Sunday, November 9, 2008

Porn, judgment, and a gratuitous pussy pic

Read it if you dare. (There is actually nothing dirty in this post.)

I belong to a list-serve for queer and supportive people, and it is based in Maine. We number somewhere between 120 and 150 on any given day, and we represent all walks of life. We are gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people and straight allies. We are young and old, retired professors and blue collar working stiffs. We have all kinds of levels of education, skills and spelling, much to the chagrin of some. Occasionally, we make mistakes.

Yesterday was one of those days.

By some kind of typing error when responding to an on-line personal ad for a man seeking a man, one of our members posted a photograph of, well, his member. Full color. Up close and personal. And he apparently was very happy to meet us all.

Most of the people on the list have never met each other in person. This is the same crowd that kind of got together this past summer for the big gay weekend. Luckily for this guy, he was not one of the participants. He now wants to crawl into a cave and stay there for a very long time. To say he was mortified is an understatement. He now wants to meet nobody on the list.

The mistaken exposure caused a flurry of reactions and accusations and general mayhem. At my house, I nearly spit coffee out my nose. I cautioned L and since she is down with whatever flu-bug made me miserable for the last two weeks, she merely grunted and avoided her e-mail altogether for most of the day until she felt fit to do battle with nearly 100 new messages.

The conversation on the list ranged around until it seemed to settle into a general discussion on pornography and whether it is a blight on society or a personal choice. Some of the members thought that the single photograph constituted pornography and were offended. Others argued that a single penis does not porn make. Then there was some discussion about porn being a bad evil thing that subjugates women and is all about men using women for their own selfish sexual gratification.

Long a supporter of the First Amendment, I jumped in to defend and argued that not all porn is bad, that some women like sex and that's ok, and that people ought to not judge anyone else's business. Haven't we had this conversation recently? I also did not like the way some of the women seemed to be blaming all of society's ills on the patriarchy. Yes, it still exists today, but that does not necessarily mean that all men are shits or that all women are victims.

Well, someone called my message "extremist" and asked politely that I shut up and let sane people discuss this matter without my loudmouthed interference. (Moi?!) You can imagine my eyebrows going up at this point and my eyes narrowing just a bit, and you'd be about where I was. I sat back and let the folks talk. I understand that I can be a loudmouth and that some find that intimidating. But after three hours, I started composing. Because it took so much time and energy to compose and write, I am going to copy it here to meet today's NaBloPoMo requirement. I wonder how many other blogs spend this much time discussing sex and porn. Gotta balance out the knitters, I suppose. I think I know now why my mommy blogger buddies haven't added me to their blogrolls yet, too.

Here is what I wrote:

Since it was requested that others reply to my post, I sat back and let them. I think it bears noting, however, that while I held back, X, the one who asked that other (presumably more rational) people comment without my interference, has posted multiple times on this issue. Felt like a double standard from where I sit. I certainly hope everyone responds to this piece who would like to or who feels they have something to add to the discussion.

I will now reply to all of the bits of this argument that I think I can address. What started small has branched in many directions. I expect that there are some who will be offended by what I have to say. That usually happens. I do not intend to offend anyone. I am speaking my truth, and I know of no way to dull the edges of that truth so that it does not hurt. I am sorry that I lack those skills.

First, defining pornography is difficult at best. What is attractive erotica to one person might be judged to be offensive to another and deemed "pornographic."

Second, the term "pornography" carries with it enormous judgment in our society. After watching the discussion on this list today, I am reminded again that our society on these shores was founded by Puritans. We are far more repressed about our sexual expression than our European cousins. And thanks to my education by R this morning, apparently our Japanese peers are far more relaxed about sex organs than we are.

I happen to believe that not all pornography is bad. I know there is some that is flat-out awful, degrading, horrible stuff. I also know that Shine Louise Houston is a genius who writes, directs and creates sex-positive, lesbian-positive porn. Whatever she has most recently produced is always on my Christmas list. Period.

Which brings up another thought - pornography can be art. And the other side of that coin says that some art can be pornographic. Art by its nature is the expression of the thoughts, feelings and message of the author. Mapplethorpe is the easy example in this case. Was it art for him to put a bull whip in his ass and take a picture? I happen to think so. It was his expression of anger at the sexual repression so prevalent in our society.

