Bitching Brew

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Interesting debate on feminism, porn and sexual culture.

I came across this debate on Slate.com. Essentially it began with contrasting reviews of a couple of new books - "Both describe the dire effects the rising cultural acceptability of porn has on male-female relationships and on female self-esteem." Three women make up the discussion, which stretches over three days (if you can wade through it all). Without getting philosophical, it illustrates the divide often found between liberals and feminists, but makes an effort to reconcile the two. Which I think is perfectly feasible. Some feminists do come from communitarian, Marxist or statist backgrounds, which tends to cause the conflict with liberalism. They're more comfortable advocating restrictions on behaviour than liberals are. I'm very uncomfortable with any attempt to prohibit (i.e. send underground) people's behaviour. I support the feminism that flows from a philosophy of equal respect and freedom - like libertarianism or liberal egalitarianism - as opposed to the more dominating, more...socialist kind. Anyway, I found the Slate.com discussion thought-provoking. A sample paragraph:

"Levy pinpoints something important when she shows that many young women are mistaking sexual display for emancipated "empowerment." But what's curiously absent from both books is a view of female sexuality as something rapacious in its own right. I think we know why Levy and Paul emphasize the worrisome aspects: Troublingly, women still have less power than men, even if there's more parity than ever before. But Wendy, do you think all girls like those in Levy's book are filled with "anxiety" about "servicing boys"—isn't it possible that some are just filled with hormones and the desire to, well, discover what they like? Is the female impulse to "own" her sexuality necessarily a prophylactic attempt to ape male sexuality, a kind of strange defense mechanism?"


The highlighting is my own. It is rapacious. And distinct. It seems to me that for a long time (not forever) in our culture, female sexuality has been viewed as nothing but an offshoot of the male variety, or even worse, a mere facilitator of it, with little merit in its own right. In many ways, that's still alarmingly true. Even "porn made for women" usually isn't, but that blurb will sell some extra copies, convincing a lonely guy he's being let in on something secret, forbidden.

Only a navel-gazing fool could say these are themes specific to the US. Admittedly, every culture has a different angle on it, but greater freedom and exposure of sex and porn is global, and, as with any upheaval, it has major effects, both positive and negative. I'd argue that on the whole, the balance is very positive. There's no such thing as a "normal" sexuality. But it can't be disputed that some individuals are growing up with very fucked-up mindsets and attitudes. Treating people like emotionless robots? Not as (bizarre) fantasy - but on a regular basis? What's that about?!

I'm free to choose who I want to spend my valuable time with, so live and let live, I say, except in extreme circumstances. That doesn't mean we can't talk about it - or think about it.


Thanks to Meghan O'Rourke, Laura Kiplis and Wendy Shalit. That was good reading. By the way, I'll possibly extend this topic later. Keep adding comments. Or not. :(

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