I read Robert Jensenís Dissident Voice article of October 31, ďThe Consequences of the Death of Empathy,Ē with some concern. He says two things that I feel require addressing. First, in reference to a conversation with a young man about the young manís pornography viewing, Jensen writes:
I asked him to tell me more about what he watched. As he talked, it became clear he was describing exactly the kind of material I had discussed, and I could see the realization emerge in him: My assessment of the rough and degrading nature of that pornography was accurate, and he had simply never recognized it. When he mentioned a type of sex he liked to watch in pornography called a DP -- double penetration, in which a woman is penetrated vaginally and anally at the same time -- it really started to dawn on him: In these scenes, the sex was defined by menís sense of control over, and domination of, women.
Here, there is a very clear intimation that double penetration is somehow inherently sexist, quite apart from anything involving pornography. I do not know how many women are interested in this sexual act, or have willingly performed it and enjoyed it, but if there is, has been, or will be even one woman anywhere on the face of the planet who has either fantasized about it, and/or has done it and enjoyed it, then I do not believe it is an appropriate position for a lefty to be suggesting, as Jensen does, that it is an inherently sexist act.
Second, he writes that, ďI can see that with the young man struggling with his pornography use, I had been able to connect. He was taking his first steps out of his own isolation and illusions about what kind of Ďpartyí goes on in pornography, and as my conversation with him ended I told him that I understood how difficult it can be. I gave him my card and encouraged him to contact me if I could help.Ē This seems to me to be a clear intimation that Jensen feels pornography is somehow inherently wrong -- not merely that its current incarnations happen often to be sexist, but rather that any videotaping of sex acts for public consumption (in saying it this way, I am trying to eliminate from consideration people simply videotaping their sex acts in the privacy of their own bedroom) is inherently a bad thing.
I e-mailed Jensen and asked him for clarification on these two points. Specifically, I wanted to know if he felt double penetration was an inherently sexist act, and I wanted to know if he felt that the videotaping of sex acts for public consumption was an inherently sexist act. In an attempt to be as clear as I could be, I also asked the second question in a different way, asking if he felt that, in a good society, say, 100 or 200 years in the future (assuming the human race hasnít caused its own extinction by then) -- after capitalism has given way to, say, parecon (participatory economics), and after other forms of oppression (e.g., sexism, racism, heterosexism) have either been eliminated or at least had great strides taken toward their elimination -- if he felt that in such a society there would still be pornography.
I did not feel that Jensen ever really gave me straight answers to my questions. He referred me to other writings of his, but never really came out and gave answers to what seem to me to be straightforward questions. Perhaps I did not understand him correctly, but I was simply not satisfied with his answers. Hence, the essay you are currently reading.
I believe we, as lefties, have to be very careful when we deal with questions of sex and sexuality. There is a definite perception among the general population that weíre a bunch of anti-sex prudes whose views on sex differ very little from those of the Southern Baptist Convention (except that weíre pro-choice). Unfortunately, there is more than a grain of truth to this perception -- weíve earned it honestly in many regards.
I simply do not at all see how a woman choosing, of her own free will, to have sex with two men (or to do whatever she wants, for that matter, as long as she is not coerced or in some other way deceived into doing it) is somehow anything we lefties can possibly be opposed to. If women are empowered to make their own free, conscious choices, with no fear of reprisals or punishment, are we seriously opposed to this if the choice she chooses to make happens to involve double penetration?
And are many current incarnations of pornography sexist? Of course. Does that mean that somehow the very act of filming sex and making it available for public viewing is automatically sexist? I do not see how. Letís assume we have overthrown capitalism and replaced it with parecon. Letís assume that everyone works a balanced job complex, that no one is forced to rent themselves in order to survive, and that the people involved with the making of porn are there because they genuinely want to be there. (One might argue that, in a good and decent society, no one will want to do porn. I do not believe this will be the case for a variety of reasons which are not terribly important to the topic of this essay, but everyone has to decide for themselves whether they believe this or not. However, if it indeed turns out to be the case that no one wants to do porn, then itís hard to see how there would be any.) Under these assumptions, which are not unrealistic in the long term, how is pornography in such a society automatically sexist -- indeed, how could it be sexist at all?
Jensenís views feel to me a little bit similar to the way some anarchists feel about state institutions. Some anarchists think that as soon as you have institutions to perform legislation, enforcement, and adjudication, then ipso facto you must have authoritarianism and oppression. But any society has legislative, enforcement, and adjudicative requirements. The problem isnít in having institutions that accomplish these tasks, because these tasks must get done somehow in any society. The problem is in having these tasks performed by particular types of institutions that are intrinsically authoritarian and oppressive. The solution is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but rather to design better institutions to accomplish these necessary tasks.
Similarly, just because porn is being made for public viewing does not, in my view, necessarily mean such porn is sexist. The problem is not that porn is sexist. The problem is that the underlying society is sexist, and often porn is a reflection of that. The solution is not to get rid of erotica, or to go trying to guilt-trip the people who consume it. The solution is to eliminate sexism in society, and to create conditions of empowerment (as in parecon) so that the producers and consumers of porn have a self-managing say over its creation and form.
If someone does not believe this is possible, it is the responsibility of that person to say why they hold such a fatalist view.
lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached via e-mail at: