Last week I spoke Robert Jensen, who is a wonderfully radical author, organizer, and associate professor at University of Texas at Austin.
Jensen has written a new book entitled, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. In it he examines the effect that porn has on us as consumers, and the effect that it has on the pervasiveness of violence against women in our current culture. He also examines how gender role socialization keeps men from being fully human, and ensure isolation, over compassion-- conquest over passion.
He makes a very compelling case, the new "gonzo" extreme porn is hardly the campy stuff I watched with friends, feeling all manner of libertine. This stuff is a not even veiled glorification (let alone reinforcement) of violence against women, and the cruelly detached macho guy persona. I would argue that this new porn really has little to do with sex and arousal, but much more to do with power over women, and assertion of male dominance. Why else would scenes end with women having their heads stuck in toilets that are flushed while the guy ejaculates on her back--- I ask what is sexy about that? And I ask this as someone who is not, by just about any stretch of the imagination, a prude--- just a compassion human being, who is concerned about what it says when men jerk off to images of women's heads being flushed.
He argues that it is a cycle of disconnection. That as we feel isolated, men may hold onto that one thing that started this cycle, and hold on tightly, they may not be able to feel tenderness, love, empathy, but at least they are a real man, prized in our society for being invulnerable, strong, and all those other things that go into "masculine".
He quotes men in the industry, and consumers of porn talking about how when they view porn they want to see a woman hurt, because they can fantasize that it's that bitch that hurt him, slighted him, rejected him--- and now she will pay.
Right--- I am disturbed by this.
I have often shied away from a public discussion on violence against women in porn, as there is always a rush of acceptance from a part of the movement that is steeped in puritanism. And this is not where I am coming from.
As I mentioned earlier, I do tend towards the libertine. I argue that sexuality, sensuality and pleasure are deeply personal things, and what works for some, does not have to work for all, and certainly do not require anyone's approval. As a bisexual gal, I didn't fit neatly into categories, and since my attraction is primarily to women, I have often accepted the term dyke, both for short hand, and for shock value. Besides, I have often found that "bisexual woman" in this culture too often is interpreted as "will sleep with a girl for her boyfriend's fantasies", at least by men.
As a radical feminist, I continued to break through stereotypes when I openly acknowledged that I enjoy SM play, as one of many ways of sexual expression. This was a center of raging debate at the Michigan Women's Music Festival, during my years as a worker-- I remember friends looking at me sadly, asking why I wanted to perpetuate the patriarchy (um, that just wasn't what was going through my head when I was, well, playing).
As a free speech advocate, I am very hesitant to engage in attempting legislation to limit what can be produced. When the first of such laws were enacted in Canada in the 1980s, the Canadian police raided a queer bookstore, and confiscated lesbian s/m erotica. I learned from that example--- the state has no interest in actually fighting patriarchy; their attempts to do so are comparable to the U$ fighting for freedom abroad, while actually spreading imperialism, and internalizing repression at home.
So what to do? How do we stop this cycle of disconnection and subjugation, without trying to legislate morality, or allowing another's morals to dictate my own practice?
At root, is getting over the enforced hierarchies assigned in our culture. Getting over the labels of masculine / feminine, getting over the dichotomous thinking that restricts our interactions to those of superior/inferior, and keeps us pitted against one another. Rigid gender role socialization continues. I still hear kids get fag baited-- boys who might actually show sensitivity being told that if they continue, they will be labeled a fag, and that comes with an inherent understanding that you are lesser, and that you could be beaten, or killed, for your transgressions. Did I mention that nationwide, violence against queers is up over 20% in the last year? As progressives, as caring and thinking people, we must decry the roots of this hierarchy, we must work to end gender socialization, and work to end homophobic violence that enforces the system.
It means a lot of honest introspection about what we have been taught. There are still a lot of people believing that the difference between rape and seduction is a sales job. We have a lot of un-learning to do, and that can best be done together, when we engage in honest conversation, as human beings, trying to live lives of empathy, empowerment and compassion.
Ahh, but as products of this system ourselves, how can we do this work? It takes courage, and love-- love for yourself and for the lot of us.
Let's begin. Let's dismantle the patriarchy.