The Nature of Consent: Ideologies, Material Realities and Misogyny

When I discuss my opposition to porn with the devotees of the male-dominated Left, I am commonly attacked for either promoting censorship, being anti-sex, or being obsessed with the “worst” porn.  I’ve already stated–repeatedly, in fact–that I don’t believe porn should be legally banned; that doesn’t mean I have to support it as a public good any more than I have to support racist speech or anti-Semitic speech as a public good.   As for being “anti-sex”, that’s the critics’ hang-up.  Fucking and watching other people fuck aren’t the same thing.  I guess some people still don’t get that.  As Gail Dines has stated, being anti-porn is no more about being anti-sex than criticizing McDonald’s is about being anti-food.  As for the “worst” porn charge, the fact is that the gonzo market has become the primary porn market.  That’s what the (almost completely) male market is buying and viewing these days.  Facts are the facts.  The thing that really bothers me, though, is that none of these three criticism of my position on porn has to do with the real issue, anyway.  The real issue at the heart of the porn debate is ideology.

The core of the porn debate is how ideologies are communicated and reinforced.  Once they are communicated and reinforced, how do those ideologies influence the material realities of people’s lives?  In this case, how does the ideology of misogyny so prevalent in the modern porn video influence the realities for women and girls?  We are all ready and willing to believe that hateful depictions of minority groups in the media are damaging.  We are all ready and willing to publicly condemn those as being part and parcel of a hateful ideology.  We are all ready to work to try to eradicate them–not through outright censorship, but by exposing and shaming them.  Why, then, is there a refusal to recognize that porn is about ideology, too?  That it reinforces a hateful ideology, and should be publicly criticized and condemned as a result?  That is the heart of the matter.

This issue returned to the front of my mind after I watched the TV documentary Hardcore.  The documentary was produced in 2001 for the U.K.’s Channel 4.  Like most British documentaries, it is heavy on pop psychology.  If one can get past that minor annoyance, however, it reveals a lot about how women are treated in the porn world.  The most important revelation of Hardcore is how the boundaries set by the women of porn are torn down by the male producers and agents.  The idea of “choice” that is so often bandied about by the defenders of the industry is as pure fantasy, as revealed by the experiences of this woman and these men within the industry.

The documentary follows Felicity, a 25-year-old single mom from Essex.  Felicity has been performing in British porn for a while.  At this point in her life, she is being brought to L.A. to see about working in the U.S. porn industry.  Her agent, a British man named Richard, seems to specialize in bringing British women to the U.S. to work in the L.A. porn industry.  Richard is there to meet Felicity when she arrives at LAX.

When Richard takes Felicity around to a casting call the next day, she is given a sheet to fill out.  In includes a list of “will do” and “won’t do” for her to fill out.  Richard guides Felicity in how to fill it out.  Richard explicitly tells her to circle that she will work without condoms.  She says she doesn’t want to do anal sex, but she indicates on the sheet that she will.  Later, when she speaks directly to casting agents, she tells them that she doesn’t want to do anal scenes.  If she must do one, she needs the man to have a small penis.  In other conversations with Richard, she states emphatically that she will not do anal sex scenes, she has never wanted to do them, and that he has pushed her into saying that she would.  He tells her that these scenes are “required” if she’s going to be a real professional.  In short, this is a boundary that she’s not allowed to have.  They also have discussions about him negotiating fees for types of scenes that she has already said she will not do.  He states that he’s just talking money with the producers; she points out that there’s no reason to talk about money for a scene she does not want to do.  Again and again, Richard pushes her to do things she doesn’t want to do.  Again and again, the reason is that he makes more money if she does these things.  Her boundaries don’t matter to him.  Pure and simple.

At present, the prevalent form of porn consumed is so-called gonzo porn.  In concept, this form is similar to the old-fashioned “stag film”, which had no plot or point outside of depicting sex.  The content, however, is far more extreme.  While there was a period of time when porn attempted to mimic the feature film with things like plots, that has largely been consigned to the realm of the soft-core offerings of premium cable channels (i.e. “Skinemax” movies).  The type of porn consumed via DVD rentals/sales, pay-per-view rentals and the Internet is almost exclusively gonzo.  These videos consist of simply one sex scene after another.  Most of them are heavy on anal sex.  The “facial” money shot is the norm.  In fact, it’s such the norm that the only reason this shot wouldn’t exist is because the producer thought of an even more demeaning way to show a woman consuming or wearing the semen of one or more men.  In Hardcore, every producer Felicity goes to see or performs for is a gonzo producer.

