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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

May 12, 2004
The Erotica of Bare Knees

I am just so appalled by such limited thinking.

First, there's a serious danger to men in an excess of on-line pornography, yes. At the beginning of the topic I was really pleased that Hugo was (finally) addressing that aspect of porn, after his posts on the 'dangers' of porn to women.

But that's not the topic of the essay.

The topic is that in a society where a man never sees female flesh, his wife defaults to being really hot. (Because everyone wants to be hot because their partner has no other choice.)

Women, you see, should cover up from head to foot and the female body should go back on the list of prohibited public sights because it's better for men's sex lives.

Hugo also argues that women feel sexier if they're sexier to their husbands and now we're right back to the dark ages, aren't we?

Maybe he'd rather we started binding our feet because small feet, when you're allowed to see them, are sexier? And how about a whalebone corset, to hint at that sexy hourglass silhouette under the burka? A little arsenic to brighten the eyes, anyone?

Let's just go all out giving men that erotic power trip. Let's remove the right to own property, drive a car, and vote, okay?

I have a better idea. Women are as vulnerable to men to the erotic of the "things unseen" so let's, instead, drape every man in the country in a drop cloth and let the women do the fantasizing.

No more men jogging and jiggling down the street with their unseen erotica threatening to peek out from under their dinky shorts at any moment. No more taking off your shirt when you're exercising and the temperature tops 100. No more sitting around the house in your underwear, or traipsing from the bathroom to the bedroom with those naughty knees flashing at every step.

And put a hat on that head, boy. That receding hairline isn't nearly as sexy as the unseen potential of a head of thick, wavy hair. Try to make yourself sexier for your partner.

Don't worry. You'll learn to be turned on by her arousal.

You think modesty is proof that morality is sexy, guys? Practice some modesty.

Checking the review of A Return to Modesty that he praises, I find much to complain about in the first few paragraphs. Actually, there's almost nothing I don't object to.

Hugo, though, offers high praise to the article, which contains Victorian references to a woman enhancing her womanhood by modesty and says, essentially, that if modern women get preyed on by men, we were asking for it.

Rather than taking it all point by point let me just say that accepting women as equals and as human beings instead of as private sex objects hidden behind neutering clothing is going to require some social adjusting. For a substantial swath of recent Western History, women have been denied this equality. Now we have it.

Get used it. (And stop pretending like you want to "liberate" me. I've had enough of that lie from the fundamentalists.)

Rather than deciding today don't work and stepping back in time, why don't we look to the future and figure out a way men can relate to women that encompasses the total person and not just the orifices and protuberances?

Yes. I'm pretty angry at the moment. Probably all the more angry because I feel blindsided by reading this from someone I thought was more enlightened.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:37 PM


Comments

Anne, I've read and re-read my essay and yours, and confess to being a bit bewildered by your viscerally angry response.

I don't think Wolf, Hinlicky, or Shalit are calling for a return to a world where women are politically or economically disempowered. If anything I wrote suggested that men are not responsible for their own bad behavior, than I regret that deeply.

I agree completely that men need to practice modesty (I posted on exactly that last month in regards to taking down the photo of me running shirtless). I am not advocating a double standard. I AM making a point about the nature of the erotic, about the connection between that which is concealed and that which is desireable.

As the primary consumers of porn, individual men bear the primary responsibility for changing their lives. But there is plenty of responsibility to go around, Anne.

If it is paternalistic to want to protect women from the penetrating male gaze, then call me proudly paternalistic. If it is patronizing and unenlightened to wish to return the erotic to the realm of the private, then call me patronizing and unenlightened.

I want a more modest world for both men and women because when our public sphere is desexualized, we become more free to see and be seen as human beings. When women and men both value modesty and restraint, both men and women face fewer obstacles in their struggle for happiness and success.

I am sorry you felt blindsided. I am reflecting seriously upon your concerns, and hope that we can continue to have a thoughtful, cordial dialogue.

Peace,

Hugo

Posted by: Hugo at May 12, 2004 12:53 PM

Anne: The whole modesty thing is much more bandage than cure. What I see as the real blind spot (in both Wolf and Schwyzer) is the inability to distinguish between flesh as person and flesh as object of desire. I agree with Hugo's desire to make the erotic private: what I can't agree with is the conclusion that modesty (particularly unilateral modesty) is the method that will ultimately get us there. A view of people as autonomous and whole persons, rather than as bodies, de-eroticizes flesh, turns "erotic" into action rather than being.

