Posted on | March 14, 2013 | 2 Comments
I was procrastinating on a piece of writing one day last week and I grabbed a volume of the Grove Press Sade off my bookshelf, the one with Philosophy in the Bedroom and Justine, and what struck me upon my limited re-perusal was how many of the modern sticking points about female sexuality where we would judge Sade to have weighed in on the right side.
In Philosophy in the Bedroom, Dolmancé explains to Eugenie that the clitoris is the center of female pleasure. We kept debating that for decades, even up to recent times and Sade nailed it with no credentials as a sexual expert and several thousands of pages of prose that, most people would argue, emphatically disqualify him from weighing in on any question of female pleasure at all.
Tagging this up, he goes on to say that stimulating a woman’s asshole and clitoris at the same time produces the most sublime pleasure for a woman. And I have to say that my own personal experience corroborates that. Most women that I’ve been with have enjoyed that combination. I’m not necessarily talking about anal sex with a penis, and neither was Sade. (It was just a finger in the scene where he made the comment.)
In the porn in current circulation, it’s not all that common for a woman’s clitoris to be well attended to during anal sex or any kind of anal activity, and it always worries me that guys are learning that it’s a brilliant move to just start playing with a woman’s asshole without supplementing. So Sade has something to teach us again.
And finally, in Justine, there’s a scene with female ejaculation. Of course it’s Sade so it’s some deviant priest who’s putting a piano leg up Justine’s vagina, or something equally nutty, but the fact remains that he got the female ejaculation part right. I’ve read articles in peer-reviewed sexual journals where female ejaculation is studied from the point of view of attempting to prove whether it exists or not. (He also kind of implies the existence of female ejaculation in Philosophy in the Bedroom because there’s a long conversation about male semen vs. female semen where he recites the error of his day about male semen containing the whole germ and female semen being only the germinating fluid.)
Bottom line, it turns out that female ejaculation does exist, so there’s another one for Sade.
This whole thing is a wonderful example of why I’m ultimately optimistic about people: when people dig into the details of anything, regardless of their sentimental intent or their grasp of the “big ideas,” they tend to get things right.
Sade was legitimately a terrible person. If I’m remembering right, he was finally arrested for a stunt where he kidnapped a half-dozen poor virgin girls, imprisoned them in a barn in the middle of nowhere, raped them and worse for weeks and, when he ran out of ideas, turned them over to an insane asylum. This is an epically depraved, uncaring, criminally vicious person. He had no sentimental thoughts about women. No general love for the sex. They were simply to be used and discarded.
But general, sentimental thoughts about a group of people like women, or the poor, or an idea, like caring for the environment, are big ideas and when people start throwing around big ideas, they usually go off the rails. Sade is a good example of this as well: The philosophy in Philosophy in the Bedroom is trite, self-justificatory nonsense. He makes the argument, which originated with Pascal, if I’m remembering my Roger Sandal, that because in some places they eat with forks and in other places they eat with their hands, that there are no legitimate social rules or laws and that anything is allowed, morally speaking.
The most articulate refutation of this argument that I’ve ever read is made by that guy I just mentioned, Roger Sandal, in his classic book The Culture Cult. (I can’t recommend that book enthusiastically enough.) To summarize, the fallacy of the argument is in equating something quite trivial, like how people manage to get food into their mouths, with something morally substantial like whether it’s OK to steal from people who are not outsiders. These two things are apples and oranges, so the argument falls apart.
It’s big ideas that people screw up, but when people have enough freedom of action and freedom of expression and they dig down into the details of something, it is my experience that people in general do get more things right than they get wrong. (This is what democracy is based on, at least as argued by JS Mill.)
Sade was not at all inclined to care about female pleasure in a big-idea sense. But he was a wide-ranging pervert: He was a masochist as well as a sadist; he liked having sex and, in general, it’s easier to achieve that goal if the experience is not entirely negative for the women you’re having sex with. So along his way, he did learn things about how women’s bodies work that a person who is sentimental about women, but who doesn’t have Sade’s high level of interest, drive, and desire, would never learn in a million years. The sentimental, big idea person is liable to come up with a theory that only vaginal sex can bring pleasure because it is the only route to procreation, not because he’s tried almost literally all the other things and by process of elimination come up with vaginal being the bomb.
So despite the fact that there are many despicable things about him and despite the fact that he certainly didn’t know everything about women, Sade’s detailed experience gave him a series of insights which we have to acknowledge as accurate.
Posted on | January 28, 2013 | 2 Comments
There’s a Showtime series called Shameless with a terrific ensemble cast led by William H. Macy, and the beautiful Emmy Rossum. It’s super refreshing to have a low class family on TV. (Every time I go out with a script for How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry, someone wants it to be a version of Entourage where everyone, or at least a few key people, are super rich and successful and the main character is getting more pussy than he can handle. Shows like Shameless make me hopeful that something relatable might be possible.)
Having said that much, this isn’t a review of the show in general. True to the mission of this blog, it’s a review of the sex (second season only), which is salted into the show alongside the outrageous druggy, low-class, and criminal behavior of the family. Needless to say, spoiler alert.
