Monday, August 27, 2007

A Political Correctness FAQ

There's been a few debates that have come up in the feminist blogosphere lately that have come down to offense over the terminology that's being used and about knee-jerk reactions to that terminology. The two big offenders seem to be "politically correct" and, more, surprisingly, "sex-positive". Apparently, use of these terms in feminist discourse marks is a marker that one is anti-feminist or at least insufficiently respectful of the more easily-offended branches of feminism. (Although it should be pointed out that these easily-offended radfems are themselves merely setting up "strawsexpozzes" to knock down.)

I've been finding it useful to go back to the early literature to see what the debate was originally all about. This comes up in my discussion over on Trinity's blog in response to a very good post she made about sex-positivity.

On the topic of political correctness, I found a really great little essay in the 1984 sex-positive anthology Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality called "Politically Correct? Politically Incorrect?" by Muriel Dimen. The essay starts contains a Q/A about political correctness (what these days would be called a FAQ) that really gets to the root of the matter, without the accumulated baggage that later started piling up around the term. I think its a very useful read.

Question 1: How do you define politically correct?

Answer: Politically correct is an idea that emerges from the well-meaning attempt in social movements to bring the unsatisfactory present into line with the utopian future, in fact, to make the "revolution" happen. Although ideas about what is acceptable behavior develop in any political organization, left or right, the express phrase, politically correct, seems to be associated with the left. The phrase is charged, because the left, in its conception of itself, stands for freedom, yet finds itself in a contradictory situation: in order to realize its goal, it finds itself telling people how to behave and therefore interfering with their freedom.

Politically correct behavior, including invisible language and ideas as well as observable action, is that which adheres to a movement's morality and hastens its goals. The idea of politically correct grows naturally from moral judgments (which any political ideology or philosophy contains) that deem certain aspects of the present way of living bad. It is this moral evaluation that fuels visions of better ways of living and energizes attempts to realize them. In the light of the resulting politico-moral principles, certain behaviors and attitudes can come to seem not only "bad," because they are harmful to society or to people, but "wrong," because they hinder social transformation.

Question 2: What is politically correct?

Answer: I don't know: anything, including seeming opposites, can be correct in different groups, movements, or societies. The Talmud requires intercourse; the Shakers prohibited sexual activity; Marx, Engels and Freud celebrated (but did not practice) monogamy; Bohemianism advocates promiscuity and multiple sexualities, but disdains fidelity.

The ideology of political correctness emerges in all sorts of movements, applying to behavior, social institutions, and systems of thought and value. For example, various socialist and utopian movements have identified the nuclear family as a breeding ground for a socially destructive individualism, and propose communal living because it would promote a collectivist spirit. At various periods in Western history, then, social movements have instituted communes as a desirable first step in creating the good society they envisioned for the future. In the 1960s (which spilled into the 1970s), certain sectors of the left found the nuclear family and its bedrock, monogamous heterosexual marriage, to be both bad and wrong, i.e., politically incorrect, while communes and non-monogamy (for which no positive term ever developed) came to seem good and right, that is, "left," in other words, politically correct.

The appearance of political correctness in feminism creates a contradiction. One of feminism's tenets is an individualism (sometimes bourgeois, sometimes anarchistic) that proclaims self-determination for women, translating into "every woman for herself." However, feminism is also a mass movement based on collective struggles against the state in such areas as reproductive rights and the workplace. Such a political movement can be successful only if it is founded on shared moral and political principles. In some sense, it is this movement that constitutes the social context which makes feminism's individualistic principles possible. It is not feasible, however, for both these tendencies, one towards the individual, the other towards the social web, to be simultaneous guides to politically correct behavior.

