I wrote this entry as a reflection piece on this other one, which is about Andrea Dworkin and pornography: http://basta-ya-de-violencia-patriarcal.blogspot.com/2011/09/la-pornografia-importa-andrea-dworkin.html . Those who know me know that Dworkin is one of the philosophers who resonate the most with me.
Pornography is the faithful reflection of the machista sexual culture of the society in which we live. It is the depositary of the ideology of machismo in its erotic dimension and feeds off of the same culture at which it is aimed. It does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of the culture from which it emerges and to which it returns. It not only educates society, it is informed by society. The same men who say “women are whores” are the ones who say “I will beat the shit out of you, dude”; it is all related. It is often proposed as a definitive solution that we not educate ourselves with pornography. How can we not be educated with pornography if it is all that is out there and merely an accurate reflection of the only model of eroticism that is offered?
On the blog I’ve linked to there is an image of a poster which is part of a widespread government campaign against machista violence in Spain. The poster says (to the omnipresent heterosexual man assumed to be reading it) “When you abuse a woman, you stop being a man”. It is understood that to be a man is the best thing imaginable and that the most degrading thing imaginable is not to be one. The intention is to use precisely the misogynist anxiety of macho men to modify their misogynistic behavior. The poster attempts to convince them that they should never hit a woman because in doing so they turn into what they find most demeaning of all – women! They are made effeminate. That is to say that the act would “reduce” them to the level of the woman they were battering and therefore real men must direct their aggression solely towards other males, which would have the effect of proving their manliness. We are to believe that a man (a real man) does not hit a woman, not because it is wrong, in principle, to beat someone up, but rather because women are weak and men are strong and therefore a man does not measure himself against women, his inferiors, but against other men, who are always his equals and fellows (even if they are actually weaker than he is – it doesn’t matter). When a man assaults a woman it lacks merit, not because the assault is immoral, but rather because of the inferiority of the woman with regards to the man; on the contrary, when a man assaults another man, it is always meritorious and it becomes a moral act because it is directed against an equal, even if, in fact, the victim is small or defenseless, because even though he may be at a disadvantage, he is not himself an “inferior”. One sees that the determination of inferiority in this case is not made on the basis of the vulnerability or defenselessness of the target of violence (these do not protect the weak male), but solely on the basis of sex. It is thus that the batterer lowers himself if he abuses a woman and “stops being a man”. In summary, this is a campaign that not only does not repudiate violence in principle, it also takes the moral legitimacy of misogyny for granted.
Is this approach to violence coherent with egalitarian values? It is oxymoronic to attempt to fight against male-supremacist violence in accordance with male-supremacist values. It is a project doomed to failure because of its own internal contradictions and I would dare say that it is a misogynist, reactionary, heterosexist and twisted campaign. I mention it because this misogynist culture – on which this campaign depends and which, in this case, is reproduced on a radical feminist website, no less – is not different from the misogynist culture expressed through heterosexual pornography as criticized on the blog. They are the same culture.
If we want to abolish it, we must make a very hard decision that will generate a lot of anger and resistance: to reject altogether the figure of the “real man” and of manhood (and a “manly culture”) and to create instead an egalitarian culture together, among us all, which would be our basic, common culture, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or any other identities we may have. The macho culture would have to disappear. Are we amenable to this kind of demasculinization? I ask because it would entail, among other things, such a profound reform of eroticism that it would be left unrecognizable. We would have to be fully honest about all of our own desires and motivations.
The existing sexual-erotic model is based on male subjectivity – that is to say, when “sex” is mentioned, it refers to the male subject and, specifically, to a penis entering an orifice, and women are constructed and constituted as a function of the subjective desire of this omnipresent male subject, a sort of Big Brother. Likewise, it is understood, in accordance with the predominant sexual model – the machista sexual model – that male genitals are intrinsically degrading and that contact with a penis is degrading in and of itself, that ejaculation in and of itself degrades any person it touches and, ultimately, that erotic contact with the penis demeans people. This is the fundamental basis of male homophobia, so deeply rooted into society. Heterosexual men fear being demeaned, seen as “queers”, made “effeminate”, that is to say, being lowered to the female caste, a status they feel should be reserved, by rights, to the female class. Women have been objects of desire for heterosexual men without any recognition of women neither as subjects nor as human. The conception of female sexuality itself in this culture is as reconciliation with being used and made to submit during the sexual act because the sexual act itself is defined essentially as an act of domination and submission. Thus, even to the extent that culture now considers female subjectivity, it is generally conceived in terms of a subjective desire to submit. Pornography faithfully and accurately reflects all of this.