The good news is that the sex isn’t strictly used as some tortured metaphor for anything, like it is in shows, movies, and novels with hack literary aspirations; it’s just normal, pleasurable sex. They don’t make sex the butt of the joke, as long as the people screwing are under 30. The sex offers us a window into their characters, as any other part of a storyline might, but it’s not pathological.
Fiona, Emmy Rossum, is the de-facto leader of the family trying to make moral choices opposite of her drunken father, with mixed success. This story line plays out with her sex life, where she casually screws some business guy, screws a married high-school crush whose angered wife ends up stalking Fiona for a few episodes, then lands with a guy she legitimately loves and who loves her back, though their ability to be together is compromised by a shotgun marriage plot out of a Univision Novela.
Fiona’s sex is pretty off the shelf, Hollywood, ripping clothes off and sticking it in. Like most movie heroines, Fiona’s low-maintenance vagina gets adequately wet when you’re tearing her clothes off, so you don’t have to waste further time with it. Not a lot of imagination went into crafting these scenarios. One particularly disappointing scene happens late in the season when she’s gotten onto solid footing with Steve, her true love: The shot opens on them lying in the afterglow. He wants to go again and she needs some convincing, so he starts to go down on her and the camera hangs on her face. Now anyone who follows censorship in American film knows well that the taboo shot of all taboo shots is a woman’s face during orgasm, particularly during oral sex. (Watch This Film Is Not Yet Rated for further information.)
So you can imagine that I was kind of excited about whether the Shameless writers were interested in taking this on. They weren’t. Steve goes down on her for like five seconds. She gets a fleeting look of pleasure on her face and then contorts into this, “Oh, I can’t stay mad at you” expression and she hustles him back on top for a bit more of the in-out-in-out. Since when does a woman not appreciate a little head? Is foreplay illegal? There are blowjobs galore on the show. You can’t show a guy going down on a girl for more than five seconds? Not egregious, just disappointing.
Lip, Fiona’s brother, has an interesting relationship with a trashy girl, Karen, who is twenty times of trouble, but he can’t stop himself. He’s addicted to the pussy. He gets drawn in, despite his better judgment, because that’s what sex does. You do have to be careful who you fuck, not because it’s morally wrong or something, but because when you fuck people you fall in love with them. That’s how we’re built. (I get pussywhipped almost instantly, so I found the Lip storyline quite realistic.) There’s the sex and there’s the aggravation Lip feels over her platonic relationship with a recovering sex addict, which reminded me of Swann’s falling in love with Odette because of that traumatic night where he can’t find her.
But as much as the plot is good, the sex itself is quite disappointing. Karen blows him a lot and then there’s straight fucking, but that’s all. In one truly egregious scene, Lip is fucking her from behind and says, “Can I plow the back fields?” or something like that to ask if he can fuck her in the ass. Karen says, “You already are. [beat] It’s OK. I like it.”
Now it’s nice for ass sex to get a notice in a non-porn scenario and in a context where it’s not portrayed as a joke, painful, humiliating, or dominating. But there are two massive problems with that exchange: 1. Lip was fucking her in the ass and didn’t know it. This is ridiculous. Ass sex feels radically different from vaginal sex. The vagina is bumpy and textured on the inside where the anus and rectum are super-smooth feeling. There is no way that anyone not using a condom, which Lip is not with Karen, could be fucking her ass without knowing that he was fucking her ass. Have none of the writers had anal sex? How drunk or inexperienced would you have to be to make that mistake? Really silly.
2. Since he didn’t even know he was fucking her in the ass, he obviously had made the switch with no preparation or lubrication or anything. That is nuts. At least in my experience, a woman requires a lot of prep to have ass sex comfortably. In porn, an unprepared for hot swap happens all the time, but that’s because the girls get prepped for it while the camera isn’t rolling. Why continue the porn version of sex on a TV show when you’re not showing anything anyway? How real sex occurs in the real world is actually interesting. Write scenes about that. The American male gets miseducated enough about things like how to have anal sex comfortably. Let’s not pile on. Next time, I’ll cover the sex with old folks, by which I mean people over 30.
Posted on | February 18, 2012 | 1 Comment
Success is the worst thing that can happen to any movement for social change. You succeed in a partial way, everyone has a party, claps one another on the back and decamps, thinking that the work is finished. Over the years, feminism has repeatedly cycled through this process of success and abandonment. The early women’s movement in America was a subgroup of abolitionism, but after they helped wipe out slavery, the other abolitionists got instant amnesia about the bigger picture and abandoned their proto-feminist (and now former) friends. I wrote about that more extensively here. (I’ve often thought, cynically, about how northern abolitionists stood ready to make social changes regarding black men, whom they did not live cheek-to-jowl with, but ran away from making any social change regarding women, who lived under their roofs.)