Feminists have made judgments about political correctness particularly in the area of sexual behavior. This is because of the special cultural tension between sexuality and feminism: desire, of which sexuality is one very privileged instance, pushes and pulls at all people. Yet because it is in the domain of the subjective, desire tends to be associated with things female in the patriarchy of the twentieth-century nation-state where women, subjectivity, and sexuality share the same symbolic space. This shared symbolic space creates a second contradiction for feminists. On the one hand, since women have been traditionally defined as sex objects, feminism demands that society no longer focus on their erotic attributes, which, in turn, feminism downplays. In this way it becomes politically correct not to engage in any stereotypically feminine behavior, such as putting on make-up, wearing high heels, shaving legs and arms, or coming on to men. On the other hand, because women have been traditionally defined as being uninterested in sex, they have been deprived of pleasure and a sense of autonomous at-one-ness, both of which are necessary to self-esteem. Feminism therefore demands sexual freedom for women. In this way it becomes politically correct for women to be sexual explorers, visiting, if not settling down in, homosexuality or polysexuality; experimenting with cock-sucking or anal intercourse or tantric sex; trying out orgies or, perhaps, even celibacy. In consequence, these judgments about the correct path are as contradictory as the situation which gave rise to the feminist critique in the first place.

Question 3: Why do people want to say and do politically correct things?

Answer: Politically correct ideology and behavior are attractive, because they proceed from acute and visionary perceptions of political oppression. If people create visions of what is good, it seems sensible and self-respectful to try to live them out. Politically correct ideology and behavior attempt to escape the manifestly harmful, and to avoid things that damage, even if they feel good. In addition to these rational reasons, there are irrational forces which motivate political correctness, springing, for example, from the fear of separateness that makes conformity compelling. Conformism, present in any social group, can have an important role in making members of out-groups feel self-righteously stronger.

Question 4: What is good about politically correct ideology and behavior?

Answer: It is empowering; by psychological and ideological means, it creates the space for people to organize politically. It becomes a basis for organization and communication between people so that political structure may thrive. It also disrupts the identification with the aggressor, dispelling an individual and collective sense of victimization and providing a shared vision that guides behavior. Finally, it taps into a deeply rooted wish to belong to a collectivity in which what one desires to be is also moral to be.

Question 5: What is bad about politically correct ideology and behavior?

Answer: When the radical becomes correct, it becomes conservative. The politically correct comes to resemble what it tries to change. For it plays on the seductiveness of accustomed ways of living, the attractiveness of orthodoxy. Its social armoring can lead the person away from self-knowing authenticity and the group towards totalitarian control. It makes a misleadingly clean cut between personal experience and old, but still powerful, social practices, and draws a misleadingly neat circle around experience and a new set of supposedly completely acceptable practices.

The application of politically correct ideology and behavior to sexuality therefore founders on a double contradiction, the first in the relation between person and society, and the second in the relation between conscious and unconscious forces. The discovery/creation of sexual pleasure is very much an individual journey, even as your craft pushes off from received notions of gender, and is sped on or becalmed by concurrently developing notions of what is possible and permissible. No matter how carefully charted by conscious intentionality, the journey's course is determined finally by a complex mix of conscious and unconscious, rational and irrational currents that represent a swirling together of personal desire and cultural force.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fanmail from a flounder

Ah, nothing like being the target of a smear campaign.

Still, can't help but get a laugh out of some of the sentiments:

  • "And he's a consort of sex pozes."

    A new title!

  • "He's a pro porn, prostitute using john with an Asian fetish and God only knows what else."

    Hey, at least get my fetishes right.

  • Saturday, July 28, 2007

    Because I'm feeling snarky....

    (From Anarchy Comics #2, a primary work in my political education.)

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007


    I'm now one of the co-bloggers at the newly established Blog of Pro-Porn Activism. I've been directing my blogging efforts there lately and will probably reserve this blog for occasional stuff that's less directly topical there.

    BPPA has turned out to be a very worthwhile project and has been the subject of some controversy in the feminist blogosphere. But, hey, any publicity is good publicity.

    Friday, June 29, 2007

    Random Facts Meme

    Renegade Evolution tagged me with this meme:

    1. All right, here are the rules.
    2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
    3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
    4. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
    5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

    OK, some odd/random facts about me:

    1. I call the San Francisco Bay Area home. The farthest points I've ever traveled to are New York City, Los Angeles, Kona, Hawaii, and Vancouver, BC. The latter is the only time I've ever left the United States.

