Monthly Archives: September 2010

Ways of Seeing: Ravaged or Ravishing?

By Robert Rees

We are bombarded with thousands if not tens of thousands of images every day. Occasionally, two images come into such sharp contrast that they can’t be ignored. Such was the case when I opened the New York Times on Sunday, May 2. On page ten  of that issue is a color photo of a 23 year old Congolese woman. The caption says her lips and right ear have been cut off by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Her shorn head, the blackness of her face, the swollen pink oval around her mouth where her lips had once been (like the exaggerated lips of “Sambo” or minstrel characters once popular in American culture), and the sideway glance of her eyes as someone (perhaps her mother) touches her remaining ear with what seems tenderness. It is an image so heartbreaking as to make one weep.


In Ways of Seeing John Berger says, “The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it. Such authority as it retains is distributed over the whole context in which it appears.” Thus . . .

Immediately across the page from this photo is a full page Lord & Taylor ad of a beautiful white woman with long flowing dark hair, green eyes, perfect lips and two ears from which dangle long bejeweled earrings. She is arrayed in such opulence—necklace, pendant, bracelets, a giant opaline or turquoise ring, that the contrast with the Congolese woman is shocking. The juxtaposition of the two images is heightened by the fact that the Congolese woman wears a simple hand-crafted red and black blouse whereas the model wears what looks like an expensive hand-knitted ivory-colored chemise over a pink lace skirt. She holds in each hand a knitted handbag (“only $89”), each covered with roses and each holding a small dog, so laden that she seems barely able to hold them up. This cornucopia of luxury, this picture of desire would never be found in the Congo, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The ad’s caption—“We all have our creature comforts. . . Some of us more than others”—is so ironic as to be almost beyond irony. The motto compounds the irony: “Shop more. Guilt less.” 

Again, John Berger, “A woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste—indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. . . . To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men.” 

The Congolese woman, like the Greek Princess Philomela whose husband Terus cut out her tongue so she could not reveal that he had raped her, has likewise likely been raped and brutally silenced. The severing of her left ear compounds the violation. She will be so disfigured that probably no man will ever touch her again and no compassionate god will turn her into a nightingale. 

The woman in the Lord and Taylor ad will be ravaged by the eyes of a million men who will yet never touch her skin except in their imaginations. And yet in her wildest imagination this white goddess could never see herself in the place of the black tongueless Congolese woman, nor the Congolese woman ever imagine herself in such a space as the woman in the ad inhabits. 

Both of these images are part of the world we live in, although we tend to keep them in separate compartments of our consciousness. The one is horribly real, the other an unreal arrangement by Madison Avenue designers. On another day when they are not juxtaposed, we might consider each separately, but when they are thrust before us in such stark relief, we can turn from neither–only ponder what they tell us about how some of us have more creature comforts than others and how we can remain “guilt less”—and that we are somehow complicit in both.

 Robert A. Rees teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Early Islam’s Feminist Air

The founders of three great religions, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed (in order of appearance) were remarkably feminist in their leanings. In the month of Ramadan I would like to explore the feminist air of early Islam.

For centuries Muslim women enjoyed greater rights than most women in the world. The Koran gives women the right to work and to own property. Mohammed abolished female infanticide, slavery, and a widow’s obligation to marry her husband’s brother. Indeed, women were given the right to give their consent to marry.

Some things that look sexist today were a great step forward at the time. Women could become heir to one third of what a male inherited. (Since men’s role was to support women they were given extra help.) Muslim women were able to inherit much sooner than their Western sisters.

Islamic men are also allowed to marry up to four wives, and each wife must be treated equally. Doesn’t sound too heavenly to our ears, but this was progress from a time when men could marry as many women as they wanted.

Even the most problematic scripture in the Koran was an improvement. Chapter 4 verse 34 reads, “As for those women whose rebellion you justly fear, admonish them first; then leave their beds; then beat them.” This scripture actually gave women some protection against abuse in that men were cautioned against battering as the first response.

Some Islamic feminists note that there are other definitions for the word “daraba,” than “to beat,” one of which is “to go away.” Something to think about.

With early feminist beginnings it is not surprising that one of the largest, most egalitarian and peaceful societies is West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Yet over time the religion has become increasingly patriarchal in most corners of the world.

