I took an intellectual history class in my final year of university. I’ve always been interested in that kind of thing and talking to Fractal had increased my interest in it even further. It was, as I hoped it would be, intensely interesting, largely because we studied several ideas which I enjoyed analytically ripping to shreds: Sartre and existentialism, Foucault and subjectivism, de Beauvoir and feminism… In looking at feminism we were assigned to write an essay about one particular course text, an article by author Natasha Walter.
It was frankly ludicrous; a pile of über-feminist nonsense about socialisation and inequality and women in the sciences. It was fun to pull to pieces. So, skimming over an article on Comment is Free today (which attacks another angle from Walter’s book and is pretty darned good and well worth a look), I was almost gruesomely pleased to see a link to an extract from Walter’s new book, Living Dolls. I figured I’d take a look.
Walter describes the situation of forty-year-old Jim, a “self-confessed pornography addict”. Jim came across porn before the advent of the Internet, finding his father’s dirty magazines, and later videos, at a young age. As he attended a boys’ school, he devoured this material obsessively long before having any real contact with real girls. He found himself “unable to think of women except as potential pornography” and looked at them “in a purely sexual way”.
He finds the porn now available on the Internet to be, as Walter puts it, “dehumanising to women”, saying “The stuff I saw as a kid was what we called hardcore, but the idea in the text alongside was that it was based on mutual consent — mutual pleasure — but what I see now is more male domination”. He claims young men are seeing worse and worse images which change their attitude to sex for life.
Jim now finds nothing which can match up to porn. His long-term partner left him because he only knows how to “perform” sex, not feel it. Obviously, she is now very wary of the effects of pornography and its “threat” to intimacy. She says that its prevalence means that “all the innocence is lost”.
Where to start with this? Firstly, I *hardly* think that the personal testimonies of just two people who have had a bad experience with the consumption of pornography are a sound basis for any kind of theory or any claims about the effect of porn on *anyone* except the two themselves. Anecdotal ‘evidence’ is not exactly intellectually rigorous, is it, Miss Walter? (What’s the betting that that should actually be a Ms.?)
So the man is terrible with women, obsessed with porn and impersonal in bed and that is clearly and solely the fault of his early contact with the dreaded vice of seeing some people have some sex? It couldn’t *possibly* be one or more of the *many* other elements in a person’s personality and background? When someone is predisposed to obsession, do we blame the object he is obsessed with? Always? *Really*?
We also find Walter sneaking words into her witnesses mouths (“dehumanising to women”) and even blithely inserting her own viewpoint as if blessed by the speakers, attempting to connect it to their views on the matter, saying: “not only is the tone of pornography so often reliant on real or imaginary abuse of women…”
Sorry, *is* it? You can’t just say that kind of thing without some substantiation, seriously! Find me something to back that up, I’m certainly not going to take it as true. If I browse aimlessly for porn I will *not* find the vast majority, or even the majority, of it based on abusing women in any way. Heck, I only really find that stuff if I *look* for it and that’s because I happen to *like* it and I happen to be particularly searching in that specific niche. And believe me, it *is* a niche. BDSM is by no means mainstream. So, where on Earth is all this supposed abuse?
Jim says he now sees “male domination” where he once saw consent. Again, I’m really looking for some kind of substance to this claim. Show me it. Go on. Not to mention the fact that the term ‘male domination’ is so incredibly subjective and ambiguous.
In any case, Walter takes a bit of breather to talk about the prevalence of porn. She claims that “once upon a time, someone who was truly fascinated by pornography might have found, with some difficulty, 10, or 20, or 100 images to satisfy themselves”, whereas nowadays the Internet means we can get tons in just one click. I may be wrong here, but I really think that Walter has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Pornography was never as hard to get hold of as she thinks, OK, so the Internet certainly has made it easier, but it isn’t as if we were all innocent wee bairns before that. Has she never heard of the ‘photography clubs’ that used to be meeting places for men to share piles of dirty photos with each other? Where does she think all those hundreds and hundreds of photos of Bettie Page in bondage came from? Long before the Internet, my dear.
She claims that many people are now seeing strangers have sex before even vaguely having sex with anyone themselves. And? So, what? *I’d* certainly seen pornography before I ever had sex or even did *anything* sexual. Up to that point it was kisses only. What harm has it done me then, hmm? Not a jot. And it’s not just me. Chances are that you saw sex before having sex too. Did it do you harm? Likely not. The thing is, Walter, is that yes, many people do see sex before having it, but that’s hardly a new phenomenon. It’s been going on for a few years now. This generation of children are not the first to experience this. Quite a large number of my generation, the one before the current one, did too. So why aren’t we all sexually messed up? Why haven’t we seen a soaring rate of people with bizarre, impersonal, degrading notions about sex, love and relationships?
Don’t you think it better that children learn about sex before attempting it? Isn’t it better to learn how to operate the gears and the brakes before you get behind the wheel on the M4? Seeing sex can only help young people understand how the whole thing works, as long as they remember to take certain things with a pinch of salt. Coupled with a good sex education and support, it can only help them prepare for the real thing with less trepidation and upset.
