Saturday, 29 November 2008

It's only a game...

I have been having a bit of trouble writing this post. Something in a blog I was reading this morning seemed to me to sum up many of the problems I have with the use of the word "patriarchy". I get very frustrated by what I see as a very restrictive and partial - in both senses of that word - use of it by some writers. For some it is a good word to use to dismiss the opinions of those with whom they disagree- particularly if that person is a man. If she is woman then she can equally be dismissed as a tool or dupe of patriarchy. Many men also react defensively when the word is used, feeling - often accurately - that it is used personally against them. In both cases the word then serves to divide and close off communication.

Many people, therefore, have decided not to use it and I fully respect their reasoning. One word which has been suggested is "Kyriarchy" and i can see its advantages. For one thing, it is new and is therefore fairly devoid of the baggage of history. And it does not seem to be gendered. I have been tempted to use it.

After consideration, however, I have decided not to. And this is for reasons that are sort of encoded in the word. For, far from being ungendered it comes, as I understand it, from two greek words - kyrios, meaning "lord", and archein, meaning "to rule". Thus, what is happening is a movement up a level from "rule of the father" to "rule of the lord". (It is therefore, now I think about it, more accurate than patriarchy and this makes a powerful argument for its adoption. But, nevertheless, I will continue for a while to try to reclaim the word "patriarchy"). For I feel that at least there is a sort of understanding of what "patriarchy" means. And also because i feel it is important not to obscure the fact that the values that are dominant and celebrated are indeed those very ones that are associated with masculinity.

The particular thing that prompted this musing was coming across two posts in a blog. The first detailed the prolonged abuse of the writer from many men. The other celebrated her devotion to a particular football team. To me, there was a feeling of dissonance which was clearly absent from her experience. To her, a football match is a positive and life-affirming experience, whereas to me it is one of the principal tools in the construction of that model of masculinity and gender-based domination from which she had suffered so long.

I have no argument with children or consenting adults getting together of an afternoon to kick a ball about. That is their own business and I can see that they could get a lot of pleasure from it. What worries me is the central position competitive male team sports take in our culture. For it is essentially a violent activity in which a group of young men fight to gain dominance over another group of young men - watched and encouraged by thousands of others, mainly but not exclusively male, who vicariously partake of the battle. And this participation is not always entirely vicarious as many city centres have seen to their cost. And the off field violence is not, as many would allege, an aberration but is rather a result and extension of the violence intrinsic to the match itself.

Organised sport as we know it had its origins in the 18 and 19 centuries. In the early 19th century Wellington's remark that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton was an early recognition of the link between warfare and sport. By the time of the first world war the two were culturally deeply intertwined. As the carnage began, this poem by Henry Newbolt was both widely admired and reviled - expressing as it does the idea that sport prepares men for war.

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke
The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

It was in this spirit that, in the first months of the war, young officers would advance on the enemy kicking a football. War was, to them, simply an extension of the team sports that had played a principal role in their education.

This particular naive and simplistic idea did not survive long in the trenches (or, more accurately, those who held it did not) but it was a major factor in recruitment. The totalitarian regimes of right and left that followed the war also saw the value of sport as a preparation for world dominance. This is because what team sports in particular do is to foster the notion of "them and us". The whole point of each ninety minute exercise is to establish physical dominance of one side over another. Once the normality and desirability of that ideal of dominance is established in people's minds it is then easy to manipulate to whatever "thems" or "us-es" are convenient.

I want here briefly to look at the behaviour of fans. It has been pointed out by those across the Atlantic that crowd violence is notably absent from US sport. It was also absent from football in the UK until the 1960s. The reason for this is, I believe, connected with Empire. Fans do not need to demonstrate their dominance3 in such a way when the world dominance of their group is a basic assumption. As Britain's imperial pretensions evaporated in the 50s and 60s, so rose the spectre of sport related violence. It will be interesting to see if, as the American Empire follows the inevitable road to collapse, the same phenomenon appears at their weekly celebrations of male dominance.

Now, football is not going to vanish overnight and neither, really, would I want it to. But to pretend that it is an unadulterated social good and that all children, however unwilling (as I was), should be coerced into it is both dishonest and dangerous. The ideal of masculinity that is upheld is not one generally noted for sensitivity and respect for women and other, perceived, "weaker" men. On the contrary, it is an ideal of contempt for the weak which is expressed in taunts and bullying. In fact, it fosters the attitude that sees the bodies of those perceived as weaker as fit for exploitation by virtue of that very weakness and the right of conquest.

Whatever you call it, patriarchy invades all aspects of our lives and of our consciousness. Despite what I have written, I still feel a surge of pride and pleasure when Wales beats England at Rugby. I doubt that this particular piece of hypocrisy will ever go away - it had its roots too deep in my history. And I know that other areas of my life are invaded by the dominant world religion of patriarchy (Here, again, I can see the value of "kyriarchy" but will keep patriarchy because of its direct links with the literal patriarchs such as Abraham). The mass promoted team sports act to validate male (mainly) aggression and are as much a product of patriarchal thought as prostitution and pornography. In fact, they are even more instrumental in its maintenance and continued survival. It is more than coincidence that the triumph of the sports culture and the rise of differing forms of social darwinism have occupied the same period of time.

Friday, 28 November 2008

All you need ...

Have been thinking a lot over the last few days and will post again tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, an old song that remains relevant.

Performed on the first ever live global television performance - many years ago.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Rethinking sex workers rights- link to debs

It is another strange piece of synchronicity that, just after writing about the Great Whore, I should read this article on Debs' site. Whatever you may feel about pornstitution, sex work or whatever you like to call it, the fact is that many women are being brutalised and even murdered because they are regarded as "whores" and therefore somehow deserving of it. Will further criminalisation help remedy this? Somehow I doubt it. I strongly recommend reading the article

yet another meme - prompting some thoughts

Spotted this time on debsi's site

Pass it on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The CLOSEST BOOK, NOT YOUR FAVORITE, OR MOST INTELLECTUAL!

Well, as it happened, hidden under a bunch of papers on my desk was "Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth" by Wolkstein and Kramer.

P.56 (Inanna is demanding entry into the underworld)

Across her forehead her dark locks of hair are perfectly arranged.
Around her neck, she wears the small lapis beads.
At her breast she wears the double strand of beads.
Her body is wrapped in the royal robe.
Her eyes are daubed with the ointment called, "Let him come, let him come."
Around her chest she wears the breastplate called "Come, man, come!"

It seems beyond coincidence that this meme should crop up now and that it should lead me to the point in the story where Inanna, just prior to her own descent, is being described to her sister, Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld.

This is a story i have told many times in many different places. I remember the thrill of recognition that I felt when I first read it - it felt somehow very familiar and, well, right. It is the earliest literary occurrence - so far translated anyway - of the descent into the underworld motif that appears in so many different accounts throughout our history. It even has the three days of death that is to appear later in the Jesus myth.

Unlike Jesus's myth, however, this was not undertaken in order to "take away the sins of the world" but as a response to some strange, undefined, call - she "turned her ear to the Great Below". It is not a redemptive journey but one of transformation - the Inanna who emerges from the underworld is not the same woman who entered but is one who has confronted and embraced her own inner demons. She is not a "good girl" in any way but has accepted herself in her totality - fully aware of her power and prepared to use it.

In order to get to this point, however, she had to lose all her previous certainties and preconceptions. She had to lose all pretence and become naked and vulnerable as she saw the face of her shadow twin, Ereshkigal, and merged with her - dying to herself in order to be reborn whole by allowing her pain to be heard.

At least this is the way I currently understand this myth. But there is so much contained in this story - as well as the others in her mythos - that I do not see that one lifetime will be enough to do more than scratch the surface. For the tales of Inanna, I believe, hold the keys to both the beginnings of the ills of our civilisation and the beginnings of their healing.

Aspasia, of La Libertine's salon, has written this in response to attacks on sex workers:

Gene Roddenberry lied, ladies; space is NOT the final frontier. Sexuality is and it is also the first frontier. ... When sexuality is dictated by an outside party, by someone else, then no other civil rights will be had. Understand this. Control sex, control the person.

Renegade Evolution has asked in a recent posting why, when and how did sexuality become bound up with so many taboos, restrictions etc. She has also resurrected an old post in which she points out that it is precisely on the pathologising of sex that the porn industry, of which she is a part, thrives.

I have a few vague but developing ideas as to the "why" of Ren's questions but am a little clearer about the when and the how. In the stories of Inanna, we see a woman who is uninhibited in the enjoyment of her own body and that of her lover. In the later Babylonian myths, however, we see the same goddess, now called Ishtar, being labelled "whore" by Gilgamesh. And this label remains to this day, having taken a starring role in the paranoid ravings from Patmos that we now know as the Book of Revelations.

We are still living in that nightmare. But I believe it is possible to wake up before the script that was written reaches its hideous end. Goddess has many names and many faces. For me She is Inanna and I will tell her story as best I can. For, to use Aspasia's metaphor, She is, to me, the first and the final frontier. The goddess of total being.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Another meme

Ren has posted this on her blog.
Rules:- Choose a singer/band/group- Leonard Cohen (who else?)

Answer the following using ONLY titles of songs by that singer/band/group

1. Are you male or female? I'm your man
2. Describe yourself. You know who I am
3. What do people feel when they’re around you? Tonight will be fine
4. How would you describe your previous relationship? Seems so long ago, Nancy
5. Describe your current relationship. Heart with no companion
6. Where would you want to be now? A thousand kisses deep
7. How do you feel about love? Dance me to the end of love
8. What’s your life like? The stranger song
9. What would you ask for if you had only one wish? Love itself
10. Say something wise. Be for real

Monday, 24 November 2008

Priest of Inanna

I am not too sure how to write this. I have been going over all sorts of different structures all day but none of them seemed satisfactory. So I will just write and see if I can avoid any serious use of the delete button. Because something happened in the temple on saturday night and now things are somehow changed. I cannot go back to the time before, even if I should want to. As I wrote last week, I was planning to initiate as Priest of Inanna and this has now happened. Nervous as hell, I arrived at the Temple and was then taken through a very profound ceremony which culminated in me making a vow of dedication to Inanna.

I will not go into the details of the ceremony here but it was always challenging and at times highly physically demanding. I cannot express fully the gratitude I feel to all the priest/esses who devised this journey for me and held me in their love as I went through it. It was wonderful. Now I have to see just what this fancy title I have claimed means because I have really very little idea. All I know is that I felt called to claim it and called to Her service.

I have written much about Inanna, both on this blog and elsewhere, and will not repeat it here now- although it is certain that I will many times in the future. I am very tired and also in a bit of pain, one part of the ceremony was such that I seem to have injured a rib - which for someone who can be overcome with sneezing fits is distinctly uncomfortable! Oh, well. So it goes.

So apart from the pain and tiredness, how do I feel? Really good! It makes perfect sense in some strange way that I have done this. There is a rightness about it that I cannot put into words. Over the last few months, I have had a growing awareness of her presence in all aspects of my life. Even as I, at times, felt close to despair or barely containing a rising panic at the perceived precarious realities of my life here, there has been an underlying knowledge that whatever happens is ok. Not in some sort of wishy-washy new agey panglossian optimism but with the very real conviction that I have work to do and that I will be given whatever I need to perform it.

I have not taken this step lightly - and I do not regret it

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Back in the labyrinth

Well, I never really left. I had just for a while hidden my awareness of it behind a lot of head stuff. For a couple of weeks, I have been delving around in the theory of origins and asking how we got into the mess we are in now. Very interesting - to me - and possibly useful as a contribution towards diagnosis and a possible remedy, but it has also been an attempt to deny some very difficult feelings. Which are - to list a few - grief, fear, excitement, elation, depression, loneliness, despair, hope, faith and its lack. All these can co-exist within a single day and it is quite exhausting.

It has been going on for a long time now and shows no sign of letting up. In fact, it seems to be reaching a peak with me alternately howling in grief and then feeling a quiet confidence. Then fear, doubt, joy etc come each in their turn bringing their own particular flavours to the brew.

All that is certain is that I know nothing. At the weekend, unless I otherwise decide, I will initiate as priest of Inanna. Lest anyone ask, I have no idea what this could mean. I have asked others to devise the ceremony and have no idea what they have planned. Still less do I know what it will mean after the ceremony. Least of all do I know why I am doing it. My sceptic tells me that it is absurd in the early 21 Century to dedicate to a divinity honoured by a people whose civilisation flourished several millennia ago, my critic that I am indulging my innate histrionicism and my inner shrink that I am simply mad. All of which may well be true but there is also a voice that tells me that this is the path I have to tread. It is a voice that I have heard before and it has led me through many changes in my life. I now see it as the voice of Inanna. Whatever that may mean.

