#Metoo and my Self

It has been over six months since Alyssa Milano popularized the #metoo hashtag and for half a year I have been ruminating about my own experiences of sexual abuse and comparing them to how those public reports of victims’ experiences are played out on the world stage, wondering if I should dip my toe in. There is no doubt that I, like many women, have remained silent of abuse experienced for fear of not being believed and most definitely, of losing work opportunities accessible only through the abuser. It is incredible how effective such concerns are, how they silence the victims and insulate the accused.  Who taught us to respond that way?

There are a number of reasons I haven’t disclosed my own experiences but they are probably not what you would imagine. Yes, I worried for my work, for being believed, for being seen as a porn director which would lead to the need to double defend my position, as all those abused in the various sex industries have to endure, like a fourth shift.

But my reticence is not just practical (and let’s be honest, until recently, based on realistic concerns), mine have also been more ambivalent in nature. As someone who has spent her life researching and representing sexuality and gender, including a Masters on the philosophy of sexual consent, I am not ‘as one’ on my own position of my ‘history of abuse’ if I were to call it that.

Firstly, let’s get this out of the way: I was not sexually abused as a child and have never endured ongoing abuse either as a child or as an adult. I say this as this is the oft-assumed reason why women get into the sex industries, something I’ve had to deny in many interviews, to help reset the image of the average sex worker’s career motivations. I say this, even though I know that I have met some women who report performing in porn has actually helped them regain their sexual self-respect after childhood abuse; they took back ownership of their image and their actions. Such a causal line is by no means straightforward, porn can help victims, sometimes.

My point is this: I have always thought of myself as someone who experienced two incidents of sexual abuse. The first was when, aged twelve, alone in a Spanish hotel hallway, I was holding a key outside our family room when I was approached and touched (not intimately, but he made his desire for ‘friendship’ very clear). I ‘made my excuses’, walked hurriedly off pretending I wasn’t staying on that floor, consumed with fear that he would follow me into the room. Even at such a young age I had acquired enough skills to successfully behave defensibly in such situations. I returned to the room when the coast was clear and promptly changed into my swimming costume and back to the pool. I didn’t tell my brother or sister what had happened and felt an intense wave of shame when I realized I’d been bathing for some time with my swim suit on inside out.

I told my Mum and Dad and to this day I can remember them anxiously rowing about what to do next, my father defensibly explaining that he hadn’t been able to find a man by that description, what did she want him to do anyway, punch him on the nose? Incredibly, the next morning in a vast package holiday breakfast buffet restaurant, sat right next to us was the man and his family, a complete fluke. Waiting until he left his family, my Dad approached him and gave him a piece of his mind in a different language. The detail that remains with me was that this man initially assumed my father had wanted to shake his hand.

Today I can mostly remember a real feeling of empathy for my Dad, him having to be the one that confronted the man in order to restore the status quo, but am I allowed to do that? That was a scary contemplation for a thirteen-year-old to imagine, my never having seen my father do such a thing. Whether my memory is of him rather than my own safety is down to internalized sexism is dependent on which type of feminist you speak to. Personally, I think we are capable of multiple identifications, which causes confusion but also expands emotional intelligence in such a situation. I remember my own fear but I wasn’t the only one affected by what happened, the whole family was and I was painfully aware of that too.

Secondly, aged about 27, whilst working as a porn director, I was approached by a London theatre producer called Marc Sinden to be the feature of a one-hour documentary about my work. I met with him several times in several locations across London and then he asked me to meet him at his house in North London. I didn’t feel completely great about this but I never genuinely felt that he would do anything bad, it just seemed so ridiculous. Even someone that appeared to be untrustworthy in business, seemed unlinked to the possibility that he could be downright abusive, I just didn’t think he would actually try it on, in the late 90’s it seemed so ‘Eighties’.

I found myself sitting there with a glass of wine, I declined the dope (do I still have to defend myself that way in the current climate?). Having discussed the project for an hour or so, Marc returned from the bathroom, standing in the one exit doorway of the room, masturbating with his trousers fully open. I can’t tell you how shocked I was, even as I sat in his house. I’d given him no inclination of my interest. I was petrified.

I sobered up immediately and started to think about how I could get out of this situation without being raped. Again, the active defensive thinking kicked in, as though biologically inherited from previous generations of women, a true meme. I had to feign interest in a potential future relationship, to which ‘I wasn’t quite ready yet’, he just had to be patient. It worked, I had to kiss him in the doorway (something that internalized sexism still won’t let me stop blaming myself for) I pushed past him and I got out. I left it cordially, but he knew he had done wrong. He as a very stingy man and he offered me ten pounds for a cab to get home, most out of character.

