Rainbow Riot has a very powerful post up on her blog about the difference between ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ and the importance of correctly labeling male violence against women; please go and read the whole thing.
So I say: I am a victim. There should be no shame in that word. Sometimes I feel ashamed, because of the things my body and mind have been through. But the shame shouldn’t be mine. So I will say without shame: I am a victim.
Alain de Botton has a ‘self help’ book on ‘sex’ out, and to publicise it, had a recent Q&A on ‘sex’ in the Guardian. I put ‘sex’ in inverted commas as the Q&A is mostly about porn.
de Botton is supposed to be a philosopher and public intellectual, so it’s disappointing to see how meagre his arguments are, and how frequently he misses the point. Two female (or at least with female IDs) commenters (and as a NB I’m only looking at the comments that were extracted for the main CiF article, I’m not wading through the comments below the line) point out that he seems to have an entirely male-centric viewpoint, his response is to ask them to explain it for him! (It’s a bit late to think of asking women for input after the book is written!)
On the subject of pornography, he says this: “The real problem with current pornography is that it’s so far removed from all the other concerns which a reasonably sensible, moral, kind and ambitious person might have. As currently constituted, pornography asks that we leave behind our ethics, our aesthetic sense and our intelligence when we contemplate it. Yet it is possible to conceive of a version of pornography which wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue – a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.”
At first glance this looks rather good – ethical porn! – but then one realises that what he is describing as ‘ethical porn’ already exists, we call it art, literature, film.
He is, quite innocently I suspect, making the mistake that sex industry advocates and ‘sex positive’ ‘feminists’ make disingenuously, that the problem with pornography is simply one of a lack of quality.
He seems to be entirely unaware of exactly why men (and some women) consume pornography; it isn’t just about ‘getting off’, the consumption of pornography is an act of male supremacism, men do it to assert themselves as dominant (women may consume porn for masochistic reasons, or to feel dominance over those other women in porn, to assure themselves that they are not victims themselves).
Pornographers know and understand this, and are completely honest about it when they describe their pornography in terms of how it allows men to feel better about themselves, or get revenge, after they’ve had an argument with their girlfriend, or been talked down to by a female boss – porn allows men to feel superior by vicariously acting out their supremacism on the bodies of prostituted women (remember, all the things that happen in porn are real).
Does de Botton address any of this? Not in the Q&A certainly, all he offers is incredibly abstract notions about ethical content and aesthetic value, and is completely silent on what this ‘better’ porn might realistically look like.
“Erotica realises there is a problem with porn and locates the issue in explicitness. If only porn were less explicit – the argument seems to run – then it would be OK. One might start from a different point of view. Explicitness is fine, the issue is what it’s in the name of, where it’s pointing us too, what it’s attempting to excite us about.”
He’s missing the point completely here (or just being strangely coy while saying explicitness is ok). Feminist objections to pornography are not specifically about the fact that genitals are on display, as if a woman being subjected to multiple, simultaneous penetrations would be ok if you just couldn’t quite see what was going on.
Pornography is degrading to women, the PlayBoy bunny outfit and Page 3 are degrading to women; they are not explicit, but they do reaffirm male supremacy, and the idea that women exist solely to service men.
de Botton is disappointing on evolutionary psychology as well. He finds it “both very persuasive and ‘true'” – wonderful, we need a ‘public intellectual’ for this? Evolutionary psychology, at it’s most simplistic (ie the way it is almost always framed in public debate) tells us ‘boys will be boys’, so don’t bother trying to do anything about rape except tell women not to go out alone after dark; it provides atheists (who can’t rely on traditional ‘sacred texts’) with Just So Stories for justifying the status quo.
On the subject of whether pornography affects our real lives or not, de Botton says this: “I think porn marginally (and really only marginally) increases the dangers of people acting out fantasies. 99% of people won’t, but a very few will.”
So then, is he completely unaware of the increase in women having cosmetic surgery on their genitals so they look more like airbrushed porn, and the ubiquity of men and boys demanding that women and girls allow them to perform acts from pornography (eg ‘facials’)?
de Botton also makes this rather strange comment: “It is perhaps only people who haven’t felt the full power of sex over their logical selves who can remain uncensorious and liberally ‘modern’ on the subject. Philosophies of sexual liberation appeal mostly to people who don’t have anything too destructive or weird that that they wish to do once they have been liberated.”
