Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Porn Conversations

I've wanted to write about Robert Jensen's book, Getting Off: The End of Masculinity, ever since it came out, way back in 2007. The book is an anti-porn manifesto, but it also attempts to be a critique of traditional masculinity as well, advocating, as it says in its title, an end to masculinity. For such a slim tome, this is quite a goal, and it falls short.

One of the reasons I've been hesitant to take on Jensen's book in any substantial way has to do with the difficult, vitriolic "discussion" of pornography and sex work both within feminist communities and in the world at large. These are emotional issues (as they should be), and there is an understandable tendency toward oversimplification and over-generalization on all sides of the issue. As with many other issues, especially when they're discussed on the internet, the idea of giving a charitable reading to something sort of goes out the window--and I totally get that, since aspects of Jensen's book make me want to claw my eyes out in frustration, rather than "read charitably".

Which is why I have actually enjoyed the recent discussions between Meghan Murphy and Hugo Schwyzer, which were an attempt to have a conversation about "pornstitution" that would help everybody better understand at least some of the disagreements between (some) sex positive feminists and (some) anti-sex-work feminists (it is difficult to use neutral terms here). Just the attempt to have the discussion was refreshing, and I commend both Megan and Hugo for making the attempt; that said, most of what was clarified for me was the problems with the arguments (and attitudes) of the anti-sex-work folks. Which has led me back to re-reading the Jensen book, and working on some posts about the book, and about the anti-sex-work positions in general.

Before I begin with the book though, a preview of some of the ideas I want to examine, starting with just a little piece of the conversation that Meghan and Hugo had, because I think it highlights a particular theme that the anti-sex-work folks just get wrong.

Can People Choose Sex Work?
Meghan is frustrated with actual sex workers who put themselves forward as examples of people who have chosen to do that kind of work, and who don't consider themselves particularly oppressed. She says:
“Re: the teeny minority of self defined “sex workers” who enjoy it. Since when is enjoyment or pleasure or *feelings* of empowerment–*feelings* in and of themselves- the same as truth or reality? What sort of argument is being made here? Feelings are also socially constructed in a capitalist/patriarchal society: think of mania for commodities; see the mobs going crazy after sports events (like in Vancouver now?). Lots of feeling there: does it mean consumerism and mob-violence is ok? Men feel empowered by raping: so, do we validate rape? Abolitionists of slavery didn’t care what made a few slaves content–slavery is wrong. Selling people is wrong, no matter how content someone is to sell themselves. These ideas about individual empowerment and pleasure are all part of the way we are bamboozled in neoliberalism. Since when has being content with one’s lot stood as an argument that one’s lot is therefore just and right? We don’t have to tell an individual woman “porn star” about what her “experience” is in order to critique the prostitution of women as a societal institution–to critique the demand by men that women’s bodies are for sale.

But of course people who want their voices heard aren't speaking up because they think their choice means that everybody has the same choice that they do. Instead, some folks who do/did this kind of work offer themselves up as counterexamples to the claims that some radical feminists make that sex-work can't even exist as work, because one can never, ever choose it without being in some sense coerced. Murphy chooses to place the term sex work in scare quotes when talking with Hugo, which follows suit with the idea that there just is no such thing as sex work, because all sex work is coercive. A sex worker who wants Meghan to listen and acknowledge that some porn work is chosen freely isn't asking Meghan to then never critique porn as a larger industry; she (or he, or zie) is asking Meghan to ditch the claim that doing porn can never be a choice.

And clearly there are lots of folks who don't have a free choice--sex trafficking, for instance, is a clear case of coercion (and, because it's obvious coercion, we shouldn't call it sex work. And clearly there are huge problems with the production of pornography--but that still doesn't mean it is the case that folks can never choose to do sex work. Some anti-porn folks acknowledge this, but when they continue to use scare quotes around the phrase sex work, I'm not sure why they don't understand that folks who do sex work feel silenced by that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Red Without Blue

I haven't seen the whole film yet, but this documentary about a pair of twins, one of whom is a trans gal, is fascinating, including lots of good insight into issues of traditional masculinity. Here's the preview:

Watch more free documentaries

The film is available in full at snagfilms here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

No, Seriously: Another Space for Feminist Men

It's brand-spanking new, and we'll see what paths the folks over on
No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? venture down, but I'm excited that there are more and more spaces online for feminist men to do some of the work that men should be doing to dismantle patriarchy--dismantling that will help men as well as folks of all genders! Take a look at the bios to get an idea of what y'all have in store:
Ozymandias is a tea-addicted godless commie obsessed with bad fantasy novels, worse music and arguing on the Internet. When not engaged in a torrid love affair with the word “fuck,” she goes to college to learn about subjects that will never gain her employment and avoids writing her novel. She blogs, mostly about her vagina, at Ozymandias’s Crushing and Venting Engine of Doom.