After that I tried to keep the documentary going – as it would have meant a huge push to my career – but at arm’s length. If I could get past his behavior, why the hell couldn’t he? I found myself having to manage the situation, rooting it soundly in ways that didn’t hurt his ego. Yet still, his “contacts at Channel Four and Five were no longer interested, no idea why”, such was his inability to man up about what he had done and apologise, even though I had made plenty space for him to do so, intentionally, my female role of emotional labour producer never having been in question. This was what hurt too, that I never found if it was my lack of interest in him or his shame of what he had done that prevented the project from going ahead. Why should I have to ponder such things?

I explain to men who don’t understand women’s behavior in situations like the above, where it might seem to the man involved (not Marc though, I am convinced, after all, why didn’t he follow up my ‘potential’ relationship?, why the end of the work project that he too would financially benefit from?), that women act in obtuse ways to get them out of sexually abusive situations because of the considerable physical and social advantage men have. I said I was interested only in a future relationship, singularly as a means to avoid rape, I did not mean it at all.

I say to men who don’t get this duplicity in women: imagine you are in an aggressive position with a man who is literally twice your height, not a foot taller but six feet taller than you. You can’t fight and win. What else are you going to do? You will pretty quickly come around to other forms of behavior to defend yourself, I say this even though men’s masculinity is based around physical aggression. If you can’t ever hope to win, your imagination moves sideways, you think about getting away from the immediate situation, regardless of whether you have to lie about the future, the future being a land of envied safety in comparison far away from the abuser. Deferring and obfuscating are skills women have learned to fight off men and they have learned them because in such situations (where women’s sexual sanctity is valued) they work. It is not a slight against men’s ideas of their own masculinity for women to play a bit frigid, in fact it supports their supposed greater sexual urges under what I known in gender theory as the Male Sexual Drive Discourse (Hollway 1984), they describe themselves as ‘not as sexual’ as men (however untrue this is in fact). Men get to remain inside the culturally scaffolded version of successful masculinity when women do this, hence why women think of it and I’m sure, hence why often it works. I’m not saying it’s right.

But when I started my PhD research in 2010 I realized by the legal definition, I have actually been sexually assaulted a total of five times. The other three times include, in short: being aged 17, waking up to a 22-year-old male friend’s fingers inside me to which I didn’t initially consent but eventually did, something I felt ashamed of at the time. Secondly, in my early 20’s and being followed by a man into the porch of my parent’s home and him grabbing my chest from inside my jacket, recoiling in total shock when I screamed my dislike, such was his masculine privileged solipsism.  Finally, in my late thirties, having an argument with an old guy in a public swimming pool result in him grabbing my chest underwater.

It was with some confusion that I recalled these events and tried to comprehend why they did not seem to me to be initially to be sexual abuse, or in the street stranger case – which involved a report to the police – to my labelling it such yet forgetting it completely until prompted. Was it that I was left unscathed, so no need to recall? Possibly part of it, anger has always saved me from damage, my core is a pretty tough nugget that repels most offences. Was it a psychological defense? I’m not convinced by that, after all I remembered the instances that were the most shocking so why not the lesser ones?

I think I disremember such instances for another reason, that the area of consent is grey, most of the time. We are encouraged (increasingly so, recently) to think of such assault as black and white but it isn’t, it is a spectrum, something that is hard to discuss when such established avatars such as ‘Victim’ and ‘Perpetrator’ are so ingrained, which arguably happens more at times of public investigation in a subject, such as now.

The best example of consent being grey was the professional way that Stormy Daniels described her sexual meeting with Donald Trump as ‘unwanted but consensual’, she distanced herself from it yet she still owned it. But what to think of this? Does a woman have to take responsibility of allowing herself to enter the bedroom of a powerful man and see it through? Is this not letting him off the hook? Yes, but it is also a way for her to manage the situation in a far less upsetting way than the alternative and who are we to judge her for making that personal decision? I always admire the way she presents herself, including how she manages her behavior, she is such a professional porn industry representative.

This is it, the situation is not black or white, it’s grey, we often offset slightly lesser negative experiences by consenting, we do this with sex but we also do it throughout our lives without any criticism too, we do this constantly with bosses, colleagues, children, lovers, friends and strangers. So how do we make space in our discourse on sexual assault for such mixed selves when we so easily vilify those who express experiences of them? (from both victim and perpetrator positions, I always though the song Blurred Lines had a point, especially if you consider BDSM environments…)

The reality is I am a person of many sexual experiences, a fact of which I am proud, after all you can’t be a decent porn director without doing your research. Only a few of these experiences have been negative, the two I remember, very much so. The others were different in feel and manifestation.

