Sunday, 30 May 2010

Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.

So a while ago I explained the narcissic personality disorder theory of why women read, write and generally get excited about slash. Let's do a little recap for anyone who was hiding their eyes and had their fingers in their ears while humming and thinking about their happy place...
Basically, we read and write dirty little homoerotic episodes about the people who we desire – but we desire them because they are mirrors of ourselves – or at least of the aspects of ourselves we most like/admire/get a bit warm and fuzzy about.
So I want to read about Captain Mal banging the doctor not because I am secretly a gay man...but rather because I see myself in Mal – ruthless, emotionally retarded and not getting, wait – I see the best bits of myself – brave, loyal, still not getting any...never mind.
Now I'd like to extend this theory to a broader discussion of that most profound of topics – why we fancy the people we fancy – most specifically the imaginary or otherwise unattainable – because they are my favourite kind of people.
Currently I am obsessed with Richard III – or more precisely Ewen Leslie as Richard III in the MTC's fantastic production. Is it the floppy dark hair; those bizzarely piercing eyes; maybe its the limp and the hunchback; I don't know – but I'm won as surely as poor Lady Ann.
The unfortunate friends who escorted me to my second viewing of the show were treated afterwards to a long treatise on exactly how exciting I'd found it – a little unnaturally exciting. They both declared after what must have seemed like a very long monologue (I'm personally sure no more than ten or fifteen minutes had elapsed) that it was clearly not the charming Mr Leslie that I was so hot for – no it was the character of Richard himself. They may have said this with just the slightest twinge of disgust in their collectively raised voices.
The problem is Richard is sexy. Bill wants him to be sexy. There he is in the first Act, courting the lovely Ann over the body of the husband he's just stabbed. And he's telling her the one place she's fit for is his bed. Not romantic, but to the point. And sexy. Very sexy.
Of course Leslie plays this up nicely. Once Ann has left; the spittle covered ring he has just given her clasped in her hand; Leslie's Richard bends over to lick, yes that's right folks, lick the face of his vanquished and now cuckolded foe. Its not the licking that gets us though – its the way Leslie looks up, tongue still out his mouth, and breaking the fourth wall, stares us in the eye and asks “What?”. Less than half an hour in and I'm already a quivering wreck of a woman, barely resisting the urge to throw myself on the stage shouting “Forget Ann, take me!”.
Of course its the verbal interplay of the scene which is where the sex is really located. Ann and Richard jostle and shout – exchanging flattery for insults – and she falls for him like every girl who has had her pigtails dipped in ink falls for the naughty boy who did it. Of course most boys don't have to go quite as far as murdering half your family before you notice them...but Richard is a man of extremes.
By the time Richard is offering to bury Elizabeth's sons (who he has also murdered) in the womb of her barely legal daughter; I'm slumped in my theatre seat gasping. The rest of the audience is too – but its more that collective gag of disgust than the rather base gagging happening at my end of the row. The scene finishes with Richard beseeching Elizabeth to take her daughter his true love's kiss – Leslie's Richard takes this literally and Elizabeth gets his tongue way down her throat. Nice!
Of course this second wooing scene is supposed to show us Richard's now waning power – his power over women, his power over England - and by the end of Act V he's sitting pathetically in his underwear crying because no creature loves him perhaps not even himself. But the line which makes me want to cry with him, hold him against me; is the simplest – he declares “I am I”. He is the self-actualised person, fully himself, fully self-aware; facing the abyss that later we'll call existential angst.
I think Mr Leslie is superb – he has the most extraordinary face, he delivers Bill's lines with wit and intelligence; you will not see a funnier, drier Richard for a very long time. But its not him I'm currently obsessed with – its Richard himself – bloody, treacherous villain that he is.
And its narcissism – I'm not so proud as I cannot admit it. I want him because some nasty, dark corner of my soul wants to be like him. Clever, ruthless, fiercely certain about who and what he is and willing to do whatever he needs to in order to be that person. Aren't those the kind of things we all want to be?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

In defence of angry women Pt 2

Apparently I'm a very angry woman. I kick things; throw things; shout obscenities out car windows at strangers and tear pages from books when I don't like what they are saying. I've had to stop myself reading Andrea Dworkin and her ilk because local libraries were sick of picking up the shredded pages.

Ah Andrea; the evil old witch died in 2005 but not before she had put back the cause of women's liberation by at least a hundred years. In 1976 she wrote a now seminal text in the world of radical feminism - Pornography: Men Possessing Women. It begins a life time of writing which will produce such gems as : pornography is the theory, rape is the practice and all heterosexual sex is rape.

