Monday, May 11, 2009

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

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 #3 from USguy:

Corresponding twice a week works for me just fine.

I give you my word I will do nothing other than correspond with you, until you let me know if and when you are comfortable with me doing more with what we write to one another.

I'm not into twelve steps groups for "behavioral compulsions" or male supremacist/woman-harming behaviors, primarily because they don't frame up the behavior in ways that I agree with. I don't think pornography is something one is "addicted to" in the way one can be addicted to tobacco, crack, or alcohol. One could, for example, use pornography hours each day, get a call that there's a free trip to some place one has always wanted to visit--let's say Ireland, and leave for a week having a wonderful time seeing the landscape there, and not "suffer" from withdrawals, as one would if addicted to a substance. This assumes the person doesn't have access to pornography during the trip. Reflecting on my own experiences, I would actually feel "liberated" in such a scenario. Glad to be free of the access to the material and "fueled" desire for the behavior that, prior to the trip, was consuming so many hours of each week. I'd like to know if this fits with your own experience. Have you had times where you got to do something "out of the ordinary" that was great fun, or exciting, and where you didn't have access to pornography or to objectifying/visually violating women?

I make it a point not just to organize my life in such a way that I don't have "access" but also in a way that is filled with activities that remind me of the experiences of those who have been harmed by men like me. Part of my "recovery" (and that isn't the word I would use--I'd say "Part of growing my humanity and becoming more responsible and accountable") has entailed being out of denial that visual violation is not only creepy, to many, but is also threatening, terrifying, humiliating, and otherwise harmful to many if not all victims of this sort of invasion. That "they never knew" what I was doing was my line that allowed me to continue the behavior. That I was careful, covert, not physically intrusive in a way that made anyone feel threatened or in danger. And there are lies bound up in that, because of course there's no way to know if some of the people DID know what I was doing, by voyeuring, by sneaking peeks, copping glances, quickly and furtively sexually objectifying someone and then stopping the behavior before my gaze was "registered" by them. What I know, as a gay man is this: I know when I'm being looked at in ways that are dehumanizing or creepy. I know when I feel threatened or at risk. And I'm a guy with plenty of reasons gendered and class-related reasons not to be prone to being raped or grossly sexually assaulted. (Prisons, if seen as one place men are regularly "at risk" of being raped by or of raping other men, is overwhelmingly filled with people who are "not wealthy" and "not middle class." So that's what I mean by the class piece. Not that poorer men are more or less likely to be rapists or violators of women or men than richer men. In fact, given that richer men have many more opportunities to arrange "access" including by paying for it, I'd argue rich men are probably more prone to be perpetrators of sex crimes. They can purchase more elaborate means of viewing people, travel great distances to places where they have more access, etc. Having said all that...

Thanks so much for that background information, a lot of which I can relate to, except that for me it was boys/men I was interested in voyeuring and visually violating without their knowledge or consent, in ways that they would, if they found out later, probably experience as embarrassing, mortifying, humiliating, profoundly violating, invasive, and creepy.

I started using pornography, "light stuff" by today's standards, along the lines of Playgirl, when thirteen. A man who had a used bookstore pimps the images of women and men to a male friend (who, like me, was probably gay, but not out yet), and anyone else who was willing to cough up a quarter per magazine. (25 cents was affordable to middle and working class males, which was our class range.) This "bookshop manager" has the kind of stuff that was being published widely then: Playboy, Playgirl, Penthouse, Hustler, and a few others. It was only the Playgirls or others with images of naked men in them that I was interested in.