Is he unaware of the BDSM ‘scene’? Of ‘sex positive’ ‘thought’? ‘Excess’ and extremeness in sex and pornography are celebrated as ‘liberation’ – it’s a strange kind of reverse prude-shaming, and suggests (as does a lot of what he is saying) that his thoughts on sex and pornography are largely abstract and have very little reference to the wider world beyond his own, limited, personal experience.
I did end up scrolling down the comments on the first page. In his first below the line comment de Botton says: “Most of the time, we’re worried about being gross and revolting: sex purifies us. So much so that in oral sex, the most ‘dirty’ sides of us are symbolically blessed by the mouth of the other.”
Well, that doesn’t explain ‘facials’ then does it? Maybe women’s eyeballs are purifying too, or will ‘facials’ not be included in de Botton’s ‘better’ porn? Again, he is missing the point; men, in real life, and as porn consumers, want certain acts precisely because they are disgusting and degrading; sex and pornography is how men act out their dominance over women.
In his second comment he says this: “Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple in the ways we might like it to be. It can die out; it refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Perhaps ultimately we should accept that sex is inherently rather weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses. This is not to say that we cannot take steps to grow wiser about sex. We should simply realise that we will never entirely surmount the difficulties it throws our way. Sex is to be welcomed because it prevents any of us from taking ourselves too seriously. It makes all seem ridiculous. It’s a destroyer of pomposity – in a good way.”
I could probably title every other post on this blog ‘It’s the patriarchy, stupid’, but de Botton’s analysis doesn’t seem to belong in the real world, a world where rape, rape culture, sex trafficking, child sexual exploitation and victim-blaming exist. It’s an analysis coming from a place of extreme privilege, from a white, upper class, heterosexual male (and the emphasis is definitely on male) who doesn’t have to see what happens to women and girls in our male-supremacist world. He offers no acknowledgement at all that sex is used, by men, to hurt women.
Following on from yesterday’s post about MRAs, Suzanne Moore has a great opinion piece up on the recent publication of a ‘masculinist’ book called The Second Sexism
Benatar lists the ways in which men are discriminated against, from corporal punishment, to conscription to circumcision to paternity leave and “bodily privacy”. All of this is done without class or context – he is a philosopher, all right? – and without seemingly much knowledge of actual feminism. While seeking to define them, he blurs the difference between disadvantage and discrimination and so ends up asking if we need affirmative action for men. We already have it. It’s called the status quo.
It is no shock though that at a time when women’s rights are under attack (austerity hitting women hardest, abortion under threat), the politics of envy rears its head. For it is victim-envy, this me-too masculism. Or let’s just call it out: it is basic conservatism that says any challenge to the system, any rights won, have gone “too far”. These people cannot speak about the inequalities riven between classes, ethnicities and genders because it’s all about individuals who power through.
Thus, we have the mutant Tory feminists whose credo is: “I can have my cake and eat it. Get your own cake.” I mind that they don’t share the cake, but not whether they keep their faces honeymoon-fresh or not. I am simply bewildered by a feminism that would not want to advance women’s control of their own reproduction.
Still, we all get bamboozled with the choices women now have. Despite everyday stories of violence and abuse against women, we are now to refer to prostitution as “sex work”. I still await the dinner party where middle-class parents tell me: “Tom is doing his law conversion but even though Charlotte hasn’t done her Sats she already says she want to do sex work! We always knew she was entrepreneurial.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center unsurprisingly received a lot of flack from the manosphere over it’s labelling of MRAs as a hate group, and the SPLC has given a thoughtful, measured response, and basically said the idea that there is a ‘war against men’ is “ridiculous” and “willfully obtuse”!
Found via the Radfem News Service.
It should be mentioned that the SPLC did not label MRAs as members of a hate movement; nor did our article claim that the grievances they air on their websites – false rape accusations, ruinous divorce settlements and the like – are all without merit. But we did call out specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence.
Thomas James Ball, for example, who was hailed as a martyr on so many men’s rights forums, called for arson attacks on courthouses and police stations. The Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik wrote extensively about the evils of feminism. We included as much as we did about Register-Her.com because it is so intimidating to its targets, not all of whom are criminals. When Elam accused Vliet Tiptree, a pseudonymous contributor to RadFem Hub, of “calling for extermination of half the human race; the male half, that is,” he offered a cash reward for her real identity. The names and locations of several candidates were publically aired.
Elam and the authors of countless angry posts and letters have demanded to know why the SPLC hasn’t also condemned feminist man-hating (or misandry, to use the MRM’s preferred term).
“You do know that there is a forum out there called ‘RadFem Hub’ that actively advocates infanticide, gender-selective abortion and killing/mutilating men and boys, right?” one letter asked us. “Read the SCUM Manifesto,” another said, “and research the reception it has received over the years, and the regard with which many feminists still hold Valerie Solanas.”
Solanas was the undeniably disturbed woman who shot Andy Warhol in 1968. “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women,” her manifesto began, “there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”
SCUM stands for “Society for Cutting Up Men,” and it is true that Solanas continues to be much-read and quoted in some feminist circles. (“We don’t really cut up men,” the tagline of the Feminazis blog cheekily declares. “Well, unless they deserve it.”)
The existence of hatred on one side of a color, political or gender line hardly justifies its presence on the other. And radical feminists do say hurtful things about men. “[T]reatments can be developed to mitigate the death-drive of men, their hierarchical psychology, their insensitivity to the pain of living creatures, their pleasure in violence and intimidation, their acquisitiveness, their rape and phallic obsessions,” Tiptree wrote in a post on RadFem Hub called Radical Feminism Enters the 21st Century. “[M]y best bet is that what’s wrong with men is that their androgens need genetic modification. I’m serious about this. If we can do it with corn, men ought to be easy.” Few possessors of Y chromosomes could read her words without feeling queasy. But to characterize her essay as a well-developed plan, as Elam and his colleagues do, is not only ridiculous, it is willfully obtuse.
Cathy Brennan owns the domain RadFem Hub. “I don’t hate men,” she told me. “I have a father, I have a brother, I have a son. The war that Paul Elam is waging is in his head. I worry about women and children and the increasing violence in our society.” When I asked her what she thought of Solanas’ “Scum Manifesto,” she laughed. “I view it as A Modest Proposal-type work of literature, a satire. It’s brilliant, but it’s not my personal bible.”
While men’s rights activists fantasize about existential threats to the male sex, real gendercide is being committed against girls in China, India, East Asia, the Caucasus and other parts of the world.
Of course, some radical feminists do hate men, and when MRAs lurk in members-only chat rooms and cherry pick their angriest, most shockingly over-the-top posts to reprint on their own sites, as an MRA “mole” did at a forum called RadFemSpeak (which is not affiliated with RadFem Hub), they commit the same injustice they accuse the SPLC of doing to themselves. No one makes a very favorable impression when they’re spewing bile.
The BBC reported yesterday on a study conducted for the NSPCC by King’s College, London, the Institute of Education, and the London School of Economics. Below are highlights from the article:
Teenage girls are coming under increasing pressure to text and email sexually explicit pictures of themselves, a report suggests.
The report, commissioned by the NSPCC, suggests the demands come from peers rather than from adults or strangers.
Jon Brown, head of the sexual abuse programme at the NSPCC, said the revelations were disturbing.
“What’s most striking about this research is that many young people seem to accept all this as part of life. But it can be another layer of sexual abuse and, although most children will not be aware, it is illegal.”
The in-depth interviews with 35 teenagers at two London schools found that girls as young as 11 were being asked to send “special photos” to boys who they knew.
In some cases, the girls had to write a name in black marker pen on a part of their body to show it was the “property” of a certain boy.
The teenagers also faced a “barrage” of messages from boys demanding for intercourse or oral sex.
“Even while we were interviewing them they were being bombarded with these messages,” said lead researcher Jessica Ringrose, from the Institute of Education.
The BBC article contains a link to the report. I don’t have time to read through it right now, but just scanning through the pages, several things have leapt out. First is the “top messages from the evidence” (pages 7 and 8), which are, in summary:
1. Threat from peers.
2. Sexting is often coercive.
3. Girls most adversely affected.
4. Technology amplifies the problem.
5. Sexting reveals wider sexual pressures.
6. Ever younger children affected.
7. Sexting practices are culturally specific.
8. More support and resources vital.
(From page 28:)
One of the key findings of this research highlights the extent to which gendered power relations saturate the young people’s lives. No understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships – both on and off-line. As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment – even violence – to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. More than this, we were struck by the way in which it is entirely taken for granted by both girls and boys – even when the same behaviours would be grounds for dismissal in other settings and among adults (e.g. in the workplace) or for arrest and prosecution if they happened in public space.
Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men. As we shall show later, this took on vivid forms in one of the most common practices of sexting in which boys solicited, and girls sent, photographic images of themselves or parts of themselves in which a boy’s name had been written in black marker pen. Significant numbers of these images were circulating in the period of this research, with some boys claiming to have up to 30 pictures of different girls on their phones. A typical example would be for a young woman to send a shot of her naked breasts, squeezed together, with the caption ‘Jason owns me’ scrawled prominently across part of her cleavage.
The report also covers porn use (by boys) and how that shapes the harassment inflicted on girls:
(From page 31:)
Boys say stuff like, ‘Can I butt in your face?’ and you just like, ‘Can you do what?’ ‘What do you mean’ and they are like, ‘yeah, can I butt in your eye?’ ‘No, why would I even’ Who is going to sit there in their right mind and say yeah, go ahead, ejaculate in my eye? What could that help? Like that is not even normal like seriously, but I have literally sat down with a boy and said, ‘I need to literally understand what you guys get out of porn?’ I have actually sat down with a boy and said ‘Put it on, let’s watch it yeah’ (Monique, 15, School One)
(From page 40:)
Another 15 year old girl said she thought that porn was shaping boys’ imaginations and sexual demands, and also that boys had no interest in girls’ pleasure. She went on to explain how she thought this worked: how a form of emotional blackmail was used to get girls to do things for their boyfriends.
Post-modern ‘sex positive’ ‘feminism’ wants to dismiss concerns over the sexualisation of girls and young women as ‘prudishness’ and ‘anti-sex’; post-modern ‘feminism’ doesn’t want us to recognise the systematic, structural harassment of women and girls by men and boys, and the part pornography and the ever-expanding sex industry plays in reinforcing this male supremacism (apparently, it’s seeing that this happens that causes the harm, because our seeing shatters the illusion of ’empowerment’ that is so important to sex pozzer funfems).
A former Dublin prostitute speaks about her seven years working in the Irish sex trade and argues against the idea that legalisation can make the work any safer
Following the latest revelations about Ireland’s booming prostitution rackets, a former Dublin prostitute has written a stark account of her seven year ordeal in the industry which began when she was just 15.
At that young age, circumstances no child should ever experience forced her to sell her body to elderly men, who would openly be aroused by abusing a child. Before she managed to extricate herself from a life in which she says she was “raped for a living”, she admits she even contemplated suicide…
“The nation is finally beginning to take a look at the intrinsic harm of prostitution. I welcome this because it is a harm I have understood since I was a 15-year-old prostitute, being used by up to 10 men a day. The one thing that linked those men together, besides their urges to pay to abuse my young body, was that they all knew just how young I was. They all knew because I told them, and I told them because it had the near-universal effect of causing them to become very aroused.
“When a man is very aroused in street prostitution that is a good thing, because it means he’ll climax quickly and the whole ordeal will be over fairly fast. I learned that on my very first day while sitting in the car of an elderly man who repeated over and over the thing that was causing him such sexual joy: ‘Oh, you’re very young — aren’t you? Aren’t you?’
“That is the true, sleazy and debased face of prostitution — the face that pro-prostitution lobby groups hysterically deny and attempt to conceal. Well, they cannot conceal it from me. I spent too long looking at it, too long being abused by it, and too long trying to recover from the soul-level injury it left behind.
“Many of the girls I worked alongside were not much older than I was, and one was only 13-years-old — and there was no shortage of grown men paying to abuse her. Most of the older women had been working since they were our age or younger, and many of them had histories of sexual abuse that predated their prostitution lives. When a person looks at a 30- or 40-something prostitute what they forget is that they are looking, in most cases, at a woman who has been inured to bodily invasion since she was a prepubescent child.
“I didn’t just work outdoors. When the Sexual Offences Act of 1993 came into force it drove me and many others indoors, where we had even less autonomy over the conditions of our own lives. In the brothels and the ‘escort’ agencies, we had to endure the same things we did on the streets, but we had to endure them for longer, and with no screening process as to who would pay to abuse us.
“You might wonder, ‘if you were a prostitute, what did it matter who it was?’ That is an innocent question, and it is deserving of an answer. It mattered because, far from being unaware of the abusive nature of prostitution, a lot of men were not only aware of it but actively got off on it. The misogyny from a lot of men was so potent and so deliberate it could cause nothing but trauma. And we, as the prostituted class that we were, could do nothing to protect ourselves other than try to avoid its most potent manifestations. This had been at least somewhat possible on the streets, where we could do our best to discern whether or not a man had hatred and the desire to hurt us seeping out of every pore. It was not at all possible once we’d gotten run indoors, and the immediate effect was a rapid escalation in violence and murder.
