Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory Applied to Violence Against Women

I recently wrote a paper for my Advanced Theories of Personality course to apply a personality theory to a current social issue. I chose Bandura's theory in regards to violence against women. It made a lot of sense after hearing the lecture on it and connected so well in my mind. I also thought some of you might enjoy reading it so I decided to share. Enjoy! -Indy

Violence against women is defined as an act or threat of physical, sexual, or mental harm towards women. This is a global problem that spans all countries, races, classes, and cultures, and it is not as rare as people might think. A ten-country study found that up to 71% of women reported physical violence, sexual violence, or both (World Health Organization, 2005). In the United States, it is estimated that women are the victims of about 4.8 million instances of intimate partner violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2009). This problem is not isolated to adult women, as one in five high school girls have also been the victims of physical or sexual intimate partner violence (CDC, 2008a). The CDC (2008b) also found that 10.6% of women are the victims of rape, up to 25% of which are college age and 60.4% of which occurred before the age of 18. Those statistics do not include the unknown number of incidents that are not reported. What could possibly be the cause of such a widespread form of violence? Albert Bandura might argue that this behavior is caused by a combination of learning, cognitive, and environmental factors.

Bandura stated that behaviors can be learned by observation alone without having to perform that behavior first. Observational learning requires paying attention to a model’s behavior and retaining those observations, having a motivation to reproduce the behavior, and the act of reproducing that behavior. This process of modeling is more likely to occur if the observer puts more value on the outcome, the model is similar to or of higher status than the observer, or there is an opportunity to use the behavior. Consider a child who witnesses or experiences violence in the home. Children lack power compared to their parents and are likely to consider them important in their lives. Witnessing violence is a traumatizing experience and the memory of it is likely to remain vivid. It is common that perpetrators were witnesses or victims of violence as children (CDC, 2009). This demonstrates how children might learn about violent behaviors but does not explain why a child would reproduce that behavior as an adult.

Bandura also stated that people pay attention to the consequences, good or bad, of the behavior they observe. They then evaluate those consequences in order to guide their own behavior. If an observed behavior could bring about a desired consequence it is more likely the person will perform that action, thereby reinforcing that behavior and completing the process of enactive learning. While children witnessing violence maintain vivid and traumatizing memories of abuse, they also maintain and think about what resulted from the violence. Violence is often used in order to maintain control and in a relationship. If the victim of violence complies with demands as a result of the violence, the behavior is reinforced for the perpetrator as well as the observer. If the observer finds themselves in a similar situation they will evaluate that situation, their possible actions, and the possible consequences of those actions and act accordingly. The three factors of environment, behavior, and person or cognition interact and influence each other. Bandura referred to that constant process as triadic reciprocal causation. A person can control their behavior and guide their cognitions but it is not always possible for them to control their environment. Behavior can be encouraged and normalized due to observational learning and if a person has not learned that non-violent actions are possible in those situations, they are likely to continue reproducing that violent behavior.

However, that does not mean that violence is automatic or has to remain cyclical. Bandura believes that behavior is the result of human agency or the ability for people to maintain a degree of control over their lives. The concept of human agency takes into account the intention of behavior, forethought of consequences, ability to adjust behavior to changes, and self-reflection of motivations, actions, and consequences. In order for a person to control their behavior they require self-efficacy or the belief that they are capable of controlling their behavior. Self-efficacy is raised due to past successful experiences, observing successful social models, receiving believable social persuasion, and favorable physical and emotional states. For example, a violent person can adjust their repertoire to include non-violent actions by observing non-violent methods, attempting and successfully reproducing non-violent behavior, receiving encouragement to behave in a non-violent way, and reducing anger, anxiety, and other negative feelings.

It is easier to outline the path towards higher self-efficacy than to actually raise it but part of self-efficacy is understanding the amount of effort that is necessary to perform the desired behaviors. People with high levels of self-efficacy eventually increase their ability to self-regulate, reducing the disparity between accomplishments and goals and raising those goals. Self-regulation is the result of observing our own behavior, evaluating it, and our own reactions to our behavior. There are violent offender rehabilitation programs available but the success rate is dismal due to short duration of treatment, often as little as six weeks, and the unwillingness on the part of the offender to change their violent behavior. Rehabilitation would be more successful if offenders were treated for underlying problems in order to relieve negative emotions that may be impairing their openness to observe and learn from positive modeling. Rehabilitation rates would also benefit from increased duration of the programs since personal changes and observational and enactive learning can take a long time, often years.

Bandura, Ross, and Ross conducted a study in 1963 that offered evidence that modeled violence can result in further violence, rather than acting as a catharsis for aggressive tendencies. The original study involved modeling recorded adult violence against an inflatable clown known as a Bobo doll. Bandura and his colleagues went on to conduct studies involving recorded violence by a child, recorded violence with the aggressor wearing a cat costume, and violence by live adult models. They discovered that all children exposed to aggression increased their own aggressive behavior but more so after observing a live model. It was shown that boys were more aggressive than girls and that the effect was more powerful with a male model. In addition, boys were noted to have come up with new aggressive behaviors than the ones that were modeled.

Since then there have been numerous studies done using Bandura’s social cognitive theory to explain and modify behavior. This may be due to the benefit that it uses the same principles to explain and understand behavior as it does to change it. This factor offers very practical, specific guidelines to follow. In addition, it can be applied to a wide range of behaviors including basic, seemingly autonomic ones like driving a car to more complex behaviors such as violence against women. The present article only focused on children as witnesses to violent behavior as a cause of future violence against women but Bandura’s theory can be applied to other causes such as violence against women in media, pornography use, and rape culture. Since the theory is capable of generating more hypotheses to test and there is an innumerable amount of behavior realms to explore, there is an increase in the probability of falsifying the theory. Finally, Bandura’s theory takes a rather optimistic view of human behavior and personality. As a result, changing behavior may seem easier than it really is which may discourage people if immediate results are not achieved. But it does honestly offer the opportunity to understand and reduce the instances of violence against women.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008a). Intimate partner violence: Dating violence fact sheet. Retrieved December 1, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/datingviolence.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008b). Sexual violence facts at a glance. Retrieved December 1, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Understanding intimate partner violence fact sheet. Retrieved December 1, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/IPV_factsheet-a.pdf

World Health Organization. (2005). WHO multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence against women: Initial results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from http://www.who.int/gender/violence/who_multicountry_study/en/index.html

Thursday, 12 November 2009

16 days of activism - schedule preview (not final!)

Sneak preview of what we have in store but subject to change! Keep looking here and here for updates!

Wednesday November 25th
Four Bridges Mainstage
10AM SLT - Welcome address from Ledo. Intro. to events from Siri
10:15 AM SLT - Reading of selected poetry by Gwen Carillon
10:30 - 11:00 AM SLT - Music by TBD
11:00 AM SLT - Intro to Language of Pornography Exhibit by UndoneChaos Enoch

11:10 - Noon - Tour of Launguage of Pornography exhibit with Undone available at installation for questions.

Noon to 1PM SLT - Discussion Group on The Language of Pornography faciliated by Undone Chaos Enoch at the Four Bridges Drum Circle

1PM to 2PM SLT - Music: Truelie Telling
Four Bridges Mainstage

2PM to 3PM SLT - Live Music - This Device
Afghan SL Peace at the Peace Park

3PM to 4PM SLT - any1 Gynoid Exhibit and discussion Elimination of Violence Against Women in Afghanistan
Afghan Peace Exhibit - Peace Park

4PM to 5PM SLT - Music by TBD

5PM - 6PM SLT Opening of Ana Herzogs Exhibit on The Impact of War on Women
Casita Gaia Village - The Women's Center


Thursday November 26th THANKSGIVING IN THE US - NOON LIVE MUSIC Atheene Dononpa at the Imagine Nest

Friday November 27th - 1PM - 2PM SLT Alexjo Magic Discussion on Impact of Israeli Occupation on Palestinian Women
Four Bridges North - Actions Against the Israeli Apartheid Wall Exhibit

Saturday November 28th
10AM - Noon SLT Panel Discussion on Domestic Violence
Panelists: Paty Amiot, millay Freschi, Alexjo Magic, UndoneChaos Enoch
Location: Four Bridges Auditorium

Noon to 1PM - The Poetry of Medora Chevalier, Paulette Felisimo and Serene Bichon
Four Bridges Imagine Nest

1PM to 3PM SLT Panel Discussion on the Status of Women in Different Cultures Throughout the World
Panelists: Alexjo Magic (Israel/Palestine), Afghan Expert (per any1), Nany Kayo (Native American), Paty Amiot (Hispanic Cultures), millay Freschi (US), Is there someone for Europe and Asia?,

