Friday, July 24, 2009

The Unnaturalness of Sexuality: On White Men, Colonialism, Misogyny, and Media

Edited/revised on 30 July 2009:
As a gay white Westerner, I have heard that at least three groups of people have a sexuality that is deemed by so-called straight white men as "unnatural" (as well as morally corrupting to evil). The three categories of people are "homosexuals", people of color, and those white people who have sex with non-human animals (I guess of the opposite sex). A ridiculously postulated "[sky-]Godliness" is attached to some expressions of sexuality, which even among the Godly is seen as generally earthly and base. But to the extent that sexual touch can be "pure", it stands at the polar opposite end of the particularly beastly, rampant, and unholy sexuality white men have deemed people of color and "homosexuals" to possess. As for white men having sex with animals, one rather bizarre and especially egregious tenet of white male supremacy is that women of color, being neither male nor white, are presumed, in literature, myth, and media, to be particularly non-human animals when compared to the palest of "civilised" human beings with a dick. It need not be noted, but will be here, that such views of human beings are totally fucked up. And from a pro-non-human animal point of view, let it be said that white male supremacists' sexuality is far more harmful to the world than any sex any non-human animals have.

In my view, the stigma of having fucked-up sexual values and practices, as well as value system, belongs to those who historically have had the power and status to cast this stigma upon others: it belongs to white het male supremacists, a population noted for chronically having sex with non-human animals, with children, with women inside systems of coercion and exploitation, and with men inside and outside such systems of exploitation.

Yes, white heterosexual men have purchased or unpurchased sex with men--who may or may not need to dress up as "women" for them. Whether secretive or not, more than a few white heterosexual homophobes and misogynists who have sex with gay men do so in the evening hours after spending their days preaching from Christian pulpits or the various political soapboxes in Washington, D.C. about the debasement that comes from such contact.

The implication in such preachings and rants, sometimes stated overtly, sometimes not, is that if a man--let's call him John--has sex with another person as if John were a woman, that is an abomination; so too is it an abomination for him to have sex with men who, in whatever sexist and heterosexist ways, are seen to be woman-like. So hetero men having sex with so-called effeminate-appearing men, with drag queens, with trangendered males transitioning to be transwomen, or with men who are stigmatised as womanly for other reasons, are scorned and ridiculed by other white het men who function socially as border collies around a herd of human sheep. The objective seems to be: "Let's make sure 'our own' don't get caught up in the kind of sex that brings with it lower status and degradation. What is missed in all this tossing around of judgment, is how lacking in self-awareness the negative impact is of what white het men do that they call "having sex".

For example, incest perpetrators, disproportionately father-figures who rape girls, have always had major roles of leadership in patriarchies where incest occurs. They harm children while they somehow excuse themselves from the kind of social stigma and public condemnation reserved for those who "practice" homosexuality or what is seen as sex-with-animals. Instead of coming to terms with the fact that most molesters and rapists of children are heterosexual men, we gay men, and often lesbian women too, have been branded as "the" population of people most likely to sexually harm our youth, through either sexual contact or by exposing them to the fact of our not being heterosexual. This is why there's been so much fuss about lesbian and gay teachers being "out" in grade schools. Never mind that straight men harass, fondle, and rape female in kindergarten through 12th grade, and beyond--it becomes especially prolific in college settings. Never mind that racist heterosexist, animal-abusing pornographic standards of sex, in video games, on television, in pimp-produced pornography, and in men's and boys' social circles, has far more influence over young males than do lesbian and gay teachers of English Lit and Algebra. Stigmas assigned by the most powerful are meant to stick to those who do not control social status and speech, including media.

In response to this absurd and utterly insulting and degrading association of being lesbian or gay with being evil for not being heterosexual--and probably also a child molester, and the equally disturbing and degrading links made in white male supremacist societies of people of color being "animalistic" due to not being as "civilised" as upper crust whites, some of us, of every color, in queer political organisations have, not without reason or responsibility, set forth to prove that homosexuality is natural--just as natural as human heterosexuality. It has, thank the Lorde, long ago been established that the sexuality of people of color is no more or less holy than the sex white folks have with one another. (Which is not to say there aren't still white bigots who believe otherwise.)

As for the effort to make homosexuality "natural", I see this strategy as so seriously flawed as to be harmful and oppressive, particularly to women of all colors and sexualities. Let me explain.

I have always believed, with what I feel is glaringly obvious evidence, that there's very little (or nothing) about contemporary adult heterosexuality that is, strictly speaking, "natural". Boys and girls have to learn how to masturbate, kiss, have oral sex, and fuck. Jokes abound in pop culture about males who don't learn how to "do it" well enough. And girls and women are punished in various ways my boys and men who don't like how females "do it", or, also, if females refuse to "do it" with boys and men.

Boys also learn what social methods of obtaining sexual contact are appropriate, or inappropriate but doable and effectively legal. Video voyeurism and peeping perpetrators have recently made the news, again.

