An Old Twist on a Very, Very Old Theme by Michelle

There’s been some discussion about the Channel 4 makeover programme How to Look Good Naked (HTLGN) over at the F-Word and I’m going to add some of my thoughts here.

I’ve seen the show a couple of times and that’s all I’ve needed to see to know that this is the kind of telly produced to piss me off.

First things first, I don’t care how it’s ‘differenttoallthoseothermakeoverprogrammes’ because it doesn’t lead its female subjects to the cosmetic surgeon’s operating table or because it’s not got some ‘female fashion toff’ telling women how to dress, but a ‘gay male style guru’.

As far as I’m concerned, any programme that strives to make women look and feel good, whether it be via liposuction or lipstick, isn’t going to have my backing, because they are all about making a woman look/feel good via her appearance, nothing more (I mean, it’s not as if these programmes talk about their female subjects’ education, jobs, politics, hobbies or other interests which could perhaps also boost their self-esteem, is it?).

And what, gay men can’t also perpetuate the sexist beauty myth? That just because a man isn’t sexually attracted to women it means gender relations are transformed? Yeah, right.

Gok Wan may be gay, but the man dominant/woman subordinate dynamic is still maintained in HTLGN. This is made most obvious when Gok says things such as, ‘this is how to look good, ladies’ and ‘this is what you should wear, girls’ as if all us ‘girls’ were just gagging for his advice so we can all be in his special, ‘hey, don’t we look fucking-fantastically-feminine’ club. Man instructing woman on how to look good? That’s a step backwards for makeover tv, not a step forward.

What I really loathe about the show though, is its relentless emphasis on getting the female subject- and the female viewer- to look ‘feminine’ (which always equates to being a ‘real woman’ in makeover tv land). I can’t stand that homogenous dictate- that for a woman to look good, to feel good, to make the most of herself, she should subscribe to that arbitrary standard, ‘femininity’. Feminine beauty standards are constructs of hetero-patriarchy, (gasp!, did I just invoke an over-simplistic, totalising concept there? Oh, well…) produced so that women can a) keep quiet, occupied and contained and b) be attractive to men.

Now, hearing anyone brandishing the femininity dictate pisses me off. But when it’s a male style guru on a makeover programme doing it, there’s something else to question.

What we have with HTLGN is a male fashion/image ‘expert’; this very concept is a subversion of stereotypical masculinity which rejects associations with obsessing over appearance, fashion and shopping etc. The man running the show can get away with crossing the gender line, he can disavow the dictates of stereotypical masculine appearance/manner.

Not so for the women who appear on the show. They have to stay very much within the gender line, they have to work at becoming a traditional feminine stereotype. The female subject cannot disavow femininity.

So, HTLGN turns out to be just like allthoseothermakeoverprogrammes. A woman’s ‘failure’ to be feminine isn’t taken as an opportunity to say, ‘well, fuck all that anyway’, it means she must work at fitting into femininity, because otherwise she ain’t good enough, she’s unacceptable.

Also, this show is about making women look good naked. It’s not a celebration or affirmation of genuinely naked women. If it was, what’s with getting the face-paint and hair extensions out all of a sudden for the naked reveal? Neither is it a celebration or affirmation of women in all their genuine shapes and sizes. If it was, what’s with hiding all the ugly bits, but making the most of the flattering bits with the ‘right’ clothing? What’s with all the emphasis on doing this, buying that, putting that on there, wearing this like that, standing like this, doing your hair like that?

So, just like allthoseothermakeoverprogrammes, HTLGN tells its female subjects/viewers how to fit the same ol’ standard. It tells us we have to squeeze into the high heels, breathe in and belt up to accentuate our curves and clip in some hair extensions.

It tells us we have to fit femininity; femininity cannot be re-defined to fit us.

by Michelle

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Living Behind the Camera by Rebecca Mott

I was abused for too many years, I learnt to survive by never allowing it in. I was obsessed with film and TV, so I made it fiction.
Then I thought none of the pain and humiliation would go into me. It was not me that was being treated like a piece of dirt. It was an actress.
I thought if it was a only a film, then I could make a happy ending.
I thought I had that much control.

Now I want to cry as see me needing that control so much. I see me vanishing piece by piece as the violence increases.
I love that I try to make myself dream. I love that I could still believe in hope.

I had always loved films. Before I was abused, films brought me close to adults that I loved. I felt safe watching musicals with my grandmother. I had chats with my Dad and his brothers about old Westerns. Film was my happiness.
I was the same with TV, it was like a comfort blanket. I would watch with my sister, laughing at children’s telly, hiding behind the sofa at Star Trek.
It was so normal. It was lovely.

And it would be bombed away.

When my stepdad entered my life, he came with a camera. He worked in advertising, and was continually filming still or moving pictures.

I slowly learnt to hate the camera.

He would photograph me when I was relaxed. He would photograph me climbing trees.
Camera angled to show my knickers,
He photographed me eating. Me in the bath. Me sleeping. Me painting.

The camera followed me everywhere. I could not breathe without another photo being taken.
I felt trapped.

Even now, I still hate having my photo taken. I feel I lose control unless I really know the person taking the photo.

I try to imagine the photos my stepdad took were innocent images. I had always liked my real dad taking snapshots of me.
I try hard to imagine my stepdad filmed me coz I was such a jolly child. It must be just fun.

Only I know, my stomach knotted with sickness each time he asked me to stay still. I know as more and more he posed my body. I know as he kept waiting, taking too many shots of me.
I know I was being stolen by the camera.

When I saw him pass around photos of me to other men, who passed him more photos, I was not surprised.
I just went dead inside. Then pretended I had not seen what I saw.

Years later, he phoned saying there was pictures of me on internet.
I choose not to believe that. But inside I feel exhausted thinking maybe pictures of me trying to be a child are being wanked over by men like my stepdad.
I can’t bear to know if the images are there or not.

I was growing to fear film, when he brought in pictures of hard-core porn.

This destroyed my dreams that the camera could ever be safe, as I saw trapped behind the lens images that burnt through my whole body.

I looked and I saw my future in those images.
I looked and saw that hope was a wasted emotion.

When I looked as briefly as I could get away with, I saw pain going straight into my heart. So, I chose to deaden my heart.
What I saw was pure torture, and I was told it was acting. But, I looked hard and knew it was real.
For as looked I saw the fear of knowing there is nothing that can be done to stop it.

Hard-core porn killed my love affair with film. It replaced it with entering world where the camera entered my nightmares. It suffocated me when I shut my eyes.

I learnt to not sleep too much. As I dreamt of the images they changed and my face was on each torture victim. I would wake sweating, as I heard –
Smile for the camera.

I was right to believe that those images were my future. When I reached my teens and twenties, I had become real-life porn for violent men.
I had become nothing but an image they had seen in a photo or a film.

They would pose my body as the images they had seen. I was told not to move, to be silent. This made it not real, it was just part of some film in their head.
As they fucked me, other men would stand round watching like an audience. As each man poured his images of hate into me, I had to vanish.

Desperately, I cling on my memories of films. As I was beaten up, raped and tortured, I would disappear to my imagination. I thought I was Betty Davis alone smoking a cigarette. I became Scarlett O’Hara speaking back to men. I was Joan Crawford smacking a man in his face.

I had to have some dreams, or I would have died.

I had to not know my reality. To know that the men who were destroying me had planned everything they did, that was too much to bear. To know that each time I thought they had done the worst I could imagine to my body, there was always yet another form of torture. That was too much to bear.

And that to them I was not some glamourous actress, but a common whore. I could not bear that.