In what is claimed “countering Westernization,” Islamic states have kept busy restricting women’s rights, sometimes going against the Koran, as when the Taliban took away women’s right to work, or when the right to consent to marriage is ignored.

As one Islamic feminist put it, “Islam needs to go back to its progressive 7th century roots if it is to move forward into the 21st century.”


Asra Q. Nomani. “A Gender Jihad for Islam’s Future.” The Washington Post. November 6, 2005

Neil MacFarquhar. “Translation of Koran Verse Spurs Debate.” San Jose Mercury News. March 25, 2007. (Originally published in the New York Times.)

Readers Discuss: Porn, Pro and Con

This discussion comes mostly from the post I made to the blog, FreeMeNow. Also see Porn: Pro and Con and reposted Porn: Pro and Con on BroadBlogs.

Love most things pornographic. Not thrilled with Snuff flicks and underage porn at all!!

Pornography destroys men. They get hooked on it and cannot be satisfied by normal sex. Unless you have seen what porno has become – You cannot possibly know just how degrading, demeaning and humiliating it is to women.

 Porn is not what it was 50 years ago, it is now not enough to have sex and look at the women’s parts — now the woman must be hurt, urinated on defecated on and humiliated in every way imaginable all while smiling and seeming to love it and beg for more.

I agree! Equal rights do not mean equal absurdity, equal stupidity or equal degradation. We don’t stoop down to reach their level and call that equal do we?

Instead of asking for more money, more representation in government and the highest job in the nation we are asking for PORN?  We are asking for the right to be used as urinals to be jacked off into and onto? We are asking for the freedom to screw all over the place and be hog tied like swine so we can squeal like pigs for the pleasure of perverts.

God help us and then we wonder why we are murdered at the rate of 4 a day and our little girls are yanked out of their sleeping beds and raped then buried alive after he has had his fill. Porn leads to more porn which leads to kidde porn.

Women are women’s worse enemies. And I agree we don’t need laws to stop PORN – we need women to stop porn – the animals who use it won’t. If we elevate ourselves and unite- as a majority we will have the power to get for ALL women exactly what we want and need and will never again have to be used like this.

I think the porn that is available today is gross and should go the way of the dinosaur. Having said that, if porn were more female friendly (i.e. consensual sex with a partner, foreplay etc) it could be a good thing for society.

A recent content analysis of the 50 best-selling adult videos revealed that across all scenes, a total of 3,376 verbal and/or physically aggressive acts were observed. On average, scenes had 11.52 acts of either verbal or physical aggression, ranging from none to 128. Forty-eight percent of the 304 scenes analyzed contained verbal aggression, while more than 88% showed physical aggression.

Seventy-two percent of aggressive acts were perpetrated by men; 94% of aggressive acts were committed against women.

The most common responses victims expressed when aggressed were either pleasure or neutrality. Fewer than 5% of the aggressive acts provoked a negative response from the female victims, including flinching and requests to stop the action. This pornographic “reality” was further highlighted by the infrequency of more positive behaviors, such as verbal compliments, embracing, kissing, or laughter.

I think when we outlaw anything it increases the desire to have it. 

That being said, porn is an estimated $13 billion industry. While I do not think that it should be celebrated I also do not think that porn of the 2000’s is as objectifying a porn of say the 70’s.  It is also a plus that more women in the industry are getting behind the camera and creating a woman’s version of porn.  

Men view sex differently than women. Porn just shows that difference on a mass level. The majority of porn is done with consenting adults.  No matter the loose subject matter. On the other hand kiddie porn and snuff films deserve the attitude some have towards all porn. Some S&M gets way beyond what some people can watch comfortably, but again, done with consenting adults and fairly well paid adults

As to the question of whether or not porn decreases rape.  I would say of those that have overactive sex drives, yes it does. However, there are many out there that feed off what they view on the screen. It can lead to needing harder core porn on an increasing level. But that is the name of the game with anything and American’s as a whole, suffer from that notion in all aspects of life, not just sexually speaking.

But, the question is how much of that need is driven by societies “distaste” of the subject.  Some get off on knowing that if they watch porn they are now one of the sinners of this world. It is very titillating to sneak through a painted door with age warnings and walk into an expanse that is hidden from the world and is a playground of possibilities and beautiful girls and guys. Very heady stuff.

Perhaps the better question is this…If we embraced sex in all its forms….would there be less rape in this country? If we started treated women as equal to man would there be less objectification of women as a whole? Both are very big “ifs” but I would sure like to try it.

As to the law….when we can not or will not self govern….this is when the law steps in.  If American truly wants to keep “big brother government” out of their lives…perhaps they had better start talking – and listening – and solving issues on their own.  Signing something into law is a cop-out. The lazy way to address issues. Even if there becomes a law that forbids porn of any kind….what manpower will be there to enforce it?  And in the bigger picture of things is porn worthy of law enforcement at the level of catching a murderer? Pick your poison.

I feel porn is degrading and dehumanizing for women. The female becomes an object; males view them as an object, a piece of trash, especially if females submit to the degradation.

 The video games Grand Theft Auto; the musical lyrics of the Rapper Two Live Crew were so filthy; disgusting that a Florida attorney was so repulsed he sued them, to prevent the public airing during normal day hours… and won.

I absolutely agree with that stand …our children should not have the smut forced upon them under the guise that freedom of speech allows it! What about decency laws??? Parents shouldn’t feel compelled to keep their children under continual surveillance either. Sadly that atty after 30 yrs of clean honest practice of law suffered the wrath of Hollywood’s enormous power to force the smut …he was disbarred by the state of Florida and has fought a valiant fight but even the feds are submissive to the powers of the Hollywood elite at the detriment of the people  ….and I want to know why Hilary Clinton won’t take a stand on that??? She had supported the lawyer during the initial battle but abandoned him in his time of need, as did the US Supreme Court; the so called justice system.

 Back to the issue of porn…..I think a poll of HS and college students would also be very revealing; I’d bet the findings would speak loud & clear that porn is dehumanizing for women …and beauty has nothing to do in the equation …it’s a tool to exploit the female!

Exposure to X-rated films among 522 black females aged 14 to 18, was associated with being 2.0 times more likely to have multiple sex partners, 1.8 times more likely to have sex more frequently, 1.5 times more likely to have not used contraception during the last intercourse, 2.2 times as likely to have not used contraception in the past 6 months, more than twice as likely to have a strong desire to conceive, and 1.7 times more likely to test positive for Chlamydia.

Wingood, G., DiClemente, R., Harrington, K., Davies, S., Hook, E., & Oh, M. (2001). Exposure to X-rated movies and adolescents’ sexual and contraceptive-related attitudes and behaviors, Pediatrics, 107(5), 1116-1119.

We live in a male dominated society, and throughout history, woman who are celebrated are valued as a care takers, as lovers. As creatures to try and put effort to gain their attention. That’s a great thing! Prostitution is the oldest profession. If it wasn’t for prostitutes, the women who were sexually powerful, they wouldn’t have known what pleases a woman and what doesn’t. And that’s what encouraged loosening restrictions on females, and so that changed so much in sex with men and their wives. Women just need to take charge of their sexuality, and recognize their bodies are amaz-ng, especially in this society. So if they by whatever reason, enjoys to have sex on camera, you can’t criticize them for doing so. Its erotica and expressional and sexy if its done in a positive aspect. But when it crosses the line, with anything in life, it has its potential to be dangerous. But porn can be healthy. And normal. Fantasy. And nice done in small amounts. Fair.

Porn is a sickness …a cancer that breeds cancer!!! What a repulsive excuse for behaviors even lower than the animal kingdom!!

 We think we have a civilized society but is it really??? Pretty lowlife when even our children cannot be safe.

That pretty much says it all. And keep in mind this shit gets to our young boys and shapes  their impressionable minds, then our young girls go walking down the street half naked…

You know — it doesn’t take a genius to figure this out ladies. Either you have been brainwashed to think this is ok or there is something seriously wrong and help needs to be found. 

Most girls have been abused in one form or another from birth either verbally, visually or physically and this is the result!

It is not equality that allows us to have our bodies mistreated – it is pure stupidity and to think that you like it is sick and requires attention!

Some people cut themselves, take drugs, drink themselves to death too. That doesn’t make it normal- Get help!

 Related post on BroadBlogs
Porn: Pro and Con


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