Prior to that, I'd already begun to understand visual violation as something of a right, an entitlement, even while I understood it was "wrong" or "bad." When I was eleven a man of twenty-one allowed me to take down his pajama bottoms while he pretended to be asleep, and to see his erection. This was a highly charged moment for me. Filled with fear of him waking up and being angry or enraged, and of sexual arousal, attraction to him as young man, some adoration too. I romanticized him. He lived with my family for three years, but was not "family of origin." He allowed me to violate boundaries that should have been firmly in place. Because he didn't, I began to feel like "I could get away with this kind of thing." For me, acts of physical contact with males were not the goal or desire. For me it was the act of looking, without them knowing. Me being invisible was a childhood wish. Then I could be in anyone's bedroom and watch them undress, masturbate, or whatever. This desire was with me from age eleven. In those years since, I have understood by behavior differently, understood its effect on others much more deeply, have become much more empathic to anyone I am attracted to and also seek to visually violate, and have removed myself from places and situations in which I might be tempted to do so, such as public (or private) beaches, or the gyms. I also don't have a home computer, for that reason, among others. But that is a significant reason.

The one major thing I hear in the story is how there was no responsible male-peer intervention, ever, regarding what you were doing. In fact, the opposite: two boys began harassing and violating a girl, and you took part, and were financially rewarded by boys for "keeping their secret" or for just being part of "the fun." I have to imagine this was a very frightening experience for her; and who knows what that behavior by three boys already triggered in her by way of being/feeling unsafe in the world, and who knows what followed in the near or distant future that had the same or a similarly dehumanizing and destructive impact on her spirit and sense of self, her sense of empowerment, her sense of safety, her sense of belonging to herself, not to males.

That lack of responsible intervention is fairly critical, in my view. This has to do, for me, in my own history, with learning "What is and is not OK to do." Now, "what's ok to do" from the radical feminist point of view I hold dear, is different for me than for those who hold to a more white conservative to liberal point of view. Liberally speaking, things we feel shame over may be "a cue" that what we're doing is not ok, either within our own ethical standards of behavior, or within our culture's. Needless the say, there is great overlap in what society condones, overtly or not, and what people do to harm one another. And of course cultures vary: some more strict on matters of sexuality, for example. But we know that "strictness" in moral preachings, for example, doesn't mean the preacher isn't a child molester. So we have a "culture of hypocrisy" in most white societies that I'm aware of, and Marimba Ani speaks to this here:

Left out of your story are bits of information that I'd be interested in knowing: what was your brother's role in your sexual development: was he older? If so, did he speak with you about "sex"? How did he treat girls and women? How did he speak with you about girls and women. If you were older, how did he see you treat, or hear you speak about women?

And, what were your care-givers/parents' role? Did they speak with you about sex and matters of harm and violation?

From whom did you most talk about sex with, say, before the age of eighteen, and what did they have to say about it? You mention aspects of this in what you have shared, so I mean in addition to what you've already told me.

I'll get to the heart of another aspect of my own radfem position.

If [a god] had a set of commandments, surely one of them would be "Thou shalt, as a white man, violate and dominate anyone and anything, or turn anyone into any thing."

As mentioned last time, I think "access" and "accountability" are two of the most critical factors in how and why sex crimes (and other violations of girls and women) occur. And each of these "factors" is usually and often not considered when "we" discuss male abuses of girls and women. This is partly because heterosexist patriarchal societies are organized to give men plenty of access to females of many ages, and plenty of permission to be dominating and violating. And such societies are notoriously horrendous when it comes to building any systems of meaningful accountability, particularly when it comes to boys and men being responsible around and not abusive to women and girls.

Of course society, white heterosexual male supremacist ones anyway, in my own experience, provides many means and methods with which to make abusive use of opportunities to be titillated and aroused by harmfully turning women into things. This is to say, society's institutions and industries do this for us, and supply us with a steady stream of objectified bodies, fashion, cosmetics, advertizing, and pornography being among the most egregious, but really all industries are complicit, as far as I can tell. Car manufactures that use objectified women to sell cars, auto mechanics who allow "pin-up" calendars in places of business, etc.

We also partake in "creating" the stream. Your story illustrates this well. We males seek out those who are vulnerable or unsuspecting. We find was to do our harmful deeds without being caught.