It took decades, but the suffrage movement got its steam back up and ended up getting the 19th amendment passed in 1920. Then the air went out of the tires again. The goal had been achieved and all the broader issues that had been advocated by feminists like Victoria Woodhull and others got swept under the rug, maybe encouraged by a fantasy that universal suffrage would solve all those problems in time.
Decades more passed before the energy returned. During the 1960 and ’70s, the movement achieved many of its aims: big strides in employment fairness, laws against sexual harassment, the availability of safe and legal abortions and then the masses pretty much decamped (again), others veered in an academic direction where few would follow and other activists took feminism as a launching point for a broader humanist agenda, kind of like Woodhull had wanted to.
But the remaining activists were ready this time. They’d learned how this song was sung and they would not get stuck with the tired refrain of dissipation. Instead, they chose to sing another song that went something like this: “Despite some gains, things are horrible and unfair for all women. There is no goal that could be reached or achievement in law or statistical equivalency between men and women that should in any way lead you to to the mistaken thought that things are not horrible for women.”
This strategy has been successful at keeping women’s issues center stage in the American agenda, though, as with any strategy, it does come with costs: It relies entirely on selling and re-selling the idea of woman as victim and it draws the paradox that you should put your faith and energy behind a movement that, by its own propaganda, has failed. Over time, a real disconnect has sprung up between reality and this message of the perpetual gendered victimhood of all women.
For the past couple of decades, girls have profoundly outperformed boys in school. (Black girls go to college in about a ten-to-one ratio to black boys. I got that stat from a documentary called Bring Your A Game.) Women have broad access to every profession. In a reasonably long career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, I’ve had many more women bosses than men bosses and pharmaceutical manufacturing is no pink ghetto.
To counter all this unfortunate / fortunate reality, the women’s movement has relied on two strategies to keep the faithful in a state of useful agitation: internationalization and the adept use of statistics to paint the picture of a world that is grossly unfair to women. The most reliable stat used by the women’s movement is the wage gap. A gross analysis of W2 data reveals pretty reliably that women make about 78 cents for every dollar made by men. This statistic is typically invoked with the strong implication or direct message that the 22 cents is caused by sexist treatment in the workplace. More nuanced analysis of this gap, coming both from the left and the right, estimates that only about 5 or 6 percent of the gap comes from bias or prejudice in the workforce. This gap is too small to attempt to correct with some kind of affirmative action or legislation, so the larger gap is always quoted.
The other rhetorical strategy on tap is internationalization. If a writer wants to drum up concern about the plight of women in an area where women in America aren’t doing so badly or are substantially better off than men, such as literacy, the argument can still be won by taking it international. If it seems like anyone is getting ready to spend any social capital or money to teach boys to read, start to talk about how girls in some country or other aren’t taught to read at all. Then everyone gets so riled up about that far-away injustice that illiteracy among American boys seems to be an unmanly whine by comparison.
Posted on | July 7, 2011 | No Comments
I just finished watching parts 4 and 5 of the HBO remake of Mildred Pierce starring Kate Winslet and my first reaction is, “Why?” Why on earth would you remake one of the most tedious examples of the 20th century’s hostility towards women and the middle class. Spoiler alert! The plot is this: Mildred kicks out her husband for philandering, can’t make ends meet and starts waiting tables. With much determination and a little luck, she manages to start a restaurant venture of her own. On the eve of the opening, she has a weekend fling with a dashing stranger and upon returning home, her youngest daughter falls ill and dies. Of course she does. Only in cheesy horror movies are women punished more quickly or more cruelly for experiencing sexual pleasure… Or is she being punished for trying to get ahead by opening a restaurant? Too close to call. In the hack narrative arts, you’d be justified to kill off a child for either one.
You think she’d have learned her lesson, but no. Mildred compounds her continued enjoyment of sexual pleasure by succeeding at her restaurant business and then, gasp of horror, trying to make things better for her child. If you think the surviving child dies as a result, guess again, it’s worse. She turns into a conniving bitch who bankrupts her mother and runs off with the mother’s boyfriend. At the end, Mildred, now just as penniless as she was at the start, ends up back with the philandering husband, one child dead and the other worse than dead.
Back when this movie originally came out back in 1945 the middle class was on the verge of an epic increase in their fortunes, so this vile expression of hatred towards them can almost be respected as prescient. But the middle class in this country is dead and dying these days. So really? You’re going to kick a dog when it’s down?
If you’ve never read The Culture Cult by Roger Sandall, I cannot recommend it enough. His examination of the origins of middle class hatred among the bohemian movements is quite incisive and really helps explain weird cultural phenomena like the original movie and this bizarre, non-ironic remaking of it.
Posted on | May 2, 2011 | 1 Comment
Susie Bright could have described her life in any number of ways and gotten a receptive hearing from her many fans, but she digs deep in this autobiography, giving us four slices from her life that I found utterly satisfying, full of twists and turns. First, she gives an entertaining view of her family origins, grandparents down. Second, she describes her days as a labor organizer. Third, we get the story behind “On Our Backs,” the revolutionary, lesbian sex magazine she co-founded and ran. Then she rounds out the book with the birth of her daughter and the effect that had on her life.