“Irish prostitution has been mainly conducted indoors since then, and nothing about this ugliness has abated because it’s been concealed from the public view. In fact the opposite has been true. We were abused more thoroughly, not less, with the only difference being that now there was the secrecy of closed doors to conceal it.
“There is no doubt that many of these men had daughters older than I was, yet the abuse they unleashed on me was devastating, violent, humiliating and degrading. It was paid sexual abuse. It was ritualistic, and I experienced it in every area of prostitution.
“Do not for a moment think that the men paying to abuse here are not ‘ordinary men’. I could not count the number of wedding rings and babies car seats I encountered. The men who pay to debase and degrade women and girls in prostitution are the same men who play out the pretence of being happily married family men. I wonder sometimes at the amount of women who would be shocked, not only to know their husbands are visiting prostitutes, but also to know the depth of their own husbands’ contempt and misogynistic hatred of women.
“Under Irish law, the abusive nature of prostitution has been allowed to flourish unhindered and it is a living hell for the women struggling to survive within it. It is primarily for the sake of these women, but also for all of us who want to live in a gender-equal society, that I am gladdened to see the Irish Government finally pledge to tackle this issue.
“I only hope that they go the right way about it, which is to criminalise the purchase of sex, because nothing will change for prostituted women and girls until the commercialisation of female bodies is dealt the hammer-blow it so richly deserves.
“To those who would say legalisation would make prostitution safer: I think the same thing any former prostitute I’ve ever spoken to thinks, which is that you may as well legalise rape and battery to try to make them safer. You cannot legislate away the dehumanising, degrading trauma of prostitution, and if you try to, you are accepting a separate class of women should exist who have no access to the human rights everyone else takes for granted.”
More on Magnanti’s poorly written, inaccurate, and frankly dishonest ‘popular science’ book, this time from an interview by Julie Bindel, full article here.
Unsurprisingly, I hate The Sex Myth, a book that claims to expose the lies written about sex. As a radical feminist and long-time campaigner against prostitution, I immediately have an issue with Magnanti’s credentials. A departure from the Belle de Jour series, The Sex Myth has been written as a scientific piece of work, but Dr Magnanti’s role as a research scientist is in children’s health. “Brooke uses verifiable academic research. This is fact, not fiction; science not supposition,” reads one cover endorsement, and yet The Sex Myth is littered with inaccuracies, right down to the statistics that Magnanti uses to back up her claims. An incorrect figure cited for the number of people involved in a Keele University study is just one example. The tone throughout her work is smug, self-righteous and plain ill-informed about those of us who view pornography, prostitution and strip clubs as contributory factors towards women’s oppression.
I begin by asking her about the mistakes that appear throughout her work, some of which refer to me directly. To start with, Magnanti once falsely accused me of receiving money for attending a conference in Boston on curbing the demand for prostitution, and she repeats this claim in the book, as follows: “On Twitter I asked Julie Bindel if she found her alliance with [the organising committee] to be a lucrative one – ‘Absolutely lucrative as fuck!’ was the reply. Ironic, isn’t it, for such a vocal opponent of sex work to be so pleased to be in it for the money?” I did attend the conference but certainly did not receive a fee to be there.
“It was a bit of a cheeky exchange, and I hope that comes through – the cheekiness,” says Magnanti when I tell her how annoyed I am that an obviously sarcastic retort on a social networking site should be used to back her belief that feminists campaign against sexual violence for profit.
Magnanti also accuses me and other feminists of forging links with the Christian right, with whom I have continually and publicly refused to share a platform, and claims that I am in favour of criminalising women in prostitution, despite the number of articles I have written arguing the opposite.
Magnanti not only has trouble getting her facts right. She also confuses personal experience with fact-based research, neatly highlighted when I attempt to talk to her about her issue with feminism. Radical feminism, I say, allowed the sexual liberation of countless women as it challenged compulsory heterosexuality and encouraged women to seek sexual pleasure and diversity. Magnanti, however, is adamant that feminism is at least partly to blame for sexual repression. “My take on [feminism] was something that was very much formed when I was at university. I was very sexually experimental and would sleep with pretty much anyone I fancied, given the chance. It felt like the feminists that I encountered … were very suspicious of people with different political attitudes.”
Her dismissal of feminism based on this experience is all the more infuriating given that she insists that her approach to research is always entirely based on science.