By reader request a rant of DeAnander’s from Stan’s Man on Fire review thread has been promoted to a frontpage article.
I believe Stan posted this review in headbanging frustration at the liberal idiocy of this recent “fair and balanced” discussion of porn at Alternet. The two “debating opponents” — neither of whom, of course, goes anywhere near feminism or anticapitalism — dance delicately around the question of why so many men enjoy looking at pictures of women being (ab)used, humiliated and hurt. In the process, they make some statements that reek of cognitive dissonance…
Bader, the designated “porn is harmless” talking head, manages to say this:
Porn is not harmless. But neither is it an important cause of sexual violence or misogyny [...] The actors in these films are degraded, underpaid and used up by an industry with the morals of a slaughterhouse, despite what Jenna Jameson and Nina Hartley say. The women come into the industry with the self-esteem of earthworms, histories of physical and sexual abuse, and are often plunged into alcohol and drug abuse as a way of coping with their jobs.
In other words, somehow the process of making porn is not the “cause” of the sexual violence and misogyny experienced by the women used in the making of porn — who, he admits, very commonly resort to self-medication with alcohol and other drugs to numb the various kinds of pain inflicted by their work.
Let’s deconstruct that, because it’s important. What he is really saying — listen closely — is that the violence caused by the porn industry to the expendable class of prostituted women used by the industry doesn’t count. What counts is whether porn causes men who consume it to do “real” sexual violence, meaning violence to “respectable” females (presumably white and/or middle class and not officially prostituted). His argument is as nonsensical as saying that the meat packing industry is not a cause of animal suffering because consuming Spam doesn’t necessarily make you beat your dog.
More vintage Bader (you can’t make this guy up):
If there is one nearly universal common denominator in heterosexual porn it is that the women in it are generally portrayed as easily, constantly and powerfully sexually aroused, driven wild by whatever men want to do with and to them. For most men, this fact is crucial to their arousal, not because they’re looking for a rationalization for their violent impulses but because they are guilty about feeling strong, selfish and masculine; feel overly responsible for and worried about women; and secretly believe that women are unhappy and relentlessly dissatisfied with men and their own lives.
In other words: men are threatened by feminism, and by women feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with selfish masculinity — please note the clever in-passing patriarchal equation of selfishness with strength and masculinity, w/which any good Randian wingnut would certainly agree — so they escape into fantasies where women are obedient sex dolls who are “driven wild” by whatever men want to do with and to them. But this is not misogynist, dear me no! A less
clueless charitable interpretation would be that porn is archetypical revanchist media for an uneasy privileged caste needing to reassure itself that the field hands really do sing happily at their work and find fun and satisfaction in doing whatever Massa tells them to do.
You’d have to read all of Bader to get the cumulative impact of his semi-apologetic admission that porn is a nasty woman-hating industry combined with his dogged insistence that the men who fund it, support it, and demand more and more intense misogyny from it are really just nice guys who love women. The two sides of his brain need to call a professional mediator and get in touch with one another, even if only by conference call.
In the case of sweatshop clothing you could argue for a marketing/provenance information gap — “out of sight out of mind” — the clueless consumer really loves his/her kids and doesn’t see or think about the child wage slave making the cheap T shirt. But if the T shirt featured the abuse of child labourers, if this was the whole thrill and point of buying the thing in the first place? How clueless can the consumer then pretend to be? How much could the consumer pretend to “love kids” while avidly collecting T shirts made by abused kids and featuring images of the abuse of those kids?
For the “porn ain’t nice” side, A’net brought in Vivian Dent, another psychologist — remember, porn is an individual psychological issue, folks, and is not in any way, ever, to be connected to propaganda, hate literature, the history of entertainment media as reflectors and enablers of social structures of power, and so on. She tries, she really does. But she ends up tied in knots trying to discuss male privilege without ever saying “male privilege,” trying to discuss misogyny without ever saying “patriarchy.”
Sex lives at the intersection of love and aggression. Aggression infused into love and desire makes sex exciting.
