Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Riddance to Bad Pseudo-Feminism

Do you know Bidisha? Just "Bidisha" - like me, she is too pretentious for a surname. It's one of the things we actually agree on. Bidisha is a novelist and a frequent contributor to he Guardian and the Observer. I enjoy her angry, hyperbolic columns a lot. They are a flashback to dogmatic 1970's style feminism, but written with all the vitriol and the fanaticism of youth. I think society needs people like Bidisha. For entertainment value, and to kick dumb, disrespectful, chauvinistic males in the face until they squeal like the craven pigs they are. There are still way too many of those leering neanderthals around, and they annoy me almost as much as they do women.

Unfortunately, Bidisha on her part doesn't think that society needs people like me - kinky people, that is, who are into corporal punishment and BDSM. Never mind that it's between consenting adults, never mind that roles in BDSM aren't really fixed to gender, but to personal preference. I can claim all I want that I respect women. In her eyes, being a CP fetishist makes me a dumb, chauvinistic pig myself, someone who propagates exploitation and abuse. No different from a sexist creep who harasses female colleagues in the workplace, really. And what about the women in our community? Well, they are nutcases who have conveniently internalised male oppression and misogyny. See, I told you, Bidisha is a lot of fun. And the frightening thing is, she's dead serious.

In a recent column titled Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish, she fervently supports the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 that will make the possession of so-called "extreme pornography" a criminal offense. I have read some ill-conceived endorsements of this equally ill-conceived piece of thought police legislation, but this one really takes the cake. Coming from an obviously gifted young writer, it's rather tragic, actually. To see a mind so consumed by ossified ideology that she ends up welcoming the erosion of the very values that make her two chosen professions possible in the first place - the independent artist and the journalist.

Mind you, Bidisha doesn't believe that the law could have any such ramifications. After all, it only affects perverts and pornographers, right? As a self-described feminist, she is all in favour of that:

"Bad artists of Britain, beware... [I]t seems that we will no longer get to see any marvellous hipster pics of objectified female meat in danger. What a loss for the world of culture."

No loss for Bidisha, that's for sure. She doesn't like these pics, anyway. Consequently she doesn't think that putting people in jail for the mere possession of images - material that was produced by consenting adults, staged acts where no one was actually harmed - is problematic in any way. No, banning this crap is just fine with her. Surely, no sane person can claim that such sexist rubbish is art! The world of culture will be better off without it!

I confess that I admire Bidisha's ability to judge, I really do. I've studied the history of art in some detail - mostly film, literature and music, but other forms like theater and painting as well, from the ancient Greeks to the 20th century. I've also done a number of seminars on aesthetics and art theory. And still, I feel less comfortable making definite statements about what constitutes "good art" and "bad art" than she apparently does.

But Bidisha, the internationally celebrated author and astute socio-cultural commentator, has an infallible sense for what is legitimate art and what is no-good filth. Unlike the rest of us, who apparently need the nanny state to tell us what we should and should not see. My suggestion: in light of her massive scholarly qualificiations and her ardent desire to purge our culture of worthless drivel, Bidisha should help the government along. It's a perfect match. Let her chair a newly appointed "art regulatory committee" so she can simply outlaw all the bad art for us - in other words, all the stuff she doesn't like, with the rationale that a) it's bad art precisely because she doesn't like it, and b) bad art shouldn't exist. This pretty much sums up the gist of her article, by the way.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Bidisha's main beef is with "pseudo-artist" Ben Westwood:

"Westwood has said that 'Jack Straw and the home secretary Jacqui Smith need to be bound up together and gagged' – just the kind of act that the act opposes, of course."

Err, not exactly. Perhaps she should inform herself a little bit about the legislation she endorses. It defines "extreme pornography" as the portrayal of (a) an act which threatens a person’s life, (b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals, (c) an act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse, (d) a person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive).

The law certainly wouldn't target bondage pictures of Mr. Straw and Mrs. Smith being tied together and gagged. Assuming, of course, that they consent to such treatment. If they don't consent, it's assault / illegal restraint, and we already have laws against that. But you see, Bidisha doesn't want to make such subtle distinctions, anyway. Whether it's consensual or not, it's all the same garbage to her:

"The fetishisation of female pain is misogynistic regardless of its trappings, regardless of whether it was styled by a couture house, regardless of whether it comes with a poppin' soundtrack and shot by a cool guy director or some coercing creep with a videocam."

In other words, BDSM porn produced by consenting adults is equivalent to an act of sexual assault by a "coercing creep with a videocam". Because after all, as Bidisha asserts, both acts are equally "misogynistic". Simple, isn't it? This claim, that the fetishisation of female pain is inherently "anti-woman", is of course a favourite tenet of orthodox feminism. Note that Bidisha doesn't even bother to supply an argument for it in her article. To her, it is simply self-evident and irrefutable. Why even talk about it?