    2. I have been to the gravesite of Stan Laurel.

    3. I am a terrible housekeeper (a fact I'm less than proud of).

    4. In 1969, my mom took me to Altamont.

    5. In the early 80s, I was a punk, in the late 80s, I considered myself a "goth". Now I consider myself too old for subcultures.

    6. I am now a graduate student and was once high school dropout.

    7. I learned how to operate a scanning electron microscope before I learned how to drive a car.

    8. I wrote this five years ago. I can no longer understand it.

    And on to –

    Omar (of Bellezza Video) (board requires registration)
    Audacia Ray
    Jill Brenneman
    Anthony Kennerson
    Pretty Lady
    And (being ambitious here, but why not) – Susie Bright

    Sunday, April 29, 2007 "A Disciplined Business"

    There was a good article about in today's New York Times Magazine called "A Disciplined Business". In case you haven't been following the issue for the past several months, is a San Francisco-based internet porn company and one of the major players in the BDSM porn world. They've gotten a lot of attention recently, since about six months back, they purchased the historic San Francisco Armory, leading to minor political kafuffle here in SF. (Full disclosure: the Wikipedia article on that I've just linked to is largely written by me.) The issues involved are more complex than I have time to go into here (hopefully, I'll have time to post on it in more depth soon), but basically it has to do with the fact that the San Francisco Armory has been a political football in the larger issue of gentrification and development of San Francisco's Mission District. Combine that with a lot of misunderstanding about both BDSM and porn production, add some utterly inflammatory and stupid rhetoric from Melissa Farley, and you've got the latest manifestation of politics-as-theater San Francisco-style.

    Today's NYT Magazine article has some really good in-depth coverage of the issue, and the article has some interesting things to say about the mainstreaming of both SM and porn. The Times covered the issue a few months back during the height of the controversy, and as Violet Blue so well points out, their coverage was a hell of a lot better than our hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. Exhibit #1000 of the Chronicle's inadequacy for its role as newspaper-of-record for a major metropolitan area, I guess.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy

    One more thing before stepping away from my blog. I haven't seen anything about this on the porn or feminist blogosphere, but apparantly, Girls Gone Wild boss and certified asshole Joe Francis has just been arrested. Can't say he didn't have it coming:

    Stories here:

    Francis awaits Thursday hearing, Panama City Herald, April 10, 2007.
    'Girls Gone Wild' founder surrenders to Feds, LA Times, April 10, 2007.
    'Girls Gone Wild' founder Francis ordered to jail, LA Times, April 6, 2007.

    Background here:

    Joe Francis: 'Baby, give me a kiss' by Claire Hoffman, LA Times, August 6, 2006
    Wikipedia: Joe Francis

    Hopefully, he'll stay out of circulation for awhile.

    Update, July 2010: Looks like GGW is up to the same old shit, and actually won a court case against a woman who said she did not consent to have her bared breasts in one of their videos. And, ironically, the very same week, Joe Francis' lawyers were in court slapping a lawsuit against a former employee who wrote a tell-all book about him. (We wouldn't want to violate Francis' privacy, now would we?) The whole thing, like the manufactured outrage about "sexting", cries out for better laws concerning intellectual property rights around one's body and one's image. But that will be the subject of a longer post.

    Hello again

    I haven't posted in a while. I haven't been actively blogging as of late, because I've been busy attempting to do what I'm supposed to be doing with my time, namely, actively trying to complete my Master's Thesis this semester. Which means by this summer, hopefully leaving my eternal grad student status behind and actually getting on with my life. I hope to actively start blogging again this summer, though I may bring my blog back on Wordpress. I'll announce the move here, in any event.

    I'm still on the post-punk kick I was on as of my last blog entry. I found a totally excellent book on the subject Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984 by Simon Reynolds. Its the definitive source for this often-overlooked and profoundly innovative period of pop music history. And with that, I'll leave you with some videos of PIL, doing some of my favorite pieces of early-80s art damage: