Seriously, Autostraddle?

Autostraddle published another super-gross article that takes an element of women’s oppression and rebrands it as “empowering.” (Of course, there is no end of articles like this in the world—neoliberalism has been deliberately rebranding oppression as empowerment for at least three decades, for the purpose of destroying leftist movements and supporting capitalism.)

Anyway, this article is called “How My Dad’s Dirty Magazines Shaped My Queer Sexuality.”  Like most sex-pozzie articles on Autostraddle, this should have come with a damn trigger warning.

The author narrates how, as a young teen, she used to come home quickly after school to look through her dad’s magazines while she had an opportunity to be alone in the house. She started on motorcycle magazines with sexy women draped over the motorcycles like decorations, and then moved on to magazines with real nudity, then eventually moved on to Internet porn from there. She says she was about 13.

She thinks the whole experience was positive and empowering:

“More powerful than guilt, shame or feeling just plain ugly was the sense of empowerment I got from those magazines. I believe that sexual images of women are a positive thing. Porn and dirty magazines were a huge part of finding myself, taking ownership of my sexuality and seeing other women empowered by theirs. Looking through my dad’s dirty magazines was an integral part of my self-discovery as a queer woman.”

Does anyone else cringe when they hear the word empowerment, because of the ridiculous misuse of this word by third-wave sex-pozzies?

Being a passive object who is sexualized by other people is the exact opposite of empowerment. The people with the power are those who get to be seen as full human beings and who have the ability to reduce others to objects. One of the most important elements of third-wave sex-pozzie politics is the use of disingenuous claims that are so obviously untrue that one wonders how anyone can claim them with a straight face. The claim that black is white, up is down, freedom is slavery, submission is empowerment! Sorry, sex-pozzies, but this is a bald-faced lie, and you look totally silly saying it.

A lot of the things this writer describes happened to me, too. I used to also come home from school before anyone else in my family and relish the time I had alone to look at my own dad’s magazine stash. I also learned the joy of looking at naked women at the ripe age of 13. I also moved on to Internet porn eventually, having developed a taste for it. Like everyone else in the goddamn world, I learned to sexualize objectification, dominance and submission. How could I not—this stuff is everywhere. It’s in our own homes as we grow up.

The difference between this writer and me is that I became a radical feminist and she did not. She is continuing to sexualize objectification while I am writing against it. Here’s my take on why it’s not “empowering” to “discover your sexuality” while looking at your dad’s magazine stash.

First of all, your own sexuality is not what you see other people creating and publishing, your own sexuality is your own thoughts, feelings, desires, needs, and wants. You don’t learn about yourself by internalizing someone else’s idea of sexuality. The best way to learn about your own sexuality is to just interact with your peers in a normal way, and discover who strikes you as attractive and what you find yourself wanting to do with them. You also learn about your own sexuality by masturbating WITHOUT PORN and by thinking about things that naturally interest you.

Using porn is not discovering your sexuality, using porn is looking upon depictions of sexual abuse and learning to find it arousing. There are no depictions of healthy sexuality in commercial pornography. There is dominance and submission, and men are always dominant. Women are objects for consumption, we are painted with make-up, shaved, placed in submissive poses, and sold for entertainment. We are passive things being acted upon. Women’s sexuality is not being portrayed in porn. Men’s idea of what women should be is what’s portrayed in porn.

The girl who uses porn learns to think of herself and other girls as sexualized objects, and learns to identify with both the sexualized object and the oppressor at the same time. She learns to crave being sexualized and objectified because that’s what gives girls validation that they are worthy. She learns to identify with the male gaze and look upon other girls as objects for her use. When a “queer” girl discovers her sexuality through porn, she discovers a world of dominance and submission where she can play both parts, oppressor and oppressed, and where objectification is what makes sex sexy. This is all a process of grooming—it prepares her to be a sexual libertarian and to accept sexual abuse.

It took me several years to unlearn what I learned from porn, to see myself as a subject rather than an object, to understand that to objectify is to abuse, to really understand and feel that my worth as a person is not based on my ability to be a sex object, to separate my own real desires from what I learned to sexualize while viewing porn. The person who helped me the most with this was Gail Dines. Her Ted talk “Growing Up in a Pornified Culture” is incredibly valuable.

