‘Mums Make Porn’ is a Channel 4 documentary about a group of mothers who make a short porn film. Emma, the lead on this project, describes mainstream porn as “horrible. Gruesome” and her intention is to create a ‘new wave’ of porn.
The result is a 14-minute film that Emma’s 20-year-old daughter was happy to watch alongside her mum, dad, and grandmother, with her boyfriend and friends in attendance.
There is some acknowledgement of the realities of the porn industry:
“The darker realities of the sex industry are never mentioned – in the first episode of the series at least. Emma says that they met one actress who had performed so much that she was physically injured, and that some of the films she saw were so gruesome she could barely kiss her husband goodnight. There was a point when the group thought that instead of making a porn film they should be campaigning to have it banned. “But that’s a huge step,” Emma says. “We were just four middle-aged hormonal females. But absolutely it needs to be policed. Everyone needs to get involved, from the government to mums and even those working in the porn industry. […] Back home they started to interview potential cast members. The first question was: “What sort of porn do you like to watch?” Most of the actors, Emma says, didn’t like a lot of what they saw, or indeed a lot of what they were doing.”
What is the actual purpose of this 14-minute porno, apart from making a small group of middle-class women feel good about themselves?
Could it work as ‘sex education’? But education in what? If its purpose is to educate about consent, why do you then need to see real sex acts? Does it include stopping and starting again, or giving up for the night? (at 14 minutes, I doubt it.)
Is it supposed to be an education in technique? The mention of male performance anxiety suggests so, but then who gets to set the standard?
Is it commercially viable? Is it going to ‘disrupt’ the porn industry? Of course not. The fact that it is being put up online for free (on Erika Lust’s website – more on her later), suggests that making it commercially viable was not a part of the plan (making it even more a middle-class vanity project, working-class women don’t have the time or resources to make porn for free, instead, they get ‘sex work’ pushed on them as something they ‘need’).
There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ when it comes to porn, only ‘a woman made it’ and/or ‘a woman gets off on it’; which means all porn is ‘feminist’, including the most extreme acts of violence, bestiality, and child sex abuse images, because somewhere there is a woman who will get off to that.
Pandora Blake, a self-styled ‘feminism pornographer’ produces only sado-masochistic porn centred around corporal punishment, and even Emma “is impressed by a couple of fetishists she watches making a naughty little video” while another mother is interested in “’beauty’, ‘tastefulness’ and large penises”, so there is no standard (sex products sold to women always claim higher production values, and always sport a bigger price tag).
The Guardian published an article last year titled ‘The Pleasure Revolution’, some of it was interesting, like the need to correctly describe, and normalise, female genitalia, and sex toys that aren’t objectifying and aimed at men; and some of it was ridiculous, like politics lecturer Reba Maybury, who has a side-gig as ‘political dominatrix’ ‘Mistress Rebecca’, who only dominates white, right-wing men, in order to ‘shift the power balance between the sexes’ (which is laughable, of course, she is being paid by these men for this ‘service’, she is still doing what they want, and outside that BDSM bubble, these men will carry on exactly as before). The article also links to a supposedly ‘feminist’ website, called ‘frolic me’, at the bottom of the website’s front page (click on image to enlarge) is a list of ‘erotic’ films and stories available on the site, including “voyeur catches a couple having a sexy rough fuck’, ‘BDSM erotic story of a submissive girl and her daddy’, and ‘forbidden seduction of a young horny stepson’. There is no meaningful definition of ‘feminist’ porn.
The idea of ‘ethical porn’ is equally meaningless. Mainstream porn uses ‘exit interviews’ (filmed statements where the female porn performers say that they consented to everything that just happened to them); as recent cases of abuse in the US porn industry show, these are faked in order for the woman to get paid, and there are plenty of other accounts of abuse and abusive conditions on porn sets. Any genuine policing of porn sets would make porn production impossible.
The pornographer Erika Lust is name-checked approvingly by the Mums, but this is Gail Dines’ description of one of her porn shoots (from ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’):
Lust’s rather bizarre idea of a compelling “erotic” movie for women was to portray a woman pianist living out her fantasy of playing the piano naked while being “pleasured.” So Lust finds Monica, a woman who is both a pianist and willing to play out this fantasy, concocted by Lust. The problem is that Monica is new to porn and lacks any experience, while Lust hires a mainstream male porn performer, resulting in the usual degrading porn sex – pounding penetration and hair pulling included. Monica finishes the scene in obvious pain and traumatized, looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. But remember, this is a “feminist” porn film, so Lust, acting all sisterly, gives Monica a big hug and a glass of water to make her feel better. And then asks her to fake an orgasm for the final scene. So much for authentic female sexuality!
It was stomach churning to watch Lust manipulate and cajole Monica into making this film, and lying through her teeth as she explained that she is doing something different from the boys. Despite all the talk about aesthetic value and women’s sexuality, HGWTO is just a clever piece of ideological propaganda. Lust, just like the boys, is making money from sexually exploiting women; unlike the boys, she wraps herself in a feminist flag as a way to differentiate her brand in a glutted market. In Lust’s world, sisterhood is powerful because it provides cover to pimp out women in the name of feminism.
What projects like ‘Mums Make Porn’ miss is that even ‘better’ porn still objectifies and commodifies sexuality, and also ignores the addictive nature of porn, requiring more, and more extreme, images. It also makes the common, mainstream, assumption that men are simply consuming ‘bad’ porn by mistake, because there isn’t any ‘good’ porn available (a similar apology is made for male sexual violence, that poor men simply don’t understand when they are raping someone). If ‘good’ porn were commercially viable, it would already exist, and higher production value porn already exists.
This porn film will do nothing to challenge the mainstream porn industry, and it is no substitute for compulsory, age-appropriate, sex and relationships education, including education on consent, and the porn industry.
My husband and I have been together for six years. I married him when he was 18 and I was 24. I discovered, after we got married, that he had had sexual intercourse only with me; he’d had sexual encounters with other women, but hadn’t felt ready for intercourse. At first this wasn’t a problem, but now his younger brothers are sexually active and have had multiple sexual partners, he has started to feel jealous.
I felt that this jealousy was only going to grow, and I didn’t want him to develop feelings of resentment towards me and cheat on me. I also didn’t want him to think he had missed out, and get into his 30s or 40s and leave me so he could experience what it feels like to sleep with other people, as his stepdad did to his mum.
So I booked a holiday to Amsterdam with the intention of paying for a prostitute for him. I felt this would be a safe option as it is a job and no feelings could develop. Plus he would know he had slept with someone other than me.
I didn’t know exactly how we would feel afterwards, but I was willing to take the risk to save the future of our marriage. But now it has happened and he wasn’t happy or fulfilled. He said he felt nothing at all and it was very different and strange. He was deflated afterwards and now he won’t talk to me about it because he says it hurts him. I am scared it has upset him, and worried I shouldn’t have done this.
There were a few things which struck me about your letter. First: how few times it said “we”; even when you talk about marriage, a union, you say I: “I married him”. You seem to have a very immature attitude to love. People who have had multiple sexual partners can still be unfaithful: you can’t vaccinate your husband against infidelity by making him have sex with someone else.
I would like you to read your letter back to yourself with the roles reversed, as if you were reading about a man booking a prostitute for his wife, seemingly without her knowledge or consent: it seems altogether more controlling, doesn’t it?
This was one of the first things couples psychotherapist Damian McCann asked: “Was this something you shared? Organised, booked, talked about together?”
Because if you had, this would take on a different flavour. But if you went ahead and booked a prostitute for your husband without asking him (and if so, at what point did you tell him? As you were shoving him through the door?) then I see this as a violation. Presumably him saying no was an option?
McCann wondered, “What’s going on with you two as a couple? Perhaps there is a shared sense of insecurity, although you seem to be trying to secure the relationship by means of control.”
I also wondered if the prostitute was for you or for him? Are you frustrated with your husband’s lack of experience? If he waited for the right person to have sex with (you) and for marriage, that hints at someone with a particular attitude to sex which may not be one you share, but it should be respected. If you were hoping to “add to” his repertoire or experience, you will have failed. “Sex with a prostitute,” McCann said, “seems very contrived.” It has none of the elements of a real relationship – or an affair, for that matter.
So to answer your question, have you done the right thing? Well, clearly, not. While I’m sure some will snigger and be facile and say things like “lucky husband”, I don’t see it like this. Your husband is hurt and upset; if you don’t talk about this now and resolve it, his hurt will change to anger, and anger is a fantastically fertile bed for infidelity to grow in. Sex isn’t the same as intimacy. It’s not unusual for couples who get together young and have only one sexual partner to wonder what sex might be like with someone else, but the only way to help prevent this is communication.
“You need,” McCann said, “to start thinking about how to be together. At the moment the relationship seems very driven by one of you.”
In other words, you need to learn how to be a couple, not your husband’s booker.
Drew was 8 years old when he was flipping through TV channels at home and landed on “Girls Gone Wild.” A few years later, he came across HBO’s late-night soft-core pornography. Then in ninth grade, he found online porn sites on his phone. The videos were good for getting off, he said, but also sources for ideas for future sex positions with future girlfriends. From porn, he learned that guys need to be buff and dominant in bed, doing things like flipping girls over on their stomach during sex. Girls moan a lot and are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. One particular porn scene stuck with him: A woman was bored by a man who approached sex gently but became ecstatic with a far more aggressive guy.
But around 10th grade, it began bothering Drew, an honor-roll student who loves baseball and writing rap lyrics and still confides in his mom, that porn influenced how he thought about girls at school. Were their breasts, he wondered, like the ones in porn? Would girls look at him the way women do in porn when they had sex? Would they give him blow jobs and do the other stuff he saw?
Drew, who asked me to use one of his nicknames, was a junior when I first met him in late 2016, and he told me some of this one Thursday afternoon, as we sat in a small conference room with several other high school boys, eating chips and drinking soda and waiting for an after-school program to begin. Next to Drew was Q., who asked me to identify him by the first initial of his nickname. He was 15, a good student and a baseball fan, too, and pretty perplexed about how porn translated into real life. Q. hadn’t had sex — he liked older, out-of-reach girls, and the last time he had a girlfriend was in sixth grade, and they just fooled around a bit. So he wasn’t exactly in a good position to ask girls directly what they liked. But as he told me over several conversations, it wasn’t just porn but rough images on Snapchat, Facebook and other social media that confused him. Like the GIF he saw of a man pushing a woman against a wall with a girl commenting: “I want a guy like this.” And the one Drew mentioned of the “pain room” in “Fifty Shades of Grey” with a caption by a girl: “This is awesome!”
Watching porn also heightened Q.’s performance anxiety. “You are looking at an adult,” he told me. “The guys are built and dominant and have a big penis, and they last a long time.” And if you don’t do it like the guys in porn, Drew added, “you fear she’s not going to like you.”
Leaning back in his chair, Drew said some girls acted as if they wanted some thug rather than a smart, sensitive guy. But was it true desire? Was it posturing? Was it what girls thought they were supposed to want? Neither Q. nor Drew knew. A couple of seats away, a sophomore who had been quiet until then added that maybe the girls didn’t know either. “I think social media makes girls think they want something,” he said, noting he hadn’t seen porn more than a handful of times and disliked it. “But I think some of the girls are afraid.”
“It gets in your head,” Q. said. “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it.” He’d heard about the importance of consent in sex, but it felt pretty abstract, and it didn’t seem as if it would always be realistic in the heat of the moment. Out of nowhere was he supposed to say: Can I pull your hair? Or could he try something and see how a girl responded? He knew that there were certain things — “big things, like sex toys or anal” — that he would not try without asking.
“I would just do it,” said another boy, in jeans and a sweatshirt. When I asked what he meant, he said anal sex. He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.
“I would never do something that looked uncomfortable,” Drew said, jumping back into the conversation. “I might say, ‘I’ve seen this in porn — do you want to try it?’ ”
It was almost 4 p.m., and the boys started to gather their backpacks to head to a class known as Porn Literacy. The course, with the official title The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students Designed to Reduce Sexual and Dating Violence, is a recent addition to Start Strong, a peer-leadership program for teenagers headquartered in Boston’s South End and funded by the city’s public-health agency. About two dozen selected high school students attend every year, most of them black or Latino, along with a few Asian students, from Boston public high schools, including the city’s competitive exam schools, and a couple of parochial schools. During most of the year, the teenagers learn about healthy relationships, dating violence and L.G.B.T. issues, often through group discussions, role-playing and other exercises.
But for around two hours each week, for five weeks, the students — sophomores, juniors and seniors — take part in Porn Literacy, which aims to make them savvier, more critical consumers of porn by examining how gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body images are portrayed (or, in the case of consent, not portrayed) in porn.
On average, boys are around 13, and girls are around 14, when they first see pornography, says Bryant Paul, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Media School and the author of studies on porn content and adolescent and adult viewing habits. In a 2008 University of New Hampshire survey, 93 percent of male college students and 62 percent of female students said they saw online porn before they were 18. Many females, in particular, weren’t seeking it out. Thirty-five percent of males said they had watched it 10 or more times during adolescence.
