stumble across material like this. And of course he launched these campaigns to stamp it out. And what he meant by immature minds were the minds of children, the minds of immigrants, because they were always suspicious and to him they were always lower class. And women, who were thought to be weaker, so that they had to be protected.
So. No more porn on the walls. But it’s better, right? Our children are free to be children? Because the sight of consensual pleasurable sex is somehow deeply, inherently damaging to children. “Sexualising” children is bad. Sex is a deeply private thing – and that’s not at all because we regard it as shameful.
From Not in Front of the Children “Indecency,” Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth:
Intellectual protectionism frustrates rather than enhances young people’s mental agility and capacity to deal with the world. It inhibits straightforward discussion about sex. Indeed, like TV violence, censorship may also have “modeling effects,” teaching authoritarianism, intolerance for unpopular opinions, erotophobia, and sexual guilt. Censorship is an avoidance technique that addresses adult anxieties and satisfies symbolic concerns, but ultimately does nothing to resolve social problems or affirmatively help adolescents and children cope with their environments and impulses or navigate the dense and insistent media barrage that surrounds them.
Now, these days in New Zealand we censor for a few remaining reasons: drug use, violence and sex. Is it really completely outrageous to ask, what real demonstrable harm is done by depictions of sex? By encouraging a culture where we’re almost unable to speak about sex at all, where we censor it from relationships and put it in the “porn ghetto”, are we really doing our children more good than harm?
I’m actually asking that question, as a Big Fan of evidence-based policy-making. All I really want people to take from this is the idea that censorship is not a natural state, and that our “society” has not always been more repressive than it is now.
What it is, though, is an attempt to recognize that we all have shit going on in our real lives, away from the internet, that we shouldn’t have to throw out there in order to be accorded a little bit of patience and kindness. Effective activism has to recognize that we’re all dealing with real-life stuff, and we are not all 100% engaged in these online communities at all times, and that we have different priorities and perspectives and real-time demands.
I am well aware I am putting my head on a block here. I am gonna piss some people off, and am probably inviting some people in to the garden that are going to metaphorically take a dump in the pond. But I feel like this needs to be said.
Because, you can say what you like about Julie, but I don’t think any of us can doubt her good faith and her honesty. Her willingness to learn, and her commitment to what we do, with this feminist blogging thing. She’s for many of us, the fairy godmother of the New Zealand blogosphere, the reason we started writing. Which is not to say I agree with everything she does and says. It’s not to say she can’t fuck up, or that I don’t look at things at The Hand Mirror on occasion, and think “what the fucking fuck?”.*
But seriously. Did she deserve last week’s massive pile on? (A disclaimer: I haven’t read that entire comment thread, and I have no intention to. Nor do I want to re-litigate the argument.) Did she really deserve the internet version of being screamed at by a crapload of people? Could she not have deserved a little of the patience and kindness mentioned above? She admitted she’d fucked up, she tried to explain how it happened, and tried to learn from it. And you know what? Moderating is hard. Especially when you’re on a group blog. Over at my own place, I keep a very, very, probably unnecessarily strict, hand. Because I can. Here, I am writing with other women. And we all have very different ideas of what is OK. Frankly, I wish I could go back and un-approve half the comments on this post.
In the post that quote above is from, Jill talks about the “call out” culture. About the way we (and I am certainly not absolving myself from this) look at the big blogs and expect them to be perfect. It’s different here, because we all know each other, we’re friends, we drink and email and chat on Facebook. And it is interesting, because some people seem to think they can say whatever they want about you online, and that when you’re next together in public, it’ll all be fine and dandy. Because they are just trying to make you a better feminist. Well, to quote a friend, Fuck. That. Shit.
Because screaming at people is never, ever, going to do that. Nor will devaluing “tone argument” when someone quite rightly calls you on being rude and abusive. There is a difference between being forthright and justifiably angry, and being downright insulting. (And in turn, doing harm to the very people you claim to be fighting for.) Or yelling “Own Your Privilege”, when most of us spend a lot of time doing exactly that. Admitting your privilege doesn’t absolve you from making mistakes, nor does it prove your feminist credentials. I’ve had chances to be educated about mine here, and I have taken them, and thanked the people involved. And God knows, I look back at things I wrote five, ten, years ago and want to punch myself in my smug little face. But as Jill points out, owning your privilege isn’t the end goal. Doing something about it is. And if you spend the majority of your time calling out other people, you’re missing the point.
And the point isn’t us all agreeing all the time. It isn’t us being perfect, or winning the prize for “Best Feminist Evah!” It’s about creating a conversation, about getting stuff done, and sharing our experiences. Surely? Though maybe some people just want to yell and rant and make sure everyone agrees with them. Whether because they actually do agree, or simply because they can’t handle the fight anymore.
I’ve had two conversations this week with people who have said “I am done with online conversations. Because what is the point?” And if the “tone” of our arguments is turning people off, if we are losing out on their insight and knowledge, aren’t we all losing? For fuck’s sake, i didn’t really want to write this post, I waited a week, and there’s a lot I’m not saying, because I am wary of the comments that will ensue. If those of us left are the strident ones, the ones with the spoons, the ones who yell the loudest, often about not much, are those friends of mine right? Is there actually any point?
* Like, for example, Maia’s frankly bizarre decision not to allow Coley to post her email address after a concerning comment was made about the WYFC. So, if you have come over here from there, and do have safety concerns, feel free to email Coley.