If you haven't yet, I recommend getting a book from the library, a graphic novel, called "Playboy," by Chester Brown. [This book is] about a white suburban teen male who uses pornography, and about its effect on his and girls' lives. Mostly about the effect on his. Mostly not from anything resembling a feminist perspective. This is no pro-feminist book. But it is "honest" about how society colludes with and created people who harm females in ways you describe, and appear to not know why we do it.

I'll send you a link. I think it will speak to you a lot.

I'll respond more now to some of the stories you told me.

Swimming at 9 story: clearly an incident of male bonding over the domination, threatening, and physical violation of a girl. She was definitely violated, and the fact that she could have been more violated ought not allow us to pay close attention to what was done to her. Clearly, it is not due to responsible, ethical male-intervention that the behavior stopped. You indicate that the other boys "gave up" for whatever reasons, and then paid you. I was struck, when reading that story, how horrible that experience must have been for her, and how reinforcing this was for you, in terms of homosocial male supremacist behavior that harms women. You entered the scene, prompting them to violate her further, or with greater agility. And when the scene ends, what do you have? A memory of violation that you experienced as sexual, and some pocket change. No responsible intervention by males. Instead, not surprisingly there was encouragement mutually among the three males, and cooperation and collusion to take pleasure in making a female more vulnerable, threatened and unsafe, more violated, more harmed.

Lucky for her that it didn't go farther, and not lucky at all for her that it happened as it did, as I can well imagine it must have been a very scary and upsetting experience for her. Try and feel her experience of it, as much as possible. Being that helpless, overwhelmed in number and by gender. Imagine you are her, and two, then three boys are trying to do that to you, and one of them, the younger one, is "giving instruction." How do you feel about each boy in the story, when you are in place of the girl? How do you feel about a third boy entering the scene and encouraging them, offering them directions on how to be more successful at forcibly removing her clothing? This is a very sad story of sexual assault, by males of a female. How does that "reality check" leave you feeling?

One of the main functions of male supremacist bonding is to not encourage one another to feel what we should feel, to not do what we should do, so that we instead welcome and encourage each other to do things that are against the will and wishes of girls and women. It is in our interests, as men, who benefit mightily from male supremacy, to not disrupt one another's misogynistic behavior.

Likewise, with the two curtain shower story, how do you feel, as the woman spied on? What do you imagine she took from that experience? How about the girls whose skirts you looked up. Assuming, after the incident, someone shares with the girl, "I saw [him] looking up your skirt on the bus," try and feel how she would feel. I know you felt shame for doing it, and it sounds like "the fix" (the desire and the feeling during the acts of visual violation combined with your own levels of access), melded with your sense of privilege and entitlement, and also melded with what society allows or condones, even while it disingenuously simultaneously appears also to not condone it. I emphasize "appears" because I think little more than lip service is paid to the matter of men harming females. And when it is addressed, such as in religious institutions, it is often not coming from a place of understanding girls and women as equals, as full human beings. It is often coming from very misogynist places, loaded up with assumptions about "natural male desire" and "the power of female sexuality." (Clearly, it's THE POWER OF MALE SEXUALITY that's the issue here.) This socially mixed message is covertly and overtly stamped with approval by men as a class. Male supremacist society has created an atmosphere, an environment, an ethos, a culture, and has also shaped human males in ways that makes male heterosexual desire fused, to varying degrees, to repeatedly visually violating girls and women (visually violate, at least). This male-controlled society also provides men with plenty of access to "already visually violated" women. This is to say, men who aren't directly involved, do, socially, violate girls and women by proxy.

All of this is similar to my own story. Again, the only difference is "the objects" were male, not female.

It sounds like it was an early incident, perhaps the first, as you say, of you being an active participant in such an act of such overtly harmful violation.

What you did with girls, I did furtively in the locker room with boys, when I was a boy. Stealing glances, trying to see what, on some level, I knew would be considered wrong to "snapshot" in my brain, if said snapshots were made public. Obviously a huge difference in our own tales is that few to no males would have encouraged me to do what I was doing, and in fact I would have been beaten up had I been caught. For you, there was some money in your hand, and later the thrill of the violations at the time and upon reflection. Visually violating girls/women = sexual feelings/intense pleasure = sex. This equation was set up for me by me, and by aspects of the society around me.

