When I was in my mid teens, one of my sister’s (underage) friends snuck into my bedroom and saw me jerking off. Years later, when visiting from Oxford, I was approached in the street by two girls I didn’t recognize. They asked me if I was The One Who Masturbated. Yes, PooterGeekers, I am possibly still known as The Only Wanker In The Village Of Wilnecote. After this kind of thing, and my being paid in my early twenties (when I like to think I was rather pretty) for walking in and out of a sexual diseases clinic with a middle-aged professor who looked like Elton John, and my working in an institute where many colleagues knew me by a nickname inspired by an ex’s drunken reminiscing about my genitals, what is there left for me to be embarrassed about? It’s mainly because most Brits find the whole question of sex excruciatingly difficult to deal with that telling tales from my collection of related anecdotes is so much fun.
The practical consequences of Brits’ squeamishness and irrationality about their sexuality are, however, not fun. They are bloody depressing. We live in a country where the natives have to get drunk to the point of dyspraxia to initiate sexual contact (what a helpful state to be in if you want to avoid coercion, unwanted pregnancy, and disease!), where you can be arrested for walking around with no clothes on, but where the law protects your right to ritually mutilate your infant son’s penis before he is old enough to consent. In the UK, people’s moral reasoning about sexual matters, just like their moral reasoning about foreign policy, is characterized by vast ignorance, misdirected suspicion, and sheer fucking stupidity. It has little to do with actual consequences in the world, but a great deal to do with perceptions in minds. Trust me, you don’t know the British until you’ve heard some of their Pythonesque explanations to health care workers for their pathological sexual behaviour.
It seems unfair on Harry, following his well-intentioned post about my short Playboy essay, but I want to take advantage of some of the nasty stuff offered in his support in the comments at Harry’s Place to expand and clarify my argument. Perhaps this is even more unfair when Harry is honest enough to admit himself that he has some undesirable endorsees:
“I’m in agreement with the Stalinist Zin and the Tory Peter Cuthbertson.
I must be guilty of some crime?
Posted by Harry at August 17, 2005 05:35 PM”
Trouble is, Harry wouldn’t let it lie, so I think it’s important to what I have to say next for us to wade through the sweaty stench emanating from his fan club, even though they lost the argument pretty comprehensively over there anyway without any intervention from me. (This might explain the second extended post Harry made.)
Let’s begin with “Zin” and his non-argument:
“Pushing porno brands on underage school kids is an example of the free market unrestrained by public control. It’s obviously wrong and this product should be withdrawn immediately.
Posted by Zin at August 17, 2005 12:24 PM”
Thanks, Zin, for illustrating beautifully the contention of my original second paragraph. Pencil cases with Playboy logos are self-evidently evil and any further discussion is redundant, obviously. So, if you are reading this (or you ever read any of what I wrote), you can stop here.
Now here comes Tory Boy Peter Cuthbertson, waving the old double standard like a Union flag:
“Good post, Harry, but I don’t agree with the idea that this is about girls projecting confidence that might intimidate.
Let’s drop the polite metaphors. By “sexual confidence” what the author really means is “making themselves look easy“. Why would any man find that intimidating? It’s the very antithesis of the unsubservient, self-respecting attitude.
I do agree with Jarndyce’s thinking. I try not to buy from Boots now unless I have to, since they started distributing abortifacient contraceptives to young girls over the counter, no questions asked, and I may make a point of avoiding WHSmith for the forseeable future.
Posted by Peter at August 17, 2005 01:08 PM”
Priceless. We wouldn’t want little girls to look “easy”, would we? They can dress up as fairy princesses, hoping to find a rich and handsome prince, but we can’t have our daughters looking like slags, eh?
“Bobble-hatted Boffin” has an equally healthy way of assessing female worth, but is a little more dismissive than Peter of the threat posed by bunny-branded goods: after all it’s only the ugly birds that dress up like that isn’t it?
“It’s always amusing how behaviour that in a male would be ridiculed or thought strange is regarded as ’empowered’ in a woman or girl.
