I wonder if men like Jackson Katz and Jonah Mix and Chris Hedges (mentioned in this piece by Meghan Murphy and by me in this post on ABC Lateline and ‘sex work’ know what it means to women to have them speak so strongly and unequivocally – and often condemned for doing so- on issues such as sexual violence, equality and the human rights of women? My colleagues and I share articles by these men and others with much enthusiasm. Perhaps it makes us feel a little less lonely? Men like this refuse to stand by and watch as women are trashed physically and emotionally around the world. (They also happen to write really well – of course not as vital a point to make, but it does have special appeal to those of us who live by putting words together). Today I’m reprinting Jackson Katz in a Huffington Post piece on 50 Shades of Grey and how it sets back relationships education with boys, and Jonah Mix twice because he’s so good, once wasn’t enough.
Fifty Shades of Grey and the Miseducation of Boys
Much of the commentary about the film’s release has focused on women’s reactions to it, including the message that its mainstream acceptance sends to girls about their sexuality and the lengths of degradation and self-negation that women are sometimes pressured to endure in relations with men to achieve intimacy or great sex.
But my primary concern for now has to do not with girls, but with boys like my son and other young men, who are trying to navigate the rocky shores of heterosexual desire themselves, in a culture that routinely offers them up sexually subordinate, compliant and sometimes self-loathing women at the click of a mouse or the price of a movie ticket.
What do parents of sons say to them about the draw this story has for women? How can we help them make sense of the mixed messages our society sends to them about what women want? That women want men to treat them as equals, even as millions embrace a story that countless battered women’s advocates say more closely resembles an abusive relationship than it does some sort of kinky sex fantasy?…
One of the most important goals of gender violence prevention work is to teach boys and young men that violence is not manly, and abuse is not sexy. To the extent that this movie complicates our efforts, it harms not just women. It also does damage to young heterosexual men, who in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey’s commercial triumph are left scratching their heads and trying to figure out responsible and healthy ways to relate sexually to women, and themselves.
Not rape just rough sex: consent and victim blaming
Rapists hiding behind the smokescreen of “rough sex” is nothing new. Jian Ghomeshi tried the same approach last year when his pattern of sexual brutality was revealed. It’s not hard to see why so many abusers utilize this defense; a simple mention of the word “consent” and the question shifts from exactly why a man enjoys punching a woman in the face to whether or not the women enjoyed being punched in the face. It’s a classic abuser tactic in which the spotlight of inquiry is shifted onto the victim so the perpetrator can remain unexamined in the dark.
Once you adopt the consent-as-sole-moral-consideration ideology, a man like Dominique Strauss-Kahn restraining a woman, choking her, and then violently penetrating her becomes immoral simply because she didn’t find it sexy – not because fucking someone with your hands closed tight around their neck just might, you know, not be a good way to relate to another human being. When you say that a man punching, slapping, choking, and bruising a woman is wrong only because she doesn’t “consent,” you’re saying that the only thing wrong with men’s violence is that women haven’t learned to enjoy it yet.
There was a time where rapists insisting their victims “wanted it” was considered the lowest insult one could possibly aim at a victim of sexual violence – thanks to BDSM ideologues, it’s become a meaningful defense.
To those who have publicly attested to their enjoyment of [violent pornography], I ask them to consider the lives of those who have endured the same treatment but without the magic word of consent. Are those women expected to watch and understand as their torture is reenacted as a legitimized means of entertainment? What the popularization of violent pornography is telling these women is that they could and maybe should have enjoyed their rapes. After all, if some women have, why don’t they all?
And I wonder: If male sexual violence becomes immoral only when it fails to arouse a woman, why should we attempt to stop predatory men from cultivating the woman-hating sadism that leads to rape when we could just teach women to find it sexy? Why are our anti-rape campaigns aimed at stopping men from violating women when we could just try encouraging women to develop submissive sexual desires? I can imagine the slogan of an anti-rape organization run by male kinksters: Stop rape – turn it into sex! Read full article
When Paternalism is worse than commercial rape: state of extraction and the new manarchist
Accusations of “moralizing” are by definition vacuous. Considering that morality refers simply to a set of standards we have for what ought and ought not be done, literally any political position is in some way moralistic unless it makes absolutely no demands on behavior. Opposition to police brutality or pipeline construction, for instance, are all acts of moralizing, in that they all make universalized prescriptions – that cops ought not enact violence on citizens, that indigenous land rights ought to be protected, et cetera. Chris Hedges’ condemnation of prostitution as abusive, depraved, and unjust is no more tethered to a moralistic outlook than the anarchist dude who rambles on about the evil of cops and CEOs. Both have beliefs about what behavior is permissible and both hold the belief that certain actions are justified to correct impermissible behavior.
