Monday, March 7, 2011

Does the Defense of Women Always Have to be Prissy?

Everybody is being super enthusiastic about Anna Holmes's article "The Disposable Woman" in The New York Times. Everybody, except me, that is. I only discovered who Charlie Sheen is last week, so I'm a very poor judge of whether Holmes's criticisms of this trashy TV actor are correct. The following passage, however, has made me doubt whether this article has any value at all:
On reality television, gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality are not only entertainment but a means to an end. These enthusiastically documented humiliations are positioned as necessities in the service of some final prize or larger benefit — a marriage proposal, a modeling contract, $1 million. But they also make assault and abasement seem commonplace, acceptable behavior, tolerated by women and encouraged in men.
American feminism can always be recognized through an excessive amount of priggishness in its defense of the rights of women. Violence against women is horrible and needs to be condemned publicly and vocally. I am quite shocked, however, to see that Holmes places violence and sexuality together, as if there were anything in common between them. If the moment you write the word "violence" you feel like putting the word "sexuality" right after it, then there is something very wrong with the way you view both. Later on in the quoted paragraph, Holmes talks about assault and abasement, which seem to mirror her reference to "gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality." I have no idea where she sees all that "explicit sexuality" on the prissy and super sanitized American television but Holmes is not alone in her pseudo-feminist concern over the excessive presence of sex on TV.

I have written before about the American feminists' unhealthy dread of sexuality (see, for example, Part I, Part II and Part III of my review of Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs.) Instead of recognizing that there is no true freedom that does not include the freedom to be sexual in a way one wants and as much as one wants, these pseudo-feminists insist that sex is debasing and humiliating for women. They cannot accept that it is possible for women to be sexual (and explicitly so) not for the purpose of placating or pleasuring men but simply because these women enjoy sex for its own sake. In her article, Holmes seems to be wondering where the unhealthy attitudes to women as objects come from. She fails to notice how her own positioning of a woman as a perennially debased object of any sexual act is contributing to this state of affairs.

29 comments:

profacero said...

I suspect it's just the abysmal state of sex in the U.S., plus lazy writing. I think what gets a lot of men off is in fact debasing women, and that is encoded as normal, and women are expected to like it. So these feminists mean, women don't actually like *that.*

Jim said...

"I think what gets a lot of men off is in fact debasing women,"

Oh really, you think that men enjoy debasing women? What basis do you have for thinking that? Do you likewise think women enjoy abusing children? Because there's a lot more hard evidence of actual overt acts to support that view. But it's bullshit too.

Z said...

Oh dear, Blogger ate my response, which was hilarious! Brief version: experience, Jim, listening closely to what men say and sometimes having sex with them while they say it! I'll say more later when Blogger is working better.

el said...

Jim, I too unfortunately heard how some intelligent young men talk about their view of women, including how they see their future wife, and felt insulted. Not every man is like that, of course, but depressingly many. I am yet to hear a woman talk about enjoying abusing children.

All women-hating comments on Internet don't come from outer space either. The men commentors use anonimity to express their true views. Again, much harder to find groups of women commenting in favor of child abuse.

Jim said...

Z, then that had better be a very wide sample. Kudos if it is. I just wonder about the validity of your assessment since I have probably had sex with far more men that you have, and find that none of them give much thought to women one way or the other, have never even mentioned women particularly before, during or after sex, and couldn't be bothered to debase any of them.

Perhaps your you might want be a little more broader in your range of men you eavesdrop on.

Clarissa said...

"Again, much harder to find groups of women commenting in favor of child abuse."

-I think you have an extremely narrow definition of child abuse. If you widen it a little bit from beating one black and blue and raping one, you'll find scores of such groups. Remember the woman who was recording her observations of her poor child's masturbation? ONLINE? That's abuse. I think that a straight out beating would be less traumatizing than that.

profacero said...

I've tried 3 more times to get a reconstructed comment through, and failed.

Anyway Jim, so you're a gay man, right?

Clarissa said...