I loved the family part, but the book tripped into couldn’t-put-it-down land when her work on the radical high school newspaper she started, the Red Tide, leads to her joining a hard core socialist group. She drops out of high school, goes to “Commie Camp,” moves to Detroit and then Louisville to organize labor. It’s a tale of left-wing America that I had never read before. In stories from the right and middle, the left is vilified as a Judas. In stories from the left, things are usually depicted as rosy, beyond credulity and neither seems right.
Susie’s description of her experiences reads like an innocent Alice in a radical Wonderland full of pointless violence and betrayal. You see the American left eating itself alive from street level. It’s like reading a history of the French revolution, except it’s people who speak your language and wear jeans.
From here, we follow Susie to college and then to her founding of “On Our Backs,” the groundbreaking, lesbian erotic magazine. The magazine struggles financially and gets hounded mercilessly by the mainstream feminist movement. In a way, it’s a nightmarish replay of the previous act, with fewer guns and more lesbians. Susie gets death threats and hate mail by the bushel. She’s assaulted on college campuses by women’s studies majors driven into frenzies of hatred.
While mainstream feminists engaged in a resentful, but nonetheless awe-filled, worship of the patriarchy (from which all things come), the strippers and dykes at “On Our Backs” engaged in an essential exercise of self-expression and lived their sexuality out loud, without anyone’s permission and certainly without anyone’s approval.
In 2000, one of the founders of Ms. Magazine, Brenda Feigen, wrote a biography about her participation in mainstream feminism. The story of her personal life includes a divorce and an entry into a relationship with a woman. In my opinion, her coming out simply isn’t possible without Susie Bright. I’m pretty sure that statement would be scoffed at in the hallways of Ms. Magazine or the Harvard women’s studies department, but I’m also pretty sure that it’s true. Feigen’s biography is called, “Not One of the Boys.” Susie could have trumped that title with “Not One of the Boys Nor One of the Girls.” She very much blazed her own trail.
Susie’s pregnancy in her early thirties, her exit from “On Our Backs” in the middle of new single motherhood, her finding a place in academia and her now-long-term relationship with Jon, an artist she falls in love with, may read like a postscript to some, but as a new father myself, I found these chapters compelling. She shares her anxieties about parenthood and recounts her failings and successes and the effect that having a child had on her life.
All in all, a great read and a chapter in feminist history that is not coming to a university near you, unless you’re lucky enough to have Susie Bright as a professor.
Posted on | March 5, 2011 | 3 Comments
Since Christmas, there have been a few billboards around Los Angeles reading, “The Goal of Life Is Bliss.” Bookending this statement are photos of two men, their shining, benevolent faces really selling the idea and you might think that a writer on the subject of sex would be super-friendly to this concept, but I’m not at all.
I don’t have a problem with an individual thinking that the goal of his or her own personal life is bliss. I just don’t think that’s a decision that two men, however kindly, should be making for other people. It seems to me that one of our most basic freedoms is the freedom to figure out your own goal in life or to decide that life has a goal or purpose at all. What if you think the goal of life is taking care of animals or gaining power or making scientific discoveries. Hasn’t the goal of many people been sacrificing for others. The goal of Mother Theresa’s life wasn’t bliss.
You could make an argument that all of these seemingly different goals are actually just different ways that people find their own personal bliss. (And from what I’ve read, Mother Theresa did have a thing going on with poverty.) But to make that argument is to take the definitive statement, “The goal of life is bliss” and make a game out of it where whatever goal I name (horticulture, bacteriology, childrearing), you say that the real goal behind that goal is bliss, which makes it what philosophers would call a self-sealing argument. Self-sealing because wherever I poke a hole in it, you can fill that hole by saying that whatever I just said was really what you were saying.
Even if you don’t care about the self-sealing dilemma, the “goal of life is bliss” argument will ultimately go down if we turn to people who get their jollies doing things that we can all agree are pretty heinous:
Kim Jong-il is obviously following his bliss, but we’d react differently to the same billboard with Kim on it pointing to a nuclear warhead instead of the pleasant looking gentlemen smiling at us. In the case of this billboard, bliss is probably a Trojan horse for a system of values that excludes Kim Jong-il, regardless of how blissful he truly is. The values doubtless include peace and love and friendliness and probably vegetarianism and meditation as a technique for achieving a certain mental or spiritual state and I have no problem with any of that because at least we’re talking about something definite.
But it is an advertisement in the end, so I don’t know why I took the statement seriously enough to be offended by it. It’s a bit of puffery, like “World’s greatest hamburger.” I don’t get offended by that. And just like restaurants have to say things like “World’s greatest hamburger” to get diners spiritual movements have to say stuff like “The goal of life is bliss” to get congregants. Regardless of the fact that both of those statements are hopelessly unsupportable for more or less the same reasons.