Starting with the waking up scenario. I did not consent, I couldn’t, having been asleep, yet I became aroused and carried on eventually. Yet, the guy doing this (his name was Richard, by the way) didn’t think I consented or at least didn’t care. I’d drunk a lot of whiskey (through his encouragement) and passed out, he perused me and went ahead. In reality, I was lucky he didn’t jump on top of me, what could I have done? Yet I never blamed him because I saw it from my own position of arousal until I became educated otherwise. Was I right then when it happened? Am I right now, a much wiser sexuality academic? Are we to ignore women’s (especially young women’s) claims to sexual authority in such cases? Is not taking their own immediate experience of consent seriously an example of a similar egregious assault women face with some regularity? The same mentality of ignoring their right to consent that the rapist exploits? As a female porn director who does not see herself as the ‘women hating male facilitator’ that anti porn feminists describe me as, this point is not in the least bit academic for me.

This teenage act was tied up in a culture that praises women’s chastity, causing the other side of the coin that made me omit the bit about eventually consenting when I recalled it to my friends (I never formally complained or even spoke to him about it). I needed to save face for eventually consenting, every teenage girl will tell you they lie about such things to appear pure. Yet at the time, importantly, I didn’t think he had done anything particularly wrong, certainly not illegal. I do now. Yet people will still see Assange as a fighter, for his political actions to which the alleged sexual assault vicitims should take their places up as collateral to his far greater deeds. But why the need for either/or? Can’t people be both good and bad, can we seriously not hold such a slightly more developed thought in our heads yet?

The experience of the guy who followed me to my parent’s house was horrendous. When he approached me, I froze and only felt the strength to scream because there were moving silhouettes inside the house, so help was at hand. My immediate thought was one of luck. Had I have been in a darkened or unpopulated place, I would have stopped at frozen.

But why was he so shocked to see me dislike his hand grabbing my breast? His face was one of genuine surprise and much as it involved male privilege of projection of one’s own fantasies onto another, I am not convinced that this is a common belief held in our society, so it can’t just be about a ‘masculinity dividend’ (as it is known in Gender Studies). The long-entrenched idea of female ‘non-sexual virtue’ is too big a bolster against such blithe confidence in men. Men experience women’s rejection of their sexual advances as part of their quotidian reality, they are born into such cultures of competition for women’s sexual availability, hence why pick up artistry was invented.

I think he was probably mentally ill but this doesn’t explain why I didn’t recall it so well. I think in this instance, it was a case of my straightforwardly blocking it out in my mind.

The last example was a strange one for me. When an aggressive old man in a swimming pool became extremely unreasonable in his behavior because he clearly felt he had greater right to the public space than I (in my 12 years of thrice-weekly swimming in public pools it’s always men who do this and nearly always the privileged older ones who can’t stand women swimming faster than them, with their now diminished abilities). He grabbed my chest, an act that was witnessed by a member of staff underwater and on video so there was no debating my side of things. He only stopped being aggressive when my 6’6” husband approached him, then his demeanor became conciliatory, something that doubly angered me because it made me feel like chattel (although my husband would never make me feel that intentionally, he’s heard too many of my feminist rants to remain so ignorant!).

So why did I not push for him to be banned from the pool, to ask for the police to be called as I knew he was often aggressive?  For some reason I was convinced that his grabbing was not sexually intended, he grabbed out and I had turned away from him to continue swimming as I was no longer interested to converse. I really don’t like this about the way I responded. I SHOULD have had him banned, I wasted a concrete opportunity! He was a menace to many people and I was not convinced he would change but when asked what I wanted done I said the (very supportive) manager was to make the last decision because he knew the protocol. I consider this a complete evacuation of my sense of Self on my part and I am angry with me, not him. Although, I was angry with the old guy too until I heard gossip in the women’s changing rooms a month later that he had a heart attack and had to be carried off in a stretcher, never to be seen again, ha ha! Karma’s a bitch….

But how do I know it wasn’t sexually intended by the old man? And does it matter if it was if the act was clearly done? He grabbed my tit, that is illegal so that is it, right?  His act was certainly gendered, there’s no way that he would argue or grab a man in that way, as his deferent behaviour towards my husband proved.

I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth about this last experience, more so than the others. I feel like my sense of self was somehow erased through some awful neoliberal obedience to which I consented through perceiving myself as a professional, reasonable and rational person. And as we know, reason is (irrationally, ironically) removed from emotion, I used my head but my gut took the sucker punch.

So, what to think of consent in these examples above? I sit here a fully formed, sexually realized person (or at least as much as anyone can, according to my inbox full of dreams of middle-aged porn star wannabes that never were). I don’t feel particularly damaged by any of these events, I feel more damaged by the effects of economic realities that prevented my business from growing, such as file sharing, the single phenomenon that thwarted my pornographic and therefore creative, development in the late 2000’s.

Should I feel damaged? Is there a lag, such as in the last example when I’m left feeling resentful months later? Does a person have to feel damaged for a crime to be recognized and punished? Could there have been a trial of any of the above cases where it is feasible that I could have stood up in court and sworn to acts done against me, arguing that punishment is valid, yet that I remained strong, undamaged, regardless, Camus style? Can a woman do that in our society today?