There are many times I wish that I had never heard it - and there are many ways I have tried to drown it out, including, at various times, drugs and alcohol. None of these ways have ever succeeded in cancelling my inner conviction that there is something that I have to do in this life. Nothing that has enabled me to relax into a more4 ordinary life. So, now I am forced to listen - and to follow the inner promptings of my intuition and the less common but very powerful times of hearing Her voice.

So, if she has called me, what does she want from me? I have no idea but as she has been called the Great Whore, Babylon etc, I assume that it is something concerned with sexuality and the moralities and judgements surrounding it. Which has been behind my recent postings about the porn debate. This is not a subject that I have entered lightly. I am only too aware of my own difficulties and vulnerabilities and do not relish putting myself in any sort of firing line. But I am convinced that there is nothing more vital than to explore ways of expressing desire, intimacy and love between human beings that are not exploitative and ruled by fear and shame. I have no answers in this - only questions and a belief that things have not always been as totally fucked up as they are now and that human beings were once able to live and love together in ways that were freer than they are now. And what was possible once is possible again.

I have long been, and remain, a radical although I often try to run into a safer place of traditional structure. To be a radical is to challenge the very roots of our cultural attitudes and this is not a comfortable journey. So, I have tried to compromise. These attempts have never been successful for long and the radical eventually breaks out- often in ways that are exceedingly painful for me and others. I am now struggling to find the courage to remain a radical and avoid the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to find certainties and become "respectable".

I am not sure why I am writing this, but it seemed necessary. I went for a walk in the forest yesterday and it was beautiful. Most of the trees have lost most of their leaves now and the naked branches shone seemed to shine in the clear autumn light against a deep blue sky. Although the sun was warm, there as a clear chill in the shade and i was glad of my new warm coat - a bit too large but very cheap as it was the end of the range in the local Tesco. I had started off feeling very disturbed and realising that there was a strong possibility that my time here was soon to be over and that I would be forced to sell all I have in order to return to the UK. But in the course of the walk, this possibility ceased to be frightening. I also realised that a large part of me yearns and has never ceased yearning to return. But what was done cannot be undone and although i may still return to Britain, I cannot go back to what was before. And that was ok - and remains so. The grief is still there and will perhaps never go away. But there is also joy and a feeling that I am doing what I have been called to do. But I wish the instructions could be clearer at times!

I may post again before the weekend. Or I may not. we shall see.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

"She made me do it" Pt.II

So there were two in the Garden, we are told, basking in the perfection of the loving approval of their creator. This loving approval, however, was not unconditional - for in the middle of the garden there was a tree of whose fruit they were forbidden to eat. And the serpent, the subtlest of all the creatures, wished to destabilise this near perfection and therefore sought to get them to break the tenancy agreement. But he could see that Adam was too upright, steadfast and - well - honourable and downright manly to be swayed by his silver forked tongue. luckily for this serpent, however, the creator had added to his original creation and this second creature was far more pliable. She listened to the seductive whispers in her ear and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And the persuaded her man to do the same. And when the shit hit the fan and the divine question came, Adam pointed to Eve and whimpered, "The woman did give me and I did eat!".

Poor petal! How could he resist? After all, he implied "we both know what women are like". His erstwhile good buddy, Jahweh/Elohim, going along with the rules of this newly inaugurated male club, agreed and cursing the woman with the pains of childbirth and a monthly messiness, evicted his creatures into the harshness of the hitherto "good" world he had created.

And here we are all now. Saints and sinners, pornographers and hellfire preachers, arms manufacturers and starving children - all sitting waiting for this sinful world to explode into the final glory.

Of course, we are all educated heirs of the Enlightenment (except, of course, for all those rather comical but also sinister and dangerous fundamentalists) and have long left all this nonsense behind. Haven't we?

I would like to think so, but I have severe doubts. Because, no matter how it is glossed nowadays, we still know, deep in our collective psyche, that the cause of all our problems is sex. That fascinating alluring yet terrifying instinct over which we have little, if any control once it is unleashed. And women are the beings that embody sex. And therefore have to be controlled. Women are not rational beings for their wandering wombs (nowadays we say hormones, but the effect is the same) cause them to become hysterical. They are also voracious and in this voracity are naturally opposed to the good running of society- for to quote the author of the Malleus Maleficarum (The hammer of the witches) -
all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

Many have recently disputed the degree of authority with which this ludicrous but repulsive tract was invested but it is undeniable that this often quoted sentence reflected a widely held, if not universal,male view of women's sexuality. And this is particularly dangerous because of one inescapable fact. No man can be absolutely sure of paternity unless he takes very severe measures to ensure it. And entire societies have been built to try to control this danger.

Which, of course, manifests in controlling women. Much of what we term morality is, in fact, aimed at nothing other than ensuring that each woman makes their genitals available only to one person. She often has little say in this with that person being decided on by her male relatives - who, prior to her marriage, own her "honour" which is then passed onto the husband. Even today, in the west, the bride is still often "given away" at her wedding by her father. Who other than the legal owner of something is able to "give it away"?

We have moved, we think, a long way from the inability of a woman to own her own property. But, in fact, there are many ways in which she does not even own her own genitals. Leaving aside those cultures in which they are mutilated, we have societies in the more "advanced" world which still believe that they can dictate how she gives herself pleasure. Not so long ago, in Texas, a woman called Joanne Webb was arrested for selling a vibrator to two undercover narcotics police officers. What was particularly telling in the report was the fact that what made her action illegal was that she described how the vibrator was to be used- as a means of receiving genital pleasure. Were she to have told her customers to massage, for example, the neck, with it or simply keep on a shelf it as a "novelty item" then no crime would have been committed. The vibrator, incidentally, was invented about a century ago in order to assist doctors who specialised in relieving women of the "symptoms of hysteria" by inducing orgasm. The doctors, of course, were committing no crime and were, no doubt, profiting greatly. And before we revel in our cultural superiority concerning genital mutilation it is worth remembering that is not so long ago in the West that clitoridectomies were performed in order to prevent masturbation. I am not sure if they were performed by the same doctors who were using vibrators on other patients but I would not be surprised.

Both genital mutilation and this Texan case are about one thing - the control of women's pleasure. Because, as we all know, carnal lust is "in women, insatiable". The other side of this is, however, that men are somehow incapable of withstanding the effects of this lust. That the lust sort of leaks out of the woman and is transferred to those powerless being who possesses penises that react to this leakage and force their owners to partake of regrettably unpleasant and undignified acts. "She was asking for it!" may no longer be the absolute defence it was but is still a significant factor in acquitting men from acts of rape - which is why women's sexual histories become a factor here. A nun is far more likely to be believed than a prostitute - most women fall between these two extremes but their credibility will be largely determined by the place they occupy on this line.

For we still live in a world dominated by the virgin/whore duality. The two Marys, the madonna and the magdalen, remain the models by which women are judged.

The former, lest it be forgot, conceived without penetration and, equally importantly, without sexual pleasure. She also remained intact throughout the birth process and at no point in her life, we are assured, felt the pains of "carnal lust". The Magdalene on the other hand, had felt this pangs and had yielded to their insatiability. Her lot, therefore, was to be a perpetual penitent - gaining absolution through abasement. Peter Mullan's powerful film The Magdalene Sisters shows how this brutal logic was played out in women's lives in a late twentieth century Western democracy.

For the human male must be protected from the weakness of women who seek to indulge their unholy lust. This is the way, by not just a heritage of the Abrahamic faiths. The Buddhist Sutta Pitaka chapter 5, for example, reads
Ananda : How are we to conduct ourselves with regard to womankind?
Buddha: As not seeing them Ananda,
Ananda: But if we should see them, what are we to do?
Buddha: Not talking Ananda.
Ananda: But if they should speak to us Lord, what are we to do?
Buddha: Keep wide-awake Ananda!

The same logic is at play here. Men need ever to keep alert about the dangers of women's sexuality. For men are well nigh powerless to resist it and need structures of control to protect themselves from the overwhelming urge to penetrate. Human beings have constructed many ways to shield men from this - from the all-enveloping clothing of some societies to to strict segregation of the sexes in others. Women, in all societies that I am aware of, are the ones who are thus restricted in their freedom. When a predatory rapist or sex killer is on the streets, for example, it is unaccompanied women who are advised to keep off the streets. Surely, it would make more sense to ask all unaccompanied men to explain their presence on the streets, but this is never done.

At the root of all this is the belief that men are unable to resist the allure of women. That we are unable to take responsibility for our own desire and that women must be held to account for it.

"The woman did give me, and I did eat"

Friday, 14 November 2008

Suddenly, I feel old....

