Stimulated to a critical point by sexual harassment issues, women of all ages are rallying for equality and dignity, but there’s a polarity forming in our midst. On one end are those enthusiastically viewing the whole thing as the next phase in the full liberation of women. On the other end are those pulling back with reservations about recklessness in the movement spinning into a moral panic that will shoot us in the foot.
This kind of polarity within the women’s movement is not new.
During the Reagan administration, anti-porn feminists pushed for the censorship of obscenity (convinced that “pornography is the propaganda of sexual terrorism” waged against women, and encouraging rape). Caught up in their own kind of moral panic, they joined forces with purity crusaders of the “New Right” and, thanks to the ‘special commission on pornography’, obscenity laws have choked the depiction of sexuality in our media and crippled progress in the industry ever since.
Other feminists at the time recognized the danger in censorship to limit “women’s exploration of the erotic”. Ellen Willis, for example, said a woman’s enjoyment of pornography can be a defiance rather than an endorsement of her oppression, celebrating the expression of a “radical impulse” defined as the domain of men. She wisely worried about how the “good girl-bad girl” polarity imbued in the censorial mindset would impact many women’s access to and exploration of the erotic— and it does to this day.
It stigmatizes sex workers and their patrons, forces women further down the gauntlet of slut-shaming, and reinforces the parameters of sexual shame in general, to name only a few. Women are only now beginning to revolutionize the world of pornography that’s so bent out of shape. Too bad we were hogtied by our very own for an additional three decades or so… We should keep mindful and realize the unfortunate reality that women’s liberation has had a double edge to it that is sometimes damaging to those it is actually intended to liberate.
Both then and now, however, there’s a unifying issue: Women are fed up.
Guys: Understand the fury of the oppressed. We’ve got pricks at all levels aggressively going after our reproductive rights, threatening our access to healthcare and otherwise insisting on creating a world of male superiority and domination. (Hear this, please, from one woman who opted for permanent sterilization, in part to avoid ever being a victim of restrictive policies on contraception. Read any given update from Planned Parenthood– or just keep up with the GOP– to get a vivid picture of the environment we live in.) Understand that the caricature groping his way around at the helm of the nation has brought our position into bright focus. To paraphrase a character from the movie, G.I. Jane, women are still just the “niggers” on the block…
Gals: “Remember” the Detroit riots of 1967. The oppressed class got so irate they ended up devastating their own neighborhoods, including the livelihoods and prosperity of their own kind. (With nearly $50 million in property damage, that was the beginning of the end for that city for decades.) With every right to be furious, they shot themselves in the foot in many ways.
How could we possibly do the same? The warning from women on the recoil is that reckless accusation and rash persecution create a dangerous environment for both women and men: a woman becomes shackled by a victim mentality and a man is not safe to be alone with any woman. This would push us back deeply into puritan patriarchy all over again, when every lady came with her chaperone in tow.
The course of history is overwhelmingly precarious and complex and I certainly don’t stand in any position to guess at its actual trajectory, but these warnings are serious. We can be pissed (we should be), we can fight (we have to) but we also have to be intelligent, bringing ourselves into solidarity with focus and integrity.
It also wouldn’t hurt to have more solidarity among men and women, rather than further alienation, since we are the co-creators of this society we all have to live in.
In order for this public upheaval to become the wake-up call so badly needed, the movement has to function across the board. Recklessness (like that in Detroit) drags the whole activity down to the level of destructive riot rather than progressive uprising, and moral hysteria (like the Reagan-era censorship frenzy) leads us into a more sexually repressed society.
When reactive extremism gives way to thoughtful maturity, that’s called getting smart. It’s also called growing up. And, it brings us right back to the basics of Honesty and Responsibility. Regarding life, these two words define adulthood, as honesty reflects the emotional maturity needed to speak the truth without hiding behind untruths, and responsibility reflects standing accountable for what’s been done and what needs doing (even when that is the expression of anger, because it’s possible to rant and protest and make waves without going off the deep end).
If we really want to number the days of gender discrimination, we have to enlighten ourselves one at a time, and let the ripples expand from there. So, the next time we read another outrageous news headline, we have to pause and remember the big picture (Guys: remember where women have come from, fighting our way through frustration and fury to get here, and still not there yet; Gals: remember that men are sensitive people, too, most of them ready and willing to love, understand and support us). Rather than jumping on the hate and blame reflex that folds itself back into our own relationships, pitting man against woman, blow off some steam with a primal scream to the universe, then channel the fury back into activities that make progress…
Like studying history and its lessons. Like simply communicating, and truly listening. Like marching and petitioning and voting. Like respecting one another as fellow humans, all struggling to find our way through this thing called life. Like telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth— no embellishments, no drama, no bullshit. Time’s Up, no time to waste!