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.