Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Secret Porn

It was maybe a month after separating from my ex-husband that I stumbled across his secret pornography stash. Since my solitary return from a visit to Ex-Husband's hometown and family, I had been rattling around in a house filled with memories. I had gone so far as to take down our wedding photograph from the mantelpiece, and to stash my wedding ring out of sight, but eventually I sought closure and determined to pack away his clothes, his books, his general flotsam and jetsam. To get them out of sight, and maybe out of mind. And then, halfway through the bureau, underneath a stack of shirts, I found The Stash.

As far as pornography stashes go, it wasn't a big one. Maybe a dozen DVDs, no magazines. But the DVDs themselves... suffice to say that sample titles included CumDripperz and Meat Holes. The back covers variously promised "the best ass-pounding anal-action!", "rim-jobs!", "chicks choking on huge dicks!" and more.

A thousand questions began to formulate in my mind. Where had he gotten these? When had he been watching them? How could he have been aroused by such degrading images and misogynistic titles? I was weakly outraged - too shocked and hurt to really process the reality that the man I had married had apparently been jerking-off in secret to images of women being pounded and choked to within an inch of their ability to breathe.

Several days later, when he called about having his things shipped, I coldly intoned that I had found The Stash. Trying to keep my voice level, I asked if he had any explanation for why he had brought such hateful material into my house.

"Well, yeah," he laughed in high merriment. "I'm a bloke!"

Ah yes, that old chestnut. Men are men, and women are women, and never the twain shall meet. My distaste at his conduct was to be laughed off - a woman couldn't understand the kinds of sexual frustration that men apparently endure, or his means of addressing them. She has no right to judge a man's sexual tastes, even if she is having sex with him.

A lot of things fell into place. I remembered how Ex-Husband had degraded me as a "stupid c---", how he had sometimes been violent towards me and destructive of our possessions. I remembered how he revered his alcoholic, absent father, but consistently denigrated his mother, who had raised him on her own. I remember doing most or all of the housework, even when he was unemployed (which was often). But somehow, the porn hurt worst of all.
Ex-husband had given himself a carte blanche to watch women in a situation which was at best degrading, and at worst bordering upon violent, without the need to question his motives.

In the years since that day, I have increasingly wondered how many men feel a similar way. I am lucky enough to have found a Clever Partner who largely finds pornography to be unsettling rather than arousing, and to have friends who share my viewpoint that watching misogynistic pornography (as opposed to "couples porn") is a sign of bad taste, under-developed sexuality and latent or overt disrespect towards women. However, other friends claim that films like Meat Holes are a bit of a laugh, and that men can watch them without taking on negative attitudes about women. Women, they claim, will have to learn to take it less seriously and accept that their partners will watch it.

I, for one, won't be accepting that. I find it very difficult to believe that a man could simultaneously enjoy a film depicting female orifices as Cum-Dripping Meat Holes and respect me as a sexual partner.

Is it a man's right to watch porn?
Is it a woman's right to be angry if he does?
Does watching pornography imply a man's disrespect for women?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Should men get a say in abortion law?

The Australian Federal Government has reversed its stance on allocation of foreign-aid dollars, in that funding can now be directed towards family-planning services, including education, contraception, and in cases where it is required, abortion. A key factor in this decision was the protection of vulnerable women, who may be forced to resort to dangerous, unhygienic and life-threatening backyard abortions. And, worse yet, attempts to self-abort using such refined tools as baling wire, cooking implements, or poisonous abortifacients.

Cue the flood of letters to the Sydney Morning Herald. Most were supportive of the leglislation change, but then we have the predictable response from one Kevin Hogan, who opined that it was: "a betrayal of all women... (the government is) forcing these poor people into Western-funded abortion clinics rather than addressing the real issues."

My immediate reaction to this statement was one of annoyance at a man who considered himself a commentator on the needs of women. Ignoring the fact that nobody is forcing abortions on these women (there has been a long-standing need and desire for family planning services in the regions in question), and that the "real issues" are overpopulation, poverty, lack of effective contraception and lack of female autonomy over reproduction, I wondered how appropriate it is for a man to weigh into this debate at all.

A close male friend of mine consistently refuses to participate in these arguments. He once told me that he didn't think men should. "It's not up to us," he said. "No man will ever have to have an abortion, so they shouldn't be making the laws for women who will. It's up to women to decide." Unknowingly, he echoed the words of a Planned Parenthood advertisement, which reads that "Seventy-seven percent of anti-abortion leaders are male. One hundred percent of them will never be pregnant."

It's a fraught issue. Yes, men won't have to undergo it personally, but as abortion is a public health matter, it can be argued that men shouldn't be excluded from the public debate where standards are set. And, there's no indication that women are more likely than men to bring reasoned debate to the table when it comes to abortion - some of the most vociferous emotional blackmail thrown around actually comes from women, vis a vis Nancy Reagan's public statement that "if you have an abortion, you are committing murder". However, there is something inherently and undeniably distasteful about men attempting to morally dictate to women who are walking in shoes that the men will never wear.

I have to admit, however, that there's an element here of hypocrisy. I am only too happy to hear male politicians and commentators expouse their pro-choice views. It's only when they take the anti-abortion stance that I get angry at men weighing into a domain that does not concern them. Perhaps it comes down to the element of judgment present. Men who support legal abortion are not condemning women for their reproductive choices, whereas the so-called "pro-life" lobby are doing just that.

To what extent should men have a say in abortion law?
Is it fair for men to condemn women who undergo abortions?