Porn Literacy, which began in 2016 and is the focus of a pilot study, was created in part by Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health who has conducted several studies on dating violence, as well as on porn use by adolescents. She told me that the curriculum isn’t designed to scare kids into believing porn is addictive, or that it will ruin their lives and relationships and warp their libidos. Instead it is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and takes the approach that teaching them to analyze its messages is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.
That ‘queer sex’ made me wince (what is the writer talking about? Gay men, lesbians, ‘diaper fetishists’?), but the article is still worth reading in full (it’s very long, the above is the introductory section, I will quote a few more paragraphs from it, but I do recommend reading the whole thing).
There are also uncritical references to ‘feminist’ and ‘ethical’ porn, and to such pornographers getting involved in sex education, but as one of the other interviewees says: “Unlike organic food, there’s no coding system for ethical or feminist porn […] They might use condoms and dental dams and still convey the same gender and aggression dynamics.”
It’s hard to know if, and how, this translates into behavior. While some studies show a small number of teens who watch higher rates of porn engage in earlier sex as well as gender stereotyping and sexual relationships that are less affectionate than their peers, these only indicate correlations, not cause and effect. But surveys do suggest that the kinds of sex some teenagers have may be shifting. The percentage of 18-to-24-year-old women who reported trying anal sex rose to 40 percent in 2009 from 16 percent in 1992, according to the largest survey on American sexual behavior in decades, co-authored by Herbenick and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. In data from that same survey, 20 percent of 18-to-19 year old females had tried anal sex; about 6 percent of 14-to-17-year-old females had. And in a 2016 Swedish study of nearly 400 16-year-old girls, the percentage of girls who had tried anal sex doubled if they watched pornography. Like other studies about sex and porn, it only showed a correlation, and girls who are more sexually curious may also be drawn to porn. In addition, some girls may view anal sex as a “safer” alternative to vaginal sex, as there’s little risk of pregnancy.
These images confound many teenagers about the kinds of sex they want or think they should have. In part, that’s because they aren’t always sure what is fake and what is real in porn. Though some told me that porn was fantasy or exaggerated, others said that porn wasn’t real only insofar as it wasn’t typically two lovers having sex on film. Some of those same teenagers assumed the portrayal of how sex and pleasure worked was largely accurate. That seems to be in keeping with a 2016 survey of 1,001 11-to-16-year-olds in Britain. Of the roughly half who had seen pornography, 53 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls said it was “realistic.” And in the recent Indiana University national survey, only one in six boys and one in four girls believed that women in online porn were not actually experiencing pleasure: As one suburban high school senior boy told me recently, “I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”
Now, in the third week of class, Daley’s goal was to undercut porn’s allure for teenagers by exposing the underbelly of the business. “When you understand it’s not just two people on the screen but an industry,” she told me, “it’s not as sexy.”
To that end, Daley started class by detailing a midlevel female performer’s salary (taken from the 2008 documentary “The Price of Pleasure”): “Blow job: $300,” Daley read from a list. “Anal: $1,000. Double penetration: $1,200. Gang bang: $1,300 for three guys. $100 for each additional guy.”
“Wow,” Drew muttered. “That makes it nasty now.”
“That’s nothing for being penetrated on camera,” another boy said.
Then, as if they had been given a green light to ask about a world that grown-ups rarely acknowledge, they began peppering Daley, Rothman and Alder with questions.
“How much do men get paid?” one girl asked. It is the one of the few professions in which men are paid less, Rothman explained, but they also typically have longer careers. How long do women stay in their jobs? On average, six to 18 months. How do guys get erections if they aren’t turned on? Often Viagra, Rothman offered, and sometimes a “fluffer,” as an offscreen human stimulator is known.
I really wish this canard was challenged more, male porn performers in het porn are paid less than female performers because they are not doing the same job; as someone else put it so well, women are paid to suffer, while men are paid to ejaculate. Porn companies can (and do) get men in off the street to do it for free, that’s why male porn performers are paid less.
Also, all the real money in porn is behind the cameras, in production and distribution, an area which is dominatd by men.
Daley then asked the teenagers to pretend they were contestants on a reality-TV show, in which they had to decide if they were willing to participate in certain challenges (your parents might be watching) and for how much money. In one scenario, she said, you would kneel on the ground while someone poured a goopy substance over your face. In another, you’d lick a spoon that had touched fecal matter. The kids debated the fecal-matter challenge — most wouldn’t to do it for less than $2 million. One wanted to know if the goop smelled. “Can we find out what it is?” asked another.
Then Daley explained that each was in fact a simulation of a porn act. The goopy substance was what’s called a “baker’s dozen,” in which 13 men ejaculate on a woman’s face, breasts and mouth.
“What?” a girl named Tiffany protested.
The second scenario — licking the spoon with fecal matter — was from a porn act known as A.T.M., in which a man puts his penis in a woman’s anus and then immediately follows by sticking it in her mouth.
“No way,” a 15-year-old boy said. “Can’t you wash in between?”
Nope, Daley said.
“We don’t question it when we see it in porn, right?” Daley went on. “There’s no judgment here, but some of you guys are squeamish about it.”
“I never knew any of this,” Drew said, sounding a bit glum.
Daley went on to detail a 2010 study that coded incidents of aggression in best-selling 2004 and 2005 porn videos. She noted that 88 percent of scenes showed verbal or physical aggression, mostly spanking, slapping and gagging. (A more recent content analysis of more than 6,000 mainstream online heterosexual porn scenes by Bryant Paul and his colleagues defined aggression specifically as any purposeful action appearing to cause physical or psychological harm to another person and found that 33 percent of scenes met that criteria. In each study, women were on the receiving end of the aggression more than 90 percent of the time.)
Al Vernacchio, a nationally known sexuality educator who teaches progressive sex ed at a private Quaker school outside Philadelphia, believes the better solution is to make porn literacy part of the larger umbrella of comprehensive sex education. Vernacchio, who is the author of the 2014 book “For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health,” is one of those rare teenage-sex educators who talks directly to his high school students about sexual pleasure and mutuality, along with the ingredients for healthy relationships. The problem with porn “is not just that it often shows misogynistic, unhealthy representations of relationships,” Vernacchio says. “You can’t learn relationship skills from porn, and if you are looking for pleasure and connection, porn can’t teach you how to have those.”
Crabbe notes one effective way to get young men to take fewer lessons from porn: “Tell them if you want to be a lazy, selfish lover, look at porn. If you want to be a lover where your partner says, ‘That was great,’ you won’t learn it from porn.” And parents should want their teenagers to be generous lovers, Cindy Gallop argues. “Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic. But nobody brings us up to behave well in bed.”
Transgender schools guidance produced by transgender and LGBT organisations promotes a new ‘affirmation’ and social transition model which has been shown to increase persistence of gender dysphoria in children. The model fails to take into account the various reasons for childhood cross-sex identity, which can range from perfectly normal developmental exploration, through difficult family dynamics all the way to previous trauma or sexual abuse. It may also be a result of homophobic bullying, emotional and psychological issues, ASD or simple social contagion, particularly in cases of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria seen predominantly in teenage girls.
We feel that to simply take a child’s words at face value and respond with a one-size-fits-all approach is a dereliction of duty of care for children and adolescents, and this approach should not be forced upon schools.
Published transgender schools guidance also fails to take into account sex-based rights and protections already in place to protect the privacy of all students and in particular the welfare of girls. This guidance misrepresents Equality law in placing the rights of transgender students above those of other students, with no requirement for equality impact assessments. The prioritisation of ‘gender identity’ above biological sex as the distinction between boys and girls gives weight to a belief over material reality and obviously raises issues of safeguarding as well as the right to name reality.
We felt there was an urgent need for clear factual information for schools seeking advice on a very recent and unprecedented phenomenon, guidance which is based on protecting the welfare and rights of all children.
We have developed a comprehensive schools resource pack, in consultation with teachers, child protection and welfare professionals and lawyers. Our aim is to arm schools with all the relevant facts so that teachers feel more informed and confident in creating a safe school for all pupils, including non-conforming children and those who identify as ‘transgender.’
Our resource pack covers advice for school leaders, tips on how to create a school culture of acceptance of gender non-conformity without denying biological sex, communication, primary schools and secondary schools, existing safeguarding policies and guidance, the legal situation for schools, and a glossary of terms.
We also include factual information about the social and medical transition of children, testimonies from young people who have desisted or detransitioned, and a statement from a teacher who has witnessed the increase in the number of young people identifying as ‘trans’ in their school. We have included a statement from the Lesbian Rights Alliance in recognition of the fact that the number of teenage lesbians who are choosing to identify as ‘trans men’ has recently grown so significantly.
