I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet. - Arab proverb
Ever read one of those news stories where try as you might, you just can’t sympathize with the writer or subject of the story? I encountered two of those this morning, both of which inspired me to say “welcome to my world”. Both involved rhetoric the writer seems to feel is unfairly directed against her subject, and in both cases that rhetoric is startlingly similar to the crap whores have to listen to every damned day. So please, ladies, if you want my sympathy you might try considering life without feet before bitching about your shoes.
Was it too much to hope that The Atlantic—a relatively open minded, liberal publication—might approach the topic of adult entertainment with a fair and balanced perspective? Probably, but a girl can dream. Sadly, my dreams of reading an informed, insightful piece on the way today’s porn industry interfaces with American sexuality were pretty much shot by the end of the third paragraph, in which author Natasha Vargas-Cooper declares double anal to be “a fixture on any well-trafficked site.” I should have given up at that point, but I soldiered on, working my way through what has to be the most pretentious published piece ever to discuss double anal. As I finished the piece, I felt nothing but disgust. And it wasn’t simply Ms. Vargas-Cooper’s ignorance about her subject matter that disappointed me, nor was it the fact that she apparently confuses name dropping with creating a well-crafted argument. No, it was her dismal view of human—particularly male—nature, her broad generalizations about human sexuality, and—most troublingly of all—her apparent inability to separate fantasy from reality that left me frustrated and disappointed.
Vargas-Cooper’s thesis seems nebulously based on her own experience as a consumer of internet porn and a sexually active female, combined with a handful of statistics, some high minded citations, and an overlong analysis of Last Tango in Paris—hardly a firm basis from which to paint male sexuality with so broad a brush. At no point does Vargas-Cooper engage anyone from the adult industry—or, for that matter, any male consumers of porn—a strange omission for a piece that seeks to prove that porn offers irrefutable evidence that men are brutes and women weak, passive, and desperate to please.
There are also plenty that offer a very different view on sexuality, one that hardly squares with her idea of debased, ravaged women undone by aggressive male sexuality…[most] directors bear little resemblance to the vicious, manipulative pornographers imagined in Vargas-Cooper’s article (which is, of course, probably why she neglected to include much discussion of almost any actual porn)…But even if all porn were as Vargas-Cooper suggests, it would hardly be proof that men are as fundamentally contemptuous of women as she seems to believe.
Though it’s wonderful to see a publication like The Atlantic taking interest in the world of pornography (and, by extension, human sexuality), it would be even more wonderful if they’d actually present a fact-based analysis, instead of one that trades in tired tropes about beast-like men and victimized women. I know I wasn’t the only one disappointed with The Atlantic‘s choice to run this piece. I can only hope that, if more people speak up and express disappointment, that they’ll actually take note—and maybe, in a future issue, run a piece that actually tackles the topic in an informed, respectful manner.
Sound familiar? I wouldn’t have to change this by more than 30% to have an article about the garbage which passes in the mainstream media for information about prostitution. Like the Atlantic article she critiques, prostitution articles even in soi-disant “liberal” publications like Huffington Post and The New York Times are nearly always pretentious, ignorant propaganda written by a woman whose “credentials” on the subject consist of a journalism or “women’s studies” degree and a 30-hour-a-week television habit; they almost never contain real statistics, interviews with real prostitutes above the streetwalker level or even the opinions of bona fide sex researchers, and their writers are apparently unable to tell fantasy from reality. The most striking point of similarity: “a piece that seeks to prove…that men are brutes and women weak, passive, and desperate to please…it would be even more wonderful if they’d actually present a fact-based analysis, instead of one that trades in tired tropes about beast-like men and victimized women.” Welcome to our world.
Then there was this article by Irin Carmon bemoaning the fact that surrogate motherhood is illegal in Australia; please pardon me for not giving a shit. If it’s supposedly so “degrading” to be a substitute wife for money, how the hell can it NOT be degrading to be a substitute mother for pay? If renting a pussy for an hour is “inherently exploitative”, how can renting a uterus for nine months not be? And if you think the term “gestational carrier” is ugly, try “prostituted woman.” Yes, I understand that prostitution is legal in Australia while surrogate motherhood isn’t; my point is the reaction of the American writer, whose arguments would all be better directed toward a repressive law which affects a large segment of the population rather than one which only inconveniences infertile rich people.
The issue of “commodifying” women and children [as surrogacy was called by Australian Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney] was addressed here in the U.S. in Melanie Thernstom’s recent Times magazine piece about having two children through two gestational carriers and an egg donor… “Many people talked as if the mere fact of being compensated negated the generosity of the gestational carriers and the egg donor and asked if they were doing it “for the money,” as if they couldn’t want to help and want to be paid. Would you be less grateful to a beloved teacher, nanny or fertility doctor because they were paid? We wanted to pay, because it made the relationship feel more reciprocal.”
Do I need to comment on this? I wonder if Melanie Thernstom writes this passionately about decriminalization of prostitution, or if her logic only applies to things she wants herself?
“Several readers express the belief that surrogacy is ‘rich women exploiting lower-class women.’ The notion of surrogates as lower-class women relies on a faulty stereotype and is offensive to surrogates in several ways. Many surrogates…are middle-class professional women with families who want to help someone experience…joy…Surrogates, regardless of their income and occupation, are proud of what they do and of the happiness they help bring into the world – you have only to read postings on Web sites like surromomsonline.com to see how true this is. To insist they are being exploited is to discount their own will and their self-reported feelings about the process.” [Thernstom is]…right about the condescension inherent in the assumption that these women couldn’t possibly understand their choices to be pregnant for someone else, or the risks thereof.
There’s no evidence that [those who hire surrogates] viewed their carrier as a “disposable uterus.” The natural extension of this thinking, which assumes that all women consider pregnancy the same way, is that even adoption is dehumanizing. While ensuring there are legal controls against actual exploitation, we should stick to letting these women define their body’s experiences for themselves.
Change “surrogate” to “prostitute” and adapt a few other terms as needed, and I wonder if Carmon and Thernstom would still agree with it? Because the argument is exactly the same.