The Endless Debate Continues: A Response to Witchy-Woo

Once again, the chasm that is the Feminist Sex Wars reemerges to remind us how totally incompatable and fundamentally different the world views of radfems and sex-positives have been….and that even attempts at reconciliation reveal how impossible it is when one side refuses to acknowledge and respect the other.

Recently, RenegadeEvolution invited radical feminists to join her site and express their opinions on her personal beliefs and her profession.

One radfem, the ever-present Witchy-Woo, decided to take up the challenge…and when RenEv posted her thoughts on sexual objectification and stereotyping, W-W was one of the first to respond in dissent of RE’s view that objectification (especially sexual objectification) is not innately harmful or degrading.

Now, considering that me and W-W do have a history of fierce debate (since we so fundamentally disagree to the core on issues of sexuality), I was seriously tempted to issue a response to her over there…but, since the last time I debated her, I was accused of "butting in" on a conversation that I did not belong in, I have decided out of respect for RenEv not to intervene over there. However, some of W-W’s remarks in her (mostly civil and thoughtful) response nevertheless deserve a rebuttal of its own on the basis of clearing up some basic assumptions about men and sexuality and sex work and feminisn….and I will use this post to render my thoughts. I will use the usual format of responding to specific points as I go along.

[Posted by Witchy-Woo on 8/28/06 @ 9:05 PM] 

[Quote from Ren Ev] "And I do not universally dismiss the words of all radical feminists, in fact, I am curious to hear what they might have to say on this- both the post and the comments (Psst, WW & SE, that’s you’re cue!). I do not even expect them to agree or sugar coat their opinions, but I am pretty sure they will be civil."

Truth be told, RE, I’m feeling really unwelcome to comment here due to the now almost ritual misrepresentation and slamming of the radfem pov in some of the comments. That said; this is your blog and you invited me to speak my piece. And I will be honest.

Interesting that W-W harps on the "ritual misrepresentation and slamming of the radfem pov"….as if she would only be comfortable posting on blogs that support her views, and that it is an act of extreme discomfort for her to cross over.  Funny, no one placed the gun to your head and forced you to come over; in fact, RenEv actually invited you to come in and post your comments. (How many radfems would be so accomodating to their critics….especially consdering how sex-positives and those who otherwise critique antiporn feminism are totally misrepresented and slandered as tools of the Patriarchy and sexbots (at best) or enablers of male rape and murder (at worst)? That is, if they are even allowed the right to defend themselves in radfem journals?) 

I seriously do hope that your scholarly shadow is seeking opinion/experience from a variety of sex workers in order to gain a balanced view. I’m somewhat heartenened that she stated "I like sex, but if I said I did not have some problems with porn and the media and some advertising, I would be a liar…" but I’m also concerned that your ‘gung-ho’ approach to what you do could colour her research. But I’m not her. What do I know. I just know what I know.

Yeah, I get it….so, her research would be fatally "coloured" by merely following and documenting RenEv’s position; by comparison, if she had decided to follow a sex worker who was much closer to W-W’s position of total abolition, that would be much more "balanced"…..but at least her antipathy about porn gives W-W hope that she can be turned to the correct…ahhhh, I mean, the more "balanced" view. I think that our interviewer should be trusted to make her own decisions about her thesis without bias from either one of us, thank you very much. 

From where I sit, your post and the resulting comments don’t dig deep enough into the sexual objectification of women: the reasons behind it and its impact on women’s lives. You start with a feminist argument against objectification which you acknowledge as legitimate and which I largely agree with apart from:

"that things such as stripping and porn portray women as merely their bodies" "Their" doesn’t enter into it. "Their" signifies some kind of recognition by the user/viewer of another human person living in that body. That kind of recognition makes objectification difficult. It would be more accurate to say "that things such as stripping and porn portray women as merely bodies".

Nice try with the sematics, W-W…but that doesn’t make your point any less insulting. How can a viewer of a stripper or a porn actress see a woman as anything other than a real person? I mean, a mainstream actress who plays the role of a zombie in a horror flick appears as merely a "body"; just like a runway model who sashays down a catwalk is seen to the viewers of a fashion show as merely a "body" showing off clothing for rich buyers. But since none of the latter actually engage in sex openly, I guess that their temporary objectification is perfectly acceptable, if not less of an issue, on your part. 

Yes, it is true that during that exact moment of her performance as a sex worker or an actress, the woman does become an object — or more accurately, a subject — of male (and female) desire.  But that doesn’t mean that the viewer couldn’t still respect the performer as a human being with her own feelings and desires and personality, even as (s)he is momentarily aroused by her performance or her outer beauty or her sexual persona. What RenEv was doing, in my view, was simply restating the radfem belief as a starting point to stating how she deviates from that view; it is not in any way an endorsement of that view, however legitimate some portions of that theory may be.

Your piece goes on to illustrate that more fully with your evaluation of Mr Average: "In short, they are not human…They are dirty and vulgar, they are whores who will get naked and spread and grind and screw for money…and therefore all they are worth is the cash you throw at them and good only for one thing. They are objects: hard-bodied, fake breasted, non-thinking, emotionally voided constructs, used to fuel lust and fantasy…but they are not women "Healthy? No. Typical? All too." And I agree that all too often women will blame other women by "instead of turning their anger and distaste towards the men in their lives, they turn it towards the object which is corrupting him and inspiring him…the other woman; the dancer, the porn girl, the nasty, evil, whore who is making him this way." because women are taught from the cradle, just like men, that women are to blame for everything. This kind of shrouds the way men are tricked by other men into becoming Mr Average and places all the initiative with women – the doing of the bidding and the being blamed for doing it – and men…well, they just get to sit back and enjoy the show safe in the knowledge that their circular little power game is working.

After all, if you can successfully divide your enemies so that they see one another as enemies themselves and you sit far back enough, keep quiet enough, you don’t even get noticed and the show goes on. That’s one of the reasons why ‘sex worker’ and ‘feminist’ don’t sit well together for me. Most sex worker feminists that I’ve encountered seem more concerned with the sex work than the feminism and are almost totally blind to the sexist manipulations behind what they do.

You may note the subtle way that W-W reads sex-pos feminists out of her vision of "feminism" by denying them even the right to call themselves "feminists"..their activism in favor of women and their stated views in favor of giving sex workers more economic opportunities to leave their professions to the contrary. And that notion of "Mr. Average" tends not to represent the views of all men who engage in sex work or consume porn; it reflects, in my view, a certain dominant conservative cultural worldview (that is, an ideology) about how sexual women should be treated as second-class citizens and worthy of abuse, loathing, and disgust.

Men and boys are not so much taught to "blame women for everything"; they are generally taught that their feelings of sexual attraction for some women are inheritently degrading, destructive, and inappropriate to the dominant society…unless channeled toward the predescribed channels of marriage and monogamy. Yet, despite all those messages, they still manage to get hard-ons and become sexually excited at the sight of a scantily-clad or naked woman….it is that conflict between their brains and their bodies that fuels a lot of the angst that they feel about sexuality. 

Add to the mix Hollywood and Madison Avenue’s use of sexual tittlation and double entrendre as a prop to sell their products (but not too much, thank you, since we can’t piss off our conservative base of buyers!!) and the equally powerful cultural influences that exist to demonize such desires as damaging to God, family and country…and you can see why there is such volativity in sexual relations these days.

Given all that, porn and sex work is actually a small-time secondary player in all this; but because it is the most explicit and most open in portraying sexuality in all its glory, it becomes the grand pinata for bashing by moralists (both feminist and traditionalist) for all the social ills of man and woman. In any case, what W-W does in denying the human social agency of the female sex worker in using her medium to transform her profession and even her clients for the better is not that different from what the traditionalist fundamentalist Right does for most sexual dissidents….and putting a radical feminist patina on the cover does not change that fact one bit.

Reading your "third party objectification" paragraph about the camaraderie that exists amongst your colleagues made me feel sad. Having just read a piece a day or so ago that gave a similar account to yours by Annabel Chong in juxtaposition with comments made about her by the men that used her and that so didn’t reflect the warmth and respect she seemed to have for them… Maybe the people you work with are different. I don’t know, but I hope so.

Considering that Annabel Chong is retired from active porn work since 2003 (as her Wikipedia entry states), and that she herself has defended her porn activity (which included her notorious record-setting gangbang) as challenging traditional notions of female sexuality, I’d hardly consider her to be example of someone being "used" by her suitors. But then again, I guess that to W-W, any woman who chooses to have sex outside of her stated radfem limitations is automatically placed in the "used" or "prostituted" category…regardless of whether she publically seeks it herself or not.

And then there are your "me" paragraphs. I understand that you love what you do and that you’d do it for no money. The fact remains that, globally, most women who do what you do loathe it and would pay money (if they had it) to get out. Globally, most women in sex work are forced into it through poverty and/or male violence. The men who consume ‘the product’ give not a jot, not a moments thought, about whether the object they’re using/viewing is there of it’s own volition or has been forced/coerced to perform for them. You love what you do for money. Well, yay, good for you. But if we’re talking feminism – which is "about political action on behalf of a class of people who are culturally, socially, politically, inellectually, physically, and violently oppressed, impoverished, abused, enslaved, objectified, raped and murdered." [Twisty Faster] – what you do for money, no matter how much you love it, feeds the objectification and stereotyping of all female people that keeps us in that place.

Translation here: You may even like what you do (but only because Teh Patriarchy pays you well), but when what you do causes other women to get killed, raped, and abused, we real feminists have the right to take away your individual right to do what you do….and you surrender the right to call yourself a feminist. The fact that some women are indeed coerced in many ways and in many forms (poverty, lack of better opportunities) into doing sex work does not reflect on those who willingly choose, for their own reasons, to engage in that profession…and the fact that some clients of sex workers can be boorish, aggressive, and (in the extreme case) quite violent does not reflect on those who do respect the humanity of sex workers and sex entertainers, and treat them accordingly.  The fundamental difference between I as a sex positive and W-W as an antiporn radfem is that at least I allow for different narratives and experiences.

 And someone in comments mentioned your "RIGHT" (it was in caps as I remember) to do what you do and someone else questioned another commenters thinking about "responsibility". As far as I’m concerned the two go hand in hand. One doesn’t have rights without responsibilities unless, of course, one wants to promote the kind of world where those without full ‘rights’ get disappeared, brutalised, abused, oppressed, made ‘less than’.

Of course, rights mean nothing without the responsible and respectful administration of them….but who are you, W-W, to become commisar and say to these women what their rights and responsibilities should be?? Since you would openly deny women their basic right of determining their own sexuality out of "protecting" them from Teh Patriarchy and "the male gaze", how does that make you any different than any antifeminist patriarch who seeks the same control based on the notions of "God’s (or Allah’s, or Yahweh’s, or Jesus’, or whomever deity you prefer) plan"??

Incidentally, I looked at your LJ. You might have "come like a banshee" but that picture is truly horrible. It depicts something that has really happened to more women than I can count and they’ve been destroyed by it. Whatever gets you off is fine but do you really have to promote it as some kind of healthy way to be?

Now, this is just plain catty and out-of-line, W-W….what RenEv described in her Live Journal was totally consensual and done with her approval and her pleasure….and has not a damn thing to do with violence against women.  And if it doesn’t concern you about what gets her off, then why in the next breath do you downgrade it as somehow "unhealthy"??  Remember, W-W, you did say you were going to be honest…so why not cut the nonsense and say how you really feel and say that RenEv (like sex-pos feminists in gereral) is really a dirty, promiscuous slut who brings womanhood down and enables rapists?? But then again, honesty about your personal disgust for women like RenEv wouldn’t be quite so able to convert people to your point of view, now wouldn’t it??

Being a feminist isn’t easy and it isn’t fun. The world is stacked against feminist thought and ideas and you can’t use the masters tools to bring down the masters house. From slamming women who play the game to wondering "is it me?" – it doesn’t work. We need different tools. Promoting the acceptance and enjoyment of the humiliation, debasement and objectification of women for the male gaze is simply conforming to what’s expected and does nothing at all to help the fight for women’s freedom.

Well, W-W, maybe not..but just try being a working class sex-positive Black male socialist living in a conservative, capitalist, racist, puritan, sex-hating society for a day or two…that’s hardly a ride in the park, either. It may be tough for feminism these days….but aping the policies of the Religious Right and reserrecting sexual puritanism won’t make it any easier to promote feminist values….and baiting and bashing the majority of men who don’t rape or abuse or other wise degrade women merely for the sake of having a lusty gaze and an erection for a woman willing to show off her love of sex certainly won’t help matters, either. 

And while appropriating Andre Lorde’s classic quote may feel appropriate, we should remember that one of the master’s main tools of controlling and regulating women (and men) is to control and repress their sexuality. The fundamental issue here should be eliminating sexism and institutions of inequality which promote and enhance gender inequality, then building counterinstitutions which respect full equality and mutual respect and free will; then men and women can make clear and informed decisions about their bodies and desires. 

In other words, as Marcia Pally said so clearly:  "Ban sexism…not sex."

The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone; I take full responsibility for them.

UPDATE: RenEv has posted a lengthy (and quite cordial, especially for her) rebuttal to W-W over at her blog, see it here (scroll to the bottom).    

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