Christianity, the religion I was brought up in, can be interpreted to say that the goal of life is salvation, but there’s a fascinating argument that this is not really a goal for life but rather a postponement of the goal to the afterlife. (I can’t remember where I read that exactly. If someone knows please tell me.) Many Christians do think deeply about the goal and purpose of this life here on earth, but some do take advantage of this technicality and don’t really think deeply about the goal or purpose of this life aside from the extension of it by faith. (In the unkindest light, the dumbed down versions of evangelicalism are just the spiritual version of a genie asking you to make three wishes and you wishing for more wishes. When some evangelicals are asked what the goal or purpose of life is, the only answer they have is “more life,” which is not an answer at all. And seeing as they didn’t figure out a purpose in this life, what makes them think that they’ll be able to do it in the next one?)
This lack of philosophy among what are called “high religious copers” gets paid off at the end of this life with a well studied bias towards aggressive end-of-life treatments. Although they have spent their entire lives believing that they are going to a better place when they die and believing that the earth is a festering cesspool of sin, high religious copers hold on to the painful and degrading scrap ends of life like a starving dog to a bone. Here’s an academic study of the phenomenon and here’s an article from Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine, discussing some of the research. The article from Christianity Today is really sweet to read because the writer is genuinely disturbed by this tendency to life-grabbing. He should be, because it stands in absolute contradiction to the doctrine of Christianity, where every Christian should be at least content if not eager to fall back into the bosom of the creator.
It reminds me of a conversation I had back in college. I was in a wide tiled hallway waiting for a class to begin when a born-again classmate attempted to convert me by asking what I would do if I knew that a nuclear bomb was heading towards the city. I said that I’d get in my car and drive out of the city. (This was playing right into the story’s hands.) He responded that he wouldn’t because he knew that god was waiting for him after death. I felt a bit stung by this and had no real response. Only now, twenty years later, I have a zinger. He’d never have admitted to it, but he’s wrong. I would indeed be heading out in my car, but on the way, he would run me off the road with his car trying to beat me out of the city in a desperate effort to hang on to even a second more of this life, regardless of his aspirations about how his belief about an afterlife might give him strength and peace in such a moment.
Ultimately, you rob yourself of something important when you refuse to do the work on your own (either to come up with a goal or to land on the idea that there is no goal). So don’t buy it when someone says the goal of life is bliss or salvation or whatever they’re selling. Go to the meditation workshop and enjoy the vegetarian buffet and the music and the calm-voiced talking. Just stick it in the back of your head that the goal thing is your decision to make.
Posted on | October 30, 2010 | 2 Comments
I’ve talked before about hysterical uses and abuses of sexual shock words, but the Parents Television Council has sunk to worst in class in their bat-shit crazy criticism of the GQ photoshoot of Glee actors and actresses.
It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on ‘Glee’ in this way. It borders on pedophilia. Sadly, this is just the latest example of the overt sexualization of young girls in entertainment,” said PTC President Tim Winter.
As all the media outlets have been quick to mention, the actor and two actresses who posed for the sexy GQ photoshoot are, 28, 24 and 24. Beyond that, their characters are at least 16 and attend a west Ohio high school, where the age of consent is 16. So even if you are confused by the difference between fact and fiction, there is nothing illegal about an adult man having a real life relationship with these girls or the boy, much less just fantasizing about it as he casually flips through a magazine. In the real world, a man getting turned on by a sixteen-year-old girl is about as far from pedophilic as you can get. It’s dead normal. A man who doesn’t get turned on physically by a sixteen-year-old girl is either gay or–hold on to your hats–an actual pedophile. (That reference is from a book called The Causes of Rape in case you want to dig deeper.)
There’s no way that a real pedophile would get off on that photoshoot. To the contrary, the pictures in GQ could be used to cure a real pedophile via conditioning. (Under conditioning, every time a pedophile has a sexual thought about a child, he’s supposed to grab a photo of a sexualized adult woman and redirect his thoughts and energy to that image. The one of Lea Michele straddling the bench in white underwear should do the trick just fine.)
Words mean something and pedophilia means having sex with a prepubescent child. Tim Winter, and the rest of the perverts over at the Parents Television Council, apparently can’t stop thinking about having sex with prepubescent children for long enough to discern between the actual thing and a show that is very specifically about teens coming into their sexuality. There’s a pregnant teen, a gay kid who’s on his way out of the closet. Two cheerleading super-sluts who use sex as recreation and are constantly in cheerleader uniforms. (Thanks for that, Rupert Murdoch. Not a big fan otherwise, but you had me at hello with this one.) The kid in the wheelchair lost his virginity to one of the super-sluts and the jock lost his to another. There’s a virgin singing star and a virgin guidance counselor. It’s a show about sex and singing, in that order. Whether you like their stance on one thing or the other, sex is dealt with on Glee as a moral and important issue.