What the author of this article is remembering fondly and practically gushing about is something that is abusive and that she hasn’t been able to recognize as abuse. How strange it is to browse through Autostraddle, which is apparently a magazine for “queer women,” and find articles that sexualize the abuse of queer women. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt sick to my stomach after reading one of these articles because something negative in my life that I’ve worked to overcome is being presented as “empowering.”

Of course, I could just ignore Autostraddle entirely, but I read this stuff and write this stuff to “pay it forward”—I learned feminism from anonymous bloggers, and I’m doing the same for anyone else out there who needs it. Women need to know that there’s something more helpful out there than the stupid abusive bullshit that passes for “feminism” in sex-pozzie publications. Women deserve to be able to learn that being positive toward sex means being negative toward abuse. We deserve to learn to identify abuse, since our culture is constantly trying to confuse us by selling abuse as “empowerment.”

There is a vague, eerie suggestion of incest in the idea that girls can “learn their sexuality” from something their dad does. The fact that there is a long tradition of dads leaving porn around the house for their kids to find is a sign of how little anyone cares about sexual abuse. It’s totally normal for dads to groom their kids into abusive sexuality by leaving porn around. It’s totally normal because abuse is totally normal. This writer really should start thinking about the negative effects of dads showing their kids porn instead of waxing lyrically about it.

I hope that, now that people only use porn on the Internet, and every idiot knows how to delete their browsing history, this tradition will stop. But that’s hardly comforting considering that 11-year-olds have their own smart phones, and what they will be exposed to there is much worse than the pin-ups we used to look at.

This is the concluding paragraph from the article:

“In a time where queerness wasn’t as accepted, I’m thankful that I had an outlet (however pervy it was) to explore my identity. Dirty magazines and porn were a large part of my self-discovery and have positively influenced my sexuality as it is today. Even though identifying myself as queer when I was young seemed terrifying, seeing women unabashedly owning their sexuality taught me to be unashamed of sexuality. I missed a lot of shame and guilt surrounding sex, because I introduced myself to it so young. Being in tune with my sexuality, or even being in tune with my confusion — just simply letting myself feel and experience has led to me being a sexually empowered adult. I thank and honor the perverted 11-year-old I was; she created the proud queer woman and writer I am today.”

Nah, porn didn’t “positively influence” your sexuality. This whole article is a demonstration of the grooming you experienced, that you still have not been able to escape from. One of the primary things that helped me recognize my own grooming was the Ted Talk by Gail Dines that I posted above. She mentions that she has gone to prisons to interview convicted sex offenders, and they have told her that they hardly had to groom their victims at all, because the victims were already ready and accepting of sexual abuse. Victims are coming “pre-groomed” now, thanks to porn itself and also porn culture in general. The sex-pozzitive movement is a movement that gets people to accept porn, prostitution, dominance and submission—it’s a process of grooming. Anyone who wants to put an end to sexual abuse needs to name this, analyze it, and then stop it.

It seems so incredibly obvious that I can’t understand how even Autostraddle doesn’t see it. Women who love women shouldn’t be learning their sexuality from abusive men.


18 thoughts on “Seriously, Autostraddle?

  1. Same experience here. I wonder how common this is.

    That stuff can colonize your sexuality so badly that you don’t even know what sexuality is. That it is more than just orgasms.

    And how can you have a relationship with anyone non-abusive if you’re getting off on abuse fantasies? People argue that you can put it all in a box and keep it separate from your life, but they are so, so wrong. Everything is connected.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I’m not sure why I still check out AutoS. I suppose I still have a forlorn hope that I’ll find some sane version of me represented there – older butch lesbian who ISN’T traversing the ‘spectrum’ like it’s some bloody zip-line.

    My father had boating magazines, how to build boats, how to sail them, the latest is sailing technology, and lots of glossy pictures of shiny new boats … with scantily clad women draped all over them. I read them for the articles. 🙂 … seriously though, they did help me get a handle on my burgeoning sexuality, but that was as far as it went. It didn’t take me long to figure out how exploitative they were, how exploitative of women the entire world was/is. In short, I outgrew them.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Sure! Sexualized images of women and girls are HUGELY empowering! That’s why we’ve had so many successful female leaders! That’s why the U.S. elected a misogynistic tyrant over a qualified female candidate. That’s why women are the main recipients of rapes, beatings and murder by their partners! That’s why women have to be careful when they’re walking to their cars at night, have to travel in groups, have to take self-defense classes and carry mace.