Richard slowly works on Felicity, trying to get her to violate her own boundaries.  He takes her to watch others film the types of scenes she has already said she won’t do.  One is a “gang bang” of 8-10 men and one woman.  Felicity has repeatedly said she won’t do these scenes, but Richard at least wants her to be a fluffer on the set of one.  In his grooming, he also takes her to meet with the notorious Max Hardcore.  This interaction is the most troubling of the entire documentary for a number of reasons.  Many would say it’s because of what Max ends up doing to Felicity.  That is certainly awful, but even more awful is the way it serves to groom her to go beyond the boundaries she has repeatedly and explicitly set.

As Felicity waits for Max Hardcore to show up, she is shown preparing for an anal sex scene she says she really doesn’t want to do.  She looks so sad, so anxious, so scared.  Yet, she says she must do it.  Richard talks about how angry he will be if she refuses to perform with Max Hardcore.  The pressure being brought to bear on this young woman is difficult to watch.  During the scene, Max Hardcore forces his penis so far into her throat that she can’t breathe.  When she gets up and runs away, he follows her.  To get her to comply with his demands, he psychologically manipulates her.  First, he attempts to build her up by talking about how she’s providing for her child.  (Felicity is a single mother.)  When she still says she won’t do what he demands, he begins berating her, calling her a “loser” and saying that he’s only had one other woman who was less “professional” than she is.  After his verbal beat down, she agrees to resume the scene.

The next day, Felicity is a changed woman.  She speaks of how she was unable to sleep the night after her encounter with Max Hardcore.  How the choking frightened her and kept her up all night.  Then, she essentially says she will do whatever Richard and the producers want her to do today.  She has been broken.  Her boundaries have essentially been nullified by the concerted effort of the pornographers.

While the porn industry tries to portray Max Hardcore as an extreme, someone outside the norm of their everyday world, each and every casting Felicity goes on features some sick fuck talking about how “filthy” his films are.  Anal sex is their favorite topic of conversation when it comes to proving their “filth” cred.  The day after her encounter with Max Hardcore, Felicity goes to a casting to appear in a film.  She is told that her scene will be an anal scene, which she has always said she did not want to do.  She does not object.  She is told that the movie she will appear in will feature women being hit, having their hair pulled and being called names.  The casting directors get off on asking Felicity to verbally degrade herself.  She is instructed to repeat the phrase, “I am a piss-drinking tart.”  She complies.  When she says that she doesn’t want to be beaten so much that she is “marked for days” and that she doesn’t want to be strangled, they say that they’ll have that happen to another woman instead.  Apparently, it’s very important that it happen to some woman.  If not Felicity, then someone else.  Because the degradation of and infliction of pain on a female body are crucial, of course.

The film has taken us down the path of boundary-breaking.  A young woman who begins working in the industry, thinking she really would be able to set her own boundaries.  Her boundaries are whittled away.  She is pressured and berated.  She is traumatized by a man who literally chokes her.  One pressure after another is brought to bear on her until she eventually gives in.  If the industry was truly about women making choices, there would not be so much verbal abuse heaped on those who set their boundaries.   True boundaries are set by the person whose body this is; they aren’t negotiated by others.  Sexual consent is something given freely.  It’s not something demanded or negotiated.  Felicity’s “consent” isn’t given freely.  It’s something that she is pressured and groomed into giving.  That’s not consent to anyone who truly knows the meaning of the word.

So, how does all of this relate to the material realities of women’s lives?  As has been discussed, the entitled psyche doesn’t respect “no”.  These sacred “boundaries” that the porn defenders talk about mean nothing to the entitled psyche–within the porn world or outside in the world of real life.

For the entitled psyche, the only reason “No” exists is because it’s a sexual thrill to force past it. The real brilliance of patriarchy is right here: it doesn’t just naturalize oppression, it sexualizes acts of oppression. It eroticizes domination and submission. Through the concepts—and lived reality—of masculinity and femininity—patriarchy institutionalizes domination and submission across the culture and deep into our psychologies.

The dominance and submission featured in the average gonzo movie is obvious.  That doesn’t even have to be discussed.  The unequal balance of power has been eroticized, then called inviolate because it’s all about the “choice” and the orgasm.  What of the boundaries, though?  We have already seen that the boundaries of the female performers are not respected.  What about women outside the industry?  We already know that male dominance and female submission is the guiding principle of patriarchal ideology.  Porn, in its most popular forms, is the visual representation of that.  It is the means of showing that unequal power as erotic.  In the male (and liberal feminist) view, anything called “erotic” immediately becomes out-of-bounds to analysis and judgement.  So, this visual representation of patriarchal ideology has effectively been removed from the arena of political discussion.  Isn’t that convenient?

The fact that the patriarchal ideology is being reinforced by porn has many effects on the real lives of women and girls.  The causal link between porn and sexualized violence has never been established, but porn doesn’t have to cause sexualized violence to make the world a more dangerous place for women and girls.  The patriarchal ideology of male dominance and female submission definitely plays into rape culture, which justifies and minimizes sexualized violence against women and girls.  Ideology is what helps men get away with the violence they commit against women.

Porn is also used as a means of breaking down boundaries in women’s everyday sex lives.  Interviews with males who watch porn with their female partners has revealed the way some males use porn to break down the boundaries of the women in their lives.  Male subjects talk of watching porn that depicts acts they want to perform, usually anal sex.  They see their partners’ resistance and discomfort with these acts, but this does not stop them.  They work to break down the boundaries by normalizing the behavior.  They repeatedly view scenes of anal sex with their partners over a period of time, making it appear more and more normal.  When they see their partner showing less resistance, they broach the subject of doing this is their real sex lives.

A man who respects a woman’s boundaries, who recognizes that consent is only that which is freely given, would see his partner’s resistance and discomfort as a line not to be crossed.  The entitled psyche of the patriarchal male doesn’t see it that way, though.  This male sees it as something to break down.  If he can just convince her, he’ll get to do what he wants with her body.  That’s not how real respect for boundaries works.  Real respect for boundaries is respect for the natural boundaries of that partner.  Rape is the attempt to move beyond the boundaries that have been freely, naturally set by that individual through manipulation, incapacitation, or force.

I’ve debated with some on the Left (mostly males) who ask me whether I believe the filming of people having sex is intrinsically exploitative.  They claim that porn doesn’t “have to be” violent and degrading.  I would agree that the simple act of putting a sex act on film doesn’t mean that it must be degrading, violent and misogynistic.  My response, though, is, “So, what?”

We are living in a patriarchal, capitalist world.  The patriarchy means that women are seen as objects meant to satisfy male desires of some sort.  The boundaries of women don’t matter; boundaries are there simply to be trespassed, by manipulation, incapacitation, or force.  The capitalism means that if money can be made based upon this ideology, the greedy will push to whatever extremes they can get away with to keep that money rolling in.   When we get rid of the unholy alliance of patriarchy and capitalism, we can discuss the concepts of so-called “healthy” porn.  Until then, I have more important battles than some dude’s jack-off material.  I’m concerned about the very lives of women and girls.  Anyone who isn’t needs to do some serious soul-searching to figure out why his orgasm is more important than our lives.

Defining People and Choices As Feminist

This won’t be a long, involved piece.  It’s simply another discussion of choices, and how we define them.  It’s an “in a nutshell” piece.

1.  Just because a woman says or does it, that doesn’t make it feminist.

2.  Just because a self-identified feminist (or any other woman) makes a choice, it doesn’t make that choice feminist in nature.

3.  Just because a self-identified feminist (or any other woman) makes a choice, it doesn’t mean that feminists must accept and support that choice.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean accepting those things said and done by others, just because the one saying or doing is a woman.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean accepting those things written by others as absolute truth, just because those people define as feminist and scream if you don’t agree.

And, no, this doesn’t apply strictly to one branch of feminism or another.  I don’t care if liberal feminists attack me as “transphobic” or accuse me of “ignoring women’s agency” when I disagree with them.  I also don’t care if radical feminists accuse me of being a “handmaiden of the patriarchy” or claim I’m “promoting misogyny” when I disagree with them.  I’ve never been a fan of marching lockstep with anyone.

The “Nature” of Women

I’ve written before about how I don’t believe there’s a female way to experience the world that is different from the male way of experiencing the world.  This has generally been in reference to my belief that the current theories of gender identity hinder women by tying some ways of being to “feminine” and others to “masculine”.  Gender identity theorists are not the only ones who do this, though.  There are many among the radical feminist and cultural feminist camps who do the same.  They argue that the essential “nature” of women is good, while the essential “nature” of men is bad.  I call as much bullshit on that as I do on the concept of gender identity that’s so strong in the liberal feminist ranks.  In fact, it boggles my mind that people who will argue so strongly against the concept of gender will then turn around and argue that women are inherently of a better “nature” than men.  Those ideas contradict each other.