I choose not to accept that I was prostituted. Even when I got money, free drinks and food. Even when each man that used me had no name, I hardly know what they looked like. Even when I was with many men in one night. Even when I know I could not say no to any sick idea they had. Even when I know I was being passed around by men.

I could not see myself as a prostitute. That was never in any film I had loved. In my film, women have strength and were listened to. No-one would dare to rape the actresses I imagined I was.

But, in the end I could dream no more. It was beaten out of me. In the end, the only way I could survive was emptying my mind of any idea of hope.

I had to be dead to live. As the violence increased, I felt less.

In the end, I lose myself. All I was, was a fuck-object. I was what my stepdad trained me to be. I was part of the photos in hard-core porn.
I had disappeared.

Now, that was many years ago, but the impact is massive.

I have lost my vision imagination. I have stopped seeing films in my head, so I choose to see nothing. I still find it hard to take photos of people, or have my photo taken. I am very cynical about filming.

But on a positive note to end. I have back my love of films and TV. Now, I watch and can escape.

It was stolen from me for many years, but in the end my love for the fun of film and TV stayed in my heart.

Men try to destroy my heart, but they had no idea how to reach it.

by Rebecca Mott

Learning to Defrost by Rebecca Mott

Introduction

I am writing this piece, because I want to show how I learned to connect my different types of abuses. By making these connections, I was able to live with hope, not just to live by remembering to breathe.

Like many people who have survived multiple types of abuse, I survived by living moment by moment. For much of my life, I would see that there were connections which made me suicidal. I could not face my own reality so I learned to freeze it out.

I have decided to separate out parts of my life. I will always remember that each abuse led to the next piece of abuse.

Meeting my Stepdad

I was seven when I met my stepdad. He unnerved me. I felt a fear which I did understand, for I had not feared an adult before.

It was the way that he looked at me. He would look at my body – up and down, down and up. As he looked I felt he had me.

But I knew how to smile. After all my mum liked him. I would learn how to like him too.

One Night

In this part I write of an event, that my stepdad denies. For most of my life I have blanked this event out, for it was too confusing and painful to recollect. I lived in a family where I was told that I was a liar, or that I was mentally ill. So, when I recall my experiences, I still can find it difficult to believe. All I can say, is when I think of this event I get massive body memories, and a great desire to run away from myself.

There was a night when my stepdad was putting me to bed. After he had turned out the light he came back to tuck me in. I began to feel nervous, for his hands reached under my bedclothes. I remember it was the first time I froze. I remember his fingers going into me. The pain is still there. As he finger-fucked me I tried to imagine that I was not there. No, I had entered a world underwater and I was safe as I joined mermaids. In this world adults were not allowed. In this world I could cry and no-one would know. Only in reality, I lie in the wet he had left me in. I was bleeding. There was yellow stuff, that I know was my piss. I was scared. Scared that my bed was wet. Scared that I was in pain. Scared that I was bad. I knew how to clean the bed for I did not want my mum to be angry with me.

His Stash of Porn

My stepdad was obsessed with hard-core porn. He made me look at his collection. It caused me a great deal of mental damage. I look back and know hard-core porn taught me how not to complain when I was sexually abused. I was taught to be submissive. And always to look as if I was having fun. These lessons did lots of damage to much of my life. My stepdad’s interests included Hustler, images of true-sex murders, images of S/M enactments, images with children or models dressed as children. This is what I can remember, although I find the memories so frightening that I have blanked many of these images from my mind. He enjoyed my fear, because it made him believe that he owned me. I felt like I was inside the images. I could feel their pain and terror. I could feel men’s hatred as they viewed these children’s and women’s suffering. As I was forced to look and look again at these images, I thought I was entering hell.

The thing I feared the most was the look in eyes of the women and children in the images. It was a look that had lost all hope. It was a look that was dead.

As I grew older, I learned to understand and imitate that look.

Chester the Molester

What upsets me the most about hard-core porn is that it is meant to be funny. At an early age I learned women had no sense of humour. The worst thing is when it comes to the cartoons in hard-core porn. They attacked and wanted to offend everything. A child seeing this hatred, can only feel fear. Whilst this is happening to a child, an adult is laughing saying “they are only pictures.” For me the worst was the series of “Chester the Molester” in Hustler. This is a world which celebrates sexual violence committed against children, and the instigators find it funny to mentally abuse children.

For much of my childhood, I had loved reading cartoons and comics. I was brought up on my grandmother’s collection of Charles Adams. I loved English comics. I read Marvel comics, especially Spiderman. Cartoons were a world I loved to disappear into. I thought I understood the rules of the cartoon world.

But seeing “Chester the Molester” destroyed my love of cartoons. I could not understand this world. I just understood that it would become my world. A world where I would be watched as an object wherever or whatever I was doing. I could be sitting on a toilet and a man would staring at me. As I walked to school, abusers would hide in bushes. Always, men would watch in order to wank. In some of the series, there were images which made it clear a man had sexually abused a young girl by putting his penis in her vagina and it was shown as if the girl was either scared or she had enjoyed the man sexually abusing her. The messages I received from these cartoons made me go silent and still. I felt resistance was futile because a molester would wait until I was too tired to protect myself.

When He Thought the Abuse Began

All families make their own myths to destroy the truth. My family’s myth is that my stepdad began to sexually abuse me when I was 12. This supposedly makes it all right. I suppose I was seen as being old enough to say no or to fight back.

But, I know that I was abused before I was 12, for my body revolts with sickness as it remembers. Also when I was 12, I knew how to behave and how to obey him. I can remember feeling completely empty as he abused me. I knew that I should not protest, only be still and quiet. When I was 12 I felt no surprise as he reached into me. The abuse had become a habit with my stepdad. Although he still would finger me or French kiss when he thought no one was watching, it became an enjoyable routine for him. He would have a bath with me each Friday night.

In the bath he would be slow and gentle, nothing like the images I had seen. He would make me wash his penis, letting it go hard. He would wash me. He would wash all over my skin. And, he would wash inside of me. It would scare me, but I didn’t understand why. He was not meaning to hurt, instead it was accidental. I didn’t understand why it made me feel so sad, I was shaking, but I wanted to freeze.

I Became His Sex Object

My stepdad knew the most damaging way that he could abuse was by gradually building up the violence. He brainwashed me into thinking each time he increased the sexual torture that I endured, I was lucky because it was not as bad as I had imagined. After seeing so many images of hard-core porn, I thought I was going to be murdered by my stepdad. Looking back, I feel great anger at his mental abuse of me. By showing me violent porn, I was taught to accept the unacceptable.

The main effect that my stepdad had on me was that I became dead inside. I felt his presence all the time, whether he was in the house or not. I felt that I belonged to him and had no will of my own. He abused me until I left at 19. By the end, I would lie in his bed dead still. I had found that he did not need to speak to me, for me to know how to obey him. For instance, I would get undressed by him just looking at me. By the end, my stepdad would touch me wherever he wanted. His pleasure was my torture. He would rub all over as slowly as possible. Often he did this in the dark and in silence. He enjoyed doing oral sex on me. He would put his hand into me.

I felt I was dead, that my existence meant nothing. When my stepdad made me come, I was angry for it meant I was alive. Part of his mental and sexual abuse was get me to climax and then to blame me for making him go too far. I felt that I was his whore.

Doing It for Money

My entrance into prostitution overlapped with my stepdad’s sexual abuse of me. For me, it was a logical move, after all I was already having sex and getting gifts. I knew I was nothing more than some holes for men to use. So when I stayed up late and went to clubs, I was attracted to sleaze. I wanted to be the “bad girl” because being good never stopped the pain.