The only reason that condemnations of sexual abuse and exploitation are stuck with the condescending label of “moralizing” while other political stances are not is, of course, because the concerns of women are systematically barred from consideration as political concerns. While the oppression of men is seen as an issue befitting the high ideals of politics and justice, the oppression of women is relegated to “morality” – a category most leftists, stuck as they are in the navel-gazing solipsism of post-modernism, see as contemptibly passé.
But accusations of “moralizing” are but one half of the Inane Leftist Dude Objection Power Duo, joined quickly by even more inscrutable accusations of “paternalism” – which, in this case, means the terrible sin of saying that we should have laws that protect women.
It appeared on Huffington Post last month but I’ve only just read it. It is the kind of piece which needs to be read slowly, and a few times, it contains so much to absorb. Here’s an extract:
The problem is determining at what stage she started to cede her self and becomes, in her own eyes, mainly some (bright, young) thing other people see and use. This process begins much earlier than when a girl is 15 and maybe buying thongs.
In general, parents, schools, counselors, “concerned” adults aren’t openly confronting the unrelenting pressure girls feel to base their self worth on being beautiful, perfect creatures idealized for the sexual and breeding purposes of others. For many people, girls and women are biologically meant to be available to boys and men in these ways. Our default is “Yes!” and “Of course!” You know the kind of being I’m talking about — females whose purpose, abstracted, divine or biological, is to look out for boys and men and guide them to ultimate pleasure and eternal happiness. Hey, aren’t Victoria’s Secret’s models called ANGELS? What a visually pleasing, totally random and meaningless coincidence.
Once a self is ceded it’s hard to get back. Regardless of a girl’s or woman’s age, this kind of objectification and “sexualization” results in a performance. It’s not about being a sexual person, it’s about acting out someone else’s idea of a sex object. And… what girls and women want, feel, need and experience are irrelevant unless they help fulfill the dreams of boys and men. The impact is real, meaningful and measurable. It’s also serious and not at all entertaining.
Girls who conform well and internalize their “thing-ness” don’t miraculously stop doing it when get their driver’s licenses. It NEVER ends. Read the full article here.
I am affected today by the final paragraph in this piece by former UK Prime Minister now UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. It echoes, I think, the mood of myself and my colleagues in Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation. The time for politeness is over. We are tired of Zoo magazine (read by 28,000 14-19 year old boys each week) cutting women in half and asking men to comment on which dismembered half they prefer and calling it ‘Men’s Lifestyle’. (See here and here). We are tired of companies like Condom Kingdom being allowed to sell Lolita virgin vibrating sex rings (promoted as just like having sex with a young virgin every time), with government departments and so-called regulators passing the buck (“not our responsibility” is a common refrain). We’re fed up with illegal porn in corner stores and milkbars promoting sex with little girls, rape and incest. And countless other women and girl-hating cultural expressions.
Why is it that we have a Royal Commission into responses to child sexual abuse (rightly so) but no inquiry into the permission-giving drivers which encourage and enable men to abuse women and girls? As Jayneen Saunders, author of Some Secrets Should Never be Kept wrote in a blog comment last night: “I continually despair. Here so many of us are fighting tirelessly for sexual abuse prevention education and reducing the statistics of 1 in 4 girls being sexually abused before 18, and business such as this are allowed to sell , market and encourage fantasies of the sexual abuse of young girls. Where is government regulation when you need it!”
There’s a Federal election this year. Don’t expect us to be demure. Those in high places who are supposed to protect the interests of women and girls have failed. Over and over again. There’s little political will to do anything of substance to call advertisers, marketers, Lads Mags, pornographers and other sexploiters to account. But there is a tide of rising anger and we’re going to harness it. Watch this space. Here’s the Brown quote:
I see in recent protests a real shift. Demonstrations that started as cautious, often gentle, admonitions to the powers that be, with respectful requests for change, have now come to encompass a set of defiant, non-negotiable demands in the form of ultimatums — and rightly so. Protests that once were pleas to ‘please stop this’ have become protests that insist ‘no more and never again’.
As a young woman in recovery, seeing others succumb to such behaviours is triggering, distressing and saddening
Three years ago, if you had logged onto my computer and looked at my recent history, you would have discovered I frequently trawled through pro-eating disordered websites. There are communities of males and females of varying ages on sites such as Live Journal, Tumblr, Facebook and MySpace all promoting anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than a mental illness.
These websites, filled with “thinspiration” tips and tricks to achieve weight loss, fuelled both my Anorexia and Bulimia and significantly harmed my health. Many of the eating disorder sufferers only support weight loss for others, to receive the same support in return.
After struggling with my body image for years and engaging in eating disordered behaviours, I now eat regularly, do not over-exercise, do not manipulate my diet in any way, do not binge and purge and do not abuse laxatives. I am still in recovery from my eating disorder, but have come a long way in the last six months.
Doing some research on common misconceptions about eating disorders for my recovery-focused blog R is for Recovery (and Rebekah), I stumbled across a webpage called [site name removed]. The website claims not to be a “pro-ana” site, but rather a “pro-skinny site.” Basically the site host uploads pictures of very normal and average sized celebrities and models, labels them as fat and uses insulting and crude language to articulate their hurtful (and in my opinion, downright wrong) opinions.
The site also has a “Starving Tip of the Day”. This website is not unique – there are a number of similar pages on the internet condoning eating disordered behaviour – websites that individuals frequently visit. They are harmful to everyone – not just young women or young men; not just those in recovery from eating disorders; not just parents or teenagers or children – but harmful to all those who are at risk of believing such lies about their bodies and then engaging in eating disordered behaviour.
So, after I contaced Melinda about my concerns around these sites, she posed this question: “How, as a young woman in recovery, do these sites make you feel?” Outraged! I am so angry that these sites exist and that young adults are buying into the lie that being thin should be a high priority. The fact that we disrespect our bodies; the fact that we struggle to comprehend all bodies are different and the fact that we manipulate food to love ourselves more – does it not all seem a little wrong to you?
As a young woman in recovery, seeing others succumb to such behaviours is triggering, distressing and saddening. Why do these websites that encourage restricted diets and treating our bodies in such an awful manner exist? The point is that they shouldn’t. The point is that we need to monitor what our young people are exposed to on the internet. The point is that we should be in favour of healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy lifestyles – none of which are reflected in an eating disordered lifestyle.
I am blessed to have a wonderful support network – it has been one of the biggest and most useful things for me throughout my recovery. Having people I can be accountable to and be honest with about what was (and occasionally still is) going on in my eating disordered mind has saved me from so much. Once these friends were aware of my frequent visits to eating disordered sites and my eating disordered Facebook account, that was the end of that! Internet sites were blocked, Facebook passwords were changed and I learnt to break some of the bad habits I had been indulging in.
I also attended an outpatient program at RPAH in Sydney, and a day program associated with the hospital. Seeking medical treatment is a must for all eating disordered patients. The day program in particular helped me to normalise my eating patterns and realise I was responsible for my own choices, I could not possibly live the rest of my life entrenched in the eating disorder and I really needed to, as well as deserved to, change and deal with what was going on in my life. And so I’ve done that. Also, as I began to eat regularly and feed my brain and body again, I started to think more clearly – it’s definitely part of the process of ridding oneself of the ‘ED voice’ once and for all.
So my aim today is to create awareness of these sites so that we can take action against them. If you are a parent, please, please monitor your child’s internet history. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder and struggle to avoid opening these types of websites, let someone know. Perhaps ask a friend to block them for you. If you’re courageous enough, block them yourself. If you are a friend or sibling to someone who has struggled with body image and eating disordered behaviour, ask them how they’re going – regularly check in with them and allow them to be accountable to you.
If we can all support each other in this endeavor and choose to steer clear of pro-anorexic and bulimic sites, perhaps it will be one small but significant change to reducing the prevalence of eating disorders – and the terrible harm and suffering they cause.
Rebekah McAlinden, 19, is studying at Mary Andrews College in Sydney. After suffering with body image issues since the age of eight and Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa for the past three years, she now describes herself as “almost recovered!” You can find more of Rebekah’s writing at R is for Recovery (and Rebekah)
Harriet Brown: A Mother’s Plea to Shut the Hunger Sites
…If I could shut down every thinspo Tumblr and blog and site I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d do it without giving the First Amendment another thought. Because there’s nothing free or authentic about what’s being expressed. Thinspo is not self-expression because it’s not these young women’s true selves that invite emaciation and worship at the altar of jutting hipbones. The longing for extreme thinness, for the self-annhilation of starvation, is not rational. It’s not a choice. It’s the expression of an underlying terror and compulsion that controls a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The girls who host thinspo Tumblrs and blogs are not merely disordered eaters; they are suffering from eating disorders. How do I know? Because I know the language of eating disorders. I know the rational-sounding rhetoric (“Everyone says it’s better to be thin than fat!”) that masks the extreme anxiety of anorexia. I know that someone can be in the grip of an eating disorder at any weight and long before the signs are obvious to outsiders. I know that once a girl (or boy) falls down the rabbit hole of anorexia, she can’t “choose” to climb back up. She can’t just decide to eat, because eating has become an act fraught with fear and guilt and self-loathing. She can’t acknowledge she’s hungry because if she does, the voice in her head (which may be literal or not) will berate her, excoriate her for hours. She won’t be able to sleep, focus on schoolwork, think about anything but her own worthlessness and fear….
Every one of those girls and young women writing is someone’s daughter. Every one of them is locked in a prison she can’t get out of, in the grip of an illness that can’t be reasoned with or rationalized. In their postings of insect-like women and strategies for resisting hunger, they’re crying out for help. They’re longing to eat even as they can’t bring themselves to do it. Read full story
If you are engaging in disordered eating or think you have an eating disorder and need help, contact:
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