Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
Teenagers are being let down by sex education that doesn’t tell them it’s best to wait until you’re an adult and have one sexual partner for life, a visiting physician says.
No, our education doesn’t teach that, nor bloody well should it. Jesus.
In other news, anyone want to make a guess at which conservative, “values” organisation is having its conference? And is utilising what appears to be its free quota of advertising in the New Zealand Herald?
[Update: Previous writings on the Herald trying to whip up moral panic over sex education can be found from here. I’d seek out all the articles, but I need a drink now. Feel free to add what you think sex education should teach into the comments.)
[Update #2: The delightful Dr will be on CloseUp tonight. Watch!]
[update #3: our Coley has decided that Dr Grossman is her new best friend, and has found some of her columns. This one is a particular doozy. What girls want is an obsessive, controlling, creepy vampire to love them. Not careers or adequate healthcare or basic respect, but to avoid sexual behavior until a dude who will “protect” them comes along.
Hi! I’ve been quiet, haven’t I? Don’t worry darlings, it’s me, not you. It’s always all about me, you know that.
Anyway, as I made my re-emergence back into being Tallulah last night, my timing couldn’t have been better. Because there was quite the little Twitter storm happening about this piece. FsOTLG were het up. I eventually abandoned the conversation to go find some, you know, actual porn, of the kind that would make Gail Dines weep for my feminist soul. Except who am I kidding? Gail doesn’t think I’m a feminist at all.
Anyway, in the midst of the Twitter conversation, someone mentioned that if you’re going to have a “debate” about porn, you might want to include a sex-positive voice in there somewhere. So, in my yappy, annoying, interrupty way, I thought I’d interject myself into the “debate”.
[see how I keep putting that word into scare quotes? It’s because I don’t believe printing something that is essentially two people agreeing with each other is a “debate”. Hence this post. Dines is a “noted anti-pornography campaigner. Smith admits to not actually knowing anything about the subject – she believes porn is really, really bad, just not as bad as other stuff. Editors? We’re right here. You want a counterpoint? Come ask us. Not all feminists agree. It’s kind of a thing.]
So let’s begin. I’m just going to take the choicest quotes from Gail Dines, because she’s the one making the argument I most disagree with. But do go read the whole thing.
Radical feminists see the production and consumption of porn as a form of violence against women, while liberal, and many postmodern, feminists argue that it is an issue of sexual freedom, fantasy, choice and, in some cases, sexual liberation. The battle is actually one based on theoretical differences, since radical feminists situate their arguments within a wider social theory that owes much to a left-wing analysis of the role of images, culture, ideology and power in capitalist society
See how she gets that out of the way nice and early? Radical feminists are better than you. They know more, and their feminism takes more into account than big tits and cumshots. They’ve read more, discussed more, and think more.
For the record, if anyone wants to check my feminist credentials? I have a post-graduate degree, I read The Women’s Room at 13, The Beauty Myth at 15, and De Beauvoir in the original at 17. I abandoned my marxist politics when I realised no one in that particular room was having any fun, but I am perfectly capable of ‘situating’ my “I choose my choice” feminism within the dominant paradigm of patriarchal power structures. You can choose for yourself how much most of this paragraph has been taking the piss, because we all know how I feel about the One True Feminist idea.
Importantly, porn – with its reactionary ideas about women’s ‘natural’ role as fuck objects and its misogynistic representations of women enjoying humiliation and degradation at the hands of men – creates ideologies that support legal, economic and cultural sexism.
Le sigh. It is about here that I start getting bored. Because OH MY GOD, how many times are we going to have this particular conversation? I don’t know anyone who would argue there’s absolutely nothing problematic within the porn (and wider sex) industry. But to argue that all porn is “reactionary”, that every woman involved in, whether acting, making or enjoying porn is being subjugated, and that no woman ever enjoyed being humiliated? Well, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I don’t need to explain why, do I?
Type ‘porn’ into Google and click around the most well-travelled websites that appear. With mind-numbing repetition you will see gagging, slapping, verbal abuse, hair-pulling, pounding anal sex, women smeared in semen, sore anuses and vaginas, distended mouths, and more exhausted, depleted and shell-shocked women than you can count.