From a young age, round about 7 or 8, I had run away from home and school. When young, I would hang around in areas where prostitutes were common. I felt oddly safe in those areas. This was ridiculous, for they were very dangerous areas. Life was cheap. Looking back, I see how warped my home life was, that I was more relaxed in red-light districts. As a child, I looked up to prostitutes. I still don’t know why, but it was a seed in my head. Maybe I thought being a prostitute would force my mother to take care of me.

From aged 12, I had started drinking. It deadened my pain. It made me not care how I was treated. I drank because than I forgot for a while. It was also a slow way of killing myself. It was within this head-space that I entered into paid sex. I was aged 14 when I first had sex for money. I thought I knew what I was doing but I had no idea.

Eye to Eye with Hate

I went to a club which let in under aged girls for free after midnight. It was exciting for a young teen to be entering an adult world. Only I refused to it see as it was. In my imagination it was glamourous, like entering a James Bond film set. I couldn’t face the truth because it would destroy me.

What I remember is the darkness of the place, and that it was cramped. I remember that it was full of men, mostly middle-aged or older. I remember sitting by the bar, drinking free cocktails. I remember young girls sitting up at the bar. We were silent. I remember we always left with some men. All I see is a haze because when I see I do not want to remember. I know it happened, but it makes me feel so worthless.

I would go to some man’s flat. Usually there was a group of men. Once the door was shut I knew what they wanted. I knew to be naked and how to lie as still as I could. All this I learned from my stepdad. But it went further.

They would speak to me as if I was a piece of shit. Calling me a “dirty whore and bitch”, saying they would give what I deserved. They sometimes tied me up, often to do anal sex. Often as one raped me, the others would stand round the bed watching. Then, they would rape in turn. I had to suck them all off. If I was not quick enough or if I spoke I was battered. This is how I remember, but because the men committed so much sexual cruelty against me I have blanked it out. My brain has created its own safety blanket, not letting in the full horror of their actions. I just know that my body remembers the pain because now I am safe to feel. I feel pain in every cell of my body. I hate who those men were. Men who thought throwing a small amount of money at a girl or woman, entitles them to use her body as a dustbin for their hatred. Such men use prostituted women because they pretend their actions are not violent. Because prostituted women have no feelings and will never say no. Since these men knew I was a child it was a bonus for them. It meant that they could pay me less.

I Had Lost Hope

By the time I was 17, I had given up on hope. I thought my only worth was in sexually servicing men. I could not understand a “normal life” any more. I was doing as much self- harm as I could.

I had first cut myself when I was 9. I loved seeing the blood, for I felt I had some control. I fall in love with the idea of death. I felt Death was a friend. Maybe, it was because I read Edgar Allan Poe, but I thought death would so calm. Looking back, I don’t think I wanted to commit suicide rather I just wanted everything to stop.

By the time I was 17 I was an alcoholic, I ate little and then only trash food. I was trying not to sleep. I was scared to stop, in case I felt something. I thought I was mad but I thought it did not matter since I was just a piece of trash.

Sex Until I Die

I was having sex too much. I had sex, but I had no love or affection. I had decided I was just an object for men to fuck. I had lost who I was. Now, I had hit on a form of self-harm that fitted me. I find it so hard to see that time, for I was so scared and abandoned. I see that time, and all I think is that I was recreating the images I had seen in hard-core porn. For, as I was being raped over and over again by these men, I had learned to act as if I was enjoying it.

I was so dead inside, that after many acts of violence, I would “act normal” afterward. I could not allow myself to think of what had happened, because then I would lose my mind.

I Woke Up

I had become a zombie. Nothing seemed to matter any more. My body and mind was so used to abuse that it could not remember to care.

I was pushing the barriers of pain and degradation. I thought one day I may shock myself into caring. And I did.

I thought myself worthy of the male violence I was put though, because I believed I was scum. Only, somewhere deep inside was a voice speaking to me – “There is more to life than this. Please, stop it now. Or you will die.” I heard this voice and tried to ignore it, but in my twenties it got louder and louder. I know I had to save myself, but I had no idea how.

Gone Too Far

The time near the end of the violence was terrifying. I was beginning to know what was happening to and I was starting to feel outrage. I needed an end, but I felt powerless. I felt vulnerable. In that state, the last few acts of sexual violence left deep scars. I was seeing how my rapes were re-enactments of pornified minds.

One man, who I thought was a friend, raped me for 6 hours. Because I attempted to take some control by not allowing him to penetrate me, he used extreme sexual and mental violence on me. Although I prevented him from putting his penis into my vagina, he put his penis in every other orifice he could find. This included my left ear which affected my hearing, especially when I am stressed. If I did not do what he wanted, he would hit so hard that I lost who I was. At one point, he put a pillow over my eyes, his penis in my mouth and fisted my anus. The pain was so horrific. But I could not move, I could not scream. But, I could die. I stopped breathing.

At the time, I exited my body. I remember that I looked at me being raped, and thought nothing. Only, I felt so peaceful, and the pain had gone.

But, he brought me back to life –

“Don’t die on me, bitch.”

I came back, and the pain went on.

Beginning of an End

The day-to-day violence in my life came to an end when I reached my limit.

I still worked as a part-time prostituted woman. I went towards paid sex, as my way of killing myself. I did not need the money. I was not trapped by a pimp. I just saw myself as a sex object. In my low self-esteem and anger I thought that if men were to have sex with me, I may as well get something out of it. I was so stupid because these thoughts ignored the danger.

My last punter was the most dangerous, for he hated everything about women. I was in my early twenties, he was in his late sixties. He paid more than I could ever have imagined but he treated me so violently and cruelly. I would take the money and try to blank out his hatred.

His habit was for anal sex but not as I had experienced it.

He would force me to face against a wall, and pull down my trousers a little. Just enough to keep my legs together. He would hold my hands above my head. Then without warning, he would force his penis into my anus. The shock was so intense that I felt I was going to get a heart attack. Often I would faint.

Each time I saw him I would drink whisky, in the hope it would deaden the pain he inflicted on me. But each time the fear and pain always sobered me up. I ended up one night with severe injuries.

I went to hospital because I couldn’t stop bleeding and could not sit down. There I was treated badly by a female nurse because she had decided I was a slut and did not deserve decent treatment. So, when she sewed up my anus, she did not give me a painkiller. Although I was supposed to spend the night in hospital, I ran away to my own bed.

Choosing to Live

The next time I woke up, I found that I could not move, only my eyes. I tried to turn on my radio but I could not reach it. I was still in pain, but immobile. At first I was not worried, but as time went by I still could not move. I thought this is how I will die. Not murder or suicide – just a slow death as my body gives up hope.

I had always thought that you could will yourself to die. When I was young I had seen a kitten refuse to live. It had stopped eating, ceased cleaning itself. It had just decided there was no point to its life. So the kitten lay down in the corner of a drawer and died.

As I lay on my bed, I knew I had to make a choice whether I could live. My choices were to stay in my home-town, and continue living with violence. Or, to run away and maybe find that there could be hope. I knew if I stayed I would die soon. I would be “accidentally killed” if a man went too far.

Or I could lose the will to live since my body could not live with so much pain any more – so I would die. I had no choice but to leave. I left, and very slowly I built a new life.

Conclusion

As I write this piece I see with compassion how trapped I was.

When I view my past I see how pornography brainwashed me into believing I deserved all the pain men inflicted on me. At the time it was safer to blame myself than to recognise how men chose to sexually torture me. When I write, I write against those who believe that pornography is harmless. I know the men who raped me brought into and accepted the culture of porn.

They saw me as an object to be used and used again, until they decided to throw me away. What they did to me was not personal. It could have been any girl or woman they chose to abuse, for they believe that all women and girls are objects for their sexual gratification. For much of my life, I almost drove myself mad by trying to understand why I was so constantly abused. I thought I must have made these men commit acts of sexual torture on me. Now, I can see that I did nothing, but being in the wrong place.

One thing that help built myself a life, was finding feminism. As I began to regain myself I read Andrea Dworkin, and found she gave me a voice. No, she allowed me to scream. As the years became more secure, I learned to grieve for my past. I feel my past killed the child who could trust. But I was transformed by my past. It has made me stronger, for I had to discover how to live. I find that I have empathy with others who have extreme trauma. I feel that I am a fighter, especially in showing the truth of male violence to women and children.

I hope my story can show the harms of a porn culture. Also that it can remind the reader that prostituted women are individuals who deserve safety and compassion.

Finally. I write to thank my past self for living, when death was so welcoming.

by Rebecca Mott

Pornography and Rape: A Personal Essay by Gertrude Green

Q. The creation and reproduction of gender roles causes the prevalence of rape. Discuss in relation to pornography and prostitution.

I have attempted where possible to describe my experience of rape with appropriate language. However, it is an important point that my rape was not mutual sex, nor does the word sex do what he did to me justice. Therefore I have used the term ‘fucked’ instead to convey the violent way he treated me. In addition, I have used Louis’ name in this essay despite the fact that hearing it continues to cause me great pain because I wanted to humanise him, as a normal man who represents many other men who do similar things to many other women.

Radical feminists have written extensively on how gender roles lead to the prevalence of female victimisation, including rape, pornography and prostitution. Chancer (1998) and Schwendinger, J.R and H. Schwendinger (1983) criticise radical feminism as claiming that rape and sexual inequality is a result of the ‘natural’ aggression of men. Rather, radical feminism argues that gender roles are learned through socialisation and reinforced through social institutions (such as the legal system) (Bourque 1989:15). In this essay I will focus on western women, gender roles and societies. Winter, Thompson and Jeffreys (2002) define the West as “the industrialised, urbanised, wealthy nations with high GDPs and per capita incomes, which have been shaped, culturally, economically and politically, by western European liberal capitalist philosophy: namely the USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand”. Russell (1975:260) defines western masculine characteristics as including aggression, force, power, strength, dominance, competitiveness and virility. Masculinity depends on its opposite: femininity which is described as including traits like submissiveness, passivity, weakness, and masochism (Russell 1975:268). In this essay I will focus on the feminine traits of masochism and submissiveness, and the masculine “virility mystique” to show how these are created and reproduced in pornography, and as such lead to rape. Pornography is the most extreme method by which harmful gender roles are created and reproduced, and can therefore be seen to cause the prevalence of the extreme sexist practices of rape and prostitution. I will also address how dominant discourses in society serve to systematically disempower female rape victims and silence their voices. Dworkin (Evans 1991) argues that there is a need to hear the victim’s stories in order to get beyond the intellectual argument. One cannot do justice to the issues involved without listening to the victim’s voices, as the nature of the violation of rape is not well enough known (Brison 1998:15). In order to illustrate my argument effectively I will therefore use my own experience of acquaintance rape.

The depiction of femininity as inherently masochistic has existed for centuries. Daly (1978:66) describes how men fabricate the plot of women needing to “lose their self in order to find it” through pain and self-denial which recurs throughout history in the form of feminine Christian masochism, devotion to Higher Causes, or through the torture of S and M rituals. This has led to the perception of some that rape can be a liberating experience for women (Wood 1975:199). Early male theorists such as Freud, Ellis and Kraft-Ebing argued that female desire was inherently masochistic and that females have a love of force (Sanday 1996). In this way, sadomasochism is seen as the extreme versions of masculine (as the sado) and feminine (as the masochist) traits (Sanday 1996:126). Ellis argued that women say ‘no’ to turn both themselves and men on more (Sanday 1996:126). Masochism, like all feminine characteristics, is a man-made construct, which serves to describe the woman’s will as what men wish it was (Dworkin 1997:127). This is exemplified in pornography, where women are shown to love penetration, especially violent penetration. Pornography depicts the normal woman as demanding force, violence, and pain (Dworkin 1981:165). In this way, women resisting sex is seen as part of the female game in which they desire to be overcome (Russell 1975:258). This leads to the assertion that women are so inherently masochistic that rape can be a pleasurable event. Thus the victim is blamed for unconsciously taking unnecessary risks and placing herself in dangerous situations in order to provoke men to rape her (Wood 1975:200). Such depictions of femininity lead to the justification of rape and prostitution (where the prostitute is seen to enjoy and choose her ‘profession’), in addition to blaming the victim and silencing her voice.

Dworkin (1981:167) has argued that men believe what pornography says about women. Louis was an average guy, who got lucky with a school-girl he met in the state library who agreed to go on an overnight camping trip with him. I knew that there would be sex involved, and thought that I needed the experience so that I would be good enough in bed when my boyfriend finally made the move. However, the sex was not what I expected it to be. Louis never bothered much with foreplay, or with pleasuring me. Instead, he violently penetrated me in all three holes: mouth, vagina and anus. He had a large penis and I was a virgin, so the pain involved for me was almost unbearable. Louis slapped my bottom and was rough while he fucked me, occasionally saying things like, “you like that, don’t you, you dirty slut?”. I believe that he thought that I was enjoying myself, and that I wanted what he wanted me to like: violent penetration and dominance. Jeffreys (1997) describes the popularity of ‘3-Hole’ prostitutes or brothels, and how women are shown to desire ‘3-Hole’ penetration in their mouth, vagina and anus (sometimes simultaneously) in pornography. It is clear that Louis, whether he watched pornography or not, was influenced by the discourse of women being inherently masochistic and desiring pain and force in sex.

Femininity is based on submission. Freud argued that the more passive a woman is, the more feminine she is, and the more the man is turned on (Sanday 1996:130). Ideas that women are essentially passionless and that normal women have little sexual desire have been dominant in western history. In addition, women are taught not to fight, and not to learn how. This causes women to become afraid to fight a man off as they become unduly intimidated by the rapist through lifelong conditioning to be submissive (Russell 1975:268). Rape victims are then blamed by men (and women) for not making their non-consent clear enough. As a result of this, in all states in Australia except for Victoria, if a man is found to have honestly believed there was consent then he must be acquitted (Bronitt & McSherry 2005:592). In addition, some women have been oppressed so thoroughly that they do not clarify their desire not to have sex, and so are not recognised by the legal system as rape victims. Rather than try to resist sex, women often do not make their feelings clear because of their conditioning to be submissive, or because they do not want to be accused of leading the man on (Russell 1975:272). Finally, women are often ‘broken’ by their rape to become totally docile and submissive after (and during) the act. Dworkin (1981) describes some examples of pornography that depict the white woman as the totally submissive woman. White women are predominantly portrayed in pornography, and they become the standard for all other women (Dworkin 1981:164). The rape victim arguably fills the most passive and submissive role of all.

When Louis pulled up in the car park to pick me up, I knew that it was all a mistake and that I did not want to get into that car. However, I reasoned to myself that I had gotten myself in this situation and could not back out now. I did not want to be a ‘tease’. Instead I resigned myself to counting down the hours until it would all be over, and concentrating on surviving until then. It was easier for me to shut myself down than it was to resist. Later, while he put up the tent I was filled with a sick dread and panic, because I could not see a way out and I did not know how to avoid what was coming. While he fucked me, I tried to float away, and distract myself with day-dreams. Louis kept on fucking me for what seemed like forever, and sometimes it would get so painful that I could not ignore what was happening, and then I tried to temporarily die inside, so that I felt nothing. This feeling of being totally helpless, and passive continues to overwhelm me at times. I did not tell anybody about what happened for years because I was so embarrassed that I had caused such a dangerous situation. Because of my passive way of dealing with the situation, I did not state clearly that I did not want to have sex. I blamed myself for the situation because of the narrow definition of rape. My example is one which demonstrates how rape discourses disadvantage the most oppressed women of all – those who are so submissive they can not say ‘no’.

