An Electronic Newsletter
Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
Issue #35 -- January 2003
1. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Playboy--and Me
2. Parents: Paranoia Prudent?
3. Book Review: Pornography, Sex, & Feminism
4. Barbie Blowing Minds
5. Sexual Intelligence Awards--Nominations Open
1. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Playboy--and Me
What Oprah & Dr. Phil don't know about sex could fill a book, but I wrote an article instead. It's in Playboy's current January issue, along with a huge (10,000 responses) survey on office romance, an obituary for network TV news departments, and an interview with Halle Berry. If you can't find the magazine and would like to get the article electronically, email Oprah@SexEd.org and I'll send you a copy. Sorry, no photos in the email version.
2. Parents: Paranoia Prudent?
From the "we told you it would happen here--again" file: A Wal-Mart employee in Salina, KS called the police on shopper Tamie Dragone, who was picking up photos of her three-year old--topless in a kiddie pool, and bottomless on the living room floor. The cops detained Dragone for 45 minutes and confiscated her photos. She's suing, of course, and will probably get a cash settlement for her humiliating hour of pure terror.
But what about the rest of us? The regular recurrence of incidents like these (issue #s 16, 19, 22, 26) is shaping a consciousness in all of us, a new mental category of what's inadvisable. Increasingly, Americans are being forced to think about themselves as potential perverts and to live defensively. Thoughtful people want to avoid doing things that could look suspicious--keeping sex ed books at home, being too friendly at Halloween, hugging their god-kids, owning European art books.
Being required to second-guess how you might look to someone with a catch-the-pervert agenda is psychological fascism. We've seen the effects of living this way under totalitarian regimes. Avoiding the appearance of wrongdoing when you're innocent warps the mind, wounds the spirit, and eventually destroys the emotional security people expect when they're minding their own business.
Which brings us to Bedfordshire, a day's camel ride from London. Sundon Lower School has banned videotaping of the kids' nativity play for fear that the pictures will get into the hands of child molesters. "A great deal of publicity has centered on the issue of child protection," explained head teacher Sue Stokes.
Unfortunately, Bedfordshire isn't the only English town trying to discourage perverts' stiff upper lips. Elementary schools around Britain are doing the same thing. Some won't put school play photos on their websites, while others are foregoing websites altogether ("we are aware of the dangers of pedophiles clicking on to these websites," says a Bawdeswell County spokesperson). Some frightened parents say they're uncomfortable with their kids being photographed by other parents. The Scottish are also scared: in all of Edinborough's 156 elementary schools, the parents of all children in a play must give permission for photography, or no photography of any child is allowed.
Nativity-porn paranoia challenges our picture of world history. What if the three wise men had wanted to document their moment of gift-giving? What if Joseph had wanted to sketch a few pics of the newborn? Jesus could have been the center of trouble before he spoke his first word.
Memo to Walmart and the English school system: you can be too careful. On both sides of the Atlantic, parents, school officials, and police are terrorized. There are way too many adults obsessing about adult-child sexual activity these days--and I'm not talking about those who actually coerce or seduce youngsters. Acting as if we could actually control who gets to look at pictures of kids is grandiose thinking, borne of desperation and fear. It doesn't make anyone safer--it just gives people the illusion that something is being done to protect those they love.
3. Book Review: "Pornography, Sex, & Feminism"
This is a terrific book by a fascinating guy. A philosopher at the University of New Orleans, Alan Soble has written a number of books and papers on various aspects of sex, love, and intimacy. He's even written a piece on "Philosophies of Masturbation" in which he takes on Thomas Aquinas, Kant, so-called men's liberation, and various contemporary philosophers.
In his latest book, Soble demolishes conservative feminist critics of pornography by beating them at their own game. First, Soble has done something heroic--he's actually read the work of Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, Phyllis Chesler, Diana Russell, and others who have written massive, often-emotional tomes about the evils of pornography.
Soble demonstrates how most of these anti-porn arguments stem from assumptions and concepts that are never articulated or examined, such as "natural," "normal," "degrade," and "moral." This is what allows Susan Griffin and others to insist, for example, that depictions of fellatio are by definition degrading to women--whether the women are shown enjoying it or hating it.
Soble also shows that most anti-porn feminist and conservative descriptions of pornography are rarely accurate. Describing today's porn as invariably violent, filled with coercion, mutilation, animals, and cruelty is a common tactic--and dramatically inaccurate. Soble wonders if these critics have ever seen mainstream pornography, or if they're attacking demons of their own intrapsychic hell.