As I have said before when I have written on this subject, I’m not TLG’s resident porn expert. And I don’t watch a lot of porn, so I am mostly sheilded from the gagging, slapping, and hair-pulling….what? Sorry, got a little distracted there. So all I will say, is that if “type X into Google” is your main research, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Pointed out by FOTLG in this discussion is some, you know, actual research.
…Physical aggression – including spanking, open-hand slapping and gagging – occurred in over 88 per cent of scenes, while expressions of verbal aggression – calling the woman names such as ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ – were found in 48 per cent. The researchers concluded that ‘if we combine both physical and verbal aggression, our findings indicate that nearly 90 per cent of scenes contained at least one aggressive act, with an average of nearly twelve acts of aggression per scene’.1
Just FYI? Spanking, gagging, and calling names? Not necessarily inherently aggressive, nor inherently degrading, depending on the context.
Porn is an industry, and like other industries it shapes the way we live. The fashion industry shapes the way we dress, the food industry the way we eat, and the sex industry the way we think and have sex. To argue otherwise would be to make the ridiculous claim that the only industry that has no power in the real world is porn.
Except that what porn depicts is by and large, fantasy. That there are people who can’t tell the difference between that and reality is, yes, worrying. But so are the people who can’t recognise that the models in Vogue don’t look like actual women, and the clothes they are wearing are worth about a year’s salary for most people. The fashion and food industry are selling us products. Porn is the product. It exists to sell itself. Which is not to say that is isn’t selling something, nor that it isn’t shaping culture and behaviour. But it’s different.
They understand that systems of inequality are never secured once and for all, thus part of the work of the elite is to produce a hegemonic ideology that convinces both the oppressor and the oppressed class that the system is fair, just and unchangeable. To drive a wedge between the material and the ideological, as Smith does, is to ignore the complex ways that systems of inequality produce and reproduce themselves across time and place.
Yes. Because there are no women working to make the porn industry more accountable to, and produced for, women. ALL the women involved are oppressed. No woman ever has stood up and said ‘I don’t care that you saw it online, I’m not doing that.” No man has ever said, “you know what? That scene is kind of rapey, and I don’t want to act it”. There’s never, ever been anything in a mainstream hollywood movie that gets anywhere close to what’s happening in the world of porn.
I hope Smith is right and we are beginning to see some change in the air, but I do not have any faith whatsoever in any man, Left or Right, who has learned his sex education from porn. For real change to happen, men need to see women as full human beings with an absolute right to equality. Try telling that to the guys who jerk off to SUCKMEBITCH.COM.
Oh Gail. You know what? I am not sure if I believe you have faith in any man. Left or right (because those are the only two classifiers), porn-watching or chaste. Regardless of where he got his sex education. But you’re right, we should be very wary of anyone who got their sex education from pornography. Mostly because, likely, they are going to be really shit in bed. But there are plenty, plenty of men who see women as full, equal, upright citizens who enjoy a nice bit of anal porn with their tea and biscuits. That there are people who take the fantasies and extremities portrayed on suckmebitch.com seriously – speaks to a bigger social ill.
Look. The conceit of the article is “whether porn should be a priority for the women’s movement”. We live in a world where legislators can’t say “vagina”. Yes, porn should be a priority, but not in the way Dines means.
Dear Julie Bindel. Where would we be without you? Oh, yeah: vastly better off.
Yes, in case anyone was getting too complacent, and thinking we were all on board with letting people get on with whatever floats their boat, Bindel is there, still being published, still making sure we realise that our sexuality is
a) a choice, and
b) the wrong choice.
Those of us who grew up in a time and context where there was a political analysis of sexuality were able to make a positive choice to be a lesbian. I believed then, and I believe now, that if bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men.
Now, I’m a bisexual woman who sleeps with men. Ergo, I must have no sexual politics. According to Bindel, that makes me a hedonist, “where the only thing that matters is sexual pleasure and desire”. To which I can only reply, “That’s beside the point. There is no amount of cock I can rub up against that will stop my brain from functioning*.”