In other words, there are two ways to go. One is modesty, hidden physicality. The other is to delink "exposed" from "sexual."

The idea of the hidden being erotic reminds me of something...... oh, yeah. Fig leaves in the garden.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 12, 2004 03:26 PM

i'm not sure what world of equality you live in, but mine must look very different from yours. the equality i want is to be treated with dignity as a human, and allow disagreement and differing viewpoints. yes, there are parts of hugo's post i read through quickly, but there were also parts that tied in deeply to the struggle i am having in raising three boys and interacting with their young friends who are girls. while we argue semantics our youth are being sacrificed on the altar of porn, and i despair of many of them ever discovering the beauty of sexuality and the beauty of real flesh male and female bodies. let alone the beauty of equality in relationships or in careers. how will young girls, who are raised in the porn culture we live in, ever value their own beauty and dignity? how will young boys learn to value and honor themselves and the women they will come into contact with? i don't know the answer, but i want to hear all the honest voices and find some commonality, and, maybe, some hope.

Posted by: anj at May 12, 2004 04:03 PM

Welcome, boys and girls, to Logic 101. The topic of today's lesson is logical fallacies. The first fallacy of today's lesson is called the strawman. A strawman argument involves mischaracterizing your opponent's argument, and then refuting the mischaracterized version of the argument instead of the argument itself. Here is an example of a strawman:

Women, you see, should cover up from head to foot and the female body should go back on the list of prohibited public sights because it's better for men's sex lives.

Note that that last example also contained a slippery slope argument. A slippery slope assumes that if A happens, A will eventually lead to B, which in turn will lead to C, and so on up to Z, where everyone agrees that Z should not happen. From this, one jumps to the conclusion that since Z is undesirable, A should not happen, either. Example:

Hugo also argues that women feel sexier if they're sexier to their husbands and now we're right back to the dark ages, aren't we?

The third fallacy for today's lesson is the red herring, which can be just about any argument whose premises are unrelated to the issue being discussed. Example:

Let's just go all out giving men that erotic power trip. Let's remove the right to own property, drive a car, and vote, okay?

The fourth fallacy is called tu quoque, which is Latin for "you too!" or, more loosely, "Oh yeah? So's your old man." The purpose of a tu quoque is not to refute the argument on its merits, but rather, to muddy the waters by accusing its proponent engaging in the same, similar or comparable behavior:

You think modesty is proof that morality is sexy, guys? Practice some modesty.

A tu quoque is similar, but not identical, to our fifth fallacy, the argumentum ad hominem. A true ad hominem does not address the idea in question, but instead merely attacks the person advancing it:

Yes. I'm pretty angry at the moment. Probably all the more angry because I feel blindsided by reading this from someone I thought was more enlightened.

The sixth fallacy of today's lesson is a sub-brand of ad hominem, known as "poisoning the well." Here, the aim is to circumvent debate altogether by questioning a person's competence to discuss the issue at all. This tactic is frequently used by feminists seeking to preemptively "shush" any men who may disagree with them on a key issue:

And stop pretending like you want to "liberate" me. I've had enough of that lie from the fundamentalists.

The seventh and final fallacy of today's lesson is the "fallacy fallacy," which involves identifying an opponent's argument as fallacious, and then fallaciously assuming that the (alleged) fallacy in one's opponent's argument means that the conclusion is incorrect. Example:

Checking the review of A Return to Modesty that he praises, I find much to complain about in the first few paragraphs. Actually, there's almost nothing I don't object to.

Hugo, though, offers high praise to the article, which contains Victorian references to a woman enhancing her womanhood by modesty and says, essentially, that if modern women get preyed on by men, we were asking for it.

Ignore, for the moment, the strawman in that final subordinate clause. The "fallacy fallacy" lies in the assumption that since the book contains objectionable content (a fact we'll assume for purposes of this example), Hugo's reliance on it necessarily makes Hugo's conclusion wrong. It doesn't, of course; proving that A does not entail B is not the same as proving that A entails ~B.