Walter claims she rejects the classic feminist view of pornography which says it “necessarily involves or encourages abuse of women” and that she can see why some are now trying to create a pornography which gives women more opportunities. However, she sees porn as a threat to “many erotic relationships” and as characterised by “a vein of real contempt for women”, encouraging men to see women as objects and women to focus on “their sexual allure rather than their imagination or pleasure”.
Again, I’ve no idea where she’s getting this idea of contempt from, nor does she back up her claim that men see women as objects due to porn. Do I really need to rant about objectification again or does everyone already know what I’m going to say? I’ll assume the latter, but to sum up: sexual objectification does not exist on such a huge scale as many idiots imagine and where it does exist it is in no way more malignant than buying an apple.
The part about women focusing on their looks though, that she can back up – by talking to some university girls who agree they’d never have sex without shaving their ladybits. Wow. Good evidence. They want to look good for their men, how despicable! Those poor, poor creatures! Where is the harm in trying to look good for your sexual partner, hmm? Don’t we all do it? Don’t men do it? I know damn well they do, though perhaps without so much preening and fussing. What is wrong with trying to be more beautiful? If a woman wants to go and shave or put on make-up or even get bigger boobs because she wants to look better, why not? Walter seems to want to deprive women of the power to improve themselves physically and the right to alter their own bodies. Both sexes have wanted to be more attractive since the dawn of time, now it is easier for everyone to actually achieve that.
And apparently women focus on their looks rather than their own pleasure. Do they? *Really?* That’s why all those magazines like Cosmopolitan and Scarlet never tell you how to enjoy having sex, right? That’s why they never have, *without fail*, an article *every issue* telling you how to make your orgasms better or how to feel more pleasure in bed or how ‘your man’ can make you come more easily. Frankly, if there are women out there who are sublimating their own pleasure to look good, more fool them, they can hardly blame men for their own lack of sense.
She also writes of porn: “no wonder we have seen the rise of the idea that erotic experience will necessarily involve, for women, a performance in which they will be judged visually.” For women? Not men then? Not any? Never? Sorry, are you saying that men are the only ones who care about how their potential partner looks before deciding whether or not to fuck them? Bollocks. Men are judged on their looks just as much as women are. Look at Sex and the City and its constant references to big packages.
Secondly, the judging doesn’t really go all that far. Men don’t really care all that much about cellulite or a spot here and there or hair where there shouldn’t be, on the whole (yes, I do know that makes an awful pun, I’m leaving it there :P). Fractal didn’t care if I’d shaved or not, though he preferred the smooth look. When I asked Crush about this the other day he said he preferred my legs, and between them, to be smooth because it felt nicer, but he didn’t really care about my armpits. And? I prefer him to have recently washed his hair because it feels nicer. Is that a crime? Don’t we have the right to prefer things of other people? Don’t they then have the right to conform to these preferences if they want? Besides which, I know damn well that when it comes down to it, and by it I really do mean ‘it’, no-on cares if there’s stubble on your crotch because everyone’s too damn busy having fun.
The misleading, misdirected and almost entirely anecdotal talk then turns to lap dancing and prostitution. Ooh, I can see *this* is going to go well. Ellie is a girl who turned to the former when she wanted to be an actress and jobs were hard to get hold of. I’m not entirely sure what Walter thinks her story is trying to tell us, but it’s telling *me* that lap dancing is a growth market which the pretty and unashamed can make some money in, whether or not they might have to, shock horror, get a fake tan and dress like a tramp. Woe upon this poor woman and her completely free choice to make a decent amount of money on her body by stripping, an industry which, by the way, has very limited places for men.
Next we have Angela, a woman who turned to chat rooms to find no-strings encounters with men. Oddly enough, when she met random strangers on the Internet for casual sex she found that they were only interested in, would you believe it, casual sex. Which she then gave them, willingly. I think this story is trying to suggest that men these days are corrupted beast who ask for anal on the first encounter, but what it says to *me* is that chat rooms are rarely the place for a serious relationship and that many people expect casual sex to be about casual sex. Angela didn’t find her experiences with promiscuity all that engaging, fulfilling or empowering, so did she quit? No, she started to charge them money for it, prostituting herself. Of course, how silly of me.
So, from what this long extract tells me, this is going to be a rip-roaring book full of anecdotes, lies, misleading statistics, soundbites, wrong-headed theorising and, of course, cherry-picking. I mean, you did notice how all those quoted fit nicely into Natasha Walter’s own view of the world, right? Wasn’t she lucky to only find people who agreed with her!
It’s all a load of old tossycock, as Bernard Black would say. Walter wants to present a world where society’s increased openness, freedom and access to information leads the creators of pornography and the debasers of women via the media and adult entertainment to encourage men to objectify, degrade and mistreat women as the women themselves play the living doll and pander to their whims ever unaware of their own self-harm and corruption. It’s dark stuff, but thankfully entirely untrue.
Admittedly, this is just an extract, but it seems the book as a whole is going to be poisonous, harmful nonsense full of the usual narrow-minded scare tactics about sex, youth and the Internet, the usual feminist twisting and misogyny-tinted glasses and the usual dose of “young people these days” and “Oh Noes! Teh Future!”. It’s almost like Walter isn’t aware that they were claiming society was apocalyptically debased centuries ago.
Stop whining about the Meeja and inequality and go and have an ice cream or something. ♦