Quotulatiousness

April 19, 2014

Mammary mummery

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Everyone knows that only poor, lower-class men prefer women with larger breasts, right? There are even “scientific” studies that “prove” it. Michael Siegel is not convinced:

Sigh. It seems I am condemned to writing endlessly about mammary glands. I don’t have an objection to the subject but I do wish someone else would approach these “studies” with any degree of skepticism.

This is yet another iteration of the breast size study I lambasted last year and it runs into the same problems: the use of CG figures instead of real women, the underlying inbuilt assumptions and, most importantly, ignoring the role that social convention plays in this kind of analysis. To put it simply: men may feel a social pressure to choose less busty CG images, a point I’ll get to in a moment. I don’t see that this study sheds any new light on the subject. Men of low socioeconomic status might still feel less pressure to conform to social expectations, something this study does not seem to address at all. Like most studies of human sexuality, it makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that what people say is necessary reflective of what they think or do and not what is expected of them.

The authors think that men’s preference for bustier women when they are hungry supports their thesis that the breast fetish is connected to feeding young (even though is zero evidence that large breasts nurse better than small ones). I actually think their result has no bearing on their assumption. Why would hungrier men want fatter women? Because they want to eat them? To nurse off them? I can think of good reasons why hungry men would feel less bound by social convention, invest a little less thought in a silly social experiment and just press the button for the biggest boobs. I think that hungry men are more likely to give you an honest opinion and not care that preferring the bustier woman is frowned upon. Hunger is known to significantly alter people’s behavior in many subtle ways but these authors narrow it to one dimension, a dimension that may not even exist.

And why not run a parallel test on women? If bigger breasts somehow provoke a primal hunger response, might that preference be built into anyone who nursed in the first few years of life?

No, this is another garbage study that amounts to saying that “low-class” men like big boobs while “high-class” men are more immune to the lure of the decolletage and so … something. I don’t find that to be useful or insightful or meaningful. I find that it simply reinforces an existing preconception.

There is a cultural bias in some of the upper echelons of society against large breasts and men’s attraction to them. That may sound crazy in a society that made Pamela Anderson a star. But large breasts and the breast fetish are often seen, by elites, as a “low class” thing. Busty women in high-end professions sometimes have problems being taken seriously. Many busty women, including my wife, wear minimizer bras so they’ll be taken more seriously (or look less matronly). I’ve noticed that in the teen shows my daughter sometimes watches, girls with curves are either ditzy or femme fatales. In adult comedies, busty women are frequently portrayed as ditzy airheads. Men who are attracted to buxom women are often depicted as low-class, unintelligent and uneducated. Think Al Bundy.

April 15, 2014

Finland to issue “Tom of Finland” erotic postage stamps

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

Unlike other Scandinavian countries, Finland isn’t noted as a trend-setter in LGBT issues: still not allowing same-sex marriage even though homosexuality was legalized in 1971. Finland also classified transvestism as an illness until 2011. Knowing that, it’s hard to credit that Itella Posti, the Finnish postal service, will be selling these stamps beginning in September.

From their English-language website:

Finland issues Tom of Finland stampsIn September-October 2014, Itella Posti will release seven new sets of stamps, containing a total of 33 new designs. It is a great collection to choose from; the subjects of the new stamps include male drawings by Tom of Finland, autumnal yard and garden scenes painted by Urpo Martikainen, and Jaakko Tähti’s photos of Finnish bridges. Other subjects for the end-of-the-year stamps include signs of sky and the change in everyday Finland — and, of course, Christmas.

The autumn’s stamp series begins September 8 with Tom of Finland, who is considered one of the most well-known Finnish artists around the world. His emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion. In his works, Tom of Finland utilized the self-irony and humor typical of subcultures.

During his career, Tom of Finland produced more than 3,500 drawings. The two drawings on the stamp sheet were selected by graphic artist Timo Berry, who designed the stamp, and Susanna Luoto, the Finnish representative of the foundation named after Tom of Finland operating in Los Angeles.

The drawings on the stamp sheet represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer. “The sheet portrays a sensual life force and being proud of oneself. There is never too much of that in this northern country,” says Timo Berry. The miniature sheet contains three 1st class self-adhesive stamps.

The artist behind Tom of Finland was Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), whose profile is extended in the exhibition Sealed with a Secret – Correspondence of Tom of Finland opening in the Postal Museum September 6. The exhibition will display the busy correspondence of Laaksonen from the early 1940s to his dying year, 1991. The exhibition will be displayed until March 29, 2015, in Museum Centre Vapriikki in the new Postal Museum to be opened in Tampere in September.

March 24, 2014

QotD: On Women’s Power

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:05

If you have never been sexually attracted to women, you will never quite understand the monumental power of female sexuality, except by proxy or in theory, nor will you quite know the immense advantage it gives us over men. Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist, which I suppose was the best indicator that my experiment had worked. I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison like a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no.

Sex is most powerful in the mind, and to men, in the mind, women have a lot of power, not only to arouse, but to give worth, self-worth, meaning, initiation, sustenance, everything. Seeing this more clearly through my experience, I began to wonder whether the most extreme men resort to violence with women because they think that’s all they have, their one pathetic advantage over all she seems to hold above them. I make no excuses for this. There are none. But as a man I felt vaguely attuned to this mind-set or its possibility. I did not inhabit it, but I thought I saw how rejection might get twisted beyond recognition in the mind of a discarded male where misogyny and ultimately rape may be a vicious attempt to take what cannot be taken because it has not been bestowed.

There were other surprising discoveries. With all the anger I felt flowing in my direction — anger directed at the abstraction called men — I was not expecting to find, nestled within the confines of female heterosexuality, a deep love and genuine attraction for real men. Not for women in men’s bodies, as the prejudicial me had thought. Not even just for the metrosexual, though he has his audience, but for brawny, hairy, smelly, stalwart, manly men; bald men, men with bellies, men who can fix things and, yes, men who like sports and pound away in the bedroom. Men whom women loved for being men with all the qualities that testosterone and the patriarchy had given them, and whom I have come to appreciate for those very same qualities, however infuriating I still find them at times.

Dating women was the hardest thing I had to do as Ned, even when the women liked me and I liked them. I have never felt more vulnerable to total strangers, never more socially defenceless than in my clanking suit of borrowed armour. But then, I guess maybe that’s one of the secrets of manhood that no man tells if he can help it. Every man’s armour is borrowed and 10 sizes too big, and beneath it he’s naked and insecure and hoping you won’t see.

That, maybe, was the last twist of my adventure. I passed in a man’s world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball. Eventually I realised that my disguise was the one thing I had in common with every guy in the room. It was hard being a guy.

Rather than choosing to become a woman again, it is probably truer to say that I reverted to form. I stopped faking it. I came back to myself, proud, free and glad in every way to be a woman.

Norah Vincent, “Double agent” (an edited extract from Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised As A Man), Guardian, 2006-03-18.

March 13, 2014

Feminist writer picks fight with the Trans* community

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:06

Julie Burchill is a British feminist who writes for the Guardian and the Spectator, and has had spats with the Trans* community before. Her most recent provocation was in the comments section of an article at Vice, where she got particularly cranky:

Burchill made the comments on a Vice Magazine column by prominent trans activist and journalist Paris Lees, in which she talked about catcalling, and questioned whether enjoying the attention of men in the street effectively made her a “bad feminist.”

The Sugar Rush writer said: “Paris, you like it because you ARE still a YOUNG GAY BOY. And that’s what YOUNG GAY BOYS LIKE! Bless!

“Paris, if you were a BORN WOMAN, bothered since the age of 12 by GROWN MEN, you wouldn’t find it fun. You’d find it boring, wearisome, wearing. When you’re a plain old trans, ten years from now, you’ll get a big old identity crisis on, if you rely on random lechery for self-esteem.

“I bet B*tch [Paris Lees] will come up with a ‘sexy reason’ for foot-binding next. [Female Genital Mutilation], even. Didn’t I hear that a ‘transwoman’ thought we Radical Feminists were fussing about too much about FGM? What price the genital mutilation of a 7 year old brown-skinned girl child when THE MOST IMPORANT THING IN THE WORLD is big white blokes having their cocks cut off on the NHS?

[...]

She went on: “No human who did not grow up as a girl can call themselves a woman. Any more than a white human can become a black human. Delude yourselves all you like, but in the way you lot harass born women, your bully boy side always shines through. And no amount of lipstick and plastic tits can cover that up.”

