Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Why Oppose The Porn Industry? (Part 2)

EDIT: Since writing this post nearly two years ago, it has come to my attention that SnowdropExplodes is a complete piece of shit. Womanist Musings has the details:
"On said blog, a few years ago, he had written a piece, describing an incident in which he assembled a rape kit and stalked a woman, with the intent of raping and murdering her.  He did not in fact follow through with his intention. He claimed to have posted this piece in order to encourage other men not to rape and blamed this incident on depression."

SE has never acknowledged that he's the scum of the fucking earth, and so all the quotes from him should be read with the knowledge that this man sees no wrong with plotting to rape and kill women. I apologise for not including this sooner - I saw his name being excoriated in a blog I follow and literally only just found out. I'm now off to bathe in bleach for a month.

This is a response to a response written to my previous post written by SnowdropExplodes, which can be found here. It's a good post, and makes some great points, and I’ll try and keep my response short.
“She starts by quoting Dines and Jensen, which is always going to get on my bad side. I take nothing they say to have any validity. They are despised by the people they claim to want to help (sex workers) and they do not try to engage with the lived realities of those people - or, indeed, the men whom they appear to despise”
This is a criticism of a lot of academic feminists. However, that argument is to do with sex-workers. You can’t deny everything someone has created during the course of their career because you disagree with their views in one part of it. The article I quoted from Dines and Jensen exists to point out the hypocrisy of those on the left who oppose other industries that have harmful side-effects, yet have no problem with pornography, and yes, I find it a bit bloody disingenuous that people who will regulate massive parts of their lives according to their political and moral views, for example, being vegan because they are opposed to the side-effects of the dairy industry, won’t regulate their need to get off in the same way. I’m sidetracking here, but I will return to this point later. To reiterate my original point - criticising Dines and Jensen for failing to engage with the lived realities of sex workers doesn’t mean that anything they write about that involves the interaction between sexual organs is wrong.

”I'll draw out only one thing, which is Natalie Dzerins’ own extraction. She writes:
I also oppose pornography for the body fascism that is endemic to the culture and the way that it seeps over into the mainstream as a ‘norm’.

Except that in the porn I've seen, bodies have tended to be much less conforming to contemporary beauty standards than in womens’ magazines, or lads' mags. In general, the more mainstream the media, the more misogynist it is - hardcore porn, for all its surface problems, arguably has fewer bad messages about women than stuff you can buy in your supermarket.”
I’ve got two problems with this argument: Firstly, it assumes that I am only opposed to the porn industry. Of course I’m not. I’m equally opposed to any industry that fosters gender inequality. Saying that other people engage in the same nasty activities (by which I mean creating problems for women as a whole) doesn’t make it alright. Secondly, there is a seepover whereby what is popular in pornography becomes popular in the mainstream. I’ll concede that in pornography, things like a complete lack of body hair below the eyebrows was, to begin with, a cinematographic device (I understand it’s easier to see the penis/vagina interaction* if there’s none of that pesky natural hair in the way), but now according to mainstream media it is de rigeur for all women. I think that this occurs because softcore porn magazines (like lads’ mags) see this trend occurring in pornographic films, so reflect it in their pictures to make them more ‘edgy’ and more like ‘real porn’, and then this trend is picked up by womens’ mags, who say ‘this is what men like so you should do it’, and thus, another aspect of body fascism is born. It’s not how all body fascism comes about, but it is a cause of some. If there were no trendsetters, there would be no trend.
(*No, I can’t believe I just said that either.)

”The post's co-author Georgie writes:
In a culture of gender inequality it is impossible to make porn which isn't oppressive.

However, I was of the impression that feminist analysis (particularly of a Marxist type such as that described by Ms Dzerins) says that all media suffers the same problems. It isn't porn per se, but media in general.

