What Kyle Payne Reflects

In the ever-widening discussion of the predatory actions of Kyle Payne (see Ren Ev for a roundup listing of many, many blogs that have written on the subject), there has been some discussion of whether certain groups – in particular, radical anti-porn feminists and male feminists – should have to defend themselves from all being tarred with the Kyle Payne brush. Ren (again, since she’s been most tirelessly beating this drum ever since it was brought to her attention, even despite those *horrifying* burns she’s dealing with) has a post responding to the defensiveness from some radical feminist bloggers (who had previously linked to Payne, or included him in a Carnival), in which she makes the most important point there is on the issue: Kyle Payne’s actions reflect Kyle Payne, and only Kyle Payne. They don’t reflect on anyone who believed him and trusted him, confided in him, or shared certain elements of his opinions.

I know I made a bit of a mistake in the way I expressed myself on GallingGalla’s post on this, and as I said in follow-up there, I do get that there’s a victim-blaming tone to what I said. What I was trying to get at, and I still think it’s important, is that one of the things this story (again) brings to light, is that it’s not okay – and not possible – to assume that all members of Category A are good (and by extension, non-members of Category A are less good, possibly even bad) and trustworthy on all things in all ways at all times. Kyle Payne may or may not actually be against pornography – much as many of us have been psychoanalyzing the guy, there’s only one person living in his head, and thankfully, it ain’t me. But logic 101 says that it’s pretty much irrelevant. Accepting the premises “Kyle Payne is anti-porn” and “Kyle Payne is a rapist” does not lead to the conclusion that “anti-porn activists are all rapists”. Not sure if the “not rocket scientist” in me needs to point out that if the premise is switched to “Kyle Payne is pro-porn”, the applicability of the conclusion remains the same (ie. non-existent), but…

Male feminists, same deal. Part of the point I was trying to make at GallingGalla’s place is much better elucidated by belledame and Betacandy in comments over at Feministe:

belle: but yeah, there -are- some red flags. it’s not foolproof though. I do also think that sometimes, stuff like “dick=bad, estrogen=safe” actually makes it -harder- to identify predators, because honestly that’s not what it’s about.

Beta: It’s really not easy to identify predators, and yet our culture makes victims feel bad for not recognizing them. “Didn’t you know there was something off about him?” and so on.

Post “Prince Charming as Abusive Control Freak”, yeah, I’m pretty wary of the kind of guy who dresses everything up in terms of just how completely he is going to save me, the one who seems just far too good to be true, the one who always knows exactly the right words and turns of phrase like maybe it’s actually kind of practiced…but “male feminists” categorically? Not the same thing. Because you know, the thing with predators is, if the red-flag-warning-sign for potential predator becomes “identifies as feminist” then real predator will shift identifiers, will find a new one, will adapt to the given situation.

Sometimes, as was raised in that Feministe thread I’ve linked, I worry that the more I unpack this stuff, the more I come to the conclusion that there’s no way to trust anybody, ever. And the thing is…there isn’t. Not for real, not with absolute certainty, not completely. Not on sight, real or virtual. There’s no quick answer, no quick solution, no marker that will make all of this easy and simple and protect us, forever and for always, from ever being hurt or victimized again. Hell, my grandmother is still coming to terms with the very real and very personal reality that ordination to the Catholic priesthood does not automatically make a person trustworthy and safe. My dad, a high school principal post-Columbine, was subject to demands from angry parents that he ban trench coats, with the justification that they could be used to hide weapons. His response was “And if socks can be used to ban weapons, should we also ban socks?” The delusion that we’ll find the marker, that we’ll be the ones to know, is only hurting us and making us more vulnerable to the one who doesn’t fit our assumptions.

This isn’t new. Kyle Payne reflects exactly what predatory behaviour has always reflected – predatory behaviour. Adaptation. Manipulation and deception. Showing people what they want to see. Not radical feminism, not pornography, not male feminism, not men in general, not feminism in general

(*ETA: Just to be clear, I do stand by the original reason I made that comment on GallingGalla’s post, which is that she’s right to express anger at her own categorical exclusion from radfem conversation because of who she is and what she believes, and then to get extra angry when others don’t seem to understand why she’s pointing out the multiple problems with this logic, including the fact that this exclusion doesn’t prevent predators from getting in anyway, and never can)

How I Became a Sex-Positive Feminist

So a lot of people have already answered this question, but as usual, I’m slow with the thinking. See brilliance, for example, from Sarah J, from Caroline, from belledame (note particularly belledame’s points about the heteronormative attitude toward female same-sex attraction in the question).

