Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Porn, Agency, Regulation, and Empowerment

"[...] so convinced are they that pornography represents the darker, gutter side of lust." – Susie Bright

            Porn. It's a multi-billion dollar industry inside the US alone. According to recent PornHub statistics, the US accounts for just under 40% of the website's traffic, with the UK and Canada holding the silver and bronze respectively. The West, as a whole, are huge porn consumers, and that's not something that we should continue to be hush hush about. And in fact, many feminists aren't.
            Take Ariel Levy's book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, which harshly criticizes embracing one's inner "slut" in the world of Raunch Culture. Jessica Valenti has commented on Robert Jensen's book exploring the misogyny inherent in mainstream pornography. Jamie McCartney's The Great Wall of Vagina sculpture (see photo below) actively seeks to educate the public about labial variety, challenging the perfect porn pussy we so often see. Subscribe to @SimonedeBeauvoir's posthumous twitter feed and it won't be long until you see something slamming the sex industry. Hell, there's a whole wiki article on Feminists for and against pornography.
            Let me put it out there. I do think the state of the mainstream porn industry is abysmal. I think it's because it creates unrealistic expectations for everyone. A labiaplasty surgeon in the US can make up to $250,000 per month because women are so concerned that their vaginas don't look "neat" enough, even though they naturally come in all shapes and sizes.

"It's not vulgar, it's vulva!" – Panel five of ten from The Great Wall of Vagina by Jamie McCartney
It skews the use of safe contraceptive measures for both sexes (good on ya, Los Angeles) and it generally boosts ideals of a "perfect" and "ideal" body type. It prioritizes the pleasure of men above the pleasure of women.
            However, I've always seen porn, and the larger scale of sex work, to be an inherently feminist act. Why? Well, what's more feminist than taking control of your own body and deciding when, where, and how you get to present it?
            Take this Robot Hugs comic strip about a sex worker. It probably explains how I feel better than I can (Read: please click on that link). There have also been quite a few AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions on Reddit done by famous porn stars here, here, and here, detailing what their life in the business has been like. We must respect that a woman of consenting age has the agency to make her own choices and decide for herself what is best. Instead of shaming these women, who find no shame in themselves, why not support their choices?

            Instead of trying to get rid of porn and sex work altogether (like many American organizations), or creating more legal barriers (looking at you, UK), I believe that focusing our efforts on sex-positive pornographydecriminalization of sex work, and better regulations on what is being produced for consumption is what really needs to happen.
            Alternative, sex-positive types of porn are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the market nowadays. Websites like Sssh.com, Good Vibrations, Kink, and Lust Cinema (all NSFW) are all paving the way for porn that appeals to women, and also providing more options to the types of pornography that we consume. They promote an equal sexual exchange, they challenge the barriers that male-centric porn has created, and they support the porn that they want to see, not what they're told they should see.
            Let the feminine enjoyment of sexual acts run freely throughout the land. We are all beings meant to enjoy sex, and it's only natural that we embrace that. Stop saying that pornography is harmful to women, and instead start campaigning for pornography that supports and shows the pleasure of women, who are consenting adults with agency.

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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

(Fe)male Genital Mutilation: Calling the Kettle Black?

            I started to write this post a long time ago when I came across this article from the Guardian about a landmark trial in Egypt on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Yesterday, that doctor was convicted and I felt the need to pick this up again. For those of you who don't know, FGM is characterized as, "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," by the World Health Organization. I'll let them explain to you why it's such a big deal (emphasis mine):
Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. First and foremost, it is painful and traumatic. The removal of or damage to healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and causes several immediate and long-term health consequences.
            There are a few different types of female genital mutilation out there. I will let you Wikipedia it yourself because it's not really what I'm going to talk about here.

image by Amnon Shavit

            While this is a cause that has gained quite a lot of momentum in the past few years, I only knew it existed when my high school sex-ed teacher told us about it, which went about as well as you would expect. Westerners are terrified when we hear about FGM. "Why would you do that? What purpose does it serve?" These are reasonable questions to ask, and in truth it does not serve any purpose. However, for a country with an almost 60% prevalence of male genital mutilation, otherwise known as circumcision, it feels a bit hypocritical.

