Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

re: my recent sex doll outburst

Ok, so now that I've had a couple of beers, a nanna nap and a nice cup of coffee, I might be able to comment on this more objectively, instead of going off half-cocked like I did earlier. I tend to only blog when I'm angry, which is a habit I probably need to kick.

I didn't want to make this an attack on the author and I'm really annoyed at myself for having done so. (If the person in question happens to read this, please accept my heartfelt apology). It was the session content I took issue with and, whilst that's obviously intrisically linked to the book, I'd prefer to focus solely on the topics raised in the session.

- The sex doll as the 'perfect woman' - controlled, obedient and silent.
The words 'control', 'silence' and 'perfect' were repeated over and over during the presentation. Now, I'm not doubting that there are people out there who like their sex partners to do what they're told and keep their mouth shut. I also know that there are traditional standards of feminine beauty that many men find sexually desirable. What I don't agree with is the suggestion that most men consider these things essential in a 'perfect woman'.

To be honest, I found that assertion extremely insulting to both men and women. I don't believe that men wield their penises as weapons, subduing and conquering a string of (female) partners, on a life-long quest to find the perfect automaton. I don't believe that women are valued solely for their vaginas and that having agency makes them somehow less than 'perfect'. I simply do not believe that the average man wants to have complete control over a silent, obedient woman. Full stop.

I'm not saying that the presenter personally believes this to be the case, but this is the premise that much of the discussion was built on. When the basic premise is so inherently flawed, the conclusions are bound to have some holes in them.

- Similar types of aberrant sexual activity - the desire for control and emotionless, one-sided sex can be seen in men's attraction to prostitutes. Firstly, this stereotype doesn't accurately reflect the power dynamic in commercial sex exchanges, nor the degree of intimacy involved. Secondly, having sex with a living, breathing sex worker is in no way similar to having sex with an inanimate object - the blatant dehumanisation of sex workers in that statement is utterly abhorrent.

If anything, I'd consider the motivation behind visiting sex workers to be the exact opposite of what was stated in the session. These men could have sex with sex dolls and other vagina-like sex toys, or they could masturbate. Instead, they pay to have sex with another human being. If you compare the number of men who have sex with sex dolls to the number of men who visit sex workers, I think you'll find substantially more men pay for sex - that is, the two activities are not so similar as to be interchangeable.

Sex workers are not some non-human entity devoid of emotions or agency. There is absolutely no difference between having sex with a sex worker and having sex with a stranger from the pub, only we don't judge people for the latter. Choosing a sex worker over an unpaid stranger does not make a man an emotionally stunted control freak, any more than choosing vanilla icecream over chocolate makes you a racist.

- Similar types of aberrant sexual activity - porn, again. Whilst watching porn may be somewhat similar, in that it's a masturbatory aid, the presenter seemed to have a hard time separating the porn movie from the porn actress. As with sex workers, comments were made about the women involved being degraded, controlled and forced to engage in unwanted (and unenjoyable) sexual activity, and that porn consumers prefer their women to be that way. The larger porn debate is not one I want to get into right now, but the assumption that a porn actress is living the part she's playing is nonsensical - we wouldn't assume the same thing of a Hollywood actress or TV soapie star. We should also credit men with the intelligence to tell the difference between an actress and the character she's portraying on screen.

Again, there is that underlying idea that sex is something that men do to women, that women tolerate begrudgingly. Any woman appearing to enjoy lots of sex (sex workers, porn stars) must be either forced or damaged. It then follows that a man who engages in sex with a forced or damaged woman must be some kind of monster.

- Having sex with sex dolls can become addictive
Call me crazy, but I just don't see a problem with that. Does it really matter whether a person shags his doll once a week or three times a day? Who is it hurting? People do become addicted to sex. Some of the more problematic consequences of sex addiction include infidelity, over-spending (on sex workers or mistresses) and the risks associated with unprotected sex. None of these things apply to a sex doll addiction.

- Sex doll use may act as a gateway to the mistreatment of actual people
I'm not sold on the idea of 'gateway' activities. They say that marijuana is a gateway drug, but if everyone who smoked pot graduated to the hard stuff, more than half our population would have a heroin addiction.

I just don't see having sex with a corpse as a natural progression from sex dolls. I don't think someone who beats the crap out of an inanimate object would enjoy seeing a real partner scream and cry and bleed. I don't think a man who has sex with a young-looking doll will end up raping a child.

I tend to see the gateway argument as just another attempt at enforcing morality, based on the belief that if you indulge in one deviant activity, you probably won't have any qualms about engaging in others. I can't think of any examples of 'positive' gateway activities. Nobody warns you that volunteering might be a gateway to employment. We don't fear that taking one person as a life partner will be a gateway to polyamory. It's only when you're doing something naughty (like fucking a sex doll) that you find yourself on the slippery slope.

- Sex doll users have a fear of commitment and don't want to experience real love
This may be the case, but I can also see the opposite being true...that sex dolls could provide a person with unconditional love. Children love their dolls and stuffed toys. They tell them everything, take them everywhere and care for them very deeply - if you want to see how much, just try and toss your kids' favourite toy in the bin. You could also compare it to the love people have for their pets, especially less demonstrative creatures like fish, and some people even feel a strong love for their plants. The fact that a person has sex with their doll is of no real consequence and doesn't make his feelings of love any less real.

- 'Normal' sexual behaviour occurs within a monogamous, long-term, heterosexual relationship.
This wasn't explicitly stated, but it was certainly intimated. The only type of sex discussed was penis in vagina intercourse and the inability to form lasting relationships was repeatedly referred to as a negative outcome. There was no recognition of sex or gender diversity. The power dynamics in gay and lesbian relationships were not explored, nor was it considered that some people might simply choose to remain single.

There was also no exploration into the use of sex toys by women - and when you consider the popularity of vibrators and dildos, that discussion could get quite interesting. Sex dolls might be silent and obedient, but at least they resemble a woman's (entire) body. Are women taking objectification to a whole other level by abandoning all but the penis? Do these oversized, perpetually erect penises have a negative effect on male confidence and body image? Does enjoying complete control over a silent, disembodied dick suggest a misandrist streak or fear of commitment?

Anyway, they are some of the reasons why I was so frustrated with the sex dolls session. I don't believe the presenter was intentionally sexist or that he meant any offense - I just think the scope of the study was way too limited and the perspective too one-sided. And I will repeat that I have NOT read the book and for all I know, the information may be presented in an entirely different way. If so, I'm happy to stand corrected. (I will also go back and remove my unnecessarily nasty recommendation not to buy the book, which I had no right to say). But I did find the content of the Swancon session really hard going and I vehemently disagree with a number of the conclusions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Swancon36/Natcon50: SO MUCH SQUEE

On my first day of Swancon, as I gazed in wide-eyed wonder at a wall of Doctor Who merchandise, I heard a sharp intake of breath beside me and a female voice exclaimed "OH MY GOD! SO MUCH SQUEE!!!"

That statement pretty much sums up my entire weekend.

The panels - bar one*** - were exceptional. Amongst my favourites were Alan Baxter's workshop on writing authentic fight scenes (including simulated punch-ups between participants), Nicole R Murphy's presentation on writing sex scenes (NOT including simulated sex between participants!) and a fascinating session called 'Ghosts in the Machine: AI and The Human Mind' (panel included Justina Robson and Sean Williams).

My overall favourite would have to be the Series Four Doctor Who (Hartnell and Troughton) session, which showed heaps of rare/lost footage and audio, complemented by expert commentary and behind-the-scenes info from the panel. It included an emotional video tribute to Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane Smith - half the room were sobbing their hearts out by the end - and another for Nicholas Courtney/The Brigadier. There was also a wake held for Sarah Jane and The Brigadier in the public bar on Saturday night.

This is only my third Swancon, but it's obvious there is a very large and passionate Who community in Perth and each year, the Doctor Who panels/events have made the top of my favourites list. If any of the folks involved happen to be reading this, THANK YOU.

I've never been to any other sci-fi conventions, but I've seen pics and heard many stories from my interstate and international friends. What blows me away about Swancon (and, from what I can gather, sets it apart from many other cons) is just how close you can get to the 'celebrities' of our field. If you read my post about last year's Swancon, you'll remember I had a major geekgasm over casually chatting with the likes of Ian Irvine and Richard Harland, and getting blind drunk with Scott Sigler. Let's not mince words here - that was nothing short of FUCKING AWESOME.

This year I found myself on a hunt for midnight munchies with Sylvia Kelso, teased Alan Baxter at the bar, danced like a mad woman to the music of DJ Sean Williams, philosiphised about small towns and family with Ian Nichols, talked sex with Nicole R Murphy, cuddled (at the behest of a Twitter friend) Paul Kidd, dodged (without success) Ellen Datlow's camera, and took happy snaps of Justina Robson. Just to mention a few. Again... nothing short of FUCKING AWESOME! Sometimes I regret living in the small-town backwater that is Western Australia, but Swancon is NOT one of those times.

Like all things, my Swancon experience had a downside. I raised the issue, for the second year running, of the exclusion of newbies as something the committee really needs to address. I know this exclusion isn't intentional, but the tight-knit groups of regular attendees can make new people feel very unwelcome. This is my third Swancon and each time I've ended up hanging out with people from interstate or overseas, because they often feel as left out as I do. If Swancon wants to broaden its fan base and increase its numbers, something really needs to be done about the isolation felt by newbies. This year I was a little better off thanks to Twitter - I'd met some Perth peeps online (and in person at #wawonkdrinks) and one of those people went out of his way to ensure that I felt included. His kindness made all the difference. Thank you, Nick!

All in all, Swancon was - all together now - FUCKING AWESOME. Thank you to the Swancon committee, the volunteers, the guest authors, the Whovians, the Perth Twitter geeks and everyone else who made my weekend so memorable. See you next year!

*** OH. MY. GOD...the 'Dolls of Desire: Man's Unnatural Selection of the Perfect Woman' presentation. I can't even begin to tell you how furious this session made me.

I haven't read the book and, after attending that session, I have no intention of ever doing so. But if the presentation is anything to go by, the book is a study based on a COMPLETELY FALSE PREMISE. I sat there with steam coming out of my ears as this white, heterosexual man talked about what it means to be a sex worker or porn star, denied women their agency and sexual enjoyment, described men as inherently abusive control freaks, demonised 'alternative' sexual behaviours like BDSM and polyamory, and invisibilised gay, lesbian and trans* folks. I had so many things I wanted to scream about that I was struck dumb and couldn't say anything at all.

To be honest, I had planned to give a constructive critique of this presentation, but I've realised I'm still too angry to comment politely on it. I was blown away by the level of sexist, stereotypical bullshit... and anyone who knows me in the real world knows I've dealt with a shitload of sexist, stereotypical bullshit in my time.

All I can say is... as a sex positive woman, I found this session incredibly frustrating.

[Edited because I let my temper get the better of me and behaved like an outrageously rude bitch.]