Saturday, May 04, 2013

Part time Philanthropy

The personal discrimination that women experience in their private lives is a matter of great worry, but there is no escape for them in the wider community. Once out of their home, misogyny is so entrenched in the culture they interact with, the fight for equality and respect becomes exponentially more difficult.

While the behavior of male role models is an important influence on young women and young men as they grow up, young people are soon exposed to popular culture, public knowledge and sex in the adult world. Examples of how the men outside the home manifest equality and respect for all genders is equally important to young people and how they are begin to think about the world.

Celluloid Dreams

I remember sitting in the movie cinema watching Brave and trying to work out why my brain was struggling with the narrative. It wasn’t unamusing, I was entertained, as were all the ten year old children in the cinema with me, but I wasn’t really comfortable with it for some reason. And then, in the space of a breath in and out my mind switched tracks and became utterly absorbed in the movie.

The moment of change was when I suddenly realized that I was watching a truly female coming of age story, and I was not going to be ambushed at some point by it becoming a male one. Indeed, the skilful rendering of the madness of being a girl in her teenaged years was so good I immediately recommended it to a friend with a daughter hitting the dreaded teenaged years.

He went to see it, and on the way to watch The Amazing Spiderman together the next week, he admitted that he hadn’t liked it at all, finding it reassuring to watch because it was proof that bad movies were still being made by good studios. I was disappointed in his taste, but there is nothing I can do about that, it is his choice.

And then I suffered through the utter boredom that was The Amazing Spiderman. And again, I tried very hard to find something to connect with in the story, but there simply wasn’t any way for me to access the film. It was wall-to-wall men and men’s stories and I was an interloper, a woman. As the credits rolled I panned the film with the same casual disregard as Brave had gotten a few hours before.

But this time, there was a discussion, because I was able to articulate why I had started watching the wall instead of the screen during the movie. Brave had woken me up to the incredible number of films made that did not have a single female character, let alone more than one female character, that was written as an equal in screen time, story arc and independent agency as each male lead in the film.

I had become so used to being required to identify with more males on screen than females that I had been participating in popular culture in a dream state of constantly trying to identify as a man. To watch a movie like Brave, where all the action, agency, change and inspiration came from females, and females of different ages, with no male shouldering them aside to claim the narrative drive, had shown me what the future could be.

The subversive idea that every piece of popular culture should have stories involving men and women in equal measure, to reflect the state of the world, was the legacy of that discussion. And now I make a point of watching the numbers and development of the genders in all manifestations of popular culture, because I don’t want to close my eyes again, and dream away my entertainment by pretending that the male way is the only way.

I very much hope men soon get used to watching a movie and identifying with the female leads as women have had to identify with male leads for decades now. Because identifying with someone different than yourself, no matter what their difference is, is the first step to real acceptance and equality in your actions.

Honorable News

Another friend was the unwilling subject of another political discovery that I made about the relative visibility in the news and in society of the War on Women to men. He had walked me to my car in the middle of the day to continue a conversation, and as he prepared to leave for his own car, across the car park, I started an off-the-cuff and rather black comedy routine.

I told him that I would watch to make sure he reached his car safely as he was uncovered and any woman could see him and take advantage of him in his uncovered state. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind and pointed out that he had clothes on. Ah, I replied, but I can clearly see your shape through those clothes and if I could see your shape, so could other women, who may be incited to presume ownership over what they could see, incited to claim rights over what was being flaunted in their face as he walked across the car park.

For a universally acknowledged funny man, my friend did not appear to be understanding the black comedy inherent in the reversal of the ‘she-was-asking-for-it-and-rape-is-the-victims-fault’ narrative, despite my faux-leering delivery and the patent absurdity of the suggested situation. Unfortunately for him, I took his silence as consent. After all, he never asked me to stop, or told me that he was uncomfortable being objectified, even in jest. And I must admit that I kept going because it was both an exercise for me in imagining a different political landscape, and it was intriguing for me to see him so silent.

He was traveling the next day and I asked him if he would be traveling with a female chaperone. I assured him with mock-sincerity that my honor, and that of the women of his family, was encompassed in his conduct when we were not around, and especially when he was traveling and interacting with people without us. I was hitting my stride, taking great delight in turning the tables, but my enjoyment of this subversion of the norm was dampened a little bit by the now clear indications that my friend did not actually understand what I was doing.

I will freely admit that it was pretty black humor, making clear links between a person and their objectification, implying that they were encouraging sexual predation by simply being present and an idea that how other people viewed them reflected on their family and friends, who had a right to act upon dishonorable behavior. But it was funny, because a woman was saying it about a man. That’s funny, right? The flip, it’s funny …

He walked across the car park to his car without being sexually harassed, and as I drove away I was trying to work out why he had looked so confused. After some thought I decided that the routine had been awesome, if only the audience had understood the references. Because I had been referencing concepts that were well known to anyone who had read more than three articles in the media about women being raped, women being murdered, women being deprived of political and social rights, Street Harassment, Rape Culture or domestic violence.

I am just not sure if men are reading these articles, being exposed to and thinking about the social, political and legal concepts that arise from the culture of victim-blaming, slut-shaming and honor killing that are present in every culture in the world. Because these social stigmas apply to me as a woman, I know about them. And because I read about examples of women dying because of them and the political discussions around these deaths in the media, I assume everyone, men and women, are reading them, thinking about them.

I wish my friend had opened his mouth once to acknowledge that he was hard to miss, very sexy, and would provoke women to act only on their lust when they saw him, because all the blood would rush from their head and they could not control how he made them feel.

I wish he had made even the smallest joke about how he hoped he would always bring honor to me by his virtue, and that he was looking forward to meeting a wife, settling down and looking after the kids at home.

I wish he had opened his mouth to say anything. I would have loved a joke in the same style, but I would have accepted any of the following:

- I don’t think what you are saying is funny because every concept you have mentioned is unfair and oppressive
- I don’t think what you are saying is funny because I had a friend that suffered under those concepts and got hurt and they are seriously dangerous concepts
- I don’t think what you are saying is funny because joking about injustice by simply flipping it as if it is a straight forward gender-based application of inequality is too simplistic for genuine political discussion
- I don’t understand what you are saying
- I don’t think that applying the rules for women to men is funny, because men and women are not the same

I wish he had opened his mouth, because silence in the face of the attitudes that I was articulating was the most dangerous answer of all. Only speaking up, only discussion challenges those concepts. Keeping silent is wrong. And if you don’t understand what is going on, ask!

Pornography

I know a young man who, before the age of twenty-five, had to take steps to cure himself of using pornography and masturbation because it was depriving him of a fulfilling sex life. The conversation we had when he told me this fact was spiritually exhausting and intellectually terrifying for me because I had no idea of the extent to which Porn Culture was crippling the sex lives of the young men and women around me.

I used to be quite concerned about the generation gap and use of condoms. My generation of men grew up being able to have sex using condoms, but when my girlfriends and I started dating much older than us, we encountered men who could not use condoms, as they had not grown up using them. This was a serious health concern to us, and it has caused no end of sad consequences for relationships.

However, my generation were developing their sexual awareness and habits merely a few years away from the advent of genuinely fast and easy access to internet pornography, and I suspect a few of us have dodged the very worst of what the younger generation are putting up with right now. Because a few years after I hit my twenties, after I had experienced years of sex with real live men, an entire generation of young men were forming their sexual tastes with only porn stars for company.

The personal stories of pornography accessed from the ages of seven and ten that you find on NO FAP are disturbing enough just for the corruption of sexual development at such a young age. That is quite apart from the stories of young men who formed niche sexual tastes because their young brains attached sexual feeling and masturbation to the first type of pornography they found, rather than finding out in real life what turned them on.

These young men went on to finally become, well, not sexually active, but pornographically active. They were expressing pornographic desires for multiple partners, no emotions, exploitative and dangerous techniques and a complete isolation from communication, connection and even consciousness of the woman they were engaging in sex with. And very, very soon they began to realise that they weren’t happy, not even remotely. So they got on the internet, the very place all the corruption came from, and they decided on a solution, of which NO FAP is one of the manifestations.

It was somewhere around the two hours mark of this simultaneously disheartening and reassuring conversation that the young man saw that I was on the verge of crying and he assured me that he had found the science to explain what pornography and masturbation did to a man, was well on the way to reprogramming himself, and it would all be fine. And I have to say, the quest that these young men set themselves to self-diagnose sexual dysfunction caused by pornography, decide on a solution and support each other through it gives me hope that men are looking at themselves and changing themselves of their own volition.

I explained, however, that it was not the young men that I was holding tears back for. Well, it was, because pornography is clearly ruining the lives of countless men across the world. But I was actually shocked and teary at the thought of all those young women who loved those young men, who were learning about their own sexual tastes with those young men, who were in relationships with young men who were not conscious of the harm that pornography and masturbation was doing to both of their sex lives. No woman needs any portion of her sex life to be one of pornographic sex. No woman needs to experience a partner that is not having sex with her, but with his own choice of porn stars.

The conversation about Porn Culture that has exploded over the last few years is devastating and urgently needs to be addressed. For me, however, it is the perfect storm to trigger a renewed discussion on why treating women with respect and equality is key to the health of every human. The pornographic treatment of women is poisoning the men who consume it. Only seeing each woman for the important human she is, with a heart, head and soul that you need to acknowledge as equal to your own, can cure these poisoned men. Extrapolate this discovery out to all other discrimination – gender, race, education, religion – and you will find the logic in respect and equality.

Consuming pornography is never right, street harassment is never right, victim-blaming and slut-shaming is never right. It is someone’s mother, sister, daughter, friend, wife or lover you are consuming, harassing, blaming or shaming without acknowledgement that she is human. And while you would never allow that to happen to the women you love, you are doing it to a woman that someone else loves. So let’s stop mincing our words shall we? Until you treat every woman the same as the women you love, you are only a part time philogynist, a part time philanthropist, and only a part time human.

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