Tonight's homework is to find any other fallacies I have not already identified. This concludes today's lesson on how not to argue. Tomorrow, we'll discuss how to argue. Or maybe not.

Posted by: Xrlq at May 12, 2004 04:10 PM

Not only can't he pronounce his own name, but he can't tell the difference between extrapolation, implication and inference based on historical and sociological facts on the one hand and, on the other his own rhetorical card-tricks. Simple-minded logicians.....

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 12, 2004 05:16 PM

Speaking of ad hominems... Just for the record, I can pronounce my own name, and I can tell reasonable extrapolations from unreasonable ones. I can also distinguish logical implications from non sequiturs, and inferences that follow from historical and sociological facts from silly ones that come out of left field. And pointing out the poor logic of a poorly reasoned post is hardly equivalent to a card trick.

Other than that, your analysis is exactly correct.

Posted by: Xrlq at May 12, 2004 06:11 PM

As I might have expected, Jonathan, both of your comments said what I might have said myself.

Only you're always so much more articulate than I mange to be. Thank you.

Posted by: Anne at May 12, 2004 09:11 PM

Hugo - As promised, an explanation of what prompted my heated response.

[...] how empowering, not to mention erotically fulfilling, traditional sex roles can be for women!

Far from accepting today's world, far from dealing realistically with the growing problem of internet erotica, you're advocating a return to "traditional sex roles."

Might I remind you that "traditional" sex roles encompass men as the aggressors and instigators and women as near-passive objects? Men coaxing, persuading, and even forcing women into sex while the woman bears all of the shame, the guilt, and most of the potential consequences of the encounter?

The biggest problem with a woman's "traditional sex role" is a man's "traditional sex role."

I've often recommended Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty. Shalit makes an eloquent case for the reclaiming of modesty not merely for the protection of women but for their liberation.

Modesty "for the protection of women." Is this your feminism? Not equality, but protected and subordinate? (Please don't argue that you scenario won't result in subordination. If a woman has to be "protected" then she's automatically subordinated.)

This was in the quote from Hinlicky's review you so admired:

Men are more excited, she suggests, by the twinkling eyes behind the veil and the slender ankle peeking out from the long skirt than they are by casually exposed body parts and effortless conquests in the sack.

The object of said "modesty" is male arousal. Already, just in the bare discussion of the idea of female "modesty" the concept of a woman's equal right to be aroused is disappearing.

Hinlicky isn't writing a review. She's writing a Cosmopolitan feature entitled, "Ten Terrific Tricks To Turn Him Into A Tiger!"

I'm not angry any more, but I'm disappointed in you. From my perspective, you lost your objectivity at the merest mention of "spirituality" and jumped on the bandwagon without logically extrapolating what this "return to modesty" actually entailed.

The real problem, and the one I was interested in when I first began to read your post, has nothing to do with women or their sexuality. The issue is men and their sexuality and by pushing "modesty" for women you are, in my view, once again treating the symptom instead of the disease.

(You tend to argue, "if women didn't help make porn, men wouldn't be able to view it" and I say you're looking at it backwards. If men didn't pay money to see porn, women would have no reason to help make it. Please stop putting the primary blame on the women. The porn industry does not exist because some women decided they'd be willing to take their clothes off in front of a camera. The porn industry exists because men offered money to see women naked and someone went and found women willing to be naked. The market existed before the product.)

Men have always looked at porn when it was available. (And "polite" society has always thrown up its hands and deplored such wickedness.) The more easily available porn has become over the years, the more men who have begun to look at it.

This says nothing about women, but it says something about men.

Posted by: Anne at May 12, 2004 10:06 PM

Hugo, I'm posting this separately because I didn't want it buried in the above rant.

You did, indeed, post about modesty for men a month ago.

However, your post under discussion today made no mention of male modesty. The only topic under discussion was how women should behave. It was not stated, but your agreement with the "protection" issue for women clearly implied to me that it was a woman's responsibility to manage not only her sex drive, but to manage and control the sex drives of the men she comes into contact with.

Had you offered a post discussing modesty equally for both (all?) genders that included the concept of desexualizing entertainment and advertising in order to provide everyone with a less erotically numbing daily culture , I don't doubt my reply would have been somewhat different.

(Well, I'd imagine parts of the quoted text would still have annoyed me, but I wouldn't have taken it out on you.)