This sounds like a reason to be opposed to any form of writing, television, movie-making, or whatever!”
As noted above, I am opposed to anything that propagates gender inequality, especially media propagation of such. However, porn is one part of the media. It’s possible to write books and make films that don’t propagate gender inequality, and for them to be popular, but I don’t believe that in this capitalist porn industry you can make porn that doesn’t. I feel I must reiterate that I’m not opposed to people watching other people fucking, and I don’t think that fucking inherently creates gender inequality; I’m opposed to this capitalist porn industry. I wouldn’t have a problem with people creating porn that didn’t oppress women, objectify them or create problems for all women, but the industry we have right now is not going to do it en masse, so I am opposed to the industry.

”She starts with the "choice" canard, as a common challenge to her position. I am not a fan of discussing this, because (as Dzerins points out) choices are not made in a vacuum, and it is also quite possible to say "I support your right to make that choice, but I think it is a poor choice to make" (or, as Dzerins puts it, "I do not oppose the womens’ right to be in the films, I oppose the films themselves.")

The question about choice and sex work, though, should be on choosing how to make the rent. Some people will be happier working in a shitty waitressing job, and others are happier to make their money by spreading their legs (either on camera, or for paying customers - porn or prostitution). Both are equally exploitative of poverty and, according to the socialist feminist position that Dzerins seems to take, it would appear that we should also be opposed to restaurants and diners for their exploitation of women who need to earn the rent.”
Of course I am opposed to restaurants (or any other businesses) that don’t treat their workers fairly. But this misses my point, which is about an industry that encourages the suppression of those who aren’t even part of it.
”I do not look at sex work as being about "empowering". It can be an empowered choice, or it can be a forced choice (see remarks above), but in itself it is not empowering. It is "empaychecking", as Renegade Evolution (porn performer, stripper and all-round sex worker) puts it, and as noted above, that is sometimes very important from the point of view of keeping a roof over one's head and food in the belly, and all those essentials of life. It can also provide the dosh to get nice things. If we are to be opposed to the commercial porn industry, then a lefty person really ought to consider how the men and women who earn their living from it should go about filling those gaps in future. As I wrote several years ago now, mining is a terrible job, but when the Thatcher government tried to close the mines, the miners fought tooth and nail for over a year to keep their jobs, despite how disgusting and dangerous and degrading the work could be. While the money may not be empowering, having it taken away certainly would be disempowering.”
Of course I agree that this should be a consideration. The reason I didn’t address it in the OP is because I was trying to write ‘anti-porn 101’, and it’s hard to get everything in. However, surely one argument against slavery (and I am loathe to make this analogy) is “well, who would pay money to employ the slaves if we free them?”. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t oppose removing this society-created ‘need’, but that we should make a better society to give these people more opportunities. I don’t want to ban the porn industry, I want to create a society where there’s no demand for this porn industry, and such an egalitarian society would have more opportunities, especially for women.

”I struggle with the concept of "female-friendly" porn, because I don't know what that means. There is something very clear that needs to be pointed out here: Dzerins’ position, going from this answer and from her post title, is about the current state of the industry. But many of her arguments are about the concept of pornography. The implication from Dzerins is that "female-friendly" means "non-misogynistic", but I think that usually it means "intended to appeal to women's sexual fantasies". The problem with the latter position is that plenty of women I know happen to like the fantasies portrayed in other porn, and find "female-friendly" porn to be boring. Other women don't like either, and other women like both, and some like the "female-friendly" stuff.”
I did mean ‘porn intended to appeal to womens’ sexual fantasies’. I find it trite fluff, intended to allay an entire industry built on oppression by one token gesture. I want to make it clear that these parts were my responses to arguments I see all the time, not things I’d necessarily bring up myself. Personally, I think that the equalising effects of ‘female-friendly’ porn are so inconsequential as to be removed from the debate entirely. It’s worth pointing out that the industry classification of this kind of porn as ‘female-friendly’ belies the fact that it views its other output as ‘female-unfriendly’.

“What if the women like being submissive during sex?

I have no problem with women enjoying submission during consensual sexual encounters which take place with the knowledge that the submission only belongs in the bedroom.

Well, gee, how magnanimous of you! D/s and M/s relationships do not always have scene-delineated premises. Sometimes the consensual power-exchange operates throughout the whole relationship. I suppose I could be generous and assume Dzerins means "the submission only belongs between her and her partner", and BDSMers (especially subs) usually know very strongly the distinction between "I submit to you" and "I submit to no one else".

But here's the question that you haven't answered: how that relates to men and women's desire for BDSM porn (which is different from rough sex porn and so on, but might fall into the category "depicts violence against women" if you're not on the same page regarding BDSM). Is your case that the moment a couple video themselves and share that video, that they are suddenly corrupting and destroying women's rights everywhere?”
“I'm sorry, but actually I do need to see images of humiliation, "violence" and (in some people's interpretation) objectification and degradation, because that is my kink. I am a sadist and a Dominant, and wishing my sexuality away won't make it change (Lord knows, I tried, and suffered because of trying - like trying not to be gay, I guess). To me, vanilla sex is not sex. If it hadn't been for sex education at school I might never have figured it out - sex to me involves pain and domination and bondage and stuff. The gender of my partner is secondary (although I go mostly for women, male subs interest me as well).”
I’ll admit I worded that one wrong. FWIW, I sub. I haven’t got a problem with people doing what gets them off, I really don’t. I have a problem with the industry that commodifies these kinks. What I was trying to say when I said ‘only belongs in the bedroom’ was there’s a difference between normalised and systemic abuse of women, whereby all women are targets for bad treatment (whether by violence or lack of opportunities etc.), and an understanding between two or more people that this will be done for the purposes of sexual gratification when I said ‘only belongs in the bedroom’. Even in the most extreme D/S relationship, the S can always back out of the agreement. Women can’t back out of inequal societal arrangements.
If a couple are into BDSM, that’s great. If they upload a video of themselves for their own gratification and the gratification of others, great. However, BDSM should be seen for what it is, which is a kink. The porn industry normalises small parts of it like they should be ritual in everyone’s sex life, and these are the parts that oppress women in the wider world, and that’s the problem.
”How do you distinguish in using peer pressure to make porn unacceptable, between "porn is not okay, but sex is"? Unfortunately, the same pressures that could be used to attack porn used in this way, would also work very strongly to attack women, because they would serve to make "slut" an even stronger assault. To make being openly interested in sexual material into a source of shame, one cannot avoid generating a sense of shame about interest in sex. And who already receives the most attack for being interested in sex? Women. That's why "slut" is such a nasty word in most usage. If the rest of the world weren't so sexist, this plan might work, but unfortunately, it is. And that's how come porn tends to be sexist too. Just to be clear - I think peer pressure against sexist attitudes should be used; but I think that peer pressure against porn would be a bad move.”
I think there should be a distinction drawn between making being interested in sexual material shameful, and making being interested in the use of an industry that is so harmful to women shameful. Obviously, for the reasons stated, it is the latter we propose, and as a sex-positive feminist, I see no shame in a person being interested in sexual material that is made in a positive and unharmful way. Saying that ‘the world is sexist so we should ignore this problem’ isn’t solving anything, it’s just continuing the same line of oppression that’s been going on for centuries. We should be fighting to change society, not just shrug our shoulders and say “well, that’s just how it is”.

EDIT: I just want to say that I know these posts have been very hetero- and cis-normative. I don't want to alienate anyone from the debate, but since the majority of industry output (and the stuff I have a real problem with) is hetero- and cis-normative, that's what I've trained my focus on.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Why Oppose The Porn Industry?

I’d like to open this post by saying that I’m sorry mum, and please stop reading now.