I am deeply worried about how women are encouraged to take on the victim role and men are not. Especially in this instance when stories of young gay men being abused by older men did not meet the same limelight as those of women in the #metoo coverage, as I believe they suffered just as much and deserved the same attention. I also believe strongly that the horrendous levels of rape that occur in men’s jails, that go unreported, largely due to the way that their sense of gendered selves are structured so that victims lose their own sense of successful masculinity whilst simultaneously, receiving precious little sympathy from others. We live in a fucked-up world where women aren’t allowed their own sexual voice and men are not allowed to express vulnerability either, resulting in a quagmire of myths where no one really gets to know themselves or the truth.

The #Metoo movement is great, it has allowed myself and others to finally know, name and apportion blame for our experiences. This is the power of language and of community, it is transformative – just think how easy it to name and potentially complain about a man taking up too much public space since the term ‘manspreading’ has been invented, fantastically useful.

Yet I worry (and according to at least one my feminist friends, I am not alone) that the current movement does not focus on transforming the status quo enough, it is not enough to describe ourselves as victims, we need to move language and culture forward to reflect our multi-faceted selves where such a label is relative and difficult to determine in many instances, hence why women have also been reticent to come forward. All applicable laws, references and representations of such abuse should stem from a more nuanced understanding of our consenting, or otherwise Selves. If the sensibilities and language aren’t there, we shouldn’t compromise, we should do the very important work of finding a third way to describe our realities, rather than force a survivor peg into a victim hole. We need to retain our emotional intelligence (without feeling the responsibility to do all the emotional labor as women), so that our sense of selves is not compromised, not taken from us publicly, leaving us only with a role to play, the Victim.

I’m not sure how much I was a victim in the above scenarios, after all it’s me that gets to blog about them publicly, to help change our culture. They hurt or at least perturbed me at the time but they did not define me, nor do they now. Of course, there are far worse instances of sexual assault that fundamentally change a person’s life, I would never argue against that. But I worry that the Left is encouraging conservative sexual behaviours along with the Right, yet for different reasons and some of us are left alone in the center, in Liberal Land arguing for further debate before we entrench meaning and positionings, in a tiny and diminishing echo chamber.

We are our selves but our sense of Self is also made up our nearest and dearest as well as the society we live in including everything it tells us not to be too (sexually charged teenage girls, for instance). In other words, it’s complicated.

I will continue to ponder on my experiences of sexual assault whilst simultaneously supporting much of the wider #metoo movement. It will probably take me many more years to decide how I feel about them, such a process being expedited and improved by actively considering them, which I intend to continue. I just wish our wider culture at large would do the same and open up discussion rather than closing it down, because there are indeed, some very blurred lines.

I haven’t even started talking about the variety of motivations, both clear and misunderstood, by the perpetrators as my experience interviewing men about women’s dating power has taught me. There is a whole other box of contradictions belonging to (mostly) male and female abusers we equally need to unpack, one we should be doing simultaneously and in conversation with those of the victims, were we to be approaching the difficult issue of sexual consent from a genuinely progressive perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Thoughts on Emigrating to California, Two Years on

On this day in 2014, my husband Tim and I exited the LAX immigration offices for the first time as US residents. It was a momentous move that involved selling our home in the beautiful British countryside, leaving all family and friends, uprooting our businesses, shipping our entire house contents and flying two whippets over the Atlantic. A real gamble but one that has paid dividends and we have never been happier. One year in, I wrote a blog piece about how it felt to live in another country after 12 months and so now I continue that tradition with a piece about how things have changed after a further year.

I predicted a year ago that I would lose the awe of the novel, everyday aesthetics I saw (the post boxes, trucks, house styles, etc.) with continued exposure, and alas this has happened almost completely. I can only now appreciate the really new in the same way that I appreciated everything two years ago, right down to the tiniest detail and of course, the new becomes fewer and farther apart. I now just exist in a beautiful world everyday, one that I am aware I take for granted. Even the famous Californian light has seeped into my skin and become a trusted part of me. I have to remind myself that I could be used to a far less beautiful place if I lived somewhere else, I could be soaking in the grey buildings of Croydon, not my peachy home in Pasadena. But there is no getting that level of awe back.

Likewise, I have grown accustomed to the heat, California’s sun that kisses our skins and ripening fruit alike. Where once we pointed out locals wearing long sleeves on sunny mornings, we now take our jackets out with us, just in case. Sometimes you see people in full-length dark clothes at the height of summer and you wonder where they came from, it must be somewhere even hotter than California. Our blood has changed temperature so much I have to ask my mother in the UK what is the “right” temperature to turn the heating on there, to gauge how far things have moved.