3PM to 4PM - LIVE MUSIC - Cylindrain Rutabaga

4PM - 5PM -

5PM - 6PM

6PM - 7PM LIVE MUSIC - Shannon Oherlihy

7PM - 8PM -

Sunday November 29th -Noon SLT - Nany Kayo Presentation on Violence Against Native American Women
Virtual Native Lands
lm TBD

Monday November 30th - Noon SLT Amber from Equaltiy now via skype presents on prostitution and trafficking - Info also providded on vaw games in Japan

Tuesday December 1st - HOLD for Presentation on how AIDS is affecting women - WORLD AIDS DAY

Wednesday December 2nd - Stop Porn Culture slideshow - Zoe Parness and Scylla Rhiandra
1PM SLT - Four Bridges Location TBD

Thursday December 3rd - Noon SLT - Ana Herzog Presentation on The Impact of War on Women - Discussion
Casita Gaia Village - The Women's Center

Friday December 4th

Saturday December 5th - Paty Amiot presents on Femincide in Mexico
10AM SLT - Four Bridges Drum Circle

Sunday December 6th - millay Freschi on The Unique Power of the Feminine
Four Bridges Imagine Nest

Monday December 7th

Tuesday December 8th

Wednesday December 9th - millay Freschi on Women Activists at Risk
5PM SLT - Four Bridges Amnesty International Headquarters

Thursday December 10th - Light Show at Imagine Nest 1PM SLT

Pending Booking timeslots:
Kiko Hunniton - Empowering Women
Meditation Workshop - feminist expidition
working with non sexist men - czamy zsun
presentation on transgender issues - tbd kenelle levenque

[6:47] Kiko Hunniton: very talented artist - check it out http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-348765
[6:47] Kiko Hunniton: or directly his exhibition http://slurl.com/secondlife/Aloha%20Tranquility/110/126/81

Trill Zapatero: Several pieces about the power of the feminine - Working on Instillation

Paulette: Rose Sculpture (INSTALLED!)

Gwen Carillon - Three sculptures, Despair, Rebirth, Stregth (Stregth installed!)

UndoneChaos Enoch - The language of Pornography (Installed on Platform)

Aurakyo Insoo - Imagine Nest (Installed on Platform)

Scylla Rhiandra - Exhibit on Portrayals of VAW in SL (Location TBD)

Carbella Babii - Visual piece (meeting 11/12 to discuss placement)

Medora Chevalier - Stop Stoning culture (INSTALLED)

Jenaia Morane - World AIDS day Exhibit ( To be installed 11/12 or 11/13 - still need quilt to be finished, that will be installed later)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

16 days of activism campaign

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:

  • raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
  • strengthening local work around violence against women
  • establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women
  • providing a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies
  • demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women
  • creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women

A coalition of social justice groups within Second Life will be marking the 16 days campaign here in SL by organising a series of discussions, presentations & exhibits highlighting violence against women internationally.

Topics will include: women fighting for peace in isreal & palestine; the white ribbon campaign and mens role in challenging male violence; anti slavery and trafficking in women;
commercial sexual exploitation & the links between different forms of violence against women; rape and sexual violence as a human rights issue; the situation for women in iran; femicides in mexico; amnesty international campaign on ending violence against women and taking back the tech - representations of vaw in SL.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Green Belt Movement

One thing is for certain, throughout the world, poverty is many times more likely to happen to men than to women. Moreover, due to political, structural, and cultural issues worldwide, women are often in a position where changing poverty status or procuring resources is significantly more difficult.

In Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangar Maathai, has found a way to make a difference with women in poverty. As founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) she has sought to assist women in poverty in connecting with one another and gaining resources in the process. Based in Kenya, the Green Belt movement has mixed ecology with feminism in a way such that both platforms benefit.

Although the ecology and women's rights seem somewhat detached, they go together quite well. The GBM, established in 1976 was response to Maathai the environmental damage afflicting Kenya. Additionally, it was predominately women paid to do the work of caring for the seedlings, distributing, and many times planting the trees. This gave many women an economic resource which they did not previously have access to. By 1986 this movement had moved to 15 counties.

The GBM has also given birth to the The group Women for Change. Based in Kenya, this human rights group which focuses from the perspective of women becoming empowered. Woemen in change works diligently for the the rights, Green Belt Movement works with schools in Kenya to provide natural health and welfare of women in Kenya. Focus on education for young girls, AIDS education, and of course networking with other women's groups. The GBM works towards providing resources which would assist women in leaving poverty.

Please note that this type of activism does not go without some sort of struggle. Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangar Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt movement, has faced threats for her work, and many of those who work with her have been subject to profound violence. Those involved-in the movement have been and sometimes are subject to counter-protests, threats, and of course direct violence.

So really, what does a feminist movement on the other side of the world have to do with someone in a country like the United States. Sometimes, we do not see the structural violence, that violence being poverty. The women who has to walk 2 to five miles a a day just to get firewood to cook for her family in a small village in Africa, the women who is struggling to keep her land as a member of the MST in Brazil, and of course the "welfare mother" in the United States unable to feed her family healthy food because she has $213 in food stamps to last the entire month.

The focus in more western cultures becomes the more overt violence such as rape, assault, unequal wages, and political systems which are still grossly absent women's input and voice. When this happens structural violence is overlooked, and those who are placed at the will of a faulty structure feel alone and marginalized. We forget those women who face daily exhaustion, just trying to get through the day and provide for themselves or their family members. However, it is when we forget these women that they are no longer included in the struggle for all women's rights.

It is all about respect and loving all of our sisters.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Network meeting notes - 12th July 2009

The topic for this week’s meeting was women and poverty.

We heard about the Green Belt movement in Kenya.
It is a human rights group which focuses on the perspective of women planting trees, becoming stewards of the environment and subsequently gaining empowerment. The Green Belt Movement works with schools in Kenya to provide natural resource education. And the group works for the rights, health and welfare of women in Kenya including on education for young girls, AIDS education, and of course networking with other women's groups.

We discussed whether the impact of poverty was greater in women’s lives and whether women were more likely to be poor.
There was a view that contemporary feminism did not address the issues faced by women having to walk miles for firewood and water or women having to survive and feed their children on meagre state benefits/welfare. Does it concentrate too much on issues such as sexuality and equality in the workplace and not on the daily exhausting struggle many women face just in order to survive?
Many of us present had suffered from a shortage of money, or had seen our mothers suffer that way; nevertheless we had never experienced the extreme poverty which so many women in the world have to endure.
However are we more effective when we connect with women with shared life experience?
We heard that studies show that the greatest factor in poverty among older women is the absence of a husband. This is depressing but not surprising since earning potential among women is still lower and welfare and pension systems assume the contribution of an effective ‘bread winner’.
To make the point one member came in an old woman avi.

: last week you were a pink scuba diver
: And I had a better time than as an old lady, let me tell you
: That's...interesting in a disappointing way. D:

We considered how we make these issues more visible as feminists and what are the examples of good practice that we can learn from.
There are the living wage movement and labour unions. In Canada there is the New Democratic Party, which deals a lot with work and poverty issues, but we were not really sure the Democratic Party in the US is quite the same.
Some views :-
I'd argue, though, that feminism does take into consideration the globalization of poverty as well as welfare issues.
I agree that it’s important to have a global political analysis .... However I also believe that to engage others in activity means each individual focusing on issues that have real relevance in their own lives.

I don’t think we should overlook however that women who live in poverty also suffer sexual exploitation and will find it even more difficult to escape it
Environmental issues are not seen as women's issues. Until they are, I believe the fight against poverty will be unsuccessful. Taking an ecofeminist approach, a hierarchical, dominance-based philosophy won’t work environmentally and it also keeps women down. So you don't have to decide whether you want to be a feminist or an environmentalist.
The discussion then took a new turn:-

I'm wondering if there's an undercurrent in this conversation - has academic feminism let women down? Do you feel that academic feminists do a lot of talking, but you don't see them on the streets?
Well, I am an academic who used to be in poverty and I am ashamed to say I still hold a lot of resentment towards the academic world.
I would think their main role would be to inform and enlighten people on subjects and issues they weren't necessarily aware of.
Feminist praxis - reflection and action - and the process of conscientization - a critical consciousness - that freire (liberation theologist and radical educator) are ways that people can be engaged to change their own worlds. starting to look at our own situations and understand the politics behind it. The personal as political in other words.

NB "There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."
—Jane Thompson, drawing on Paulo Freire

I believe there is a place for rigorous intellectual analysis of political issues ...when it comes to actually making changes ... these will only come about ...I believe ...when people get together to make changes in their own lives and communities
like consciousness raising groups .... and the Chinese speak bitterness meetings .... and that whole realisation, wait, it's not just me it's the systems and structures we live under.. the light bulb moment.