And whether you think such an exploration of teens coming into their sexuality is salutary or a sign of the endtimes, it’s unavoidably true that grappling with sexuality is a legitimate part of teen life. And because it’s such a legitimate part of teen life, the memories of it are a legitimate part of adult life, something that it’s quite normal for us to have a feeling of nostalgia about. I didn’t get any real action in high school, and even I have fond memories from that time, one in particular: In ninth or tenth grade, a girl joined my class. In math, she sat diagonally from me. A few weeks into the semester, I noticed that she sat straddling the bar on her pupil’s desk. I thought it was odd and then one day, I noticed that she was rubbing herself on it.
Our math teacher was very good looking, super-nice, extremely cool and insanely smart. Basically everyone in the school had a crush on him, boys as well as girls. Only Lisa, let’s call her that, decided to do something about it. It took me a while to figure out that she was masturbating and when it did, it completely scrambled my brain. I was confused and excited and embarrassed and somehow angry, which made me even more confused. Until I started having sex in college, this was the most intense sexual experience of my life. And I do think about that every once in a while. Does that make me a pedophile or even a hebephile (someone who likes barely pubescent girls)?
Thinking about it from this distance, it’s so sweet and innocent that Lisa masturbated in math class. She probably thought that nobody could guess what she was doing. She probably thought that she had invented masturbation, which she did, I suppose, for herself at least. But to the ladies and gentlemen of the Parents Television Council: It’s not cute or sweet or innocent in any way for you to be masturbating in public over your erotic obsession with children.
Crying pedophilia over something that is anything but has got to be the loudest, most embarrassing “Was it I lord?” that I’ve ever heard. I’m not saying you’re child molesters. I’m just saying that you’re unhealthily obsessed with sexualizing children and you need to stop it because you’ve managed to vomit your obsession across the media and on the way have trivialized the very thing you are pretending to be concerned about. If pictures of grown actresses dressed like of-age high school students is bordering on pedophilia, then pedophilia isn’t as terrible as I though it was. Is that your message? You’re obviously so rankled by your own obsession with pedophilia that the only way you can deal with it is to call everyone else a pedophile. I don’t much like you and even I feel embarrassed for you.
Posted on | October 12, 2010 | 3 Comments
We as a society do a terrible job of dealing with the problems faced by women and men in sex work, mostly because we mix in our screwed up ideas about sex with the real abuses that they suffer. The sex part is not the abuse part. The sex part is sex. If an adult is freely using her sexuality to make money, I cannot see what is wrong with that. She takes some risks. She uses her body and verbal skills to make money. If she doesn’t use the proper protective gear, she can get a disease. All that describes a great many of the jobs that working class people take.
There are, however, real problems in the world of sex work. Some people in the field are not freely using their sexuality but are being coerced. If the sex-workers have been trafficked, that kind of coercion is rife. (One of the confusions about trafficking is the idea that people are trafficked against their will. It’s usually not that. Most trafficked people were lining up to do the move, they just weren’t anticipating the coercion and semi-slavery at the end of the line.)
There is violence, especially associated with prostitution. (If you haven’t seen it, watch Taxicab Confessions: New York, New York. Part 1. There’s a segment where four pimps get in a cab and tell the driver how they train whores, including an apparently sincere discussion about how to impose discipline by burning them with a coat-hanger turned into a brand by heating it with a cigarette lighter. Horrifying.)
All that stuff is the abuse part. If a woman or a man is being beaten or enslaved or ripped off or coerced, we need to protect her from those things and prosecute her tormentors. And we certainly need to prosecute Johns who mistreat prostitutes. Here’s an article by the director of the Sex Worker’s Project in New York City where she speaks against efforts to prosecute the sex part. She’s against prosecuting customers and against prosecuting prostitutes. And this is from a woman working on the ground with prostitutes trying to make their life better. By heavily criminalizing the sex part, we just open up these women and men to more abuse, from customers and pimps who know they can’t go to the police for fear of being arrested and from bad cops who play both sides of the law against women in the sex trade.
We delude ourselves by thinking that we’re doing something positive for women by disapproving of sex workers and prosecuting them when we can. Stereotyping porn actresses as victims and damaged goods merely facilitates the real abuse that they do suffer. I have spoken to people in the porn industry and there are, of course, bad producers who hire a girl to do a scene then, when she gets there, they ignore all the limitations she had stipulated and pressure her into doing things that she doesn’t want to do. This kind of pressure works in part because she knows full well that the outside world holds her in no esteem and thinks of her as a damaged victim whore with no rights. (This is why it’s important if you are a porn consumer to seek out ethical porn producers. I trust blowfish.com to choose titles made by ethical producers who treat their performers well.)
Walmart famously mistreats their workers with low wages, fraudulent work practices, poor health care, disregard of overtime laws, etc. Nobody, I imagine, would say to a Walmart employee, “Well, that’s what you deserve for working at a Walmart, you stupid whore.” Even if someone works for what is universally recognized as the most evil company in America, we would be and are rightly indignant when they don’t treat that person properly, which they don’t. Neither should we imagine that a sex worker is asking for improper treatment by virtue of his or her line of work.
We help sex workers more by regarding them with a mercy, love and respect that is not adulterated with obsessive pity and fetishy thoughts about female victimhood. “There but for the grace of god go I.” My mother would say, humble in her own good fortune that she did not have to take that path in life. And there she would let it lie.