She deleted the comments and posted an apology, but clearly the damage had been done.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

March 12, 2014

The “affirmative consent” meme meets the “purity test” form

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

As we’re regularly informed by media outlets and websites, we are in the middle of a rape epidemic, with skyrocketing rates of rape (especially on the campus). Wendy McElroy discusses the new White House initiative for “affirmative consent” and the actual statistics on sexual crimes:

It is called “affirmative consent.” It is a new front in the growing regulatory oversight of the most intimate aspect of personal life: making love or having sex. If the White House Council on Women and Girls gets its way, then the doctrine of affirmative consent will regulate sex on a campus near you. It may already be happening.

Affirmative consent is sometimes called “enthusiastic consent” or “yes means yes.” It is intended to replace the current standard of “no means no.” By that standard, the noninitiating sexual partner — almost always assumed to be the woman — needs to decline sex in some manner for the act to be legally viewed as rape. She can verbally decline, try to leave, or push the man away; her “no” can be expressed in many ways.

[...]

The legal standard of affirmative consent is said to solve these perceived problems. The person initiating sex must receive explicit consent before and throughout the sex act in order to escape the specter of rape. In practical terms, this means the man must receive explicit consent from the woman prior to and during a sex act, or he becomes vulnerable to being criminally charged.

When I read this, I instantly imagined a re-worked “sexual purity test” questionnaire for the new affirmative consent requirement. If it hasn’t already been done, I’m sure it’ll be posted somewhere within the week.

On the rather more dubious claim that rape is increasing, the stats don’t back that up at all:

There is a proximate cause for the growing campaign to assert affirmative consent on campuses and in legislatures. On January 22, 2014, the White House Council on Women and Girls issued a paper entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” (PDF). It stated, “1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.” That’s a stunning statistic. Or, it would be, if it were true. It is not. And the New York Times headline, “Obama Seeks to Raise Awareness of Rape on Campus,” printed on the same day as the council’s report was released, can’t turn falsehood into truth. Nevertheless, the task force established in the wake of the report will almost certainly validate its findings and act on them.

The truth: the rate of rape has fallen sharply since 1979.

In March 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice reported,

    From 1995 to 2005, the total rate of sexual violence committed against U.S. female residents age 12 or older declined 64% from a peak of 5.0 per 1,000 females in 1995 to 1.8 per 1,000 females in 2005 (figure 1, appendix table 1). It then remained unchanged from 2005 to 2010. Sexual violence against females includes completed, attempted, or threatened rape or sexual assault. In 2010, females nationwide experienced about 270,000 rape or sexual assault victimizations compared to about 556,000 in 1995. [PDF.]

The White House Council’s report is also biased in its presumption that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women. The council states that “1 in 71” men is raped in his lifetime, as opposed to “1 in 5” women during her college years. But this figure appears to conflict with the landmark 2007 “Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates” conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) within the Department of Justice (DOJ). The BJS report indicated that around 60,500 prisoners were sexually abused in one year alone. Since the prison population is overwhelmingly male, it is reasonable to assume most of the victims were male as well. (Indeed, of the ten prison facilities found to have the highest incidence of “nonconsensual sexual acts,” eight had only male prisoners [PDF].)

February 27, 2014

Women writing about sex

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:01

In The Atlantic, Claire Dederer writes about the problems women have in writing about sex. Remember the old saw about men not understanding women? (Hint: they don’t.) Dederer admits that women also don’t understand women, at least when it comes to sex.

By now, of course, it’s difficult to think of female desire as in any way hidden. The cultural speculum has been firmly inserted for a good look around. Women have long since learned all about how our tucked-away stuff works, with pioneers of second-wave feminism as our guides: Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically standard-issue along with the dorm-room furniture when I arrived at my very liberal college in 1985. Meanwhile, female lust has been thoroughly documented (or at any rate, endlessly and theatrically depicted) by the adult-film industry. How would porn get along without horny females? Science, too, has lately been busy substantiating the existence of girl lust. In his recent tour of burgeoning research into female desire, What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner reports a current verdict: women are at least as libidinous as men.

There it is. We can finally all agree that women want to have sex. Variously portrayed in the past as tamers of men and tenders of children, we’re now deemed well endowed with horniness. But does that mean we experience desire in the same way that men do? My lust tells me we don’t. Mine, I confess, isn’t blind or monumental or animal. It comes with an endless internal monologue — or maybe dialogue, or maybe babel. My desire is always guessing, often second-guessing. Female lust is a powerful force, but it surges in the form of an interrogation, rather than a statement. Not I want this but Do I want this? What exactly do I want? How about now? And now?

At least that’s how it’s always been for me, and I experienced a sense of relief and recognition while reading a recent crop of memoirs whose authors go to great lengths to get at this double- and triple-think thrumming in female desire — only to discover, as I have, just how hard the quest is.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

December 28, 2013

QotD: Dance

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:48

Those Puritans who snort against the current dances are quite right when they argue that the tango and the shimmie are violently aphrodisiacal, but what they overlook is the fact that the abolition of such provocative wriggles would probably revive something worse, to wit, the Viennese waltz. The waltz never quite goes out of fashion; it is always just around the corner; every now and then it comes back with a bang. And to the sore harassment and corruption, I suspect, of chemical purity, the ideal of all right-thinkers. The shimmie and the tango are too gross to be very dangerous to civilized human beings; they suggest drinking beer out of buckets; the most elemental good taste is proof enough against them. But the waltz! Ah, the waltz, indeed! It is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely. It does its work, not like a college-yell or an explosion in a munitions plant, but like the rustle of the trees, the murmur of the illimitable sea, the sweet gurgle of a pretty girl. The jazz-band fetches only vulgarians, barbarians, idiots, pigs. But there is a mystical something in “Weiner Blut” or “Kiinstler Leben” that fetches even philosophers.

The waltz, in fact, is magnificently improper the art of tone turned bawdy. I venture to say that the compositions of one man alone, Johann Strauss II, have lured more fair young creatures to lamentable complaisance than all the hypodermic syringes of all the white slave scouts since the fall of the Western Empire. There is something about a waltz that is simply irresistible. Try it on the fattest and sedatest or even upon the thinnest and most acidulous of women, and she will be ready, in ten minutes, for a stealthy kiss behind the door nay, she will forthwith impart the embarrassing news that her husband misunderstands her, and drinks too much, and cannot appreciate Maeterlinck, and is going to Cleveland, 0., on business to-morrow …

H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: Tempo di Valse”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.

December 12, 2013

Sex and the Romans

Filed under: History, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In the New York Review of Books, Peter Brown reviews a new book on the evolution of our knowledge about Roman sexuality at the start of the Christian era:

One of the most lasting delights and challenges of the study of the ancient world, and of the Roman Empire in particular, is the tension between familiarity and strangeness that characterizes our many approaches to it. It is like a great building, visible from far away, at the end of a straight road that cuts across what seems to be a level plain. Only when we draw near are we brought up sharp, on the edge of a great canyon, invisible from the road, that cuts its way between us and the monument we seek. We realize that we are looking at this world from across a sheer, silent drop of two thousand years.

Antiquity is always stranger than we think. Nowhere does it prove to be more strange than where we once assumed that it was most familiar to us. We always knew that the Romans had a lot of sex. Indeed, in the opinion of our elders, they probably had a lot more than was quite good for them. We also always knew that the early Christians had an acute sense of sin. We tend to think that they had a lot more sense of sin than they should have had. Otherwise they were very like ourselves. Until recently, studies of sex in Rome and of Christianity in the Roman world were wrapped in a cocoon of false familiarity.

Only in the last generation have we realized the sheer, tingling drop of the canyon that lies between us and a world that we had previously tended to take for granted as directly available to our own categories of understanding. “Revealing Antiquity,” the Harvard University Press series edited by Glen Bowersock, has played its part in instilling in us all a healthy sense of dizziness as we peer over the edge into a fascinating but deeply strange world. Kyle Harper’s book From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity is a scintillating contribution to this series. Not only does it measure the exact nature of the tension between the familiar and the deeply unfamiliar that lies behind our image of the sexual morality of Greeks and Romans of the Roman Empire of the classical period. It also goes on to evoke the sheer, unexpected strangeness of the very different sexual code elaborated in early Christian circles, and its sudden, largely unforeseen undermining of a very ancient social equilibrium in the two centuries that followed the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 312. As Harper makes plain on the first page of his dense and vivid book, “Few periods of premodern history have witnessed such brisk and consequential ideological change. Sex was at the center of it all.”

December 5, 2013

QotD: Wisdom, grief, and “unmentionables”

Filed under: Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:48

I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. Back then, when I was twenty and shiny with immorality and dew, I didn’t get loss. I’d experienced it, of course, but I hadn’t lived long enough to accumulate that patina of loss that I have now at 51. Enough years on this wet blue planet and you’re positively shellacked in loss, one coat over another, dulling your coat like so much floor wax. Back then, when I was twenty, I didn’t get loss and I didn’t get what a new set of extraordinary unmentionables could do for you.

Chelsea G. Summers, “unmentionables, the first”, pretty dumb things, 2013-12-04

December 4, 2013

Prescription contraceptives

Filed under: Business, Law, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:31

Shikha Dalmia argues that the fight over forcing companies to cover contraceptive prescriptions is based on a mistaken view of women’s rights:

The administration argues that acquiescing to such arguments would mean allowing bosses or corporate CEOs to restrict women’s choices to promote their own religious beliefs. “Our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor,” noted White House spokesman Jay Carney. But it’s not bosses who pose the bigger barrier to birth control but doctors themselves.

The only reason American women need insurance coverage for contraception is because they can’t buy birth control pills without a prescription — which doctors won’t hand them without an annual exam. Few dispute anymore — not even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — that the pills are perfectly safe requiring neither a medical diagnosis nor supervision. They have side effects like every other medicine but none so serious that can’t be effectively communicated through the usual warning labels. Requiring a medical exam assumes that women can’t be completely trusted with their own health. But such paternalism is counterproductive: Most women who stop taking pills don’t do so because they can’t afford them without insurance. (A one-month generic supply from Costco costs $25.) They do so because they can’t always make the time for a doctor’s visit when their prescription runs out. This problem is especially acute for working women — professional or others.

The birth control issue shouldn’t be cast in terms women’s rights versus religious rights. That’ll turn it into a lose-lose proposition. Medical paternalism is a far bigger threat to women’s reproductive choices than religious zealotry. Focusing on the first will do more to give women control over their bodies — including the female employees of Hobby Lobby — than a pitched battle against the second.

November 20, 2013

The psychology of female aggression

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

Christopher Taylor linked to this New York Times article by John Tierney about a recent issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society which was devoted to the study of female aggression:

The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety. Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance.

[...]

Stigmatizing female promiscuity — a.k.a. slut-shaming — has often been blamed on men, who have a Darwinian incentive to discourage their spouses from straying. But they also have a Darwinian incentive to encourage other women to be promiscuous. Dr. Vaillancourt said the experiment and other research suggest the stigma is enforced mainly by women.

“Sex is coveted by men,” she said. “Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”

Indirect aggression can take a psychological toll on women who are ostracized or feel pressured to meet impossible standards, like the vogue of thin bodies in many modern societies. Studies have shown that women’s ideal body shape is to be thinner than average — and thinner than what men consider the ideal shape to be. This pressure is frequently blamed on the ultrathin female role models featured in magazines and on television, but Christopher J. Ferguson and other researchers say that it’s mainly the result of competition with their peers, not media images.

November 15, 2013

Nadine Strossen is against banning “dangerous” ideas

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

Brendan O’Neill talks to former ACLU president and ardent feminist Nadine Strossen about censorship and the demand to ban “rape porn”:

New York City doesn’t only have better buildings, bridges and burgers than London — it also has better feminists.

As British feminists agitate tooth-and-nail for the banning, or at least modesty-bagging, of lads’ mags, rape porn, Page 3 and pop vids, the NYC-based feminist and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Nadine Strossen, tells me she wouldn’t support the censoring or censure or even stigmatisation of any misogynistic material, including the most warped, woman-objectifying porn.

‘As a feminist, I vehemently disagree with the idea that women are sex objects, that women should be raped, that women should be discriminated against or treated unfavourably in any way’, she tells me in her offices at the New York Law School in downtown Manhattan, where she is professor of law. ‘And yet, to paraphrase Voltaire, I would defend to the death your right to say any of those things, and to say them explicitly, and to say them using sexual language.’

