Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pornography Use and Other Violations: A Conversation Between Two White Men, part six

Here are the links to the whole conversation:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

CAUTION: What follows is a conversation between two men about their abusive behaviors toward girls, women, and others. Any survivor of child sexual abuse, rape, or other form of sexual violation and objectification may be quite triggered by portions of this exchange. All violative behaviors are named as such by at least one of the two people, critically, with remorse and/or regret. Both people do not currently use pornography.

Email #4 from USguy: (Passages of Aussieguy's prior email/s are in italics below, just for a bit more clarity as to who is saying what.)

(Isn't it revolting to agree so wholeheartedly with each other...;)

lol. Yes. And it's also very rare!

I'm not sure I fully understood some of what you last wrote, and will comment on the paragraphs or sentences that I found problematic. Let me know if I didn't comprehend what you were meaning, so I can then correct my reply, if need be.

I have been thinking about privilege and power a fair bit lately and I think there is more to it than the fact that privilege persists despite our being opposed to it, even though that is very true. I think that the power that privileged people have is only power to exercise and enjoy our privileges. We do not have unequal power to create justice. When we genuinely act to undermine the unfair power we hold and the system that gives it to us, we find ourselves as disempowered in that moment as any person standing up to injustice. But instead of discouraging me from taking action, that experience makes me more committed because it is only when I work with others to resist oppression that I ever step down from my plinth so we can be truly equal.

If I'm understanding you, I don't agree with some of what you are saying above. First, "privilege persists despite our being opposed to it" refers to the few people who do that. Most whites don't oppose white privilege, nor do most men oppose male privilege, in my experience anyway. They/we may pay lip service to our woes as white men, but bottom line: we arrange our lives so we are not accountable to those we oppress. And bottom line: we don't, generally, interrupt or disrupt or stop other whites/men from behaving in racist/sexist ways. And also, I'm not convinced "the interpersonal realm"--the social and private spaces--are where most of the violence happens, although tons of it happens there. With racism and sexism being institutionalised, we needn't "act like jerks" all the time or even most of the time for the systems of oppression to keep on keeping on. Male supremacy, for example, can sustain many men being "against sexism". It can, it does, it always has, perhaps.

So, in response to this specifically: "I think that the power that privileged people have is only power to exercise and enjoy our privileges. We do not have unequal power to create justice. When we genuinely act to undermine the unfair power we hold and the system that gives it to us, we find ourselves as disempowered in that moment as any person standing up to injustice."

I don't agree. The power privileged people have is not only to enjoy our privileges. Our power is to maintain systems of oppression, and sometimes that takes hard work. Sometimes that isn't all that enjoyable. Whites don't necessarily "enjoy" behaving as white supremacists, for example. For many whites, the behaviors that are harmful come from irrational fears and stupid bigoted ideas. Some whites and men behave irrationally, in this sense, and are not having much fun in the process. AND, in my view, anyway, no matter what, we always maintain our social position over those we oppress. We don't ever, really, "find ourselves as disempowered" as the oppressed who are standing up to injustice. That understanding of "disempowered" for me, is woefully individualistic, psychological, and ignores that men and whites ALWAYS have great institutions backing up our views of our oppressive ways of being human. Yes, interpersonally, at any given moment, on any given day, one or both people in, for example, a heterosexual relationship, can feel disempowered. But even if I feel that way, I'm socially/structurally bolstered in a way that women are not. And in some heterosexual relationships, and in lesbian ones and gay ones, there are various ways power plays out between people. But no matter how "powerful" the more powerful woman is in a lesbian relationship, men have more power than her, structurally and institutionally--both gay and heterosexual men.

When you said "If she blames herself, it's one way to be less terrified, because once she realizes she didn't do anything to contribute to what happened to her, it can leave someone feel VERY vulnerable to future assaults." that was suddenly very clear to me. I have had a related vague feeling about how it's dangerous to confess to women instances of when I have objectified them or violated them without their knowledge, not because of the consequences for me but because they might feel afraid. Your explanation clarifies it really well.

I want to qualify that statement, however. Because victims blaming themselves is a crucial mechanism in making oppressive violence effective. It's not "only" a way for some survivors to "feel" more in control. Shame and self-blame are what survivors are left with. And I'd strongly argue that the shame that men feel for perpetrating is relatively minor compared to the shame that someone who has been victimized carries. As someone on both sides of some of those fences, I speak that as my truth, anyway. The shame I have felt for visually violating a man can go away in moments. I'm done visually violating him, so the shame dissipates rather quickly. But if I've been visually violated by a man, that shame or mortification, depending on the circumstances, can last a lifetime. It's like perpetrator's shame, in my view, comes and goes like the tide, but victims' shame is etched into us, branded into us. And the only time a perpetrator may get a taste of that level of shame is when, rarely, he is identified as a perpetrator to everyone in the town where he lives, and is made to never hide that history from anyone. And how many men, by percent, have THAT happen to us? One thousandth of one percent? If that?!

You wrote:
That comes back to a point that my partner [woman's name deleted] (better change her name if you publish this, too) made to me once: that men don't ever deal with this shit among ourselves. I am much more likely to confess this stuff to a woman than to a man. It's not because I'm afraid of being punished over-harshly by men. It's because I expect very little response and more likely even an attack for thinking there's anything wrong to confess and a defensiveness because they all have the same habits too. But actually, it is necessary for us to be confronting this behaviour ourselves and not leaving it for women to take on against men's threats (not idle threats) of violence.