With that out of the way, I’d also like to tell you what this post will (hopefully) achieve. I self-identify as a pro-sex, anti-porn socialist feminist. It would be helpful, at this point, to define and clarify some of that. When I say I’m pro-sex feminist, it means just that. I think that the act of sex is a wonderful, natural thing, and encourage everyone to do what makes them happy*. Honestly, all I can say on this matter is that good sex is one of the finest pleasures in life, and if more people were sexually fulfilled, I think the world would be a better place. We shall come on to the anti-porn matter in time (pun NOT intended, take your mind out of the gutter). Socialist feminism I think is best described this way: 

"Socialist feminism (sometimes known as Marxist feminism) is different than liberal feminism in that it emphasizes that true equality will not be achieved without major overhauls within society-- particularly economic overhauls. Socialist feminists argue that there are fundamental inequalities built in to a capitalist society because power and capital are distributed unevenly. Thus, it's not enough for women to individually work to rise to powerful positions in society; rather, power needs to be redistributed throughout society. Liberal feminists focus on individual empowerment, while socialist feminists focus on collective change and empowerment.”  

I should also point out at this juncture that I am an anti-capitalist, which informs my views on feminism and pornography. If anyone would like me to expand on this in comments or a separate post, I will. With this post, I hope to set out the reasons why my political philosophies mean I cannot accept pornography, and I hope to also answer the most common counter-arguments I encounter when espousing these views. This post was written with the invaluable help of Georgie (AKA @mortari), to whom I am eternally grateful. I will denote the parts she wrote in italics.

(*within obvious boundaries)

Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let us approach the main course of the post - why do we oppose the pornography industry? I would recommend, as a must read, this post by Gail Dines and Robert Jensen. I feel that it represents my ideas most excellently. To quote; 

“As leftists, we reject the sexism and racism that saturates contemporary mass-marketed pornography. As leftists, we reject the capitalist commodification of one of the most basic aspects of our humanity. As leftists, we reject corporate domination of media and culture. Anti-pornography feminists are not asking the left to accept a new way of looking at the world but instead are arguing for consistency in analysis and application of principles.”


Pornography is fantasy, of a sort. Just as television cop shows that assert the inherent nobility of police and prosecutors as protectors of the people are fantasy. Just as the Horatio Alger stories about hard work’s rewards in capitalism are fantasy. Just as films that cast Arabs only as terrorists are fantasy.
All those media products are critiqued by leftists precisely because the fantasy world they create is a distortion of the actual world in which we live. Police and prosecutors do sometimes seek justice, but they also enforce the rule of the powerful. Individuals in capitalism do sometimes prosper as a result of their hard work, but the system does not provide everyone who works hard with a decent living. Some tiny number of Arabs are terrorists, but that obscures both the terrorism of the powerful in white America and the humanity of the vast majority of Arabs.
Such fantasies also reflect how those in power want subordinated people to feel. Images of happy blacks on the plantations made whites feels more secure and self-righteous in their oppression of slaves. Images of contented workers allay capitalists’ fears of revolution. And men deal with their complex feelings about contemporary masculinity’s toxic mix of sex and aggression by seeking images of women who enjoy pain and humiliation.
Why do so many on the left seem to assume that pornographers operate in a different universe than other capitalists? Why would pornography be the only form of representation produced and distributed by corporations that wouldn’t be a vehicle to legitimize inequality? Why would the pornographers be the only media capitalists who are rebels seeking to subvert hegemonic systems?”

“Contemporary mass-marketed heterosexual pornography - the bulk of the market for sexually explicit material - is one site where a particular meaning of sex and gender is created and circulated. Pornography’s central ideological message is not hard to discern: Women exist for the sexual pleasure of men, in whatever form men want that pleasure, no matter what the consequences for women. It’s not just that women exist for sex, but that they exist for the sex that men want.
Despite na├»ve (or disingenuous) claims about pornography as a vehicle for women’s sexual liberation, the bulk of mass-marketed pornography is incredibly sexist. From the ugly language used to describe women, to the positions of subordination, to the actual sexual practices themselves - pornography is relentlessly misogynistic. As the industry “matures” the most popular genre of films, called “gonzo,” continues to push the limits of degradation of, and cruelty toward, women. Directors acknowledge they aren’t sure where to take it from the current level.
This misogyny is not an idiosyncratic feature of a few fringe films. Based on three studies of the content of mainstream video/DVD pornography over the past decade, we conclude that woman-hating is central to contemporary pornography. Take away every video in which a woman is called a bitch, a cunt, a slut, or a whore, and the shelves would be nearly bare. Take away every DVD in which a woman becomes the target of a man’s contempt, and there wouldn’t be much left. Mass-marketed pornography doesn’t celebrate women and their sexuality, but instead expresses contempt for women and celebrates the charge of expressing that contempt sexually.”

I also oppose pornography for the body fascism that is endemic to the culture and the way that it seeps over into the mainstream as a ‘norm’. 

In a culture of gender inequality it is impossible to make porn which isn't oppressive. Society commodifies women's bodies such that any monetising of female sexuality will reinforce the objectification and degredation of women. While woman are considered sexual things first and human beings second, any sale of sexual material featuring women will be dehumanising and exploitative.

On the problem with porn:

Is is hard to describe just how violent and degrading most pornography is. A 2010 study analysed the content of a selection of popular pornographic films (*footnote). Its findings included:
  • 88% of scenes contained physical aggression, including spanking, gagging, and slapping. 
  • nearly half of all scenes included name-calling, most commonly "bitch" or "slut".
  • Women were overwhelmingly the targets of aggressive acts, and men the perpetrators.
  • Following instances of aggression towards women, in 95% of cases the women expressed pleasure or neutrality.
The message of these porn films is clear: not only is violence and verbal abuse against women acceptable and sexual exciting, but woman enjoy and are aroused by this treatment. 

As Gail Dines said, "Pornography is the perfect propaganda piece for patriarchy. In nothing else is their hatred of us quite as clear."

Footnote: Bridges et al. analysed a randomised selection of 50 films from a list of the 250 best-selling and the 250 most-rented videos from December 2004 to June 2005, as selected and reported by pornography industry publication Adult Video News. These 50 films comprised of a total of 304 scenes.

Now, to the counter-arguments, and our counter-counter-arguments.

Isn’t it all about choice? Surely that’s what feminists want, women to be able to choose their own paths? The women in pornographic films chose to appear in them.

Yes, in a manner of speaking they did*. However, choice does not exist in a vacuum. I do not oppose the womens’ right to be in the films, I oppose the films themselves. Here is a rather good post about why a person’s freedom to conform to a certain stereotype does not mean that it is good for the people as a whole. (*I would point out that many ‘porn stars’ are failed actresses that needed to make the rent. This is obviously not true of every woman in porn, but I would suggest that it is rare to find a woman making pornographic films who had made a conscious effort to do so as a vocation.)

Well, they make good money. Surely that’s empowering?

Without willing to sound glib, there are plenty of things people do for money. Just because you enjoy the things they do does not make it empowering for them. Imagine if I paid you a million pounds to eat elephant shit. Would you consider that empowering because you were paid such a high amount?

But women produce female-friendly porn!

Yes, they do. I still find this objectionable because of my anti-capitalist views. I also feel that the fact that ‘female-friendly’ porn is a thing, and such a tiny proportion of the pornography market rather reinforces my opinion of the industry as generally misogynist. If porn were truly equal to the sexes, it would not need to exist.

Women can hold sexist attitudes too, and female-produced porn can be just as problematic. A 2008 study found that female-directed pornography was just as likely to contain aggression against women as male-directed pornography.

Porn degrades men too!

Not to the same extent as it degrades women, or with the same consequences. Women have traditionally been oppressed, so images that propagate this are, I feel, more harmful than images which break the gender binary and show something unexpected. (see also, my opinions on misandrist comedy as an allegory in this old post)

What if the women like being submissive during sex?

I have no problem with women enjoying submission during consensual sexual encounters which take place with the knowledge that the submission only belongs in the bedroom.

I/a friend of mine worked in porn and enjoyed it.

My answer (inspired by Meaghan Murphy) would be: I am glad that you enjoyed your experience, really. However, just because you as an individual woman found this empowering, that does not mean that the porn industry is not harmful for women generally. There can often be conflicts between what is good for us personally, and what benefits us as a group. The intention here is not to demonise women who have worked in porn - they need to pay the bills just like everyone else, and the point is not to criticise their choices. However, whatever the feelings of the performers involved might be, selling images of women as sexual objects which exist for the titillation of men only reinforces sexist attitudes.