Author, editor, raconteur, and man-about town Noah Brand is not presently wanted by the law, which is probably the most that can be said for him. When not writing screenplays or novels or editing pornography, he is known as a small-time grifter and notorious gentleman of easy virtue. He hopes to one day employ slang that postdates the 1930s.

Doctor MindBeam is a straight white American male who by all accounts is living the good life. Despite what some may espouse, that doesn’t necessarily make him part of the problem. When he’s not fighting for egalitarianism, peace, and unity, he can be found lurking in positions of grandeur and power all across America, or when he’s bored, on Reddit. He may or may not have a doctorate in MindBeamology.

Aliaras is a giant nerd. Kinky, queer, and poly, she loves thinking about things and poking at them to see how they work. She’s currently in college learning the secrets of the universe (physics). While not arguing over the internet, she blows pixels up, draws, writes, cooks, and wanders around making the world a weirder place.

Semiel is a college-age deviant whose interests include polyamory and other alternative relationships, transgressive masculinity, and really kinky sex. When he’s not doing his part to ruin the moral fabric of America, Semiel spends his time writing papers about things like renaissance magic or impenetrable German philosophers, and playing tabletop roleplaying games. While being himself a straight, cis man, Semiel considers himself a feminist and queer ally.

Marc is a gray asexual with a open mind and a love of loud music, the NY Giants, sparkly nail polish, fruity ciders (as well as any other alcoholic beverage you care to mention) and retrogameing who thinks about Deadpool way more than is humanly healthy. He would like to believe he is a gender egalitarian pro feminist who feels strongly about issues facing men. Oh, he would also genuinely like to see the phrase “man up” disappear from the human lexicon.

Figleaf is a prudish libertine who writes about the sociology and politics of sex, relationships and gender at www.realadultsex.com. He’s a stay-at-home dad, he’s been interested in feminism since roughly 1972 and in men’s issues since 1974.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On Sex Addiction and Compulsive Sexual Behavior

A recent discussion on The Good Men Project with Tom Matlack and Amanda Marcotte caught my attention. In the wake of the so-called scandal around Anthony Weiner, Matlack and Marcotte give their ideas regarding some pertinent questions. Among other questions, they are asked:

Is rehab appropriate or just a way to gloss over the crime?
Seems to me that this question promotes a false dichotomy--it may very well be that rehab can help Weiner shift his behavior, but at the same time it could also be a delaying tactic, distracting all of us from the shiny object of the scandal. The way the question is posed, there is a not-so-subtle implication that either Weiner needs rehab, and is therefore somehow less culpable, or he doesn't need rehab, in which case we can more easily hold him accountable.  Whether or not one agrees with that framework, it's better to have it explicitly laid out, rather than in the background, in part because both Matlack and Marcotte are working within this framework. Matlack answers the question:

Tom: I do believe sex addiction is a real disease, not different from reliance on drugs or alcohol. It involves a complete lack of honesty and being willing to put sexual interactions above all else in your life with no regard to reason or self-preservation. I would think that Weiner fits that definition. I have no idea if rehab is the answer but the way he has been living his life sure doesn’t look like it is working out so well right now.
Why the concern about whether or not sex addiction is "a real disease"? Again, I think the implication is this: If it is somehow a real disease, then we can less easily judge Weiner for his actions, or we should at least keep in mind that there is some sense in which we might mitigate his responsibility because some of the factors regarding it are deeply physiological, and therefore very difficult for him to control. We see this sort of reasoning regarding addictions like alcohol:  Our culture has a different take on alcoholism (at times) than it did 100 years ago--we still hold drunk drivers responsible for what harm they cause while driving drunk, but we now see alcoholism as a deeper physiological problem, not simply a result of a "weak will" (at least, many of us see it that way).

I think it's good to spell some of this stuff out, even though it's probably ridiculous on some level for any of us to guess whether or not Weiner needs professional help. Matlack thinks it's clear from Weiner's poor risk assessment that he needs some sort of professional help, and I'm inclined to agree, with the caveat that it's difficult to tell.

Marcotte's take on this is more troublesome, for me. She begins her answer with:

Amanda: I don’t believe sex addiction is a real disease. I think some people might need psychological interventions for compulsive sexual behavior, but characterizing sex as addictive troubles me.
What does Marcotte's distinction between "sex addiction" and "compulsive sexual behavior" amount to? If Weiner's behavior is the result of compulsive sexual behavior, and not sex addiction, what does that mean for how we judge his behavior? What does it mean for what sort of treatment he may or may not need? Turns out, in professional circles, the jury is still very out on the whole addiction/compulsion question. Some folks think all addictions are based in compulsion, some think that there are similar mechanisms in the brain for both, and some folks think they're very different. But why is Marcotte troubled by labeling behavior as a result of addiction, rather than compulsion? She goes on to say:
Will we start calling overeaters “food addicts”? People who sleep in on Sundays “sleep addicts”?
 Well, it turns out that overeaters may well be food addicts, or at least some scientists think it's worth investigating whether or not "addiction" could be a framework for overeating.  Here's part of an abstract from a scientific paper that comes from a cursory google search:

Is it more than a linguistic accident that the same term, craving, is used to describe intense desires for both foods and for a variety of drugs of abuse? There is strong evidence for common pathways that are affected by most addictive drugs. As the other contributors to this volume will indicate, a strong case can also be made for some shared substrates for food and drug rewards in animals. There has been less explicit work on this topic in humans but many lines of evidence support the common mechanism view: Opioid peptides seem to influence food palatability for humans.