We have designed the document to be fully comprehensive and cover all areas because this is such a new phenomenon that teachers are facing and existing guidance is so one-sided, but each individual section may be printed out and used separately if needed.
Download the pdf here:
This is one of today’s search engine terms:
my dom beats me when i mess up without aftercare
For anyone visiting this blog in this type of situation, you are being abused. It doesn’t matter what ‘contract’ you signed, what you agreed to verbally, how nice your abuser is other times, what kind of ‘pillar’ of the BDSM ‘community’ your abuser is, this is a dangerous situation, and you should leave, not just your abuser, but the BDSM ‘scene’ altogether.
You deserve love and affection and care without having to be tortured first, you deserve respect without having to agree to total submission and obedience first. You can take responsibility for your own life and your own decisions, you don’t need a ‘dom’ to do this for you.
If you feel like you can’t leave, because of financial reasons, because you have become isolated from family and community outside of BDSM, because you are afraid of what your abuser might do, there are resources out there available to help you escape.
Children will be taught about healthy adult relationships from the age of four, with sex education made compulsory in all secondary schools, though faith schools will still be allowed to teach “in accordance with the tenets of their faith”, the government has announced.
Politicians and charities welcomed the radical overhaul of sex and relationship education but some secular campaigners expressed concern about the opt-outs that could be available for faith schools, saying the government needed to ensure some pupils were not left vulnerable.
MPs across all parties had lobbied for the change, calling the previous guidance published in 2000 hopelessly inadequate for a modern world in which children can be exposed to pornography, online grooming and abuse at the touch of a button and at an increasingly young age.
In a written statement on Wednesday, the education secretary, Justine Greening, said existing statutory guidance made no mention of modern issues.
“The statutory guidance for sex and relationships education was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated,” she said. “It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyberbullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.”
Sex education is compulsory only for secondary school pupils in local authority-run schools. Now all secondary schools, including academies, private schools and religious free schools, must make the age-appropriate sex and relationship education mandatory.
Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from the lessons. Schools will have flexibility in how they deliver the subjects and they can develop an approach that is “sensitive to the needs of the local community” and religious beliefs.
The government will now make the change by tabling its own amendment to the children and social work bill, having previously been under pressure when more than two dozen Tory MPs signed their own backbench amendment to the bill, spearheaded by former women and equalities secretary Maria Miller.
Woman on the Edge of Time was first published 40 years ago and begun three-and-a-half years before that.The early 1970s were a time of great political ferment and optimism among those of us who longed for change, for a more just and egalitarian society with more opportunities for all the people, not just some of them. Since then, inequality has greatly increased.
At the time I wrote this novel, women were making huge gains in control of their bodies and their lives. Not only has that momentum been lost, but many of the rights we worked so hard to secure are being taken from us by Congress and state legislatures every year.
But we must also understand that the attempt to take away a woman’s control over her body is part of a larger attempt to take away any real control from most of the population. Now, corporations and the very wealthy 1% control elections. Now, the media are propaganda machines and the only investigative reporting is on Comedy Central, HBO, or the web.
The powers that be have allowed for certain social rather than economic gains. We’ll soon finally have legalised marijuana and gay marriage in every state – but unions are being crushed and the safety net of the New Deal and the Johnson era is being abolished one law at a time, while women are forced into the back-alley abortions that once killed so many. We have made some social gains and many economic losses. The real earning power of working people diminishes every year.
During the heyday of the second wave of the women’s movement, a number of utopias were created (Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, James Tiptree’s Houston, Houston Do You Read?, Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Elisabeth Mann Borgese’s My Own Utopia from The Ascent of Woman, and Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground among them) and now they aren’t. Why? Feminist utopias were created out of a hunger for what we didn’t have, at a time when change felt not only possible but probable. Utopias came from the desire to imagine a better society when we dared to do so. When our political energy goes into defending rights, and projects we won and created are now under attack, there is far less energy for imagining fully drawn future societies we might wish to live in.
Writing about a strong community that socialises children and integrates old people is a response to women living in a society where a mother is often alone with her children and old women are treated just a step better than the excess pets executed daily in pounds and shelters.
We are ever more isolated from truly intimate contact with one another. Many men prefer pornography to actual sex, where they have to please a woman or must at least pretend to try.
