An Electronic Newsletter
Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
Issue #75 -- May 2006
1. Film review: Mrs. Henderson
Presents Public policy that makes things worse--that's how it is in America when it comes
to sexuality. The negative results then lead citizens to call for more sex-negative
legislation, perpetuating a downward spiral. Examples:
2. U.S. Attempts to Out-God Iran
3. Kansas Teens Do Own Their Bodies
4. LaRue: Pedophiles Made, Not Born--By Porn
5. Dutch Tolerance Goes On Offensive
1. Film review: Mrs. Henderson Presents
This wonderful 2005 film stars Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, and a dozen lovely bare breasts.
Based on true events in late 1930s London, it is entirely appropriate that the nude bosoms drive the story. As the wealthy Mrs. Henderson and her crafty stage manager Mr. Van Damm work to present nudity on stage, they are resisted by the English government. The ingenious compromise Mrs. Henderson proposes (and Lord Cromer the censor accepts) is that the young women are staged like classical art--frozen in tasteful tableaux, rather than prancing around.
The film is very funny, with Dench and Hoskins going at each other like a witty, energetic couple who would rather be nasty with each other than nice with anyone else. Christopher Guest is a hilarious repressed aristocrat, who almost chokes to death when the elderly Dench uses the word “pussy” to describe what he calls “the midlands.” The music, dancing and period atmosphere are charming.
Then World War II comes to London, and everything changes.
Almost everything. Because Mrs. Henderson insists on keeping the Windmill Theatre open--indeed, it was the only West End theater to remain open continuously throughout the Blitz. Located underground, it was safer than most places people could go. One dancer mentions her surprise that the safest place to be during a war is standing naked on a stage in front of an audience. What a lovely metaphor--finding safety in the arms of eros while death rains from the sky.
Young soldiers loved the place, and found solace there in the hours before shipping out. When the bombing starts, Lord Cromer tries to shut the Windmill, saying it's dangerous for people to congregate anywhere. But Mrs. Henderson quickly reminds him that people can be "overly-cautious" in times like this, one of many poignant reminders of how similar our time is with theirs.
In fact, she tells him, and a crowd of ardent young soldiers, why she's so intent on presenting nudity on stage. From clues she pieced together, she believes her own son had shipped out to World War I (where he died at age 21) without ever seeing a naked woman. She believes this is a tragedy, and she doesn't want “these nice young boys” to suffer the same fate.
This film accomplishes something amazing--it entertains us with nudity, it shows others being entertained with nudity, and simultaneously takes sexuality absolutely seriously.
It shows, without comment, the struggle to present nudity onstage in a way that won't offend those who aren't attending (those attending such shows never complain). In such a society, someone's always inventing new ways to categorize nudity and sex--as if there were a real (or objective) distinction between wholesome and prurient. Breasts above the nipple OK, nipples not. Butt cheeks OK, butt cracks not. Bikinis OK, bras or pasties not. Butt cheeks OK if framed by a thong, bottomless not. Male-female kissing OK, female-female kissing not.
It's all about arbitrary rules, justifying why some bit of eroticism is less dangerous than some other bit. The finer and finer gradations we see are a modern version of ‘How many pubic hairs can fit on the head of a pin?'
So the Windmill Theatre presented nudity that looked like museum paintings. In “civilized” England, nudity was safe if it was a few centuries old. For American hillbilly John Ashcroft, even classic art was indefensible. Like many Americans, he believes the nude body is shameful--something God meant us to enjoy only if we're willing to feel bad about it.
So what did Mrs. Henderson Present? Part of our birthright--something precious that was stolen from her young audience, and what they yearned to get a peek of. The film quietly shows that the war was also being fought for the right to watch nudity. To choose to watch nudity. Boobies or not, there's nothing trivial about having--or losing--such a choice.
Ultimately, the film reminds us how important controversial art is in a time of war. Now that the U.S. is in a permanent state of war, we need more such art, not less. More erotic risk-taking, not less.
For Mrs. Henderson, sexuality wasn't a problem. It was an answer.
2. U.S. Attempts to Out-God Iran
As it has for half a century, your government (and all 50 governors) has designated May 4 as a National Day of Prayer. A three-hour National Observance will take place at a congressional office building, and speakers will include Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. And the religious right has the nerve to call itself disenfranchised?
The mission of the National Day of Prayer Task Force is to "communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership." Its national chair is Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. This is the same James Dobson who received a rapturous, wildly inappropriate thank-you letter from Justice Samuel Alioto after he was confirmed onto the Supreme Court (issue #73).
Prayer is not a neutral or generic action, and pronouncements that Americans can pray to whomever we want doesn't make it neutral. I am offended when my President says that some victim or other (of Katrina, a mine explosion, Donald Trump, etc.) is in "our prayers." Over a hundred million Americans don't pray. Prayer is a religious activity, and as such the government has no business sponsoring it.
Besides, the goal of the National Day of Prayer (and of its supporters) isn't prayer, it's transforming the political system. Their 2006 Prayer for the Nation is "Today, we confess our sin of not responding to Your[God's] right to rule in our lives and our nation." They don't mean that metaphorically--they mean it literally. They mean it in exactly the same way that religious fundamentalists in Iran mean it.
I sympathize with America's religious moderates and progressives, who have seen their faith traditions hijacked by sinister anti-democratic forces. Since these moderates say they disagree with the political mayhem being committed in their name, they now have a golden opportunity. Let religious moderates loudly repudiate the National Day of Prayer. Let them say "we will pray when we want, for the ends we desire--but we will not support government-sponsored prayer." Only then can the rest of us take their frustration seriously, and trust their assertion that they can be religious and democratic at the same time.
3. Kansas Teens Do Own Their Bodies
A federal judge has ruled that Kansas law does not require health care workers to report sexual activity by those under 16, invalidating yet another anti-sex opinion by the state's attorney general Phill Kline.
Federal District Judge J. Thomas Marten said the reporting of consensual sex between teen peers would deter young people from seeking medical care, and would overwhelm the state authorities.
The ruling blocks Kline's advisory opinion from guiding the enforcement of Kansas' law requiring the reporting of serious abuse. Kline has demanded that any teen pregnancy, STD, or request for contraception trigger mandatory reporting.
This is the second legal setback this spring for the attorney general's efforts to restrict abortion and other reproductive health care services. In February, the Kansas Supreme Court limited Kline's investigation into two abortion clinics by removing patients' identifying information from the medical records he had requested. This, too, was done under the guise of "protecting young people"--from consensual sex.
It's bad enough that all genital sex between teens under 16 is illegal in Kansas. Judge Marten said Kline's directive improperly conflated this illegal sexual activity with the "abuse" Kline claims he wants to prevent.
"The opinion wrongly redefines the common understanding...by denoting all sexual activity to be 'inherently injurious,'" wrote Judge Marten. "The attorney general's overexpansive interpretation of the reporting statute not only fails to serve the public interest, it actually serves to undermine it."
Public policy that makes things worse--that's how it is in America when it comes to sexuality. The negative results then lead citizens to call for more sex-negative legislation, perpetuating a downward spiral. Examples:
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"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence, copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. (www.SexEd.org)."