Posted on | September 25, 2010 | 2 Comments
The comparison between the world’s oldest sport and the world’s oldest profession is pretty apt. With a handful of exceptions, both pull their ranks from the working classes. (No middle- or upper-class parents would be at all happy for their kids to be doing either.) Both occupations involve risk. In the case of a boxer, each punch to the head permanently hurts his or her brain. (Some, like Ali, become physical wrecks from the damage done.) Sex workers take risks with disease and the possibility of violence (strippers less so than porn actors and actresses, and they less so than prostitutes). Pimps and boxing managers both famously rip off and mistreat their clients (physical and financial maltreatment from pimps, mainly financial from managers).
Some fighters become famous and rich, but most don’t. If they are smart, well managed and lucky, they get out of the ring with their brains intact and go on to do something else, maybe in the boxing field, maybe not. Some sex workers become famous and rich, but most don’t. If they are smart, well managed and lucky, they get out of the game without a disease and go on to do something else, maybe in the field of sex work, maybe not.
But despite those very real similarities, our society frames these professions in radically different ways.
I watch boxing every once in a while and the color commentators often bring up the fighter’s life history. That story goes like this: The young man grew up in a terrible home/neighborhood and was forced to fight to survive at eleven years of age or younger. He got involved in gangs and was saved from life in the streets by a career in boxing. (This is the story of Mike Tyson, for example. It’s also the bio of many Mexican boxers.) The fact that the man who boxes has turned this tragically acquired home skill of fighting into an adult money-making skill is framed as heroic. The adversity made him stronger. The boxer is the survivor, the winner, the hero, and ultimately, the artistic practitioner of the sweet science.
Compare this to the story of the porn star: The young woman grew up in a terrible home/neighborhood and was sexually abused or raped or had an inappropriately early sexual debut then was further victimized by a career in sex work. She is not a hero at all; she’s a whore, in the worst meaning of that word, a criminal in some cases. The world hit her in the face when she was a kid and her adult choices don’t amount to hitting back, they amount to her letting the world hit her again and again and again. Her early life has made her damaged goods and, what’s worse, her activities contribute to the moral degradation of the world around her. She’s simultaneously a victim and an offender and there is nothing she can do to make herself not a victim. She will always be that. It might as well be a brand in her flesh.
Her use of her body and sexuality to make money can never be a free choice but is rather a sad replaying of the abuses previously wreaked on her. Your watching her strip or watching her have sex or having sex with her is in no way comparable to watching any other kind of performance, like a play, or receiving any other kind of service, like a massage. Instead, it is the moral equivalent of your going back in time and egging on her abusers.
But let’s flip the telling of each story and see how that works out.
The reverse boxer story would go like this: The young man grew up in a terrible home/neighborhood and was forced to fight to survive at eleven years of age or younger. He got involved in gangs and then was recruited by unscrupulous coaches and promoters into the so-called sport of boxing and further victimized. Now, on top of the abuses and violence he has suffered as a child, he will carry the scars of a life in the ring–brain injury mainly–and what’s worse, his participation in this so-called sport glorifies violence in our already too violent culture.
His use of his body and aggression to make money can never be a free choice but is rather a sad replaying of the tragic violence of his youth. Your watching him fight is the moral equivalent of going back in time and egging on his abusers.
The reverse porn-actress story would go like this:
The young woman grew up in a terrible home/neighborhood and was sexually abused or raped or had an inappropriately early sexual debut then turned her sexual misfortunes to her advantage with a career in sex work. She is a sexual athlete, performing sexual heroics that most of us aren’t even flexible enough to attempt. The world taught her to fuck in a circumstance that would have sent most people cowering into a corner, but not her. She got up and fucked right back. The fact that the she has turned this tragically acquired home skill of fucking into an adult money-making skill is heroic. The adversity made her stronger. The porn-star is a survivor, a winner, a hero, and ultimately, an athletic and artistic practitioner of the great act of physical love.
We would never prosecute someone for fighting in a boxing match. We don’t look at boxers and think that they are scum who are rending the fabric of society. We respect them for their strength and their bravery. We are simultaneously astonished, horrified and excited when they get up off the mat and put their gloves up again. Why can’t this be the way we see sex workers like strippers or porn performers?
A stripper is in charge and in command when she comes out on stage. All eyes are on her, admiring her body and movement. The pole-work is athletic, not to mention the brass it takes to jump out of your nickers in front of complete strangers. And porn actresses are all heroics: they take guys with super-human sexual parts for super-human durations and not just one at a time but several. They don’t limit their acrobatics to men either, but take on other women as well. We are simultaneously astonished, horrified and excited when, after a great deal of fucking, they are still and seemingly always ready for more.
