Friday, June 19, 2009

Talking about talking about pornography

“If I go to the debate on pornography, I’ll just fume about the fact that everyone’s got stupid analysis but me.” I said that a couple of months ago, and I was joking, but only a little bit.

Feminist discussions on sexually explicit material tend to be heated, and change no-one’s mind. The latest discussions on The Hand Mirror have followed this pattern. I want to explore why.

Media that has been created for the purpose of sexual arousal and produced to be bought and sold (which is a mouthful, but I think more precise than ‘pornography’) sits at an intersection: Desire, sex, the construction of men’s sexuality, the construction of women’s sexuality, bodies, work, the role of the state, objectification, the creation of rape culture and commodification (and much more, those are just what’s on top for me).

It only takes small differences in feminists’ analysis, weighting or experience of a couple of these before they’re coming at the issue that we call ‘pornography’ from completely different angles.

As well as making the issue complicated, these many facets also mean that those no such thing as a disinterested party. Everyone has a stake in what is being discussed, but what is most triggering about the discussion about sexually explicit material varies widely.

To simplify one example more than is really justified: discussions of sexually explicit material may trigger some women’s experiences of having their sexuality and desire denied, while the same discussion might trigger other women’s experience of having other people’s sexuality or desire forced on them. (I don’t mean this as a dichotomy, just an example of the sorts of talking past that can happen in these discussions).

I think it’s very difficult even to talk about, or articulate any of this, because the vocabulary we have around sexually explicit media is so limited. The distinctions I think need to be made about are numerous and complex:
Was it made by an individual expressing their personal desires?
Was it made to be bought and sold?
Did everyone involve in making it give genuine consent?
Does it normalise misogynist ideas about women, women’s sexuality, women’s bodies, or sex?
Do they normalise racist ideas about any group of women or men, their bodies or sexuality?
Does it normalise a limited view of human sex or sexuality?
How do the ideas it contains interact with rape culture?
Does it normalise a particular type of body?

Now the answer to most mass-produced mainstream pornography from Ralph to are yes (or no depending on the question). But my point is that these are different questions, and they’re different again from:

What do we do about it all? What do we expect other organisation, or the state to do about it all?

Those are just my questions, I’m sure other people have different ones (I’m sure I’d have different ones if I wrote them on a different day, after reading different material). Unless we are clear about what exactly we’re talking about, unless we actively try and overcome the difficulties I’ve outlined, we’ll never have anything useful to say.

I wrote this post - I decided to continue talking about pornography, despite my cynicism, because I think it’s important. I think untangling these threads, understanding the role of sexually explicit material in women’s oppression is vital. I think the first answer to the question: ‘what is to be done?’ Is that we have to figure out how to talk about this.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Victim-blaming round 4,506

It’s depressing, being a feminist blogger, for the same reason that it’s depressing being a feminist. The world is quite predictable. None of the media’s coverage of the Richard Worth’s treatment of women is surprising (neither is his behaviour).

What is the message in all this for women who are being sexually assaulted or harassed?

Stay quiet, particularly if a famous man is involved.

The woman who complained to the police about Worth has been attacked in the media as someone who has made false complaints before.

The woman who took her complaint of sexual harassment to the leader of the opposition has been dismissed, outted, psychoanalysed and attacked in disgusting ways.

There couldn’t be a clearer message to women that if we complain about the way men with power treat us then we will be put on trial. In particular, if there’s anything in our past that is messy or complicated, or just capable of being construed as messy or complicated, it will be attacked. We have no right to complain of male behaviour unless we fit neatly into the ‘virgin’ side of societies virgin/whore complex.

This is so familiar, so expected, there are only so many times that I can go into great detail about the victim-blaming and impossible situations women are put into, until I have nothing left to say.

What has surprised and disappointed me this time, is the other message that has been getting louder, particularly from left-wing men. That message that Richard Worth is irrelevant, and the discussion around what he did is unimportant (Against the Current and Fatal Paradox are both left-wing bloggers who have said exactly. Dennis Welsh gave a liberal-left example of the same argument on nine to noon on Tuesday)

I understand, and share, a disgust at the party political analysis and response that has gone on – the endless discussion of political management and Goff vs. Key. I have no more interest in that than anyone else. But I would hope that left-wing men could see that there is a political issue here, both in the way Worth treated women, and in the way those women have been treated by the media. I’m not asking any of those men to write about Richard Worth. But I would like them to acknowledge that there is an important political issue involved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why I wouldn't vote for Russel Norman

I decided in 2007 that I would not vote for for the Greens while Russel Norman is on the list.* With Russel Norman running in Mt Albert, I wanted to outline why

In March 2007, the jury in the second rape trial of Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum, and Brad Shipton came back with a not guilty verdict. I had been following the case - well obsessively is probably an understatement (I wrote about it a lot). Less than a week after the verdict, Russel Norman wrote a post about the cases on frogblog. The whole post is trivialising, and completely misses the important issues involved (power, consent and abuse). But what angered me most is his claim that Louise Nicholas had consensual sex with Clint Rickards:

I don’t see that being involved in consenting group sex is any reason for him not to go back to work. And people use sex aids so using a police baton in a consenting situation doesn’t seem grounds for refusing him his job back.
Now I understand that Russel Norman would have faced consequences if he'd said "Clint Rickards is a rapist." Although, for the record, Clint Rickards is a rapist. But just because you can't call Clint Rickards a rapist, is no reason to describe sex as consensual, when the women involved have stated repeatedly and clearly that it was not.