I welcome you to use the language that seems most "natural" to describe what you were doing, and my "reframing" is meant to allow each of us to "see it differently." I think many males grow up feel pervy, for example, but don't grow up feeling like systematic sexual violators of others, like willful HARMERS of real human beings. We might feel shame and "bad" but rarely "responsible" for what we do. Even rarer still do we make ourselves accountable.

In my own experience, my mind worked hard to allow me to think I was somehow entitled to do these things. I was entitled because...(fill in the excuse, reason, "contributing factors", etc.), while also being afraid of doing them, sometimes a lot, with worry, with shame. It was especially important to me to not "get caught" which means doing things that generate shame, but are utterly and totally self-serving. The fact that there were no "meaningful, behavior-changing consequences," is what I hear in your story and my own.

Do you need to, and are you entitled to have access, via computer, to violated--incested, raped, and/or sexually exploited--women, and if so what is your argument for continuing to have this route of access?

Can you put (or have someone else put) up "blocks" in your computer so you don't have access to graphic pornography?

Can you imagine caring about women enough, feeling their pain of violation enough to not have a computer?

What comes up for you as you read all this? What does it stir up? Anger, confusion, shame, guilt, sadness? What else, if you are having feelings other than or in addition to those?

I'm not wishing to induce what is sometimes termed "toxic shame" in you, to be clear. In my experience, "toxic shame" becomes part of the fuel--the need to feel bad, to feel that one is breaking boundaries, is being naughty, is being anti-social--men, in relation to women, often have these needs, but what forms our behavior takes often depends on what life puts in our path, or what we get to first. So some end up being potheads instead, because there was no girl in the water, and there was an older guy urging you to "try this." This pot-sharer would still not likely responsibly intervene if you both, while stoned, then saw what was happening to that girl. You would likely not dive in and urge them on, unless the pot-dealer encouraged you to. Or maybe you would. But if you did, it is highly unlikely the pot-sharer would intervene.

You got a message of confirmation from at least one boy at school, but also from the two boys in the first story, and boys at camp that you wouldn't be normal if you DIDN'T want to violate girls/women: "There's something wrong with you if you don't look down girls' tops."

So, social permission? Check!
Access? Check!
Lack of accountability? Check!
Desire to violate? Check!

You and I had to arrange to be by ourselves, to learn how to be furtive to practice the behaviors necessary to "get away with" violating other human beings visually.

And in my life, each "practice session" that I got away with served to reinforce everything: my right to do it, my sense of entitlement ("if I did it yesterday, why shouldn't I do it again today? As long as the "fix" is stronger than any negative feelings, what's to stop me?), my arrangement of my social life to have access to people I could turn into objects for my arousal at their expense.

You and I still do have this entitlement and this access, if we want to continue doing this. And most men will applaud our efforts, or get off on hearing or seeing--if we use digital photographic or video technology--what we do, just as we have gotten off on seeing the photographic evidence of people being objectified, with histories we know nothing about. Once I saw a video online of a traditional college-aged male being photographed after becoming so drunk he was passed out, and also given a Viagra pill or two, so, even when passed out he got an erection. The "videographer" was laughing as he zoomed in on and played a bit with the male's erection. I felt something then that I try and keep close to my consciousness: I felt sick. Ill. I felt "This young man is being grossly violated totally without his knowledge, totally without any capacity to stop the behavior from going on." I shut it off probably one minute or so into viewing it, and haven't looked at any pornography since.

That was a few years ago. But prior to that, in the last ten or more years, my choice to "access" such material, almost exclusively "solo jerk-off sessions" by men, often taken by themselves (they adjust the camera angle, and it is clear they are alone in the room--but sometimes not: being "encouraged" by the man with the camera) has lessened more and more, because their humanity has become more and more real, and I have questioned, a lot, my "right" to view such material. I don't believe men have "the right" to violate others sexually, even by proxy. So now I don't do it, and am living to tell the tale. My life is not worse, in any way, for not using pornography. It is, in my mind, better.

This leads me to ask you: in what ways can you organize your life so that you do not have access to pre-violated women online?

I've got serious issues with twelve step stuff, btw, relating to matters of sexual behavior. I know of a heterosexual couple, in their fifties. He has been a compulsive user of pornography for decades, or, rather, a habitual violator of already violated women who he finds "sexy" in part because they are available to him and possibly also because they are repeatedly violated women. This last assumption may be giving him too much credit. The women from whom the images are made may not be that human to him, therefore he may seen them as "not violatable." He may have some fucked-up ideas about what it is, for many women, to be in situations in which images like these are made. He may believe they like it, desire it, or are paid well to do it. If any of that is so, then he's finding ways to shut out the knowledge that they are not acting with the level of agency he is, nor is he experiencing the harm they are likely experiencing.

I have spoken many times about my concerns about his behavior to the women, who is my friend. (I know him, but don't know him well at all. I've never spoken with him, for example.)

She told me that she didn't want to become "his mother" by policing him, by checking up on him, by repeatedly asking him "Are you using pornography again?" I asked her "Why is he entitled, in his own mind, to have a computer, if he uses it to violate often-raped women and engage in behavior that is deeply triggering and upsetting to you?" And, just to borrow from the twelve-step model, for the sake of making a point, I asked:

"If he were, instead, an alcoholic and wanted to give up drinking, for example, would it be better for him, if single, to move into an apartment in a community where there wasn't much drinking, or to move into a place above a bar or club?

She had never thought of this as an "access" issue. Nor, for certain, had he. I doubt he does to this day, except in a self-harmful way: "access equals me doing something I don't wish to do."

In the story about you and your brother finding something "softcore" you wondered, about getting erections, "Maybe you're getting ready to have it off." I think there may be some colloquial differences here, in the use of this speech. I'm not sure what that means, in other words. Does it mean "maybe you're getting ready to have an orgasm" (or to ejaculate)? "Have it off" is not an American English term. So I welcome the "translation."

I'm not aware of Mayfair magazine, as it must be uniquely Australian, or at least British. I don't think we have that magazine here in the U.S.

Someone had to sell you the magazines you didn't steal. Other males rented or owned or borrowed the hardcore stuff you all watched.

You're violative behavior intensified, according to your story of the communal shower block. And the use of mirrors. I have done each of those sorts of things, including in my thirties. (The mirror thing once when I was thirty, and the rest at a gym, where there were no curtains, just an open area in which naked men showered.)

I found this to be useful information:

"In the last few years, I have discovered porn on the internet. I first found it at uni but it was so slow it wasn't practical then. In the last 5 years, though, it has been my main way of looking at porn."

So clearly we need technology to have the kind of pleasurably violating access we desire. A slow modem = too much frustration, not enough fun and access.

It makes sense to me, given your sexual development, that you'd seek out what you do:
"I look at sites where people post photos they have taken of unsuspecting women getting changed and things like that. I also found some sites where there are totally explicit sex clips posted, many of them from standard porn sites and also some home made ones and you can just go on and see them without any signing in or anything."

Again, we note the level of "easy access" and anonymity that is a theme in your stories of violation of girls and women.

I would caution you that "being strong" is not what's called for, exactly, though there's plenty to be said for finding the will to behave differently, and to make that change long-term. I'd argue what's missing is a system of accountability, and your unquestioned "right of access" to high-speed computers with access to pornography sites.

I am glad you are in psychotherapy, although I doubt highly, that it would occur to the therapist to recommend that, for the sake of the women, you cut off your access to the Internet. But I'd really love to be proved wrong on that!!!

Please write again, as will I. And feel free to ask me questions about my own history, if this "self-disclosure" is feeling uneasy or too imbalanced.

My goal here is to participate in a process you don't wish to run from. So if anything he makes you want to "end it" please let me know, and we can discuss that further. Deal?

Email #3 from Aussieguy:
Definitely a deal.

Thanks again for your well considered reply. (I may keep thanking you all the time - don't read it as a grovelling gratitude on my part, but just me appreciating the value of your attention.)

I won't respond to everything you wrote today, but here are some parts.

Easy things first:
"Having it off" is the slang I used at that age to mean having sex.
Mayfair is a UK mag with pictures of women, highly sexualised nudity but no men or actual sex.
I don't have the Internet at home.

I think your framing of my story is very useful. I wrote it from my own perspective and a lot of it uses the language that I used about it to myself at the time, so it has some innocence, some false entitlement and some glossing-over-the-facts-of-the-violation about it. I have a better understanding of women's experience of the same situations now but you also bring out aspects that I haven't thought of or have pushed to the back of my mind.

About being public, a part of my behaviour change that I'm adopting is to 'call myself out' on my crap sexist behaviour. That involves opening up myself to the disapproval of my peers and relinquishing control of how the situation is dealt with. As well as that, part of my abusive behaviour has been to be very secretive, so part of my change is to spill the secret. Advice I have from the [online anti-pornography use site] is never to tell other people about porn addiction as part of my recovery but I disagree with that advice. That may be because the forum has a very firm "sex addiction" approach to the problem and not so much a "stop your abusive behaviour" approach. I think there are aspects of addiction to this behaviour and I think there are definite withdrawal symptoms but my motviation to stop comes from knowledge of the harm it does to women.

I totally agree with you about the role that a lack of meaningful consequences played in the development of my abusive behaviour. Obviously with the first incident when I was 9, I didn't tell anyone so it was down to the teenage boys who were as abusive as I was. I also agree that boys and men are positively taught to objectify and subjugate girls and women as a necessary part of being male. Another story I didn't tell last time is that when I was about 15, I was caught looking into my sister's room as she got changed. My mother gave me a talking to, just explaining that my sister had to have the ability to get changed in privacy. Although she subjectified my sister and her experience of the abuse and her approach was healthy, it didn't feel at all as though I was prevented from doing it again.

My brother and I never talked about sex at all in my memory. He is 2 years older than me and the only sexual experience I ever remember sharing with him is that time we found the porn magazine. I don't remember him talking about it at all then either. He was also reprimanded by our mother for a sexual abuse towards our sister and his consequences were as insignificant as mine. Actually, now another one comes back. My sister (she is my twin) and a school friend of hers went swimming in the river. My brother and I went down later and found that they had taken their swimmers off and were swimming naked. Her friend grabbed her swimmers and put them on but my sister was forced to hide under a rock ledge and we kept trying to look under and see her. None of us ever talked about that at all.

My father's only discussions with me about sex were a lesson or two when I was about 8 on the biology of reproduction and later a brief discussion about the importance of finding a partner whose sexual needs fit in with my own. There was never any discussion with me about abuse or harm, masturbation, or anything that related to any kind of morals around sex at all, that I can recall now.

As I said, more to say next time.

I don't have any entitlement or any need to have access to violated women. I don't have any entitlement to have access to any part of any woman's (or girl's, boy's, man's, dog's or giraffe's) body that she doesn't actively give me permission to have access to. That includes seeing her body. I am very aware that the desire for access is a desire for power over her and that my sense of entitlement is an example of the persistence of male supremacy in this society.

Part of my first realisation that my use of porn and objectification of women was wrong came from noticing the sexism of it. I have sexual relationships with people I am in love with. I have been in love with men and with women and have had loving relationships with each. But I only objectify women and only look at pornographic pictures of women. When I finally looked at that fact (that was staring me in the fact for 5 years before), I was forced to confront the sexist nature of porn. Since then, it has been a gradual building of understanding of the deeply misogynist nature of our society and (more slowly and uncomfortably) the ways in which that misogyny is threaded through my whole life and shows in my behaviour. The process continues.

That's all for now

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