..... and as if the world has passed me by. The BBC online magazine has this story of something I had never previously inagined:

Wife walks in and finds husband in an compromising position on the sofa with another woman. Wife feels betrayed. Wife files for divorce. Marriage ends.

It's a familiar scenario in soap operas, but for one married couple it was all too real. Sort of.

Amy Taylor and David Pollard met in an online chatroom in 2003, got married and shared their interest in Second Life, a virtual world in which users create avatars to interact with each other.

But the marriage ended after Ms Taylor's online character saw her husband's avatar having sex on a sofa with a female prostitute.

There is more here but my mind is just too boggled to continue now. I may come back to it later.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

"She made me do it!"

It has been a lot longer than I intended since I last posted. Part of that has been due to having had a very busy and exhausting first weekend with the new intake on the Priest/ess training. Tiring it was indeed, but also very wonderful and rewarding. I am really looking forward to the year ahead.

I have also been feeling the effects of what seems to be a very low grade cold - just feeling a little under the weather and not very creative. Which is perhaps why I was especially shattered at the beginning of the week.

Anyway, I am still feeling a bit off - but will post nevertheless. Because, although I have not been feeling particularly creative, I have been doing a fair bit of reading and a lot of thinking. It will be no surprise to any that have read my earlier postings that much of this thinking has centred on sexuality and gender. One of the major things that has struck me over recent weeks is how difficult I find it to come to any sort of firm conclusion about any of it. For example, I cannot help but agree with the anti-porn activists about the deeply misogynist nature of much that is available. I will not go into details here except to say that much of the representation is of the degradation of women . I accept that this judgement is highly subjective and also that the acts are fantasy and that the women involved have given consent and have been paid for it. But I do worry about the fact that there is a market for this type of material.

I realise that my reactions are not evidence and I do not cite them as such. However distasteful I may find some of this material, moreover, I do not see it as having any causal effect - it is simply reflecting and serving a spectrum of desires and attitudes that are already present within the human species. There are numerous assertions made by campaigners that there are links between the "pornification" of society and the prevalence of violence against women. I do not necessarily accept them. For example, the same time period that they are talking about has also seen an increase, albeit not large enough yet, in women taking leading positions in all forms of human endeavour from science to politics. Porn is not a cause of this either. I could also point to the relatively more servile position of women in societies that have stricter control of porn, such as, say, Saudi Arabia, and assert that porn could have a positive effect on women's position. It would, however, have little validity.

Much of the anti-porn rhetoric implies that porn is responsible for creating a moral justification for negative attitudes about and violence directed at women. It is not. These attitudes and violence were rampant long before the internet was invented and the first blue movie shot- all that porn has done has been to make money from something that already existed. Rape has been seen as a normal part of life for millennia - in fact marital rape was only made a crime in Britain by the government of Margaret Thatcher. The rise of the awareness of domestic violence has, similarly, only come about during recent times - previously it had been accepted as something between the couple concerned and certainly no business of the police or the courts.

The problem is not porn. The problem is misogyny. Ren posted a story recently about an "honour" killing in Pakistan. This cannot be laid at the door of porn. Neither can the genital mutilation of young girls in many parts of the world nor the excesses of the churches who locked up "fallen" women and used then as slaves. It cannot be blamed for the rape of millions of women by soldiers from all armies. It cannot be blamed for the slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson, who raped - for what else can it be as property cannot refuse? - the women they owned.

A few years ago there was a call from politicians for a return to the "Victorian values" of family and morality and away from the permissiveness of the 60s generation which was leading, they asserted, to the decline of western civilisation. However, even a cursory glance at that history will reveal that the morality was nothing more than show. Estimates of the number of prostitutes in London would put it at around 3% of the entire population. These were by no means all women but many were young girls. To quote from F Rush The best kept secret- sexual abuse of children
"There were never enough 'voluntary prostitutes' to meet the voracious Victorian demand. Consequently, enterprising entrepreneurs established a system of obtaining 'involuntary prostitutes' Men who wanted sex with little girls were prepared to pay a good price, and a standard pricing system brought about twenty pounds for a healthy working-class girl between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, a hundred pounds for a middle-class girl of the same age; and as much as four hundred pounds for a child from the upper class under age twelve... " (Rush 1980, p.64).

All this before the internet. Long before Hugh Heffner or Larry Flint were even born. In fact, for most of the history of western civilisation the primary ethos has been the subjugation of women and the denial of their rights to assert their autonomy. Mythologically, it dates from a curse in a garden after Adam had made that original, classic, claim. "She made me do it!"

There are many men out there who hate and fear and want to harm women. They do not need porn to give them permission. Anything will do. The bible, for example, has been very effective in this regard for centuries. Which is one of the many reasons that I am uneasy and suspicious when feminists make common cause with the bible belt preachers as some have in the porn debate. For the enemy's enemy, far from being a friend, may prove equally or even more murderous. Think Hitler and Stalin.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The politics of pleasure

Some of you may have read about "The Price of Pleasure", an anti-porn film which is going the rounds in the US. I cannot comment on the content of the film, since I haven't seen it and as I do not think it will reach this part of the world, nor am I likely to. But the title itself in many ways tells me a lot
Firstly, it is catchy and to the point. It relates neatly to the subject of the movie - sexual pleasure bought and sold - and hints, alliteratively at the subject matter of porn.

I am more interested, however, in something that is implicit in the title - that sexual pleasure must have a price. Or, more precisely, a cost. And this is very much in line with on of the dominant themes within Christianity, in which sexual activity outside very strict limits is identified with damnation. I am not interested in the finer points of theology here, simply how those points have been transmitted into the cultural mainstream. A good example of such transmission can be found in the guidance given by their confessors to married couples in the medieval penitentials. A flow chart showing the decision making process that couples were exhorted to undertake can be seen on page 162 of James A Brundage's Law, Sex and Society in Medieval Europe in Google Books which is well worth a visit.

Such thinking is still with us - only the details change - and, according to it, some expressions of sexuality are licit and others beyond the bounds of decency. Although we hear that we are now living in a secular society, there is still a strong suspicion of sexual pleasure and a desire to regulate it. The language may have changed but the general message remains the same. The direct descendants of those medieval theologians are now ensconced in tenured positions in secular universities and may have no religious beliefs whatsoever but they do not seem a tmillion miles away in their tones of moral outrage and desire to rein in the dangerous beast of sexuality

Which is hardly surprising. I keep banging on about the all-pervasive nature of patriarchal thinking but it is true. Pleasure is, like everything else in patriarchal culture, put into a hierarchy and the pleasures of the flesh occupy the lowest level. And on this lowest level there are also degrees of virtue or vice. Consensual BDSM, for example, is considered by many to be less worthy than straight "vanilla" sex. Others will elevate lesbian - or gay - or bisexual - or celibate - or - or - the list goes on and in the end the label does not really matter. The way patriarchy conquered and retains its hold on our psyche is by the simple process of divide and rule. Mythologically this can be seen in the Babylonian story of Marduk's battle against the mother goddess, Tiamat. After killing her, he divides her body to create the material world. Similarly, the hebrew god creates the world through a series of divisions ans we still play along with his unwholesome (literally) game - earth and heaven, night and day etc - right down to man and woman - saint sinner. Sheep and goats. Wheat and chaff. Sex worker and anti-porn activist. Me and you. - the list goes on and on

On a link provided by Debi there is an account by Super Babymama of the way she enjoys sex. WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK For her, sex is messy and passionate and is not interested in being acceptable or controlled. It is pornographic - or would be classed as that by many. Or, alternatively, it can simply be seen as the honest and guilt/shame-free enjoyment of all the pleasures of the senses. Others may enjoy bondage or submission - games by adults with full consent. Yet others may look to other ways. Why and how does it matter to anyone else? Sure, it is possible that some of these choices may be traced to patriarchal conditioning but, for Goddess's sake, who among us has not been so conditioned? It is in the air we breathe and therefore all our choices - even the anti-porn one - are inevitably conditioned. Surely the answer is to fully accept the conditioning and then move towards a new way of looking at sexuality - without the moral judgements that so plague us now.

Pleasure that is given and received with the true and informed consent of all affected parties is no business of anyone but the participants. And yet, The policing of pleasure is, and always has been, one of the principle activities of the patriarchs. And these patriarchs are not some shadowy group who meet in secret conclave to plot ways of control. No. They are in our own heads - they have colonised us so completely that we very often cannot even hear them as we grind the boots they have bequeathed us on the faces of other human beings. They exist in the judgements we make of our own desires- theirs are the voices we hear, telling us that pleasure must have a price.