«

»

Sep 21 2005

Goon Squad Beep Beep

Couture

Couture loves women! Photo via Manolo

The post I’ve promised to write on fashion and misogyny will have to be postponed while I write this post on fashion and misogyny: 90 Sumatran women are chucked in the hoosegow for either "failing to don head scarves or wearing clothes considered too tight." Yesterday Indonesian cops banded together with Muslim godbags and actually conducted a sweep in which the offensively bare-headed hotsy-totsies were rounded up and lectured on "appropriate dress."

Astonishing, yes? The o-ppression! The re-ppression!

Well, I won’t keep you waiting; here is my brilliant thesis: duds are utilized by patriarchal forces to identify women as the sex class, to perpetrate cruelties against women, and to categorize them as belonging to one of two equally subordinate castes: the Virgins or the Whores. This is true of all cultures, everywhere.

It’s a piece of cake for Judeo-Christian Westerners to spot the tyranny of fashion in "third world" contexts where women are imprisoned in reams of depressing black muslin, but, as I have noted elsewhere, the so-called freedom exercised by the American woman who flits spiritedly around town in hot pants is a big fat lie; she is every bit as subject to patriarchally-imposed standards of femininity as are the collared Sumatrans. It’s only the particulars that differ.

In the sense that clothes are used to classify women according to their sexual availability, the veil is the Muslim equivalent of the Western miniskirt. The veil says: "I am some motherfucker’s property and unavailable for your sexual excitement." The skirt says: "Please contemplate fucking me." Both lovingly embrace the same principle, albeit from different sides, and that principle is this: women are dirt. Or: Fail to strive with every fiber of your being to master the art of the local feminine drag, and you will end up in the clink.

Try this simple experiment: after the Austin City Limits music festival is finally over and they take down the goddam barricades that have been preventing you–because lard knows a music festival should inconvenience as many people as possible– from leaving your neighborhood, grab a couple of your male buds and nip on down to Zilker Park for a round of Frisbee golf. When you get to that hole over by MoPac and Barton Springs Rd where Johnny Law is always lying in wait for speed demons in F-150s, everybody take off your shirts, if you haven’t already.

Now, see how long it takes for you to get arrested. Compare this to how long it takes for your male buds to get arrested.

Eventually you will notice that Christmas has come and gone, yet the aforementioned male buds continue to roam free o”er the countryside, gathering no moss, their bronzed beer guts gleaming in the sun. You, on the other hand, you offensively bare-chested hotsy-totsy, will have been chucked in the hoosegow and lectured on "appropriate dress."

40 comments

  1. Q Grrl

    I’ve long thought that it would be interesting to study men’s “free speech” issues surrounding porn with women’s concomitant “crime” of going topless in public. I get the feeling that there would be no free speech in porn if there were not also criminal activity in women doing as they please with their own bodies.

  2. Guy in the Bushes in Zilker Park

    I second Twisty’s plan.

  3. clew

    Q Grrl, that’s a vivid comparison but I don’t see a (causal? compensatory?) link; could you add more detail?

  4. Josef K

    Can I just say: Britain seems to have a more, er, wearable culture when it comes to freedom of dress. So come and live here!

    Interestingly, the most recent high-profile nudists to be prosecuted here have been male.

  5. octopod

    Re:”the local feminine drag”. Glad to hear someone else describe it like that; it’s how I’ve always felt.

  6. Sylvanite

    I’ve never mastered the local feminine drag, much to my mother’s despair.

  7. Chris Clarke

    I understand, from those who stayed behind when I left New York, that that state has since enacted much more sensible and equitable laws regarding gender specificity and shirtlessness.

    And of course after six months of winter in Buffalo, any sane person would want to take off her shirt when the first hyacinths bloom.

  8. AngryGrrrl

    The whole men can go shirtless thing really irks me also. What exactly is it about breasts that upsets people? It can’t be the nipples because everyone has them (some people even have 3!). So it must be the fat, but women aren’t actually allowed to have any fat whatsoever anywhere. Or is it because babies can get dinner from breasts? Someone explain!

  9. Q Grrl

    Clew: Breasts are more readily seen as consumer goods than they are a private body part. Porn, however, is seen as a protected free speech item, rather than a consumer good. Therefore, men’s gaze (as it were) transforms what should rightfully be a woman’s bodily autonomy into a man’s exercising of his free speech. A woman cannot walk in public topless because usually the risks of fines or imprisonment are greater than the benefits. In some places breast feeding in public is illegal. Porn, however — that part where the male gaze transforms breasts into something desirable and commodifiable — is *protected* under law in a way that breasts (and women) aren’t. If women could do as they please with their bodies, then the male gaze would be socially meaningless (although I assume still personally meaningful!). If women could act out of bodily autonomy, the commodity of those bodies and the defining of those bodies through that same commodification and objectification would cease to exist as we know it. Porn would lose its social status as free speech (maybe even the legal) because it would in essence be meaningless. The appeal of porn is not naked women in poses. The appeal is control over women and their state of dress, undress, and apparent sexual access (which, in this society, is almost 100% expressed through clothing rather than what the woman may or may not want). If it were normative that women went topless in public, then the myth of porn providing sexual access would be erased — the nakedness of a woman’s body would express personal autonomy and not male sexual access to her body.

  10. Tony Patti

    Dear Q Grrl: I would like further help understanding your ideas. It gives me hope to think that women might, in an ideal society, be able to go around bare breasted. At some of the European beaches where I spent my holidays women went topless. There was a certain anxiety about balancing toplessness with sexual availability. The ideal was to be topless and not signal availability. The male gaze was monitored more closely than the breasts themselves for any sign of arousal. Men needed to be open and casual, or furtive, when looking in the general direction of breasts. The older and less attractive the woman, the less likely she would uncover herself, and when she did, there was an even greater freedom much like you describe.

    I found it delightful and not exciting at all to see women nearly naked, or even naked.

    You said: “The appeal of porn is not naked women in poses. The appeal is control over women and their state of dress, undress, and apparent sexual access (which, in this society, is almost 100% expressed through clothing rather than what the woman may or may not want). If it were normative that women went topless in public, then the myth of porn providing sexual access would be erased — the nakedness of a woman’s body would express personal autonomy and not male sexual access to her body.”

    The appeal of porn is something that troubles me deeply, because I am a man and I am hardly immune to it. In fact, I find it astonishing that something so simple and brainless continues to provoke the same reaction no matter how differently my heart and brain feel from what my lower parts feel.

    Is there more to the appeal of porn than control? Or are we all somehow wishing to control the sexuality of a woman, even if we think we aren’t? The myth of porn providing sexual access intrigues me, too. Maybe if I understood this better it might illuminate why I respond to something I find unseemly and distatsteful in many ways.

    My only insight into porn, which I cling to gamely despite hearing women thinking differently, is that I seem to be aroused by arousal. This is true in my personal sex life as well as more obviously in the porn that seems to affect me. On the deepest and most animal level, I find the arousal of the parties involved in pornography to be the only thing that really can arouse me. A lack of arousal usually means none for me either, whereas successfully performed simulations of arousal, if not the real thing, can always fool my poor sexuality, being something basically animal and unthinking, into responding in kind.

  11. octopod

    May I barge into your conversation with Q? If not, feel free to lay the righteous smackdown, and I apologise preemptively.

    I’d absolutely second all your observations in your last paragraph; for myself as well, either real-life sex or porn (of any form) is only arousing if the person/people involved are aroused as well. I can’t really see anything terribly distasteful in this aspect of porn; we’re certainly hard-wired to respond with arousal to an attractive person naked and aroused! That seems like the most basic response in human sexual behaviour, which can be a complicated subject.
    I live in a rather strange set of social circumstances, the upshot of which is that I see many of my friends and acquaintances naked a lot – and, due to those same circumstances, it’s not a sexual thing at all, and we all know that. It’s really much like the situation you describe on the beach.
    However, I do think that Q is correct when she says that much of porn’s appeal for some men (don’t know how it affects women, as there doesn’t seem to be much comparable porn for women out there) is simply being able to see naked women whenever they want. So I really don’t think control is the only appeal that porn holds.
    Then again, maybe I’m just rationalizing. :-p

    Also, to bring up another point: Are we only considering visual porn when you refer to “porn” on this site, or is porn in textual form being considered as well?

  12. Mrs. Coulter

    Breasts belong to men in our society. That’s why they get so pissed off about public breastfeeding. It suggests that breasts might serve some purpose other than the satisfaction of male sexual desire.

    By the way, Twisty, you rock. I’d totally make out with you. That is, if I weren’t married and all that.

  13. jc.

    When the Left Party leader in sweden refered to the swedish male society as also being Talibans, the outraged uproar was considerable. Even though I´m member of the priveleged patriarch I was amused and unsurprised that the swedes didn`t get it. I´ve been making the same point formally and informally for years. But swedish (& european) understanding of Islam is negligible and of course all violence against woman, especially murders of “honor”, rape, especially gangrape, abuse, disrespect and suppression of woman is all perpetuated by swarthy immigrants (living on welfare, of course) who lack the genetic feeling for democracy, law & order and sexual equality which all swedes are born with. People just don`t want to see that the ground principles are the same, and much of the freedom that western women “enjoy” can be can be revoked.

  14. BitingBeaver

    Ok, *cough* I too am going to take a stab at barging in on the porn discussion. If I’m out of line let me know…please, no really, I mean it *smile*

    It is very tempting to say that it’s the arousal of the people engaged in porn that arouses men. However, I’m sure you know that the arousal, at least on the woman’s behalf, it utterly faked. There IS no arousal, the screams, the sultry looks, the orgasm is all false.

    What is NOT false however, is the arousal of the men involved. To the best of my knowledge men can’t fake arousal with any real consistency. Even if they’re not aroused by the person they’re with, they’ll be running thoughts through their minds that will ultimately arouse them. The proof is kind of in the erection.

    Perhaps it’s the MALE arousal that turns you on, since the FEMALE arousal is utterly faked for the males eyes.

    The idea that “We’re hard wired to respond to an attractive person naked and aroused” brings with it some problems. The first being that attractive or not attractive is truly a paradigm set in motion by the Patriarchy. This is evidenced in other countries where the ‘rules of attraction’ are different.

    What you’re really saying in that sentence is that ‘We’re hard wired to find Porn stars attractive and faking arousal’ I suspect that’s not what you intend to say, but, given that the women are not *really* aroused and that ‘attractive’ is a construct of this particular Patriarchy that statement, when broken down, has a very narrow interpretation.

    Don’t you see that the idea of ‘seeing naked women whenever they want’ IS control? I mean, ultimately, the men who are viewing porn are acting as voyeurs of a sort. And voyeurism is ALL about control. The idea of seeing ‘as many naked women as you want whenever you want’ is certainly all about control. It’s exercising a priviledge of the Patriarchy, ‘being able to see as many women naked and having sex whenever you want’ is ALL about control.

    Anyway, just wanted to make a few points, forgive me if they’re not all that lucid, I’m still working on my second cup of Java and I’m not entirely with it yet. (therefore, please overlook all the typos)

  15. Twisty

    BitingBeaver concisely makes the point I would have made (rather less concisely) if I’d hauled the Twisty physique out of the sack a little earlier, which is this:

    ” The idea that “We’re hard wired to respond to an attractive person naked and aroused” brings with it some problems. The first being that attractive or not attractive is truly a paradigm set in motion by the Patriarchy. This is evidenced in other countries where the ‘rules of attraction’ are different.

    What you’re really saying in that sentence is that ‘We’re hard wired to find Porn stars attractive and faking arousal’ I suspect that’s not what you intend to say, but, given that the women are not *really* aroused and that ‘attractive’ is a construct of this particular Patriarchy that statement, when broken down, has a very narrow interpretation.”

    I would add that patriarchy, with its insistence on the two opposing genders, where one is dominant and the other is submissive, has it rigged so that all relationships (including the relationship between the aroused and the arousor) depend on a model of oppression. In sexual relationships, oppression is fetishized. In relationships between porn viewer and porn character, a further element of capitalist oppression obtains.

    Aw, screw it. This needs to be its own post. More later.

  16. Twisty

    By the way, Q expresses my own views precisely with this remark:

    “If it were normative that women went topless in public, then the myth of porn providing sexual access would be erased — the nakedness of a woman’s body would express personal autonomy and not male sexual access to her body.”

    The fact that a discussion on porn immediately ensued subsequent to a post describing a woman playing Frisbee without a shirt on (the word “topless,” by the way, means “sexbot” and therefore cannot describe a woman playing Frisbee, and of course it never describes a man) pretty much says it all.

  17. alex

    I think there’s more to porn than the appeal of control.* There is also the simple fantasy held out to males of being desired enthusiastically. Having a woman tear off your clothes and climb all over you like a piece of gym equipment sounds ridiculous, but it removes men’s responsibility: they’re not asking, negotiating, or promising anything. In the real world, it’s difficult to engage in consequence-free sex.

    Does this constitute control? Or is it just repackaging men’s fantasies and selling them back?

    While we’re at it, why are the fantasies sold to men primarily sexual, and the ones sold to women primarily emotional? (I’m speaking, of course, of the romance novel.)

    * At least a couple pornography companies have taken to releasing ‘backstage’ versions of their films, containing footage of the set-ups, director’s orders, etc. I would imagine this pulls off the false mask of arousal that appears in the finished product, but somebody must be buying the things. So the control part is clearly uppermost for some men.

  18. Steph

    I’m uncomfortable with the notion of women’s arousal in porn being completely staged. I tend to look at women’s participation in porn from the perspective of what they get out of it: money, a particular lifestyle, prestige (there’s a whole porn “star system” that mirror’s hollywood–shudder), and sex almost consequence-free sex.

    I don’t deny that all this is set up for men’s benefit, that there are oppressions in porn or any of that, but I think it’s simplistic to say that women in porn are just faking it. I bet all women in porn fake or “act” arousal at some points, but they also enter into the business because of what it provides for them. Or what they think it provides for them.

    They do the local female drag better than anyone else when it comes right down to it.

    The question is, can their be porn outside of patriarchy–that is, can you get the arousal and entertainment without the oppression?

    PS It’s legal in my province for women to be topless in public. A woman fought her public indecency charge in court and won. So I can mow my lawn or play frisbee in the park topless. But I don’t because the legal right to do it doesn’t take away the objectification.

  19. BitingBeaver

    Hi Steph! I actually think that the reason that most of the women are in Porn is due to an (as yet unverified) concept which I’ve nicknamed the “Sword of Power”

    http://bitingbeaver.blogspot.com/2005/09/sword-of-power.html

    Here’s the link to the post on it. In short, they’re eating the table scraps of Power bestowed and controlled by the Men.

    Heh, I’d go on but I’ve taken up enough of Twisty’s blog-space *grin*

  20. Q Grrl

    Why are you guys (and I mean the males here) talking about porn?

    I talked about women’s bodies as consumer goods, the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, free speech, male access to female sexuality, and, of course, female autonomy. What does male arousal have to do with any of this? More precisely, why is it that this is where you are going with this conversation?

    And then you’re concerned that it might be stretching it to say that porn is about control. Hmm. You all seem to shore up that concept quite neatly whilst ignoring what you are saying.

    I don’t care what porn does for men’s arousal. I never had; never will. I care that it is considered free speech while in the public arena women’s civil liberties are constrained by “indecency” and “immorality” — both of which are not merely lip-service to women’s conduct. Women can be fined and jailed for exposing their bodies as they wish. Men’s portrayal of women’s naked bodies, on the other hand, is protected free speech. Need you really ask whether porn is about control or not?

    Let me phrase this slightly differently: if women’s bodily autonomy were normative, men would not link *their* arousal to women’s choices. Men’s arousal would be personal to them, owned by them, rather than foisted onto those who are female bodied. (For sake of argument, I have left out the obvious gaping hole of lesbian sexuality.)

  21. Q Grrl

    “I’m uncomfortable with the notion of women’s arousal in porn being completely staged. I tend to look at women’s participation in porn from the perspective of what they get out of it: money, a particular lifestyle, prestige (there’s a whole porn “star system” that mirror’s hollywood–shudder), and sex almost consequence-free sex.”

    Your second sentence contradicts your first sentence. If women are getting that much out of it (but yet can’t be equally autonomous with men outside of the porn arena), then the arousal is, by nature, staged.

  22. Twisty

    Q Grrl gets it! Q Grrl gets it! I can go on another day.

