Saturday, November 01, 2008

Personal and Political

Echidne is a goddess, but you all knew that already, didn't you?

My own recent posts on women, violence and proximity were inspired by Echidne's series on why she is a feminist. If you have not yet read all of them, here are the links:
  1. The Right to Go Out
  2. Planet of the Guys
  3. Our Father Who Art in Heaven
  4. The Invisible Women
  5. The Female Body As Property
She has completed that series with her current, magnificent post, The Longest Revolution, in which she addresses proximity. She makes this key point (my emphasis):
That women are so integrated on that most primal of levels probably explains why sexism is harder to see than other -isms which oppress people. If women are killed because of their sex it mostly doesn't happen in large public slaughterings but privately, one woman at a time, and in each case we wonder if the cause for the killing might not have been something personal, something unrelated to the gender of the victim. And note that while most racists don't have parents of the race they now hate, all misogynists do. -- It's all too close, too intimate, too hard to see because we lack the necessary distance, the necessary ability to see the possibly oppressed as a separate group.
This is crucial for understanding how misogyny can be simultaneously invisible to most people and yet part of the daily routine for millions of men and women. It's the core of what I am trying to get at when I talk about it being privatised and excused. I'm not a rapist, my girlfriend was just playing hard to get. I'm not a wife beater, she was bitching me out and wouldn't shut up. I'm not committing incest, I'm helping her explore her sexuality. I didn't do anything to her, she was asking for it.

When we do come across situations of women being slaughtered in significant numbers, or executed one at a time, or aborted in numbers large enough to skew sex ratios, or perhaps just kept in gulags of prostitution cut off from any source of protection and offered for rent in a booming sex market, we see the violence as the product of a killer with mental problems, or of an exotic society's bizarre customs, or where the women are participants in crime, instead of understanding women as a class systematically subjected to harm in a way that is unique to them and is due to being female.

Every day women must test the proposition that the men we know aren't a danger to us by putting ourselves in harm's way and seeing whether our trust is justified. In most cases, it is, and this is a good thing. In many cases, it is not and too often those violations occur with men whom we have trusted in the past, like a classmate, an intimate partner, a relative, a co-worker, an authority figure, people on whom our well-being depends.

So, I keep returning to the question, who are you? It doesn't matter what you say online or if you say anything at all. It's just words here. What matters is how you answer that question with your actions. I want you to think what you are doing. I cannot do this thinking for you, nor can I act in your stead. Mandos said "By deduction, what Anglachel must want is for men to help end the privatization of misogyny and rape. What form this is supposed to take is what eludes me." It eludes me as well, not because I can't come up with a nice, thorough, egalitarian to-do list of acts and attitudes I would dearly love to see made flesh in this world, but because you (both Mandos and the generic "you" reading these words) must inhabit a form of life that rejects misogyny and you must do this in the same manner in which you currently inhabit one that embraces misogyny; it can't be done by checking off a list of tasks.

It means reconstructing the world we have in common.

Hillary was talking about this thirteen years ago:
These abuses have continued because, for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly:
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.

It is a violation of human rights when woman and girls are sold into the
slavery of prostitution.

It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.

It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.

It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide along women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes.

It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely -- and the right to be heard.
Tell yourself what you are doing to create a form of life where these things do not occur. That will say who you are.



Unknown said...

I know most would not agree, but to this list:

"I'm not a rapist, my girlfriend was just playing hard to get. I'm not a wife beater, she was bitching me out and wouldn't shut up. I'm not committing incest, I'm helping her explore her sexuality."

I would add the following:

I'm not an exploiter or dehumanizer of women, they WANT to work as prostitutes, strippers, and porn stars. It's a choice.

cellocat said...

Maybe in a society in which no means no and one's female gender doesn't inherently imperil one, then it'd be true that sex work didn't involve exploitation and dehumanization of women. Since we don't live there (and it's even hard to imagine), I totally agree with you, dr molly.

Unknown said...

Thanks, cellocat. Perhaps you're right that 'sex work' would be different in a different cultural context.

I just think that the notion that 'sex work' is a legitimate, individual career choice sought out willingly by women is such a fallacy and rationalization for the continuation of degrading and dehumanizing women. It seems to be a choice made out of desperation, if it's a choice at all. Sort of like 'choosing' to be a crack dealer or something. I mean, most women of moderate means do not 'choose' to be sex workers, and there's a reason for that.

When men use this argument ('it's their choice'), I usually ask them if it's a career choice they would advocate for their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives (or, indeed, themselves). If they are honest, the answer is 'no'. The next question is 'why not?'. The answer, if honest, is because it is soul-destroying, dangerous, and psychologically damaging to be dehumanized and sexually used for money. So, then the question becomes: if that is not what you want for your mother, sister, daughter, or your wife, then why is it OK to exploit other women that way? There's usually a lot of silence in response to that, or else a lot of questionable rationalizing.

Palomino said...

I've most often heard the "sex work is a choice" argument from the Susie Brights, with their book contracts, and the Madonnas, with their multimillion-dollar fortunes. Not that I begrudge any woman a book contract or a fortune, but women and men who swallow this argument should consider not just the source but the consequences for all women.

Thirty-five years ago, at the height of the so-called Second Wave of American feminism, Ti-Grace Atkinson published this observation:

I propose that the phenomenon of love is the psychological pivot in the persecution of women [as a political class, one created opportunistically from the temporary incapacity involved in the childbearing function of biological females]. Because the internalization of coercion must play such a key functional part in the oppression of women due to their numbers alone, and because of the striking grotesqueness of the one-to-one political units "pairing" the Oppressor and the Oppressed, the hostile and the powerless [in the institutions of marriage and heterosexual intercourse], and thereby severing the Oppressed from any kind of political aid [from other women], it is not difficult to conclude that women by definition [as opposed to biological females] must exist in a special psychopathological state of fantasy both in reference to themselves and to their manner of relating to their counterclass. This pathological condition, considered the most desirable state for any woman to find herself in, is what we know as the phenomenon of love.

Of course, Atkinson, like Andrea Dworkin, was dismissed in her day as an extremist. She and Dworkin continue to be dismissed because the charge of extremism is true, if getting to the root of rape means getting quite literally radical--that is, extreme--about ending rape.

Atkinson's basic argument is that a radical--that is, effective--approach to ending rape will be up to women, and to solidarity between and among women, because rape, as a structure shoring up the institutions of marriage and heterosexual intercourse, is clearly in the interest of those institutions and will not simply be relinquished as a practice.

Atkinson ends her remarks with these words:

Sisters, walk tall.

And brothers, sleep light. You never know when you may have just fucked the revolution.

The language is dated, but that doesn't invalidate the arguments. It underlines the continuing need for a truly radical perspective on rape.

In short, cui bono? Atkinson's answer is that men are not the only beneficiaries of rape. Anyone invested in the institutions of marriage and heterosexual intercourse, and the womanly "love" that sustains these political arrangements, also benefits, though it's mostly women who suffer the collateral damage in this war.

Now, if you don't like this message, please don't kill me. Read Atksinson--Andrea Dworkin, too--and argue with them.

Pixie said...

With all due respect, Dr Molly and Cellocat, let me be a "living fallacy".

I'm upper middle-class, white, happily married (and a stay-at-home mother), and I choose to be a porn star (in my own self-produced porn featuring my own varied sexual/sensual pleasures) precisely BECAUSE it infuriates me that nearly all pornography is produced by men who make millions off of work that women were paid little or nothing for. Because I am a feminist and I believe that I, and all other women, should be able to pursue and celebrate our sexualities as we see fit - with neither male "producers" (who might as well be pimps), or female nannies/busybodies, telling us what is or is not "appropriate".

I would agree that most pornography, particularly that produced by men for other men, is degrading and the women who appear in it are probably not "choosing" to do so in the same way that I am. But nothing raises this feminist's hackles like a bunch of prunefaces nodding their heads and agreeing that no "decent" woman could possibly CHOOSE to do such a thing.

Unknown said...

Well, that's cool Pixie, but I mainly disagree with you. Your situation notwithstanding, the vast majority of 'sex work' doesn't fall into this category, so I wasn't addressing your situation.

Additionally, the effect of what you produce may still be destructive towards the equality of women despite your method of producing it - but that's another very long story, with lots of disagreement out there.


Pixie said...

Dr Molly,

whether or not you intended to, you did address my situation by making blanket statements about sex work and sex workers (I worked as an escort/"pro domme" when I was younger, in addition to my current porn work). You described sex work as "soul-destroying, dangerous, and psychologically damaging to be dehumanized and sexually used for money". This description paints (presumably female) sex workers as passive objects/victims who are, in your opinion, non-human, psychologically damaged, and lacking a "soul". I can think of nothing more repulsive and - dare I say it - un-sisterly - to say about another woman - particularly one who is in a position to choose sex work and does so as a free agent for her own benefit and pleasure.

Also, I am really not clear on how my work could be destructive towards the equality of women - I get letters from my (mostly male, but some female) fans all the time, commending me on producing sexually-oriented material that is positive, personally uplifting, and "cruelty-free" - precisely because these people DO view women as equals, and wish that women felt as free to express their sexuality and sexual preferences as men are. I have written about these topics extensively on my blog (now spun off into its own sex-positive writing site). I fail to see how my expression of my own sexuality harms women as a class. I do see, very clearly, how oppression of women's sexuality harms women as a class, dividing us into the chaste/pure and the "sluts". The solution of many feminists (perhaps yourself included?) has been to attempt to shove women into a re-labeled chaste/pure box - it's not chastity, it's strength! Women don't dislike sex because it's ungodly, we dislike sex because it's sexist! Either way, prunefacedness is the result - and I noticed, early on in my feminist upbringing, that the pruney faces on the church ladies didn't look any different from the pruney faces on the women at the abortion clinic.

At its heart, this disagreement is about women's control of their own bodies. We would both agree that women have a right not to be sexually assaulted or enslaved. I would additionally point out that those rights are meaningless if they require any special action on the part of the woman, such as wearing a burqa - or not having a porn website. To say otherwise is to say that women who leave the boundaries established for them by the patriarchy/matriarchy, "deserve what they get" - or to say that men are not responsible for their actions, that they can't help raping a scantily-clad woman and they can't help treating women in the workplace unequally because they looked at my porn films on their lunch break.

Anglachel said...

dr molly & Pixie, please contact each other directly to continue your conversation. I've been watching this particular debate for over 20 years and it won't be resolved in the comments to this post.

It does, however, raise serious questions about women's agency and authority over the enactment of their sexuality within and against a system of misogyny.


Randall Kohn said...

Not to be a Denny Downer or anything, but Teh One is probably going to be of much help in addressing these issues:

The Democrat Kill
First in an Infinite Series

Chapter One: In Which Barry Tells Rachel:
"I know you've been cruising for a bruising"

So now we know what a "Progressive" sounds like.