None of what humans do together that is termed "sexual" occurs instinctively or asocially. All of our sexual practices are tied both to culture and history. As Catharine MacKinnon notes in her book Women's Lives, Men's Laws (2005), sexuality does, in fact, have a history, and the history of it is one in which the abuse of women is frequently named and experienced by men as sex. While this is not acknowledged by men generally, much of racist and misogynistic sex requires is "man-made" economic systems, industries, and technologies that, unless I'm greatly mistaken and especially unfamiliar with the few remaining regions of the world not populated by humans, do not occur naturally.

As mentioned in other posts on this blog, the popular nature/nurture binary that attempts to draw far too straight and deeply corrosive lines between that which is occurs naturally and that which occurs through nurture or environmental factors is a spuriously false one. As Barbara McLintock* revealed years ago, even while in the field of Western patriarchal science, genes are not fixed or distinct from their environment, and there is little (or nothing) that is. What we now know to be "the natural world" is, generally, a by-product of human culture and science. So pretending these two categories are discreet is about as truthful as the claim that "woman" and "man" have nothing at all in common, and are, somehow, opposites. *For more on McLintock's work, please read Evelyn Fox Keller's excellent book about her career, titled A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984).

For me, another of the most obvious bits of evidence that men's socially expressed and imposed heterosexuality is "unnatural", if we're going to use such terms, is that an inordinate number of grown men, of color and white, who are attracted to women are attracted to women whose appearances have been dramatically culturally altered such that they have no facial hair, no underarm hair, no leg hair, and in some cases have implants under their breast tissue, wear make-up, high heels, have "unnaturally" straightened or curled scalp hair, as well as painted, if not also glued on, fingernails.

Somehow the heteromale supremacist argument, as flimsy as it is destructive, is that all of these modifications "enhance" women's natural allure. (Right.) It is especially amusing, while also obnoxious and expensively oppressive, to note how many cosmetics companies, depending on the culture and era, promote the many ways that their products make women look more naturally sexy. Perhaps I'm dense, but in what way would not using the products leave one appearing "less natural"?

Women's sexuality is made more cultural by being bound to industry standards of beauty, not more natural. Choices by women with agency to assimilate into an oppressive system are made always in the context of being socially and economically ostracised and rejected if they do not, in some ways, conform and buy into the system. This means women survive patriarchy by participating in it, as the alternative is loneliness and punishment. It is with bitter irony that we can note that the women who most embrace white male supremacist beauty standards are also routinely punished. If, as many liberals claim, women are free to choose their fate, why can't women choose to not be ostracised and objectified, raped and oppressed?

For much more on how oppressive white male beauty standards impact women negatively, read The Bluest Eye (1970), by Toni Morrison, and Sheila Jeffreys' Beauty and Misogyny(2005).

To any man who finds the unnaturally airbrushed and/or Photoshopped women featured as centerfolds in Playboy magazine "naturally sexy" I welcome you to explain what you mean by "naturally sexy". As C. A. MacKinnon and Patricia Hill Collins, among many other feminists and womanists, have noted, what is sexy is culturally relative and socially constructed, usually and most often with a white heterosexual male supremacist agenda to keep women subordinate to men in a variety of ways, including sexually. See especially, Black Sexual Politics (2005), by P. H. Collins.

What exactly is natural about a man purchasing or renting a human being in order to have her perform "sexual acts" that involve industry-made props, such as leather head masks with zippered mouths? Do such "accessories" occur in the natural world? Does "purchasing and renting" humans occur in nature? Do whales have "red light districts"? Can someone please direct me to the natural, biological causes of capitalism? (... waiting ...) I didn't think so.

What is natural about a woman feeling insecure, ugly, or socially uncomfortable if she leaves her home or is in her home with facial, armpit, and leg hair that is, by all reasonable measures, naturally occurring?

What is natural about high-heeled shoes and bossom-scrunching boddices? Were cavewomen known to place two to six inch sticks under the heels of whatever protection they wore on their feet, for, I don't know, the fun of it? Did women compulsively collect sticks for this purpose? I don't recall those images being painted on cave walls of Lascaux. Did they seek out animals hides that only hid half of each breast? That Sarah Jessica Parker enjoys the fashions made by Dolce and Gabbana tells me what, exactly, about how "women's brains are different from men's"? That most women I know don't wear high heels tells me what about their psyches? That they aren't female?

What many heterosexual men report to me that's "attractive" or "sexy" or "hot" about a woman or women has little to do with their complex individual humanness, and has much more to do with the ways in which women negotiate limited decisions made, institutionally, by pimps and pornographers, as well as misogynistic advertisers. These men, not the women who purchase their products, define, market, and control what is "beautiful" about women. Women, in many ways, actively participate in this marketing of misogyny, no doubt. But women never participate freely, which is to say, with the unpunishable option of not participating at all.