            Now let's analyze the cultural differences behind why we do what we do. FGM is most present in many central African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as several Asian countries and immigrant communities around the world.  In these places, the female genitalia are widely regarded as "dirty" and "corrupt." Proponents believe that this practice produces young women who are less likely to commit adultery or sexual sin, and indeed, for many it is a prerequisite to marriage.

            Male circumcision is also widely practiced in Africa and the Middle East. The interesting thing is that it is extremely prevalent in North America as well. It is common in most Jewish and Islamic communities and is often a determinant of socioeconomic status and social standing among nonreligious practitioners. The biggest difference between male and female circumcision is this: there have been recent findings to suggest that male circumcision does prevent STD contraction and has other health benefits, though these studies are flawed and have discouraged condom use.

            Despite these possible health benefits, male circumcision is prevalent nowadays in the United States mostly because it was introduced in the late 19th century as a means to curb masturbation: something "dirty" and "corrupt."

image by Something Awful

            For something as shocking as slicing genitalia, you'd hope we'd think twice before doing it to our children. Male circumcision does not make the penis cleaner. Male circumcision does not reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease in western countries. So why are we still not letting our children choose for themselves? We've made the same arguments against FGM, but do not question our innate decision to modify our men.

            And before you say, "But FGM is way worse!" That's not what this is about. We're adults and this is not a pissing contest. What this is about is promoting our children's right to choose, waiting until our sons and daughters are old enough to make their own decisions (and people do often make their own decisions), and raising awareness to the fact that we should start treating FGM as seriously as male circumcision.

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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Why I Hate the Word "Mansplain"

            Mainsplain: if you haven't heard this word yet, here's a definition from Wiktionary:

(colloquial, derogatory, chiefly Internet) To explain (something) condescendingly (to a female listener), especially to explain something the listener already knows, presuming that she has an inferior understanding of it because she is a woman.

The term was coined shortly after Rebecca Solnit's essay Men Explain Things to Me, in which she tried to relay her experience with the phenomenon. Though Solnit was not the one to invent the word "mansplaining;" it turned up a short time later and has been widely used since. It's linked to a slew of other words and phrases like "cissplain," "whitesplain," and "male answer syndrome." I've been told that this word helps to validate women; it's an easy way to describe a common occurrence. But I'll let you in on a secret: just because it's easy, doesn't mean you should do it.

            I have three main arguments against the use of the word "mansplain." Hear me out.

Equal rights is a two-way street

            I don't want to argue whether or not you can be sexist towards men because I believe that you absolutely, without a doubt, can.

            Remember that gender-inclusive language thing we fought for? Where we focus on the words we use when we speak and the assumptions we make when talking about the people around us? Stop shitting all over it. It's the reason why it's correct to say "police officer" instead of "policeman," and why you don't need to explain that a female doctor is a "lady doctor," just a "doctor."

We need to be able to apply the same rules to how we speak about men. By continued use of the word "mansplain," we are chipping away at all credibility we had while fighting for gender neutrality. We're fighting sexism with sexism.

You can't just add "man" to a word to make it negative

            "Mansplain," much like "Brangelina," is what's known as a portmanteau, or blend in linguistics. This usually means that its parts contribute to the new word's meaning. Though this doesn't exactly seem to be the case for "mansplain."

            I study words: their meanings, where they come from, what functions they serve in a sentence. "Mansplain" is derogatory, there is no doubt about that, but why is it such? How did it become that way when its root words ("man" and "explain") aren't inherently derogatory themselves?

Mean Girls (2004)
We've put together "man" and "explain" to become something negative. You could say that "explain" is the base of the word, as it is the main action.  What then adds its negative connotation is "man." Maybe in your head, adding "man" to the word serves to make it something sexist that males do to women. This is where my thought process veers in two different directions. Is this action inherent when someone is speaking to a woman? Some feminists think so, and indeed this would mean that women can mansplain as well. Or is the action inherent because one is male, and they automatically believe they know more because of that fact?

Suitable alternatives exist

            We can use words like "patronize," "condescend," and "demean." We can say phrases like "talk down to." There's even a shortened form, "splaining," which does the job just perfectly and is not gender specific!

            Even if you don't feel that these alternatives are suitable, please, make up a new damn word that doesn't use "man" as the root of all evil. It's been done once, it can be done again. Just anything that does not prolong this sort of sexism.

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