Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘pornography

The Forgotten Pornographers

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I spent most of the weekend making porn. On Sunday, I waved a friend off as she went to another city to make porn. On Monday, I read this article. I sighed, and wondered why we’re still having the same conversation.

To summarise: Lying feminists pretend that porn is feminist. It isn’t. Porn is not about freedom, but economics, and therefore stems from abuse, involves coercion and incites criminality. There is too little feminist porn, and in any case it hardly seems to be porn at all. If feminist porn succeeds, it will be absorbed into the mainstream and made toothless. We should ban pornography outright, or at least ask questions about where it comes from. The pornography-meat metaphor isn’t getting tough and stringy.

If you’ve read Gold’s article, with all its prolonged blow jobs and anal penetration, my weekend of semi-clothed photographs, like the one below, and spanking story writing will seem tame. It was hardly ethnically-specific disembodied penis performs opaque metaphor.* Tame things don’t count in the debate about contemporary pornography, because the conversation is always about hardcore film, which allows for specific feminist narrative. Female performers are cast as victims, making them unreliable witnesses until they’ve stopped performing and started talking about how much the experience damaged them, or played on their childhood trauma. The narrowing to one type of pornography, and one narrative of it, effectively silences women.

Photo by C J Wallace, of

Photo by C J Wallace, of

Inside me, there’s a second wave feminist jumping up and down and waving a literature textbook. How were women kept out of the canon for so long? It wasn’t because they didn’t write, but because their writing didn’t count. The form was wrong, they wrote diaries when men wrote sonnets and plays. The content was wrong, they wrote about domestic affairs when men wrote about monarchs and wars. The perspective was wrong, they painted individual psychological portraits when men wrote with lofty omnipotence about huge casts of characters. Later, feminists dug out women’s writing, and re-drew the boundaries of literature to fit it in. We made the collective discovery that were women writers beyond Sappho, Julian of Norwich and Jane Austen. It had been hidden, not because it wasn’t there, but because nobody talked about it. Women’s work just wasn’t considered, for the most part, to be the proper stuff.

What’s this got to do with pornography? Well, some women are setting up hardcore porn sites, which may or may not look like the ones that are already there. Some women are posing for photos in their vintage lingerie, and whether they sell them or not, they’re still making porn, just as Anne Lister was writing in her diary when lesbian women weren’t represented in literary fiction. Lots of women are writing erotic stories, and say what you like about the quality of many of them, but after the Fifty Shades phenomenon, we can no longer claim that they don’t sell. Sometimes women express their sexuality, sometimes they do what they think the reader wants, or go along with the photographer’s idea. Sometimes they’re in it for themselves and sometimes they’re in it for the money. If I ere in it for the money, I’d have to admit that I’m doing it wrong.

I don’t share all of Gold’s fears about the effects of pornography, although I too am made uncomfortable by porn filmed with low production values, little respect for women, a large dose of racism and a set of linguistic and visual signs that would make Derrida weep. Feminist projects can fail to be feminist, and the label can be used by unscrupulous women with a crazy urge to make enough money to pay the rent. However, the reason that the few women doing feminist porn projects are the focus of all this adulation and criticism is that we’re still focussing on the porn that men produce and consume. While we look at them, and at feminist attempts to do what they do, we obscure work by women in other forms.

I’m not about to go into hardcore film. Spanking films, maybe. Nicely lit photographs of me wearing stockings and looking ecstatic about the fact that I have toes, definitely. Stories and novels, just you try to stop me! The latter things count, so I’m refusing to feel I’m not qualified to comment on the experience of making pornography.

Does making pornography feel feminist? Not really. It isn’t like an assertiveness training course or a take back the night march. In gender equality terms, it’s kind of neutral. I like it that way; not everything in life has to be a battleground. There’s a chance that the worry that I look podgy in this photo stems from a sexist cultural imperative for the female body to conform to unattainable beauty standards.** In that case, the most feminist thing to do is embrace the failure of my stomach to be flat, and post it anyway. I have a feeling I know what Tanya Gold would say to that.

photo by C J Wallace, of

photo by C J Wallace, of

*Who comes up with tags like ‘creampie’ and ‘black cock bangs x’ anyway?

**I also wish we’d remembered to take the cane off the wall before we took this picture, but I can’t think of an interesting feminist disappointment about that.

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Oh, That Hurts! No, Don’t Stop!

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I met up with a strange man from the internet recently. Before we met, he pointed out to me that I knew far more about his kink than he does about mine, because he blogs on his while I limit myself to safer topics, such as feminism and pretty dresses (he didn’t actually mention pretty dresses, but I’m sure that was an oversight). My advantage probably lay more in the fact that I’ve read books by his ex-girlfriend, while he doesn’t know of the books people have shoehorned me into. Suffice it to say I’m not sharing, as, unlike him, I’m not the love interest but the maker of trifles.

It got me wondering why I don’t blog about kink. Sharing experiences of sexualities which aren’t publicly sanctioned is good. It was a big step towards freedom in second-wave feminism when books like “Our Bodies, Ourselves” sparked conversations between women independent of male ‘experts’. Freud’s theories about the right type of orgasm must have started looking rather silly in the light of real women’s experiences. Similarly, gay sex seems to have stopped being the love that dare not speak its name and become the love that wears something eye-catching and shouts its pet names from the rooftops and parade floats. Talking about it was not the sole cause of gay liberation, perhaps, but a small contributory factor.

Kinksters aren’t a poor, oppressed group, but they aren’t exactly accepted, either. I don’t just mean the tabloid treatment of Max Mosley or the “dungeon” owners in Devon. I mean the scare-mongering about causal links between violent pornography and rape. I mean the idea that a woman doesn’t have the agency to choose to be submissive. I mean the worry I feel that I may lose credibility if I tell you too much about myself.

That’s one reason I haven’t gone into detail about my kink, but it’s also a reason why I should. The problem is that I don’t have a final answer on what my kink is. Sexuality is infinitely malleable, and finding a vocabulary to write about it may change it. The fetish community displays a striking uniformity of bizarre tastes. In my vanilla experience I’ve met men obsessed with my shoulders, my hair, my age, a particular expression, my tone of voice when I want something, the way I exhale smoke from a cigarette, my stare over my reading glasses. What do we get in the kink community? Floggers and clothes made out of tree sap. What if I wake up a cookie-cutter “slave” or “little girl” just because I enjoy a screwed up power dynamic?

If the language of the BDSM community is dangerous, the language I’m more familiar with, that of theory, is no better and has the added disadvantage of opacity. I can talk around the issue using Sade, Bataille, Blanchot, Hegel, Bakhtin and, on a good day, Kristeva (although the good days are getting fewer and further between). I can make intertextual allusions through novels and pornographic texts. All of this is, however, to come at it crab-like. I can’t find the words, and I don’t trust them not to find me.

Does it sound like I’m making excuses? I suspect that I am. I don’t want to tell you about my kink because I’m haunted by everyone who ever disapproved. The ex-boyfriend who dug for evidence of buried childhood trauma. The ex-boyfriend who thought it was an all-access pass. The confused vanilla friends. They combine into an angel on my shoulder telling me that if only I were to stop wanting kinky things, I could be good and pure and loveable, citizen of a lemon-scented world and creator of incredibly fluffy cakes.* That angel is nothing, however, in comparison to the fear that feminists inspire. You see, I know that when the things I fantasise about happen, they really aren’t fun. Being hit by a man isn’t just painful, it’s bloody terrifying. Being raped is a really crappy experience, and it lasts. It’s still possible to turn me into a rabbit in the headlights by making a sudden movement or catching the wrong tone in your voice. I don’t want to feed the myth that that is what women want. It isn’t. Every time I see a kinkster talk about his “natural dominance” or “a woman’s place” I feel as if I’ve committed an act of violence against feminism.

One final worry: I secretly snigger at other people’s kinks. Sometimes they make me feel vaguely ill. You might, too.

Were those good enough reasons? No, I didn’t think so. So I’m going to try to tell you about my kink.

I like to be in somebody’s power. I like to feel that there’s no way out, no way to re-establish my own will, and my only option is to do as I’m told. That’s not enough, though, otherwise I would enjoy getting stuck in traffic jams. I like to be valued. I rather like being rewarded when I’m good: instant justice from an immediate authority. Even being disapproved of, or punished, is proof that somebody cares. And—oh!—I like to be punished. I like it even when it’s not fair. Maybe especially when it’s not fair. And when, unfairly, my protestations that it’s not fair have been silenced on pain of even more punishment.

I don’t like pain. It doesn’t magically become pleasure between one end of the nerve and the other. It just bloody hurts. I’ll admit to enjoying in a sense of smugness produced by tolerating pain, but that doesn’t get to the core of it. The core is when I’m crying and begging for the pain to stop. It isn’t something I like; it’s something I want.

I want more than a beating, of course. It’s all the parts. It’s when I can’t meet someone’s eye in case he sees what I’m thinking.** It’s his slow, deliberate movements, when I’m almost trembling but he’s in no rush. It’s wondering what he’s going to do with his belt as he takes it off. Blushing. Squirming. Being held down by someone’s weight. It’s gasping for air. It’s clinging on to him for dear life afterwards. It’s thumbprints around my wrists in the morning and bruises I didn’t know I had. None of that gets to the bottom of it. I’ve been beaten and been nowhere near this place, I’ve felt it in nothing more tangible than a look.

This is a part of me that never really disappears, it only recedes. The same frisson is there in hearing someone speak for me in a foreign language, teach me a new word, choose a good wine, converse on a topic they are knowledgeable about, lead me well in a dance, make me blush, get me lost in a story or say me they’re proud of me. All of those are less intense variations on the same power.

Do you want to know why? So do I. I’d tell you my theory, but you’ve been reading for a long time, so now isn’t the moment to torture you with Hegel. I’m not a sadist, after all.

So, there you have it, as coherent an account of my kink as I am able to give. You’d better tell me whether or not you want to hear more. I’ll try my very best to do as I’m told.

*My cakes are remarkably fluffy, actually, but that’s because my daddy bought me a Kenwood Chef. My real daddy, not a pervy older man.

** I like it when women do these things, too, but the English language doesn’t lend itself to bisexuality, so I picked a gender and stuck with it.

Written by Not an Odalisque

July 24, 2010 at 12:39 am

Sex Work and the Feminist Frenzy

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I began a post on sex work recently. I thought it was rather good. Then a man was charged with murdering three women who sold sex on the streets of Bradford. Suddenly, everyone was talking about prostitutes. The Prime Minister was saying that we should reconsider legalising prostitution in response to the murders. On Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ the members of the panel spoke about the right of consenting adults to do as they will. All of the fallacies I find in my reading about sex work became relevant to an horrific situation. Yes, they were selling sex. More relevantly, they were walking through dangerous parts of Bradford, alone, to undertake work which carries high risks of violence, and they were doing it for £20-£30 a time. I have no doubt that prostitution can be a free choice. These particular sex workers, though, can only have acted from desperation.

From what I can tell, there are two camps of people throwing stones at each other, one claiming that sex work is empowering and fun, calling the other side prudes, and another claiming that sex workers are exploited, and calling the other side naive. It all feels like a fabricated argument to me.

Let’s clear one thing up. No one ever has a ‘free’ choice. We don’t live in a cultural vacuum. When I get dressed today my choice is constrained by cultural expectations of my gender, by what I can afford, by the weather and what is in the laundry basket. Most of us can agree that the cultural expectations which forced women into corsets restricted our freedom. The norms which mean we can’t walk around naked have gained general acceptance, however. Somewhere in the middle, mixed in with high heels and push up bras, is the line between freedom and coercion. Let me know if you can pin down exactly where it is.

In sex work we can see examples of more, and less free choices. Pandora Blake sounds like she has a great time making her spanking porn. Every now and again I come across blogs by escorts living in central London, screening their clients carefully and charging £200 an hour. I read books like ‘Whores and Other Feminists’ full of essays by workers in collectively run San Franscio strip clubs. They, like accountants, lecturers, salesmen and shop assistants may or may not be happy, but their career choices are hardly likely to keep me awake at night. The women who are walking dangerous streets because they need money to feed drug addictions aren’t in the same category. The women sold into sexual slavery aren’t in the same category. They aren’t free.

I support the law which makes it illegal to have sex with a pimped or trafficked woman. I don’t understand how men can participate in the torture of women, through repeated rape, and reward its organisers. However, I know that men do, and that while clients are often aware that they are paying for sex with a coerced woman, very few will even go so far as to report it to the police. Is the law going to be difficult to enforce? Yes. That’s no reason not to legislate, though. Murders still happen, and we’re all agreed on that law. In fact, if no one was going to try to break it, there wouldn’t be much point in criminalising it, would there?

There are sex workers who need help, the addicts, the prisoners, the children. The rest of them, I’m sure, have good days and bad, they make their choices and take their cash. So I should just leave them to it, right? And yet, I am a little uncomfortable about it. When I hear the stories of women selling their bodies—bodies like mine—for £20, I’m insulted by the low price. I have this fantastic body, people tell me they desire it all the time, and you’re selling one just like it for £20?! On the other hand, the stories of women making £200 an hour distress me because people told me that getting straight As, a degree from a good university and an MA from another one would mean that I could get a great job. Well, I’m currently waiting to see if I will be taken on as a temp, but I could make more money than I ever have by selling what every woman has. I object to the fact that so much value is placed in my body, what I am, rather than what I do and who I have become.

Yes, I’m fickle.

I can understand the power and the freedom in choosing to take money for what so many inadequate boyfriends thought they should get for free. Just because I’m a woman, I’m expected to invest a huge amount of time, effort and cash in my appearance. Through sex work I can turn it to profit. I can refuse to conform to society’s model for a good woman, a model which I’ve found constrictive, insulting and puritanical. I can play the system, and a woman will come out on top for once. I read ‘King Kong Theory’ and cheered.

On the other hand, given how much effort I put into altering society’s perception of women, it is annoying to see someone else undoing all my good work, and profiting from it. I try to convince men that I’m more than a sexual object. I spent last Thursday night patiently explaining to an ignorant man that women like sex, too. I’m constantly trying to convince people, through my selfless example, that a woman can be non-monogamous and bisexual without being some sort of hyper-sexualised slut born of their fantasies. Then sex workers come along and play into all the stereotypes because they can profit personally. You think the way you do it can change minds? Look at the perception of prostitutes in this paper.

Sex workers aren’t the only ones doing it. Hell, we all do it, one way or another. Even my butch ex-girlfriend used to flirt with women to get me discounts in dress shops. I put on my red dress and make up when I go dancing, because I think that looking nice will induce more men to dance with me, making for a better night out. Am I pulling together with the sisterhood for the common good? The frumpy middle aged women probably don’t think so, but I don’t care.

Recognising that few feminists can honestly say we’ve never played into objectification for goods, services or self-esteem, perhaps we could stop hounding the sex workers for being the most visible practitioners of it. And perhaps those who are shouting so loudly about the lack of respect feminists show to sex workers could recognise that they are not puritans, but women trying to do what they think is right for themselves and others, including those in actual need of intervention to prevent exploitation. Best of all, we could stop throwing things at each other. Not because we ultimately agree—I’m quite sure we don’t—but because the squabbling doesn’t appear to be helping anyone. Perhaps we could all just shut up about it, and blog about important things instead.

Written by Not an Odalisque

June 22, 2010 at 10:44 am

Primark, Padding, Porn and Pumpkins

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This week another story about the sexualisation of children hit; Primark has been selling padded bikinis for seven year olds. These outrages come around every now and again. Previously, Tesco gave us the pole dancing kit for children to “release the sex kitten inside,” and even now, shops help little girls store their phallic signifiers in Playboy pencil cases. This week, a Guardian researcher dug up a “Future WAG” T shirt for three year olds and some high heeled shoes in small sizes.

My main thought after finishing the article about the bikinis was not “save our kids from paedo Primark!” but, “how do you make a bikini for £4?” Is there some poor child making these in a Bangladeshi sweatshop? It seems unlikely that anyone is being paid a fair wage. None of that is pertinent, however.

I’m often shocked by what kids wear. I’m shocked by what a lot of adults wear, too. Perhaps I’m just easily shocked. Children in heels and make-up, children in bikinis and push up bras, trouble me. They worry me in the same way that little boys playing with toy guns do. We are teaching children their role and giving them little chance to escape it. But I really don’t think that we can blame Primark.

I don’t like big multinationals. I knit my own jumpers and I think tofu is delicious. When I think of Primark I think of slave labour, environmentally destructive cotton growing and transportation, a wasteful culture in which clothes are considered disposable, and ugly, scratchy, garments, cheaply made out of synthetic fabric. I’m a snob. I am, however, a snob whose father works for a multinational. While the activists rail, I hear from the other side, too. It’s surprising how often the other side is rather reasonable. “How can you still be selling baby milk in X, after all the harm you did there?” I ask. “It was designed to save children whose mothers don’t produce milk. You think we should let them die?” he answers. More recently “Why are all your ready meals full of fat, salt and sugar?” “ Because when we stopped putting them in, people stopped buying them.” Oh. Good point.

Culture is powerful and children are infinitely suggestible. However, Primark wouldn’t be stocking padded bikinis for children if no one wanted to buy them, or, at least, they wouldn’t be stocking them for very long. The grownups are spending the money. The grownups are in moral paroxysms about the products. The fuss is getting so great, though, that I can’t help thinking that there is more to it than worries over the failure of feminism to release women from objectification. I’ve seen the handful of people who turn out for Object’s rallies. Women’s objectification doesn’t seem to upset more than a few feminists, who nonetheless shave their legs because it isn’t socially acceptable not to. So why the fuss when it comes to children?

I think that the language of the article in the Sun gives a valuable clue. With accusations that Primark’s bikini encourages paedophilia as “little girls wearing them would be sexualised and made attractive to predatory perverts,” and the coining of the term “paedophile pound” it invokes the threatening figure of the sexual predator. There are two objects of incontrovertible hate in our society: Nazis and paedophiles. They are the big bad wolves of our culture. The fact that most children suffer at the hands of family members doesn’t influence our image of the paedophile, lurking behind the bushes to drag away little girls for rape and murder. The paedophile has to be absolutely, uncontrovertibly other. He cannot be like us, he is not one of us. His life can’t even be allowed to resemble us. Why? Because we don’t want to admit the truth, and if we saw our similarities we would have to. This is the truth: we fancy children.

There, I’ve said it. I hope you’re shocked. Even if you are revolted and angry, stay with me for a moment to examine the evidence.

I started with the Sun, hoping to be able to make a point about the fact that they like to publish pictures of young women, as if it were impossible to be attractive over the age of thirty. But what I found was an article about how a twenty-seven year old celebrity is a “cougar”, because she finds a teenage boy attractive:

“She said: “I love Justin. I think he’s gorgeous.

“It’s kind of that you feel wrong for fancying him. I’m 27. His songs are amazing. I’d be a cougar for him. But it is wrong,”

Comedienne Shappi Khorsandi, – also on Monday’s BBC1 show – joked that men must have felt the same about fancying Billie when she was a teen pop star at just 15.”

Do you think that men felt uncomfortable about fancying Billie Piper? I don’t. Do you think that we’d feel the need to come up with a special name for a man who fancies younger women? No, I think that “heterosexual man” pretty much covers that base.

Our society is obsessed with youth. We sell it in bottles and surgical treatments, and we ogle it everywhere. Female TV presenters are sacked when they get to a certain age, because their function is primarily sexual and their sexual value has a sell-by date. Why do you think that the American high-school film has become a hugely popular genre? Could it possibly be because we get to ogle teenage girls for an hour and a half? Many of the beauty regimes we grown women follow to make ourselves attractive to men also make us resemble children. Why do porn stars shave off all, or almost all, of their pubic hair, in addition to the rest of their body hair? Are the rest of us expected to do that, too?

Dan and Dan sum up the situation excellently with “Bring back capital punishment for paedophiles; Photo feature on schoolgirl skirt styles.” I think that pornography holds the key to the issue of our obsession with paedophilia. Pornography is fantasy, a repository for desires we don’t admit to. It also influences desire, especially now that it is universally accessible—in fact unavoidable—online.

A couple of years ago I picked up five porn magazines at random in a motorway service station. None of them have pictures of mature women, although one youngster is labelled a “Mother I’d Like to Fuck.” There are numerous pictures of young blondes with pigtails and white cotton underwear, advertising sex lines with captions like “I’m 18, I really am, why would I lie?” and “I’m not so innocent.” One photo series set in a classroom lets us share in a Japanese schoolgirl’s “self-exploration.” Props include a teddy bear, a lollipop, plastic animals and, weirdly, a Halloween pumpkin. Youth is clearly at a premium in pornography (winter squashes less so).

I think I’m fairly open minded. I might laugh at your sexual fantasies (you on Fetlife with the yellow cagoule, I’m talking about you), but you’re welcome to them. Nevertheless, I saw red when I came across the feature “Fancy a Lolita?” in Sexscape. It begins by singing the praises of underage girls, and then provides a handy guide to fucking them, because “inexperienced dolls with lovely slim bodies are agonizingly attractive to middle aged and older guys. What are you waiting for?”

Apparently fast food restaurants and cinemas are the best places to find ‘Lolitas’, and older men are sure to get a good response because they are more exciting than homework. They should be sure not to give out their address, though, for fear of retributions from angry fathers. The risks are worth it, though, because her beauty, her innocence and her inexperience combine to make her the best sex object around. She’s more easily turned on than adult women, and apparently even tastes better. Like Brita-filtered water, I’m sure.

So this is what I know: there’s a group of people who are very angry about little girls wearing clothes which they perceive as the markers of sexual availability, and there’s a group of people who think that girls are sexy precisely because they don’t act or dress like adult women, and haven’t been sexually available to other men. It sounds to me like they are both on the same side.

I’ve never been tempted to sleep with a child. I have been attracted to people who were under eighteen, mostly when I was under eighteen, too. I’m twenty-five, and now and again I notice a beautiful teenager. I wouldn’t want to get involved with one, independence is an important quality in a lover, and teenagers don’t (or shouldn’t) possess it. But every time I buy into the culture which sells us young flesh, in the form of a face cream, a bikini wax or an album by a teenage pop star with a raunchy music video, I help it along a little bit.

I think that we all need to do a little bit of soul searching. Let the children be.

Written by Not an Odalisque

April 18, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Votes From Women!

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It has been rather nice to hear recently that people are competing for my vote because I am a woman. It is rather worrying to realise that the government and opposition hadn’t noticed half of the population before now. Apparently women’s votes could make the difference in the next election. Well, that’s good to know.

What have the parties done to seduce women? The Liberals have announced a female porn director for one constituency, and she would certainly get my vote. If you can break into an industry as sexist as that one and then tailor your product to women, revolutionise the aesthetic and win awards, then politics shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Brown and Cameron aren’t being so radical. Both of them have rolled out their wives to bolster their public image. This is what Samantha Cameron had to say:

“I’d say one of the brilliant things about him is he loves cooking. But he, you know, he makes a terrible mess. He is not very good at clearing up as he goes along. He is not very good at picking up his clothes. He’s a terrible channel flicker. I have to be quite firm about him not fiddling with his phone and his BlackBerry too much, ‘cos it can be, you know, quite annoying.”

I rather liked Zoe Williams’ analysis of this:

“You look at David Cameron, someone tells you that he’s not very good at clearing up as he goes along, and that’s the most annoying thing about him.

“I mean, sure, I bet he doesn’t do a lot of washing up. If she’d said: “He has this insufferable sense of entitlement, which extends to a high-handed failure in all aspects of domesticity,” I would buy that more, even thought it would effectively mean the same thing.

“This, though, it doesn’t even sound that personal. It sounds like she’s flicked through Take-A-Break, put together a compendium of innocuous things women say about men, chosen the most innocuous and ta-da! Here he is, a three-dimensional human being, not-very-convincing-wart and all!”