Rather ironically, this has happened whilst we simultaneously began to miss the seasons. After a long hot summer last year we were happy to be able to spend some time in the mountain range of Lake Arrowhead, to give the whippets some coated walks in the snow. Our English bones needed some down time from the sun; I’m fussier now. There is a window of about two months of the year where my office (a converted garage) is neither too hot nor too cold to use.

There’s nothing like paying your taxes for the first time to encourage a sense of ownership of a place (and to relieve the fear of the unknown IRS monster). If there is one real change I have noticed in the last year it is how my confidence to shout out when I don’t like something has grown. Where once I might have pottered about apologizing for taking up space – in the swimming pool changing rooms, for instance – I now think nothing of calling out another person’s bad behavior, verbally and on occasion, digitally too. This is a very subtle yet seismic change, one that happened incrementally every day. I am nearly up to my old English level of confidence, as in I feel like a real part of this melting pot of a country and therefore I’m allowed to complain when it is due. Part of this is the ability to be able to say “no” once in a while, whence our philosophy was always to say yes to everything when we arrived. There have been a couple of toxic people in our lives that we finally rid ourselves of this year and part of that feels like developing a level of discernment. We have lots of lovely, genuine people and places in our lives; we no longer have to try so hard. Once the base has been set up wide, it’s ok just to let things happen naturally, to allow things to drop off.

I spoke last year of the maddening variety of choice, especially coming from the UK where there isn’t such a vast array of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues all scrambling for your custom. This has changed. Two years in, Tim and I are actively aware of our pleasure in our ritualistic frequenting of certain places. In Pasadena there is only one place to buy curry (Bhanu’s), one for falafel (Zankou’s), and one for vegan Thai food (My Vegan) etc., and surprisingly few places for slaggy breakfasts considering this is California. We love our favourite haunts and much as we expand our repertoire every now and then, we don’t feel the pressure to do so any more.

On the flight over from Heathrow I turned pescetarian, a year later, vegetarian and I am now moving slowly towards veganism. I’m also swimming 3-4 miles a week and taking occasional massages and pedicures, I take long walks with the dogs and gain great pleasure in beating last year’s cholesterol count on my yearly health check up. I am becoming that type of Californian. Yes, the lager remains, but we now count in 16oz glasses (children’s pints) instead of the UK’s 20 oz. measures, so there has been a residual reduction, like a state imposed health restriction that we have gladly submitted to.

Some things frustrate. If you think your own state and organization administration departments drive you up the wall, try another country’s; the left hand often doesn’t even know the right hand exists when they should be punching each other’s lights out. Don’t get me started on how long it takes to get the palm fronds cleared up off the streets after a storm (yes, there is trouble in paradise.)

Plus I can’t for the life of me understand why there are so few shoe and underwear shops out here. I have to order my stuff over from friends visiting the UK. For some reason the US has not worked out the half way point between fancy/sexy knickers and everyday pants like Marks and Sparks have. You either buy something that resembles something from a seventies Jockey advert or you squidge about in 100% nylon lacy crack munchers, there is no in between. Out of desperation, I actually bought a bulk pack of knickers recently from Costco (a hypermarket), I’m not proud of that, but it happened.

As part of my personal development I am partaking in several short courses including a fantastic one on self-defence (MMA), autobiography writing, and garden landscaping. The cheap access to adult education out here is excellent. I have recently started a course on learning the language of writing music, which involves me travelling to LATTC, a technical trade college situated in one of the dodgiest areas of downtown LA. I knew it was going to be hardcore getting there but I needed to get back my London backbone so I took the Metro. On the first outward journey I witnessed an open drug deal (the guy had a whole rucksack on his back full of packets of weed). On the next train, I sat opposite a young woman with her four year old daughter and a friend. The woman had two six inch Juicy Couture style letters tattooed on either side of her face. The black typefaces stretched from just below each eye to just below the lip and from ear to nose. Apart from this, she donned a pink backpack and cutsie trainers, and when speaking, came across as relatively feminine. What the hell was going on there I will never know. I think face tattoos are illegal in the UK aren’t they?  Or was that just when we were younger? Thankfully, I can now say one month in that my London arsiness has returned and such things no longer freak me out.

In contrast, I see some less daunting if no less interesting characters on my daily dog walks around the streets where we live, like the tiny Indian lady, no more than four feet tall whom I meet somewhere in between Catalina and Rio Grande with some regularity. Each time she stops, pats the dogs, smiles a lot and strains to make conversation whilst I worry that one of them is going to bite her face. In the same streets, I sometimes witness an image of an extremely elderly Chinese lady, probably five feet tall but bent double to the height of four. She dresses in monotone to match her Chinese paper umbrella, pale green or blue, depending on the day, and crabs along slowly, smiling but never speaking. Once or twice I’ve also seen a slim, upright man parading around, head held high with a sense of silent purpose and a parrot on one shoulder.