I once worked with a bloke who wore a Playboy ring. He immediately came across as a sad case who has probably never been laid.
It’s like teenage girls who walk around in T-shirts with words such as ‘sexy’ on them. You’ll notice the genuinely good-looking ones have no need for such tacky and desperate garments.
Posted by Bobble-hatted boffin at August 17, 2005 03:02 PM”
(This point is so penetrating that Bhb has submitted it twice to the discussion.)
Peter then makes a reappearance (possibly in my support) with what he fancies as a bit of “sociobiology”, but I won’t bore you with the pseudoscience. Instead you can enjoy his assertion that only well-bred girls can resist seduction by porn kings:
“Jackie’s right that bright and wealthy parents are often capable of bringing up children so well they behave responsibly even after they visit a pornographer’s house [that’s not what Jackie wrote at all, by the way]. But I just don’t think it follows from this that society should be like an obstacle course that is going to catch out as many children as possible whose parents don’t fit into this category. To paraphrase Zell Miller: we can’t all be born rich, handsome and lucky, and that’s why we need some standards which shops like WHSmith should meet.
Posted by Peter at August 17, 2005 05:27 PM”
It’s not so much the sexism this time, more the unselfconscious snobbery of it that boggles. It was randy old colonels day at Harry’s Place.
Finally though, I do have to quote someone with a woman’s name in “support” of Harry:
“Most of the people commenting here obviously don’t really give a toss about this and are reduced to commenting on the daughter of a friend, have never wondered which fourteen year old of their daughter’s acquaintance will get pregnant next, wondered if the clients of the prostitute dressed as schoolgirl standing in front of them in the corner shop queue opposite their kids’ school also fancy the pupils of the school etc etc. I love Damian’s blog but one day he will cringe at the thought of this.
Posted by mrs s at August 18, 2005 02:29 AM”
The implication here seems to be that there is some connection between girls buying Playboy-branded merchandise and teenage pregnancy and paedophilia. I’m going to mention teenage sex later, but the latter connection parallels delightfully the rapist’s “she was asking for it” argument. With so many old sexist lies being given a fresh airing that classic had to make an appearance eventually. Whodathunkit? A Left-wing website publishing chauvinist crap?
Let me make it clear: I don’t think it is something to celebrate that children are buying into a soft porn empire, but I don’t think it’s worth this media gibbering and handwringing (and two successive posts at Harry’s Place) either. It especially disturbs me that the people the original Guardian article holds up as fighting against the advance of the Playboy brand are part of a tradition that has subjugated women and twisted their sexuality in cruel and destructive ways for centuries.
I made the comparison with mainstream women’s magazines in my original post because no one seems to get het up about little girls going around in T-shirts with “Cosmopolitan” or “Elle” across the front of them, even though, as I argue, the content of the magazines they promote is far more damaging to women than the content of Playboy.
Playboy itself is not, as Harry puts it, “arriving in British schools” precisely because it is still illegal to sell it to minors. Playboy owns a brand with “adult” associations like many others coveted by children. When I was at school they used to sell sugar cigarettes in the corner shop. Thankfully they don’t any more, but I’m sure many adults now look back on that sort of thing with an indulgent nostalgia, even though, as I’ve pointed out in PooterGeek’s comments already, smoking kills people and soft porn does not.
And there is the nub of the matter. Playboy is cheesy, dated, and probably already uncool on the playground, but it is fundamentally harmless. So the best arguments that Harry and co can come up with are “the bunny means porn and porn is bad so bunnies for girls are bad” and “I don’t see why I should be forced to explain porn to my children”. These are so feeble that they have to resort to comparing the Playboy logo with the swastika, Playboy with Al-Qaeda snuff videos, and demand that Jackie D admit she wants to legalize heroin—as if that had anything to do with the price of cheese. You don’t have to be a libertarian to view this hysteria with suspicion. It’s Gitmo=Gulag all over again.