Dworkin is wordy. It takes far too many pages in Intercourse (1987) for her to explain the one basic idea – heterosexual sex makes woman an occupied country – all such sex is rape. And if you thought you were liking it – then sweetheart, you were occupied body AND mind.

Dworkin is whiney. Here's an example, from the aforementioned Intercourse.

“There is a deep recognition in culture and in experience that intercourse is both the normal use of a woman, her human potentiality affirmed by it, and a violative abuse, her privacy irredeemably compromised, her selfhood changed in a way that is irrevocable, unrecoverable. And it is recognized that the use and abuse are not distinct phenomena but somehow a synthesized reality: both are true at the same time as if they were one harmonious truth instead of mutually exclusive contradictions. Intercourse in reality is a use and an abuse simultaneously, experienced and described as such, the act parlayed into the illuminated heights of religious duty and the dark recesses of morbid and dirty brutality.”

And that's not even half a paragraph of the beginning of Chapter 7; to get here you've already had to wade through SIX (count them!) chapters of similarly turgid, academic and highly whiney prose.

But most importantly Dworkin is wrong. In her famous testimony to the US Attorney General's Commission on Pornography in 1986 she said she didn't want to have obscenity laws used against pornographers because "Obscenity laws are also woman-hating in their very construction. Their basic presumption is that it's women's bodies that are dirty." But everything else she then went on to demand argued against this quite reasonable stand. Because there is no way to argue against pornography without ultimately arguing against all social, cultural, literary and artistic displays of sex and women.

And of course Dworkin is forced to end up doing just that. Make the argument that all depictions of women in a patriarchal heterosexist society must, by definition, be degrading – must be pornography. If the paradigm is one of male power and possession, how could it be otherwise?

So what does that leave us with? We have to get rid of every image of women – particularly nude images – god knows some bloke somewhere is jerking off over the Venus de Milo. And every image of heterosexual sex. Even the ones written by women – because we've all been tainted with the male, penetrative, phallus-hugging paradigm.

And that leaves us with nothing. It leaves women as asexual beings. In fact it makes us invisible. Better invisible than raped though. Perhaps better locked up in our houses, fully covered too.

Of course that was never Dworkin's solution. But it is the logical conclusion of a philosophy that sees men as the enemy in a war between the sexes. Dworkin's argument is devoid of any understanding of class, or the class-based nature of oppression; where the bourgeois family and the oppression it creates isn't there because men hate women but because capitalism requires it to survive. And her biggest hypocrisy is that all the piles of books and speeches and essays are written not for an audience of ordinary women stuck in lives of quiet desperation; but for other academics secluded in their ivory towers. This isn't an ideology of liberation, but of self-righteous intellectual masturbation.

Ultimately arguments against pornography, whether for censorship or in Dworkin's case for the prosecution of pornographers for civil rights abuses, end up being anti-sex and anti-women. In Australia the censorship laws mean that the female genitalia have to be airbrushed in photographs to appear smooth – almost pre-pubescent. Consequently young women are appearing in large numbers at the doors of plastic surgeons asking for the extra floppy bits to be removed – they think they are deformed!

But the harm is even more subtle than that. Anti-porn campaigners have made a generation of women guilty about enjoying sex. If you're lying there enjoying what Dworkin tells you is in effect rape, then that is going to screw with your head and your ability to keep enjoying it. Its no coincidence that Dworkin starts writing at the height of the Women's Liberation Movement – when western women at least have easy access to contraception and some control, finally, over how and with whom, they use their bodies. I'm no conspiracy theorist but it seems to me that telling people the thing they think is fun is actually a dreadful sin - ooops, I mean – an attack on their very existence within the socially constructed modern world view – is a good way to make them stop doing it.

The worst thing about all of this is that Dworkin didn't take all this reactionary bullshit with her to her grave. No, its still being pedalled as bona fide feminism in Women's Studies Departments and Wimmin's Rooms the country over. One academic I know of is happy to pontificate about how it is the fault of pornography that all men want is to ejaculate on women's faces. Yes, that's right, it comes as a shock to me too but apparently that's all that happens in every single piece of porn being made and in every heterosexual bedroom across the nation too – night after sticky night.

Now I haven't had time to do a SurveyMonkey on this and I doubt my school will let me put it up on the intraweb if I do, but I'm betting that such a survey of young men is NOT going to come up with facial ejaculation as their number one, favoured sexual activity. Isn't that right lads?

This is just one more piece of poorly researched knee jerk anti-sex, anti-fun reactionarism. What's the worst, most degrading thing this woman can think of? Someone cumming on her face. Aside from the fact that she clearly lacks imagination and has obviously not watched nearly enough porn to claim any expertise in the area – what is her problem? Where does she get off deciding what is and isn't appropriate sexual expression? Perhaps more pertinent – when does she get off?

