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)
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.
lots of radfems are super quick to say “bdsm is abuse” but then don’t treat those women as if they are in abuse relationships
I think this is important. I know I’m guilty of forgetting that littles are in an abusive relationship, but I have made a few posts (and answers) like this one [see below] about how littles can cope (especially when they have been a victim of CSA themselves and use DD/lg as a coping-mechanism).
However, sometimes it is too easy to just get so angry at doms that you forget that even when a little is calling you every name under the sun for criticizing her ‘kink’ – she is still in an abusive relationship and it’s very, very very verrrrry common for victims to protect their abuser.
Do you have any advice for a little who wants to be healthy and normal but doesn’t know how to change?
I want to make it quite clear that as a female, you are not abnormal for conforming to submissiveness. It’s what we are taught to do. It is abnormal for a ‘daddy’ to want to fuck you when you’re taking on the behavior and dress of a child. You are the victim and are not the one to blame.
I have found that many littles have had sexual or physical trauma in their past. The first thing to realize, is that DDlg is not ‘therapy’, and any ‘daddy’ that is going to ‘look after you’ by encouraging DDlg is not a good boyfriend – he is a pedophile. You are not a pedophile. The ‘daddy’ is the pedophile.
- You deserve someone who will help you, and not hinder you by encouraging harmful kinks where you are a subordinate, submissive child.
- You do not need to take on being a ‘child’ or need a ‘daddy’ to be taken care of. You deserve to be treated like an adult, and to be taken care of in a respectful, loving way.
- Take some time for you. Work out what you want. Do some introspecting. Meditate, listen to music, catch up with friends, or read a book.
- Research. It will make more sense to you the less you engage in kink culture, and the more you research and analyse why re-enacting pedophilia is wrong. In kink culture, it’s accepted – so you will have people influencing and manipulating you to keep going. Take some time away.
- You are strong enough to take control of your life, to take control of your trauma (if any), and to speak to people who truly want you to feel better – not to take advantage of it.
And I am always here. I understand that littles are manipulated and coerced into kink culture. You can do it.
QotD: “Making women seem anti-sex and joyless if we want the right to be sexual without being humiliated or hurt, and making men seem wimpy and undersexed if they prefer cooperation to domination, is clearly the tactic of choice for isolating anybody who tries to separate sexuality from violence and domination”
Making women seem anti-sex and joyless if we want the right to be sexual without being humiliated or hurt, and making men seem wimpy and undersexed if they prefer cooperation to domination, is clearly the tactic of choice for isolating anybody who tries to separate sexuality from violence and domination — which is a challenge to male dominance at its heart.
Gloria Steinem, Preface of “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions” (2nd ed., 1995)
Sheila Jeffreys, Unpacking Queer Politics
The Sun has scrapped Page 3’s topless women after 44 years, delighting the legion of critics who have branded the photos of bare-breasted models sexist, offensive and anachronistic.
Insiders said the decision has been taken to kill off the controversial feature quietly but that the feature would continue online.
“This comes from high up, from New York,” said one senior executive in a reference to the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch.
The Sun refused to respond to any calls, emails or texts from the Guardian throughout Monday but told the Times, which is also owned by Murdoch: “Page 3 of The Sun is where it’s always been, between pages 2 and 4, and you can find Lucy from Warwick at Page3.com. “
The paper reported that last Friday’s edition of the paper will be the last that would “carry an image of a glamour model with bare breasts on that page”.
A spokeswoman for the campaign group No More Page 3: “This could be truly historic news and a great day for people power.” adding it “could be a huge step for challenging media sexism”.
But, don’t break out the champagne just yet, as the article also states: “The change may be reversed, it is understood, if it results in a noticeable Sun sales decline.”
QotD: “The idea that women should ‘experiment’ and perform sex acts that they do not want to has become a popular model for women’s sexual behaviour in heterosexual relationships since the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s. It is an idea frequently reinforced and legitimated through sex therapy”
The idea that women should ‘experiment’ and perform sex acts that they do not want to has become a popular model for women’s sexual behaviour in heterosexual relationships since the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s. It is an idea frequently reinforced and legitimated through sex therapy (see Jeffreys, 1990). Women are still encouraged by therapists to sexually fulfill their male partners, even if they have no desire to do so, or experience pain or discomfort (Tyler, 2008). For example, in the widely recommended self-help manual for women Becoming Orgasmic, therapists Heiman and LoPiccolo encourage women to try anal sex (an increasingly ubiquitous sex practice in pornography) if a male partner is interested in it. The advice from the therapists is: “If any discomfort does occur, try again some other time” (Heiman and LoPiccolo, 1992, p. 187). The central premise is that pain and discomfort for women are not acceptable reasons for discontinuing a sexual practice, but, rather, are reasons for women to undergo further ‘training’, ‘modelling’ and coercion. Instead of understanding that using pornography as a coercive strategy is harmful, sexologists extol pornography’s virtues, stating for example that it is useful for “giving the viewer permission to model the behavior” (Striar and Bartlik, 1999, p. 61).