For whom, exactly, does “sex” live at the intersection of Love and Aggresion (and what’s the zip code?)? if sex lives at this intersection for humans generally, then why is there not a huge literature of sexually “exciting” videos and web sites featuring gangs of clothed women sexually abusing naked men, smearing menstrual blood and vaginal exudates on men’s faces, picking naive young men up in vans only to rape and dump (and publicly mock) them, etc? Why is the aggression (deftly degendered here) always in the one direction, except for a few “I’m into dominatrices” guys (who are still, ahem, calling the shots and paying a sexual servant to act out their fantasy of being “dominated”?)
Dent doesn’t have the guts to say, “In a patriarchal culture, for many/most men, sexual excitement is linked to aggression and dominance.”
Witness Abu Ghraib, where war, contempt, and an inexcusable lack of structure and training allowed young soldiers to become gleefully perverse torturers.
Which had nothing to do with the gleefully perverse atmosphere of misogyny and sexual cruelty in the porn culture in which they and almost all young males are raised, in the industrialised nations? These guys only started hating women, fags, and arabs, only learned to humiliate and insult men by “treating them like women,” only learned to take trophy pictures of sexualised victims, after they got to Iraq? Please.
What about the structure and training they received throughout childhood, boyhood, young manhood and military indoctrination, in How To Be a Violent Misogynist In Several Thousand Easy Lessons? Is the trouble that they received too little structure and training — or too much?
On a concrete level, a lot of kids and some isolated guys do use porn as a kind of “how-to” manual for sexuality. Porn’s getting more extreme could lead them into some very unfortunate blunders.
Unfortunate blunders like this one? [which btw has a sports connection, for those who like to track the correlation between jock culture and sexual assault]? Using any of the majority of porn on display online as a “how to” manual would lead not merely to a blunder, it would lead to assault, rape, GBH.
Back to Bader, who digs himself in deeper with each passing graf:
Now, I would agree with Vivian that a fair number of men — and women, for that matter — feel hostility toward each other. And some of them — both sexes — act this out in the bedroom. They might criticize each other’s performance or attractiveness. A man might unconsciously but intentionally refuse to “read” his partner’s cues about what she wants or enjoys, or he might detach the moment after he is satisfied. A woman might be consistently critical of a man’s ability to satisfy her, or make him feel bad for wanting sex too often. In these cases, the hostility of one partner hurts the other one.
But the fact that people can hurt each other in their myriad transactions around sex, while tragic, doesn’t bear on this debate at all.
This is the sexual equivalent of “collateral damage,” “friendly fire,” “extraordinary rendition,” and “payload delivery.” Mealy mouthed euphemisms to dance around a fundamental fact of sexual politics: men rape women (and boys and other men). Women do not rape men, very rarely rape other women, very rarely molest or rape juveniles of either sex. Are we to read A man might unconsciously but intentionally refuse to “read” his partner’s cues about what she wants or enjoys as a coy workaround for “A man might force intercourse on his partner disregarding her protests or statements that she would prefer to do something else”? That’s rape, Mr Bader, or molestation at the least. Only the most weaselly apologist for male privilege could imagine that it is anything else, or that it is in any way equivalent to a woman (gasp) criticising a man’s sexual skills or (oh no! how dare she!) “making him feel bad” for pestering or nagging her to “put out.” Notice how the reliable Bader has cleverly transformed female sexual unwillingness, or a wish for more skilful and sensitive lovemaking, into “hostility” implicitly equivalent to rape? Like I said, you can’t make this guy up.
There does seem to be a tendency in our sexual imaginations to seek out deeper and deeper taboos to challenge or violate, provided it’s safe to do so. I see no evidence that such potential for escalation in a world of fantasy poses a threat to women in the real world [...]
Note once again that the women used to make the porn flick are not, apparently, “in the real world” so the damage to their bodies and souls from all this genderless, disembodied, “taboo violation” doesn’t count.
Dent tries gamely to critique porn from inside this neoliberal faux-equality genderless world,
I’m sure that Michael and I agree that none of us is born taking pleasure in another’s pain and degradation. Yet in certain contexts, people — even people who under different circumstances are loving and concerned — get very excited in just this way. I believe that the current solitary, nonstop, and increasingly vicious realm of pornography can foster just this kind of excitement. And so I believe we owe it to ourselves, as men, women and a society, to take it seriously.
but being apparently incapable of naming male supremacy or patriarchy, she remains unable to put her finger on just what is wrong with the public celebration of sexualised violence, violence against women, the hypersexualisation/commodification of women, the pathologies of hyperconformant masculinity, the cult of predation and dominance, the connection between patriarchal sex memes and war memes, etc. She ventures timidly to the very brink of social conditioning (the Stanford Experiment reference) and then tiptoes away without making the obvious connection: the SPE was a microcosmic model of the prison experiment that we are all in, full time. Porn is one of several channels of socialisation by which one set of humans (males) are repeatedly instructed that another set of humans (females) are inferior and contemptible; and as both Milgram and Zimbardo demonstrated, the goalposts of who we consider and do not consider fully human are moved with alarming ease by sufficient repetition.
