Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Second Rerun - With Comments

I originally wrote and ran this particular piece in April of '07. Strapped for ideas back in March, I ran it again. When I re-ran it four months ago, I got zero response. My hope is to get a good discussion going here, despite the fact that some of the references to what were then current events are now dated. I believe my larger, "meta", point is still valid in the context in which it was presented.

I would also like to make a couple observations. First, as I noted in the comments a year and a half ago, I chose this particular photo because it was a perfect representation of St. Augustine's view of sin as "concupiscence". The apple sitting on the woman's lap - need I say more? NPT just couldn't see past the image, and actually argued there was something pornographic about the picture, something I still fail to understand. Second, the last two comments I didn't discover for several months, as I rarely revisit a piece once it has dropped off the bottom of the page. Yet both those comments mean more to me than you might think. That a person just happened along and found something positive in something I wrote - that's what this is all about, folks. Not to disparage my regular commenters and readers at all, but those two one-time comments really made me sit up and realize that the things I say here on this little blog reach farther than I can imagine. It's a pretty humbling experience, to be honest.

I think, of all the over one thousand posts I have written, this is by far my favorite, despite what I think are some serious flaws, especially its limitations by referring to current events at the time, rather than dealing with a broader brush. Anyway, here it is, "Women, Women's Sexuality, And The Right"

I've been thinking about this post and the accompanying photo in the context in which it all came about - French fascist Jean Marie Le Pen's comments on how women should avoid unwanted pregnancy - and the larger issue of sexuality, especially women's sexuality, and the social reaction to it. I had been thinking about how to say more, from a Christian perspective (or at least my Christian perspective) on this question, but I wanted more than just my opinion to be out there. I started one yesterday, then gave up. Then, late last night, I came across this piece by Jane Hamsher at FDL on Rudy Giuliani, and lo! and behold! it began by summing up much of what I wanted to say by way of background, and I quote (although it would be rewarding to read the whole thing):

I know I'm late to this particular party, but I have to disagree with just about everyone who thinks Rudy really stepped in it with his abortion comments last week and believes he has now alienated the mouth breather vote. It may have been an artless move, but I think it actually won't cost him a thing — in fact, it liberates him from an image of slavish devotion to wingnuttery that will help him in the long run, and I seriously doubt that that the lizard brains are going to abandon him.

There is a central misconception at play wherein people believe that because the social conservatives make so much noise about abortion, it's something they actually care about. It isn't. It's an abstraction. If you think they really give a happy hootie about innocent fetuses, you're living in a fool's paradise. George Bush could say the war on terror will be won tomorrow by stringing up Islamofascist blastulae and torturing them at Guantanamo Bay and nobody would make a peep. Not a one. Being anti-abortion is an article of faith, a calling card, a way of saying you are a member of the tribe. It's Michelle Malkin showing up in a white hood to the Klan meeting. The "unborn child" is what they profess to care about because what they really care about are self-determined urban women with lives of their own who take their jobs away and have sex and don't bake quite enough pies, and they hate 'em. But that's not okay to say so we get yet another chorus of "Every Sperm is Sacred."(emphasis added)

It is my belief that the Supreme Court's decision in Roe V. Wade, legalizing abortion on demand, was the last straw for many on the Christian Right. For a decade since the introduction of the birth control pill, the prospect of women being able to have a fulfilling sex life without fear of unwanted pregnancy posed a mortal threat to male dominance of society. For centuries, sexual freedom was a male prerogative. Women were the objects of male sexuality, quite often nameless, faceless, non-persons who were walking masturbation aids. With the advent first of the pill, then of abortion, which took care of those missed by the pill, women were now emancipated from the fear of issue and could exercise their sexual desire and power with a freedom previously only reserved for men.

I do not wish to downplay the economic dimension, either. With both conception control and abortion available as live options, women were now free to pursue careers outside the home with a freedom even their mothers had not had. As legislation and case law increasingly defined the limits of discrimination against the employment of women, and as women were no longer bound by either tradition or biology to limit their options, it increased competition in the workplace. Indeed, in many ways, the pool of available workers suddenly doubled, as both men and women became potentially equal partners in the job market (I say "potentially" because it hasn't happened, and we are years away from the playing field being even). Combined with the more elemental threat of a more free sexuality available to women, the reaction of the right, especially the Christian right, should have been obvious.

A generation later, however, we have yet to grasp the almost elemental fear and hatred of women among many on the right. I do not mean hatred of individual persons who happen to be women; I am talking about the fear engendered by free, powerful, sexually and (relatively) economically liberated women upon men. As long as women fulfill roles defined for them, there is nothing to fear. Once women start to press the limits of "acceptable" behavior, however, one can almost hear the howls of rage. Consider, for a moment, the disdain for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the past two weeks, there has been an onslaught against her for a trip to Syria, part of which included bringing along a message from the Israeli government to reassure Bashar al Assad that Israel had no plans for a spring or summer offensive against them (the Israeli government claimed afterward that no such message was given, even though the Israeli press had been discussing it prior to Pelois's visit; this is a separate matter deserving a much fuller treatment elsewhere). For our purposes here, it is just enough to consider the almost universal screech, not just from members of the Administration and Congressional Republicans, but from members of the mainstream press who should be aware that the trip was (a) bi-partisan, and (b) unremarkable because members of Congress routinely do exactly what Speaker Pelosi has done, not the least of them being Newt Gingrich. Yet, as Glenn Greenwald has carefully and thoroughly demonstrated, the attacks upon Pelosi began before she even took office as Speaker of the House and have continued in the same manner for the past five months.

Nancy Pelosi is a woman who has attained the Number 3 position, essentially, in our Constitutional order (she is second in line for the Presidency after the Vice President). The threat she poses, I contend, is not just political, but sexual. She is a successful, powerful, appealing, and attractive woman - a horrible combination for men already threatened in their masculinity by female freedom in general. Is it any wonder that many on the right feel about her as frequent visitor and commentator Neon Prime Time expressed in a comment several months ago, viz., "She scares me"? What is frightening can be summed up in Simone de Beauvois's famous dictum, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Here is a woman who does not need a man to be free, powerful, a leader. She doesn't know her place. That she is physically appealing as well as politically appealing only makes the threat that much more horrendous.

Faced with the power that women have over men, a power men have had to control through de-humanization, social and economic control, sexual exploitation and physical violence, and the rhetoric of innate sexual difference, many men end up, in the end, a quivering puddle on the floor, terrified that a strong woman will discover and make public what has been heretofore a secret even to these men themselves (except perhaps in their darkest thoughts they dare not express) - these men just don't cut it. A sexually, socially, economically liberated woman is a threat on many levels. It is my contention, however, that the most elemental threat is the sexual element. There are various social and economic controls that still exist to limit the social and economic power of women. A woman who is sexually free, however, threatens men's view of themselves at its most basic level.

You might be wondering about the whole "Christian" element I spoke of above. It is my contention that all that I have written has been written from a perspective that views women as equal creatures before God, created with power and vulnerability, part of which is sexual. Unless we want to deny that sex is a good gift from a good God (as my other told me, "If God made anything better than sex, He kept it to Himself"; there is no better theology of sex that I know of!) we have to start thinking in more creative ways about human sexuality. We should begin by recognizing, as a social fact, the threat posed to men's well-being by strong, independent women. We need to recognize that threat as existing on multiple levels, and deal with it on multiple levels. We need a positive view of human sexuality, one not linked to outmoded social roles and easily avoidable biological consequences, and teach both boys and girls, men and women, about the power they have, and how it should be used creatively and positively; and about the dangers it poses destructively and negatively.

For further reading, I suggest you go here to I think the headline says it all.

Note: The photo is entitled "Forbidden Fruit" by Alexander Feodorov.

Parklife said...

Well done.
I think you can go farther though. I get this masculine v. fem. feeling out there, with Republicans occupying the former. Its not just about how Pelosi is treated. Its about how all dems. are treated. Coulter is off writing "How to Talk to a Liberal". Meanwhile, conservatives feel the need to punish people for their sins. Rather than finding a long lasting solution to the problem.