Exactly what type of behaviour women are expected to model from pornography further exposes the way in which the promotion and legitimation of pornography in sex therapy poses harms to women’s equality. Even at the most respectable end of therapist-recommended pornography, sadomasochistic practices and acts such as double penetration, or DP as it is known in the porn industry, can be easily found. Take for example, the Sinclair Intimacy Institute, run by a “well known and respected sexologist, Dr Mark Schoen” (Black, 2006, p. 117). It consists mainly of an online store that sells therapist-recommended pornography. On the Institute’s Website, customers are assured that the pornography available is reviewed and approved by therapists who choose only “high quality sex positive productions” (Sinclair Intimacy Institute, 2007a, n.p.). Among the list of “sex positive productions” are the mainstream pornography titles The New Devil in Miss Jones, Jenna Loves Pain, and Deepthroat.
The choice of Deepthroat is particularly revealing given the amount of publicity surrounding the circumstances of its production. Linda Marchiano (Linda Lovelace at the time of filming) detailed her extensive abuse at the hands of her husband and pimp in her book Ordeal, explaining how she was forced, sometimes at gun point to perform in pornography (Lovelace, 1980). She once stated that: “every time someone watches that film, they are watching me being raped” (quoted in Dworkin, 1981). That such a film is labelled ‘sex positive’ by therapists should be serious cause for concern. But Deepthroat is not an isolated case.
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry
The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted by 81 to 10 in favour of making it a crime to pay for sex.
MLAs spent several hours on Monday debating the measures, which formed part of a private member’s bill on human trafficking and exploitation.
Clause six of the bill makes it illegal for someone to obtain sexual services in exchange for payment.
Northern Ireland is the first part of the UK to vote in favour of the measure.
There is still some way to go before the bill becomes law, but the prospect of a ban on paying for sex in Northern Ireland has taken a significant step forward.
Research published last week suggested that about 17,500 men pay for sex each year in Northern Ireland.
The study by Queen’s University, Belfast, was commissioned by the Department of Justice in response to Lord Morrow’s proposed bill.
Meanwhile, another poll has indicated that almost 80% of people in Northern Ireland support the criminalisation of paying for sex.
The Ipsos Mori survey found support for the Human Trafficking Bill was strongest among people aged between 16 to 34.
Most of you are likely aware by now that Canada’s federal government has unveiled their new prostitution bill. I wrote about it for VICE this week and based on talking to a number of women on the issue, here are the conclusions I’ve come to for the time being. I say “for the time being” because I think at this point we’re still speculating about the purpose of one particular (problematic) provision.
Ok. So first a very brief summary of key aspects of the proposed legislation, called Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act:
- buying sex is criminalized
- pimping is criminalized
- advertising for sexual services is criminalized unless it is the prostitute themselves who is doing the advertising
- prostituted people are decriminalized BUT there is a communication provision in there that leaves open the possibility to criminalize the sale of sex if it is being sold in a public area where there might be children around.
The purpose of the bill is to target the exploiters. It explicitly challenges men’s right to buy sex and positions women in prostitution as victims, not criminals. There is money ($20 million, which I’m not convinced is enough) for exiting services and to support front-line work. The language used in the bill is very heartening and actually states that prostitution is inherently exploitative (which it is), that it “has a disproportionate impact on women and children,” and that “the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity” causes “social harm.” It explicitly names demand as the problem which needs to be addressed: “it is important to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services because it creates a demand for prostitution.”
All of this kind of thrills me. This language is explicitly feminist in that it names men as the problem and points to gender inequality as a key factor in terms of why prostitution exists in the first place and in terms of who is exploited in prostitution.
What is troubling is the communication provision. We don’t know why it’s there and we don’t know how it might play out in real life. It’s possible that “think of the children!” was stuck in there to appease Conservative voters who are concerned about prostitution happening around kids or in their (wealthy) neighbourhoods (meaning it could be a NIMBY provision). It’s also possible that the provision is just an excuse to leave the door open to criminalize the most vulnerable — women working on the streets, Aboriginal women. It’s possible that, as promised, the focus will remain on criminalizing the pimps and johns and that the women will be left alone but if that was the intention, it would be great to take that communication provision out entirely. It could simply be applied to buyers, not sellers — I see no real need to criminalize the women even if it were a NIMBY law (which I don’t support, for the record — just trying to get inside the brains of Conservatives…).
So. There are very good things in the bill and there is a potentially bad thing in the bill. It isn’t, in my opinion, accurate to say that Canada has adopted the Nordic model, though we are much closer than we were previously. The Nordic model does not include a provision that could potentially criminalize prostituted people if in a a public place “where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present.” But the reality is that we are in a better position to advocate for what we want now than if, for example, the proposal were to fully decriminalize or if it weren’t so specific in its intention to target demand and support women. I would like to see a commitment to reeducating the police in order to ensure they actually focus on the johns and both leave prostitutes alone and support them if they need support. This is a key part of the Swedish model. It’s also, of course, important to remind ourselves that Sweden has stronger social safety nets and a better welfare system than Canada does and so we need to keep the pressure on in regard to all of these aspects.
“Sex-positive feminism,” as a movement, has as its objective to remove sexuality from the realm of feminist systemic criticism. It is therefore anti-feminist in practice, despite its proponents’ general commitment to feminism. It says that any issue which they deem sexual in nature, be it actual sex, BDSM, pornography or prostitution, must not be analyzed or criticized. Instead, they contend, we should fall back to the “default” position that “consent is the standard of morality.”
Sex-negativity, therefore, means opposition to this stance: that sexuality must be subject to systemic criticism like everything else, and that woman-hating in sexual areas must not be given a free pass. It is nothing more than the consistent application of feminist principles to actual sex, BDSM, consent in sex, pornography and prostitution. It is nothing more than the proposition that sex is affected by patriarchal norms.