But what about the claim that porn, especially the disturbing rape-fantasy stuff, gives some men a skewed impression of women, implanting in their possibly dim-witted heads the idea that women are objects existing solely to satisfy male lust?

‘Well, if the “harm” [she asks for those quote marks] of a certain form of speech is that the idea it is promoting is one of which society disapproves, then that is the exact antithesis of a justification for censoring it’, she says. So far from dodging the cri de Coeur of our censorious age — which is that speech and film and porn and all the rest of it can affect individuals’ view of the world — Strossen turns it into an argument against censorship. ‘Any expression can potentially affect people’s attitudes. That is why speech is so important to protect — precisely because it can influence ideas’, she says.

October 24, 2013

Explaining Japanese culture – “Freud would have a field day”

Filed under: Japan, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:08

It’s commonplace to say “Japan is weird” (I’ve said it myself many times), but even with the constant repetition, I didn’t realize just how weird Japan has become (somewhat NSFW … better not watch this at the office):

Published on 22 Oct 2013

Japan is a country that is dying — literally. Japan has more people over the age of 65 and the smallest number of people under the age of 15 in the world. It has the fastest negative population growth in the world, and that’s because hardly anyone is having babies. In these difficult times, the Japanese are putting marriage and families on the back burner and seeking recreational love and affection as a form of cheap escape with no strings attached. We sent Ryan Duffy to investigate this phenomenon, which led him to Tokyo’s cuddle cafes and Yakuza-sponsored prostitution rings.

August 1, 2013

Stereotypes of pornography consumers

Filed under: Britain, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:05

James Delingpole had far too much fun writing this column:

You may be aware that David Cameron — as part of a secret, Lynton Crosby-inspired operation codenamed Suck Up Shamelessly To The Embittered Authoritarian Killjoy Harpies At Mumsnet — has decreed that as from next year the default option when you sign a contract with your new internet provider will be ‘No porn in this household, thank you. I think it’s a disgrace.’

Superficially (and does this coalition ever think any other way?) I can see this makes a lot of sense. After all, what do a growing national debt, falling living standards, rising inflation, skyrocketing energy prices, out-of-control immigration, Weimar-style money-printing, a burgeoning new housing bubble, a failed health service and a collapsing infrastructure matter when you’ve got the most important problem of our times, so to speak, in hand, viz. blokes sneaking a quick one off the wrist while their missus has popped down to Waitrose to stock up on Mabel Pearman’s Burford Brown eggs, Isigny Ste Mere unsalted butter and that Duchy Originals cider on special offer at just £1.45 a bottle?

According to James, nowadays women are about as likely to go looking for pornography on the internet as men are:

But according to some of my techie friends, this isn’t the case at all. They’re the ones who have to clear up all the viruses which you accidentally invited into your computer along when you were trying to Google the weather and mistakenly typed in ‘Romanian donkey babes xxx hardcore’ instead.

Here’s what one of them has to say: ‘The very worst I came across was a shared houseful of young ladies. It took over eight hours to do just the first pass with the antivirus software. That pass removed over 58,000 pieces of malware and spyware, and just under 2,000 viruses. It took all the next day to finish cleaning their computer. I told them it was the worst case of an infected computer I had ever come across, and one asked how it had happened for it to be so bad. Easy I said. Porn sites. They all went bright red and then the hilarity ensued, as the finger pointing started.’

[...]

I realise, of course, that there are still plenty of puritans out there who feel differently. To them I quote first Thomas Sowell: ‘What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don’t like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don’t expect freedom to survive very long.’ And second, Pastor Niemoller: ‘First they came for the wankers…’.

July 22, 2013

The latest revival of the anti-pornography crusade

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:10

Laurie Penny explains why the renewed urge to blame pornography for social ills is misplaced:

We’ve been here before. The debate about the causes of sexual violence has been going on since the feminist porn wars of the 1980s, which were both more and less exciting than they sound and involved a great deal of shouting in draughty meeting rooms. The internet is the current culprit, but the arguments against explicit material are exactly the same as they were when the main smut delivery systems were rental videos and grubby mags. In 1981, the writer Ellen Willis noted that “if anti-porn feminists see pornography as a brutal exercise of predatory male sexuality, a form of (and incitement to) violence against women, the right also associates pornography with violence and with rampant male lust broken loose from the saving constraints of God and Family”. Today, the same social conservatives who are cutting child benefit and closing domestic violence shelters still borrow freely from feminist rhetoric about exploitation of women and children when it suits them.