What about if it isn’t a capitalist venture?

I feel that consensual pornography made for users by users with no capitalist aspects would tend to have less misogyny and therefore be ultimately preferable to any output from the porn industry.

Do you just want to ban all sexual thoughts?

I absolutely do not want to ban sexual thought. What I do object to is people thinking they have some kind of god-given right to act on their sexual thoughts. For one example, see street harassment. If I am walking down the road and see someone that I think is really attractive, it would never occur to me in a million years to shout something or believe that they would appreciate me doing so, or to do it and be offended if they don’t respond positively! Also, see objectification. I get that we all see other human beings sexually, but when it becomes ALL people see women as, it's a problem.

Can anti-porn feminists coexist with pro-porn feminists?

Of course we can coexist peacefully. Our main objectives remain the same. Feminism is not a monolithic culture that should always share the same opinions. I like to think that feminism is allegorical to Christianity – even though we may disagree on the fine details of how to practice it, we all have the same central objective.

So do you want to censor/ban porn?

No. I am not a proponent of censorship, and even if I were, a ban on pornography would be practically unworkable. Making pornography illegal would make it harder to regulate the industry, which could be dangerous for the women working in it. I would like to live in a world in which pornography was eradicated because there was no market for it. My desire is to persaude people that they do not need to see images of objectification and degredation to satisfy themselves sexually.

But all men watch porn! How could this ever change?

It is important to question men who use porn, and to challenge them on its sexism. It should not be socially acceptable to use porn. Like the use of racial epithets or other hate speech, sexist attitudes and the use of porn can be denounced by social peers. If porn were not so tolerated, people would think more carefully about its social consequences and would be less likely to use it.
So there you have it. With regards to the comments on this post, I’d encourage reasonable discourse about the points I address. I will try and answer everything (caveat – I will be mainly offline between Monday 27th – Friday 1st, but will try address everything eventually). Obvious usual comment rules apply, but I’d also like to add that I don’t want to see derailing. We’re talking about the pornography industry. We are not talking about prostitution. Any arguments or suppositions about my feelings towards women (or men, trans* people) who work in the sex industry are unwelcome and probably wrong.

And one last thought: You have imaginations. Use them. Embrace them.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Why I Am So Angry

Yesterday someone linked me to this, a poster that they thought I'd like. I do like it.  (Click to make BIG - also, as I understand, it's free to print and reproduce it, and you are encouraged to do so)

 But I'd like to add a few things to that, because it doesn't cover nearly half the things I feel angry about on a daily basis. So, here goes:

"Fuck patriarchy. Fuck rape culture. Fuck victim blaming, fuck slut shaming, fuck any bastard that would choose a clump of fucking cells over the life of the woman that hosts it. Fuck body fascism. Fuck lads mags. Fuck womens mags. Fuck objectification. Fuck saying a woman is empowered because you give her money to conform to your misogynistic ideals. Fuck binary gender norms. Fuck not citing your sources and churnalising some bullshit pseudoscience that landed on your desk. Fuck all pseudoscience. Fuck homeopathy, fuck acupuncture, acupressure, acu-whatthefuckingever. Fuck anything not proven by re-testable science. That includes God, you small-minded fucks. Fuck anyone who would use an imaginary sky pixie to push their bigoted, money-grasping agenda. Fuck economic libertarians, the selfish cuntpricks. Fuck EU sceptics, fuck climate change sceptics. Fuck James fucking Delingpole and every lie he's ever published. Fuck Littlejohn, the fat prick, railing against how bad it is in the UK from his mansion in fucking Florida. Fuck Melanie Philips, the delusional bitch. Fuck Philip Davies, the rent-a-gobshite. And fuck Nadine fucking Dorries, the evidence-denying, lying fucking shitwhore. And Frank Fields. Who thinks women are too stupid to choose but bright enough to raise kids. Fuck Eric Pickles. Fuck Theresa May. Fuck the police, fuck the riot squad, fuck the TSG, the violent twathounds. Fuck the CPS. Fuck the courts. Fuck the prison system. You think it works? Meet evidence. Fuck ATOS. Fuck anyone who would punish the worthy sick for the greedy well. Fuck racists, the fucking chodes. Fuck war for oil. Fuck the war on terror, fuck the war on drugs. Fuck The Big Questions. Fuck Question Time. Fuck Prime Ministers cocking Questions. Fuck giving my time to right-wing reactionary fucknuts. Fuck Moral Maze. There ain't nothing moral. Either you're a weeping dickshit or you're not. Fuck those who piss about the 'nanny state' because they're too fucking thick to have grasped metric in over 40 fucking years. Fuck those who think the ECHR is part of the EU. Fuck those who think that having your bins collected once a week is more important than foreign aid. Fuck people who want to take away minimum wage. Fuck the bastards exploiting the situation the banks gave us and calling the unemployed lazy when there's five unemployed to every job vacancy. Fuck unpaid internships. Fuck gap years. Fuck mummy and daddy paying for you to climb the corporate ladder. Fuck you bastarding fuckers who make my head want to explode every time I remember every shitty thing you've ever done."
Stay angry people xx

Monday, 13 June 2011

Dear Tesco...

NB: A copy of this blogpost has been CC'd to customer.service@tesco.co.uk - perhaps you'd like to do your own?

To whom it may concern:

Today on Twitter, @calluna_ posted a picture taken inside one of your stores:

As you can see, this clearly shows a division between magazines that you have deemed to be 'for girls', and magazines that you have deemed to be 'for boys'. Now, I have just a few questions for you:

  1. Would you care to explain to my seven year old sister why you think it is inappropriate for girls to read magazines about Doctor Who, The Simpsons, Pokemon etc. - all of which are gender neutral and encompass strong female characters that many parents consider to be better role models than the simpering 'girly girls' found in the characters in the magazines on the other side of the divide?
  2. Would you also care to explain to her best friend why you think it is inappropriate for him to care about animals or nature or arts and crafts or to like the colour pink?
  3. What have you got against apostrophes?
Now, discussion of this led to the revelation that in your stores you also frequently stock publications like New Scientist in the section for men. So, I've devised a solution for you, and it's really not that difficult.

Instead of stocking magazines by gender, how about stocking them by category?

 It's really simple, it honestly is. The magazines for children could be divided into 'comics' and 'hobbies', and the magazines for adults could have further divisions. For example, you could have a 'Science and the Natural World' shelf, where you keep publications like New Scientist and National Geographic, a 'Politics' section where you stock The Economist and Private Eye, and a 'Misogyny and Body Fascism' section where you stock Cosmopolitan and FHM!

There's no need to thank me for my suggestion, but I'd really appreciate it if you could answer my questions. Any reply I receive will be published at www.fortyshadesofgrey.blogspot.com, as this email already has been.




Friday, 3 June 2011

I Am More Than A Womb With Fancy Wrapping

OK, so yesterday I had a bit of a rage on Twitter about the King Blues:

Basically, what happened is that the King Blues (a band widely acknowledged, even by their former members to be hypocrites and sellouts) decided to exclusively premier their new single in that classiest of places, 'lads mag',  Front Magazine (link NSFW. Or for computers with any vague concepts of feminism).

Now, leaving aside the problem of supposed 'punk' bands and self-styled-voices-of-a-disaffected-anti-capitalist-generation using a mainstream rag to hawk their wares, the reason I got my ultra-lefty knickers in a twist and called them hypocrites is because of one of the other songs on their album is supposedly all about feminism and respecting women. Which is kind of the opposite of Front's raison d'etre. Anyway, that song is called 'Five Bottles of Shampoo'.

I've heard that song a few times, and remember that when the album came out, lots of people saying that I'd really like that song, precisely because of its pro-feminist message. Then when I was thinking about it this morning, I remembered that when I'd listened to it, I'd always felt a bit uncomfortable about it, but couldn't put my finger on why. So I decided to look up the lyrics:

She pushed in before me,
in the supermarket queue.
Pretending not to see me in the way women do.
She put on the counter some bread and milk too,
and then she pulled out 5 different bottles of shampoo.
And I thought to myself, "I will never understand women."
And I hear some of you saying "Yeah but all men are the same,
they all think they're so cool and are ruled by their dicks."
That might be true of me, but it ain't true of all of us,
so don't point that finger so quick.
I do see some of the blokes though,
in the clubs, pinching girls asses,
trying to be intimidating, making obscene passes.
"Man, she's a goddess,
you can tell by the way she dances."
But you call her a slag when she don't accept your advances.
You just show you got no respect for yourself.
Show you ain't got the balls to just talk to a girl.
So when she chats to me,
you spit at her and shout "WHORE."
Well, it's written in the art of war,
to fight only the battles you can win.
But I will defend your honour until they kick my face in.
If you have to scrape me, broken boned, bloodied, bruised and battered up off the floor,
well fuck it.
Integrity is what black eyes were invented for.
So down with the dictatorship,
they're so cock sure,
they use rape as a weapon of war.
Fuck the man that thinks it's okay to give his wife a punch.
Fuck the judge that said it weren't rape cause she was drunk.
And if you're pro life,
I mean, if you're PRO life,
then become a doctor, or foster a kid,
make it possible for people who are alive, to LIVE.
But don't you dare tell women, what they can and can't do,
when it was a woman that gave life to you.
Yes, I'm a man who may be stereotypical,
but I ain't afraid to say it, I think all women are beautiful,
and strong.
Too fat, too thin,
that's just media spin.
You look best when you're comfortable in your own skin.
So I'm sorry, if we made you feel untrue,
if truth be known, I love all of you.
You're a giver of life, and a warrior too,
so do you really need 5 different bottles of shampoo?

And then I realised why I've never liked it. For all its attempts, it just completely fails at feminism. It all starts in the opening five lines, where Itch characterises all women according to some crude stereotype of the haughty bitch who ignores the poor male protagonist, and is so obsessed with her appearance that she buys five different bottles of shampoo because she's so blinded by media portrayals of how she should behave, and then (almost laughably) says "That might be true of me, but it ain't true of all of us,/so don't point that finger so quick" when discussing male stereotype.

Well. Newsflash number one: I am a woman and I am capable of both being a nice person and being rational enough to realise that I don't need five kinds of shampoo to make me happy.

Itch then goes on to talk about how he'll always stick up for women, saying "But I will defend your honour until they kick my face in./If you have to scrape me, broken boned, bloodied, bruised and battered up off the floor,/well fuck it./Integrity is what black eyes were invented for". Well, Itch, sweetie, it's lovely that you're willing to get the shit kicked out of you in order to bring a little bit of chivalry to the room and all that, but newsflash number two: My feeble ladybrain is capable of telling some dickhead that I don't want to talk to to piss off and leave me alone without you stepping in to defend my honour.

The line that really, really winds me up though is the penultimate line, which reads "You're a giver of life, and a warrior too". Ah yes, that old chestnut. Women as 'life-givers'. The notion that we should celebrate the female of the species because she bears the babies! But, wait a minute. Where does that leave the childless women? Are we not women if we don't squeeze tiny humans through our vaginal canal? Are we not worthy of celebration merely for our accomplishments as humans? Is getting knocked up really the best thing I can ever hope to do with my life? Final newsflash: I AM MORE THAN A WOMB WITH FANCY WRAPPING. 

So, I suppose that I should stop bemoaning the King Blues losing any credential as a feminist band, because they never bloody had any in the first place.

(N.B. Yes, I know that the rest of the song is good and all that, telling blokes not to slag women off if their advances aren't reciprocated, and not to rape/abuse/victim blame/take away personal autonomy etc. But frankly, with the other parts of the song being the way they are, it's just not good enough.)