And that is thing with LA, it is a city of opposites, which is why both Tim and I love it. Things are changing for me and I don’t know in which direction. My academic book was published in September, I am running out of money, I haven’t seen my family in over a year and I miss them, we rescued a new dog into the family and I have started a part time job at my local pub, both of which I love. I’ve no idea how these things will pan out and this gives me a lot of anxiety on some level yet I know one thing, we made the right move coming here, all else will eventually pull into line. It has to; it’s in the air.

 

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Explaining Mansplaining: Why we are using the term incorrectly.

I can remember ten years ago when a male colleague took me into his office to showcase his newly gained knowledge about a piece of equipment. Assuming I knew nothing of it, he beamed with pride at being able to “improve” my skillset about a camera I had in fact been using regularly for over five years. To my shame, I did what is known in gender theory as “performed my gender”, and feigned ignorance, in order not to hurt his feelings.

Today, I think back on this experience as a gender academic and I can see why I remain annoyed about it; there are two types of sexist behavior involved. Firstly, my colleague expressed a clear example of contempt for my abilities in his underestimation of them that he would be highly unlikely to exhibit to a male colleague and secondly, the fact that my anger is focused on my own behavior rather than his, is a sure sign of the internalization of society’s prejudice against women. In short both he and I think I should know better.

We now thankfully have a name for my colleague’s behavior: “mansplaining”, the act of a man explaining something to a woman that he assumes he has a greater grasp on, without due reason. I was at first pleased to hear this term added to our lexicon used to express the everyday micro-aggressions women face but now I see the term has been hijacked to mean something altogether less useful and arguably, damaging to the future of gender equality.

The common usage of the word, “mansplaining” now means the act of a man unreasonably interjecting on a woman’s speech about sexual inequality with a claim for understanding of the male perspective. This is seen as a means for men to reframe the debate in favour of continued privilege over women, to shut the conversation down.

Much as I agree historically women have had to learn their own perspective, feminism, in order to add to the “human” perspective men spoke of, which in reality was a male one, I believe we now need to start seeing gender as a construct that exists between men and women. We should look at how a gendered system encourages both men and women (both cis and trans) to behave in certain ways to both impress and upset those of the opposite sex, as well as those of our own. In order to do this we need to start a conversation between the sexes. Regardless what women are led to think, we can’t actually assume we know how it feels to be a man these days, especially as I have learned, when we are fed a lot of untruths about them; men are not the well known cameras we may assume them to be.

If you think about it, how are we meant to find the answer to something by only looking at half of the available information? Does that approach yield the best answers in other subjects?

When I started my research into men’s experiences of female power in dating relationships in 2010, I did so out of frustration with feminism’s focus on female victimhood. I could not (and still can’t) understand why women would choose to minimize women’s power, especially as experienced by men. Surely having power was the aim of feminism and therefore isn’t it great to hear things are working, albeit not completely?

I, like the female director of the film The Red Pill, then had a change of heart. Not only did I learn that men actually have a really hard time living up to the masculine ideals that both men and women project onto them (and yes as women, we need to admit to our part in that), which increased my empathy but that the more I learned about men, the more confident I became. To learn that many men aren’t the power-hungry, sex-craved and autonomous beings that both popular culture and feminism paints them to be, is to see more similarities with ourselves as women and therefore to see them as less powerful over us.

Much as I would be the first to point out the holes in the logic of a men’s rights activist troll, I would also argue that we desperately need the average man to become involved in debating gender roles. Shouting “Mansplainer!” at them is more than just inappropriate (as we don’t in fact, know their experience); it actually debilitates the development of gender equality.

Our gendered problems as men and women are linked and so therefore are the answers. To give one example, the problem of African wives contracting AIDS from husbands who have slept with sex workers whilst working in far off mining camps cannot, in my opinion be dealt with by looking only at the female perspective. One has to understand how men are socialized to lack empathy and intimacy with each other – especially in macho, all male work environments – to see why they need the momentary release through engaging with sex workers, who are often the only women there. Some empathy with these men will lead us to making out the link back to their wives, to see them both (and the sex workers) as stuck in a gendered system that causes mutual pain.

I think it’s time to opt out of the game of Cowboys and Indians…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Book Is Released today!!!

… and here is the official press release:

 Female Porn Director Explains Male Insecurities about Women in New Book

Pasadena, California 1st September 2015

Rethinking Misogyny: Men’s Perceptions of Female Power in Dating Relationships is ground-breaking research from Dr Anna Arrowsmith that explores men’s experiences of dating and relationships, providing new perspectives that challenge our ideas about feminism, sexism and masculine identity.

—–

Award-winning adult film director and gender academic, Dr Anna Arrowsmith interviewed dating men and pick-up artists about their experiences of female beauty, women’s emotions, fertility, female violence and sexual assault. She explores these issues alongside men’s bodily concerns, including penis issues, as well as their relationships with other men, documenting how the power balance between men and women is changing.