Republicans have the need to talk down to us. Its the only why to "make us understand." And how perfect is it that she goes to Syria to open talks with the country, while the Admins. sit in judgment.

PS.. The word police might be after you for that photo.
5:21 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I thought the photo was perfect! I have said all I wish to say to the "word police". If they have a problem with naked boobies, that is most definitely their problem, not mine.
I agree with your larger point, viz., that much of Republican rhetoric involves the "feminization" of the Democrats (i.e., applying traditional, largely negative, feminine stereotypes to Democrats), and I also agree it is part of the larger phenomenon I am writing about here. Again, it's all about men being more powerful than women. As long as this post is, one can only say so much before one loses people's attention.
5:27 PM
neonprimetime said...

The word police simply says that I think you can get your point across without such items. I don't think you're accomplishing anything by trying to be a blogger shock jock (for lack of a better term).
9:32 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Oh, please, Neon. Really. If you are shocked by that photo, then the problem is most definitely yours. It is the perfect visual illustration of my point. And your reaction is, as well, a good illustration of my point. Me, I believe God made us beautiful and there is nothing wrong in tasteful displays of that beauty. You, all you see is a naked woman, and the composition just offends you. Or does it frighten you, like Speaker Pelosi?
8:04 AM
Parklife said...

I just love it when people are offended by nudity... NPT, there is a big difference between your photo and Geoffrey's photo.

Further over/hyper-masculinization (is that a word?) might be found in fright-wingers like Imus and his comments. And, thinking about those Fighting Pseudo Pigeon Bird People, they felt the need to attack a demonstration. Not to mention those Fighting 101 Keyboarders calling the British sailors cowards. It all smells really bad. Oh.. and Bush saying the only way to have peace is through war.
10:41 AM
neonprimetime said...

>> If you are shocked by that photo, then the problem is most definitely yours.

I knew I was missing something. More pron as a kid!

Do you not feel sorry for this girl, or if not her, then her family? I'd be hard pressed to think that her family approves of such exploitations. That's the whole concept behind rape is that you're taking away someone's innocence. I fully believe that something as simple as a picture can rape a woman of her innocence. I would never promote such an act, whether she did it willingly or not, because it affects more than just her.

I assume that your wife reads your posts? What's her take? Not on the article itself, but does she think it was necessary to duplicate the picture on your blog and basically continue the promotion of such images?
4:13 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

A) To view this particular photo as porn reveals a certain, um, prudishness (to be kind) toward the exhibition of the human body. This is most definitely not "pron" (I'm assuming that's a typo), but most definitely an artistic rendering of Augustine's idea of original sin as concupiscence. It also demonstrates visually one of the ideas I was trying to convey, viz., that the power women have through their sexuality is threatening to many men. Your reaction, it seems to me, proves my point more than you might imagine.
No, I do not feel sorry for this model. How is she exploited? How is she demeaned? How is this lovely photograph, in which the woman is most definitely a subject rather than an object, on a par with the kind of vapid gyno-porn one finds out there in the world? My complaint about porn isn't that is the same as rape (that's psycho-Andrea Dworkin talk), but that it lacks imagination, human feeling. It reduces sex to the barest mechanical minimum, and yes it does exploit women, but it also exploits men as well.
Finally, my wife does view my blog, and she did express concerns over the photo. Once she read the piece, however, she understood what I was doing, and she only wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get in trouble for putting bare breasts on my blog. I laughed, and explained some facts of life to her. See, Neon, my wife is a grown-up, too.
12:51 PM
neonprimetime said...

And if your wife is ok, then is your girls? Your bio says you have 2 amazing girls ... do you hope that they grow up to be just like that model? And would it bother you if other websites were re-posting those pictures of them online? I think of it as hurting the people around this girl ... even if the girl herself doesn't think it's hurting her.