It’s an extremely frustrating question. I joined in the snark inherent in putting a bunch of sexy hockey player pictures up for a couple of reasons (the first being sexy hockey players), but I’m under no illusion that doing so answered the question or got anywhere near the problem with the question, so allow me to go on a bit of a ramble that hopefully knocks out some insight or insight-inducing obviousness, at the very least.

First, Laura notes that she hates the term “sex positive”, but that there isn’t a better one. Personally, I hate it too, and generally only see it being used mockingly by those who oppose it, though they seem to hate it too and use it with attached disclaimers like “self-described” or “self-proclaimed”. Even the Carnival is called “Sexual Freedom and Autonomy”. I didn’t really ever declare myself “sex positive”. The closest I really came was on this post, when I said:

If this makes me a twittery sex-pos moron, well, hook me up. Hearing echoes of the words of rapists from the mouths of self-identified feminists is not on my list of ways to have a good time.

That’s reason #1 for the frustration. I may be wrong, but nobody seems happy with this term, and yet somehow everybody seems to think it’s the best of the available options, despite the fact that dialogue around it seriously loses focus because nobody being happy with it means nobody really has a good sense of what it means.

Reason #2 for the frustration is also pretty well covered in that post of mine that I linked – I stumbled into “sex positivity” not because I was looking for ways to be turned on, or because I was looking for a philosophical/political way to reconcile my feminism with liking p*rn, or because I felt like it would make me more popular with the boys (newsflash: it hasn’t), or because I don’t give a fuck about violence against women and would rather talk about cutesy sparkliness and hot het sex. I came to this position because more and more, I’m convinced that politically, placing limits – be they legal or social – on sexuality and on sexual expression is only serving and can only serve to increase rates of violence against women, decrease options for doing anything about it, and worsen the impact of the events. So this kind of “riddle me this, ladies” tone smacks of missing the point, to me – “if you all are so all about the feminism, why don’t you think there should be more pictures of men, hmm?”. And then the “gotcha” in the comments, from Jennifer Drew:

Well the answer is obvious because men’s naked bodies must never ever be exposed. Only women are sexualised objects never, ever men. But still it is sex positive because women’s naked bodies are exposed for men to leer at and other women too can look and compare themselves to such images. It is called male-centric ideologies but masking itself as ‘sex positive’ which means women = sexual commodities but never ever men.

Now, in my case, I’m not linking to pictures or anything anyway (also, most of the world and I remain in blissful ignorance of one another), so I know I’m not really the target for the question, but God-fucking-dammit does this “obvious” answer piss me off. In so far as I’m a “sex positive” feminist, I focus primarily on talking about how women are affected because I can see with my obvious-seeing eyes that women in our society have been the ones who haven’t been allowed to enjoy/express/appreciate the full range of human experiences, including sexuality. Virgin/whore dichotomies ensure that no matter what, no matter in what environment, no matter what choice a woman makes, she will be subjected to sexual scrutiny that is inherently dehumanizing. “Radical” feminists denigrating women who participate in p*rn as “fuck holes” (and sidebar: is anyone asking them why they’re not questioning how the men are seen as merely “fuck sticks”, there only to give the women screaming orgasms?) are participating in exactly that game. “Beyond” feminist cartoonists who justify mocking conventionally attractive women by saying that their beauty is placing pressure on the rest of us are participating in that game. Frustrated feminists who emphasize that at least “a little bit of kink/p*rn watching” has become practically mandatory in young liberal culture (wish I could find the link to the thread that was saying that repeatedly, but I totally can’t remember where I saw it) and who blame “sex-positivity” for the fact that some assholes call them “prudes” are participating in that game (and missing the point about who the other participants are).

Yesterday, I decided my “Female Desire Week” angle would be the hockey players, for reasons that are extremely obvious if you know anything about either hockey or real-life me. Others posted pics and videos of actors, musicians, other athletes, etc. And you know, in light of how Madonna/Beyoncé/Scarlett Johanssen and women like them are getting shit for daring to be (conventionally) attractive in addition to talented and for posing in ways that might turn men on or whatever, here’s something that strikes me about this whole “where are the men in this equation” question: If you look through those pictures I posted, Sergei Federov and Sheldon Souray in particular are *clearly* posed in a way that is pretty much *nothing but* sexual. Sidney Crosby is a little bit of sport, a whole lot of sex. Sarah J’s posted shot of Vinnie Lecavalier? Same thing. But all of those guys are still hockey players, no one’s suggesting they’re diminishing the quality of their game by posing, and no one seems to be criticizing them for daring to have bodies that they use for sex in addition to hitting other men into boards. I noted the double bind of finding them attractive in yesterday’s post: if I’m turned on by sexy men while watching hockey, I’m likely to be mocked as a giggly, boy-crazy ditz who can’t appreciate the beautiful poetry on ice or whateverthefuck, but even as friends are teasing me for this, I’m told that women aren’t as visually stimulated.

See the problem here? Men are allowed to be sexual entities and simultaneously talented, accomplished, successful individuals. Men are presumed to be sexually free to do what they want with their bodies. If I’m focusing on women, it’s because, duh, they’re the ones who still aren’t able to do that. This would be what’s known as “not rocket science”.

I do want to look at least a little at how I reconcile this “sex positivity” (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) with practicing my faith, but this would be, as usual, far too long already.

Talk Like A Man

Caroline’s at Uncool has had a couple of posts recently that caught the attention of the linguist portion of my brain (which the blogosphere seems to be trying desperately to rouse from its dormancy).

First, Language of Feminists covers a lot of similar ground to a post I was going to write a while back based on the same comments (one of many posts that exist only in my mind, but that are brilliant and revolutionary, and if only I didn’t have to do my dishes, could have changed the world).

Then, she also linked to the Gender Genie, a tool that will analyze your text to determine whether it was written by a man or a woman, based on an algorithm developed by a couple of computational linguists. The programmer who wrote the code (and who has presumably seen lots and lots of data from the demographic survey attached to the Gender Genie site) admits:

Despite having written the program, I didn’t come up with the algorithm and believe that the Genie works no better than the flip of a coin.

She goes on to say that because “serious academic study” went into the algorithm, it’s not a complete waste of time to think about it and to describe how the linguists in question did their work:

Using complicated formulas, they determined that male writers tended to write more about specific things like an apple, a book, or the car. In contrast, female writers wrote about connections to things like my apple, your book, or our car.

Memo to the world: complicated formulas, mathy words like “algorithm”, academic credentials and serious, intense study don’t mean jack shit if the results of your hard (and probably well-paid) work don’t predict reality any better than the flip of a coin. (Also, that paragraph misrepresents the linguistics of determiners and possessive pronouns, but that’s just me being pedantic.) Apparently, even though the damn thing is, you know wrong about real people and real conversation, this programmer has received a number of letters thanking her for helping authors to write the speech of male or female characters more realistically.

Which brings me back to the accusations of “violent”, “pornified”, “masculine” language that have regularly been used to dismiss arguments made by the wrong kind of feminist (/the wrong kind of woman). Caroline’s points are all great, but in combination with the “Gender Genie” bullshit, this quoted comment, originally by Maggie Hayes, stands out:

“laughing like a super villain”? “wank worthy fantasy”? I agree that these comments were totally inappropriate. This makes me think: this kind of language is awfully similar to the sort of language a porn-using abuvive ex-boyfriend of mine was often using when talking to me.

Apparently, so is “the”.

I know I’m being overly dismissive, but this language shit really gets to me, and the above comment really shows how the arguments are becoming all layered on top of one another, such that it’s now impossible to actually have a discussion about the issue of how to stop or deal with the abuse she suffered from this ex-boyfriend, because instead we’re talking first about the fact that he used porn and further about the language he used to talk about the fact that he used porn. I know language can be triggering, I definitely know that language can be violent, but those of us who are survivors of abuse and assault and violence need to learn to see words and expressions in context, lest we start conflating the use of words like “wank” or “supervillain” with assaulting people, no matter the meaning behind them, as long as they’re not being used by us/against people we don’t like.

Because, see, if we’re going to actually start getting uncomfortable with “masculine” language, and we’re going to continue to assume that “masculine”=”aggressive” (a point that is far from uncontestable or unproblematic), and we’re going to create linguistically “feminine”/nurturing/comfortable spaces, then the Gender Genie and its complicated algorithms inform us that we’re going to have to make sure people stop using words like “the”, “is” and “to”. Because who cares about pesky things like “meaning” and “context” and “reality”, anyway?

(By the way, the Genie thinks the author of this post is male).