The worst thing about this debate is that it turns a real-world, complex problem into a simple moral choice: porn is either good or bad, right or wrong, and not one shade of grey can be permitted, let alone 50. Having watched a great deal of pornography in the name of research and recreation, I can assure you that not all of it is violent, and indeed that almost any sexual taste, from the placid and petal-strewn to the eyebrow-raisingly reptilian, is catered to online for a modest fee. It is equally true that there is something traumatic about a lot of modern-day pornography, something repressed, violent and deeply involved with a particularly vengeful misogyny that has been on the rise only since women have become more economically independent over the past two generations. Some people like that sort of thing; others have grown up learning it as an erotic script, because sex is fundamentally a social idea. To say that dirty pictures are the problem in themselves, rather than a structure of violent misogyny and sexual control, is to confuse the medium with the message.

One of the most common retorts to the anti-porn alliance is that to campaign against online smut is to do something disgusting and decidedly post-watershed into the wind. The genie of unlimited filth has been let out of its dodgy bottle and no amount of legislation will stop us polishing our lamps.

That’s true, but it’s inadequate. After all, I spend my life, as an idealist and a feminist, arguing that vast, ambitious social change is not only possible but essential. Controlling the consumption of online pornography would require an enormous programme of state and corporate censorship, and the argument against this sort of socio-sexual state control should be not that it is unfeasible, but that it is monstrous. I do not want to live in a world where the government and a select few conservative feminists get to decide what we may and may not masturbate to, and use the bodies of murdered women or children as emotional pawns in that debate.

It is supremely difficult to achieve radical ends by conservative means. Feminists and everyone who seeks to end sexual violence should be very cautious when their immediate goals seem to line up neatly with those of social conservatives and state censors. I believe in a world where violence against women and children is not routine. After all, the idea of a world without sexism is no more unrealistic than getting rid of pornography — and a lot more fun.

It’s useful to keep in mind when claims about pornography being responsible for cases of sexual assault or rape … as the availability of porn on the internet has increased, incidences of violent sexual crimes have been decreasing in most countries. That little fact seems to get omitted when the accusations are being hurled.

Update: Simon Bisson says that the “key to cleaning up the internet is tackling the darknets, not letting censorship in by the back door”.

The latest proposals to lock down the UK internet in the name of preventing child pornography are at best a misunderstanding of how the dark side of the internet works, and at worst a basis for a censorship infrastructure that could make the Great Firewall of China look like a leaky sieve.

In an interview with the BBC, prime minister David Cameron proposed that search engines should block certain terms, warning users of the consequences of searching for those terms.

While that’s all very well, it’s an approach that’s not going to stop the real trade in illegal images — which never touches the big search engines, and hides behind encryption and custom-built networks that Peter Biddle and three other Microsoft engineers christened “darknets” in their 2002 paper. That flaw makes the proposals both misguided and dangerous, as the Open Rights Group notes in its considered response.

The problem facing anyone trying to block child porn or online drug dealing is that it doesn’t happen on the public internet. Online criminals know what they’re doing is illegal, and they’ll take complex precautions to hide their locations and the services.

[...]

While Silk Road is a publicly-known darknet site, there are many, many more that are only known to a small group of trusted individuals, bound together to secrecy in the knowledge that what they are doing is illegal. It’s on sites like those that illegal images and video are traded and shared, and bought and sold.

You won’t find them in the web space your ISP gives you, or through searches on Google or Bing. They’re squirreled away at the end of a DSL line somewhere well away from the jurisdiction of the UK government, in a country with loose regulations, and looser policing. Or worse still, they’re hosted in the fast flux DNS of a bot network, distributed across the unwitting PCs of hundreds or thousands of innocent users.

Stopping the web’s bad guys is not a matter of censoring the internet. That’s impossible. What’s needed instead is an international agreement on notice and take down for illegal content, and on shared intelligence about the servers and services criminals are using, with cooperation on shutting down botnets and cybercrime syndicates.

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