Now back to my original post, which was labeled as "extremism." It stated:

not. all. women. are. victims.
This is a truth. Even among those women who have been victimized, there is a movement to redefine their status as "survivors" instead of "victims". I happen to adhere to that philosophy. You can be a victim for as long as you like. Or you can chose to become a survivor. I find the latter far more empowering.

This position caused me no end of difficulty among the women who taught the one "woman's studies" course available at UMF when I was there. They spent nearly all their time complaining about how women have been historically oppressed by the patriarchy and NONE of their time doing anything about it. Far from an empowering experience, I found my venture into Women's Studies to be an exercise in depression. Light a candle rather than sit and curse the dark, I say. Lead, follow or get out of the way, but for god's sake quit whining. It is not productive. Contribute if you can, but if you can't, then please don't distract those of us working to make progress. If you still need to process the victimization, then please do. But understand that I am not a therapist and can not likely offer much assistance.

Encouraging women to empower themselves to me is not extremism. It is common sense and sound advice. Encouraging healing and progress is only extreme if you are interested in maintaining the victim status of women.

some. women. like. sex.
This is a truth. Some women do not like sex. Some women find all sex that involves penetration to be rape (Dworkin), even masturbatory penetration. Some women find sex toys offensive, and deem them as instruments of oppression. Lots of women do not.

I happen to believe that our bodies are given nerves for a reason, and it we were not supposed to feel pleasure from certain acts, then we would not have nerves there designed to tell us that's what's going on.

I understand that some women do not like certain sexual acts, and that is fine. I don't like them all myself. But I don't judge anyone else for liking something that does not interest me. As humans, we are blessed with a wide variety of tastes and preferences.

Again, women liking sex is not extremism. It is human nature.

some. women. like. porn.
This is a truth. Some women like porn.

Like I said before, not all porn is bad.

Since porn and objectification seem to be linked, I will now say that I believe that not all objectification is bad. Some people get off on being objectified. Like all forms of sexual expression, it is not for everyone. Some people like to be flogged. Some people like to be teased. Some people like to be ordered around and dominated. So long as it is safe, sane and consensual among the parties so engaged, it is not my business, nor anyone else's to judge it.

The fact that some women like porn is not extremism. It is truth.

not. all. pictures. of. naked. women. involve. their. subjugation.
This is truth as well.

Some women very much like to be photographed while naked. Some women (and some men) are turned on by the thought of someone being aroused by their naked image. In these instances, who is being used? The person posing naked or the person whose arousal at that image is causing the model to get turned on? One could argue that the model is the one in control of that situation and the consumer of the image is the one being fleeced of his/her money. The fact that a person is willing to part with cash to look at something they can never have is very arousing for some exhibitionists.

I am not denying that huge amounts of the naked images of women out there DO involve the subjugation of women. Indeed they do. But not ALL of them, and that seems to be the prevailing opinion being argued. Any time you (or I) use broad generalizations, there is generally an exception to the rule.

The fact that some women enjoy showing off their bodies is not extremism.

For many many years the women's movement has worked hard to make sure that women are allowed to make choices and decisions about their sexuality and their reproductive lives, and then clobbered women who make choices that "the movement" does not approve.

This also is truth. Feminism's matriarch, Betty Freidan labeled lesbians "the lavender menace" because we did not conform to her and the old guard's preconceived notions of what was appropriate sexual behavior for women.

Citing real and true historical fact, however unpopular those facts might be, is not extremism

Sounds more like "we have given you the freedom to make the choices we choose for you."
That's not liberation in my book.

That is my interpretation of the above historical truth. The oppressed becoming oppressors within their own community is not a new phenomenon.

The only thing extreme here is that I, as a woman, have said it out loud and in mixed company. I have spoken the shameful secret of the dysfunctional family. We are not nearly as progressive and enlightened as we would like to think.

Dawn

My post elicited some very interesting responses from the list. Now I am curious what kind of responses it will elicit here.

Oh, and as promised, here is the gratuitous pussy pic:

8 comments:

Th' Rev said...

Amazing...I agree.Wolves is the name of our band by the way...Wolves@th'door to be formal about it...

Robin said...

