Monday, 16 September 2019

Honoring the Science of Direct Experience

Honoring the Science of Direct Experience

I don't know how this all started. But, I remember that I read an article by Zaron Burnett (http://www.filmsforaction.org/takeaction/a-gentlemens-guide-to-rape-culture/) about his efforts to understand his role as a male in the rape culture (RC.) The article was very good and I appreciated the authenticity and intention - he tried to understand how a woman might feel and then see what he could do as a man to minimize his impact. He told his truth to men and provided ideas about how they might actively engage in changing the culture of rape.

I was impressed and wanted to know more about this noble man...who are you? With a quick spin on the web...I found him. He is a thoughtful and insightful freelance writer for a few cultural magazines and.....Playboy. EERRRT (that is the screech to a stop sound) What? Playboy? Are you kidding me?

So I find him on Twitter to ask this question:

Megan McFeely ‏@AsSheIs Oct 12
@Zaron3 How do you reconcile writing for Playboy and this fantastic article you wrote?

His response:

Zaron3 ‏@Zaron3 Oct 12
@AsSheIs well, I don't need to since playboy has long been the home to pro-sex feminist writing and is a big supporter of fight against RC

My response:
· Megan McFeely ‏@AsSheIs Oct 12
@Zaron3 Thanks for responding but selling sexually submissive images of female body directly contributes to RC...no matter your editorial.

His response:
· · Zaron3 ‏@Zaron3 Oct 12
@AsSheIs guess, we'll have to agree to disagree, but i totally respect your opinion on that point.

My response:
Megan McFeely ‏@AsSheIs Oct 15
@Zaron3 "Pornography is to women what Fascist literature was to Jews." @GloriaSteinem

His Response:
Zaron3 ‏@Zaron3 Oct 15
@AsSheIs @GloriaSteinem so, um, did you see that Playboy will no longer feature nude photos?

My response:
Megan McFeely ‏@AsSheIs Oct 15
@Zaron3 @GloriaSteinem Because it is passe? Seems like a business decision...not motivated to heal or respect the feminine in our culture.

At this point I am furious. He is perfectly respectful and I can tell, a well intended person .... But in my opinion he, as a man, cannot agree or disagree (or his position has no value) with my assertion that sexually submissive images of the female body contribute to the rape culture... because he does not know. He could only have an opinion based on how he thinks it is. The proper response would have been "you know better than I" because yes I do. Yes, women do.

Instead of respecting my opinion as my opinion, he could have said.... "You are probably right...because you have direct experience in this matter and I do not." If you want to be a male-change agent with regard to the RC then accept the truth of our direct experience. Essentially, believe what we say.

Why believe us? Because I know without reserve that men do not live the female experience and when a situation has to do with the lives of women, clearly we know better (I can never know the immigrant experience and would not agree or disagree with their judgment in a situation because I have could not fully understand.) One can empathize, but never know the depth of experience, the insight or sense of a situation, that comes with it. His responses to me about pornography were in his own words, "marred with the same sort of male-centric presumption." There is no way out of his male-centric experience, because he is male.

In our culture we do not accept that something is real or true unless there is research to support it (a very masculine approach.) Of course this begs the question -Is there research that suggests pornography contributes to the rape culture? I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. Because inside ourselves women know it does. We know it because we feel and experience it.

At the Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, conference in 1978 Social scientist Kathy Barry (http://www.kathleenbarry.net/books_archive.htm) said that women should "not wait for expert testimony on the effects of pornography but to rely on their common sense and personal experience." I appreciate that she said this, she is a wise and forward thinking woman...so I quote her, but I don't even need her to tell me this...because I know to trust myself in this regard...and it IS common sense.

To not believe us, to make information outside ourselves, or research, the definitive "knower" of something...continues to serve certain male desires (in this case) and keeps the scientific oriented patriarchal structure in place.

I spoke of my interaction with this writer to a friend of mine who told me about her experience as a little girl with Playboy.