An aspect of masculinity that dominates in pornography and leads to rape and prostitution is what Russell (1975) coins the virility mystique. The sexual socialisation of men trains them to separate desire from caring, respecting, liking, or loving (Russell 1975:263). This can cause them to regard women as sexual objects, rather than full human beings (Russell 1975:263). Dworkin (1997:129) argues that even pornography without visible violence is cruel because of the sexualisation and dehumanisation of the women that in effect tells them that they are worth nothing, and are only good to be penetrated. In addition, Jeffreys (1997:3) argues that men’s behaviour in choosing to use prostitutes is socially constructed by the idea that the woman exists to be used, and that this is an appropriate way to use her. Rape is justified by men believing that they have the right to have sex with women whether the woman wants to or not, because that is her natural function. In addition, this training to separate sex from love means that men are able to get sexual satisfaction from fucking a nameless, faceless, and as such worthless, woman. Louis made me feel like I was just an available cunt (or mouth, or anus) by making me give him oral sex while he drove the car, and by calling me a bitch and a whore while he fucked me. For two years afterwards I regarded my body as only useful to be fucked by men. A couple of times I was picked up by men in strange cars to have ‘consensual’ sex with them. This clearly shows how the dehumanising of women encouraged by masculinity, exemplified in pornography, leads to rape and prostitution.

Pornography is not the only institution that creates and reinforces gender roles that cause the prevalence of rape and prostitution. There is a strong backlash against radical feminist arguments in the media and academia. I will focus on the backlash against the move to expand the definition of rape to include all non-consensual sex. Katie Roiphe is one of the backlash bestsellers, with her book The Morning After (1993). In her chapter on acquaintance rape, Roiphe systematically undermines the radical feminist position and contests statistics on the prevalence of rape (see Russell (2000) and Dragiewicz (2000) for an extensive critique of backlash techniques). Dominant discourses “prescribe the boundaries of the lives we might imagine and will ourselves to live” (Dragiewicz 2000:197). Dominant discourses on rape serve to maintain the dominant power relations by attempting to define what rape is and isn’t, while silencing alternative discourses on rape, gender roles, and sexual norms (Dragiewicz 2000:217). In this way, dominant discourses on rape and the widespread acceptance of rape myths (such as all rapists are psychopaths, or rape victims are ‘bad’ women) serve to cause women not to recognise that they are victims of rape, despite the trauma that they may suffer (Russell 1975:259). Language is central to individual attempts to understand and communicate our experiences (Dragiewicz 2000:216). My experience of rape is a good example of this.

Despite the trauma that I continue to suffer, I am only now beginning to lay most of the blame on Louis. I remain uncertain in naming my experience rape, as I do not want to exaggerate my experience when there are other rape victims who seem to deserve the definition more. I am afraid of not taking enough responsibility. In my eagerness to blame myself, I never realised that what happened could have been rape. I forgot that I was under the consent age and that Louis was 11 years older than me (I was 15, Louis was 26). I forgot that Louis had the power, and he abused it by humiliating me and fucking me without giving any pleasure back. It must have been obvious to Louis that I was hurting, but he never asked, and he never checked if I still wanted to have sex. The fact that I forgot these important facts demonstrates the power of dominant discourses of gender roles in silencing the victims of sexual abuse. There is no vocabulary for expressing the many varied experiences of rape, and the result is that victims blame themselves, and others are silent, or also blame the victim (Brison 1998:20). Feminism provides the tools for creating new discourses that give victims the language to express their experiences, and to alleviate their blame with an analysis of wider structural pressures. Feminism has taught me that no man has the right to use his power over me to ‘have’ me or humiliate me in the way Louis did.

Possible solutions to the problems gender roles create proposed by radical feminists are many and varied. Jeffreys (1997), Russell (1975) and Dworkin (1997) all argue that rape, pornography and prostitution are an abuse of power, and therefore there is a need to get rid of power differences between the sexes. In addition, from my above examples of how gender roles cause harm towards women it is clear that the roles of masculinity and femininity in the West need to be challenged. Russell (1975) argues that a sex-role liberation would mix the elements of masculinity and femininity together, so that certain characteristics that create and reproduce power differences are not only ascribed to women nor men. In order to debunk rape myths and give victims a voice and language to express their experiences, a consent based concept of rape needs to be developed (Dragiewicz 2000:217). This has been implemented in NSW with all non-consensual sexual acts being classified as Sexual Assault or Sexual Harassment (Bronitt & McSherry 2005:604). Finally, as pornography is the most extreme and harmful institution that is creating and promoting gender roles, it must be heavily regulated both in Australia and internationally. This could include allowing only pornography that does not entrench inequality, possible trade sanctions against countries who do not regulate pornography, or heavy taxes on pornography that use the money raised to combat related problems. Internet jamming such as flooding the net with false pornography postings that cut to graphic descriptions of the problems caused by pornography would also be effective in fighting the industry.

Pornography, in its representations of gender roles, socialises men to rape and use prostitutes. Without that socialisation, it is not inevitable that men will rape. I believe that there is the possibility of real change, because if we can change the institutions that create and reinforce gender roles, men will cease to have the same kind of sexual pleasure in dominating and objectifying women. Dworkin (1981:23) illustrates this connection between the patriarchy, male violence, and sex: “the conquering of the woman is acted out in fucking, her possession, her use as a thing, which is the scenario that is endlessly repeated, with or without direct reference to fucking, throughout the culture”. The connections between pornography, rape, and prostitution were illustrated in my experience. The discourses of pornography influenced my experience of rape, which made me feel like a prostitute, while my socialisation into femininity stole my voice so that not only did I not resist, but I blamed myself for my own rape. Continuing to disregard or treat as inevitable the epidemic of rape and sexual victimisation of women is gender discrimination, especially while the resources exist to stop it.

Bibliography

Bourque, Linda Brookover. “Feminist Theory and Victims of Rape.” In Defining Rape, 14-20. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989.

Brison, Susan J. “Surviving Sexual Violence: A Philosophical Perspective.” In Violence Against Women: Philosophical Perspectives, edited by Standley G. French, Wanda Teays and Laura M. Purdy, 11-26. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Bronitt, Simon, and Bernadette McSherry. “Sexual Offences.” In Principles of Criminal Law. 2nd Ed, 545-630. Pyrmont: Thomson Lawbook Co., 2005.

Chancer, Lynn S. “Victim Feminism or No Feminism?” In Reconcilable differences: Confronting Beauty, Pornography, and the Future of Feminism, 229-240. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1998.

Daly, Mary. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1978.

Dragiewicz, Molly. “Women’s Voices, Women’s Words: Reading Acquaintance Rape Discourse.” In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, 194-221. Pennslyvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Dworkin, Andrea. Life and Death. New York and London: The Free Press, 1997.

Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. London: The Woman’s Press Ltd., 1981.

Evans, David. Against Pornography [videorecording]: The Feminism of Andrea Dworkin. BBC, 1991.

Jeffreys, Sheila. “Conclusion: universalising prostitution.” In The Idea of Prostitution, 339-348. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 1997.

Jeffreys, Sheila. “Introduction.” In The Idea of Prostitution, 1-6. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 1997.

Roiphe, Katie. “The Rape Crisis, or ‘Is Dating Dangerous?’.” In The Morning After: Sex Fear, and Feminism on Campus, 51-84. Boston and New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1993.

Russell, Diana E.H. “Rape and the Feminine Mystique.” In The Politics of Rape: The Victim’s Perspective, 266-275. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1975.

Russell, Diana E.H. “Rape and the Masculine Mystique.” In The Politics of Rape: The Victim’s Perspective, 257-265. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1975.

Russell, Diana E.H. “Sexual Liberation without Sex-Role Liberation Can Get You Raped.” In The Politics of Rape: The Victim’s Perspective, 208-220. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1975.

Russell, Diana E.H. “Conclusion.” In The Epidemic of Rape and Child Sexual Abuse in the United States, edited by Diana E.H. Russell and Rebecca M. Bolen, 239-267. London and New Delhi: Sage Publications Inc., 2000.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. “Construction of Modern Sexual Stereotypes.” In A Woman Scorned: Acquaintance Rape on Trial, 121-139. New York and London: Doubleday, 1996.

Schwendinger, Julia R. and Herman Schwendinger. “Radical Feminist Theories.” In Rape and Inequality, 77-90. Beverly Hills, London and New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1983.

Winter, Bronwyn, Denise Thompson and Sheila Jeffreys. “The UN Approach to Harmful Traditional Practices.” International Feminist Journal of Politics. Vol. 4. No. 1 (April 2002): pp.72-94.

Wood, Pamela Lakes. “The Victim in a Forcible Rape Case: A Feminist View.” In Rape Victimology, edited by Leroy G. Schultz, 194-220. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1975.

by Gertrude Green

Unspoken Word by Ami Mattison

by Ami Mattison

The Blood of Women by allecto

The day had been in the hands of Dante, and through the sweltering heat the girls had sat, listening to the important dates of mankind in History and partaking of subservience in Homemaking. And now the wind blew humid from the ocean, whipping their hair around their faces as they ran and jumped their way towards the beach.

One of the girls had a pale, clean face trimmed with neat plaits of gold. She held a stiff, straw hat in her hand, decorated with a conservative band of navy blue and marking her as a private school patron, a daughter of wealth. Her face had a lean, almost feral look and her lacklustre eyes were not unlike those of a street child. Hope had lost its place in their pale blue depths.

The other girl had coarse, dark hair, matted, with sun-bleached strands of red running like flame against her brown skin. She held a pebble in her hand which she turned continuously and passed from one palm to the other as she walked. Her public school rags gave the impression of careless dirt and squalor but it was impossible not to notice her eyes, bright with the dangerous sparkle of an inconvenient intelligence.

They walked. A strange pace between them, one with a graceful, swinging step and the other in graceless strides, coming upon the water with a kind of ecstasy. Casting aside their shoes and school bags, the girls ran towards the sea, entering the water with a laugh. And time could stop in this moment, for they were both of them alive.

Weary yet refreshed with the salt of the sea, the girls climbed up the shore and threw themselves upon the sand. It was a peaceful moment, an intimate sharing, as they watched the sun shatter the water into millions of reflecting pieces.

“I hate the gulls,” said the private school girl as she lazed against the sand, following the birds in the distance with her eyes.

“Why?”

“They are too like humans. Always demanding and cajoling, never satisfied. Do you not hear the profanities they utter when they are not given satisfaction?”

The public school girl smiled. “I hear too much, too much. It would take more than one life to make sense of it all.”

Gently the private school girl placed a hand on her companion’s leg and slowly she smoothed her thumb along the dark skin. “I always thought that you were living two lives.”

The other girl did not move away. “Ah, yes. But I am only entitled to one.”

The twitch of the blonde girl’s lips could have been an answering smile but it disappeared quickly as she looked out at the water. Her hand fell from the knee and into the sand. “Tell me a story.”

A silence descended between them as if carried by the crest of a wave and a ghost flickered for a moment on the edge of sight. “I’ll tell you hers.”

There was no response from the girl save the smallest flicker of an eyelash.

“Heat blurs the sharp edges of reality, as does time. This story begins in a place I have never seen. It ends with a woman walking out among the waves, standing proud against the tide, the sky turning red and yellow with passion as she takes a breath and dives into the waves.

“Her man was not of her race and he grew old before his time, yet he lingers here, fighting the demons of his own creation, believing still that the earth is flat. And that spirits walk upon the land, oh yes, this he believes. But he has not courage enough to confront them, not like she had. Not like she has.

“He met her long ago in the water. A shellfish and oyster gin. He thought her teeth shone like pearls in the bay and her skin like a river stone of ebony. As you well know, white men tell the value of a thing by the way it gleams.

“And she gleamed that day as he walked out into the water, the sapphire of her skin set into the turquoise and blue of the waves. She showed him secret places, known only to the native mind and satisfied in him a curious yearning.

“They cut their feet on oyster rocks and smiled as their blood intermingled. He had thought that they had bonded there, as blood speaks to blood. It was late in the day that he had realised that his kiss had no power to bind her. Their bond of blood had been weakened by the water.

“The water keeps her own and a spirit never can forget the things that tie them to place. It is a sentiment that is stronger than the one we call Belonging.

“Each spirit has an element and hers was water. He brought her to land but always always, he could hear the sound of the waves calling her back, calling her home. The man was blind; but years of listening to the sea had taught him that the future of all peoples is written in the vastness of the ocean.

“With this knowledge came the surety that she would leave him, for who could deny the sea? He made her body heavy with child to tie her to the land, forcing upon her an anchor that she would be unable to cut free. The child stilled her eyes, which once were restless, and she was contented with the babe. Caressing it with her eyes as she had once caressed the sea.

“But the pull of the tide is strong and the man found her often in the water, offering her child to the spirits, her voice in song casting ripples across the glimmering surface. His fists affected her little and did not stay her visits to the sea. In desperation he forced another child upon her, attempting to enter her with her power of the ocean.

“He had no power to speak to her. He had looked upon her flesh yet he could not look upon her heart. And in her eyes was a spirit, savage and unintelligible. What was a mortal man to do with such a spirit? He did not think to let her go for it is true that he did love her. Bearing her the love that a man has for a perfectly cut jewel.

“When he found her once again in the ocean, a babe in her arms and another playing in the dancing foam, he split her lip with the knuckles of his hand and her blood sprayed red into the sea. He took her on the beach and in the view of the ocean, he claimed her as his own.

“A third child sprung from this union, stilling the call of the sea until the moment of its birth. Upon that moment the sea broke forth in all its fury, sweeping down the coast and unleashing all its power, ripping up the land which it once loved gently.

“With the child from her belly, her eyes rolled back into her head and when she opened them, a sudden calm struck the sea.

“The man watched her as she rose from the bed, a fear seizing hold of his heart. The spirits were angry and demanded their own. He trembled as she fixed him with liquid eyes, breathing only when he knew that she had gone.

“The sky cleared with the first of her footsteps upon the sand and she walked with purpose to the water. Naked she walked, with the fat of three children adorning her body; she was beauty in her soft black flesh.

“As she sank beneath the waves, the blue water coloured red by birthing blood and sunfire, the clouds crossed the sky. Spirit to spirit, blood to blood. In the coolness of the water she was home.”

The distant cry of the quarrelling gulls could be heard in the silence. The blonde girl turned onto her stomach, resting her chin on the knee of her companion, her blue eyes assessing.

“That was your mother.”

The other girl did not respond, looking out at the infinite point where sky met water.

Closing her eyes and pushing a hand into her greasy hair, the dark girl said, “she did not belong here.”

“None of us belong here.”

“I hear her voice sometimes, carried on the waves. I can not hear what she is saying. Yet when I listen harder the voice disappears.”

“The ocean is eternal. She will speak to you forever.”

Turning once again onto her back, the blonde girl buried her hands into the sand.

“I also have a story, though it is not as near as yours.”

She picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle between her fingers.

“This is a story to be told beside the sea. With the birth of Christ in the near future and the myths of murky light and fading darkness, where man was whole and never fallen. In this time where gods were but men and men were gods. The fantasy of Zeus, you see, could be believed.

“And like your spirits, the gods too have memories. Echoes sent out to mould the future, even as we like to shape the past. This is one such echo.

“Athena, in all her glory, sprung from her father’s head. She was born in this way and she lived in reverse, with her father inside. He festered low and dark, ever internal and shaped the way of women. She with the divinely controlled mind, she with the divinely controlled heart. Her song was Zeus’ wisdom and ever wise she gave aid to men in battle. She sang Zeus’ song but in a woman’s voice.

“All this while she dwelt upon the earth, living for wisdom and for war, until at last she grew weary of the tilling of blood. Listless, she walked through the heavens in a pointless search. Wisdom she had already; the play of war was her field of honour.

“Yet even still she searched, sifting through the gentle clouds of Olympus until she came across a coarser terrain, a lower tier of the heavens. Here she found a twisted tree, the suggestion of torture in its lifelike shape. The tree lent its sparse shade to a nearby pool, a dank and still body, which gave forth no reflection.

“A shiver ran though her golden body as she looked about this place. A forgotten place on the outskirts of the forbidden realm of hags and harpies. No god or mortal could linger here.

“Though the pool was still and the twisted trunk was bare, Athena could feel the pulse of decaying life that drew her in and held her in a morbid sway. It was not her that willed her legs to fold and placed her back against the twisted knot of tree, and yet she did not resist it.

“And she of little patience, who quickens men in battle and in lust, waited.

“The water stirred. Only a little, but it was enough the set the reflection of the tree upon the water. When all was settled, Athena saw the shape of a Crone’s face upon the water.

“The eyes opened. ‘Athena, my daughter.’ The face within the water shaped the words with her aged mouth but the sound of the voice was that of the creaking of wind through a wood.

“Eyes wide with childlike brightness, Athena answered. ‘Who are you?’

“ ‘I am that which lives in men’s minds but which they often neglect to use, I am that which lives in women’s minds and that which they are forced to use.’

“Athena replied, ‘Your answer is a judgement which I cannot elucidate without knowledge of your mind. Pray, speak without judgement and with sense.’

“The woman in the water answered with a cackle and a smile with too many teeth. ‘With sense she demands and yet she has not any, for who with glory would come to rest among the harpies?’

“Patience being not a virtue valued in wisdom or in war, Athena delivered herself sharply. ‘Tell me your name so that I may speak to you.’

“ ‘Oh, indeed, but I have already told you enough for you to guess it for yourself. You are not worthy of your fame Athena.’

“Bronze armour flashed as surely as her eyes and Athena gave her answer. ‘You have told me nothing old woman. You are ungracious.’

“ ‘Oh ho I see you have the ailing wit and spitfire of your father. Though I live among the hags and the harpies, did you take me for a lady?’

“With this Athena stood and drew her sword, pointing it with purpose at the tree. “In truth I took you for someone with more wisdom.’

“ ‘Ah, and once I called you daughter; once I did protect you,’ the aged face creaked sadly.

“ ‘I have but a father and he is ruler here.’

“The face cracked open in a crooked, wicked smile. ‘Oh, no my dear, he has no power here.’

“ ‘His power is everywhere,’ Athena declared faithfully.

“The spectre in the water frowned. ‘And you, are you not also divine?’ The voice creaked on without hesitation. ‘I shall tell you. There once was a goddess. She was called Metis and she bore the gift of wisdom yet it was both a blessing and a curse. You now bear this gift Athena and you wear it wrongly, for what is wisdom without knowledge? But we shall come to that.

“ ‘Long ago, Zeus was told that Metis would bear a son to rival even him. In his fear and anger he swallowed Metis whole to gain her gift for himself and prevent such a son from rising. Little did he know that Metis was an unpalatable woman, she made him pay for his foolishness.

“ ‘Trapped inside, the wise goddess shook within her confinement, never giving the god a moment of peace or rest. Eventually even the all-powerful Zeus could bear it no longer and he wished to be free of his affliction. In the lower part of the heavens he came across a pool and into this he vomited up her soul. But a second soul, a younger soul, was still trapped inside his body. You see my dear; Metis had been with child when he consumed her.

“ ‘Even consumed, she had toiled and she made the child armour so that newly-birthed the child would not be defenseless. Even now Metis waits for her child to become the son that she was born to be.’

“Athena shifted, the weight of her sword held carelessly by her side as she thought.

“ ‘You think with your wisdom and you see no mother,’ the voice gravelled on. ‘She has been here all this time and she was waiting.’

“A gleam on her sword, Athena smiled and in her smile shone her father’s wisdom, her father’s glory. ‘You are a fool to think that I can be deceived thus. Harpy!’ she screamed and she thrust the sword deep into the gnarled trunk.

“Blood gushed in a torrent from the deep wound, and soon the little pool overflowed with red. Athena’s ears were filled with the booming cackle of the old woman and she was suddenly afraid.

“ ‘That’s right my dear, drink deep of the well that your beloved father has dug. This is the innocent blood of the hopeless and forgotten.’

“Her boots beginning to brim with blood, Athena jumped from the sky, landing in Triton’s calm and enduring sea, the waves washing her of the knowledge. Safe, she let his arms embrace her and pull her down, down, down until all thoughts of Metis had receded.

“This day and all subsequent days she proved herself her father’s daughter.”

The gentle wash of the water upon the shore had lulled the girls into peace. The sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon and the air was rich with the anticipation of evening.

“It is strange,” said the dark girl, lying on her back, her eyes half-closed, “the many ways we can recreate the world in story. In your tale the sea was a soul-destroying force.”

“Yes, but that was long ago. We look upon a different sea today.”

“Do we? I wonder. I still see my mother with the spirits, hunting for her dinner amongst the reefs. But Triton is there also, watching for a bronze clad woman with fire in her eyes.”

A pale arm extended and reached towards the sky. “And over there in that dark corner of the sky sits Metis. And she is waiting, waiting.”

The dark girl opened her eyes and looked up to the cloud. “She will be waiting till the end of time… perhaps longer.”

The pale girl stood, the fire on the horizon setting her locks aflame as she offered her hand to her companion. “Perhaps Athena will come to her eventually,” she said as she pulled the girl to her feet.

“Do you think her capable of making such a choice?”

“Oh, choice,” she said dismissively, “is not something I readily believe in.” Yet still she held fast to the dark girl’s hand as they made their way from the sea, back to places that were deemed more worthy of the title ‘home’.

A wind rose up from the sea behind them and swept across the beach as they walked, leaving no record of their existence in the sand.

by allecto

Dear Mr Postmodernist by Michelle

Dear Mr Postmodernist,

Stop telling me the body is nothing more than a ‘text’, merely ‘discursive’, nothing concrete, but fragmented, ‘engaged in performativity’.

What is that all about?
How is that helping?
What revolutionary purpose does it serve?

These insights of yours are purported to be groundbreaking, radical, cutting edge, liberating because they break down
‘binaries’,
‘dichotomies’,
‘totalities’,
all ‘essential’ and ‘universal’ notions.

Apparently I should be thankful to you for all this, kissing your arse, because these insights of yours claim to be able to free me from the shackles of the biological & embodied reality of being ‘woman’, I can now be liberated from that ‘essential’ identity category ‘woman’.

Thanks to the insights of you & your brothers, other male academic elites, fathers of the anti-radical feminist bodies of thought, postmodernism & poststructuralism, my sisters & I can now treat our identities as women as ‘discursive’, constructed of language nothing more, free-floating. So now we can play around with our sex/gender identity, because they are ‘texts’, constructed out of ‘discourse’, not blood, skin and bones.

But tell me Mr Postmodernist, up there in your ivory tower, away from reality, the reality of real women’s lives, how talking about bodies and identities as ‘texts’, is helping to liberate women?

Women’s bodies are ‘texts’? We should see ourselves as ‘texts’? We should celebrate our ‘textuality’ by playing around in ‘discursive spaces’, postmodern stylee?

No.

No, women’s bodies are not fucking ‘texts’. ‘Woman’ is not a ‘text’.

Because women, women’s bodies, women’s fleshy bodies,
skin, blood, bones & brain, heart & mind are
bruised, battered, bloodied, bludgeoned & boxed in every day,
because they are ‘woman’.
Domestic violence, rape, FGM, cosmetic surgery, eating disorders, man-made images & lies
leaving their indelible, very real mark on women, women’s bodies, women’s fleshy bodies.

Women’s bodies aren’t fucking ‘texts’ THEN.

They aren’t ‘discursive constructions’ playing postmodern games with their gender and sexuality, ‘engaged in performativity’ THEN.

Mr Postmodernist, no matter what you say, no matter how hailed you are for revolutionising the academy with your revelations about how bodies and identities are ‘discursive’- you haven’t and can’t-revolutionise women’s lives for the better.

You cannot contribute to women’s liberation.

In fact your theories, coming at us in that precious, overly-academic, inaccessible language, (even though you claim to give a shit about the ‘real people’ aka the non-academics, the poor, the oppressed), are stalling women’s liberation.

Because if we can only talk about women as ‘texts’, that means we can’t talk about women as real human beings. And if we can’t talk about women as real human beings, that means we can’t deal with what happens to women as real human beings.

Because lest you forget Mr Postmodernist, women, women’s bodies, are only too real.

A woman has a body, a real fleshy body, which she inhabits, feels and experiences as real, all too often painfully, particularly when the patriarchy gets his hands on her.

Yes, that’s right, PATRIARCHY, that big, bad, naughty word we can’t say anymore thanks to you Mr Postmodernist, up there in your ivory tower, because to talk about patriarchy is too simplistic, too ‘totalising’, too ‘universal’.

Well, fuck that.

Patriarchy exists. ‘Woman’ exists.

Listen here. Woman exists, woman’s body exists,
– when she is penetrated against her will by ‘man’-
– when her breasts are cut open & inserted with a man made substance –
– when she’s aborted because she is the female sex-
– when she starves herself to conform to the media images you postmodernists love so much-
– when she’s wolf-whistled at by man on the street for possessing a female body.

Are you really telling me, Mr Postmodernist,
That women’s bodies are texts HERE?
That patriarchy doesn’t exist HERE?

Tell me, how do these realities fit into your world of postmodern, ‘textual play’?

I’ll answer for you. They don’t.

Don’t you see? Your emphasis & preoccupation with treating bodies & identities as ‘texts’ does harm to women.

To women’s liberation.

Only men, only male, middle-class academics like you Mr Postmodernist, could come up with such bull. Because you have the privilege to, because you aren’t woman, and therefore haven’t, nor will you ever, experience the above realities.

You think, Mr Postmodernist, that you can come along & proclaim the ‘death of the subject’, of the body, of patriarchy? Well of course you fucking can because you were the ‘subject’, never the object, never the body but the ‘rational mind’, never subject to the patriarchy but its perpetuator.

So now thanks to you, radical feminist theory is ridiculed & lambasted.

Andrea Dworkin? Catherine MacKinnon? Shulamith Firestone? Kate Millet?

‘Who were they?’ proclaims Mr Postmodernist, ‘but over-simplifiers, ‘totalising’ woman and man, pointing the finger at patriarchy all the time?’

‘No’, says Mr Postmodernist, ‘here I am with the new and improved theory (even though I also proclaim the ‘death of theory’) that will do away with all that radfem crap. Now it’s all about ‘discursive identities’, ‘multiple subject positions’, and power as ‘decentred and dispersed’.’

Mr Postmodernist, they weren’t perfect, those radfem theorists, I’ll admit it. But your ‘total’ lambasting of them is uncalled for.

Because truth is, they did way more for women, real women, the women beaten, abused, oppressed & exploited, than any male, supposedly cutting edge, elite, privileged postmodern theorist like yourself.

They wrote theory that spoke the truth, that tried to uncover the truth, of women’s reality. They were bold. They were righteous. They weren’t afraid to tell it like it is, to get their hands dirty in the task of explaining women’s exploitation.

More than you, Mr Postmodernist. But then you don’t like dirt & stark realities, do you? You prefer style over substance, flowery words over plain and clear ones, medium over matter, to immerse yourself in the play of performance than the poison of pain and oppression.

No, these women were not postmodernists. They were radical feminists.

A lot easier to say. A lot easier to spell. A lot easier to understand. And a hell of a lot more relevant & useful.

They recognised woman, her fleshy body; a body that bled every month and gave birth, a body that because it belonged to a woman, meant susceptibility to rape, abuse & all the other manifestations of man bullshit.

So no, Mr Postmodernist, they didn’t see the ‘body as a text engaged in performativity’.

Because they were too concerned with the minor, trivial, unimportant stuff.

Like treating women & their bodies as real, penetrated against her will, bloodied, bruised & bullshitted to at the hands of fucked-up men with too much fucked-up power thanks to the fucked-up man-made, man-owned, man-ruled, man-controlled society woman inhabits.

These radfems’ sins according to you? They called out the patriarchy. They defined women as a collective, a potentially revolutionary collective at that.

Oh, how convenient that you came along to denounce all that, Mr Postmodernist!!

‘There is no patriarchy’, you say, ‘power is more decentred and dispersed than that. Women, you can’t go calling out male-dominated institutions for their sexist bullshit, it’s not as simplistic as that!’

‘Woman’, you say, ‘cannot be generalised, in actual fact you don’t exist, there is no ‘woman’, there are too many differences between you, so there’s no way you can organise yourselves into a revolutionary collective.’

Oh, Mr Postmodernist, how can I ever thank you? Just want I wanted, another man to come along to sort me out, tell me what’s right and wrong, to shit on women.

Of course these insights of yours are very convenient for you; to follow them through means we ignore the oppression played out on women & their bodies & resign ourselves to the fact there is no patriarchy and give up forging links with other women. Oh, how very convenient. Suits your male privilege just fine!

And they call you the radical? YOU?

But your theories- which laud individualism, style, imagery, flashy fairy lights, pretty playful sparkle, masks & make-up- fit right into the Western conservative, capitalist consumer culture.

Did you not know? Politicians & big business love you, Mr Postmodernist.

They want us to see ourselves as individuals, without stable identities, so that we won’t organise as political entities bent on change.

They want us to see ourselves as ‘texts’, so that we’ll go shopping & spend our money on fashion & things in order for us to take part in postmodern play.

Seriously, having your theories gel with conservative politics & capitalist big business is in no way radical, Mr Postmodernist.

So, to end let me tell you this.

I am a radical feminist.
I believe there is a patriarchy.
I believe there is ‘woman’.
I see & experience women’s bodies as flesh, not ‘text’.

And I think I’m in a better position than you, Mr Postmodernist to say this.

Yours in ‘embodied womanhood’,

Michelle