First off, you ARE on my blogroll :-). I still haven't redone the whole thing, but I did make sure you were on it the other day. You can't scare me off with a few frank discussions of sex, or penises (penii?), or even gratuitous pussy shots, despite my being violently allergic to said pussy. All that long hair, I think I'm starting to wheeze already...

Seriously though, sheesh. Aren't people taking themselves a wee bit too seriously? Some poor guy fully and willfully intended to send a picture to someone else who fully desired to receive it. They're both consenting adults - their business. The fact that he hit the wrong button and sent it to the list is unfortunate, and I'd imagine more than a bit humiliating, but it was just that - an accident. To treat it as a willful and maliciously offensive incursion seems a response that is degrees beyond what was really necessary. Accept the poor guy's apology, accept an accident for what it was, and move on.

Sheesh.

As for porn, if it was made by consenting adults, without coercion of any kind, to be enjoyed by other consenting adults, where is the harm? To each his own and all that. If something offends you in watching it, simply don't watch. If no one else is being harmed in its making and watching, how are you (general you) actually harmed if you don't choose to make it part of your experience?

People have their own yardsticks for obscenity, sure, but shouldn't intent come into play? Why look for malice when clearly none was intended? Wouldn't we all be better off looking to build bridges rather than blow them up?

MRMacrum said...

I almost spit my coffee through my nose when I read your intro. Please tell me how someone "accidentally" posts a picture of their happy parts being happy?

Regardless, it seems the picture spawned (snicker) some very serious conversations about dirty pictures, porn, erotica and what makes each one what they are. Sex should not be taken so damn seriously. I take neither sex nor it's evil twin, religion, seriously. I practice one while working hard to avoid the other.

I like your reply very much. To each his/her own. We are not all victims unless we choose to be. Yet you recognize that victims do exist. Yes, sex does have an ugly side, but it is usually not about sex but about domination. Whole different trip. And even being dominated can be a volunteer effort.

American fascination with pornography in my opinion can be directly linked to our insane cultural repression of sex as a normal human function. Deviations in the sex act are not wrong as long as those participating do so willingly.

Excellent stuff Dawn.

Carlita said...

What, you mean some women actually like sex?

Just kidding. Who would have thought such statements could get you in trouble, you radical, you.

This is a very reasonable response to what sounds like a somewhat unreasonable discussion.

asthmagirl said...

I don't have a strong reponse, although I tend to agree with what you've said.

The cat is lovely!

Joy T. said...

"Gotta balance out the knitters, I suppose." That? Made me spill my tea.

Great post, your replies were very well written.

I couldn't agree more with Robin, people really do take themselves too seriously. Good grief already. Who cares what Joe Schmoe does or Sally WhoWho or if they do it to each other or someone else. If he or she are not hurting anyone, then leave them be.

As for the guy who pressed the wrong button? The ol finger is faster then the eye has happened to me before and even though in my case it was more a "I hope so and so develops an oozy itchy fungus" and not my nakedness, mistakes happen. Oh if only we could turn back time and erase some of those mistakes.

Stickthulhu said...

Well said, well-reasoned, and I think you hit the nail on the head.

I'd love to write more, but I've got 1:50 to get my own post in for the day, and I am a slow writer...

Great stuff, I'll be back, and I've passed your site on...

laughingatchaos said...

Oh hell, where to start? I suppose with this mommy blogger is sooo far behind on updating the blogroll, nothing personal, I just have this problem with time management.
The line about balancing out the knitters? Priceless.
Maplethorpe? Considered smut by society unless context is known. And doesn't context make all the difference?
I have no problem with porn. It falls into the category of privacy, like so many other things. While I do blog my life, and have a Facebook page, and share great portions of my life, I am a very private person. Privacy is important to me, having control over my privacy is important to me. If porn is part of that private part of my life, well, then it's no one's business but mine and my husband's.
And what you wrote:
"we have given you the freedom to make the choices we choose for you."
This argument has been made in the mommy wars. Feminism was supposedly to give us all choices...whether to have kids or not, whether to stay home or not, whether to work and send the kids to daycare or not. If feminism was about fighting for choice, then why is my choice to stay home for my kids looked down upon?
You are writing stunning posts, Dawn.