"I had 4 sisters and my father, who was a respected doctor, regularly left Playboy magazine on the coffee table in the living room, in plain view...for all to see. And as a curious young person, I read it. I remember feeling severe discomfort and confusion as I tried to figure out what this meant. Did it mean that women are supposed to be half naked, big breasted, smiling playthings? They certainly didn't seem like any women I knew. Was I to try and be like that? Is that what my father valued? Is that what men value in women? Am I going to have to do this to get love? Certainly shame arose in me around my own body that took years to come to the surface. And it was the beginning of my sense of the complexities of sexual power dynamics. Of course I did not understand this all right then and there, but it strongly effected my 10 year old sense of self. I was angry at my father and distanced myself from him. My confidence dipped as did my sense of safety in the world. I knew I would not be a woman like this so where did I belong?"

So here is one anecdotal experience. I am sure there are many.

Now, I am certain someone is going to tell me that not all women feel this way, that some believe it is okay for women's bodies to be presented in the seductive and submissive Playboy magazine manner because it is "art," or some such madness. This counter argument has been used for decades and it somehow wrongfully annihilates a majority of women's experience. This perspective can and always will be thrown back at us. And it is particularly powerful when women say this to other women because then those who do not believe what we say have an ally...in women. No one has to examine or take responsibilty for their involvement and nothing changes.

I also firmly believe that women should be able to make their own choices...but let's try to understand more deeply this dynamic.

Most women have internalized the patriarchy. When I say this, I mean that we have accepted and internalized (and unconsciously live) a cultural paradigm that values hierarchy, winning, domination, rational thinking and individual rights over the health of the whole. It is impossible not to, because we were raised in it.

Women will unconsciously side with the patriarchy (the current power and belief structure) to survive and thrive and of course this makes total sense. It is a hell of a lot easier to get educated, sharpen the mind, play the game, get along so you can have "success", be accepted and in some circumstances be safe. There is enormous pressure to do so (I did it for many years). Now I see it as a survival mechanism - knowing how to negotiate the predominant culture is a necessity. We are good, fast and complete learners.... AND now we are complicit.

Most women are unaware of how our current value system deeply disrespects us. It disrespects the inherent values of the feminine which are life sustaining and expressed through human behaviors such as relatedness, compassion, sensitivity, collaboration, and the understanding that everything is linked to everything else. If women were fully connected to our natural way of being, these would be the values on which we would base our decisions and conduct ourselves in the world.

Yet we remain unconscious because to tell the truth about what we have done to ourselves requires all kinds of bravery. It demands that we face our deepest grief and heartbreak. It requires acknowledging that we have sold our own dignity in order to get comfort, to have success, to be accepted, or to get love. We have sold something absolutely sacred and THIS realization is devastating.

This is where the grief and rage begins and we feel it may never end. This is why we unconsciously side with the patriarchy. This is why we do not tell ourselves the truth about our collusion because if we did, then we have to feel how we have deeply disrespected our own nature. And the pain is almost unbearable. So we choose to stay asleep. We chose numbness.

But it is imperative that we awaken now because it is not just about ourselves. A dangerous imbalance has developed. If women value the ways of the patriarchy more than their own natural way of being then no one is bringing forth the deeper insights, intuition and softer voice that is in tune with the knowing of the heart. So we continue with our wars, ignoring the suffering of our planet and people from around the world.

Since our culture is set up to disrespect the feminine and we are part of the culture, where does this leave us?

I am not blaming women. I am simply saying what I know to be true from direct experience, in the hope that this insight might free others. We cannot control what the culture values, but we, as women, can control how we value ourselves. And this alone is revolutionary.

I do not want to be an angry person. I do not want to blame men or walk around with a chip on my shoulder and I do not. But what am I to do with this fury? How am I to get you to listen to me? To understand how deeply your ignorance injures women and our planet? How do we offer our gifts and be respected for what we know? Sometimes I think I cannot contain it, this rage, and I definitely cannot pretend it does not exist anymore.

So today I start expressing it in a way that does not blame, but points out things I have not read in the mainstream media, things I know to be true from inside myself.

Since men do not have direct experience of the damage that female pornography causes, they might have to trust us, to listen to and honor what we are telling them. They may also have to tell themselves the truth about the suffering their behavior causes. Maybe those men who want to help shift the RC, have their own inner reckoning to do.

PS. I want to thank Zaron Burnett for this gift...the gift of helping me to sort out and articulate something that has been stuck inside. He is an ally...but I would ask him to take his insight about knowing nothing of the female experience and apply it to his beliefs about pornography.

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