Because it is a shallow, narrow-minded dogma that ignores decades of sociological and psychological research on the subjects of pornography and BDSM, that's why. There isn't a single, serious study to substantiate the old radical feminist fairy tale that porn ("extreme" or otherwise) leads to violence against women or to a general brutalisation of society. On the contrary: societies where pornography is legal and freely available (such as most of Europe or the US) usually have a more enlightened view towards gender equality and human rights than those where porn is outlawed (China, most of the Arab world etc.). And when you come to think of it, that makes perfect sense: gender equality and the freedom of artistic expression (including porn / erotic art) are both hallmarks of a free society, while the kind of state censorship that Bidisha supports is more characteristic of authoritarian regimes.

What contemporary psychology and cultural studies tell us is that art and the human mind are a lot more complicated than Bidisha believes. Especially when it comes to kinky sexuality. We members of the BDSM community know this from personal experience. To say that the fetishisation of female pain is inherently misogynistic is a grossly simplistic view. Generally speaking, the fetishisation of pain (regardless of gender) isn't inherently degrading to the "victim" at all. Depending on your point of view, fetishisation and objectification can be empowering, cathartic, profound, sexy, fun or all of the above. The kinky people who willingly engage in these acts certainly seem to think so! Otherwise, we wouldn't do it, would we?

Speaking of which, I think Bidisha should visit a kinky video shoot sometime. Where the "bad rubbish" she disapproves of is produced. To see with her own eyes how sick, how horribly misogynistic our subculture is, to enlighten us about the errors of our ways. As for me, I used to be under the impression that we have more mutual respect and understanding between women and men here in the BDSM community than what is the norm among vanillas. Closer and more loving friendships than most of the people I see "out there". But I guess I've been wrong all along.

"In seeing how many projects are theoretically affected by the act, we see just how anti-woman contemporary culture really is, how ubiquitous the images of exposed, objecitified women – and how accepted this is."

It is accepted because the vast majority of people - women and men, BDSM and vanilla - doesn't subscribe to the sophomoric view that "kinky porn = anti-woman". Even within the feminist movement, that dogma has increasingly come under attack ever since the early 1980's. Did Bidisha ever hear about "sex positive feminism"? You know, traitors like Gayle Rubin, Wendy McElroy, Nadine Strossen, Rachel Kramer Bussel... All those chauvinistic female pigs who have internalised the patriarchal oppression. At least according to the orthodox view.

But seriously, most of us grownups do accept that our lifestyle choices and our personal preferences are not the only valid ones - that there are different people in the world with vastly different tastes and interests. In the absence of any evidence that "extreme porn" actually leads to violent behaviour or to the discrimination of women, that is what the whole thing boils down to: a matter of taste, not morals. In other words, if you disapprove of these pictures, you may choose not to look at them. It's easy, they are not nearly as "ubiquitous" as Bidisha claims. But you have no grounds to ban them, much less to put people in jail for looking at them.

"Thus Westwood can angrily bellow that his 'human rights' are being violated, ignoring the endemic exploitation of women in the fashion and beauty industries as a whole."

There is exploitation of women (and men) in the fashion and beauty industries as a whole - much more, actually, than in the BDSM subculture where most of the so-called "extreme porn" originates. However, I don't think Westwood is in any way "ignoring" this by pointing out that his freedom of speech is being curtailed by a censorious piece of legislation. Let's not conflate two very different issues here, okay? By the way, freedom of speech is commonly recognised as part of our human rights - no need for "inverted commas".

Again, Bidisha muddles the waters by equating real violence with staged, artistic depictions of violence. But of course, the "extreme porn" law will do nothing to prevent cases of exploitation in the mainstream fashion industry. Nor will it reduce violent crimes against women in any way. What it will do is criminalise kinky, but perfectly harmless people of both sexes, scare them into self-censorship and into an unhealthy suppression of their sexuality, and contribute to the erosion of individual freedom in our society.

"I feel feminist contempt for those pseudo-artists who think that sexy glossy naughty photos of near death experiences are in any way interesting."

What about liberal contempt for pseudo-intellectuals who pass off their ignorance and their personal prejudices as a contribution to the cause of feminism?

Feminism used to be about the promotion of equal rights, equal opportunity and equal freedom for women. In its very essence, it used to be a liberal and egalitarian philosophy. Before parts of the movement transformed into the anti-liberal dogmatism exemplifed by latecomers like Bidisha today: she arrogantly tells other women how to run their lives, attacks their sexual desires as "anti-feminist" simply because they are different from hers, and pontificates about which forms of sexuality and artistic expression are acceptable and which ones are not. That has nothing to do with real feminism. It's the opposite, actually - to paraphrase Clausewitz, it is the continuation of the patriarchy by other means.

"The legislation seeks to confront the violence of certain types of pornography, but it also shows us how far the pornification of general culture has progressed. Both, of course, are anti-woman."

Of course. And hooray to all those pro-woman cultures that haven't been "pornified" yet (like Iran).

"If sexist male artists and anti-feminist female artists are penalised for brainlessly fetishing female pain, then that's all to the good. Let them squirm."

"Anti-feminist female artists" like Pandora Blake, Niki Flynn or Adele Haze? I must say that I do not find their work or their writing "brainless" at all. On the contrary, I consider it to be infinitely more witty, ingenious and mature than Bidisha's clueless screech. More emancipated, too. Then again, I'm just a dumb sexist creep with a videocam, so what do I know...

Speaking of videos, here is an interesting footnote to conclude my rant: about a year before her condemnation of "bad misogynistic rubbish", Bidisha wrote a glowing review of The Brave One, a vigilante flick starring Jodie Foster. "Violence that transforms - The latest addition to the vengeance movie genre shows us the radiant power of female rage".

In other words, artistic depictions of violence against women are sexist, offensive and disgusting, while artistic depictions of violence against men are cool, empowering and a lot of fun. Bidisha endorses banning the former while raving about the latter ("uplifting", "liberating", "enjoyable", "even addictive"). I'm glad that we got this sorted out, then.

I suppose it's simply because she found herself entertained by "The Brave One" (as I did, by the way, even though I ultimately prefer Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45). Not like the "bad rubbish" of extreme porn, which she doesn't like. Naturally, Bidisha is entitled to her opinions on what she considers artful or interesting. That is not the issue here. But what she fails to understand is that, to be truly free, a society has to grant its citizens the freedom not only to look at great and uplifting art, but also at bad rubbish. And the citizens have to decide for themselves which is which. As soon as you install a "good taste police", you undermine the concept of individual freedom. Because freedom really begins with the freedom of those who have different views than you do.

In a free and fair society, we penalise bad (immoral) behaviour, not "bad taste". That is why so many people - including legal experts, members of parliament and human rights activists - are speaking out against the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. I believe that their well-documented and well-worded concerns, even if you disagree with them, deserve respect and a reasoned debate among adults. To dismiss the critics of the legislation as a bunch of brainless, sexist "pseudo-artists" who are afraid to lose their porn collection is flippant, lazy and unworthy of a reputable newspaper like The Guardian.


smith said...

As you are well aware...this is a complicated issue. Art...and sexual tastes are very personal and based on a plethora of emotional triggers. While someone outside of the spanking community might not understand why being caned turns me on....I might not understand why someone into scat...get's turned on by THAT particular act. What I do know is that these choices are intimate and not deserving of outside intervention as long as they are between consenting adults. There is a great article written by David Rosen...

In it he states...

"America is in the midst of a 4th sexual revolution. In contrast to the previous revolutions of the 1840s, 1920s and 1970s, forbidden or deviant consensual sex has become an accepted practice among many adults."

I am a college educated woman...who has chosen to enjoy certain behaviors because they appeal to me. Live and let live. Great post Ludwig.


! said...

I have a lot to say...but I can't really find the words to say it yet - but this is my favourite blog entry from you, by far.

You also have amazing timing, Ludwig. I had been putting off writing my porn vs. art paper - but now I'm interested again; so thanks =)


Anonymous said...

A fine rant, Herr Ludwig. I'm glad I read it before coming across the article you discuss; you've saved me getting annoyed by it. :)

Indy said...

Bidisha's column is completely absurd. I was glad to see that the comments were overwhelmingly opposed to her views, even if they were generally less well though-out than yours, Ludwig. She's destroying her own credibility with pieces like that. At least, I hope she is.

PallidBust said...

I'm a Camille Paglia man myself. But now adays I don't see much reason for feminism per se. To separate the concept of freedom in the western world along gender lines seems arbitrary and counterproductive.

Do websites about men getting spanked by women offend the principles of manninism? Nonsense.

I agree with Barbie: live and let live. Well, as long as no kids are involved, of course, but no sane person would say otherwise. I hope.

Great article. And sorry about the fussball game. That's such a lie, I'm not sorry at all.

Double or nothing?

Anonymous said...

This is a terrific rant, Ludwig - as always, saying all the things I feel but lack the coherence to put into words. (That's probably because I'm too downtrodden and victimised to be able to speak for myself, so I let you represent the patriarchy and do it for me.)

You should really consider submitting this to a few papers. Seriously.

Pandora Blake said...

Ugh. What with this and Julie Bindel, the Guardian's policy of publishing "provocative" articles is really starting to piss me off.

Do you read SM Feminist? If not, you should :)

Pallidbust: gender-blindness won't help eradicate sexism any more than colour-blindness will help eradicate racism. And yes, both sexism and racism are still rife in our collective societies, along with a whole host of other oppressive hierarchies, and it's really not the place of male, white people to claim it isn't. I wouldn't presume to tell a transgendered person that transphobia doesn't exist simply because I haven't experienced it. Don't be that guy.

Ludwig said...

Pandora: I've been wondering myself why The Guardian would employ someone like Bidisha as a columnist. It's obvious to any halfway educated person that her pieces are puerile, ill-conceived nonsense, frankly, and I can't imagine the editors in chief taking her seriously. Then again, maybe I'm over-estimating the intellectual level of the editorial department...

But I think you are right, the real aim here is probably just provocation. That has been my own theory all along. They know it's ridiculous, but they also know it will get a reaction, and that is why it gets published. Judging by the comments to Bidisha's histrionics (overwhelmingly negative, but large in number), it's a success on that level.

Thanks for the link to "SM Feminist", I didn't know that one. I will have a look at it and might put it on my list, actually. I've been looking for a good blog in that vein ever since "The Disciplined Feminist" stopped updating.

I agree with you and disagree with PallidBust on the point that, as long as there is gender inequality, there obviously is a need for feminism. Progress has been made, but we still haven't reached true equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and so forth. These are the real issues - not kinky play among consenting adults or whether to call a "manhole cover" a "personhole cover".

Unfortunately, people like Bidisha are doing a lot more harm than good to the cause. Not only does her blinkered anti-liberal dogmatism have nothing to do with the real ideals of feminism the way I understand them, she also gives feminism a bad name by portraying it as a kind of spiritual home for intolerant censorious prudes and borderline lunatics. Which might keep young, progressive women (and especially kinky women!) from associating with a movement they would otherwise embrace.

Articles like Bidisha's, who in addition to supporting this draconian thought police law embellishes her ignorance with the label "feminist", are annoying not only for kinky people, who once again find themselves demonised and criminalised for no good reason, but for anyone who really wants to see a more enlightened and more gender-equal society.

Anonymous said...

“Feminism is basically the female drive to eliminate males, emasculated males, as an intermediate symbolic representation and their attainment of a direct contact with the institutional power, allowing them to gain the possibility of becoming this symbolic representation themselves.

It is the elimination of even the pretence of masculinity from biological males that are now relegated to equal status, with women, as feminine subjects of the system. “

I got the quote from a blog that I'm still trying to find, when I find it, I'll publish the source.

This quote is true... in fact FemiNazis like Whatever-her-name-is won't be happy with the world until it meets the following criteria:
1)all males are homosexual and any intercourse with a woman, including a consensual act, is a CAPITAL OFFENSE for BOTH
2)all females are lesbians
3)all females who still have sexual desire towards men will be rehabilitated in a mental institution with archaic treatments including electroshock therapy and straightjackets. Results and treatment should resemble "A Clockwork Orange" INCLUDING vomiting at even the mere thought of a sexual liaison with a man
4)all females who cannot be rehabilitated from men will be executed
5)Pornography objectifying males is okay, snuff porn of males is allowed and encouraged. All other porn is outlawed.

Ludwig said...

Pyromaniac: I don't know where you got that quote from, but it is of course just as brainless and factually incorrect (albeit more pseudo-philosophically worded) as the alleged "goals" of feminism which you describe. And no, I don't think that calling feminists "feminazis" is very clever or original, either.

So please, if you do find the source, don't post it here. As a matter of fact, better don't post here at all anymore. I have a low tolerance level for stupid bullshit, and I've already had more than enough stupid bullshit for today by looking at the crude anti-woman hate speech site you link to under your name. Hey, I appreciate that the guy is joking, but it just isn't my kind of humour.

The same goes for you. So I suggest that you leave, and that you continue your trolling over there. You'll get more attention that way, too.

(I have to say, though, that I liked the comment which a guy calling himself "woman HATER" left there: "Men are superior than [sic!] women." I'm not sure whether he is a brilliant satirist or just another he-man idiot, but either way, that was bloody hilarious!)

Feminism is, in actual fact, the belief that women are fully equal to men as human beings, and that therefore they should have the same rights and freedoms that men do. Which is a philosophy I very much agree with and support.

I merely oppose the dogmatic, anti-liberal, anti-porn brand of "feminism" exemplified by Bidisha. As a matter of fact, I don't consider her a real feminist at all - which is why this post is titled "Good Riddance to Bad Pseudo-Feminism", not "Good Riddance to Bad Feminism".

Actually (and this is an important point to make), her views are not at all representative of contemporary feminism. Most self-described feminists are pretty liberal when it comes to porn today, even kinky porn, while people like Bidisha are a minority. Just like this "Dick Masterson" guy you link to, who fortunately represents (or rather, satirises) only a tiny minority among men!

Anyway, be a good boy now and go back to your campfire.