Here I am going to detour into the world of Milgram and Zimbardo, about which there is much much more to be said when we have some more time. Here’s an interview with the notorious Zimbardo sent to me by rootless (affectionate hat tip) and our brief chitchat about it:
the article below seems to me highly relevant to the discussion on FS
about the effigy-burning. (no one sems to have taken up my claim that
it was actually, literally, a put-up job by the cops, but that’s OK.)
I don’t think this Zimbardo interview is the last word on the subject
(everyone should read Christopher Browning’s “Ordinary Men,” about a
German battalion whose assignment was to round up Jews, in town after
town, day after day for months, and murder them all) but it certainly
belongs in the mix.
I am always torn between an appreciation of the
fundamental truth of how mutable we humans are and
how strongly influenced by consociation and prevailing
local norms — i.e. finding Milgram and Zimbardo’s
results very convincing and useful in understanding
institutional abuses — and at the same time wanting
to shake them by their respectable academic lapels
and ask why they keep talking about “nice ordinary
boys” when we KNOW that nice ordinary boys rape,
and nice ordinary men molest kids and rape women
and beat their wives and girlfriends, and why is this
always swept under the rug when they talk about
‘making bad people out of good people’?
they seem never to talk about gender, and the strong
gendering of their experiments (would they have been
different with female subjects? why was it a *female*
ex grad student who called Zimbardo on his own ethical
failure? why the feminisation of male prisoners by male
guards? to what extent are men preloaded by patriarchy
for these behaviours?)
in other words they have half a clue but they continue to
pretend that “normal” life in a patriarchal culture is, well,
“normal” and OK and harmless, and can be contrasted neatly with
extraordinary abuses in these artificial contexts. whereas a
radical feminist would see the artificial context as a field
day or hypertrophy of the existing behaviour patterns of
dominance (gender, race, class), not an excursus into some
nor do they discuss how pornography etc. form the consociative
matrix that normalises abuse of women in “normal” culture,
turning “nice boys” into abusers on a daily basis all around
us. I think this will be worth a separate post at FS. maybe
it will get us away from the apparently endless wrangle about
how much blame to lay on individuals…
this (the whole message actually) is really terrific, powerful
analysis. I’m especially grateful because (draw what “essentialist”
lessons you choose) I didn’t see this myself, didn’t connect the
“extraordinary” cruelty with the “ordinary” cruelty-structure of
which it’s just an exaggerated version. Yes, I completely agree this
deserves a post of its own…
That was back in April, and obviously I haven’t got around to writing what really should be written about Zimbardo, Milgram, and similar acknowledged and unacknowledged training programs for abuse and atrocity.
But in Liberalandia, we aren’t allowed to go there. There is no such thing as male privilege, no such thing as masculinism, and repeated consumption of misogynist propaganda has no effect on behaviour — and it isn’t really misogynist anyway because the women are paid to smile. The Milgram Experiment is very important when it shows how wicked fascists can train nice boys to commit mass murder and torture, but irrelevant when it suggests that nice young boys can just as easily be trained to despise and abuse women and girls. We’re all just genderless people (like those fantasised by “advanced” neolib economists) who “can hurt each other in their myriad transactions [my, what a reassuringly marketarian word, with its resonance of Level Playing Field and Rational Actors] around sex” — which is “tragic” to be sure, but never political, never a symptom of a social structure of power which we might actually be able to do something about.
And so the elephant in the bedroom — male privilege, masculinism, violence against women, the sexualisation of contempt and the contempt for sex, for women, for bodies and biota — sits there smirking while these two gender-blind professionals do their individualist fandango around it. What a sorry excuse for a debate. What, they couldn’t find even one feminist willing to say the P-word in public? I could name half a dozen off the top of my head.