I also wanted Woman on the Edge of Time to show an ecologically sound society. The lives and institutions and rituals of Mattapoisett all stress being a part of nature and responsible for the natural world. In imagining the good society, I borrowed from all the progressive movements of that time. Like most women’s utopias, the novel is profoundly anarchist and aimed at integrating people back into the natural world and eliminating power relationships. The nuclear family is rare in feminist utopias and banished from this novel.
I projected a society in which sex was available, accepted and non-hierarchical – and totally divorced from income, social status, power. No trophy wives, no closeting, no punishment or ostracism for preferring one kind of lover to another. No need to sell sex or buy it. No being stuck like my own mother in a loveless marriage to support yourself. In the dystopia in Woman on the Edge of Time, women are commodified, genetically modified and powerless.
I am also very interested in the socialising and interpersonal mechanisms of a society. How is conflict dealt with? Again, who gets to decide, and upon whose head and back are those decisions visited? How does that society deal with loneliness and alienation? How does it deal with getting born, growing up and learning, having sex, making babies, becoming sick and healing, dying and being disposed of? How do we deal with collective memories – our history – that we are constantly reshaping?
Utopia is born of the hunger for something better, but it relies on hope as the engine for imagining such a future. I wanted to take what I considered the most fruitful ideas of the various movements for social change and make them vivid and concrete – that was the real genesis of Woman on the Edge of Time.
Marge Piercy, from her introduction to the new edition of Women on the Edge of Time (longer version here)
I went to my first sexual consent classes when I started university in 2014. Along with talks on fire safety and how you can’t live solely off crisps were sessions on the complexity of sexual consent. I laughed them off at the time – but now, I’m running them.
The classes didn’t get the warmest reception. One boy mockingly printed off “official sexual consent permission forms”, which he handed round to everyone. When we talked in the sessions about what we’d do if someone tried to stop during sex, responses included “I’d call her a bitch,” and “I physically can’t stop having sex once I’ve started”.
Those classes taught me more than I’d expected. That sex isn’t necessarily the smooth, wordless encounter we are constantly fed in films. That consent is retractable – proving that someone has consented at some point doesn’t prove they weren’t raped. Even discussing what I already knew wasn’t pointless; having an honest conversation about sex the first time I met my university friends made me feel safer and more at ease. Plus it was a pretty cool way to break the ice.
The 45-minute sessions are not patronising “Orwellian” lectures, as Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill has described them, but informal discussion groups run by student volunteers. Attendees are given a list of scenarios to talk through which describe situations in which consent is a grey area. One might involve a sexual encounter where someone is continually pushing you away; another where someone is extremely drunk. Eventually, the students come to a definition of consent as active and ongoing.
And already, the sessions have left a positive mark on student life. The workshops introduce incoming freshers to people they can go to when they need help or advice.
Some of the culture you’re exposed to at university can be difficult to speak out against – particularly for people who are disempowered due to gender, ethnicity, disability or sexuality. At my institution, there are drinking society events where the girls go round lifting up their tops while the boys cheer louder if they have “nicer tits”. I’m sure they are some people’s idea of a great night out. But in the intimidating climate of the first couple of terms at university, it’s nice to know there’s another option.
The classes also support victims, helping them to recognise what has happened rather than having to deal with the shame, guilt and feelings of emptiness alone. One girl approached me after we ran a session on rape and said that she had had an experience the previous summer which she had blamed herself for. Only now did she identify it as a crime – and she’d resolved to contact the police.
A 2013 survey released by the ONS estimates that one in five women aged 16 to 59 experience sexual violence after the age of 16, with 90% of assailants being someone the victim knows. And yet, only 6% of reported rape cases end in conviction.
Talking about consent as part of the freshers’ induction curriculum allows us to locate the debate in our culture – as a topic we all have the duty and power to tackle – instead of treating every case as a tragic exception.
To an extent, the sceptics are right about the limitations of the initiative. They are right that most people become sexually active before arriving at university – education about sexual consent should begin much earlier.
They are also right that classes alone can’t solve the deeply rooted causes of sexual coercion in our society. But maybe, in talking about it openly, we can help to elevate it to a status which it is still being denied: that of being recognised as a problem.
QotD: “Action against sexual harassment in schools is more about protecting the male orgasm than girls”
How much pain and suffering is the male orgasm worth? Is there ever a time when a man’s right to access hardcore pornography is outweighed by the rights of young women to feel safe?
