"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Men! Gail Dines Wants to Save You!

Still working my way (slowly) through The Feminist Porn Book, and still really enjoying it.  I used to be an academic, but no longer consider myself one, so I appreciate how the different writers selected for this book approach the subject from different angles; some of those angles are more traditionally academic than others, as is the case with "Emotional Truths and Thrilling Slide Shows: The Resurgence of Antiporn Feminism", by Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith.  Attwood and Smith are researchers who wrote this article in part to point out that antiporn feminist analysis has moved away from academic analysis (with, y'know, facts and stuff) and now relies more on the kinds of shock and awe tactics that the religious right has been known for using. 

I appreciate their take on things, in part because they zero in on something that has been bothering me for a while about antiporn analysis, but something I was unable to pinpoint myself:  Antiporn feminist analysis has as an underlying feature the idea that there is good, normal sex that good, normal people have, and there is bad, abnormal sex as is portrayed in porn.  This isn't anitporn feminists' explicit argument, of course, but as Attwood and Smith point out, it's implicit in their change of methods from more academic/scientific methods to methods which are used to get an emotional rise out of folks.  They point out that antiporn folks most often now do a comparative sketch of sexual development, comparing 'normal' sexual development which may or may not have included seeing your older brother's Playboy magazines, as up against current sexual development, which now includes easy access to modern-day porn.  In their analysis of Decca Aitkenhead's ideas, they note:
"In her address to a presumed audience of coupled, heterosexual women, male sexuality is naturalized as inquisitive, but in danger of taking a wrong turn if subjected to the wrong kinds of images at too early an age. Aitkenhead calls upon her readers to reflect on their own experiences of life with men who were schooled in the quaint transgressions of the Kays catalogue, and to envisage the tortured imaginings and sexual mores of future generations of men who, as children, have seen the excesses of bukkake. It is this mangling of what had seemed genuinely yet innocently transgressive in the halcyon days of the 1970s that renders contemporary pornography so potentially threatening, made all the worse by being too easily obtained...This complex narrative of nostalgia and futurology is a central theme of these accounts where pornography is acknowledged as an already existing feature of the landscape, but one that has developed outside the knowledge of “ordinary” adults and needs urgent redress."
Of particular interest to readers of Feminist Allies, however, may be Attwood and Smith's analysis of how antiporn feminists like Gail Dines see themselves as out not only to help women, but to "save men":
The “domino theory” of the passions is invoked here along with a search for increasing levels of stimulation that leads inevitably toward more misogynous and damaging material. Pornography programs men’s sexual instincts and can have only one possible trajectory—to ever more encounters with sexually explicit imagery and toward more and more “extreme” material. Men’s sexuality is figured as totally plastic, intrinsically so—a barely constrained appetite that has to be civilized and ought to be kept away from the inflammatory influence of sexual media for its own good...

...[t]he view that underpins this approach can be usefully compared to the “crystal clear set of guidelines” about sex, set out in evangelical Christian and other conservative antiporn campaigns: “sexual pleasure is for men and women to enjoy inside marriage,” but those who fall from grace and are willing to repent can be forgiven. Under the guise of a politics based on gender equality, antiporn feminist writings are increasingly modeled on this religious approach to porn, though using a medical model of “healthy sex” and discourses that encourage men to see themselves as addicts, or the victims of “grooming” by pornographers or popular culture, as “abused,” “consumed,” and desensitized.
I dig this analysis in part because it shows that many antiporn feminists are using one of the most egregious of patriarchy's fables about men:  That men are animals who can't control themselves sexually in the face of some skin being revealed (or, in the case of modern porn, in the face of seeing people enjoying anal sex, for instance).

They manage to fold in a brief criticism of Robert Jensen's work, which is always a bonus for me--Jensen is a darn good writer, and it's clear to me that his heart is mostly in the right place, which makes the stuff he says all the more frustrating.  Smith and Attwood point out that much of Jensen's analysis of porn is rooted in the idea that there is 'good, normal sex' and 'not-so-good, abnormal sex'.  Good sex is never public, but is always a deep, private experience:
This view of good sex as private rather than public, and clearly linked to love rather than to gratification, is also found in Robert Jensen’s work. Jensen argues that sex should involve “a sense of connection to another person, a greater awareness of one’s own humanity and sometimes, even a profound sense of the world that can come from meaningful and deep sexual experience."
Of course, some sex can include all of that, if we want it to. And some folks will really want to!  But some folks won't want to, or won't want to all of the time!  We are human beings--we create our culture, consciously and unconsciously; we create our sexual culture as well, and as such, there just isn't a normal/abnormal dichotomy that somehow exists apart from what we create. Sure, we can't make up any sexual ethics we want out of whole cloth--we have to consider our interdependence with other human beings and all of the ethical stuff that implies--but we can't look up 'healthy sex' in the dictionary and just do that; no such definition exists, and one definition certainly won't apply to all people.

And I want to thank Attwood and Smith for nicely pointing out that one thing that underlays much of antiporn analysis is the idea that there is some sort of writ-in-stone sexual morality that we need to 'get back to'.  There are good criticisms of some sorts of porn, but in general, folks like Dines and Jensen aren't doing it, and they are implicitly depending on conservative, normative tropes that are not based in the reality of beings that create what is normal.

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