  23. Q Grrl

    *snort*

  24. WookieMonster

    So because they’re in it for the money and prestiege, they have to be really enjoying themselves when they’re doin’ it on camera? I don’t buy that at all.

  25. Anonymous

    Good stuff on your blog, bitingbeaver.

  26. octopod

    “Why are you guys…talking about porn?”
    Well, you were mentioning the commodification of women’s bodies, so I and apparently several others thought it a germane topic. Sorry if it went afield…I’ll shut up if you want, just let me know. :)
    I think my point in my paragraph about control was misunderstood – I was saying that being able to “see naked women whenever they want” is the part that IS about control. The part about enjoying watching aroused people is the part I thought was not objectionable. Part of the difficulty here, I think, is that the appearance of arousal in porn is what many people, especially habitual porn-viewers, are conditioned to think of as the real and natural responses in arousal – however fake they actually are.
    Also, what I meant by “attractive” was not at all qualified – just whatever the person in question happens to find attractive. Obviously this question of what, exactly, that is forms a whole issue in patriarchy-blaming, and a topic on which Twisty has written a million times more coherently and interestingly than I, so I’m not even going to try. Sorry, just wanted to clear that up.
    And as you mentioned, if real nakedness is banned but male-industry-controlled portrayals are an issue of freedom, there’s something severely wrong. :-p I’ve always resented the fact that, as Steph mentioned, even if women could go shirtless without risking arrest, it wouldn’t be an issue of freedom but would immediately become a cheap source of sexual gratification for passing slobs.

  27. Q Grrl

    um, all women are currently cheap sources of sexual gratification for passing slobs. That’s what objectification is all about. It doesn’t matter what the woman is wearing — hence Twisty’s original post.

  28. Sam

    Q Grrl’s (and Twisty’s) point is proven by the men’s reaction to their female co-workers.

    It’s also what men are thinking when they approve of prostitution saying, “Men wind up paying for it one way or another.” They see all women as whores, just some more directly so than others.

    Walking with my partner a few years ago I took my shirt off on a hotter-than-hell Brooklyn day in Prospect Park, leaving on a normal light blue bra to cover my indecent girlie parts. It took about 5 minutes for a security woman in a go-cart to drive by and rudely bark at me to put my shirt on. Imagine the uproar if I had actually tried to enjoy the slight breeze on a bare chest like the men around me.

  29. Tony Patti

    There’s a certain scorched earth quality to the process of discussing feminist solutions to a man’s quotidian quest for improvement and education when it comes to porn, and how men see women. I find it really hard to try to fathom the feminist viewpoint sometimes when I read things that reduce all men whenever they look at women to cardboard cut outs of lolling-tongued lustfulness.

    While I appreciate the further illumination of the depredations of my sex in general, at times I long for some insight that would allow me to improve myself, since basically all I have control over is my self and my own reactions, and areas where I seem to lose this control, no matter how subtly, concern me personally. I would much rather have control over myself than over any woman.

  30. Q-Grrl

    Hey Tony, like I said, when women’s autonomy becomes normative you won’t have to foist your arousal onto us. Nice subtle lob you threw at the feminists.

    My suggestion: if you don’t like the reputation (or the reduction of “all men”) then perhaps *you* should do something to dissuade us from our interpretations of your actions. I find it hard to believe that you feel justified in grabbing your porn in one hand, trying to educate yourself about feminism in the other, and then blaming the feminists (and not the sexist men out there) for our putting words and names to what we see and experience.

    Shaming us for our viewpoints won’t change the fact that many feminists use a class-based analysis to understand and dismantle patriarchy. You see “all men”; I see a useful tool for cutting through the bullshit that protects men’s interests as free speech, but condemns women in blue bras for their audacity.

  31. Q-Grrl

    Not to hog the discussion here, but one more thing: Tony, there would be no scorched earth quality if you simply believed what women had to say about porn and how men treat women.

  32. Josef K

    I think we’re back to that tiresome “choice” conversation now. Where somebody says that women choose to work in the porn industry, so there can’t be any coercion there. NO! The patriarchy mixes choice and coercion together so you can’t view one except through the framework of the other.

