Monday, November 21, 2011

Breaking the Habit

Back when I posted In Defense of Daydreaming, I argued that this blog is more often made up of ambulatory thoughts rather than dutifully planned articles. That has usually led to writing here being incoherent words strung together, making sense to no one but myself, and this particular post will be much more so. You see, at the time of this writing, I've already arrived at Point B, the conclusion to some cognitive dissonance I've been suffering from, but I'm going to attempt to retrace the steps taken to get here. It will be gross, and I'm sorry that you're about to read it.

Also, it's about porn.

Let me back up. (HEYO!) Sometime this summer, I caught wind of the excellent series Women Vs. Tropes, from Anita Sarkeesian Feminist Frequency. To do a grave injustice by attempting to summarize the series, it dissects some common tropes (tropes are things which are not quite cliches, but pretty close) and discusses why they are detrimental to feminism and society's perception of women. Anyway, one of these videos (shown below) put me in a mental pickle:

If you didn't bother watching the video, (don't sweat it. I don't either) allow me to, one again, write a painfully short summary: the evil demon seductress is a female character, of supernatural origin, who uses sexuality to trick men, usually for nefarious purposes. Now, I agree that portraying women as using sexuality as a weapon, whether demon or otherwise, is a negative stereotype. However, in this video, I found myself noticing that a critical component was lacking in Anita's analysis. And that is, the evil demon seductress is fucking hot.

Now, when I say "the evil demon seductress is fucking hot," I don't mean like, "oh snap, Mystique has boobies." No. Well, yes, ok, she does have boobies, but that's not important right now. The evil demon seductress as a trope is an extremely sexy one. I have actually had conversations with my friends that have gone something like this:

"Sexy vampire..."
"Do her. I don't care if she kills me."

And there's something to be said for that. You see, with many, maybe even all, of sexist tropes, there is an element of sexiness to them. That is the reason that they persist. Nobody is actively trying to show women in a negative or offensive light; That couldn't possibly be anyone's goal. No, instead, people are making their fantasies come to life, whether it be in movies, comics or books. It just so happens that when these fantasies dominate the media, it has a negative effect on the way we see real, non-vampire women.

To put this another way, let's say I have a son, and this son is kept in isolation from any media until he's sixteen years old, when I release him from his cage and out into the world. So hypothetical son comes across a history book and sees an image from America's segregation period (the official one that supposedly ended in the 60s)

"Hey Dad, what's going on here?"
"Well Spider-Man [my hypothetical son's name is Spider-Man, btw,] some people think that just because someone's skin color is different, it makes them less of a person, or more inclined to play basketball."

I think he would hear that explanation, find it reasonable, and agree that this type of behavior should not be repeated. But if he came across an image like this one:

I'd imagine it would be a little bit harder to talk him out of enjoying that one.

"Hey Dad, what's going on here?"
"Well Spider-Man, some people think that just because someone's genitalia is different, it makes them less of a person, and more like an faceless object."

I think he would find that explanation very unreasonable and the above image to be totally rad, or whatever the fuck future children are saying thoseadays. And here's the thing, deep down, I have to agree with him, that picture is totally rad and I wish I could just get a woman's phone number without any effort on my part.

But, here's the thing, even though something would be enjoyable for me, it's not exactly moral to treat people like that. What if a had a slave? Sure, that would make life a bit easier for me, but jesus christ, at what cost? It's inconceivable to find a way to justify behavior like that. So no, things that are enjoyable for one person at the cost of another are most assuredly indefensible.

But then, if I realize that the image that I'm viewing is sexist, and if I tell myself that real women are not objects, and if I know that treating other people like objects is morally wrong, then what's the problem? Can I not enjoy images such as the one above as an individual? Well, let's talk about trust.

Say for example I told a racist joke in front of 100 people, ranging from those that know me very well to those that don't know me at all. Those that know me very well (the three people that read this blog) will still believe that I'm not racist. Further down the list, people will start saying, "Oh that Warzala character is quite the cutup, I'm sure he telling another one of his dickish jokes I've heard so much about." Further down, people start to question how well they know me, and whether or not I'm racist. The people that don't know me at all will assume I'm racist, while meanwhile, Person Zero, me, will be the most resolute in believing that I am not a racist. I can say to myself that I'm just trying and failing at being funny again, and that I'm not actually a racist. Since the only two people inside my head are the government and me, I'll believe the most firmly in my non-racism. But am I right?

Compare the mental exercise of the racist joke with the act of seeking out and watching pornography, the ultimate in objectifying women. Now, if I watch pornography, I can tell myself that I'm not actually sexist, and that I know that this is for pure enjoyment, and I won't let it change the way I view real women. But is it true? Can it possibly be true?

Because here's the thing, I don't trust you. If instead of being the one telling the racist joke or watching porn, I was the one in the audience, how well would I judge somebody else? The answer of course being: exactly the same as they would trust me, which is not much. Eventually, I have to come to the conclusion that perhaps I can't trust myself as much as I thought. Maybe even though I want to believe that I'm not racist, I might be after all, since I tell such jokes. Maybe even though I want to believe that I never objectify women, that I still treat women like real people while still enjoying objectifying images, that I'm still effected by it after all. Chances seem to be much greater that I'm lying to myself than that I'm somehow above media programming.

So, as of last Saturday, I am off the P. And not only that, but any images that might treat a person like an object. This will not be easy, especially since I haven't stopped actually enjoying any of that and I don't think it makes me sexist, but there's a very good chance that I'm wrong. However, in the end, one must do what is morally right over what is enjoyable.
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