When we speak about the nature of men and women, we cannot deny that we are a sexually dimorphic species.  There are real, physical differences between the two sexes.  No one can logically deny that.  In fact, those biological differences have been the justifications for the oppression and exploitation of women.  The ability to bear children is a female-only ability.  It is also something that males began trying to control as soon as humans began forming civilization.  Controlling property meant that they had to control offspring.  To control offspring and keep property within the (male-defined) family, they had to control female reproduction.  To justify this, they needed ideology.  In a nutshell, that’s how the system of patriarchy was built.

Most evidence indicates the early family unit (much like the family unit of most species) was the female and her offspring.  Most family groups consisted only of females, as males left the larger group when they reached maturity.  With humans, this created matrilineal culture, where property was handed down from mother to daughter.  Even though larger family groups eventually came to include males, the matrilineal inheritance was the logical way of doing things, because patrimony was often unknown.  If a woman wasn’t bound to any single male, then the father of her children could be any one of a number of males.  Since males wanted to keep property within their (male) families, they began introducing the theory and practice of patriarchy.

Patriarchy was established slowly; it did not spring from the mind of the first humans.  Males with greater strength were able to impose their will on females.  Then, they developed ideologies (e.g. religion and gender) to justify this continued oppression of half the species.  Some argue this was because of the settling of humans into civilizations.  When humans lived by gathering and  hunting, women were able to raise and bear children, as well as to feed themselves, without the “help” or “protection” of a man.  The fact that it took patriarchy a while to come into being would seem to indicate that this wasn’t a “natural” way for either males or females to behave and to interact.  That’s not to say that this wasn’t a cozy set-up for males, and that they perpetuated it and continue to perpetuate it because it is a cozy set-up for them.

As civilization changed and technology improved, the need for brute strength declined.  Women were able to assert themselves economically again to some degree.  This allowed them to insist upon and fight for some reintroduction of female property ownership and matrilineal inheritance.

As women have gained more economic independence, some of them have garnered positions of power in government and industry.  The patriarchy persists, so these women are still few and far between.  However, those who have gained power have behaved in such a way that indicates women are not more “peaceful” or “moral” or better in any particular way.  The involvement of women in furthering the imperialistic, racist, and exploitative aims of patriarchy and capitalism would seem to indicate that it’s well within our nature to be as dangerous as men.  We generally don’t have the brute strength to impose that nature on an interpersonal level–we don’t have the power to rape and to kill at will in the manner that way men do, for example.  On the other hand, it’s impossible to deny the women who have bought into patriarchal and capitalistic institutions exhibit the same willingness to kill and to exploit when technology and ideology grant them the opportunity.  The nature of our oppression and exploitation means that we have had far fewer opportunities to do so.  The fact that so many women who have had those opportunities choose to exercise them, however, would indicate that it’s well within our “nature” to behave the same way men have.

This is why we need true revolution; reform is not enough.  Tearing down patriarchy and its bastard son, capitalism, is required for a truly peaceful, just society.  Since it is within the nature of all humans to behave in these destructive ways, we must tear down the institutions and ideologies that perpetuate this destruction.

I fully embrace the idea that the reality is that men have and continue to embrace patriarchy because it benefits them to do so.  I fully embrace that men, as a group, have embraced the opportunity to indulge in destructive, exploitative behaviors for the entire existence of patriarchy.  I accept that this means that men are, in the world we exist, far more dangerous than women.  However, I reject the concept that women are inherently better than men when it comes to our nature and capacity for good and evil.  We have had fewer opportunities.  I think we see this evidence when women do gain power.  Our natures are neither better nor worse than that of men.  It’s our behavior that has been different.  It’s time we created a society where men behave as women do.  That doesn’t require changing anyone’s “nature”.  It requires revolutionary change of ideology and of social organization.

Reflections on Feminism: Gale Dines on “Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism”

Reading a Gail Dines piece or watching her speak always makes me feel a little bit more sane.  Her radical feminism is more akin to my own, with its focus on women’s liberation that includes a Marxist critique of capitalism.  She also uses the concept of intersectionality in the proper way:  to show how women of color are fighting two battles, and that we are ill-served when we ignore that fact.  She doesn’t let that damage her focus on women-as-a-class, as so many Third Wave feminists do, but she does understand the importance it plays if we truly want to liberate all women.  She’s an academic who’s not afraid to speak like a human being, about real human problems and in real human language.  I smile every time she throws in a “fuck” or “shit” in one of her presentations, because it reminds me of the way I speak and write.  In fact, Gail is the woman who made me find relevance in Counterpunch again.  It had become the dregs of the male-dominated Left for so long.  When her writing began appearing there, a site I had abandoned four years ago became a site I checked on a daily basis again.  Gail Dines, more than any other “famous” feminist of our time, makes me feel like someone else sees the world as I do.  I can’t thank her enough for that.