I’m not selling either version of the boxer / sex worker story. It’s impossible that just one story would adequately cover all the members of each group. I just want to question why the preferred story for each is so opposite when the circumstances are so comparable. This sexist double-standard represents an unhealthy fetishizing of women as victims. According to the anti-porn folks, even a rich porn star like Jenna Jameson is a victim. She’s a millionaire. But for a woman, it’s not good enough to have succeeded or to have gotten rich. You have to have done it in the right way. For a man, if you’re rich, you’re good. Hell, you’re great. There are undoubtedly problems with this unquestioning approval of wealth. I’m just saying that the double-standard should set off some bells that we’re not really thinking about this issue either critically or generously.
Posted on | August 31, 2010 | No Comments
NOTE: Comments are now posting. I’m trying to retrieve any comments that didn’t show up. They must have gone somewhere, right? Sorry again.
A couple of the commenters on my last blog about genital cutting took a strong stance against doctors who promote and carry out the practice of cutting in our society. I too am bewildered by the barnacle-like attachment that our medical community has to cutting. But I do not believe that the answer is as simple as, “Doctors who perform circumcisions are bad people.”
I am visualizing the eyes rolling in the heads of some of my readers. I know that I come off as too moderate for many in the way that I express my Inactivism. I do see clearly the malevolent aspects of cutting in the USA… that it’s a hangover from Victorian hostility to maleness, etc.; just read my other blogs on the topic, but I genuinely think that a nuanced view of the medical profession’s relation to cutting will help our push against it more than hurt. In my opinion, one great mistake of the anti-female circ movement was in demonizing Somalian grandmothers and communities for the way they cut their granddaughters. I hate all cutting, but I will not hate all cutters.
It could be raised in objection that I’m just proposing a secularized version of “hate the sin, love the sinner,” from the religion of my youth, and maybe so, but for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on why the American medical community in general is so attached to dis-attaching our little boys’ foreskins.
I had no ideas on this topic fit for print until about eight months ago when I read Jan Patocka’s Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. In his rightly famous essay on WWI, Patocka gives a quote from the psychoanalyst Kurt Lewin. (Seriously, hang in there. I’m going to get to my point any second. Just imagine… my wife has to put up with this every day.)
During or after WWI, Lewin visited army hospitals talking to soldiers fresh from the trenches. Patocka translates a telling statement from him that I’ll quote in full. The italics are Patocka’s, I think:
[In war] the topographic character of the landscape changes so abruptly that there is an end to it and the ruins no longer are what they had been, villages and so on, but have become what they can be at the given moment, shelters and reference points, so the landscape of life’s fundamental meanings had been transformed, it has acquired an end beyond which there can be nothing further, higher, more desirable.
Now I’ll rewrite the quote in the context of circumcision and the medical community (I have made the substituted words bold):
[In medicine] the topographic character of the body changes so abruptly that there is an end to it and the parts of the body no longer are what they had been, a foreskin, a labia and so on, but have become what they can be at the moment of illness, shelters for infection and diseased organs, so the landscape of life’s fundamental meanings had been transformed, it has acquired an end beyond which there can be nothing further, higher, more desirable.
Relevant to this paraphrasing of Lewin, I remembered the story of a friend of a friend who was a urologist and had actively decided to cut both her boys because she had seen the infections that older uncut men can get when they don’t wash well. The logical error here is only too obvious: A urologist does not get a well distributed population survey in the foreskin department. Old men don’t barge into her office and drop their boxers to show her the uninfected, healthy, intact penis that they are still enjoying the use of. Her shingle actively draws in the infected.
(It’s also ridiculous that a urologist, the single most overqualified professional in the area of male genital hygiene, did not trust herself to train her own two sons to wash themselves… like a dentist deciding to pull all his children’s teeth and give them dentures. “I’ll never get through to them about flossing!”)
So medical professionals, the soldiers in the human war against disease, go to battle in the terrain of our bodies. And just as the WWI soldier considered a church without seeing the beauty but only seeing a tower where a sniper could hide, medical professionals are all too ready to consider the penis without seeing the beauty, but only a fold of skin where disease might hide. This is why all arguments about intactness and the right to bodily integrity fall on deaf ears. And the fact that the disease protection is ridiculously exaggerated isn’t heard either because it’s better to be safe than sorry. We know as a matter of fact that there’s not a sniper in that steeple, but there could be a sniper when we come back through next week. So better to blow it up.
In this combined analogy, we of the anti-circ crowd are the villagers pleading with the soldiers to leave our church alone. “We’ll make sure snipers don’t get up there. Just don’t blow up our steeple. We like our church with a steeple on it. If there’s no steeple, how are we going to ring the bell?” And the pro-circ medical community looks at us condescendingly like we’re all the village idiots, “You don’t understand because you’re not in the war. We’ve seen snipers in steeples and it’s not pretty.”
As we carry out our argument about the snipers and the steeple, we anti-circ folks should be mindful that we are the ones who ask the medical community to fight the war, so it’s unfair to frame them all as simply steeple-hating maniacs. At the same time, pro-circ members of the medical community should be mindful that the only way to be totally safe from snipers is to level the whole village and at some point in the creation of total safety, you’ve destroyed everything that makes the village worth fighting for.keep looking »