In contemporary Western and Western-influenced male supremacist societies, is "natural beauty" a term of some redundancy, or an oxymoron? I'd argue it is far more the latter than the former.

[image of Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan]

Are we really supposed to believe that a man, in this case a Romanian white one with no visible chest hair, raised by apes, named Tarzan, would be instantly attracted to a whiter city-raised woman who in no way resembles any being he has encountered to date? Well, this is one of the first human women he's ever seen, you might respond; why shouldn't he be attracted to her? To those with this rationale I ask, what are we to do with the matter of King Kong's infatuation with Fay Wray (1933).

[image of Fay Wray in King Kong's hand]

Are we supposed to believe that King Kong "naturally" finds Fay Wray "sexy" and that it makes sense that he fondles her with his big hairy fingers? Are we supposed to believe that anyone and anything will find white thin women beautiful, but only if they are pretty by Hollywood standards?

Inside these racist, colonising, genocidal, misogynist, heterosexist assumptions or "givens" is a widely held and irresponsibly unowned conceit: that white men are appropriately in charge of controlling the parameters of beauty and what constitutes sex. In the Western world, this conceit or belief hasn't radically changed in the many decades cinema has been in existence. Although in the 1930s some white women were allowed to portray women far more independent and self-possessed than the women who appear in U.S. films twenty and thirty years later. If you watch these films, note how the Black women who portray the maid or servant of white folks, who may or may not have a first name in the film, rarely shows up in the credits the way the white people do, even though she has a speaking part.

What also hasn't diminished in centuries is the world's oldest forms of oppression and sexual subjugation, prostitution and female sexual slavery. While at times being completely indistinguishable, each has existed to meet male supremacists' culturally relative wishes to use and abuse women-as-sexthings. The fact that some women choose, with very relative levels of "freedom" to be prostitutes, in no ways lessens the responsibility of pimps and procurers to stop using women as such. Bosses in any profession ought not oppress and otherwise harm workers, no matter how much the worker chose the job. Men ought not oppress and otherwise harm women, no matter the venue or context.

White heterosexual male studio heads, and pimps, with the two groups very often overlapping, promulgate this oppressive theory that white women's sexuality--however it is constructed by white men--is naturally very powerful, particularly when adorned with urban cultural artifacts. "It" is, in fact, so overpowering that het men must rape women, must possess, purchase, or rent them, must harass and verbally debase them, must invasively approach them at any and every opportunity, regardless of the non-verbal cues and overt verbal messages women direct at men to leave them the fuck alone. According to white male supremacist logic, men violate women's space and bodies due to the fact that what women possess, men cannot resist trying to steal. But we mustn't forget that women's "beauty" in a white male supremacist and heterosexist society, is deeply raced and gendered in an oppressive binary way; "what women possess" is "whiteman-made"; it belongs to men first and is then sold to women. "Female beauty" becomes a key ingredient in any woman's success if she is in the media in a way that "male beauty" is not a factor in men's success. I personally think the late Walter Cronkite was adorable, but he was not, according to Hollywood studio heads or Madison Avenue execs "beautiful", or even handsome. Men's interpersonal and intellectual abilities, their business acumen, or their organisational and administrative skills, is assessed as more important than "looks". This is never the case with women. If you doubt this, find me one butch woman in the news media whose success matches any major male news anchor or reporter. So women, paradoxically, are not "naturally" beautiful at all, according to the men who feel entitled to identify women this way. Some women are beautiful, and the ones that are, curiously, adhere closely to politically charged standards created by and for men.

White men, pimps and non-pimps, along with the coerced collusion and collaboration of those who work for them, have constructed and maintained industries to mass market their ideas about women's beauty standards, which is code for white women's beauty standards, which is code for the inhumane beauty standards aggressively and unrelentingly imposed on all women. The message to women of color is two-fold: either work as hard as you can to attain those same white standards, or allow white men, especially, to hold you out as "exotic" and "primitive", possessing a kind of raw, untamed sexuality that is more beastly than beatific.

Duran Duran's very popular 1982 video, "Hungry Like The Wolf" illustrates these values. It was directed by music video creator Russell Mulcahy; he also directed the first video shown on MTV, "Video Killed The Radio Star", as well as the despicably racist video with sexual overtones, "Turning Japanese", a 1980 UK, US, and Aussie hit by a New Wave band of British white dudes named The Vapors. (In those early years, MTV was especially racist and uberwhite; from day one through to the present it has always been misogynistic.)

"Hungry Like The Wolf" portrays white men the way white men often portray themselves including in movies like King Kong and Tarzan, and behave in the non-cinematic world, as unstoppable colonisers, merciless invaders, greedy thieves, and rampant rapists, aka, in whitemanspeak: heroes.

I ask you: with heroes like these, who needs villains?

With a "natural sexuality" that comes to you directly from white men's racist, homophobic, and patriarchally withered imaginations, why are "products", Why can't it just naturally be diverse and unowned--neither purchased nor sold--by us?