Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Inanna, patriarchy and porn

In one of the stories of Inanna, it is told that she went into the orchard, leaned against an apple tree, gazed upon her wondrous vulva and applauded herself. When I first read that I could not quite take it in. Here was a sacred text in which genital shame was absent. And it is described so matter-of-factly. her vulva was wondrous. She applauded herself. Of course. Why not?

Except we all know why not. Or do we? I have written about this at length elsewhere and will put it online as soon as I have a website up - so will go no further here. But I got to thinking about this when I read a recent posting by Debi Crow on the ongoing controversy regarding pornography. Wherever truth lies, and I suspect it lies somewhere between the two extremes, I applaud her call for both sides to talk and listen to each other. I am also disturbed that she seemed unable to get this very balanced article published elsewhere because the site feared "blog wars".

Anyway, to get back to Inanna, as i always do and have done for several years. I wonder whether, had the technology been available then, a photograph of this event would have been termed pornographic. It was her vulva - the boat of heaven - which in the end of the story brought the facets of civilisation to Uruk just as, later, in Gilgamesh it was a priestess who, by lying with him, civilised the wild man Enkidu. If a camera were ther to record those seven nights, again this would be classed by some as pornography. Which is not necessarily to legitimise pornography but to ask a simple question. How and when did the active, unashamed, sexuality portrayed in these myths, become so debased? The simple answer is, of course, patriarchy but this merely defers the answer. My own feeling - and the subject I am currently working on - is that patriarchy arose as a reaction to civilisation and a perceived emasculation that it brought. Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on their quest into the wilderness in the first-ever buddy movie and their adventures have haunted us ever since. In the meantime, in the locker rooms, clubs, barracks, madrassahs and vaticans of the their successors, sexually autonomous women, of whatever kind, remain, as Glgamesh called Ishtar/Inanna, sluts, creatures of filth and shame.

As far as I can see, pornography and other aspects of the sex trade are the direct and inevitable result of this shame. As such, it will continue to exist as long as shame does. And shame has been with us almost throughout recorded history and its wounds fester. I also believe that much of the reaction to the sex trade in all its forms is equally a result of shame and that by demonising "unrepentant" sex workers they can become repository of the collective shame by all those who parade themselves as pure - whatever their ideology.

But the story of Inanna in the garden hints at a time when this was not the case - that sexual shame is not an intrinsic part of human nature but a relatively recent pathology. We can be different.

Goddess calls for a way of healing these ancient wounds and a movement towards a sexuality of mutual respect and love. I do not know what that will look like and neither, I suspect, does anybody else. Perhaps there will be financial transactions and i suspect there will and there is certainly ample historical precedent but we simply cannot tell . Goddess knows there is a long way to go, but we can only start from where we are. And the sex trade cannot be legislated, argued or wished away. Moralists of all persuasions have tried to do so for a long time. There are certainly unambiguously evil aspects to it. There are women and children of both sexes trafficked and enslaved. This is fact and it is also a fact that far too few resources are devoted to eradicating it and freeing those who are affected. This is the urgent problem. It is literally a matter of life and death. when slavery has finally been abolished, then and only then can we begin to look at the reasons why people choose to be sex workers. To conflate those enslaved and those who choose is to do both a disservice. Furthermore, the marginalisation, criminalisation, patronising and scapegoating of non-enslaved sex workers can only serve to perpetuate this slavery. I am no expert but I cannot but see that those who are voluntarily in the industry are far more expert in the conditions of slavery of others than any who sit outside and comment from an ideological perspective in which positions have already been reached before the debate has even begun.

Life does not fall neatly into any of the binary oppositions that human beings are so fond of erecting. I act from motives that are mixed - both noble and ignoble - and so, I suspect, does everyone else. I fear all those who claim that "right is on my side" - the 20th century is full of mass graves dug by those who "knew" that they were right.

No comments: