Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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

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 Aussieguy:

I agree with your approach as you describe it in challenging your friend over his treatment of his wife. I can feel that my desire to objectify women is part of a selfish mood I am in. At the same time, I have an urge for instant gratification of all my other desires as well. I also agree that in choosing to indulge my desire to voyeur and objectify women, I am violating real people, potentially harming them and in any case taking something I have no right to take. I really benefit (and more so, the women I otherwise harm may benefit) from your unflinching and clear statements about what is going on here.

It is also an important point you make about remembering who has the power. I reread my description of what has been going on and I definitely wrote it from the position that these things were 'happening to me', rather than that I was behaving in these ways. I picked up that language from reading about, and supporting my partner in, depression. In that case, it is important to remember that depression happens to people and is not something they are doing themselves. Our case is different and you are right to remind me to always acknowledge that I am behaving in this way and I am making an empowered decision to do so. (Empowered by the very system I profess to be fighting against but that makes no difference.) The emotional issues underlying it are another matter and I would feel justified in using that type of language if I had been talking about an emotion I was experiencing.

I had a very telling insight into my fantasies and what turns me on. I found that in all my voyeuring fantasies, an essential ingredient is that the woman doesn't want to be seen naked and either doesn't know I can see her or is embarrassed when she does know. It horrifies me that I carry that desire around but my behaviour has been an equally horrible indication of what's going on inside me anyway. The fantasies I have about actual sex are entirely consensual but there is still the problem that a woman's sexuality exists for my pleasure.

I don't know what to do about that desire. Did you find a way to address it? I have an idea that it is so much a learned fantasy that if I manage not to indulge it and reinforce it, it will fade away on its own. (I don't expect that to be a quick result.) Do you have any experience with this one?

On power again, it occurred to me that sometimes the important issue isn't that men are empowered by pornorgaphy or objectification of women, it is that we are empowered by the unwritten rules of society to make and view pornography and to join in the objectification of women.

(This is a slightly random collection of paragraphs but there are a few different things I wanted to chuck in here.)

I had a sudden insight a year or two ago about 'the gaze'. I remember when I was smaller, when I walked past some older kids and they just sat and looked at me without acknowledging me in any way, it was very threatening. Still now, I feel threatened if I'm in that situation with someone that I think is capable of doing me serious harm. I don't necessarily think they're going to attack me but I'm on the defensive in case. I think it's an instinctive thing. When you're in a space with someone else, if you're not being friendly and sharing the space, then it's presumed that you're in competition in some way and not to be trusted.

When I perve at women, I don't acknowledge them at all or engage in communication with them as people and I realised that I am doing exactly the same to them. It's a rare, self-assured woman who feels secure against attack from a full-grown man and I was forced to realise that just the act of voyeuring a woman is threatening her. In addition to the political implications of men's access to women's bodies - which is the context in which it takes place and provides the fuel for women's nervousness - the act itself is an aggressive one in a really basic, physiological way.

That goes unnoticed a lot of the time because we spend so much time sharing space with strangers and not communicating with them so we're in that threatened, competitive mindset already. It would be good for society if we were to act to berak down that separation in general. But I think actively watching someone takes it a step further. Of course, I can imagine women not wanting to be talked to by every man they meet and 'unwanted attention' is rightly part of the definition of sexual harassment. I don't mean we should engage women in conversation while we stare at them. I have started a habit with all people of meeting their eyes, giving some minimal kind of smile, nod or other acknowledgement and looking away. I do that with people I walk past in the street, people on the bus etc. To be genuinely respectful, it needs to be accompanied by minding my own business after that and not ogling women, otherwise it's pretty fake.

I didn't quite get the part where you said:
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.

I think I probably know what you mean but maybe you could say it again. For me, not paying for porn has also never been a matter of boycotting the industry. I have paid for magazines and once I even subscribed to a website so I could look at the hardcore stuff and archives they had. Giving my own money to those companies felt pretty nasty but my political brain tells me that I'm giving just as much support by looking at the free stuff because it's all funded by ads and sponsors who pay when I look at it or follow their links. Try as I might, I can't imagine that I'm not supporting the industry (financially, as well as philosophically) by looking at free porn sites.

Sometimes I think the problems all stem from the fact that boys don't play with dolls. That's a bit glib but it comes from this train of thoughts:
- Men's sexual abuse of women is selfish. All levels of abuse and violation have a common thread of men satisfying a desire regardless of whether the woman we use wants to take part or not.
- Environmental destruction also takes place for selfish reasons.
- Selfishness is about seeing oneself as the only real being and everyone else as objects in one's world.
- Playing role plays with dolls is training in imagining someone else's perspective the world and understanding what they would do in their position
- GI Joe doesn't really cut it

I am not in denial in a general sense about the fact that
"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."

I don't always have it in mind as I walk around and look at women in the world though. It is a real training to go through and keeping on bringing myself back to these facts seems like the way to do it.