There are some things that make this column actually worth reading. Firstly, it makes things like this, and its comments, make more sense. This is the context, of some lesbians being deeply uncomfortable with bisexual women, and making them feel unwelcome.
Secondly, there’s the deep, ironic pleasure of watching Bindel criticise Camile Paglia for doing less than Bindel is doing herself. Paglia says, “You know I’m not telling lesbians to stop sleeping only with women,” but Bindel IS telling bi women to stop sleeping with men. On a related note, that link to the research she quotes? Isn’t a link to the research she quotes.
Mostly, though, there are the comments. No, seriously. Read the comments. Four pages. Not one in support of Bindel’s argument, which is that for me to have any feminist credibility whatsoever, I must have sex in the manner Bindel dictates. To which I can only say, seriously, get fucked. In whatever manner you please.
Desire is not a choice. It’s there or it’s not, it doesn’t confine itself to the politically appropriate. Yes, I could choose to only have sex with women, but why would I? Bindel’s demands make just as little sense as homophobes saying I should only ever have sex with men. I’m not a lesbian, and I can’t see a single reason why I should pretend to be one.
And if the price of admission to Proper Feminism is to never give head again? I’m quite happy outside the tent, thanks.
*Permanently. Obviously I’m not actively thinking about sexual politics during the sexing, but even I’m not having sex all the time.
All you knitters and crocheters, should you be looking for a crafty project, then here’s a great one. The Rotoract Club of Wellington is running a project to provide all the children at Natone School in Porirua with warm woolen hats to wear this winter. They can supply you with wool if you need some, ‘though if you are like me, then you will have a stash of odds and ends that are just begging to be made into something.
Details here: Knitters are needed to knit woollen hats
The call for help has come through Ask Share Give, which is a website that helps to facilitate giving, and asking. Fantastic.
No matter how much it tries to backpedal and reframe and rephrase, no matter how many soft words it puts around the conversation, the fact remains that this government, in the person of Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Welfare, has advocated adopting some sort of policy to prevent some women from having more babies. That’s the plain meaning of Paula Bennett’s words yesterday.
They scare the hell out of me.
What they suggest is a government that is happy to control women and to control women’s bodies. At present they only want to do it to “bad” mothers, people who have killed their children, or abused them so badly that the children have been taken away from them, or people who form new relationships with “bad” men who then abuse and sometimes kill their stepchildren. It’s all being done in the name of saving the children.
Of course we want to save children from harm, and of course, we can save them from immediate harm by ensuring they are not vulnerable to abusers, and of course, the easiest way to do that is to take the children away from the abusers, or scarily, to stop abusers from having children in the first place.
Therein lies the problem. This is the easy solution. The hard solution would involve trying to work out why people abuse and kill children. The thing is, we already have a fair idea about that. Aside from psychosis and revenge, it turns out that most killings occur when parents are down and out, when they have no hope and no resources, when they have given up, or been given up on, any hope of a life integrated into the structure of a community. A quick search on Google would have told Paula Bennett that. Reducing the number of children who are abused or killed won’t be easy. It will involve working closely with women and with families, helping women to become independent, ensuring that they live in meaningful and supportive communities, that they have secure incomes, that they can look after themselves and their children, trying to ensure that they are not under such stress and feel so hopeless that they take out all their problems on their children. But that would be hard work, and it would cost money. Much easier just to opt for the big stick of sanctions. This is a policy that fits all too comfortably with National’s policy on getting beneficiary mums and their daughters to use long term contraceptives.
In the name of pragmatism, and easiness, this government takes the shortcut of asserting control over women’s bodies.
What next? Is the government going to suggest that women on the DPB should be sterilised? Maybe women who drink while pregnant will have their babies removed at birth. Perhaps if you have a student loan, government will tell you that it isn’t wise to have children now, and it will “help” you to avoid having any.
And that’s exactly where the danger lies in this sort of policy that attempts to control women’s bodies. Today it’s women who harm, or allow harm to come to, their children. Who is it going to be tomorrow?
And that’s why, liberal dudes, I am so tired of hearing you say that this is all just a distraction. My bodily autonomy is at stake here, and you tell me that I should get to the back of the queue, because it’s just a minor matter, designed to get people to take their eye off the government’s woes in other areas. Because at the end of the day, women’s rights are always tradeable.
Thank you so very much.
And let’s not forget the racism underpinning this. We know that killing and abuse of children (‘though not sexual abuse, which seems to be classless) is much more common among the least privileged socio-economic groups, and we know that socio-economic groups are highly race marked in New Zealand. This is another move towards stigmatising people with brown skins, and controlling them, and worst of all, taking away their children. And we all know how well that kind of policy has worked in the past.
Update: One of those liberal dudes has since posted on the matter: A rancid style of politics. I think he’s right about the convenience of Bennett’s announcement. Many thanks for your post, I/S.
That is because work is a socially valuable experience. It does not just pay us, but it has some latent social functions:
– Employment imposes a time structure on the working day:
– It involves regularly shared experiences and contacts with people outside the nuclear family:
– It links an individual to goals and purposes which transcend her or his own:
– It enforces activity.
….A quick summary is that we because we are social animals we are happy to work, for it gives us more than just income.
That all seems plausible to me, and it certainly explains at least some of the disconnection I experienced when we lived in Adelaide, where my work was irregular and not integrated into a particular workplace community. Easton uses the analysis to show why we need to do better with respect to managing unemployment, and why we need to change our attitudes towards the unemployed. If you are at all interested in New Zealand’s economic priorities, or in social justice, then Easton’s column is very much worth reading.
It’s the next thing that Easton says in his column that has had me thinking.
You will observe that housework is not quite as successful at covering the latent functions – as well as it is not paid – which may explain why it is unpopular.
– Housework has no time structure, for it is always there, always waiting to be done, always able to be done. One cannot resolve to finish housework for the day, turn off the computer, leave the office and go home to relax, because home is the very site where housework occurs.
– Housework occurs within the nuclear family.
– Perhaps housework does link one to goals and purposes outside one’s own goals and purposes, in the sense that it helps to create an environment in which other people can thrive, but that seems to stretch the idea of transcendence a little far.
– But it does enforce activity. It’s just hard for me to see it as particularly enjoyable activity, ‘though I know that others differ in this regard.
I find it very, very hard to motivate myself to do housework, ‘though oddly enough, i find it easier to do so when I have to fit it in around my paid work. A quick 15 minutes here or there is not too difficult to manage. But 15 minutes here or there isn’t really enough to keep it all under control, especially when we are both in paid employment. So… we have outsourced the horrid work, and hired a cleaner.
And there’s the rub. I know that all of us have work preferences, that just as the thought of academic work might send you running for the hills, the thought of say, accounts work makes we want to crawl under my desk in despair. But it seems that most people loathe housework, and really, I don’t see why my cleaner would enjoy it any more than I do. Of course, he can lock the door and go home… to more housework. And he gets paid for the work, which must help. However he works on his own – no social structure around work for him. Just in and out of different houses, cleaning, with no one to share the work, no one to chat to, to sit down for a coffee break with.
I tend to try to be out of the house when our cleaner comes in, partly so that he doesn’t have to work around me, partly because even though academic work is flexible, I prefer to work in my office on campus, and partly because our current cleaner insists on chatting to me, so that I can’t get on with my own work, and partly because I always find it hard having tradies in my space (that would be my native curmudgeonliness and introversion coming out ). But I’ve just started to think that making an effort to be absent is unfair, and that if I am going to provide a decent work environment, then as well as making sure that he is fairly paid (we hire and pay for cleaners through a local company, which means that we can be sure that the workers are getting the going rate, and holiday pay and sick pay and so on), I ought to be open to making sure that some of those latent functions of work are served as well. I don’t think I need to make a special effort to stay home, but scuttling out as quickly as I can seems to be at least a little churlish.
Or maybe this is all just too middle-class-angst-ridden for words, and I should just get over it.
Previous writing on housework (as you can see this has been a bit of a touchstone issue for me over the years):
– Dinosaurs thundering by again
– Simone de Beauvoir on housework
– We need a wife
– Sharing the load