Now that I’ve gotten my personal heroine-worship out of the way, I want to reflect on Gail’s lecture “Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism”.  It was brought to my attention by one of the members on The Left Side of Feminism’s Facebook page.  While this member and I disagree on a lot, I was very happy that he brought it to the page for discussion.  It made my day a little brighter.

In this lecture, Gail hits on all the main points that make her worldview appealing to me:

  1. The idea that Marx laid the foundation for understanding and defining radical or revolutionary movements, as well as understanding how to fight for the rights of oppressed or exploited classes.  His ideas, both on economics and on social movements, are valuable to all radicals–including radical feminists.
  2. The idea that individualism will not lead women’s liberation any more than it could lead to Black liberation or workers’ rights.
  3. The idea that feminism isn’t about the “agency” or “choice” of  a privileged few, but rather about the real liberation of all women.
  4. The idea that intersectionality is important, but not int he ways that Third Wavers and other liberal feminists claim.
  5. The idea that feminism isn’t about “me”; it’s about “us”.
  6. The idea that judgement is not only acceptable, but it is required.
  7. The idea that men must be addressed when we speak of pornography.
  8. The idea that pornography, as it exists today, is a problem not because it increases rape or sexual violence.  It is a problem because of the ideas behind it and the ideas it pushes into the social consciousness.  It is a problem because of what it does to women within the industry, but also because of how it influences the minds of those who consume it.

I’m going to take each point above and expound on Gail’s feelings about it, as well as my own.  I’ve written on many of these issues before, but this presentation inspired me to think about them again.

As is custom, let’s start with point number one, the idea that Marxist analysis of classes of people is invaluable to building any radical or revolutionary movement.  This is an idea that was also central to Lierre Keith’s discussion of radicals vs. liberals.  However, there are some within radical feminism who reject any positive discussion of Marx, because he was male and didn’t evaluate the world from a radical feminist perspective.  I just don’t have much use for such a position.  Radical philosophy of any kind didn’t spring from the head of Zeus fully formed.  I also rate some views held by (most) radical feminists to be of great importance, and others to be of very little importance.  As with any philosophy, I don’t find radical feminism perfect.  I also believe there are philosophies that fall outside radical feminism that are very important to women’s liberation.  There are other philosophies that fall outside radical feminism that I find to be very important to the future of the entire human race.

As Gail points out, Marx introduced the idea that the world is made up of classes of individuals, not individuals themselves.  These classes have common problems, common goals, and common needs.  Some of his followers, like Lenin, articulated that women were a class unto themselves, and were responsible for deciding their own futures as members of that class.  Yes, in essence, Lenin argued for “women-only spaces”, where women themselves politically came together and made the important decisions about what women needed.  Sadly, it didn’t fully develop as it should, because the tough work of tearing down the patriarchy was never addressed.  That’s where both Marxism and Leninism fail.  However, there are a lot of places where both succeed, and not using or respecting the tools they provide is self-defeating and foolish.

The liberals ignore Marxist concepts of movement-building and collectivism, and that’s where they fail.  That’s where they reveal their foolish, self-defeating ways.  As Gail discusses, the Oppressor class certainly acts collectively for their collective benefit.  They don’t rely on individualism; they meet, plan and strategize as a class for the benefit of that class.  All oppressed classes must also do this, rather than cling to concepts of “agency” and “choice”.  For feminists, this means coming together as women working for women.  It can also mean coming together with what few allied men are willing to give up their male privilege and fight alongside us.  Other liberation movements have worked with some of the oppressor class, but only when those individuals were willing to truly recognize and completely reject their privilege.  If they are unwilling to fully evaluate how they have benefited from that privilege and utterly renounce it, they are not allies.  They are full-blown Oppressors, and must be treated as such.

Liberal feminists are willing to accept these Oppressors as “allies”, while some radical feminists believe that no man can ever be an ally.  I fall closer to those radical feminists in viewpoint, although I am not on-board with mandatory political separatism.  I do believe that some men can be true allies.  However, I don’t believe that men who refuse to completely reject their privilege can ever be allies, even if they speak the flowery language of radicalism when it comes to economics or racism.  These men will speak of social justice and collective action until it comes to misogyny and women’s liberation.  At that point, they insist on clinging to liberal individualism and “choice” arguments.  These are not and can never be allies.  They are all-out Oppressors.

The second point–the rejection of the individual as the focus of movements–flows from the first.  Gail spoke of how liberal feminists have attempted to redefine feminism as “whatever a woman says it is”.  There’s nothing more ridiculous.  Feminism is a movement.  In its true form, it is a radical, revolutionary movement that seeks to tear down the patriarchal father and its monstrous sons, such as capitalism and racism.  Women can be corrupted by living under the thumb of patriarchy, just as Blacks can be corrupted living under the thumb of institutional racism and the poor can be corrupted by living under the thumb of capitalism.  In the U.S., it is astonishing when members of the working class align themselves with conservative, capitalist movements.  They have been indoctrinated to believe that, if they just work hard enough, they can become part of that Oppressor class (even if they don’t identify it as an Oppressor class).  Instead of identifying with other workers or the poor, they look down on these people and look up to those on the upper rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.  That the male-dominated Left can recognize that, but don’t recognize that individual women can be corrupted by patriarchal indoctrination, reveals an ethical void in their very souls.  That liberal feminists can speak about patriarchal concepts like body image or rape culture, but don’t recognize other ways that women can be influenced by patriarchal indoctrination, reveals that they are themselves thoroughly indoctrinated.

Points three, four and five illustrate Gail’s position that radical feminists aren’t fighting for their own personal comfort.  They are fighting for the liberation of all women everywhere.  Here is where she brings in the concept of intersectionality as a radical viewpoint.  She discusses how the agency of a well-educated, wealthy, white woman who lives in the Western Hemisphere is far different than the (lack of agency) of a woman of color, a poor white woman who works multiple jobs to keep food on the table, or a woman suffering persecution in a society controlled by patriarchal religion.  When you refuse to recognize the lack of agency these women deal with in their everyday lives, you are turning your backs on anyone who isn’t just like you, who isn’t a rich, white, young Western woman running a Third Wave website.  Women aren’t entering prostitution or stripping because they have real choices.  They are entering those lines of “work” because of a lack of real choices.  They are constrained by financial difficulties, lack of education, drug addiction, and the like.  Instead of celebrating and insisting upon the “agency” and “choices” of these women, why don’t Third Wavers actually fight to increase real opportunities for women?  The importance of personal stories is to better analyze our plight as a class.  The fact that a few among us have gotten to the proverbial promised land does not mean that women are liberated, and does not mean that we don’t continue pushing for the utter destruction of patriarchy.

Point six flows out of the “choice” argument–specifically judging the choices of others.  The proponents of individualism and choice have a corollary that goes along with this, a corollary strongly built on ethical relativism.  This is the idea that you’re not allowed to judge the choices of others.  Just saying, “It’s my choice,” is supposed to be some magical shield from  being judged for your actions.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  One of the many times I literally laughed out loud and clapped my hands was when Gail recounted her story of the Las Vegas porn convention.  When she asked a man who was there selling set lights whether he had daughters, and how he felt about working with an industry that made their world more dangerous, he defensively demanded, “Are you judging me?”  Her reply was that she was absolutely judging him.  Loved it.

The last two points have to do with dealing with pornography, that exhibition of the patriarchal conception of masculinity.  Gail makes an important point about how and whom we should be addressing when it comes to porn.  It’s not women.  We should evaluate how women are treated within the industry, and the ideas about women that are perpetuated by porn.  However, when we attack porn, the way it depicts women, and how it shapes heterosexual males’ sexuality, it’s men we should be discussing.  It’s men who primarily consume it.  It’s men who primarily make money off of it.  It’s men who primarily write, direct and produce it.  It’s men who like to see a woman on her knees with cum running down her face.  It’s men who go to sites like “Gag on my cock bitch”.  It’s men who like to see a woman’s anus shown to the camera, to prove that it’s stretched out of shape from forceful anal sex.  It’s men who like to see porn where women are verbally abused, called “bitch”, “slut”, “whore”.  It’s men.  It’s men.  It’s men.  And they need to be named as the perpetrators, just as they should be when it comes to rape and to beating women.

The final thing I have to say about Gail’s lecture is that the comments section on YouTube should be avoided.  It’s overrun by the poor little white boys of the Internet.  The highest-rated comment when I was there simply stated, “Stupid cunt.”  The second-highest-rated was someone whining about Gail’s legitimate statement that whites are the ones who are racist.  I wasn’t surprised, but it still made me want to punch someone in the face.

As a note, I wanted to explain why I use Gail’s first name throughout this piece.  Some people consider that disrespectful, but it’s not meant that way.  First, I often do that when I have both affection and respect for the person about whom I’m writing; when it’s simply respect, but no affection, I usually go with the last name.  Also, when someone’s last name ends in an “s”, I’ll often default to their first names.  It’s so much easier and less clunky when you’re writing possessives.

Sexual Sadism: Face the Truth and Stop the Excuses

When you search for the term “sexual sadist”  on Google, the definition given comes from The Free Dictionary.  This links simply to the word “sadism”, which has the following definition:

sa·dism (sdzm, sdz-)
n.
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.
3. Extreme cruelty.

While the term appears to be sex-neutral, we know that this is not materially true.  While there are undoubtedly females who fall within the definition, both the practice and the social understanding generally applies to males.  If you have done any research on pornography–both graphic and “literary”–the sadist is presented as male almost universally.  The female sadist is a very, very rare exception to this rule.  Since the majority of porn is aimed at heterosexual males, it follows that the presentation of the masochist or the victim of the sadist is almost universally female.  This goes back to the patriarchal concept of masculine dominance and feminine submission.  The concept that the abuse of women is not only normal, it is what women desire.

In patriarchal society, sadists as a group are divided into two:  the sadist who engages in “consensual” sadomasochistic relations and the sadist whose sadism is “forced”.  There is a refusal–even among the choice proponents in liberal feminism–to acknowledge that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up of the sadist is the same whether the sadism is “consensual” or “forced”.  Indeed, some sadists have entered into “consensual” sadomasochistic relations with the intent of killing their “consenting” partner.  Others have entered these relations with indifference to whether the partner ends up dead or not.  All enter the relations with the idea that torture, humiliation, cruelty, and abuse are sexually satisfying.  Let’s repeat that, so we are all on the same page here:  TORTURE, HUMILIATION, CRUELTY and ABUSE are SEXUALLY SATISFYING.  Torture.  Humiliation.  Cruelty.  And abuse.  Are sexually satisfying.

Indeed, the word “sadism” itself is taken from the name of the Marquis de Sade, a member of the French nobility who was known to kidnap and torture women.  He was not the first to forcibly take women to torture and to humiliate them for his twisted sexual satisfaction, nor was he the last.  He was just the most famous.  Society as a whole recognizes that this type of sadism is wrong.  What society as a whole refuses to condemn is the sadist who engages is so-called consensual sadomasochism.  This, despite the fact that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up and motivations of the “forced” sadist and of the “consensual” sadist are the same.  This, despite the fact that we have plenty of evidence that the so-called “consensual” sadist has been known to kill his female partners in pursuit of sexual gratification.

The serial killer John Edward Robinson recruited his “consensual” sadomasochistic partners via online forums meant for sadomasochistic hook-ups.  The majority of the women he tortured and eventually murdered were not kidnapped.  They were not tricked.  They entered into these relationships “willingly” (assuming that you don’t consider patriarchal conditioning of women to accept submissiveness and abuse coercive).  In the language of liberal feminism, they chose to be there.  They exercised their “agency” by making that “choice”.  And they ended up murdered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums.  As I’ve mentioned before, a friend of mine ended up dead during a “consensual” sadomasochistic encounter.  Her sadistic “partner” suffocated her to death with a plastic dry-cleaning bag.  These are but two examples of men who murdered while engaged in “consensual” sadomasochistic sex.  They are not the only examples.

When more radically minded feminists bring these issues up, they are commonly met with a couple of excuses by males who lay claim political radicalism and by females who claim to be feminists.  One is the “choice” argument.  People who argue against capitalism, racism and other “isms” because they are injurious to groups of people seem to run into problems when it comes to sadism.  Here, they will hypocritically cling to the “individual choice” argument.  Guess what? Some people choose to work for employers who exploit them.  Some people of color choose to join racist organizations like the Republican Party.  A political radical should recognize that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.  They should instinctively know that the protection of the group is what political radicals are supposed to be about.  And they will recognize these things…until it comes to misogyny.  Then, they trot out the “individual” and “choice”.

As I have written previously, some women “choose” to stay with men who beat them–even when they are under no financial constraints that might force them to.  In fact, I have male friends who have seen women being beaten in public places.   When they intervened, the women have verbally or physically attacked them for stopping the beatings.  Does the fact that these women choose to stay with violent men and even physically resist when someone tries to end the violence mean that the violence is acceptable?  Does it mean we should advocate for the violence to continue?

The other argument that is brought up is that the sadist who kills or kidnaps is committing a crime, while the sadist involved in “consensual” sadomasochism isn’t.  Sure.  That’s true, but it’s a weak argument.  Legality doesn’t make something acceptable, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it something to advocate.  The racist who doesn’t actively commit violence against people of color isn’t committing a crime.  Would a so-called political radical or even a liberal then say that racism is just fine?  Would that person not only say that racism is acceptable, but that anyone who condemns racism is unreasonable?  Would that person advocate for the circulation of racist graphics and literature?  Would that person publicly criticize and deride those who fight to end racism?  Did I hear, “No”?  So, why does this suddenly become the directive as soon as women and the male right to violate women come into the picture?

The fundamental issue behind feminist critiques of sadism has nothing to do with legality.  It has nothing to do with the liberal/libertarian veneration of individualism.  It has to do with the radical notions of improving the lot of the oppressed and exploited group.  It has to do with the psycho-sexual foundation of sadism–that torture, humiliation, cruelty and abuse are sexually satisfying.  It has to do with the cultural constructs of “feminine” and of “masculine” that tie femininity to masochism and masculinity to sadism.  It has to do with the ways those ties restrict and influence women’s lives in other aspects of society.  It has to do with the ways that these constructs reinforce rape culture.  It has to do with the ways women are kept as the sex class–open and available to both the most extreme kinds of male abuse and the everyday sexual demands of men they may not even know.  It’s not about what two (or more) individuals do in the bedroom.  It’s about how the underlying ideas endanger and limit women outside the bedroom.

Hopeless: Life Under Patriarchy

“Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important that they stop the crimes of violence against us.”  –Andrea Dworkin

There are just days I feel so fucking hopeless. Today is one of those days.  There’s not one thing that causes it, but there’s usually a single event that sets it off.  It’s rarely something major.  It’s usually just a final straw situation.  Too many things pile up, then the last one breaks that camel’s back.  Today, it was a couple of them.  One was a man pushing sexist jokes.  The other was a man who doesn’t see how the very concept of modern porn is hostile to women.  It’s not about how it’s produced; it’s about what it says about women.  Together, they just brought that feeling of helplessness welling up within me.

As much as I may disagree with separatism as a mandate for feminists, at least I know that separatists are coming from a righteous place: a place where the torture, murder, rape and oppression of women is so repulsive, that the only hope they see is to get as far away from men as they can. Even when I think their methods are extremely suspect–and there are some separatists whose ideas are not just suspect, but are downright pathological–I completely understand the motivation. The atrocities are too numerous and too long-lived not to. I cannot say the same for the male-dominated movements of the Left or the Right, no matter how much they try to explain away their behavior–religion, “jokes”, sex, “nature”, what the fuck ever. They come from a place of pure selfishness: a place of what they want, no matter how it hurts and destroys women and girls. Their hard-ons. Their comfort. Their self-importance. Their right to hold women in contempt and use them however they want. Their right to put us down with their hateful “jokes”. Their right to our bodies.

I believe that there are good individual men. I know some of them. I love some of them. I politically organize with some of them. It just breaks my heart that so many men–even men who claim to be all about social justice–are more than willing to sell women out to satisfy their own selfishness. Whether they try to sell it as a “joke” (the kind of “joke” they’d never make about a minority male, by the way) or as their sexual “right”, it’s all the same. It’s woman-hating. It’s selfishness. It’s what makes many women feel there is no hope but to separate completely from men for their very survival.

Women don’t make this a world where men are more at danger from sexualized violence than war, although those women who chose to play the patriarchal game often end up in positions where they support men who commit such atrocities. Men, as a group, do that to women. They make this world a violent, unsafe one for us to live in. They are the reason we have to worry about whether the doors are locked. They are the reason we have to think about where and when we can go outside, especially alone. They are the reason I can count on one hand the women in my life who have not been victims of sexual violence.

I never will be a separatist. I don’t think it ultimately solves our problems, and I think it leaves too many women in danger. However, my hatred of what men, as a class, have done to women overwhelms me some days. There truly are some days when the only male I want to see or even think about is my son. There are just too many days when I remember the injuries–to me and to women I love–and want to lash out, to rage, to let all those males who make excuses know that they aren’t just passive bystanders. They are active participants in the world of woman-hate and violence.  If you are not actively working to stop the crimes of hate and of violence against us, you are complicit in those crimes.  No matter how much you may ramble on about the evils of capitalism and the horrors of racism.