OTI Online
Summer 1996

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Fall 1996

You seem to think that anything that inspects porn (short of categorical condemnation) must be porn -- a dogmatism more befitting of the religious right.

-- S U S A N F A L U D I (excerpt)

Riot Grrl Responds

Months ago, I heard through riot grrl grapevines that OTI was doing a story on us [Where Feminism Rocks, spring 1996]. I read the article when it came out, and was pretty troubled by some of the content -- particularly in the same issue with Sheila Jeffreys's excellent critique, Orgasm Politics. My general complaint is that the article was absolutely clueless to much of what riot grrls are about, and made some pretty sweeping generalizations about what "we" think anyhow, based on the comments of only one actual grrl (Tamra of Lucid Nation).

However, the really frightening contradiction here is the ways in which the author represented Tribe 8, a band that blatantly advocates sadomasochism and also romanticizes battery. The lead singer thinks it's a terribly liberating statement to get on stage wearing a strap-on dildo.

I'm moaning at this because it's really exactly the sort of thing Sheila Jeffreys is critiquing. I hope future coverage of grrls will be both written by an actual grrl, and from an explicitly feminist perspective. The MTV-esque media portrayal of riot grrls as hot young babes "liberating" ourselves through lots of violent sex is not my riotous way of being. As the ever-so-popular objects of male fantasies, adult lust, and sexual violence, girls and grrls have every good reason to fight the pornographication (my word, I think) of our sexualities and bodies. Despite the messages we keep getting about who we "all" are, and how we're supposed to smile, be "strong" enough to take it, and love being sexually annihilated, a good number of us do resist! One other comment: I am really bristling at the Irene Pivetti profile, which seems to take her anti-Semitism so lightly while continuing to pay her these backhanded "she's such a strong woman" compliments!

-- B E T H R I B E T

Stockholm Syndrome or Female Agency?

How can a magazine that bills itself as "The Progressive Woman's Quarterly" publish something as regressive and reactionary as Sheila Jeffreys's How Orgasm Politics Has Hijacked the Women's Movement [spring 1996]?

When Jeffreys assumes that all heterosexual and all lesbian sex that in any way plays with a balance of power is degrading to women and a manifestation of false consciousness, she denies a vital part of many women's lives. For myself and many other women, the expression of sexuality and the experience of sexual pleasure is an integral part of feminism. The writings of women like Susie Bright and Pat Califia, the Ms. "Hot Unscripted Sex" section, as well as much of the erotica that Jeffreys calls "unreflective" do not deny the fact that sociopolitical constructions of gender and power can and do influence sexuality. But instead of sweeping pleasure under the rug or running away from it, sex-positive and erotica writers explore the possibilities of taking control of power dynamics instead of being controlled by them, and of sex practice that carves out an area between asexuality and destructiveness--where women can take pleasure without danger to themselves and without guilt over their desires.

What gives Jeffreys the right to define lesbian-feminism (and lesbianism and feminism separately) as one thing and one thing only? It is not true that any sex act that has ever been a tool of oppression must necessarily always be oppressive. In asserting this, Jeffreys produces a reductive and essentialist view of women that is ultimately disempowering, because it buys into the myth of the fundamental differences between males and females that has been traditionally used to hold women back. (Furthermore, when she claims that sexual feelings are "learned" and can be "unlearned," it is only a short logical step to say that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals can unlearn their attraction to partners of the same gender and be "cured," a disturbing and all-too-common view.) Jeffreys's reduction of sexual pleasure to the Stockholm Syndrome erases what is to me and to many others the most important aspect of feminism: female agency. She implies that pleasure is too dangerous for us to handle. She denies our ability to make our own choices about our desires and our bodies. What could be less feminist than that?

-- L I S A J A R V I S (Oakland, CA)

Save the Sperm

I have one (tiny) criticism about your last issue. Please rethink your lighthearted treatment of the lowered male sperm count in your [spring 1996] Pith & Vinegar department. The environmental assault we are perpetrating on ourselves (which is affecting both male and female fertility, not to mention the rest of the animal kingdom) is a subject that could use your fantastic investigative journalism.

-- K A T H L E E N Z E I T L I N (Salt Lake City, UT)

Exploited Men

I would like, first of all, to correct the several erroneous statements you made in "What the New Yorker Didn't Tell You About Susan Faludi's Pimp" [Pith & Vinegar, spring 1996]. In your item taking me to task for having written a story about male actors in the porn industry, in The New Yorker, you say: "Faludi got most of her connections through Bill Margold, who took her on a pimp's tour of the L.A. pornography industry, and she bought it." I did not get any "connections" through Margold, and he did not take me on a guided tour, literal or otherwise. In fact, I interviewed him fairly late in the process. Furthermore, I hardly "bought" what he said, and the story did not portray him in a flattering light.

More disturbing to me is the egregious, and I can't help but wonder if intentional, misreading of my article. You condemn the article simply for having focused on the men. You suggest that the article took the side of the men and ignored women's exploitation. But you utterly miss the irony and complexity of the male actors' situation, and ultimately you miss the point, which is that our image-based economy increasingly places men in the "feminine" role with all the exploitation and agonies that implies. This is a phenomenon that is manifest in the most extreme and literal form in the porn industry, but is present throughout our "glamour" (a word I use, by the way, ironically, not, as you seem to think, with approval) culture--a culture that demands and judges increasingly on the basis of bodily display.

There's lots of room for debate with such a theory, but you chose not to deal with the ideas, opting instead for an ad feminem attack. You seem to think that anything that inspects porn (short of categorical condemnation) must be porn--a dogmatism more befitting of the religious right. Most troubling, to attack a woman writer not for her ideas but in the veiled terms of sexual innuendo (Margold is my "pimp," etc.) is characteristically misogynistic.

-- S U S A N F A L U D I (Los Angeles, CA)

Radical Notion

I am a 13-year-old female who received a copy of your amazing magazine. It blew me away, and woke me up. It made me realize the raping and torturing of women is basically accepted in most of the world. After all, feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

-- A L E X O R B A N (Denton, MD)

Mind Control

Last night before bed I began reading your magazine--I was just going to read one or two articles because it was already late at night. I finally tore myself away from the magazine at about 3:00 a.m., after reading almost every article. Your reasoned arguments were a joy to read. As I read the articles, I felt I could trust the writers -- I didn't feel as though I were being coerced into someone's image of an ideal feminist.

As an anti-Castro Cuban lesbian-feminist, I've had my fill of attempts at mind control: The mucho-macho anti-Castro Cubans dislike feminists, and the feminists all seem to be pro-Castro. I disagree with right-wing, anti-Castro politics; yet I cannot agree with his cruel, totalitarian rule (which I experienced first-hand). I believe there is no excuse for totalitarianism -- not under any guise. I would love to read an article on the position of Cuban women today. Have the sexists' attitudes really changed? Pre-Castro Cuba was terribly sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist. Has this changed?

-- M A R T H A G O N Z A L (ofmartha@aol.com)

Brotherhood Is Powerful

After reading Elayne Rapping's column [The Ladies Who Lynch, spring 1996], I have one thing to say to the author and all the On The Issues readers. Welcome! You have now achieved the equality with men for which you have fought so hard. Welcome to the world of infighting and back-stabbing.

Women have learned the lesson well from their male teachers. And the golden rule of those lessons? Give up the greater cause for personal fulfillment and self-aggrandizement.

The view from the top is always jaded by the trappings of achievement. The ego becomes all-important while the struggle becomes a distant memory.

In Rapping's closing paragraphs she talks about how complementary even the anti-feminist attacks are to the overall cause. But because something is talked about by right-wing, left wing, or whatever wing in this country does not mean they plan to do a damn thing about any of it -- especially if it threatens their power base. The struggle for all human equality has just begun.

-- T H O M A S E V A N S (Massapequa, NY)

Take Your Daughter to the Dojo

After I read What Is Justice for a Rape Victim? [winter 96], one statement made by Phyllis Chesler kept rattling around in my mind: "As yet, not a single Bosnian woman has picked up a gun to defend herself..."

I kept asking myself why this was true. Then I asked myself if I would know how to defend myself if someone attacked me and the answer was no. Then I asked myself why women of all ages are not routinely taught to defend themselves against the predators who do rape and worse so that we could break this vicious cycle that exists over the myth of feminine helplessness.

Why haven't national organizations like NOW insisted that self-defense training become part of school curriculums? Taking your daughter to work is a wonderful idea; but I think it would be beautiful to teach your daughter that she never has to be a victim of violence again and to know yourself that you could be the one to leave the mugger unconscious in the subway instead of becoming another statistic in the endless strings of violence against women. A woman with a weapon, any weapon, including those provided by her own body, and a willingness to use them is too dangerous a creature to be approached with anything other than caution and a healthy respect. We will never be safe if we wait for men to take the initiative to make the changes we want. Even the men who love us and would never dream of harming us are powerless to protect us from the violence of others. Only we as women can choose when and how to defend ourselves, and until we have that knowledge, men will always have the power to deny us our lives.

-- N A M E W I T H E L D (Kalamazoo, MI)

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