Why Anti-Sex Work Feminism is Objectifying

Following up on my last post, I realized a concept that’s probably worth some expansion. I’ve posted a little bit before on sex work and sex workers’ rights, but not much on thoughts that are at the core of that issue. And thinking about objectification, including the note I made that assessing the relative “value” of a person – essentially, assigning her a price tag – is objectifying, regardless of the criteria for judgment. The clarifying point was that we have to assume that we’re speaking outside of any discussion of the value of the work that she does, since the nature of living in any kind of economic structure means that we have to have some sort of system for assigning exactly that kind of price tag.

Anti-prostitution radical feminists will argue that paying for the use of another person’s body is objectification, and that using one’s own sexuality in this way part of the same objectifying system*. I also regularly see the argument made by radfem women that “sex-positive” feminists (choosing the most polite and least aggressive possible out of the terms I’ve seen used) are always saying that sex work is a job just like any other. Though I’ve never actually heard the argument itself (only the dismissive and fed-up references to it from those who oppose the position), it brings home a point: if sex work, in and of itself, is not a “job like any other” in which an individual is being paid for her actions, then it has to be because somehow sexuality itself is different, especially for women. Unlike other actions, services, jobs, sex work reaches to the core of one’s being to a point where one is no longer merely being paid a wage for a job. By engaging in this work, a woman is, in fact, selling her very self. The language we use to talk about sex work (and the metaphorical extensions of sex-work related words) emphasizes this point – by charging a fee to have sex with someone, a woman has sold her body and herself. Linguistically speaking, there’s a metonymy there – the “part” (sexuality) has come to substitute for the whole woman.

That’s objectification, and it’s objectification in the narrow, limited, sex-specific sense of the word – the definition of a woman’s self has been reduced to her sexuality, her value has become inextricably attached to her sex. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable – laudable, even – for me to charge for the use of my brain, or for me to be “valued” for my intelligence. That wouldn’t be considered being “used”, it wouldn’t be thought of as “selling myself”. Paradoxically, that’s like saying that my brain is less valuable, less connected to what I am as a person – it can be partitioned off, the use of it essentially “rented” by my employers, and I can joyfully and proudly accept payment for it while I continue to use my brain outside of the workplace to also attract potentially desirable mates. “Selling” my brain doesn’t take anything from me, doesn’t make me less whole, doesn’t make me damaged goods, and yet somehow, selling my body in a sexual manner (because, of course, if I were selling the use of my body for work in a factory, we again would not be having this conversation) would. If my sexuality is not the sum total of my humanity, if it is not even the primary source of my “value”, then this attitude towards sex work is nonsensical.

Sex work, as it exists in the world today, is not “work like any other”. It would be delusional to argue that it is. But nothing in the work itself makes it so – what makes it different is misogyny, objectification and the reduction of women to mere sexuality. If we’re going to have a conversation about revolutionizing social attitudes towards women, women’s bodies, sexuality and sex work (which we need to do if we’re going to get anywhere near the root causes of violence and the rates of violence faced by sex workers), we can’t do it while we’re still equating sexuality with self. We can’t do it while we’re objectifying.

*Of course, the more intelligent, misogynistic, right-wing Christians will use essentially the same argument – that they are merely trying to protect these poor women from the consequences of their own bad decisions. Both angles of opposition are casting themselves in the knight-in-shining-armour role in the fantasy of victimized women who need rescuing (see also the rather brilliantly worded challenge by Ren Ev to seriously examine the concept of agency).

(Random note: This is my 100th post on this blog. That is meaningless, of course, except in the context that should I now be canceled, I would be eligible to go into syndication and continue making money for the corporate machine.)

A Ramble Through Objectification

The Apostate recently reposted this article explaining why, despite her radical feminist politics, she has chosen to post pictures of herself in a bikini. In it, she includes exactly the kind of limited definition of “objectification” that I find I frequently have to overcome in conversations about feminism.

Objectification is not thinking looks matter or admiring someone’s good looks. Objectification is when you assume that the only thing of value in a person is their physical body or the sexual value you find in that body. That’s a dehumanizing thing to do, because although many of us are sexual beings who enjoy our bodies and don’t mind others enjoying our bodies, none of us have sole value ONLY as such. Feminists are sensitive about this because women have been and still often are valued primarily if not solely for their looks or their sexual value.

She’s making this distinction because the post is based on a counter-argument to the old cliché that feminists are ugly, old, can’t get laid, etc. And I agree that it is objectifying when the only thing of value about a person is hir physical body, when you reduce the individual to sexuality, creating an all or nothing of “valuable” or “not” based on whether or not you find hir attractive. But the reason this is a dehumanizing thing to do, and objectifying thing to do, has nothing to do with the fact that it’s sex. Objectification happens because you have made another human being into a tool, defined hir worth based on what you can gain, created a system of valuation in humanity.

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Feminism, Hierarchy and Self-Aggrandizement

A few days ago, I posted on the recent attention drawn to the issue of the appropriation of WOC writing and thought by white feminist authors. I’ve been trying desperately to read most of what’s being posted on the subject, and I’ve commented a few times, but I ended up deleting that post because I saw reference to a request not to mention names or write about the individuals involved. At the point that I saw it, I didn’t have a lot of time at all to research the specifics of the request or to go back and fine-tune the post in order to conform to exactly what was being requested, so my attempt to respect that request came in the form of full deletion. That post included a whole bunch of links to other blogs that have written on the specifics of this incident, while this one is my attempt to get at some of the more general issues it raises. If you need some background on the specifics, belledame has some great links (follow them), Sylvia lays down some serious awesome in specific takedown form, and Black Amazon addresses the deeper core issues that are at stake here.

A lot of the following philosophical soliloquy is stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while, and that I’ve written about in bits and pieces before.

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Things That Are Not What They Seem

Last month, bill C-484, the “Unborn Victims of Crime” Act passed second reading in the House of Commons, mainly because those who want it passed are passionate about it, while few in parliament can muster up much beyond an apathetic grunt on the “con” side. In the midst of media analysis almost exclusively focused on the baby-eating feminist demon, the National Post has finally published (web-only, natch) a response from Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition (via bastardlogic and fern hill) calling them out on:

  • the semantic danger of using the term “unborn child” in a legal document to refer to a fetus as soon as a woman even suspects she may be pregnant, at the same time as claiming that this bill in no way confers personhood on that “fetus”
  • the claim that the majority of the Canadian population supports a bill such as this one having come from a study conducted by an anti-abortion lobby group using exceptionally biasing language designed to make you look like a baby-eating demon if you wouldn’t support it
  • the near-constant repetition of the message “this has nothing to do with abortion, you’re all crazy and don’t even want to protect a pregnant woman from murder because you hate babies/motherhood/housewives so much” from those who are paid to spin their opinions (media and politicians) while the supporters from among the general public say things like “Those who know and understand science support C-484, for the science is clear – from the moment of conception, the fetus is really and truly human life” (quoted by fern hill)

It makes me nauseous to listen to people far for this schtick.

On the second quick note of things that are totally not what they seem except when they are, lots of blogs have been linking to this NY Times magazine article on Abstinence Clubs all growed up and gone to college. If you read the whole thing, you’ll find that this young woman sees her abstinence as a feminist decision that she has made in order to reclaim control over her body and counter the cultural pressure to have her body owned by men and obtained via sex. And I would love to support that decision (and if she were my friend or I knew her for real, I would do exactly that) as well as her reasons, but it saddens me to see an intelligent young woman unable to get at that one glaring thread running through the whole tangled concept, which is that her decision is now being used to allow the public male population to claim ownership of her body via her virginity.

Towards the end of the article, it talks about a fairly civil debate between this young woman and a local campus sex blogger, which, to the chagrin of most, did not turn into a hair pulling battle between the virgin and the whore. Despite their best attempts, however, the discussion on the subject became about which of the two was more marriageable, and the conclusion drawn by a few and projected (by them) onto “most guys” was that a “girl like Janie” was the one you would rather take home to Mom. And Janie loses by winning, because the sanctioning of why she’s good enough, the stated purpose and goal of her life, and yes, the ownership of her body, has been asserted based on her sexual choices.

And I can’t quite help but think that on some level, she knows that, and she’s actually exploiting the same kind of “empowerful” rhetoric that attempts to frame “Girls Gone Wild” as a feminist decision. Because “virginity is extremely alluring” is one of the scariest statements of brainwashed Stepfordism that ever I have seen, and when the New York Times reporter uses it as the repeated, number one choice quote for your story, you have to start to suspect that maybe something is up. The banner ad claiming that virginity in the Ivy League is, among other things “sexy and fun” just makes my head explode.

But of course, it’s not about caving to pressure for male approval at all. It just maybe seems that way, because of all the male approval being tossed around in order to remind you that if you step outside of this extremely rigidly defined role, everything you think you are will crumble and nothing you’ve wanted for your life will come true. Way to take the power back.