As for "sleep addiction" and "sleeping in on Sundays"--it would seem laughable to call somebody who sleeps in on Sundays a sleep addict, but what's going on in the brain of a person who sleeps 12 hours a day? How would, say, depression and anxiety relate to that person--and how is depression similar to and/or different from addiction? How is it different from or similar to compulsion? My point is that, while Marcotte's "sleeping in on Sunday" idea is made to point out the possible slippery slope of calling anything an addiction, it's also ignoring the complexities that underlie our behavior.

She continues:
At what point are we willing to say that someone is having “too many” orgasms? 
Of course, sexual addiction and/or compulsion isn't about having too many orgasms--though one can imagine, in our sex-negative culture, using the addiction/compulsion models in order to call somebody out as "sick" simply because they are having more orgasms than somebody else is comfortable with! But sexual compulsion/addiction has to do with privileging sexual arousal in a way such that the rest of one's life suffers, as Matlack notes, not about how many orgasms one has. And implying that sexual addiction/compulsion is just about having "too many orgasms" is pretty dismissive of the many folks who feel they are struggling with something serious, as well as folks who feel they have suffered because of the sexual compulsions and addictions of others.

On another point I agree a bit more with Marcotte, however.  She says:
It seems to me that we’re overrating Weiner’s willingness to put his sex life above other things. He didn’t actually have sex with these women. He mostly seemed to be sexting with them to amuse himself while working and traveling, and if he hadn’t slipped up, it seems like he would have gotten away with it.
Leaving aside for a moment the idea that sexting isn't sex (is phone sex sex? is mutual masturbation in the same bed as a partner sex? Seems to me a continuum conception is more helpful here than a binary conception), it seems possible to me that Weiner was simply doing something that lots of people do, amusing (and arousing) himself (and, possibly, others).  Leaving aside any infidelity for a moment, he may have just been having a bit of fun. I'm suspicious of that framing, however, because it ignores that Weiner was taking great risks in order to have a bit of fun, given that he is (was?) a high-profile politician. And it could be that he simply didn't think enough about the technology he was using (once you put a picture out there, it's out there forever, and traceable), but it seems more likely that he was engaging in what even he would have called risky behavior, given his job. If somebody shares my naughty sexting with the world, I might suffer for it, but most people wouldn't care. Seems to me that Weiner had to have known that this was a possible outcome, and did it anyway, which is how addictive and compulsive behaviors work, sometimes. But again: It's hard to tell, from this distance.

Finally, Marcotte notes:

 If that’s addiction, then our nation should be deeply worried about the epidemic of Angry Birds addiction.
 Well, yes. Some people are!

I would like also to note that Marcotte has a great article on Pandagon about (among other things) how condemning Weiner, in some ways, is really a kind of conservative, sex-negative, "schoolmarm" approach to sex and gender, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.  She says:
But still, this entire piece bothered me because once again it upholds an extremely conservative view of gender, where men are naughty little boys with overactive libidos and women are scolding schoolmarms whose trustworthiness is assured because we're practically asexual.  )
So: What does all of this have to do with feminism, exactly, and pro-feminist men? Well, a lot, because it is through feminist lenses that men can examine their sexuality, and hopefully develop a more positive male sexuality--one that includes all of the intricacies of our complex human sexuality, which also includes a framework for better understanding sexual addiction and/or sexual compulsion.  I think that Matlack and Marcotte's quick analysis leaves so much to the side in this regard so as to be more harmful than not offering up an opinion on Weiner at all. And I think if we go with some feminist traditions of avoiding dichotomies and examining closely the grey areas, we get a lot more insight into all of this than we do by simply guessing whether or not Weiner is a sex addict.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Myth of Male Weakness

UPDATE:  Schwyzer has shown himself to be a complete jerk. Leaving this post here, however, so as not to erase the fact that I was yet one more person he fooled. 

From his speech at Slutwalk LA, Hugo provides a great overview of the myth of male weakness:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Male Sexuality, Continued

A while back I asked folks to chime in about positive male sexuality (and it sounded like crickets, incidentally). Here's a site that is doing some exploring of male sexuality, and it's "positive" in that questions about what is missing from male sexuality are being explicitly addressed. Check it out!

The Man Project crossposted at The Good Men Project.