    I was raised on the same crap (porn) and had to be in an abusive relationship before my eyes opened to the truth. I don’t think women like this fully understand that sexual attention and objectification is NOT EMPOWERMENT. You’re upholding the status quo and I could see how this would make you feel very safe and accepted but just know that all that safety and acceptance hinges on your acquiescence. If you step out of line even the tiniest bit, you’re toast. You can’t disagree or change your mind about those patriarchal values and if you do, you might as well be dead because you’re reduced to less-than-nothing in the eyes of people working to uphold patriarchy.

    I challenge women like this to try challenging patriarchal ideals and see how quickly they go from being an “empowered” woman to being a “prude” or a “bitch” or a “man-hating lesbian.” People working to uphold patriarchy are NOT your friends–they need you to be less-than and if you try to assert yourself, you’ll be punished and discarded.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Sounds like she knows that looking at porn is abuse & she’s trying to let her father AND herself off the hook by saying it “shaped” her “queer” sexuality. Which is total BS but lots of us told ourselves total BS stories before our eyes were opened to the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Several years ago, I was led to AutoS after reading an old essay written by their Editor-in-Chief posted on an old, now defunct, website and I thought I’d found ‘community.’ At the time, AutoS was more lesbian-oriented, only skating the edges of the Wonder World of WTF, and I read the articles but I was really there for the comments–the women readers were witty and acerbic and downright funny. It was great company.

    Over time, though, and most likely due to survival (lesbians don’t have a lot of money, ya know), AutoS diversified and began focusing on the fringe readers, citing inclusivity for all, and posting content like the one referenced above. I spent less time on the website because there was less content I was interested in as an older butch lesbian, and the comments sections were being monitored for political correctness. The last straw, though, was the article that could have been entitled “You Should Fuck a Trans Woman, You’ll Love It, Here’s How” (more or less, step-by-step), and I nearly threw my laptop in the fireplace.

    They. Are. Grooming. Lesbian. Women. For. Men.

    Which is really damned amazing, considering nearly the entire magazine is staffed by self-professed lesbians, who, I’m pretty sure, would not find themselves in that situation, if what they’ve written through the years is to be believed. So, I think they do see it, they’re pimping young lesbians to fuck trans women, accept abusive relationships, for their own profit, and calling it ’empowerment.’


    Liked by 2 people

  6. Why does sexual empowerment seems to be connected with abusive, violent, and painful physical acts that women must perform for men?

    Even if there are some women, who genuinely, for whatever reason, enjoy such images or depictions of women as passive or aggressive sexual objects and enjoy performing such physical acts, this portrayal, nevertheless, degrades and dehumanizes women as a group everywhere.

    Why is that women and apparently, women alone are “empowered” by adult images and videos as teenagers are not men? How are obvious staged images of women that are marketed for and by men, straight men, for their pleasure; somehow empowers young women?

    How can one recognizes or understands her sexuality if everything she sees or hears is manufacturing for a male, a straight male audience?

    What is even more remarkable is that sexual empowerment seems to be “always women,” to use the trope. Women and women alone seem to discover their sexuality through the male gaze, which portrays women as less than human.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I agree it sounds nasty and unhealthy although as someone who’s always been kind of as they say asexual, and, never had any interest in porn, and, who has not really seen any porn beyond in her early teens boys at school unwantedly shoving “girlie” magazines in her face, this in the 1980s – leading me to complain about them to teachers in disgust and distress, only – it’s not something I perhaps know enough about. I wonder, though, if she does have a point of truth, as regards pubertal exposure to paternal girlie porn at home, being the cause of many women growing up as lesbian or bisexual?

    I should think children in puberty are very impressionable to themes and memes around any sexual content they see. Should they see nudity and eroticism associated a lot with red hair, or, obesity, or gay men, or, whatever it is, I mean secondary things, maybe that primes them to grow up finding red hair, obesity, gay men, or – girls draped over motorcycles, nude girls full stop – as what turns them on, as the secondary thing and sex become all wrapped up and associated with each other in their impressionable minds?

    One reason I say this as well is that when I look back to my youth, it always struck me that very many lesbians, (at that era, even a lot of bisexuals said they were lesbians, so I probably mean a lot of bisexual women too), looked upon women – especially, feminine presenting women – as being very very sexual in a way that straight women, and, women who called themselves bisexual for the only reason that they knew they were atypical as lesbians, (which also used to happen a lot in my circles then), just didn’t. Like they expected all women to be constantly obsessed with sex. While looking for a girlfriend I made some platonic lesbian friends, and even outside of bars and clubs – when, drugs could have been to blame for their sex on the brain attitude – they would repeatedly and repeatedly ask me about what women or men I was attracted to for sex, and make comments about my appearance as being sexual, no matter how many times I told them that I had extremely little interest in sex and definitely wasn’t looking for a good lover as regards relationships, (I remember telling one of these, “Nothing to me is more boring, or means less, than sex”). In contrast, straight women and a lot of the other bisexual identified women usually very quickly saw me and accepted me as a whole person, deeply accepting that I was asexual and often seeming that way themselves, and we would talk about fashion, spirituality, or creative hobbies – artwork, sewing, crafts – as what we had in common. And, a lot of those “bisexual” girls were looking for relationships, like I was, for reasons other than wanting sex, too – it was so popularly understood among us that we were specifically looking for sensitivity, kindness, and housekeeping skills from a girlfriend, (or unicorn); it was accepted amongst us that we were whole people looking for a whole, not just sexual woman.

    My own father always seemed absolutely horrified by sleaze and prostitution when I was growing up, and if it was an act with him, all I can say is that I’ve always been a keen judge of character and that seemed totally genuine to me. Including overhearing him talk to my mother once about his distress at the fate of a young teen girl who he feared was being groomed. I do definitely believe men with an extremely low interest in sex exist, (yes, I would agree they use women in other ways though), and many of my friends have had fathers who fit into this pattern.

    I know porn is much more widespread and influential than when I was young though, and I believe it is definitely so much more a menace and danger for younger women than it was for those of us in our late 40s and older.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have already written a post about the idea of “ethical porn,” which you can find here. The most important point to make is that the existence of a few works of “ethical” erotica does absolutely nothing to undo the harms of a worldwide pornography industry that is based on exploitation. Sure, create ethical erotica all you want, but the exploitative porn industry will keep right on exploiting. The other relevant post, if you are interested, is one in which I show how some women create what they call “feminist porn” but it is hardly any different from any other porn and is pretty much just as problematic. Link here.


      • Brilliant; you are so onto it, thanks. I will def check them out (it’s always hard to fully browse someone’s entire blog back catalogue! 🙂 ) And yes, I agree completely about the worldwide exploitive porn industry; I blame the Patriarchy entirely.


  8. I’m so glad my dad didn’t have porn in the house. The most I got from him was Page 3 of The Sun and the women on Roxy Music album covers. I used to feel a bit guilty about looking at Page 3; it’s not something I would want to brag about.

    My dad has a good taste in women, actually. He likes them feisty and cleverer than himself. I think he knew I was bisexual before I did, and was OK about it. Big contrast to my mum; I got the impression she was scared I wasn’t straight and used to subtly try to get me to be more feminine.

    I think any woman who’s attracted to women takes cues from her father, if he’s around. That can be fairly harmless if the dad has a respectful attitude to women. It’s horrible when the dad is a pig.

    It’s an interesting thing to unpack. I’ve had feelings for various straight female friends during my life, and the way it ran was influenced by my dad’s attitude to women. It used to break my heart to watch them get used and abused in relationships. I had this urge to be chivalrous and defend their honour. I always tried to looks smart when meeting my female friends – even copying my dad’s dress sense to an extent (though I wore more make-up than he ever did!) I wanted to compensate for the shortcomings of their male partners. It was probably painfully obvious that this is what I was doing, but I’m glad I was always able to love women as well as lust after them. I get embarrassed by the awkwardness of my romantic history (with both sexes for different reasons) but it’d be a lot worse if my dad had set a bad example.

    I’m so glad that, topless models in newspapers (if you can call The Sun a newspaper) aside, I had a porn-free puberty.


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