Most people that I've talked to about this acknowledge that the post was stupid, and wrong, but many don't understand why I care so much. I've been told "wow it doesn't take much to lose your vote" when I explain my decision not to vote for the Greens. Partly I think this is because rape is not seen as political, I don't think the people who saw this is a small thing would have taken the same position of Russel Norman had, say, criticised striking workers.

The kindest interpretation of what Russel Norman said was that he believes that the police rape cases were a relatively trivial matter, so the implications of his words don't matter. The alternative is that he believes that Louise Nicholas is lying when she says that Clint Rickards raped her. Either show that he doesn't take rape seriously as a political issue.

I do take rape seriously as a political issue, and I don't think that's a trivial difference.

My original post is here.

* I've no idea if I would have voted for the Greens in the last election if Russel Norman wasn't on their list. I got to the voting booth and discovered that I had absolutely no desire to vote for them. So I probably wouldn't have voted for them, even without the resolution not to vote for them 18 months earlier. But my life was extremely chaotic when the election was held, and so to second guess what my state of mind would have been is a challenge.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Issues effecting women

The soon to be MP for Mt Albert answered the Hand Mirror's election survey. He was asked what were the issues facing the women of Mt Albert:

Women come from many different groups – with different issues: For many professional women the gender pay gap is a constant problem which the National Government has made worse by backtracking on all of the previous Labour Government’s initiatives to fix – such as canning the Pay & Employment Equity Unit that was undertaking reviews in the public service.
Professional women? The deep ignorance of politicians and the stereotypes they propagate can be staggering.* It's also a neat trick, a way of minimising women's concerns - those professional women and their desire to be paid the same as men, that's only one group of women's problem.

The gender pay gap is not some obscure concern of professional women, but a systematic differentiation which effects almost all women in some way or another. Women as a earn on average 85% of what men earn - but the gap gets bigger for non-white women, and working class women.

Pay equity is the demand for equal pay for work of equal value and one of the reasons for that gap.** The difference in pay between female dominated industries and male dominated industries doesn't just involve nurses and teachers and the limited number of women dominated professional jobs, but also caregivers, teacher aides, cleaners, and retail workers.

I've seen it before, the tendency to assume that the fight for equal pay, and the end of the gender pay gap is mainly a middle class women's concern. This does a great disservice to the history for the fight for equal pay in New Zealand, which was fought and won over decades.

As a unionist I couldn't finish this post without pointing out that the gender pay gap is not just a women's concern. I was working late tonight, and was still there when the cleaners came round - they were all men, but they were paid women's wages.

* Further on David Shearer also states that 'stay at home mothers' might worry about not being able to afford things for their children. Ignoring that mothers do the vast majority of the shopping and childcare, whatever other work they do. The ideology of the public sphere and the private sphere appears to be alive and well as a way of dividing women.

** Other reasons why women earn less include straight out discrimination in pay and promotion, and the effects of men doing considerably less unpaid work than women.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A nuisance

John Key has said that he had received more than one complaint that Richard Worth was "making a nuisance of himself towards women." He told the media:

All I can say I treated the allegation seriously. I investigated it and I was satisfied with the answers I received.
From the statements John Key has made it seems to be a reasonable supposition that the unknown crime the police are investigating Richard Worth for is an offence that is in some way similar to 'making a nuisance of himself towards women'.

Now if you want the political point scoring I suggest The Standard or Kiwiblog. They will argue about how this compares with Clark's actions, and the political management of it all. These are not things I care about.

There's something very born to rule about the euphemism 'making a nuisance of himself'. Just the language, unfortunately, not the activity. Like many born to rule terms, it's quite honest. I can imagine quite a range of activities that Key would refer to in this way: it could refer to language, either abusive or explicitly sexual, or unwanted physical contact, even protracted unwanted physical contact. These are all nuisances, women should put up with them in the same way they might a missed bus.

And what is telling is that John Key ignored the first indications that Richard Worth was nuisance-ing woman (and we can only conjecture what that euphamism covers in John Key's mind). Or in the language of politicians - John Key was satisfied with the explanation the Minister gave him.

Which, if you think about it, isn't that different to what happens outside of parliament. A man (say) hears that his friend has been 'being a nuisance to' (or the euphemism which is most appropriate to the social circle they belong to) a woman. The man talks to his friend about it. His friends gives a response, which is either "she's lying" or "she was asking for it" (both these responses will probably be clouded in layers of euphemism as well). And he is satisfied with that response.

And so the friend keeps doing it. Who wouldn't? Everyone is satisfied.

Except the woman involved, who is, as so often happens, rendered, as usual, with the focus on the man, and his explanations.

Dear Radio New Zealand

Laniet Bain was not 'having an incestuous relationship with her father'. Robin Bain was raping his daughter.

It's not that hard.


PS Why are you even talking about this? If she was alive she would have name suppression. Why isn't their a course on reporting on sexual violence with respect and accuracy in journalism school?