When Catherine MacKinnon says that all depictions of women having sex reduce females to body parts, Soble asserts that it is MacKinnon, not the male viewer, who is objectifying women. It is anti-porn radicals, says Soble, who cannot conceive of wholesome female sexuality. They dehumanize women, and project the blame for this on male viewers.
Soble uses a wonderful word I'd needed for years but never heard: polysemicity, which describes how a single image can have different meanings for different viewers. Soble says that conservative critics of porn commit the fundamental sin of ignoring the actual experience of porn consumers. Without the perspective of actual users, these critics misrepresent pornographic images, "filling in the resulting epistemic vacuum with their own worst nightmares."
As a practical example, he takes a common erotic image: a shapely woman bending over, displaying her butt. Is she attempting to arouse or intimidate? Is her teasing playful or hostile? Is she saying "I'm powerless before your gaze," or "You're a loser who will never have me"? Such subtlety is lost on most anti-porn critics, says Soble. They claim there is only one meaning to all pornographic images, and it is the one they select--one reflecting a naive, simplistic view that assumes that women aren't and don't want to be lusty, and that men ultimately hate women.
This book is philosophy that rocks: an unapologetic, clearly written re-claiming of eroticism, both male and female. It's another triumph for Prometheus Press.
4. Barbie Blowing Minds
Two separate Barbie stories last week have grownups and toy stores shaking their heads.
First Barbie's friend Midge came up pregnant, complete with wedding ring, husband and 3-year-old son (sold separately). The idea of the Happy Family Series was to have girls play with, well, a happy family, but some customers just couldn't handle a pregnant doll. Wal-Mart responded by discontinuing its sale.
Some parents complain that pregnancy isn't a subject fit for children. That's a terribly short-sighted (and peculiarly American) attitude, generally driven by shame or fear. There is one problem with Midge, though--her belly, which is hinged to open and reveal a curled-up baby. Not a tiny fetus, but a cuddly little baby. We take you now to FreeRepublic.com, a conservative site which elegantly describes why this should concern us:
"So, who was complaining about the doll? The doll had a "husband", so it couldn't have been a Murphy Brown thing. My guess as to who was complaining: anti-life [pro-choice] types, who didn't want young girls seeing the "baby" inside as a real human being. If it was the right wing who was complaining, they missed the obvious educational benefit of showing girls that it's a real human being inside there."
After challenging consumers (and anti-choice conspiracy theorists) with a pregnant Midge, Mattel's other December offering was Lingerie Barbie, complete with black bustier, heels, hose, and garter belt. Mattel insists the $45 doll is a collectible for grownups (the market for limited-edition Barbies is incredible). Nevertheless, Slutty Barbie led to much talkshow frothing, a predictable national boycott (started in Nashville, America's Good Taste capital), and even a piece in the Washington Post. The doll, sniffed sex educator Deborah Roffman, is developmentally inappropriate for little girls, the latest assault on the youth of America's children. She didn't say anything about parents who push their kids to read too soon, or those who demand that their toddlers learn to play the violin to get accepted by a fast-track daycare center.
And what of sexy doll fetishists, those who fantasize about making it with Barbie? How far are we from requiring purchasers to register their Slutty Barbie? Or challenging their motives? "Honestly, officer, I only fantasize about my wife when playing with the doll, not some underage kid." Or maybe Barbies need ratings like movies--and kids could only play with sexy Barbie or pregnant Midge when accompanied by an adult. Er, an approved adult. Ah, acknowleding that sexuality exists does make things more complicated, doesn't it?
Over the decades, Barbie's gone from cheerleader to secretary to astronaut to a hot babe with a pregnant friend. But some things haven't changed: American culture is still uncomfortable with the complexity and power of female sexuality. And kids still need their parents talking with them about sex--and most parents are still too queasy to do it.
5. Sexual Intelligence AwardsTM--Nominations Open
The February issue of Sexual Intelligence will feature our annual awards. Readers will recall that previous winners include cultural figures (Philip Roth), lesser-known heroes (Marjorie Heins of the National Coalition Against Censorship), academics (memory expert Elizabeth Loftus), organizations (Peacefire), even political figures (SF County Supervisor Mark Leno).
Nominations for Sexual Intelligence AwardsTM are now open. If you have a suggestion, please send a few lines by January 24, 2003 about why this person/organization deserves an award, to Awards@SexEd.org.
To see last year's award winners, click here.
You may quote anything herein, with the
"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence, copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. (www.SexEd.org)."