I think she’s right, but I also think that Sam was tapping into a common contemporary conception of men. Now that women are expected to do the housekeeping, raise the children, have a successful career and look damn sexy, which is a lot to be getting on with, how do they accept that their partners aren’t doing all that? The common approach seems to be to claim that they don’t have the capacity. Poor men, they can’t multitask, they don’t know how to separate the delicates for the wash, they’re just like overgrown boys, really. I think that we can expect a bit more of blokes, but in the meantime we should be wary of what we are saying when we encourage this image. It gives the impression that women are the practical ones, while men have the elevated thoughts. They are making calls and talking about policy on their Blackberries, not thinking about mundanities. I honestly don’t care about Cameron’s laundry, but I think a nuanced understanding of gender would be a good thing in a Prime Minister.

Cameron and Brown are appealing to women through Mumsnet and Woman’s Hour. I don’t know about you, but I would rather listen to the Archers than to Woman’s Hour, and I’d rather spend fifteen minutes in an enclosed space with Ann Widdecombe than listen to the Archers. I do know several men who like it, though (Woman’s Hour, not Anne Widdecombe). Because I’m a dedicated blogger, I tried, just for you. I got to the point at which Brown was saying that he was more comfortable working with women than men before I had to turn it off. Why do men think that saying they’re more comfortable with women is ingratiating? It doesn’t make us think that you respect women, it makes us think that you need a mother, or an emotional labourer to smooth things over. Except in this case, as we know that you surround yourself with men, and have heard reports that you use women as “female window dressing.” Then we just think you’re a liar. Oh, and repeating the words “very, very professional,” every time you mention working with women gives the impression that you’re surprised women can do paid jobs. We can, or at least we could, if you’d sort out the economy.

My biggest problem with the appeal to women is that the range of women’s issues seems to be so small. From the Telegraph:

“Here’s another shopping list of women’s concerns. Protect public services where possible: more women than men work in them and use them. Focus on inequality. Help those, mostly women, who are currently providing free care worth £89 billion a year to the economy. Stop treating women offenders more harshly than men. Stop paying women workers less.”

All of that sounds good, but this is what I don’t understand: why do we expect women to care more about these things than men do? Do women all vote for the party which will be more lenient towards female criminals because they think they might want to rob a bank one day?

I strongly believe in many “women’s issues” including the need for more rape centres and rape justice, work on domestic violence, equal pay, and, screw it, more woman-focussed pornography. I care because the victims of rape, violence, discrimination and bad pornography are people, not because they are women. Because I care about people, I also care about human rights, surveillance, nuclear weapons, care for asylum seekers and the environment. I emphatically don’t care about the state of your kitchen, your taste in biscuits or fox-hunting.

Women aren’t a separate tribe. You want to know the one thing that would get my vote? Electoral reform, because it doesn’t matter who I choose, in my constituency the Tories always win. I’m pretty sure that there’s no way of spinning that as a “women’s issue”.

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Whatever Happened to Class?

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Today is International Women’s Day. When I lived in China it was celebrated with a day off work, here in the UK it seems to be used as a vehicle for examining the progress of feminism in the national press. I think I preferred the Chinese version.

If you’re a Guardian reader (and what self-flagellating British liberal isn’t?) you’ll have noticed that every feminist issue recently has come with a quote or from Natasha Walters on the sorry state of feminism. She has a new book out, and, I suspect, a friend on the editorial board. Combine her oft-repeated argument that women are increasingly participating in their own objectification with the recent report on the sexualisation of children, though, and you would be forgiven for thinking half of the British population are disguising themselves as sex-dolls and hookers in order to tempt men to stuff five pound notes into their bras.

There has always been pressure on women to look good, but there has rarely been so much pressure on women to look like porn stars. Access to and use of pornography, strip clubs and prostitutes is now widespread. The number of men using prostitutes doubled in the 1990s ( the number of lap-dancing clubs has risen 1,150% since 1997 (–figures-lay-bare-life-modern-Britain.html). Broadband connections are pretty common, too; who doesn’t look at porn?

Men are paying for women’s bodies and it is very visible. When the bus stop is outside the strip club, you wait outside the strip club (bad planning, Liverpool City Council!). You can’t insulate yourself from the media. This week I’ve seen several hardcore pornographic pictures I didn’t want to see, through internet advertising. I’ve heard radio adverts in which breathy women seem to promise sex in return for scrap metal (that was quite odd). Even the photos in my cookery books seem to focus on the body of the author, rather than her baking.

This makes a lot of us feel insecure. There’s a little voice at the back of our minds saying that men want women who look like that, rather than like me. It’s not enough to make meringues, I have to find the opportunity to sensuously lick something gloopy off my finger while I do it. There will always be someone there to exploit that insecurity, because there’s money in it, so they try to sell you make-up, clothes, diet pills, breast implants and pussy dye (yes, I said pussy dye: There are two common responses: to try to look better, or to assert that looks don’t matter. Join them or beat them.