Often the real reason for such reactions is the equivalent of the “yuck factor” in questions of bioethics. People reach “moral” conclusions for aesthetic reasons. They don’t object to the Playboy logo appearing on children’s products because of any substantive damage that might follow from it, but because it makes them feel yucky.
Let me just repeat the central truth for the hard of thinking.
Soft porn does not kill people.
Masturbation does not make you go blind. (Well, not for very long.) Looking at naked cheesecake does not turn men into rapists. Paying aspiring “actresses” six-figure sums to drape their tanned flesh across dodgy 70s interiors does not oppress women. Hugh Hefner is not the anti-Christ. And Playboy is a thousand times more pro-women’s emancipation than the vast majority of the “appropriate” reading material that parents have been happy to put in front of their children over the past 30 years.
Let’s look at real harm. In my first post I wanted to make a comparison between the things we are supposed to fear children being exposed to and the things we are supposed to be comfortable with them being exposed to. It disgusts me, for example, that we still raise little girls on stories of sleeping princesses in high towers. Tosh like that has done and will continue to do far more harm to women than a bunny logo on a pencil case. I’m not saying that bunny-pencilcase-owning girls see themselves as the next Playboy Playmate™, but what kind of self-image is most likely to lead an underage girl to have unsafe sex she doesn’t want with her pushy (usually overage) boyfriend: the fairytale vision that no princess can be awakened from passivity without the kiss of a prince, that she isn’t complete without a man? Or the belief that she is an untouchable babe? Playboy models (and pole-dancers for that matter) are literally untouchable, unavailable, and make a very good living indeed without being obliged to have sex with anyone.
When media commentators expressed their outrage at Britney Spears getting to number one in the singles chart by dressing up as a soft porn schoolgirl and inviting her boyfriend to hit her one more time she was legal; she was a virgin—as were the vast majority of the girls on playgrounds across the Western world imitating her. Often the reason adult males find those kinds of “gyrations” disturbing (like at least one commenter at Harry’s Place does) isn’t because they are afraid that they might lead to the little girls wanting to have sex before they are ready, it’s because they’re afraid they’ll lead to men wanting to have sex with the girls. It’s understandable that this view is widespread since it is aligned with religious and political “thinking” that has been used to crush women and girls over the last two millennia. Come to think of it, there’s something distasteful about the idea of underage girls having functioning clitorides as well. And little boys having sensitive foreskins. I wonder what we can do about that…
It isn’t soft porn-branded merchandise that puts underage girls in abortion and GU clinics; it’s usually booze and hormones and peer pressure and older males who know exactly what kind of fluffy romantic guff we fill girls heads with and exploit it to get exactly what they want from them. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? was written forty-five years ago by a 19-year-old woman and an older man. Most girls who admit to losing their virginity under the legal age report regret. Some don’t. Often minors have sex because they are curious and horny. A large minority suffer no lasting ill effects. Scary isn’t it, boys?
Girls turn into women. Women have sex. This transition does not take place overnight. Many men want to have sex with young women. Many men find it difficult to reconcile these ancient facts. As a result, issues that combine sex and little girls shut off higher brain activity in such males and they resort to reasoning about them with a primitive ganglion somewhere in the reptilian part of their nervous systems. Luckily for me, I fancy adult females (and Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It), and I don’t have a young daughter, so it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to be relaxed about all of this stuff, but even secretly fancying little girls would be no excuse for the sort of misogynistic drivel being written to justify a gut discomfort about a rabbit on a ring binder. Grow up, people, you’re embarrassing Harry. And it could be embarrassment, for the want of anything real to worry about, that is his original problem.
I’m not the one who wants WHSmith to stop selling pencil-cases.
I would like WHSmith to stop selling Playboy pencil cases, yes. But I’m not an authority on pencil cases. Or WHSmith. Or porn. Or much of anything.
where I am cited me as model for a “world” archetype that needs its awareness of women’s sexuality raised
You are an example of intelligent, articulate, liberal (in the libs v. neo-cons sense), Labourite man. Like many other men writing from a similar position, you deride the idea that a culture laced with pornography is harmful to women. I think that isn’t unrepresentative, in that a general antipathy towards women’s issues is prevalent in so many of the leftie/lib blogs written by men.