It is so rare for men to confront one another, and it alone would be a cornerstone in bringing down male supremacy, if it happened consistently, and over a long period of time. Again, this would need to happen from male leaders of business, by CEOs, by presidents and prime ministers of countries, by male religious leaders, by those who own and operate news media, etc. This particular action, of men holding men accountable for what we do that harms women, would have to include and move way beyond "friends calling each other out." And, importantly, friendships and familial relationships would have to end, over this issue. I've lost friends and left friends due to them being unwilling to deal with their race, gender, sexuality, and class privileges.

Getting back to an earlier point, men acting to interrupt men's sexist violence IS one of our privileges. We have the privilege to do it and just maybe be taken seriously. Whites and men's words and actions carry more political clout, in a racist/sexist State. Me speaking out strengthens my voice, a voice that is already strengthened by centuries of mythic "heroism" and "greatness" by "people like me."

John Stoltenberg and perhaps also Robert Jensen speak of "acting on behalf of one's ethical self, against the interests of one's politically harmful self" or something like that. I think such analyses ignore how whenever men speak, we speak with power, and with a kind of presence that is often silencing of women, or which society, on the whole, listens more carefully and attentively to.

I think your story about the friend of you and your partner who justifies his use of pornography is a perfect example where one could, and I'd argue ought to say: "As long as you are not in struggle with this issue, as long as you think it is just fine to use raped women's bodies to produce your orgasms or arousal, as long as you consider objectifying women 'natural,' we cannot be friends."

Your partner's analogy works quite well for me, regarding arguing that "someone is empowered by global capitalism if they start a small business." We are all trained to not see the blood on our hands, if we are oppressors who only or primarily commit atrocity by proxy. All whites commit genocide daily, and all men commit gynocide daily. There is no way not to be a murderer. The question is only: do you know you are one? And what are you going to do about it? Read Andrea Dworkin's speech, link below, if you haven't read it several times already.

By the way, what have you read by Andrea Dworkin? And what other feminist writings have you read? Just curious.

When a man argues something like this to me:

"Implicit in some of his arguments was an accusation that we were interfering in his private life and trying to take away his only source of sexual pleasure while he was single. Afterwards, he said 'Wow. I don't think I've ever been part of such a conservative discussion about porn.'"

I respond by reminding him there's nothing conservative about the position I'm taking: it's actually quite anti-conservative, if by conservative we mean "that which is in the best interests of wealthy white men." And someone I know says: men are not entitled to privacy when that privacy is used to violate or otherwise oppress women.

That men think we are entitled to this is something created and protected by patriarchy. But it's in no way just, or humane.

"I think his justifications amount to nothing and that if he cant have a wank without using porn, he's not using enough imagination."

I think there's way more going on when men defend their right to use pornography. I think it is one arena of conversation where men are asserting their male supremacist power, authority, rights, entitlements, and privileges, which is one reason I believe in strongly going after any man's words that make that case. That his orgasms depend on rape-for-profit is one issue. That he thinks he can create "safe space" around him where his "complaints" or whatever they are, about not being able to enjoy masturbating without using pornography, is a very political matter, and oppressive when he's doing so in the presence of a woman like your partner. He's pissing on ground, marking his terrain, intellectual and physical terrain, even if it's in your home. Beware of men doing this.

I don't discuss my views on women using pornography with other men, usually. How women survive a pornographic society is for each woman, and women collectively, to determine. It's not for any man to determine, in my view. This is not to say that if a woman asks me for my opinion on whether I think it would be a wise decision for her to give up bar tending and become a stripper, I won't weigh in with my view that the price she's likely to pay for stripping, in many ways, on many levels, is too high, in my opinion. I will ask her what she would most want her sister to do, given the choices and financial dilemmas she's facing, or her mother. And this can be a very shaming thing to ask a woman, whose sister or mother or friend may well have had to engage in some form of professional male sexual exploitation of women, in order to survive. And she may have already begun stripping, but is feeling out how I feel about the issue. And being a bar tender, if young and female, usually means dealing with sexual harassment daily, as is the case with women being out in public spaces, working as servers, working in high-paying jobs, as managers, as heads of companies, and as women who are working in the industries which most graphically and unapologetically exploit and degrade women as a class. But that decision is hers, not any man's.

I look forward to hearing your therapist's answer, if and when you confront him on what he's doing to end men's sexualized domination of women, in his life outside his practice, and in his therapy practice.

One thing I have done, in a kind of sporadic way, is to call myself out among my radical community for my behaviour. I haven't actually admitted the worst to them, though I have to you. I have highlighted my porn viewing and general objectification and habit of perving down women's tops but not told them about any instances of deliberately setting up perving opportunities. But it has been the early beginning of a move to get this stuff talked about and shift our expectations of men's behaviour in our community at least.

I wrestle a great deal with this. I think that there's a way men can sort of get off on "confessing our sins" to the masses. And we can use this confessing in very irresponsible ways. I think stating what one has done generally is sufficient, and if any woman wants or needs to know more, she can ask you. But telling stories in details is likely to be triggering to many women, and is also likely to arouse many men. So the "telling" might just be reinforcing male sexual domination of women, not undermining it. Of course something can do both at once, also. So it is tricky. I think as a safe policy for women, tell your stories when asked. Most women know we do what we do, because they've experienced us doing it to them.

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