Monday, December 8, 2008

misogyny 101


When I was a student psychiatric nurse, my class was looking at the effecThe Pornography of Representation by Susanne Kappelert of pornography upon how women were perceived by men and by themselves at one point. To research the subject more deeply, I bought The Pornography of Representation by the left-wing feminist Susanne Kappeler. When I brought it out of my rucksack in the house, my mother's gaze fixed on the second word, and she exploded: "What the HELL is that?" Pulling herself up to her full four foot eleven, she continued to thunder: "Let me tell you this, boy, THERE'LL BE NAE FILTH IN THIS HOUSE!!!"

When I explained that it was a critique of pornography by a female author who opposed it, she calmed down - a little bit. On reading the text, I got the impression of somebody who was incensed at the exploitation of women, although there wasn't much about how pornography, in reducing women to one function, also debases men - simply throwaway phrases describing intercourse as "phallic vexation" and a description of modern culture as a "phallocracy".

Where Kappeler lost me was in her struggle to differentiate erotica from pornography; at one point she concludes that the difference is in the reach either has - positing porn as a manifestation of what left-wingers thought symbolised the evils of modern industrial society, the production line - and decides that a Big Mac is thereby pornographic. Thus ended my fling with analyzing androcentric structures of oppression.

In today's Telegraph, Ben Leach reports that Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas, having commissioned a "Top Shelf report", wants to push a Bill through Parliament which would see "lads' mags", newspapers with pornographic content and both papers and mags containing explicit sex-ads carrying age-ratings like films.

Good luck to her. Really. The greatest resistance will come not from the press but from inside her own party. Diane Abbott, taking a rest from plucking pseudo-statistics out of nowhere to justify imposing abortion on Northern Ireland, is ostensibly backing Mrs Curtis-Thomas, but is actually agitating for any code putting publications with pornographic images to remain voluntary: a law which I could demonstrate to her to be honoured more in the breach than in the observation in half a dozen shops that I know of in Cambridge.

Abbott's position seems at first sight to be a strange one for a feminist, but on examination it shows a curious internal consistency: boy sees a girl depicted as meat, boy meets a girl, treats her as meat, girl ends up as meat on an abortion-clinic table.

I write the above sentence advisedly. There's no erotica here in the sense that the Song of Songs can be said to be erotica. According to the Telegraph article linked to, 100% of female students surveyed found images in three of the worst offenders, The Daily Sport, Zoo and Nuts found themselves "angry, offended or upset" by the images therein, and so did 11% of males; but, tellingly, 20% of males "admitted that looking at this material encouraged them to see women as sex objects".

click to the homepage of the Internet Watch FoundationWhen I was having a shower during Wake up to Wogan this morning, the news came on, and I stuck my head out of the curtain when a not unrelated item came on. The Internet Watch Foundation has advised British ISP's to bar access to a Wikipedia discography page on the rock band the Scorpions because it contained a picture of the album cover for Virgin Killer.

Googling the cover I realised that I vaguely remembered it, and it is shocking, featuring a rather young naked girl with a crack in the camera-lens positioned strategically; it's so strong that one blogger defending the picture had to post it blurred and in black and white. The title track, according to the band, is about time being the killer of innocence - I looked at the lyrics and was unable to make my mind up either way - google them yourself, if you wish.

The thing is, this image, unsavoury as it is, has been in the public domain, in record shops, on CD's etc, since 1976 - 32 years. Why has the IWF only just decided that it is a "potentially indecent image of a child"? (In my mind the "potentially" is unnecessary.) Has somebody chanced upon their old dictionary and looked up "morality"?

Cambridge is a mid-sized town in a corner of England, yet it seems that every few weeks there's a scandal involving somebody being found to have downloaded pornographic pictures of children to their computer (downloading satisfies the description of "making" a picture), so I imagine there's a lot of it going on throughout the UK, never mind the world. Most of these pictures are coming from the internet. Would identifying and blocking the sites and bringing their perpetrators to justice not be a more worthy goal than one which certainly raises awareness for the IWF, but also sees the Scorpions' and Virgin Killer's profile higher than it has been for decades? (And why pull the page with the cover for the Scorpions album, but let the one with a picture of the cover for Nirvana's Nevermind remain?)

The trouble is, many of society's public figures seem unable to identify where the line Miley Cyrus in a pose many of her fans are more comfortable withbetween acceptable and unacceptable is because much of "society" has been on a 40-year spree of blurring lines and inserting large grey areas into black-and-white issues. For example, Annie Liebovitz' controversial Vanity Fair photograph of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus might be somewhat tasteful if it were of an adult, but being as it is of a 15-year-old girl it is totally unacceptable - witness the strong points made in the Report of the APA [American Psychiatric Association] Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls. The title of the equivalent Australian report lays bare the reason behind the blurring of said boundaries - Corporate Pedophilia.

So what about the "lads' mags"? Where does the erotic become meretricious; when does a celebration of the human form become a desecration of it? This is something burlesque artiste Dita von Teese has thought about a lot, resulting in an act that, while strong stuff, is at least as cerebral as it is sensual and has won her as many female fans as it has male. But the lads' mags are sheer exploitation - misogyny 101. As one blogger writes: "Think giving lads mags age ratings will silence the anti-lads mags lobby? Will it [expletive deleted]! Cclick to go to Chris Evans' BBC Radio 2 homepageos once they get age ratings and then lads mags put on the top shelf they will as we all know call for lads mags to be banned completly!" Too right, pal.

Earlier this year, DJ Chris Evans was recalling his pre-launch interview with the editor of one of the bigger two lads' mags, either Nuts or Zoo, I forget which. Evans stated the man had presented it as a publication that father and son could read together; the DJ paused for a couple of seconds, then said quietly, "that must be some family".


  1. I'm surprised only 20% of men "admitted that looking at this material encouraged them to see women as sex objects". I pretty well figured many people in our current society were unaware of their own motives, but hadn't realized it was so very widespread. I don't know any men who look at porn who don't at some point look at women as sex objects. What do they think they're doing to the women featured in the porn? And when one does a thing repeatedly, it becomes habitual.

    Our next step will be that acceptance of sex with children will be demanded, when both parties "consent". (And how easy it can be for these folks to manipulate children into verbal "consent" to something no normal child would want!)

    I would be grateful for those mags to be put on the top shelf, instead of out in the open where my children can glance at them as we stand in the aisle of the store.

    Finally, a coworker told me once she thought it was acceptable to manipulate men sexually in order to get a career advantage, because women were not given the advantages they'd earned. I told her that I thought once a man realized he'd been sexually manipulated, it might make him so angry with women in general that he'd treat all of them worse in the future.

  2. I hear you on everything you say.

    In our local Tesco's, the Daily Sport is on a paper-table waste-high, and it always has a very explicit front-page. If that's not bad enough, I once complained to the Police about a cash-converter shop that had frankly pornographic magazines on a table at the same height. The reply was that they weren't breaking the law, as the code is voluntary right now.

    Over here, there are some powerful bodies demanding that sex education start at five or even four, with children looking at pictures of naked men and women (or boys and girls) and learning to name the relevant parts. I can only wonder at the motivation of these people.

    I remember an interview with a Conservative MP defending Margaret Thatcher against the charge of using her sexuality to get ahead (but not actually manipulating men sexually); the MP said there was nothing wrong with presenting oneself as a whole person. I fear this will be lost if the many and varied shades of sexuality become reduced to the act of sex.

    I agree with you that these mag belong on the top shelf, but the poor woman sponsoring the Bill doesn't have troubles to seek within her own party before she starts looking at the press industry.

    Hope you're not feeling too bad today, am remembering you in my prayers - FD

  3. Been far, far worse, but would like to feel - how shall I say it? - ALIVE, again. Been stick-in-the-mud for so long, I almost forget what anything else is like.

    Thanks for the prayers - I can use all I get! You're on my list, too.

  4. Thanks, Pam. I remember the feeling that you're dead inside, and everything and everybody outside is drab and grey. I hope your own black dog pulls his claws out a bit before too long - FD

  5. See Linda's post for yesterday.

    What a blessing!

    I think children's play was what I needed. I felt wonderful all day today! Hope I can keep that!

  6. Ah, snow! I remember it well! If by chance snow should lie I will lob a snowball westwards, but I'm not sure I can throw as far as Texas...consider yourself hit by a metaphorical snowball! I don't know if it snows in Texas, but if and when it does throw one back at me, but you have to warn me first! - FD

  7. Ah yes ! That post was from Texas and we had snow! not much, but it thrilled the children (and brought Pam such joy!)

    As for your post, this country is de-sensitized. Even children do not blink or blush at that from which we were taught to turn away. Planned Parenthood is pushing the pre-school sex ed agenda and no one wants to admit it.

    Once in a grocery store, I took a magazine off the rack in the check out line with a scantly dressed woman on the cover. I walked to the manager with it and asked him if he allowed his young son to read such magazines. Thankfully, his answer was "no" so I graciously asked him to keep it from the eye level of my young son in the check out line. He was very glad to comply, and apologised. Sometimes it is up to us to bring these things to light.

  8. We're desensitized here too, I think. Mags that would be automatically placed on the top shelf are now at the same level as youngers' eyes. Some women in the 80's, i think, refused to handle the egregious Sunday Sport on the basis that it was pornographic, and had some success; but now we're all battle-fatigued from certain orrganisations' saturation-bombing techniques - for example the Sport not has a daily version.

    I was really chuffed to read about your success with the lurid magazine. When I worked down the opposite end of a long street from where I work now, I encouraged my colleagues to frequent a newsagent who didn't stock such magazines as a matter of course.

    Glad to hear the snow gave Pam some pleasure! Is it still there? - FD

  9. The snow was gone by 5 a.m. next morning, but we had a fine snowball fight while it lasted. I gave a description in the comments to Linda's post.

  10. That was a great description - I really enjoyed reading it, and am glad you had fun! - FD


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