Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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

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.

Correspondence from USguy:

Thanks for that honest update.

The level of struggle you describe, or, rather, the particular "draws" are ones I have had to deal with over the years, both before and after giving up the practice of violating already violated, or at the very least self-objectified, human beings by looking at "home-made" pornography.

This raises a few matters for me. At least one is somewhat tangential, while others are more directly responsive to the emotional-political conflict you're currently facing.

One tangent: Part of my own process for not using pornography was to understand how and to what degree misogyny + racism/white supremacy + capitalism + Western cultural imperialism/genocide = the possibility of, the practice of, and the mass access to pornography as an industry of human destruction. So, for example, decades ago I subscribed to Playgirl magazine. Once my access to pornography was primarily or only online, I never went to sites that required me to pay money. This wasn't done initially as a "grand gesture" at repudiating the financial support of racist, sexism capitalism, but, rather, was more due to the fact that I tend not to pay for things I can rather easily get (legally) for free. In that sense, my motivation was much more in keeping with my "recycle, resuse" and "anti-consumerist" values. (Why purchase cardboard boxes, for example, when book stores and hospitals throw out great boxes every day?)

But at some point the fact of paying for access to dehumanising images of people, or of images of dehumanised people--whichever most applied, was a main reason for not seeking out Internet pornography, or any other pornography. I considered that a more humane reason, one in greater consistency with more of my professed and deeply held values, than "just" not looking at it because I didn't want to pay for it.

The leads to a longer conversation we can have some time, if you wish, about why and how it is that "mass destructive consumption, capitalism, exploitation, greed, and objectification of human beings (turning people into things, or pornographised "genres" of human beings) become valued and necessary in contemporary Western post-industrialised societies, to the demise of humans, non-human beings, and the Earth. (How destruction is seen as "a right worth defending" for example. How "selling sex[ism]" or manufacturing and distributing racist sexxx is turned into a "social good" rather than being seen and felt, en masse, as a social harm. (Note: NOT a social/spiritual SIN; not the way the white Right holds looking at pornography or renting human beings for sex. Harm, as in political, emotional, psychic, economic, environmental harm. Human rights violation-type harm, not a "you're going to hell if you keep doing that" kind of harm.) Enough on that tangent for now.

Back to what you are struggling with. I think, once again, how we frame up and understand our challenges has a lot to do with how effectively we can approach and deal with them. So, note in your language who or what has the power. Often, in white male supremacist societies, the opppressed, in various and absurd ways, are imbued, by oppressors, as "possessing the power" to control the people who are socially-politically-economically dominant, when, in fact, the opposite is the case.

Pornographers and pimps have a kind of power that is real, to harm people in many ways. Procurers of women and others for sex or sexxx also have power to coerce and manipulate, as well as to exploit, abuse, and kill other human beings, usually with impunity, if not also fanclubs.

And you and I have real power, status, privilege, entitlements, and access to harm others at will, including by voyeuring them, by making them objects of our violative attention, by seeking to possess something of them, like a snapshot of a woman in a certain shirt or skirt, for us to "hold" in our minds for our own emotional and/or sexual and/or political gratification.

Psychotherapy, on the whole, and society, on the whole, if not Right-wing, tends to view voyeuristic activity as natural and normal if done by heterosexual males to adult females. It is not generally understood as "political opportunism" or "violative use of power" by those of us who have in the past or still do voyeur others.

A significant part of my shift in stopping voyeurism, including when walking down a street at night and noticing lights on in someone's home, and including when seeing a "cute man" walking or standing somewhere, came about when I would maintain a "he is like me" or "he is not different than me" or, better yet, "I cannot know his history of being violated" consciousness that I didn't chose to pack up when I wanted a quick fix by visually violating others.