I am wondering this in light of today’s Women and Equalities Committee Report into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. The way in which young men see their female peers is tainted, poisoned by broader cultural narratives about what female bodies are for. Boys are not born with a need to hurt and humiliate for pleasure, but they are acquiring it, and fast.
The findings of the report are dismaying, if not altogether surprising. It states: “A number of large scale surveys find girls and young women consistently reporting high levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school.”
Data published in September 2015 found that over 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over the course of three years, including 600 rapes. Almost a third of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching in school, while 41 per cent of girls aged 14 to 17 in intimate relationships reported experiencing sexual violence from their partner. Sexual harassment starts in primary school, with lifting up skirts and pulling down pants, driving some girls to wearing shorts under their school skirts.
One obvious conclusion to draw might be that boys do not like girls very much. They see them as objects to sneer at, flesh to grab at, holes to penetrate. They don’t see them as people, at least not in the way that they see themselves.
The report claims that, “boys and young men . . . are adversely impacted themselves by a culture of internet pornography that has become so prevalent amongst young people”. The images they are seeing distort their beliefs not just about what women want, but what women are.
Of course, it’s not as though sexism and rape culture are products of the internet. They have been with us for millennia. We tell ourselves that we are making progress. Eventually – not in my lifetime, though, nor even in my children’s – such things should not exist. Yet it seems that as soon as one channel for hate disappears, another emerges. The report posits “a correlation between children’s regular viewing of pornography and harmful behaviours”:
“The type of pornography many children are exposed to is often more extreme than adults realise . . . The government should immediately update its guidance on SRE [sex and relationship education] to include teaching about pornography. The new guidance should offer advice to schools about how to approach this topic in an age-appropriate way. It should also include suggestions of how schools can work in partnership with parents to address the impact of pornography on children’s perceptions of sex, relationships and consent.”
While I don’t disagree with any of these recommendations in particular, there’s something about the whole enterprise that makes my heart sink. It’s as though pornography is a natural disaster, something terrible that cannot be avoided, or some strange, dark offshoot of youth culture – a modern version of painting your walls black while listening to Joy Division – around which the grown-ups must tiptoe and fret.
You’d never think it was something created, paid for and used by men of all ages and classes, as part of the way they systematically dehumanise, objectify and exploit female bodies. You’d never think it was a multibillion pound leisure industry in its own right. You’d never think that violent, abusive pornography only exists because huge numbers of men want it to.
I understand the arguments. It’s here now and there’s nothing we can do about it (other than make more of it, harder, faster, crueller, the lines between consent and coercion increasingly blurred). The only thing we can do now is hope that SRE (sex and relationship education) lessons at school – followed up by consent lessons for those in higher education – will counteract the worst effects.
It’s as though misogyny itself is not something to be eradicated, but something young men must learn to enjoy in moderation. Grown men can handle it, we tell ourselves (after all, it’s not as though they’re sexually harassing and raping anyone, is it?). It’s the young ones you’ve got to worry about. They just don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. Unlike the punter who can magically tell whether the person he is penetrating has been coerced, or the viewer with a sixth sense that informs him whether the rape he is watching is real or fake. We’re genuinely meant to think it’s only children who are at risk of not seeing the humanity in others.
I am tired of this. I do not want my sons to grow up in a world where watching violent pornography and paying to penetrate the body of someone poorer than you are seen as a perfectly acceptable recreational activities as long as one is over 18. Where watching scenes of choking, beating and rape – without knowing how much is acted, how much is real – is justified on the basis that nothing that gives you an orgasm ought to be stigmatised.
I do not want my sons to attend the “sensible, grounded sex education” lessons being proposed by Women and Equalities Committee chair Maria Miller if all they learn is how not to be too “laddish”, how to keep their misogyny at an acceptable level for polite society, how to pretend women and girls are human without truly seeing them as such. Because then this is not about equality at all. This is about etiquette. The gentrification of misogyny: down with lad culture (so vulgar!), up with hardcore porn on the quiet. No rapes until home time, this is a serious establishment.
It’s not good enough. Girls are suffering, horrendously. Their self-esteem – their very sense of self, their belief that their bodies are their own – are being destroyed. What if the cost of ending their suffering would be to say “Enough. The male orgasm is not sacrosanct”? There is nothing liberal or enlightened about promoting an age-old system of exploitation via the cum shot. Men – adult men – could end this if they wanted to. Surely a first step would be to stop pretending otherwise.