You will no doubt be aware, for example, of the stoush at Kos and elsewhere around whether pro-choice women should shut their yaps to avoid harming the Dems’ cause.
It becomes really clear when things like that happen that the left sees gender equality (and probably other types of equality) as a bolt-on to the main project, and a side-issue to the key campaigns. That sucks.
whereas yours speaks for over half of humankind
What I write speaks for me. No one else. And I hope that it speaks about all of humankind, because I sure as shit don’t live on planet separatist.
I’m not going to get back into the Playboy thing again, but (at the risk of putting myself at the centre of the Universe) I’d like to clarify a couple of things about me.
Equality of the sexes is absolutely central to my politics. Anyone who knows me knows that if there is something that gets me ranting over dinner it’s fair treatment of men and women—especially in the developing world where sex discrimination is an appalling blight.
I don’t have much problem with being described as both liberal and a neo-con. For me there is no contradiction. “Neo-con” has a reasonably well established definition which should not be yielded to people who use the word as shorthand for “anyone to my Right who I don’t agree with”.
From a (surprisingly) undisputed page at Wikipedia defining neo-conservatism:
Put very crudely: I want the World to be a better place and I want my taxes to be spent arresting or (more likely) killing people who are killing others to make the World a worse place—wherever they are.
Team PooterGeek: World Police.
I returned here just see how the thread had ended. I’m impressed to see that it’s still going on.
Pooter, you can say “stop, please”, if you like, but it’s important to remember why it started – you referred to one of the most basic principles of modern Darwinism – that men seek promiscuity in short-term partners and fidelity in long-term partners – as pseudoscience. If you don’t still uphold that claim, it’s a very good thing, but it isn’t my duty to leave with my tail between my legs.
This, SquanderTwo, is why it was perfectly reasonable to suggest Pooter needs to read up on some of these issues. If he is a professional biologist, that makes some of the statements he makes here somewhat less forgivable – but it certainly doesn’t guarantee expertise in every area of a very broad field, or bow down before his superior credentials. Stephen Jay Gould was surely the world’s most famous paleontologist, but neo-Darwinists from William Hamilton to Richard Dawkins to Geoffrey Miller found his ideological opposition to extending our knowledge of evolution to human behaviour lamentable. He became a derisory figure in the field because of this.
Pooter, you have a problem. You don’t deny modern Darwinism, and you accept that what ‘is’ must contrain what ‘ought to be’. Yet you go on complaining at length about how irrational attitudes to sex are – as well as taking stabs at the Catholic Church, the Jewish faith, and what can only be described as the ‘patriarchy’ as somehow the cause of these attitudes. These are not compatible positions.
A left-liberal Darwinist can certainly say: “Yes, it’s in some ways monumentally depressing that we have at our core the makings of certain attitudes toward sex that in a parallel universe I’d prefer to dispense with. However, we must accept that given the human nature we have, and given the ultimate underlying inclination produced in us towards having our genes preserve and reproduce themselves, sexual attitudes that have formed in response to this nature are rational ways of ensuring this objective. An attempt to remake sexual attitudes along lines that ignores such biological realities as …
(i) fathers are going to consider it very important that their children are their own
(ii) women will be inclined to act in a way that reassures men of that, and
(iii) men are going to choose partners on that basis
… is doomed to cause misery – and to failure.”
What they cannot say, if they take their science more seriously than their ideological preferences, is that “people’s moral reasoning about sexual matters, just like their moral reasoning about foreign policy, is characterized by vast ignorance, misdirected suspicion, and sheer fucking stupidity”, that it is disgusting “that we still raise little girls on stories of sleeping princesses in high towers” as if this “kind of fluffy romantic guff we fill girls heads with” is purely a cultural artifact, and complain that “this view is widespread since it is aligned with religious and political ‘thinking’ that has been used to crush women and girls over the last two millennia” and so on and on.
You can, if you like, take a radical feminist view that all our sexual attitudes prior to 1963 were a religious male conspiracy that have left all sorts of cultural demons that exist today and continue to blight the lives of young girls who would otherwise be as sex-hungry and uninterested in romance as young boys. Or you can accept what modern biology tells us about sexual attitudes, and why they exist – and that they would exist, did exist and will go on existing without any effort from repressed Rabbis or patriarchal Priests. But what you cannot do is be a scientist by day, but switch off the science when it starts to interfere with your ideology. Science is above politics, but politics certainly isn’t above science. Where the scientific facts lead, sane political discourse must follow.
Peter, if male behaviour differs from female behaviour because of the parties respective genes then both male and female behaviour are being genetically influenced to exactly the ame extent. To speak of either sex as being more prone to genetic influence because of the genes that divide them is a contradiction in terms.
Yes, that’s exactly the point I was trying to make to Old Peculiar – and you’ve put it better than I did. She seemed to believe that in describing how biology shaped the different attitudes men and women have towards sex, I was making some sort of genetic deterministic argument about women, rather than an argument about genetic influences and sex differences. My final line was just a throwaway comment to the effect that although obviously sex differences by definition is about men as much as women, if I really had to stop looking entirely at the science and just “go with my gut” based on what I know so far, I would guess that men are less capable than women of ignoring the inclinations towards certain behaviours that their genes create. Obviously if that is the case, and if the difference comes back to genetics, then that simply means women’s genes exert less pressure than men’s – most obviously in the case of a desire for promiscuity. But it still, as you say, comes down to women having x gene and men having y gene. (I really shouldn’t have tried to answer a point whose premise I couldn’t accept. 🙂 )
> You will no doubt be aware, for example, of the stoush at Kos and elsewhere around whether pro-choice women should shut their yaps to avoid harming the Dems’ cause.
It becomes really clear when things like that happen that the left sees gender equality (and probably other types of equality) as a bolt-on to the main project, and a side-issue to the key campaigns.
The reason that pro-choice arguments are losing the Dems votes is that the American feminist lobby (unlike, as far as I can see, every other feminist lobby in the world) insist that partial-birth abortion continue to be legal, and most people, male or female, once they find out what partial-birth abortion is, are against it. This has absolutely nothing to do with gender equality, and never can have until the day when we find out how to make men pregnant. There are arguments in favour of the legality of partial-birth abortion, but none of those arguments have a damn thing to do with gender equality.
I stumbled across this blog late. I’ve read postings with interest.
I just have one real question. It requires some background. I grew up as a Westerner in East Africa and South Africa. Leave aside the politics of Western exploitation, colour, poverty etc .. its important, but not in the context of this post …
I saw young Africans, uneducated, ignorant of western theories of sexual equality, human rights etc etc, grow up alongside me with an attitude about sex and sexuality which makes most of the thoughts posted here look like they have been written by people who have never seen a naked body.
I think the real question is not whether we should protect our children from being exploited by WH Smith or the sex-industry, but whether the way we protect our children has gone totally the wrong way. Indeed, has the way we protect our ADULTS gone totally the wrong way?
Where do we get off acting like we can make decisions for others who can think for themselves? Yes, adolescents lack the experience to make clear decisions. But that doesn’t mean that we, and more specifically those who are responsible for each adolescent’s safety have the right to make those decisions FOR them, but that we should provide them with the information to allow them to make the right decision, and only step in when it is clear that they have reached a decision that will harm them, either physically, emotionally or socially.
I now work with a lawyer who acts for children in care cases. I have seen too many instances where knee-jerk reactions by so-called professionals have actually resulted in damaging the children to a much greater extent than should have been possible, and I regret to say than on at least one occassion a child would have been better off left with her abusive parents than taken under the ‘protection’ of the Social Services.
This isn’t me having a go at the Social Services, but an example of how being well-meaning and protective is ALWAYS from the viewpoint of the person taking that action. And each and every one of us has our own viewpoint.
Why can we not let those we are responsible for develop their own viewpoint, on an individual basis, with clear guidance and complete, honest information, and without imposing our own attitudes on them? And perhaps equally important, why can we not then accept whatever viewpoint they reach as as equally valid as our own?
Yes, there are predators out there who will take advantage of innocence. And we value the innocence of our children .. but it is our DUTY to actually destroy that innocence by providing our children with the right information, at the right time, to allow them to recognise the predators of this world and defend themselves against those predators.
Too many times have I seen the comment that ‘they shouldn’t be told that sort of thing yet, they are too young’. Well, if being told something that protects a young person from greater harm, at the expense of their innocence, then isn’t it time we spoke up?
We make great speeches about educating children about the realities of life, then pussyfoot around the subject.
Youngsters nowdays know sex is fun .. and so did we at a similar age too, if most of us are honest with ourselves. Why can society not accept that? No, I don’t advocate we allow kids to experiment, or lower the age of consent, thats another subject. But nowdays we go to such lengths to ‘protect’ our children, excuse them, theorise about how each tidbit of knowledge will affect them, and we fail to simple accept that each growing adult IS capable of learning, thinking and naking decisions, and rather than imposing our viewpoint on them, they need the information that we have now aquired. If that information guides them to making a decision that is similar to one we would make, all the better for society, but we must accept that an adolescent who is fully informed may make a decision we disagree with, and be willing to accept it providing that accepting that decision doesn’t result in that person being hurt.
Our pride, our attitudes and our morals and ethics shouldn’t prevent us from accepting that decision.
So the question is … whats so flipping complicated? Care about our future, educate the children, guide them, pick them up when they fall over, love them, but most of all respect them for being individuals with a need to be informed and allowed the right to make up their own minds. Respect is a word that is often abused, but in too many instances nowdays, respect is totally lacking.
[…] Abdul Hamid, the vice-chairman of the Lancashire Board of Mosques, said that if Miss Mendly took part she would immediately cast herself out of the “circle of Islam”. He said: “It is simply not right for her to take part in this competition as a Muslim, because by entering she forsakes her faith. She has said she won’t wear a bikini, only a swimsuit, but what difference does that make? She will still be exposing her flesh in a beauty contest.” Besides Dilay Topuzoglu and Sonia Hassanien, other non-Muslim finalists with suspiciously foreign-sounding names and swarthy skin include Peace Blessing Oybio and Emily Okelo. Once again the global reach of cheesy 70s retro threatens the purity of virgin ladies in this country, whatever their origins. […]
[…] [Having provided this link about animal behaviour and evolution I am now bracing myself for a breathtakingly confused Cuthbertson post accusing me of elevating “my radical politics” over “what science tells us about human goals and social realities” by failing to point out that it is “one of the most basic principles of modern Darwinism” that people who regularly wear black tie are right about everything. He will misspell my name and the comments will be provided by barking loons.] […]
[…] Further to my two articles about Playboy last year, here and here, those of you who have the requisite plug-in installed might want to watch this smart and very short film by Laurie Anderson. [Provided they let you stream small video files it’s safe for work.] […]
[…] It’s not just over matters of public politics that Lefties these days ally themselves with fundamentalist religious reactionaries; it’s over personal and sexual matters, like this uncharacteristically Victorian piece by wardytron over at Harry’s Place recently. (It was another couple of illiberal essays by Harry himself that provoked me to write the follow-up to my original Playboy bunny article.) As Jackie Danicki put it when linking to wardy’s piece: “Oh, I do like this: A self-described leftist (one I’ve met and liked, as it happens) going on about how ‘we’ should make it difficult to get hold of ‘pornography’. In what bizarre universe is this guy ‘liberal’ while someone like me – who is strongly pro-gay marriage, pro-easy availability of pornography, against the stupid drug war, and stridently anti-authoritarian – is often described as ‘conservative’? If he’s a liberal, I’m a Prada handbag.” […]