Many years ago the then Women's Officer at Auckland University lectured me for several hours about how sado-masochistic lesbians were “fucking like the enemy” - in fact any activity that seemed in any way to mimic penetration was too. I thought this was somewhat unfair as at the time I'd cut out the middle person and had the enemy in my bed. Unfair or not, it taught me a lot about the way such people think.

In the end, they think sex is bad. Sex is dirty. And sex itself is oppressive. You can't fuck with the enemy and you can't fuck like him. Better not to fuck at all.

Dworkin spent her life as the life partner of an out gay man – John Stoltenberg. They were married, secretly, in 1998. Its just one of the stranger of many contradictions in her life. Clearly unable to negotiate her way through the minefield of sexual relations with women or men – she avoided it altogether.

The saddest and perhaps oddest chapter in her life was the publication of an article in The New Statemen in 2000. In it she claims to have been slipped GBH in a hotel in Paris and raped. When I first read the article I couldn't help myself, I was angry. I was angry because by the time I read it, it had been widely discredited. While the argument still rages ten years later, it appears that an ailing Dworkin made the whole thing up.

And why does this make me want to go dig her up and kick her in the kidneys? Because after a lifetime of telling women that what they do with their partners is tantamount to rape; she then has to go and borrow that experience too. Its a kind of playground one-up-personship that I find deeply offensive because in so doing she discredits every woman who has ever had to report a sexual assault and not been believed. Its a final, public and horrible case of the gossip who answers every re-calling of experience with “Me too.”.

That's not feminism – its self-hate on a level so grand nothing Dworkin's imagined enemy could ever do would be worse.

Monday, 3 May 2010

In defence of angry women Part 1

There is something wrong with a society where people decide that by placing the adjective radical in front of a word; suddenly its real meaning is magically inverted and the concrete noun it refers to is transformed from its true nature into something well, radically, different.

Take the word homemaker. Its the modrn version of the word housewife. But its still got connotations of the little woman, in the home waiting for hubbyy to come in from work so she can thrust his warmed slippers onto his aching feet. But put the word radical in front of it and voila you have something which to quote that veneral publication The Age, is a

“, anti-consumerist movement that is about providing for family and community rather than feeding the economy, where the home is seen not as a site of entrapment and servitude, but one of empowerment.”

Hail the arrival of the radical homemaker!

These women are staying home to look after their chidren and grow organic food. Oh and participate in a few community groups because otherwise they'd get bored. What I'm having trouble with is how this is radical.

In the 1950's women stayed home and lookd after their children and they tended their gardens and they joined the local sewing circle. So far, the ony difference I can see is that these newly radical homemakers are able to use that other buzzword organic, in front of the food they're spending their time, degrees and skills on.

But I'm clearly just a cynic. What I don't understand is that this is all about choice. And that all my feminine skills have been terribly de-valued by men and that in fact wanting to *gasp* have a life of my own outside the home is actually turning me into a man! As one of these rad wifeys says

“I think women have been masculinised to the point where anything that women had skills in that were important has been denigrated. Women now want to achieve the skills that men have, when their traditional skills were equally and sometimes a lot more important in society.''

The same woman goes on to list these skills as sewing and basketweaving. No joke. Basketweaving.But I'm clearly just being disagreeable because I haven't realised that we now live in a post-feminist world. Silly me.

And how short-sighted of me to think that all those skills that mean you can do things like ummm, read and write and engage in the wider world are the preserve of the male of the species. And here I was thinking that we all had to learn these things, whereas all along the possssion of a pair of testicles means that men emerge fully formed and intrinsically skillfull, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Or not like Athena at all.

The idea that somehow there are male skills and female skills is a bizzarely outdated piece of post-facto justification for a division of labour which serves the purposes of a system which needs women subjugated and in the home. How much easier to keep them there if they are busy telling themslves that its empowering and that a few hours a week in the local community garden and doing a permaculture course is world changing political action.

This stuff makes me angry. It makes me wall-punching, hippie-kicking angry. I want to rend and tear. And not just these truly foolish women who are trying to tell themslves they've made a choice to save the planet; when all they're doing is having the same lack of choice that women have always had. The difference is that now they pretty that up by saying that staying at home, growing veggies (organic bloody veggies), killing chickens and recycling clothes is – empowering.

Fuck these smug cunts and their gross attack on everything that the rest of us have been struggling for for the last several thousand years. Go live on your hippie fucken commune if you want just don't try and tell me its empowering; that its about equal but different. We've been listening to that crap since Hector headed out to meet his fate and sent Andromache back to finish her weaving. Its time to change the narrative not just the adjectives you use when writing it.