Understanding what we're doing is not "a point of weakness" or "a period of slipping" but is more accurately "a willful act backed by powerful entitlements and privileges" shifts, for me, how I understand what I've done in the past, and do very infrequently, if at all, now. Keeping "the other" person real, in other words, not necessarily known, but not projected onto, not turned into my fantasy object, is critical to my profeminist political practice, which is to say, my practice of being a humane human being.

Anyone I choose to gaze at has a personal life and history, with feelings that are not accessible to me and a past that may or may not include experiences of terrifying violation or gross objectification. That not only means that they may be vulnerable and sensitive to being visually violated, but also that they are not "mine" to look at. It means other people don't exist "for me".

For whites and men, especially, and for Westerners generally, we are raised to believe everyone and everything is "for us". The Earth, animals, the air, and oppressed people, allegedly exist for us, for me. I am the center, a "white whole" of consumption, greed, exploitation, and abuse, whereby my actions of harm and destruction, due to my status and entitlements, are seen as ethically ok or good or appropriate. Sometimes our (white men's) actions are actually mandated, enforced, policed, and encoded, meaning that if we don't do them we are ostracised by our social-political peer group.

That we can surround ourselves with people, including white men, who do not approve or condone and celebrate white male supremacist use and abuse only means we have chosen to take in another perspective, one rooted, hopefully, in the experiences of the oppressed, not the "generosity of character" of the oppressor. (As long as we, white men, are oppressors, individual acts of kindness and small group decisions to not do as much harm are relatively ineffectual, except in our own personal lives and the lives of those around us.) You and I are agreeing to correspond, and you or I could opt out with little to no consequence, right? And if this conversation stays between us, who benefits, concretely?

I can surround myself with radical feminist and womanist friends, but can also do whatever the fuck I want when they are not around, right? Unless part of my connection to them involves me not hiding practices I know they would rightfully, appropriately challenge and critique.

So the process, for me, involves developing an ethical, political, spiritual center that doesn't place "me" at the center, but, instead, places the pain and degradation of those I am entitled to harm at the center of my emotional/sensible/intellectual world. At the same time it means creating and supporting systems of accountability that mean that my private acts of harming others cannot be privatised.

I do get it that someone, an oppressor, can act in ways that harm others while not feeling particularly empowered, and while not intending to do any oppressive harm. But choosing to look at a woman (or a man) in an objectifying way is a political act, and never is not. It might also reflect or be tangled up with other struggles in one's life.

A few months ago a heterosexual husband told me that he thought the reason he'd been more condescending to his female spouse was that he was "depressed lately". I don't remember all of how I responded to him, but I didn't accept "depression" as a legitimate reason for oppressing his wife. First, he oppresses her when he isn't depressed too. Second, even if being depressed renders him a more obnoxious and oppressive mate, unless he's taking action to alleviate that depression, and to find other ways to manifest it, he's choosing, whether he owns it or not, to be an oppressive jerk.

When you or I choose or have chosen to objectify someone, we are being oppressive jerks. We may feel "weak" but we are behaving in ways that strengthen male supremacy. We cannot or ought not be in denial about that. (Not that you are, necessarily.)

I challenge you to own your entitlements and power when you choose to behave exploitively and violatively around one or more women. To name your behavior as violating, as harmful to her, as misogynistic, and as in service to male supremacist mandates. In some sense we may be behaving cowardly when we turn away from profeminist values and behave patriarchally. But in the actual social world, cowardice kills, or, in this case, violates. You and I and every man have to decide, moment to moment, who we are going to be in a world that supports us having virtually constant visual and other contact with women. We have to estimate to cost to women's humanity of us having that access and entitlement. We have to decide who we are going to be and become. And we have to, in my view, priortise women's safety and freedom above our own fleeting wishes to feel something akin to pleasure by degrading and unethically intruding upon other human beings. Why we feel pleasure when we are violating others is a question worth asking, but not if it means continuing the behavior in search of the answer.

I'll wait to hear back from you about what you do and don't agree with above, before blathering on further.

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