And what of the conception of male desire? If we accept that heterosexual men understand that their own genitals demean and degrade people merely by touching them or by their presence – and we know that they understand this, save for a few honorable exceptions, because of their raging homophobia, their terror that another man might touch them, that they may be perceived as “queers”, because of the meaning of the term “to fuck [someone]” along with a host of other evidence showing that they understand it – then the question is, how can they be happy? Shouldn’t it bother them that the meaning of their passionate desire, their eroticism and even of their bodies to their supposed ‘beloved’ is, ultimately, to be humiliated, degraded, stigmatized and to submit? Shouldn’t this destroy their self-esteem? Sex ought to make them feel panic, not enthusiasm. Nothing less could be expected if the meaning of an anatomically male person’s sexual expression is what is shown in pornography – to morally and physically decimate his lover – which could only inspire horror and shame. And some of us, indeed, do experience it this way.
But the vast majority of males do not feel anything of the sort – on the contrary, they have an inexhaustible sexual self-esteem that contrasts surreally with the disgust and unease that they usually cause both to other heterosexual men and to women, even to heterosexual women, who one might think would be the most attracted to them and who, nevertheless, as the machistas themselves insist, they must generally compensate in some way for tolerating the displeasure of their “company”. They are also demeaned, as predators. Yet, paradoxically, their self-esteem remains wholly intact, as if they do not even realize it, or they do not care. How is this possible?
How can a person maintain their sexual self-esteem when the effect of their sexuality is to provoke apprehension, fear, repulsion and disgust? I can only think of a single way: by becoming a sadist, because the sadist delights in the suffering they cause to others and it actually makes them feel better. Only a sadist would feel pride and satisfaction at causing fear and disgust. Any other person would feel horrified and depressed. To be a man in this society is either to be a sadist, or to be depressed. That is what I believe.
So we have a culture which is meticulously fine-tuned to produce sadistic men who celebrate the disgust they cause and the fear they provoke as they are accompanied by a whole culture which celebrates the same with them even when purportedly denouncing them for their excesses. If not, then how else to explain this poster reproaching batterers that they should feel more ashamed to be thought effeminate than to be thought cruel?
I have read female eroticism written by women and it does not improve the panorama at all; it is essentially the same as male pornography. It is a more palatable domination, conquest with sweetener, but in the end almost all androphilic eroticism is based on the same fundamental concept: The irrepressible male marks his prey (generally female, occasionally a gentle male), his hormones cloud his judgment, he feels he must possess his prey, he harasses it, traps it, conquers it, takes it, forces himself on it, his prey resists, he pushes, he imposes himself, he possesses, and finally his prey complacently relents and “lets him have his way”. It is this that is considered “erotic” and “attractive” about the male, whereas what is considered erotic about the female is her passivity, which in heterosexual eroticism essentially amounts to the woman liking whatever it is that the man wants to do to her, or hating it, as preferred by the man in question. Let’s face it, heterosexual eroticism in particular, and androphilia in general, is an eroticism of rape.
Of course, there are no real people harmed in written eroticism, even if the content of it is still violent – but that is not surprising. To abuse real people to feel sexual pleasure is something sadistic people would do. It is something you would expect from people incapable of understanding sexual desire itself except through sadism. And that is what all of society wants from its males, after all, who are then shipped out to kill “faggots” abroad – that they be sadists, above all else.
How long will we continue with this model? If this model does not change, nothing will ever change. The attractiveness of a man can no longer be his “virility” or his “power”, nor can the attractiveness of a woman be any longer her “pretty face” or her girlish manners. Let’s just say that all of that is over. We would have to redefine absolutely everything and create a new sexual ethics, from the ground up, from which a new egalitarian eroticism would then flow. What is egalitarian sex? What is it like? If people approach one another mutually as subjects and equals, what happens? What is it that we want if what we want is egalitarian sex?
I want there to be another model and other erotic images that promote an egalitarian vision of sexuality with which to educate ourselves, with which to culturally define ourselves and with which to inspire ourselves. But at the moment the only things that are made are those centered on pain and suffering, degradation or humiliation and domination and submission as erotic devices (which, in heterosexual culture, is nearly all that exists, and in the majority of the lesbian, gay or bisexual cultures, which ape the heterosexual culture, likewise). The egalitarians of the world would have to exhibit and develop in the open this alternative that we desire. Wouldn’t we?