Friday, August 15, 2014

On Don Jon, Bad Feminist, & the conundrum of Internet Porn

It's been a crap week, which normally means that I take to my bed early on most nights and watch either lesbian indie movies or Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. This week along with indie lesbian films, Netflix recommended Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon to me. I like JGL so thought, why not? Ninety minutes later, I took off my headphones and said out loud, "well, that was sort of gross." Three days after and I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE.

On the surface, it's a bro movie about a guy who can't have meaningful relationships because of his addiction to internet porn. There's a lot of fapping in this movie. A lot. There's also quite a few "money shots". But the thing is, and why I can't seem to shake the movie, is that I feel the same way about this film that I felt about Alissa Nutting's book Tampa and Bruce Norris' play "The Qualms". Which is to say that I feel incredibly uncomfortable. And I think that's the point.

I used to volunteer for a domestic violence hotline. I had to stop because guys kept calling during my shift, asking about DV against men, and then masturbating as I explained it. After the third time it happened, leaving me shaken and like I wanted to take a scalding shower, I gave up on hotlines. It was sad because I think there are legitimate guys who are in DV situations, but there are too many creeps who abuse the hotlines. I have heard this from friends who work on sexual violence hotlines too.

Don Jon left me feeling similar to the DV hotline. Which is perhaps why it's so masterful, because it gives every viewer of that movie the experience of that level of ick. Like Tampa, this is arguably one of the least sexual movies I've ever experienced that is thematically all about sex. At one point during Don Jon, JLG brags that he masturbated 11 times in a day—a new record. I couldn't help but laugh at the pathos of this. At the reality that this bro is expecting some sort of internet porn bozo button for his masterful fappery. And the brilliance of the movie is that Julianne Moore as a character in that movie is right there with us. She calls JLG out on the one-sidedness of porn, on why this isn't real. The entire movie leaves us asking ourselves if "all guys watch porn", what does it actually buy them?

(Side note: another reason I think this movie is sort of masterful is the absolute lack of acknowledgment in the age disparity between Julianne Moore & JLG. It's in the line of fire as an easy pot shot about "sexiness" in many ways for a movie like this and they don't ever mention it. Additionally, the way that church and absolution of sins is subtlety deconstructed throughout the film is pretty much worth the price of entry).

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I am reading Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist. I love this collection of essays. I have long struggled with my own feminism and how I constantly fall short of what I'm sure my foremothers wanted from me. The reality is that I need Julio. He is my health insurance and the majority of the income in our home. I would survive on my day job and writing money, probably, but I couldn't support my kids on it and health insurance would be through the state.

Another reality: I edit romance novels for a living. I am proud of the books I edit. I am proud of the strides I've made in the books I've acquired. I am taking risks on new things (non-binary romance), I have a significant number of authors who are writing male/male romance, I seek out diverse characters/books. I don't acquire books that slut-shame or create romantic rivalry among women. But. The truth is that women are bottoming in most of the traditional books I edit. I wonder what Bell Hooks and Simone de Beauvoir would think of my day job.

Of all the essays in Bad Feminist, I think my favorite might be the one about Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". I felt this one inside of me because there are times I so very much want to be a woman who is easygoing and game for anything. I am sex-positive. I edit erotic romance novels. I watch JLG fapping. But, at the end of the day, I can't get wholly behind this easygoing appearance of mine. I have to understand it for what it is, which is a safety measure to keep me off the radar of MRAs or people who want to hurt me for my feminism.

Gay writes in her essay, "It's hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you're not imagining things. It's hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you're going to float the fuck away."

***

Yesterday, I gave a lecture to high school students on sexual violence for the Voices & Faces Project. Mostly, I use survivor stories (with permission of survivors) to dispel a lot of rape mythology. At the end of my speech yesterday, I opened it up to Q&A. The first question a girl asked was whether I thought advertising/media perpetuated the idea of girls wanting to be dominated by men. It was an easy answer. Of course I do. But the layers behind it are complicated and nuanced. Because I also think that a knee-jerk reaction of banning such things is futile and exacerbates a madonna/whore complex in girls who are just figuring out their own sexual agency. I think criticizing advertising for the perpetuation of rape culture is valid, but I also think that these things will not just go away. It's the Mackinnon/Dworkin argument against pornography and I never thought it would get us anywhere. 12% of the internet is now said to be porn sites. To me the solution lies in understanding that those messages exist and figuring out how you feel about them and what you want for yourself.

The Q&A then devolved into a discussion about whether particular scenarios were considered rape. This is a slippery slope and not something I wanted to get into. At one point, I had to stop and say, "Look, if you're asking me if I think a state's attorney would prosecute this as rape, the answer is that I do not. Because I think state's attorneys want to win and they often won't take on things that are 50/50. But the legality of this is less the question here than are WE ethically okay with this? Is this what you want for yourself? Is this what you want for your friends? Guys, do you want to be in a position of having sex with a girl who doesn't want to have sex with you? Do you want your friends in that position?" I think we often get mired in the legal definitions of rape and forget that sometimes it's as simple as having a very open and honest conversation about what people want. This, of course, is a failure in all of us with our children, not encouraging these discussions. Not asking them questions when they start to have their own sexual agency. And yet, I can't help but go back to Don Jon. Internet porn is where a lot of teenagers are getting their information. And isn't that just a big problem? Because it isn't real and it's one-sided. This, above all else, is why I like having these discussions. This is why I'm grateful for Roxane and JLG and all the struggles I have with my own feminism. It starts a conversation, which I think is what we need most what it comes to sexual politics.