But if you don't see it as somebody else's little girl ... then I guess, nevermind.
7:04 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

First of all, if my girls become models when they are adults I will be proud of whatever they accomplish. Will I be comfortable with the thought that, as adults, they might do things or make decisions that I wouldn't make? Well, that's part of being a parent - even now, as my older daughter approaches her tenth birthday, letting go is already beginning, in small ways that nevertheless seem huge to Lisa and me right now. We have a choice - we can smother them, or we can let them live. I would prefer they live.
Second, to ask whether I view the model in the photograph as someone's daughter implies that (a) I do not view her as a person, a subject in her own right, with all the specificity that entails; and that (b) by so objectifying her, I am doing some kind of metaphysical violence to her. First of all, of course she is someone's child. All of us are. That is neither here nor there. I know nothing about the model or the photographer; I selected this photograph because it illustrated my point beautifully and brilliantly. Should I learn that the model was underage, say, or the photographer is also a nefarious character, I might change my mind about using his work in the future. As long as there was neither violence nor illegality involved, I am not sure what there is to complain about here.
Finally, I think it is approaching inappropriate to use my daughters as points in an argument, an argument you seem to be having only with yourself. My blog is not for children, but for adults, adults interested in politics, in religion, in issues surrounding cultural and social struggle, conflict, and community. I have neither the time nor the inclination to worry too much about who might be offended by something I say or show here, because that would keep me from doing anything. I do what I do the best way I know hoe, and while I recognize I may make mistakes, as I have acknowledged in the past, all I can do is apologize for them, both retrospectively and prospectively, and carry on doing what I'm doing. This isn't about my wife, or my daughters, or even about the sensitivities of those who see a woman's naked form and get all woozy. This is about me blogging (see, this is my blog, so, yes, it is all about me here), and doing it the only way I know how, trying to make it interesting and lively and controversial and fun. If that connects with other people, I'm thrilled. It seems to have connected with one or two, and that is enough to keep me going, day after day.
Neon, you seem so focused on that photo, and I can't help wondering why. I am honestly befuddled as to how you can construe anything about that photograph as salacious, or demeaning, or even pornographic. Please enlighten this poor benighted liberal.
9:12 PM
neonprimetime said...

>> Finally, I think it is approaching inappropriate to use my daughters as points in an argument

If you're offended, I apologize. Just please don't take my job!

Anyways, I was simply trying to explain why I'm saying what I'm saying ... and I would back up my statements by talking about children ... therefore I wondered if you would too. That's all, no harm meant.
8:26 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

take your job? I'm sitting down, so that one flew over my head.
No offense taken, I was just a bit surprised, that's all.
7:27 AM
neonprimetime said...

imus said something offensive and they took his job

i said something offensive ... i'll let you fill in the rest
8:23 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Saying things for a living is your job? BTW, it wasn't offensive, I said it was "bordering on inappropriate", that is, trying to infer either personal hypocrisy or personal immorality on my part by invoking my status as a father of two girls as a measure of my attitudes towards nudity and art.
This may surprise you, Neon, but I was an art model for a few weeks my freshman year in college. Yes, I sat around nude for three hours (actually three fifty minute sessions, with ten minute breaks in a bathrobe). It paid really well ($10 an hour when minimum was $3.35). I stopped doing it because the studio at college was just too cold.
8:40 PM
The Flip Flop Girl said...

I"m sorry you had to go through that silly arguemnt with that ignorant prude! I love your essay and it helps me to see some really healthy and balanced expression from a Christian point of view. We are living in very strange times indeed. One must hope, and pray, that a Democrat is elected president in '08 to, at the very least, help clean up the current mess and abuse of power. My blog deals with sexuality and pop culture from, well, my point of view, a young woman. It has been interesting to me to read my responses, predominantly from men. Many do provide thoughtful and sensitive feedback which is reassuring. Then there are those who seem to see me more as a sex object than anything else, or exclusively as a sex object, and I feel sorry for them. Finally, I love the photo on your blog. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it!

2:30 PM
Rebecca said...

Hello! I am neither Christian nor male, but I loved this posting and have added an extract from it to my own blog. I've recently moved to Egypt and I'm experiencing my sexuality in a new way, simply because the men in the street here harass women so much. I'm seeing more clearly than ever in the streets of Cairo how female sexuality is a powerful force that makes men uncomfortable. I loved reading your perspective - it was a positive contribution in my efforts to get my head around women's sexuality. Thanks!

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