Enter feminism, which tries to offer ways of valuing women that aren’t about how desirable they are to men. In the earliest days Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about women’s education for that reason. Women fought to be able to go to work for that reason. We thought we’d mostly won. So when we see society pushing women back into the role of sex object, when we see Tesco selling pole dancing kits as children’s toys ( and stationers selling Playboy merchandise to little girls (, feminists get angry. But who should we be angry with?

We should ask ourselves why feminist ideas on how to value women aren’t accepted, while sexual objectification is. Because it really is. Teenagers want to be glamour models, they cite Katie Price as a role model ( . There’s something rather patronising about the way feminists wring their hands and blame culture for brainwashing children. Could it possibly be that they just don’t like our version of who they should be?

This issue crystallised for me when I came across this.


It can be seen as a great feminist response to a song in which a woman claims value only in terms of men’s desire, suggesting an empowering alternative in which we value women’s brains. Sounds great. But what if you can’t get an A in it?

Some girls just aren’t that brainy. They aren’t going to become lawyers or doctors, and it’s not because they are disadvantaged, or lack encouragement. We ask that only the best pursue those careers. Most women aren’t the best. Most men aren’t, either. What does feminism have to offer them?

Feminism is a mostly middle-class movement. It campaigns on middle class issues. Working class women did not fight to be allowed to work, they had always worked, out of economic necessity rather than a desire for fulfilment and independence. Today the work ethic, education and career success are part of middle class values. They also seem to be feminist values. We are proud that women are achieving the positions middle class men covet. To do that you should work hard, get a good education and an important job. The problem is that a good education is not available to a lot of working class girls. Even in my position as middle-class, with my private schooling and postgraduate education, I can’t claim that my career has much sparkle. What if I had been to a school with a 50% GCSE pass rate? What if I didn’t have any role models who worked? What if I just saw through the rhetoric which told me I had to combine career-woman, domestic goddess and sex kitten, when I could choose just one?

I don’t have an alternative system to propose. I judge women (indeed, everyone) on a diverse range of factors, many of them idiosyncratic, like whether they agree with my reading of Nietzsche and if they share my sense of humour. It would be easy to say that everyone is special and has their own unique contribution to make to the world, but that rather misses the point. It is an idea which loses its currency when you’re sat next to a bore at dinner.

What I do know is that what we are doing isn’t working. Feminism isn’t speaking to most women. Why don’t we offer them something different?

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 8, 2010 at 11:47 pm


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Christmas is over and the presents are in. I received some very thoughtful gifts from those who know me well, and some rather odd gifts from those who don’t. The oddest may be the handful of mismatched cutlery one friend kindly presented me with (her mother was going to throw it out and she objected to eating lasagne with chopsticks last time she visited) but it was certainly not the least considered. I have boxes of chocolates in flavours I hate, lip gloss in a shade I would never consider and, most strangely, a box of Wallace and Gromit themed bread mix. So, for future reference, here is a list of things I actually want. Those who have acted abominably towards me recently could do worse than sending one of these as an apologetic gift.

‘Winter Blooms’ by Kim Hargreaves, a book of beautiful knitting patterns.
Very nice knitting needles in 4mm. I hear rosewood is a rather good material.
Earthenware soup bowls, to withstand temperatures of up to 240 degrees.
‘The Victorian Chaise-Lounge’ by Marghanita Laski, which is available in a lovely edition by Persephone Books.
‘Hard core: the power and the frenzy of the visible’ by Linda Williams, because I like porn.
‘The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context’ by Jack Zipes, because I like fairytales mixed in with my porn.
‘Burlesque and the Art of the Teese / Fetish and the Art of the Teese’ by Dita von Teese, see above remark about porn.

Gosh, that turned out to be a rather feminine list, didn’t it? Should I ask for a power drill, too?

Written by Not an Odalisque

January 4, 2010 at 6:20 pm


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During the Enlightenment the phrase ‘philosophical articles’ referred to pornographic texts. Well, it did among French booksellers, anyway. I sometimes wonder how Western culture had found itself in the position of reviling pornography with such a full-throated roar, while producing and consuming so much of it.

An American court ruling in 1973 decided that pornography is devoid of artistic merit. That’s a very different definition from the one we had been working with for the last few thousand years. If we put the semantics to one side for a minute, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that it may be an empirical observation. Most pornography is lacking in the artistic techniques of filmmaking, from plot and character to lighting and camera angles. Few people really take exception to pornography on the basis of bad lighting, though. The more compelling arguments are about its effects on participants and consumers.

There have been many well-publicised cases of abuse and exploitation during the production of pornography. The story of ‘Linda Lovelace’, who claimed that she was forced to film ‘Deep Throat’ at gunpoint is probably the best known, but you don’t have to look very far to find more. Systemic abuse dates back to Reuben Sturman, the father of contemporary film pornography. Sturman began building his empire in America in the 1950s when the material was illegal. He dominated the global market until 1989. There is significant evidence that his business enjoyed protection and support from the highest levels of the Mafia. It wasn’t pretty. It was just as coercive and violent as drug dealing or sex trafficking is today. What else could we expect?

Vulnerable women suffer disproportionately in the pornography industry, as they do in any other. People vulnerable due to economic disadvantage, socio-cultural norms of femininity and previous abuse are more likely to be exploited in any industry or any relationship. Yet they do seem to form a disproportionate number of workers in sex industries: one study reports that 85% of prostitutes in the UK suffered physical abuse in their family; various studies agree that about 70% of prostitutes suffered sexual abuse as children. Given that roughly 25% of women nationally have suffered sexual abuse, there’s a large concentration of them among sex workers.

What is the correlation? Are these victims trapped in their trauma, constantly recreating painful episodes from their lives? Or do other factors cause the correlation, the economic difficulties of trying to eat after you’ve run away from your abusive step-father, or of trying to fund the drug habit you’ve acquired to suppress the bad memories? As I look at the horrible stereotype I have just painted, I also wonder if I have any right to speculate on the motives of abused people, coming from the picture-perfect childhood that I had. Prostitutes and porn stars may be more survivors than victims, people who have chosen a lifestyle which they find fulfilling and rewarding. After all, entrepreneurs are more likely to have suffered bereavement during childhood, and few commentators extrapolate that their shareholders are exploitative.

There are few industries devoid of exploitation or abuse in some form. I don’t buy Coca Cola because I disapprove of the way they treat their workers, but I don’t condemn soft drinks in general. Clothing is not immoral, despite the fact that some has been produced in sweatshops, and food is not immoral, although some of it is produced by exploited farmers. I don’t have a solution on how to regulate the industry, but I do think that, as sex worker Catherine Stephens suggests, finding it may involve people like me shutting up and people like her being consulted. So I’ll put that to one side and concentrate on the viewers.

Traditionally, pornography has been characterised by a form in which the object is female, the male subject is almost a blank space onto which a viewer may project himself. I think of it as the ‘insert penis here’ genre. This approach is troubling as it arouses desire without agency, the user inhabiting the role without any control over the actions performed. Most contemporary pornography utilises a handful of stereotypes. Women are either sexual predators or sexually voracious under a thin veneer, black women are animalistic, ‘oriental’ women have access to esoteric sexual secrets and are very eager to please, blondes enjoy being dominated and schoolgirls are charming in their ingenuous innocence. I would not argue that pornography should simply depict reality, but its internal relations may be more valuable if they were more nuanced, and reflected a wider range of sexual identities.

With the arrival of the information age the industry which grew under Sturman has exploded. The pornographic film industry is bigger than Hollywood. The internet allows anyone to create, distribute and receive pornography, so the quantity and variety of pornography has grown. You want violent pornography? Pornography involving children? Rape? Degradation?

There’s no reason to get too excited, though. Yes, every bizarre predilection is catered for, and in some cases I wish it wasn’t. Some photographs of flesh hook suspension I came across on Fetlife recently spring to mind. However, this material plays a much larger part in our fantasy of pornography than in the material actually being distributed. Women Against Pornography estimates that only six percent of pornography is violent. That’s a group which surely has an interest in a nice high figure. How many more violent porn films would we have to make each year to match the number made by Hollywood? I can’t tell you. I can tell you that while there is evidence that violent films increase aggression in viewers, violent crime decreases on the release of a violent film. All the aggressive buggers go to the cinema. You can argue this one either way.

The problem goes much deeper than violence or the reduction of sexuality to the physical, into social constructions of, for example, race, gender, and age. I do worry that some young men derive too much of their ‘knowledge’ about sex from this rather unreliable source, but then, they weren’t looking for documentaries, so perhaps I could credit them with the insight to realise that they are buying other people’s fantasies. That is something we are happy for people to do from the moment they hear their first fairy tale, throughout lives filled with films, books and more advertising than you can shake a stick at. So why worry about the influence of this genre in particular?

Fortunately, in this plethora of new material there is a chance to reclaim pornography as an art form.
New forms are emerging to help us re-evaluate. The internet has created a huge forum for amateur pornography in which individuals can portray their sexuality without reference to the roles of the American pornography industry. They are able to choose to represent themselves as they wish, with emotion, their own bodies, transgressions and desires. This gives rise in turn to whole new genres, such as ‘feeder porn’ which celebrates a figure very rarely seen in the industry’s films. More pornography is being made by and for women. Individuals selling through their own websites with low production costs have a greater level of control over the image of themselves which they choose to sell. This gives them the power to refuse to modify their bodies or simulate desires to conform to stereotypes of mainstream pornography. There is plenty of AltPorn out there in which bodies have been modified in the opposite direction.

For too long, pornography has been an industry. People all over the world now have the means to challenge that. We have the opportunity, with new technologies, to make this genre art. Like any art, it can make subtle points, communicate emotion and pathos, and really turn you on. I don’t mean better lighting and more plot, but new roles for men, women and new roles for their bodies. That is the potential, what reason can we have for condemning it?

Just to prove I did my research:

Written by Not an Odalisque

December 1, 2009 at 10:35 pm

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