Arrowsmith’s work provides an entirely new way to understand the changing power relationships between men and women in contemporary Western society. It comes at a time when Elliot Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, California, blaming his actions on women’s rejections; when Amazon have been the centre of a campaign to stop selling men’s rights activist Roosh V’s books; when hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have successfully prevented pick-up artist trainer, Julian Blanc from entering many countries; when campaigns about equality and sexism such as #everydaysexism #notallmen and Emma Watson’s HeForShe are gaining greater momentum; when the term ‘mansplaining’ is being used with greater frequency and opposition to men’s rights activists and pick-up artists have grown significantly in recent months.

Her findings challenge traditional feminist arguments as well as those from men’s rights activists and encourage an entirely new path of enquiry in gender studies which positions men’s words as central to interpreting their behaviour. She argues that whilst many anti-feminist arguments can be hyperbolic this does not deny that a greater understanding of men’s insecurities and psychological experiences is paramount if we are to achieve gender equality.

Some key findings:

  • Around half of the men have experienced female violence and coerced/non-consensual sex.
  • The men did not prefer stereotypically beautiful women; they all had various tastes, which they assumed made them the odd one out in comparison to men generally inc. male friends.
  • The majority thought women were the more intimidating sex and half felt women had most of the power in dating relationships.
  • The men focus on managing situations or blaming women for them, instead of admitting victimhood, understanding this is the key to changing gender relations.
  • Most of the men felt that women gained power when performing sexually in the media and they often saw women or other people as the intended audience, not themselves.

Rethinking Misogyny: Men’s Perceptions of Female Power in Dating Relationships by Dr Anna Arrowsmith is published by Ashgate Publishing on 1st September 2015 and is available in hardback, EBook PDF and Ebook ePUB. ISBN: 9781472463517. Visit the publishers’ page on my book here or check the text out here for free on Google Books.

And here are the associated images:

RM Front cover for marketing Anna Arrowsmith photo in car

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Comedy Evening Appearance Tonight in LA!

I shall be appearing on stage at The Unsafe Space tonight (at Oh My Ribs at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd) on stage with some comedians, thankfully they didn’t expect me to do some stand up as I had originally feared. We shall be discussing feminism and probably porn too. It sounds like an interesting mash up between comedy and politics, I shall be interested to see how it pans out.

Wish me luck!

More information to be found on their Facebook page here:

https://m.facebook.com/events/394320097432960/

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My academic book, Rethinking Misogyny has publication confirmed

RM Front cover for marketing

My book, Rethinking Misogyny: Men’s Perceptions of Female Power in Dating Relationships, which is based on my PhD research, has been confirmed to be published in September 2015 as the first in a new book series by Ashgate called Sexualities in Society. I will post more about it nearer the time but for now, here is the publisher’s blurb:

“In this path-breaking book Anna Arrowsmith analyses gendered dating behaviour and shows how men’s behaviour is both defined and illustrated by societal norms that require a particular masculine performance, including those desired by potential female performers. Using the case-study of pick-up artistry which is compared to interviews with other men who date women, this book analyses how the men deal with conflicting ideas borne out of living in an age when both hegemonic (harder, historic) and inclusive (softer, modern) masculinities co-exist.

It asks whether men acknowledge their own insecurities or whether they focus on perceived external triggers, such as female culpability as a means of ignoring their own concerns, or, whether men respond to insecurities by focusing on an active process of overcoming them.

Through exploring male experiences of female beauty, emotions, fertility, strength, female violence and sexual assault, Arrowsmith’s findings encourage a new path of enquiry in gender studies which explores and includes men’s words as central to interpreting their behaviour and how it is understood. This book has political worth as it differentiates and delineates between emotive and often misogynistic demands for an entire rethink of the gender order by some men’s rights activists and a genuine need to incorporate male insecurities and psychological experiences in how we understand gender to be structured and performed, as a means to increase equality.”

To pre-order a copy please visit the publisher’s website.

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Caitlyn Jenner and the “Woman” Paradox

Like many people, I have been very interested to see the various responses to Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn, especially the almost blanket support for her. It is rare to see both such an open minded (“open imaginationed”, if there could be such a term) and largely shared, reaction. People all seemed to agree for once, what she was doing was brave, as were others who transition, even the president chipped in with a few nice words of support. Those that opposed her were positioned as old-fashioned, out of touch.

As would appear to be becoming my mantra, we are living in exciting times for gender identity. It is hard to imagine that only a few years ago transgender people were largely considered mere peripheral oddities in society’s self image, people whom no one really thought about, outliers. Of course, as someone who was studying a PhD in the subject I was well aware of the debates going on behind the feminist curtain, a space where one’s minority status does not automatically render you invisible so much, but even there, transgender studies is a relatively understudied area of gender studies (correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of anywhere that teaches a whole university course on the subject). That is until very recently when a split between different feminists on the subject has become more apparent.

We now have a name for those feminists who do not support the likes of Jenner’s use of the identity “woman” for herself, the transgender community have named them “Terfs”, or “transgender exclusionary radical feminists”. I think it is fair they get to name those not the same as themselves, like they have also done with non-transgender people whom are referred to as “cissexuals”. In doing this they get to avoid the term “normal” (for cissexual men and women) which implicates them as “abnormal”. Fair enough. Terfs are a valid term to refer to those – usually radical – feminists who refuse their female identity but what about those who have mixed feelings about the transgender woman ‘issue’? It is easy to come out in broad support for those like Jenner who are outcast for their identities but the debate around transgender women within feminism shows that ramifications on others occur when claims for identities are made; ramifications that may not have been intended but are nevertheless a logical result of the new claims by minorities.

Such issues were vocalised this week in a New York Times article by Elinor Burkett a journalist and former professor of women’s studies who took issue with transgender people’s use of the word “woman”, not necessarily for the way they use it themselves – she professes support for those who transition – but for how transgender people are making claims for cissexual women’s use of the term.

In an article that outlines several problematic areas, she notes that abortion providers have been accused of being anti transgender because they advertise their services for women, when in fact some transgender men have wombs still and can need their services.

On this point I would argue we probably do have to rethink the use of the word “woman” in such a context, even though 99% of the service users will be female. I say this because I believe that these little building blocks that shape our realities – words – do need attention and it is through such diligence that we change the way we can think about our world. The physical body is increasingly becoming an unreliable descriptor of gender in many ways other than for the transgendered. Plenty ciswomen are better described as ‘masculine’ than ‘feminine’ because of the unconscious and conscious choices they make in their lives, so we should be revisiting and reconceptualising our vocabularies constantly, seeing them as a transitioning tool themselves.

But Burkett does make some good points about the body, specifically the female body and it’s historical meaning in the world. Brenner as Bruce did experience some male privilege, simply because of his appearance as male, albeit incorrectly, he also did not experience the issues of growing up with a female body. Periods, pregnancy scares, fear of rape, etc. are real things in this world that cisgender women experience that Jenner did not. This should of course be weighed up against her fears and disadvantages felt as a transgender woman which ciswomen do not (transgender people have horrendously high levels of suicide in comparison to their cis counterparts). It should also be weighed up against the experience of transgender men who appear female for much of their lives and therefore experience some of the same bodily truths as ciswomen do. Gender is paradoxical and nothing highlights this more than exploring transgender identities in relation to cisgender ones.

Overall, I understand some of Burkett’s points, there are things about being a woman that cannot be reduced to the performance of femininity, we do have bodies and they cannot be denied. However, I do not think that this is a useful framework to encapsulate the times we are living in where gender is becoming more fluid. I have real issues with the Terf idea that transgender women aren’t ‘real women’. They are, and they will face the same sort of sexism that ciswomen face once transitioned, as Jon Stewart so aptly pointed out. They belong wholeheartedly in the debate on gender equality especially, both because they are consciously gendered, more so than most of “us” but also because they personify the paradox around gender.

This is the rub; this is what Burkett does not like. Transgender people insist that the body does matter whilst simultaneously being the personification of gender as a social construct, in that they knew themselves to be shoehorned into the wrong gender roles, historically. Terfs aren’t just upset about ‘intruders’ into their largely cisgender female terrain of feminism, (a rare, almost exclusively female environment that holds some power) but because they represent the opposite of what feminism argues, that women are a social construct and therefore the body should not stand in a woman’s way. If that were completely the case, then why the need for trans people to swap? This second point is not articulated as frequently as it should be on this Terf debate.

Overall, one has to embrace the fluidity of the times and not cling on to historic terms, either that of “woman/man/female/male’ or indeed, “feminist”. We need to see the transgender area as an important step in the right direction for all of us and not become too attached to ideas of ourselves, which we see as immutable. Trans women like Jenner’s claim for womanhood, does not “undermine almost a century of hard-fought arguments that the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us [cissexual women]” as Burkett argues. Why should their fight for the label ‘woman’ have to make such a huge change for the rest of us? That only makes sense if there can only be one type of woman, but there aren’t there are at least two, “cissexual women” and “transsexual women” (the same is true for men). This definition allows for the differences in either’s history.

There are many battles being fought on the gender front simultaneously by different factions, and both types of women differ and yet are equally valid rendering them equally valuable to the debate. More importantly, both add to the idea that gender, as with sex, is a work in progress, something we are collectively both consciously and unconsciously deciding upon and this should always be the main message. It is our variety that unites us. Like I said, interesting times…

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