  33. Steph

    What Josef said. I’m not saying there isn’t patriarchy, but I’m saying there are fucked up ways that patriarchy becomes enabling for women within the system. Doing porn is one of them. They get things out of being in porn movies like money, fame, etc. And they get to do it under the illusion of choice.
    And they can have sexual fun while they’re doing it. These women are using their bodies in ways that they might find pleasurable.

    So it’s not gun-to-the-head coercion, it’s that nasty individual choice in a patriarchal world where a woman gets to “choose” to be filmed for male pleasure and conform to male notions of what constitutes sex– for money/fame/power etc.

    I just feel like we’re running toward ideas of false-consciousness here.

  34. Twisty

    The only “choice” that women in the sex industry are making is to play an exploitative system to the best advantage they can, through total immersion. It really fits the Stockholm syndrome model, which says that a victim aligns her own interests with those of her captors in order to ensure her survival. In a system where women are the subordinate sex class, “choosing” to to be a professional sex object is no real choice. It’s what all women do all day long whether they like it or not.

    Meanwhile, it is beyond the scope of this blog to provide nurturing assistance for dudes in porn-crisis. I’m the sort of feminist who pretty much doesn’t give a crap. I’ve got enough on my plate just trying to assert my own humanity in a culture that says I’m dirt. Watch and learn, Grasshopper.

  35. suley

    i’m sorry twisty. here in austin it’s not illegal for women to go about ‘shirtless’. nor has it been for as long as i’ve lived here, about 15 years….also, i work for apd. you may get a lot of attention, but unless someone ticks off a cop, nothing can be done about it… love the blog!

  36. Christopher

    “Why are you guys (and I mean the males here) talking about porn?

    I talked about women’s bodies as consumer goods, the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, free speech, male access to female sexuality, and, of course, female autonomy. What does male arousal have to do with any of this? More precisely, why is it that this is where you are going with this conversation? ”

    Well, Male arousal is the driving force behind the porn industry, the porn industry is probably the place where all these issues come into the sharpest focus, and you mentioned porn in the first sentence you wrote.

    Morover, we can only speak to our own experience, and most men have experienced sexual arousal.

    People are talking about their own experiences with the thing you specifically brought up.

    I don’t really understand your question.

    Anyway, a question I have when I read this blog is, is it ever all right to be aroused at all?

  37. Twisty

    Ah, Christopher. Voici the crux of the issue. Arousal would not be an issue at all if women were not universally expected to be responsible for it. We are expected to cause it, to coddle it, to be receptacles for it. And because of this we are also punished for it. It’s a bum rap, dude. A bum rap.

  38. Q Grrl

    Christopher: I talked about a few facets of women’s autonomy and men’s autonomy in this society: free speech, the crime of women removing their shirts, women choosing what they want without criminal repercussions. Porn is a link between all those, but is not (and was not) my primary focus. Women’s bodies are my primary focus (take that as you will).

    The men in this thread made the link between porn and their personal arousal. I made the link between men’s free speech rights and what is considered criminal in this society for women to do with their bodies. Huge, huge difference there buddy.

  39. octopod

    Hey, wait, I’m male now? What?

  40. LL

    Old thread, I know – but it’s funny that you mention this and refer to ACL in it. I was at ACL for all 3 days and as you know it was HOTHOTHOT. When I went to one of the beer stands, the woman behind the counter was offering to dunk folk’s shirts in the ice water when she got their beer – of course, the folks in front of me were men. When I got to the front of the line, I asked, “hey – will you dunk my shirt?”, half expecting a squirmy “no” in response. She said “HELL YES, take it off honey, gimme your hat too!!!” I did. Meanwhile, the younger chicks running the cash registers looked uncomfortable, going so far as to ask me to hurry up (yes, really) as I stood there, waiting for my shirt and my Lone Star, in a bra that covered more than a lot of the bikini tops I saw other girls wearing during that fest. So I ask – is it because I’m older? (34, FYI), larger? because it’s a bra and therefore “underwear”? Why was it OK for the guys to get THEIR shirts dunked in the ice water – why did I have to look at his back hair and pasty fish belly, but they couldn’t handle looking at a slightly frayed BRA for a few minutes?? It was 108, for fuck’s sake. I wish I’d been thinking a little more clearly – I would’ve whipped the bra off and said, “hey – while you’re at it” and judged the reaction then. Hypocrisy sucks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>