It's not only training in the empathy that I failed to learn as a kid, but also unlearning lots of bullshit I was taught - and finding ways to deal with the fact that most men still hold onto the bullshit.

Thanks again for all your correspondence


  1. en following these posts with great interest, and I'd like to ask if it's possible to crosslink the various parts together. There's nothing on Part 1 to help readers quickly access the other parts and it would be very helpful if there were.


  2. Thanks for your comment and suggestion, samberg.

    I'll create links among the posts in that series.

  3. what can a woman say to a man when she notices him visually violating her??


  4. THAT is a GREAT question.

    This answer will likely be in more than one part.

    First, I'm sorry you are having to contend with that level of violation from men, and I'm not at all surprised that any woman has to, given the gross ways men treat women all the damn time while thinking they aren't doing anything harmful or wrong.

    Second, please visit this website for more support: http://hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/ My strongest suggestion would be to contact them and ask for support and advice.

  5. It's such an important question that I'm going to make it into a separate post, but will also offer some answers below.

    I'm going with a scenario where you don't know the man at all. I support you handling any situation like this with a clear assessment of you own sense of relative safety. So, for example, if a man is objectifying you and you wish to confront him, do you have a route out/away? Is he blocking your route of escape? He may get hostile. Challenging men's fucked up entitlements often angers men. I would hope he'd just be embarrassed and feel appropriately ashamed. And my support to anyone who challenges men around our violating practices toward women.

    Again, I'd visit any of the holla back city websites and seek counsel there.

    As you may know all too well, men's practices of ("only") visually violating women fall along quite a spectrum, from being whistled at on a street, to be gawked at, to being stared at and propositioned, to being followed, to being "up-skirted" by a man with a small digital camera or cell phone camera, to being photographed in other ways, without the woman knowing it, to being in a hotel room and being spied on and/or videotaped.

    So one question is: "What's the context? Where is this happening?" Because depending on where you are, there might be various resources available to you beyond personally confronting him. (And when I say "confront" I include "simply speaking to him and asking him to stop".

  6. I am also wondering if we're talking about an asshole in a bar kind of situation--where he's likely to have male support for being a prick, a workplace situation (which has its own protocol on what to do), a school context (which also hopefully has its own protocol), or a public space like on a street or in a park or public beach.

    I've seen men on beaches with giant telephoto lenses on their cameras, pointed at women lying down resting quite a distance away. I want to kick the camera out of their hands and break it. And if their hand gets broken too, oops!

    I stopped going to the beach because I didn't want to deal with the objectification issues, and the likely lawsuits that could follow me doing just that.

    Regardless of what you say, if the man is a major jerk, you're likely to get responses like "It's a free world. If you don't want to be looked at, why are you here?" To which I'd say, "It's not a free world for women who wish to be in it without being visually violated by men like you."

    I have just come up with a list of possible things to say to a man, and would really like to hear back from you about which feel most doable, which seem like they might work, or, if you try some of them (or anything else) out, to let me know what happened.

    I'm concerned about your safety and well-being. Obviously in the situation you're describing, your safety and well-being are already being compromised. But it's not clear how compromised or empowered you are in the abstract.

    For example, when I've been objectified by men I feel like my sense of wholeness is being assaulted, and that I am being turned into a thing, which can be scary or creepy or terrifying, depending on what's going on, and how I'm feeling that day. It can be a very triggering experience for me as a sexual assault survivor. (I'm reflecting now on whether I have ever called a man out who was objectifying me... No, but, I have told strangers who ask to touch me not to do so.)

    Some people I've spoken with advise against letting a man know you are frightened or uneasy. Some rapist men sadistically "enjoy" knowing they are making a woman uncomfortable or afraid. Obviously this "masking of emotion" is easier said than done. I'm not terribly adept at having a stern or solid demeanor in the face of being visually violated.

    And no matter what response you get, know that HIS BEHAVIOR is the issue AND the problem, not you confronting or challenging him to stop it.

    So, here's a short list, and I welcome women especially who are reading this to offer their suggestions, or to share stories of successfully getting men to stop violating a woman visually.

    "I need to let you know I am not at all comfortable with you staring at me. Please stop it."


    "Are you aware you are staring at me? Please stop doing so."

    "Excuse me. I didn't come to this place to be visually inspected."

    "Sorry to interrupt your objectification session, using my body, but STOP LOOKING AT ME!"

    Some non-verbal options:
    Just hold up your middle finger.

    Turn around, and look back at him in disgust.

    If you're with a female friend, ask her to stare at him angrily with you. Stare him down, with arms crossed in front of you.

    Yell at him so everyone around can hear: STOP STARING AT ME, YOU CREEP! (I'd only do this if I were not alone.)

    Tell him loudly or sternly, "Keep your fucking eyes to yourself!"

  7. Casually play with a penknife, and give them a contemptuous stare.