There was so much more ...including discussion on how we can have an impact as feminists in SL ....impossible to distil into notes. If you want to be part of the discussion do come to the meetings which are held every Sunday at 1pm SLT.
Next week the topic will be Women of Iran.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Network Meeting - June 28, 2009

This day's meeting of the SLLU Feminist Network was held at the group's exhibit for SL6B (Second Life's 6th Birthday celebration), entitled "Working Together for Fair and Inclusive Communities in Second Life." The exhibit, which is on display in one of 21 SL6B sims especially erected for the birthday celebration, continues to be on display until July 6. Thereafter, it is likely that it will be moved for at least some time to a new location, as yet to be determined. At some point in the near future, the text and some pictures of the exhibit will also be posted on this blog.

The first order of business concerned one element of the group's strategy for combating depictions of violence against women in SL. TR, who is coordinating the group's work to put together a teach-in on the subject of violence, sexual violence, and representations of violence in SL, facilitated this part of the discussion. TR explained that "teach-ins" are events where there are speakers and other forms of information available for people to learn about and talk through. One person suggested that the heated discussions that have been taking place in groups like Amnesty International in-world demonstrate that there is an appetite in SL for more exploration of these issues.

TR sought input from the group about content and themes for the teach-in. The following ideas were suggested:

  • Psychological violence in SL

  • Problems with the Abuse Reporting system, which is inadequate and unsatisfactory. In particular, it was suggested that the current system "reviolates" the victim, in that it is alienating in and of itself, and revictimizes those who seek to use it by (for example) ignoring complaints or the input of complainants.

  • Pornography and social harm

  • How to read images of violence

  • Rules and Regulations in SL regarding depictions of violence, including most obviously the Terms of Service and Community Standards documents
The hope was expressed that the teach-in would involve direct participation from representatives of Linden Lab, and should, ideally, feature speakers from LL, or at least have one or two Lindens in attendance for the proceedings. It was also suggested that participation from representatives of one or more RL organizations working on this issue would be beneficial for a number of reasons.

Another subject of discussion at the meeting was the need to produce a "history" of the SLLUFN, along with an archive, as an institutional record of the group. This would likely appear on the group's blog or wiki, as well as in-world in some form. Part of that history to be explored is the SLLUFN's relationship with its parent organization, the SLLU.

LC, explained that the origin of the group lay in the suggestion from members of the SLLU that the feminist issues raised there be formalized within a separate group. L went on to suggest that there might well be some opposing perspectives to the SLLUFN's approach to SL and violent porn, but noted as well that there was debate within our own group about this.

It was noted that, since its founding in January of 2009, the group has held weekly meetings, engaged in in-world activism, created an ongoing blog, published the Newbie Woman's SL Survival Kit, and created an exhibit for the SL6B celebrations.

Present at the meeting were two representatives from a new feminist group, "Stop Violence against Women." The group was created about a month ago; its founder, PA, explained that it had amassed a membership of over 400 since that time. She further explained that the group would soon start holding meetings, and that it would be featured in an SL radio show soon. The hope was expressed by members of both groups that the future would see cooperation between the SLLUFN and Stop the Violence against Women. It was suggested that this might include participation by the new group in the SLLUFN's teach-in.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The War of the Words: Thoughts on Defining the “Adult” in Second Life, Part III

(Go to Part I)
(Go to Part II)

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.
Jane Austen

Sometimes, language is unfair. Language is never indifferent or impartial: it is, whenever we use it (and when don't we?) always making decisions for us, always saying “What you really mean is this.” It is this characteristic of language that makes it such a useful weapon, for whenever we name something, we are defining it, attaching these extra meanings to it.

The most obvious modern example of this aspect of language at work is in the war of words that surrounds the abortion debate. Am I “pro-choice” or “pro-abortion”? Or maybe even, in some formulations, “anti-life”? At the most fundamental level, all of these terms denote the same essential ideological stance: I believe in the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy by medical means. It is the connotation of these terms, of course, that bedevils us, and reminds us that language is never neutral. Take for example the apparently neutral definition I have give above. Suppose I had omitted the words “to choose”: “I believe in the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy by medical means.” The essential meaning remains the same, but note the subtle transformation of the connotation; supporting the right to “choose” is much more benign-sounding than fighting for the right to “terminate.”

Really clever people (like you and me) know that language does this, that ever word is a potential bomb loaded with extra meaning that can explode at the subtlest touch. So, to pro-life (or anti-choice) activists, I am “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice.” In a rather similar way, to those who would assert their “right” to include almost any kind of content in Second Life, I am “pro-censorship,” a sort of hysterically PC vigilante attempting to shut down “free expression,” and attacking, in the process, their individuality, identity, livelihood, lifestyle, and apparel choices.

This sort of rhetoric (Greek rhetor, orator; the use of language for persuasion) is hardly confined to Second Life, of course, but it is, in some ways perhaps, peculiarly American in flavour; in the US, to a far greater degree than in the rest of the West, “individual” rights have always trumped collective ones. It is, I think, far from coincidental that the most serious legal threats relating to pornographic content in Second Life come not from America, but from Europe, where the notion that society needs to be safeguarded at least as carefully as the individual citizen has a long provenance.

Linden Lab is, of course, American, and so it is not surprising that the “free speech” argument finds an ally in some of the language that has been used by that company to characterize their new classification system. Note, for example, that the first paragraph of the SL Blog announcement of the creation of an Adult region says nothing, in fact, about classification at all, but speaks instead in glowing terms about the importance of fostering “creativity” and “openness”:
From its beginning, Second Life has been an open place where Residents can explore a wide variety of creative pursuits. This has resulted in a vast amount of amazing content inworld, and has helped make Second Life the exceptional place it is. It is very important to Linden Lab that we support and preserve this creativity and openness as our community continues to grow, and as the range of uses for Second Life widens.
Upcoming Changes for Adult Content

The comforting and reassuring tone of this preamble is palpable. Its intent and target audience are clear. “Hey, I'm creative! I'm open! That's me, that's ME!” shout the Adult content creators as they jump up and down excitedly on their BDSM beds and Gorean sex rugs, rattling the attached chains and restraints in the process. “Openness,” having the freedom to create, they argue, is what SL is all about. One can almost hear, as they speak, the swelling strains of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, backed, of course, by a chorus of subs and slaves mumbling incoherently through ball-gags emblazoned with the motto “Protect Free Speech!”

And so it is the creators, marketers, and (somewhat more incidentally, for virtual money is real power in a virtual world) users of Adult content who have become the self-appointed champions of freedom in Second Life. They have armed themselves with a language drawn, in some cases, straight from the seminal documents of Jeffersonian democracy; they have defined themselves as the leading edge of free speech and creativity. And Linden Lab is apparently happy to concur. Here is a representative from the company reassuring nervous Adult content creators and providers that the new classification system is about “access control,” and not “content control.”
We're not creating and selling content in a state that we're providing it intact, in one piece. We're basically a platform for all of you to create, and sell, and contribute. . . . We see ourselves as a very open, collaborative, creative platform.
Adult Oriented content controls: merchant meeting transcript
Somewhere out there exists a list of positive and quotable “keywords” that has been supplied to LL employees, and “open” and “creative,” along with their derivatives, appear very near the top of it. The vocabulary applied to those who might question the value and validity of some of the forms of “expression” produced by this “creativity” and “openness” is somewhat different. In the same document, merchants are assured that “the A[buse] R[eporting] process will not be tolerated for people to try to go on campaigns to try and sanitize parts of the mainland.” Crusaders, anal-retentive “sanitizers” who might challenge the gloriously fecund messiness of free expression are not welcome.

Linden Lab, of course, has to be careful about its language: it doesn't really want to offend anyone and, for that reason, a comparison of transcripts of meetings with different groups of stakeholders reveals not surprisingly that the terminology employed varies to suit the audience. In contrast, in the public blogs online, most of which are abuzz with discussions of the new classification initiative, we see a no-holds-barred approach by the defenders of freedom and creativity. The following comment, which appeared recently appended to an SL Herald article defending rape sims, is entirely characteristic (if marginally more articulate than the average):
This is what happens when you allow a society (virtual or real) to become overwhelmed with blind hatred and ignorance. When tolerance for differing views are tossed out the window and replaced with misinformed judgments and public lynchings. Campaigns of fear, uncertainty, and doubt become common place, just as whats going on right here and now, and just as they did within the fascist regimes back in WWII.
Op/Ed: Asking for it
The irony inherent in the leveling of an accusation of fascism and “public lynchings” by a defender of virtual slavery and simulated bondage, torture, and murder seems to have been lost on this particular participant.

What such ironies highlight is the degree to which this kind of redefinition is really a trick of language, a not-so-subtle manipulation of the potentialities of connotation. In truth, no one is truly “pro-censorship,” anymore than anyone is really “pro-abortion.” Both are purely functional corollaries of the choices we make, rather than choices in and of themselves. Abortion is a nasty, traumatic, and sometimes hazardous medical procedure that no one in their right mind would simply “choose” to do; it is merely a means to an end, a necessity when a choice has been made, for whatever reason, to end a pregnancy. In much the same way, censorship is not a “choice”: it is an unpleasant and unfortunate procedure that is necessitated by the production of socially harmful content. Nor, of course, is censorship the sole domain of the “PC” crowd: we all censor. Even the most virulent libertarian will generally be compelled to concede that the legitimacy of some kinds of utterances is dependent upon context: to employ the classic example, “free speech” does not justify shouting “Fire!” in a crowded bondage club. This is, of course, much to be regretted.

So, really, the issue is not “free speech” versus “censorship”; as a characterization of the debate, this is far too black and white. Instead, the focus should be upon the legitimacy and validity of the meanings produced by what we articulate. So let's turn our attention for a moment to the issue of what exactly is being “expressed” by the productions of these “creative” and “open” providers of Adult content. What does a set of standard sex pose balls “express”? Is it a cri de coeur for the interconnectedness of humanity? A paean to the necessity of love? Honestly, I have no idea, but whatever is being articulated here I will happily admit is pretty benign and (in my view) fairly unobjectionable. This said, I know (as do you) what they are used for, what their functionality is. It is hardly coincidental that so many of the advertisements for the Second Life sex toys of all kinds trumpet the fact that they can be used one-handed. As expressions of the profundity of the human mind and spirit, most of this material would be hard pressed competing with a paper-bound edition of Penthouse Letters.

Of course, not all human activity need be profound and transcendent; I am far from objecting to virtual sex per se. Indeed, it can be argued at least that interactive cybersex is less solipsistic than a strenuous workout with a vibrator, porn magazine, or video. But shift a bit further down the spectrum, and things start becoming a bit more complicated. What is being “expressed” in a set of pose balls that enable a simulated rape? How does a butcher’s table, fitted out with poses that combine graphic bodily mutilation with sex, “speak” to us? Again, I honestly don’t know what these denote, how they are supposed to address us, but I am pretty clear about their implications, their secondary meanings. These particular word bombs explode with an especially disturbing violence. What they tell me, indirectly, but in a fairly uncomplicated way, is that women are at best props, sex toys. Indeed, women are meat. Do with them what you will: like Lego sets, they can be disassembled and transformed into something new at the user’s pleasure.

Let's concede that the violence enacted upon the avatar by poses and scripts such as this is virtual and simulated: no is really hurt, or at least, not physically. But if this is so, it is equally true that the violence wrought upon the meaning of “woman” is real, quantifiable, and potentially dangerous. The War of the Words has always produced its own casualties.

(To be continued . . .)

Sunday, 3 May 2009

A Paddle by Any Other Name: Thoughts on Defining the “Adult” in Second Life, Part I I

(Go to Part I)

You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.”
Dorothy Parker

Ah, words, words, words. And the funny, and sometimes powerful things you can do with them.

There have always been those who have argued that words are unimportant, definitions irrelevant: what matters are the things themselves. Take the famous case of Juliet, arguing herself into an acceptance of her love for Romeo, despite the fact that her new paramour belongs to a hated rival family. Well, so what? muses the precocious 13 year-old. Whatever his name, he is what he is: “that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Sounds convincing, doesn't it? Yet it is easy to forget how mistaken, how really disastrously wrong Juliet actually is here, for her “rose” is irrevocably, irredeemably a Montague, and she a Capulet. The origin of the tragedy that follows, that final scene littered with sad young dead people, is to be found in the signification of those two names, and the way in which they insist upon the definition of the two lovers as unwilling players in a deadly rivalry. Certainly, Juliet's family didn't think that Romeo smelled “as sweet.” It is altogether too bad that the young lover's last name wasn't Smith (or Rossi, or Conti): the play might have ended instead with the happy pubescent couple moving into a nice suburban villa with all the mod cons on the outskirts of Verona.

So, words matter, and definitions count. This is as true, perhaps even more true, of Second Life as it is of the physical world in which we actually live. Consider, for example, the case of the “paddle.” For those who don't know, the “paddle” is an object, shaped variously like a cricket bat or an oversized ping-pong paddle, that can be worn and used to virtually “spank” other avatars in the vicinity. The animation is simple and predictable: when the wearer clicks on another avatar, he or she takes a quick swing, and there is a satisfying “thwack” sound. In some versions that I have seen, the object adds a line to the local chat to the effect that “so-and-so has spanked so-and-so on the ass.” This is a surprisingly common item, and not, as I might have guessed, limited to those who enjoy playing the ever-popular “Schoolmaster and Pupil” game (or who, alternately, have salaciously pleasant memories of the uses to which their parent's rec room ping pong table might be put). It is a perennial favourite at dance clubs, for example. Personally, I find this object pretty unobjectionable, if mildly moronic, but there are those, apparently, who think it endlessly amusing. Clearly, it takes all kinds.

Suppose we take essentially the same object, and rename it, from “paddle” to “wifebeater.” The “wifebeaters” that I have seen are shaped like a riding crop (catering to those who prefer a good romping game of “Dastardly Squire and Buxom Milkmaid,” I suppose), but in function and action, it is essentially identical to the “paddle.” So, why is the “wifebeater” so objectionable, where the “paddle” is merely idiotic? The answer, of course, lies in the name that has been bestowed upon the former. While the object and its function remain fundamentally unchanged, the connotations, the secondary meanings and associations of the term “wifebeater” are horrific, especially to anyone with even a passing acquaintance of the grim reality towards which the word gestures. This is a pretty vital point that some seem quite unable to grasp: neither object in themselves causes any “actual” harm, but the term wifebeater has the very real potential to hurt and damage.

I don't want to belabor the point, but one more example might make this notion of the power of names even clearer. I recently sent in Abuse Reports concerning two sex animations for sale at a stall in a BDSM sim, the one called “Forced Missionary,” and the other “Forced Doggie Style.” Images associated with each showed a “couple” engaged in copulation employing the specified positions, the chief thing distinguishing these from other similar animations apparently being the fact that the male was, in each case, pinning the female down, or holding her in place, by her hair. (Incidentally, the employment of the euphemism “forced” seems to have been designed as way around using the term “rape,” but has become instead merely a synonym for it, another example of how trying to engineer a redefinition of an existing word generally doesn't work.)

Now, hair-pulling has never been my thing. To begin with, it hurts. And I think I may also have been traumatized by an incident in the second grade involving a particularly promising aspirant to juvenile delinquency by the name of Charlie McKendrick. However, such is my strength of will and mind that I can rise above this, and frankly declare that I really have no moral or ideological objections to coiffure-tugging during the act of sex. What I do, strenuously, object to is the deliberate association of this with rape, which is clearly what is intended by the names given to these two animations. It is an association which trivializes a very real and enormously destructive act all too common in our culture. Even a simulated rape – or, more accurately, a simulation that has been identified as such – has the potential to cause real pain to those who have been the victims real life sexual assault. Most importantly, perhaps, the dwindling of real life trauma into a “game” reinforces the notion that rape is acceptable, and even “fun.” Had these animations been differently named, my view of them might have prompted an involuntary shudder (shades of the execrable C. McKendrick), but I would not have sent in an abuse report. In essence, I was reporting the names of these animations, rather than the animations themselves, but that is a subtle distinction that would likely have escaped Linden Lab's enforcers.

So, words have power. They can titillate, distort, and hurt. They can transform the things to which they are applied into something else: they can turn a horsewhip into a “wifebeater,” and turn a friendly(?) game of hair-pulling into a sexual assault. And it is this power that also makes words remarkably effective weapons. Through the power of language, I can impose an identity on something or someone; I can damn or praise with meanings and associations that may be quite exterior to the person or thing so transformed. With words, in short, I can redefine almost anything.

(Go to Part III)

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Curator and the Pornographer: Thoughts on Defining the “Adult” in Second Life, Part I

A rose is a rose is a rose.
Gertrude Stein

Like many of you, I have spent a fair amount of time of late perusing online discussions of Linden Lab’s new classification system for regions. Much of what I have read is vague, some of it mildly annoying, and much more of it dull, dull, dull. Every once in a while, however, one comes across a little snippet that sort of jolts the cerebral cortex, and demands attention. As, for example, this excerpt from a question and answer session hosted by Linden Lab not too long ago:

Even art. I mean, art is subjective. You can have the exact same two pictures, both naked people, and you put that in a museum, and that is art. You put that in a strip club and it is pornography. So it is subjective.

However, on a PG sim, it is just purely not allowed. I think that definition...I think that PG has already defined itself. Honestly, I am not even going to take my six year old kids to a museum where there is T&A hanging out. They don't need that right now. They are going to get it enough when they are watching TV.
("Adult Oriented content controls: definitions meeting transcript")

I confess I was a little floored by this particular contribution by an unnamed speaker designated only as “Q.” (The dull thumping you hear in the background is the sound of my forehead rhythmically striking my desktop; it’s an involuntary gesture that occurs every time I reread this quote). It is just so . . . wrong . . . in so many ways, that it’s difficult to know where to start. Perhaps with the image invoked here of crowds of slavering trench-coat-clad strip-club patrons lasciviously ogling Titian’s Venus or Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass in decrepit pay-by-the-minute back rooms? With the revelation that museums are hitherto unheralded fleshpots of luridly exposed “T&A”? (Once the word about this gets out, imagine the boon to cultural institutions everywhere, as museum ticket receipts shoot through the roof!) With the implied equation here of “T&A” with pornography? (Other dangling bits apparently need not apply.) Or should we simply applaud this fond parent’s wise decision to leave the TV on for his kids, while carefully insulating them from the pernicious effects of museums?

Of course, I am being a little unfair here. “Q” is correct in one regard at least: Art is subjective, or at least vulnerable to the ebb and flow of public opinion, as witness the furor that surrounds the emergence of every new school of artistic expression, not to mention the sorts of controversy aroused by apparently “borderline” works like many of those of Robert Mapplethorpe. Yet, the definition even of something as apparently subjective as art does stabilize with time. We are all likely to agree that Picasso produced wonderful paintings, that Stravinsky was a great composer, and that Delta of Venus is a valid and important work of literature, but ’twas not always thus; these redefinitions have come about through a slow and gradual process of collective usage. In practice, language proves pretty intractable to deliberate attempts to meddle, to define; it is, in general, the slow acceptance implied by collective usage, rather than the definition handed down by imperial fiat, that determines the meaning of things. Yet, it is something very like “fiat” that Linden Lab is attempting to impose through its new tripartite classification scheme of “PG,” “Mature,” and “Adult.” Really, this is all about “definition”: indeed, the excerpt I quote above is from a “brown bag” meeting of Linden Lab representatives with a group of unidentified “residents” about the “definition” for “Adult” in Second Life.

Now, I am pretty sure that Linden Lab is going to have problems with whatever definitions they finally settle on for “PG,” “Mature,” and “Adult.” To begin with, their apparent inability to enforce their own policies regarding restricted content (anyone filed a verifiably successful abuse report recently? Anyone?) suggests that Linden Lab is not going to be very effective at actually applying their new definitions. I also rather suspect that the banishment of sex to the “Adult” region is going to lead to a massive migration of all sorts of content to those areas: after all, who really wants to inhabit a world without sex? In practice, the community will soon impose its own redefinition upon the term, with the result that it will still be impossible to get a decent cup of virtual java without walking past that really noisy BDSM club down the road.

So, I think Linden Lab is going to have problems. And these are going to be accentuated by the way that they are going about doing this. While I am willing to give the Lindens credit for at least consulting with some residents about this process of redefinition, there still seems to be a lot more “telling” than “asking” going on here. We may also legitimately question the breadth or representativeness of the community that Linden Lab is consulting. If you, like me, find yourself horrified by the notion that our contributor “Q,” cited above, is being permitted input into the definition of anything, yet alone something as complicated and nuanced as the meaning of “adult content” in Second Life, then you will probably agree that there is some cause for concern with current developments in our favourite virtual world.

(Go to Part II)

Monday, 27 April 2009

Body Image and Trafficking Links

Here are some links I found interesting.

*Some hope for healthy, realistic body images
I'm sick of hearing about Susan Boyle, too. But it ties in nicely with French Elle's piece about stars without makeup and airbrushing. And if you've ever seen Photoshop Disasters, it's something to be thankful for.

*Father of young "Slumdog Millionaire" actress tries to sell her
*Indian police end probe of "Slumdog" star's father
*Father denies Slumdog child sale
It seems there is a lot of things going on with this situation that it's hard to know what really happened at this point. Regardless, it points out the serious reality of human trafficking. Any thoughts or further links regarding this story?

Monday, 6 April 2009

Cranky Feminist is Fat and Happy

I have gained a decent amount of weight in the past few years. Probably most of it while dating my fiance. It doesn't make me happy but I have noted that I am generally more happy than when I was slimmer. This is due to a few facts. One being that my fiance doesn't make me insecure that he will leave me for someone else or that he is repulsed by my body and it's various imperfections. Another being that my fiance isn't constantly harassing me about my body and it's various imperfections. One of my exes did that constantly. He told me my thighs turned him off (but apparently my vagina didn't). He told me I should work on getting rid of my stretch marks and suggested buying cocoa butter to do so. When viewing a Special K commercial, that detailed a diet plan that included eating their cereal for two out of three meals a day, he pointed out that that could be a viable option for improving my appearance...and I was already smokin' hot (Hahaha! No really, people told me that occasionally during that time period. Just not him.).

He also wished I was more like his ex (but that's a different story) and was obsessed with porn and Jessica Alba. At that stage in my life I hated Jessica Alba, I hated how my ex treated me, but most of all I hated myself. Jessica Alba and myself were innocent parties but I chose not to blame the guilty one at that time. As a lot of abused women, I stuck with the asshole despite his clear abuse, clear disrespect, clear lack of love, clear distaste of me in general, and his clear obsession with is ex. Clearly, he did not want me but I was a mediocre substitute that he was willing to "put up with" at the time. But!

Today I am quite sure I do not fit into my ex's standards of attractiveness. And I'm glad. I don't want him to find me attractive. My fiance finds me attractive despite my cellulite. Even it's increasing volume over the past few years. I'm fatter and happier than I was in the past. In 47 days I'll be fat, happy, and wearing a pretty wedding dress that is flattering despite my girth. Fuck my ex. Fuck airbrushing. Fuck society's standards of beauty. Fuck that kind of ignorance.

I'm tired of even thinking and talking about my ex but I'm constantly reminded of his douchebaggery quite often. And it's about time I stop denying it to myself and people I know. My fiance's stunning contrast in behavior and treatment was the first thing that opened my eyes and made me stop questioning myself and my worth all the time. Hearing similar stories from other women who have gone through abuse over the years at the support groups I host and realizing that I too was abused has continued to open my eyes. It's easier to see things more clearly when you're not personally involved. And most recently, reading about how obsessive porn consumption is capable of skewing men's ideals of beauty is ringing true. And as I discovered today, Jessica Alba is probably still hotter than I am but she's far from the perfection my ex constantly rubbed in my face. I read about The Impossible Beauty of Jessica Alba on Hoyden About Town. It's a good read, I recommend it.

My ex would have a problem with the bulge circled above. There's nothing wrong with that bulge. There's nothing wrong with the picture on the left but there are people who clearly do because the image on the right is the finished product. And that finished product isn't even real. Today I don't hate Jessica Alba for being the unwilling standard of what I was supposed to look like and most importantly, I don't hate myself. I do hate my ex as I probably should have done years ago when it mattered. At least now I'm in a relationship with someone who is realistic and respectful. And at least now I am realistic and respect myself.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Network meeting - March 29th

These notes may be rubbish because I was late and therefore may not do the meeting justice.

One of our members is also a member of a fashion group and had been sent details of a new skin called ‘Raped’. This depicts a woman covered in cuts and bruises. One nipple has been cut off and the word ‘whore’ has been cut into her stomach.

The topic of this meeting was to have been a discussion on the Gorean ‘life-style’ (or should that be Second Life-style) but the sight of this skin had regenerated both disgust and anger at the depiction of such sexual violence towards women.

We are starting to feel that we really must take some action, even if it only to raise awareness or generate debate.

Some suggestions were:-
- To organise a boycott of the designer
- To repost this as ‘abuse’
- To wear the skin and demonstrate with placards

We are always faced with the dilemma of not wanting to ‘moralise’ or be seen as wishing to restrict ‘freedoms’ however also feeling angry and disgusted.

Where should the line be drawn and what should we do about it?

This issue just won’t go away.

Back on topic ... the discussion on Gor

We had all had the opportunity to read note cards about the Gor novels and about some of the ‘philosophy’ behind the role-play. One of our members knew a woman who took part.

'Let woman be a plaything, pure and fine like a precious stone illumined by the virtues of a world that does not yet exist.' Friedrich Nietzsche

This appears to be the philosophy behind the role of women in Gor:-

‘The issue is not violence but dominance and strength. Many women respond to strength and force. They like it. They want it. Most women want a man capable of mastering them. I frankly suspect that the matter is biological, and that this does lie somewhere within all women. One supposes that there is a man and a situation in which any woman could be mastered and would respond as a loving slave.To be sure, it is a universal hypothesis of a semantically non-finite scope, so it is not the sort of thing which could be conclusively tested. But even if it is not a disposition in all women, it is obviously a disposition in a great many of them, in my view the overwhelming majority of women.’

So ....the view amongst the Gor community appears to be that women are biologically ‘hard wired’ to want to be en-slaved and that this is true for the majority of women.

It was recognised that there are different levels of participation in Gor but that some of it definitely has a cult like indoctrination, or characteristics similar to abuse in a relationship.

Physical abuse is common in cults as a means of punishment. But what does it mean when there is no pain associated with "abuse" as in a virtual world?
Does that make it ok? Is it justified in SL because there is no actual pain involved even though most abused women report that emotional abuse has been worse than the physical?

It may be that people don't realize they are inflicting it in some cases because SL isn't apparently real even though there is a definite psychological process at work. A very deliberate one.

We learnt about a group which has been set up to support women who may feel they have been damaged and suffered abuse through their involvement in Gor. The group gives non-judgemental support to women who wish to end their involvement but who may need help to do so.

The group’s sim has already been the subject of retaliation.

Because of the commonly experienced feeling that the abusee is somehow made to feel that she is to blame for her abuse it is really important for women to know that Gor is abuse and it's not ok - just having it out there for women so that they know they're not crazy/alone if they want to leave.

Someone at the meeting expressed the difficulties they had in being critical about Gor and BDSM in SL because they feel that they are both degrading to women, but since they were a religious person and involved in many religious groups in SL, they were accused of moralizing and they were interested in hearing views expressed from a feminist perspective.

Some views :-

: That's a lame cop out for those arguing against you. Feminists get that in a way where we're accused of being anti-sexual.
: it's a cop out, damage is damage
: the prude argument is an old but effective one
: there are some things that are just plain wrong period
: And anti-extreme BDSM/anti-Gor isn't anti-sexy.
: I equate bdsm with our conditioning for self-hatred
: the recent article on the blog was really very good ...it was about pornography but the principles apply to Gor too.
: these women are being conditioned to accept more than just male superiority....they are being asked to completely submit their will and agree that it's ok for them to be punished and abused if they don't behave "appropriately" submissively.
: I am getting fed up with the 'it's only role play' thing ...would it be ok if we role played being concentration camp guards?
: it's good sometimes to substitute race for gender in these arguments and see how quickly they fall apart

Then ...the discussion turned to religion (Is nothing sacred in the topics we choose?)

: ok I’m going to say something that was on my mind when I started hearing about Gor kajiras.....some here may find it offensive but I think there's an interesting parallel ..... the parallel between Kajira and nuns, the obedience and poverty thing....devoted to a "master" / "God" but without the need for celibacy. The desire to give yourself completely to something.
: That's an interesting parallel especially with the catholic idea of beautiful suffering
: Their obedience is what I find mystifying
: One of the note cards mentioned RL Gor lifestyles who teach that to their children.
: but don't we all have to be obedient to men as the dominant/oppressor class in our everyday lives, at least to some extent?
:but kajiri give their lives to some douche bag for no reason
:I was raised Catholic. I always wondered about nuns and their vows which is why I drew the parallel when I started considering the choice of the Kajiras
: It's all a way of justifying group/forced sex but with some of the guilt removed so I can see why it might appeal to people with a religious faith
: one would find Gor so at odds with what their faith teaches about dignity and respect for others that they would not be able to reconcile it. I'm a Christian and Jesus did not teach that it was good to beat the crap out of women
: but Christianity teaches that men are superior to women
: the church teaches inherent male superiority...I don't believe Jesus ever really saw it that way
: he may have done ...however the established church has hardly encouraged women to express their sexuality. It's my view that many of the world’s churches have been concerned with controlling women.
: I’m with you on that. I admire some people who practice their faith respectfully but religious institutions are patriarchal and work largely to keep women under their control.
: that kind of brings us back to Gor as cult
: Yeah, it definitely seems like a lot of the recruiting practices are like those of a cult.
: seems to me the Gor people are reaching back to what the men see as a "simpler" time LOL when women weren't so damn pesky about their rights

Anyway .... I shouldn’t just cut and paste the chat .... to get these gems and to contribute to the debate you should really come to the meetings :)

Zoe P

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Network meeting - March 22nd

The place was looking great. Much more open with views over the sea and some furniture in the garden. But still with the climbing rope and the cool pole. Nevertheless a high prim bar of chocolate had to be offered to get a facilitator.

The big news was that Scylla has made a brilliant dispenser for the Survival Guide. It has a break glass and a little hammer ...so cool.

We all think Scylla is totally wonderful for doing all this work ... henceforth she will be called Super Scylla.

We talked about some extra things we might wish to add.
Do we want to add a flight feather? What about the string of garlic that protects against vampire bites. We talked about whether it really matters if you are bitten.

We all need to help with proof reading and deciding if anything needs adding, for example something about the Gorean and BDSM ‘communities’ and a note about our group.

Ellie reported back on a conference she had attended on eco-feminism. She had been a little disappointed with some of the contributions. There had seemed to be a feeling that an eco-feminist was a feminist who recycled. Some of the contributions had failed to see the links between issues such as the war in Iraq, a feminist analysis and the environmental consequences.
She had given a presentation on SL. Particularly on the way that SL can both reduce our carbon footprint while at the same time enable us to be able to be ‘grounded’ in our own homes and communities. For example one minute we can be communicating with women from around the world while the next we can be in our gardens or visiting a neighbour.

It seems difficult to convince some women of the benefits of SL. There is of course something of a learning curve and there may be some technophobia involved. The negative publicity about some of the more salacious activities in SL may have put some women off dipping their toes in.

Another interesting point made was the impact of the rampant consumerism in SL. Does this satisfy the need to ‘shop till we drop’ or does it have the opposite effect and stokes up consumerism in rl?

(By the way one member prefers to call ‘real life’ PL i.e. physical life ... interesting distinction recognising that what happens in SL is real too)

There does seem however to be a greater recent interest in educational applications in SL with many universities and colleges wanting a presence here. There are rumours of careers being made in the facilitation of on-line meetings and educational events and there are more and more virtual conferences being organised.

One other interesting snippet from the meeting: what happens when the various elements of SL collide? For example a very young woman turns up for class wearing leathers and carrying a whip? It didn’t break the ‘no naughty bits showing’ rule. We reflected on how nudity was somehow not OK but carrying a weapon and the trimmings of BDSM was and how being in SL does make us think again about many of the moral positions we had previously adopted.

One highlight of the conference was meeting Cynthia Enlow the author of Bananas, Beaches, and Bases (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynthia_Enloe )who it was reported was most impressive.

What else did we discuss? Oh yes. More about the Gorean lifestyle, its roots and its rationale.

: My friend, the middle aged lady gorean -- she says it has been wonderful, she has "found" her sexuality

: ... well, it is always in the last place you look

: looks under her seat for her sexuality ...I know I left it somewhere

: I keep mine in my underwear drawer

Also a discussion about whether we should do some work on guidelines or ground rules for our meetings and whether or when we should encourage members of other feminist groups to join us.

Another snippet ...is there a role for a vibes watcher, someone who lets people know if emotions are getting out of hand?

Anyway enough snippets ...back to work on finalising the Survival Guide.

: yes, it's best to do one thing well and then move to the next... multitasking is fine for less important things, but when you get more than three women multitasking on a dozen different things it can all get strange if everyone brings the potato salad to the picnic

: or people constantly saying what about the menz (from a previous conversation)

: I like potato salad . . .

: what are men?

: The ones who bring NOTHING to the picnic

: except the beer

: and way too much of that

Did we decide on a topic for next week?

We will definitely finalise the guide and talk about how best to get it in as many places as possible and we may discuss more about Gorean and BDSM from a feminist perspective. Whatever we talk about, it will be feminist, fascinating, friendly and fun ...don’t miss it!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Pornography is a left issue

Given the debates on 'adult content' in SL, i thought it timely to post this article..

By Gail Dines & Robert Jensen

View original article here @ ZNet

Anti-pornography feminists get used to insults from the left. Over and over we are told that we're anti-sex, prudish, simplistic, politically naíve, diversionary, and narrow-minded. The cruder critics do not hesitate to suggest that the cure for these ailments lies in, how shall we say, a robust sexual experience.

In addition to the slurs, we constantly face a question: Why do we "waste" our time on the pornography issue? Since we are anti-capitalist and anti-empire leftists as well as feminists, shouldn't we focus on the many political, economic, and ecological crises (war, poverty, global warming, etc.)? Why would we spend part of our intellectual and organizing energies over the past two decades pursuing the feminist critique of pornography and the sexual exploitation industry?

The answer is simple: We are anti-pornography precisely because we are leftists as well as feminists.

As leftists, we reject the sexism and racism that saturates contemporary mass-marketed pornography. As leftists, we reject the capitalist commodification of one of the most basic aspects of our humanity. As leftists, we reject corporate domination of media and culture. Anti-pornography feminists are not asking the left to accept a new way of looking at the world but instead are arguing for consistency in analysis and application of principles.

It has always seemed strange to us that so many on the left consistently refuse to engage in a sustained and thoughtful critique of pornography. All this is particularly unfortunate at a time when the left is flailing to find traction with the public; a critique of pornography, grounded in a radical feminist and left analysis that counters right-wing moralizing, could be part of an effective organizing strategy.

Left media analysis

Leftists examine mass media as one site where the dominant class attempts to create and impose definitions and explanations of the world. We know news is not neutral, that entertainment programs are more than just fun and games. These are places where ideology is reinforced, where the point of view of the powerful is articulated. That process is always a struggle; attempts to define the world by dominant classes can be, and are, resisted. The term "hegemony" is typically used to describe that always-contested process, the way in which the dominant class attempts to secure control over the construction of meaning.

The feminist critique of pornography is consistent with -- and, for many of us, grows out of -- a widely accepted analysis on the left of ideology, hegemony, and media, leading to the observation that pornography is to patriarchy what commercial television is to capitalism. Yet when pornography is the topic, many on the left seem to forget Gramsci's theory of hegemony and accept the pornographer's self-serving argument that pornography is mere fantasy.

Apparently the commonplace left insight that mediated images can be tools for legitimizing inequality holds true for an analysis of CBS or CNN, but evaporates when the image is of a woman having a penis thrust into her throat with such force that she gags. In that case, for unexplained reasons, we aren't supposed to take pornographic representations seriously or view them as carefully constructed products within a wider system of gender, race, and class inequality. The valuable work conducted by media critics on the politics of production apparently holds no weight for pornography.

Pornography is fantasy, of a sort. Just as television cop shows that assert the inherent nobility of police and prosecutors as protectors of the people are fantasy. Just as the Horatio Alger stories about hard work's rewards in capitalism are fantasy. Just as films that cast Arabs only as terrorists are fantasy.

All those media products are critiqued by leftists precisely because the fantasy world they create is a distortion of the actual world in which we live. Police and prosecutors do sometimes seek justice, but they also enforce the rule of the powerful. Individuals in capitalism do sometimes prosper as a result of their hard work, but the system does not provide everyone who works hard with a decent living. Some tiny number of Arabs are terrorists, but that obscures both the terrorism of the powerful in white America and the humanity of the vast majority of Arabs.

Such fantasies also reflect how those in power want subordinated people to feel. Images of happy blacks on the plantations made whites feels more secure and self-righteous in their oppression of slaves. Images of contented workers allay capitalists' fears of revolution. And men deal with their complex feelings about contemporary masculinity's toxic mix of sex and aggression by seeking images of women who enjoy pain and humiliation.

Why do so many on the left seem to assume that pornographers operate in a different universe than other capitalists? Why would pornography be the only form of representation produced and distributed by corporations that wouldn't be a vehicle to legitimize inequality? Why would the pornographers be the only media capitalists who are rebels seeking to subvert hegemonic systems?

Why do the pornographers get a free ride from so much of the left?

After years of facing the left's hostility in public and print, we believe the answer is obvious: Sexual desire can constrain people's capacity for critical reason -- especially in men in patriarchy, where sex is not only about pleasure but about power.

Leftists -- especially left men -- need to get over the obsession with getting off.

Let's analyze pornography not as sex, but as media. Where would that lead?

Corporate media

Critiques of the power of commercial corporate media are ubiquitous on the left. Leftists with vastly different political projects can come together to decry conglomerates' control over news and entertainment programming. Because of the structure of the system, it's a given that these corporations create programming that meets the needs of advertisers and elites, not ordinary people.

Yet when discussing pornography, this analysis flies out the window. Listening to many on the left defend pornography, one would think the material is being made by struggling artists tirelessly working in lonely garrets to help us understand the mysteries of sexuality. Nothing could be further from the truth; the pornography industry is just that -- an industry, dominated by the pornography production companies that create the material, with mainstream corporations profiting from its distribution.

It's easy to listen in on pornographers' conversations -- they have a trade magazine, Adult Video News. The discussions there don't tend to focus on the transgressive potential of pornography or the polysemic nature of sexually explicit texts. It's about -- what a surprise! -- profits. The magazine's stories don't reflect a critical consciousness about much of anything, especially gender, race, and sex.

Andrew Edmond -- president and CEO of Flying Crocodile, a $20 million pornography internet company -- put it bluntly: "A lot of people get distracted from the business model by [the sex]. It is just as sophisticated and multilayered as any other market place. We operate just like any Fortune 500 company."

The production companies -- from big players such as Larry Flynt Productions to small fly-by-night operators -- act predictably as corporations in capitalism, seeking to maximize market-share and profit. They do not consider the needs of people or the effects of their products, any more than other capitalists. Romanticizing the pornographers makes as much sense as romanticizing the executives at Viacom or Disney.

Increasingly, mainstream media corporations profit as well. Hugh Hefner and Flynt had to fight to gain respectability within the halls of capitalism, but today many of the pornography profiteers are big corporations. Through ownership of cable distribution companies and Internet services, the large companies that distribute pornography also distribute mainstream media. One example is News Corp. owned by Rupert Murdoch.

News Corp. is a major owner of DirecTV, which sells more pornographic films than Flynt. In 2000, the New York Times reported that nearly $200 million a year is spent by the 8.7 million subscribers to DirecTV. Among News Corp.'s other media holdings are the Fox broadcasting and cable TV networks, Twentieth Century Fox, the New York Post, and TV Guide. Welcome to synergy: Murdoch also owns HarperCollins, which published pornography star Jenna Jameson's best-selling book How To Make Love Like A Porn Star.

When Paul Thomas accepted his best-director award at the pornography industry's 2005 awards ceremony, he commented on the corporatization of the industry by joking: "I used to get paid in cash by Italians. Now I get paid with a check by a Jew." Ignoring the crude ethnic references (Thomas works primarily for Vivid, whose head is Jewish), his point was that what was once largely a mob-financed business is now just another corporate enterprise.

How do leftists feel about corporate enterprises? Do we want profit-hungry corporative executives constructing our culture?


It's long been understood on the left that one of the most insidious aspects of capitalism is the commodification of everything. There is nothing that can't be sold in the capitalist game of endless accumulation.

In pornography, the stakes are even higher; what is being commodified is crucial to our sense of self. Whatever a person's sexuality or views on sexuality, virtually everyone agrees it is an important aspect of our identity. In pornography, and in the sex industry more generally, sexuality is one more product to be packaged and sold.

When these concerns are raised, pro-pornography leftists often rush to explain that the women in pornography have chosen that work. Although any discussion of choice must take into consideration the conditions under which one chooses, we don't dispute that women do choose, and as feminists we respect that choice and try to understand it.

But, to the best of our knowledge, no one on the left defends capitalist media -- or any other capitalist enterprise -- by pointing out workers consented to do their jobs. The people who produce media content, or any other product, consent to work in such enterprises, under varying constraints and opportunities. So what? The critique is not of the workers, but of the owners and structure.

Look at the industry's biggest star, Jenna Jameson, who appears to control her business life. However in her book she reports that she was raped as a teenager and describes the ways in which men in her life pimped her. Her desperation for money also comes through when she tried to get a job as a stripper but looked too young -- she went into a bathroom and pulled off her braces with pliers. She also describes drug abuse and laments the many friends in the industry she lost to drugs. And this is the woman said to have the most power in the pornography industry.

As we understand left analysis, the focus isn't on individual decisions about how to survive in a system that commodifies everything and takes from us meaningful opportunities to control our lives. It's about fighting a system.


As the most blatant and ugly forms of racism have disappeared from mainstream media, leftists have continued to point out that subtler forms of racism endure, and that their constant reproduction through media is a problem. Race matters, and media depictions of race matter.

Pornography is the one media genre in which overt racism is still acceptable. Not subtle, coded racism, but old-fashioned U.S. racism -- stereotypical representations of the black male stud, the animalistic black woman, the hot Latina, the demure Asian geisha. Pornography vendors have a special category, "interracial," which allows consumers to pursue the various combinations of racialized characters and racist scenarios.

The racism of the industry is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. In an interview with the producer of the DVD "Black Bros and Asian Ho's," one of us asked if he ever was criticized for the racism of such films. He said, "No, they are very popular." We repeated the question: Popular, yes, but do people ever criticize the racism? He looked incredulous; the question apparently had never entered his mind.

Yet take a tour of a pornography shop, and it's clear that racial justice isn't central to the industry. Typical is the claim of "Black Attack Gang Bang" films: "My mission is to find the cutest white honeys to get Gang Banged by some hard pipe hitting niggas straight outta compton!" It would be interesting to see a pro-pornography leftist argue to a non-white audience that such films are unrelated to the politics of race and white supremacy.

Up-market producers such as Vivid use mainly white women; the official face of pornography is overwhelmingly white. However, alongside this genre there exists more aggressive material in which women of color appear more frequently. As one black woman in the industry told us, "This is a racist business," from how she is treated by producers to pay differentials to the day-to-day conversations she overhears on the set.


Contemporary mass-marketed heterosexual pornography -- the bulk of the market for sexually explicit material -- is one site where a particular meaning of sex and gender is created and circulated. Pornography's central ideological message is not hard to discern: Women exist for the sexual pleasure of men, in whatever form men want that pleasure, no matter what the consequences for women. It's not just that women exist for sex, but that they exist for the sex that men want.

Despite naí¯ve (or disingenuous) claims about pornography as a vehicle for women's sexual liberation, the bulk of mass-marketed pornography is incredibly sexist. From the ugly language used to describe women, to the positions of subordination, to the actual sexual practices themselves -- pornography is relentlessly misogynistic. As the industry "matures" the most popular genre of films, called "gonzo," continues to push the limits of degradation of, and cruelty toward, women. Directors acknowledge they aren't sure where to take it from the current level.

This misogyny is not an idiosyncratic feature of a few fringe films. Based on three studies of the content of mainstream video/DVD pornography over the past decade, we conclude that woman-hating is central to contemporary pornography. Take away every video in which a woman is called a bitch, a cunt, a slut, or a whore, and the shelves would be nearly bare. Take away every DVD in which a woman becomes the target of a man's contempt, and there wouldn't be much left. Mass-marketed pornography doesn't celebrate women and their sexuality, but instead expresses contempt for women and celebrates the charge of expressing that contempt sexually.

Leftists typically reject crude biological explanations for inequality. But the story of gender in pornography is the story of biological determinism. A major theme in pornography is that women are different from men and enjoy pain, humiliation, degradation; they don't deserve the same humanity as men because they are a different kind of creature. In pornography, it's not just that women want to get fucked in degrading fashion, but that they need it. Pornography ultimately tells stories about where women belong -- underneath men.

Most leftists critique patriarchy and resist the system of male dominance. Gender is one of those arenas of struggle against domination, and hence an arena of ideological struggle. Put an understanding of media together with feminist arguments for sexual equality, and you get the anti-pornography argument.

The need for a consistent analysis of power

Leftists who otherwise pride themselves on analyzing systems and structures of power, can turn into extreme libertarian individualists on the subject of pornography. The sophisticated, critical thinking that underlies the best of left politics can give way to simplistic, politically naí¯ve, and diversionary analysis that leaves far too many leftists playing cheerleader for an exploitive industry. In those analyses, we aren't supposed to examine the culture's ideology and how it shapes people's perceptions of their choices, and we must ignore the conditions under which people live; it's all about an individual's choice.

A critique of pornography doesn't imply that freedom rooted in an individual's ability to choose isn't important, but argues instead that these issues can't be reduced to that single moment of choice of an individual. Instead, we have to ask: What is meaningful freedom within a capitalist system that is racist and sexist?

Leftists have always challenged the contention of the powerful that freedom comes in accepting one's place in a hierarchy. Feminists have highlighted that one of the systems of power that constrains us is gender.

We contend that leftists who take feminism seriously must come to see that pornography, along with other forms of sexualized exploitation -- primarily of women, girls and boys, by men -- in capitalism is inconsistent with a world in which ordinary people can take control of their own destinies.

That is the promise of the left, of feminism, of critical race theory, of radical humanism -- of every liberatory movement in modern history.

Gail Dines is a professor of American Studies at Wheelock College in Boston. She can be reached at gdines@wheelock.edu. Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu. They are co-authors with Ann Russo of Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality. Both also are members of the interim organizing committee of the National Feminist Antipornography Movement.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

On consciousness raising

Excerpt from 'The Politics of Women's Liberation' by Jo Freeman

"Women came together in small groups to share personal experiences, problems, and feelings. From this public sharing comes the realization that what was thought to be individual is in fact common: that what was thought to be a personal problem has social cause and a political solution. The rap group attacks the effects of psychological oppression and helps women to put it into a feminist context. Women learn to see how social structures and attitudes have molded them from birth and limited their opportunities. They ascertain the extent to which women have been denigrated in this society and how they have developed prejudices against themselves and other women. They learn to develop self-esteem and to appreciate the value of group solidarity"

On political solidarity between women

Excerpts from 'Feminist Theory: from margin to center' by bell hooks

"..Women's legacy of women-hating which includes fierce, brutal, verbal tearing apart of one another has to be eliminated if women are to make critiques and engage in disagreements and arguments that are constructive and caring, with the intention of enriching rather than diminishing. Woman-to-woman negative, aggressive behaviour is not unlearned when all critical judgement is suspended. It is unlearned when women accept that we are different, that we will necessarily disagree, but that we can disagree and argue with one another without acting as if we are fighting for our lives...
Women need to come together in situations where there will be ideological disagreement and work to change that interaction so communication occurs. This means that when women come together, rather than pretend union, we would acknowledge that we are divided and must develop strategies to overcome fears, prejudices, resentments, competitiveness, etc...
Women need to have the experience of working through hostility to arrive at understanding and solidarity if only to free ourselves from the sexist socialization that tells us to avoid confrontation because we will be victimized or destroyed..
When women actively struggle in a truly supportive way to understand our differences, to change misguided, distorted perspectives, we lay the foundation for the experience of political solidarity. Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite, to build sisterhood.. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment. In feminist movement, there is a need for diversity, disagreement and difference if we are to grow.." (pages 62-65)


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Some articles on commercial sexual exploitation

Reading the cranky feminist post got me thinking about the debates around commercial sexual exploitation vs sex work between feminists. Here are a few articles which have served to partly inform my perpective on the issues. Hope they are of interest to others too.

"The technological innovations and unregulated use of the Internet have created a global medium for men’s sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children. The sex industry has aggressively adopted every new information technology to increase men’s sexual access to women and children. A mutually beneficial relationship exists between the Internet and sex industries. New technologies enable pimps to market women and children in prostitution or related activities, such as online strip shows, sex shows, and commercial voyeurism. The global communications forums have increased the visibility and exposure of women and children being exploited and abused, while conversely, increasing the privacy and communication of the men who exploit and abuse them. These forums normalize men’s exploitative and abuse behaviors. Violence and humiliation are eroticized. The combined experience of using new information technologies, finding a supportive community on the Internet, and having a sexual experience is positively reinforcing and empowering to perpetrators..." Read more here: http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/prostitution_online.pdf

"Women experience some form of violence every day of their lives, from sexual assault and casual sexual harassment on the street, to violence at the hands of a partner or colleague, coercion and outdated gender stereotypes at work.Historically, policymakers believe that solutions to this culture of inequality and gender violence can be found by treating these issues separately, and moneyhas been put into initiatives to try and tackle domestic violence, educate children about healthy relationships and improve rape conviction rates. However, this inability to perceive incidents of violence against women as being linked points on a continuous spectrum of violence is damaging women’s lives. Wherever lapdance and strip clubs appear, women’s quality of life deteriorates as a result, with increased reports of rape (Eden, 2003) and increased fear of travelling as a result. (TfL, 2004).." read more here: http://www.eaves4women.co.uk/Lilith_Project/Documents/Reports/Inappropriate_Behaviour_2007.pdf

"Trafficking and the sex industry are linked in significant ways, especially in the fact that women are trafficked for sexual exploitation into existing sex industries. Trafficking occurs within as well as across national borders, as recognised by the UN CTOC Trafficking Protocol. Women’s inequality with men underpins trafficking, with vulnerability to recruitment and entrapment
linked to the gendered impacts of conflict, economic transition and poverty, coupled with their life experiences (child sexual abuse, domestic violence, poor status).. read more here: http://www.womankind.org.uk/upload/CEDAW-report.pdf

'Men create the demand; women are the supply' read more here: www.uri.edu/artsc/wms/hughes/demand.htm

"..More strip clubs and fewer regulations, along with an apparent total lack of enforcement of the existing ones, means more women potentially being exploited. And, yes, I don’t want to walk past strip clubs or be harassed by their customers, but I’m not the one having to decide whether or not I should give that blow job in order to secure the week’s rent. It’s these women who should be the focus of any campaign to regulate lap dancing, not the privileged nimbys among us..." Debate on the f word blog, read more here: www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/10/dispatches_the

"..Definition of the sex industry: activities which legally or illegally market and/or sell sexual
services/products in organised form and which make profits from sexual exploitation of people - children, women and men... This exploitation includes organised prostitution,for example escort services, call girls,operation of brothels, street prostitution, internet prostitution, massage
parlours, strip clubs, telephone sex, marriage bureaus, sex tourism, pornography, and sex fairs." extract from European Parliament draft on the consequences of the sex industry in europe. Read more here: action.web.ca/home/catw/attach/ErikssonDraftReportJan2004.pdf