Maybe it's too long for Blogger? It always makes sense to break up longer comments into several shorter ones.

profacero said...

OK, next time. I have the feeling arguing with Jim is going to be a headache.

But seriously, since the Reagan years younger men and women than me seem to have such repressed and also distorted ideas about sex. I don't think it's that feminists think women don't enjoy sex (the feminist position would actually be the opposite), but that they don't favor exploitation. And honestly, more and more it seems to me that exploitation is the new normal. It's a very conservative view but I can see why some young women say: "since sex is exploitation, and since I do not want to be exploited, I do not want sex."

Clarissa said...

How and why is sex exploitation? I don't get that at all.

I think it's just the opposite. The entire burden of being good in bed is placed exclusively on a man. A man is supposed to satisfy a woman. A man is supposed to know how to do things sexually. A man is ridiculed if his equipment isn't big enough.

A woman, however, just needs to show up for sex to be celebrated, adored and showered with gratitude and considered a fantastic lover.

How and where do women get exploited in this whole process?

profacero said...

...being criticized if they / we are interested in it for our own pleasure

...being expected to do it strictly to please and serve men

...being mistreated if we have sex, because if we have, then we must not be worthy people

...being leaned on/guilt tripped for sex

...and more. Some of my students have had breast augmentation because their husbands required it of them. "If you're going to get healt insurance through my job, then you can do this for me."

One concise version I've heard, relative to my region, is this: a woman's job as far as sex is concderned is to cover for a man's sexual inadequacy ... make sure he doesn't feel inadequate, make sure others don't find out if he is, make sure others don't find out if he has another side (e.g. he's gay but has to pass as straight for work reasons), etc.

That is to say: a man is great in bed and desirable generally because he is a man. Period. A woman needs a man to be valid as a person. So, she has to take whatever man she can get and make things work. To make things work, she must be demure: not like sex enough for him to suspect she might ever think of doing it with anyone else, but make him think he's great at it. Whether or not he is, is immaterial, and if he is not, that must be kept under wraps.

Remember, I live in a very conservative and religious area. But these are some reasons why I say the state of sex in US is not very advanced.

Outside the South, and in other countries, I've been used to much more advanced attitudes, but much of my non Southern US experience was before the neocons took over.

profacero said...

...being criticized if they / we are interested in it for our own pleasure

...being expected to do it strictly to please and serve men

...being mistreated if we have sex, because if we have, then we must not be worthy people

...being leaned on/guilt tripped for sex

...and more. Some of my students have had breast augmentation because their husbands required it of them. "If you're going to get healt insurance through my job, then you can do this for me."

One concise version I've heard, relative to my region, is this: a woman's job as far as sex is concderned is to cover for a man's sexual inadequacy ... make sure he doesn't feel inadequate, make sure others don't find out if he is, make sure others don't find out if he has another side (e.g. he's gay but has to pass as straight for work reasons), etc.

That is to say: a man is great in bed and desirable generally because he is a man. Period. A woman needs a man to be valid as a person. So, she has to take whatever man she can get and make things work. To make things work, she must be demure: not like sex enough for him to suspect she might ever think of doing it with anyone else, but make him think he's great at it. Whether or not he is, is immaterial, and if he is not, that must be kept under wraps.

Remember, I live in a very conservative and religious area. But these are some reasons why I say the state of sex in US is not very advanced.

Outside the South, and in other countries, I've been used to much more advanced attitudes, but much of my non Southern US experience was before the neocons took over.

Clarissa said...

"being criticized if they / we are interested in it for our own pleasure"

-Seriously? You have actually met men like this? I swear to god I haven't. And my personal life has been. . . varied. :-)

" a man is great in bed and desirable generally because he is a man. "

-Ask any man in any area of the world how often he has felt desired. How often he was told he is desired. How often he was told that he provokes sexual passion. I don't think you are very likely to meet such a man at all. Unless he's gay, of course.

Have you seen "penis sites"? Where thousands of men share stories of how they are terrified to approach a woman because their penis is not huge? They engage in all sorts of barbaric practices to enlarge their penises.

"A woman needs a man to be valid as a person."

-It's exactly the same for men. Have you talked to a man who's 25, 30, 35 and who has never had sex? never had a girlfriend? keeps getting rejected? Men need to show initiative when meeting women (which is not required of women), so you can imagine what each rejection feels like. And when you have hit 30 and have only accumulated rejections, you do feel like a lesser human being regardless of gender.

profacero said...

... ah, but tue reason I've come up with the "debasing" idea lately has to do with too many comments I've heard lately about how good it feels to break down someone's resistance, cajole or trick them into having sex, things like that, and how a truly satisfying experience involves the feeling of having won, or having gotten something out of the other person.

Realize I am teaching graduate level advanced comp and I am letting the students write about anything. For some reason -- because they know each other fairly well I guess -- they are quite frank, and sex has become a class topic.

I've asked these students about my perceptions ... they say not everyone here feels that way, but that there is definitely a population sector that does.

Context, though - it's also been customary here when you close business deals in some industries to send your new customer a paper bag full of cash and a girl. This is among good Christian men, who do not believe in abortion or divorce. So.

Ah, also: a faculty member here also went to high school in town. She says the oil barons would pimp their high school age daughters out to clients back then.

FINALLY - note this is Swaggart ocuntry. Church on Sunday, but Sin the rest of the week!!!

profacero said...

"-Seriously? You have actually met men like this? I swear to god I haven't"

I was flabbergasted the first time I encountered this attitude. But you have to consider some influences that go into it: Baton Rouge LA, Christianity, Reaganism, etc.

I don't mean to say everyone believes or feels these things, or even that those who do at some level, find it pleasant. I am just saying, much damage has been done by abstinence education and so on.

profacero said...

Re - men never havbing been told they're desired. Are you sure? Hmmm ... not the info I have but that's interesting.

Re - penis sites. Yes. And in my now famous grad level comp class that talks about sex, *all* the men are freaked out about this. The better looking / younger they are, the more they are willing to say they have a huge complex about it. I think this actually supports my point: they are convinced that what women really want is "to be nailed with a big one" ... I have announced that someone who's comfortable with themself is much, much more important, and they are relieved, but are not necessarily willing to believe me since I am so old compared to them.

Re - men, dating, rejections, yes, another problem. YET men who are simgle seem to me to be less stigmatized than women.

But my point is what so many people are now trained to think of "hot" sex as ... sooooo closely resembling exploitation porn ...

It's like those students you talked about on another post, who thought this character in a story must have taken money for sex because, why else would she have had it? In that model, sex is defined as: you allow yourself to be used for money. This in my view is debasing to both parties but I am told that it feels "empowering" to buy sex, or to be the one who controls it because the other person needs your money etc.

profacero said...

And, since I'm ranting on this issue it seems, here's perhaps the crux of what I don't understand about sex in the rural Catholic South.

Being single, I get men asking for casual sex, on the theory that I should say yes because any sex is better than none.

On the other hand, they also ask me why I sleep with some people and not others - i.e. only sleep with people I'm attracted to.

The idea seems to be: I should want to have sex any old how, because it confirms desirability and so on. But, if I'm willing to have sex outside of marriage at all, then I should be equally available to everyone.

In this model, yes sex is debasing to women, because we are to do it in exchange for validation in patriarchy (although certainly not for respect) and for men's convenience and pleasure. We are to provide it on demand, but not make any choices.

Remember, too: men who want this may or may not be willing to use condoms or reveal STD history. They may not support reproductive choice for all, but they may also want to use abortion as a form of birth control in their own relationships. When that set of attitudes is considered normal or as something we women should be "understanding" of, then yes, sex is debasing to women.

Clarissa said...

Profacero: I don't want to offend you but I REALLY wouldn't like to live in the place where you live. These people sound worse than if they were from the Middle Ages.

Is this what the stereotype of the Southern gentleman conceals?

David said...

I'd say a lot of it has to do with the myth of sexual capital.

Some people like to perpetuate the idea that women have more sexual capital than men, and thus they lose in a direct transaction if they trade sex directly for sex. Under this crappy transactional model, a woman has to receive some other type of "compensation" for the sex act.

After all, who would want to have sex with smelly, dirty men if there weren't some other motivating factor? (or so the line of reasoning continues). Moreover, because a man is already debased and animal in nature to begin with, the act of rough sex, or coercive sex is a way (in the eyes of the porn viewer) of bringing the porcelain, pure woman down to the man's level.

Now, all of this is hogwash, but I think this is generally the line of thought that pervades a lot of American culture and attitudes about sex.

In short: If people think sex is dirty and exploitative, it will become dirty and exploitative.

Regarding Profacero's comment about stigma and being single. I think that people are equally stigmatized. As proof, I submit a few words that are used in describing the "stereotypical" virgin man: Dork, Nerd, Queerbait, Fag, Creep.

These are applied with regularity to many male youth throughout middle and high school who don't perform the standard masculine game, or who show interest in academics, god forbid math or science.

It doesn't get too much better later, either. Especially if that man commits the ultimate sin of adult existence: Not being able to get laid. After all, that means you're probably a fag, or a some creep who wanks off to porn all day.

Oh, America, enlightened land of the free. Well, in the interest of full disclosure: I have seen that other "enlightened" places aren't so shiny either.

profacero said...

@Clarissa, yes this seems to be what's behind SOME of the southern gentleman stuff. My haircutter is from Minneapolis ... she's a haircutter not an intellectual, and is much younger than I ... but she is flabbergasted at this situation in ways that parallel mine ... and of course there are exceptions to all this.

@David - sexual capital, that makes sense. And yes, if you're male and a *virgin* then it is a mega stigma, traumatic.

What other countries do you find to be similarly screwed up? What ones are in better shape, Clarissa?

Clarissa said...

I find that the Western European people are a lot healthier in their approach to sexuality. People in Quebec are also doing much better, in spite their Catholic past. :-)

That's just my very personal perception.

profacero said...

Yes, I'd have said W Europe and Q; also Brazil although some Brazilian sex researchers say that's an illusion since the progressiveness is not generalized but exists only in pockets.

profacero said...

P.S. ...worse than Middle Ages, I am sure of it!

Clarissa said...

"I'd have said W Europe and Q"

-I'm being slow again today. What's "Q"?

profacero said...

I mean PQ - Province of Quebec.

el said...

RE sexuality and violence/ domination:
Many men do make this connection themselves.
Here are 3 examples:
http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/03/09/here-i-will-help-you-vomit-up-your-lunch/

RE the case of 11-year-old being raped by 18 men (the oldest of whom was 27-years-old): Many people have being incensed by the quotes from the locals, like:

“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

What about the girl?!!!

I linked the story since I wanted to ask you 1 thing. Why do we often hear of rape and abuse being put on video, like in this case? (And then the criminals having it used against them as an evidence.) I understand those men and male teens are scum, but didn't they understand they committed a crime? Why put it on video and show(?) to others? What have those men being thinking? Usually criminals try to hide evidence.

Clarissa said...

Nowadays, people - especially of the younger generation - are used to recording every single breath they take. The culture of blogging / updating Facebook status / tweeting is only going to grow.

An act doesn't really exist until there are witnesses of that act. So such things will happen more and more often. (I mean, the recording, of course.)

The media response to the case you are talking about has been so disgusting that it makes me want to vomit.

April said...

They cannot accept that it is possible for women to be sexual (and explicitly so) not for the purpose of placating or pleasuring men but simply because these women enjoy sex for its own sake.

Seriously? Which feminists have you been paying attention to? I've experienced exactly the opposite.

Clarissa said...

Have you read the post? It offers quotes and links.

It's quite annoying when people respond to posts that they haven't read.