Posted by: Anne at May 12, 2004 10:14 PM

Re: production of porn, participation in

To reinforce Anne's point about the responsibility for pornography resting on the consumer, rather than the producer, I'd point out that female participation in the production of pornography or erotica is a relatively new phenomenon, a byproduct of modern still and motion picture technology, and may infact be a phase. Pre-photography, pornography was produced almost entirely by male artists, with no more active participation by women than in non-pornographic art (and telling the difference in some of those nudes is not simple, either; there's that vague erotica zone), and could have been dispensed with entirely. Now, in the animation and CGI age, there are whole categories of imagined pornography which is highly graphic and even realistic, but which involves no actual women as actors. If we sufficiently problematize the production of live-action pornography, it could well be largely replaced by high-quality animation, CGI, even interactive (and eventually multi-sensory) programs which will obliterate the distinction between pornography, prostitution and PacMan.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at May 12, 2004 10:20 PM

Xrlq - I'm not sure how to answer your first comment. Part of the time you're just wrong in how you interpret my comments but I assume it's an error of perception.

It's neither incorrect, nor is it "poisoning the well" for me to say how something makes me feel.

It's not a "fallacy fallacy" to assume that someone agrees with the exact argument they quote and use as a springboard for discussing their agreement.

You cited "tu quoque" but that's irrelevant to one bit of my post that you quoted, although potentially relevant to the other. (My statement was poorly worded, leaving the meaning open to misinterpretation.)

The idea behind a logical analysis of an argument is to help you through to the sense of what is being argued.

The idea behind an analysis of logical techniques used is to identify when someone is arguing in good faith or merely using semantic trickery to avoid seeing the truth.

My rationale for how I feel may not please you, but I assure you that, however badly expressed, this was posted in good faith.

As nearly as I can tell, the "slippery slope" accusation is the only one really well grounded. I was guilty of that one in a sense, but if you look at it differently, acting without speculating for the potential consequences of your behavior can get you into a lot of trouble, so a "slippery slope" argument is more valid in the course of a discussion than some might believe.

Posted by: Anne at May 13, 2004 07:57 AM

ANJ - I don't see anything in my post that would interfere with what you say you want in your comment.

the equality i want is to be treated with dignity as a human, and allow disagreement and differing viewpoints.

As do most of us.

yes, there are parts of hugo's post i read through quickly,

The difference between us is that I'm not able to read selectively. I consider the entire idea being presented, not just the bits that appeal to me.

while we argue semantics our youth are being sacrificed on the altar of porn,

It's dangerously short-sighted to dismiss semantics as unimportant. If you don't consider what words mean, what they mean in context, and what they mean to the user, how can you possibly know if you actually agree with what you're reading or not?

For instance, in my view, "sacrificed on the altar of porn" is an overstatement of the condition of today's society and the kind of sweeping generalization that tends to stop conversation rather than encourage it, but since I consider semantics, I'm also aware that that statement may seem less extreme to you and that the (to me) highly emotional phrasing probably results less from objective thought than from your experience as a parent.

In any case, it's not precisely the topic under discussion here, so I'm choosing not to respond to that particular comment. (I need more space than I have in a comments box.)

But I do share your desire to explore these topics with people holding different opinions in the hope of coming to some kind of understanding of what we're facing.

Posted by: Anne at May 13, 2004 11:52 AM

Anne:

It is indeed "poisoning the well" to imply - though admittedly, you stopped short of stating it directly - that Hugo has no right to opine on the subject because he is a man. That's the impression I got from "stop pretending like you want to 'liberate' me" line. If I misinterpreted it, I apologize; though frankly, I'm hard pressed to think of ANY interpretation of that statement that would not be objectionable on one grounds or another (unless, of course, you have evidence Hugo really "pretending" anything).

And it is a "fallacy fallacy" to rely on the fact that he linked to a book you don't like as evidence that his basic point was wrong -assuming that there really is something wrong with the book beyond the simple fact that you don't like it.

As to the sincerity of your post, I don't doubt that. The purpose of my first comment was to show that your argument was wrong, not that it was insincere.

Posted by: Xrlq at May 13, 2004 12:43 PM

You continue to misunderstand me and I can only assume it's because I continue to express myself poorly.

On the first point, the "you" was poorly chosen since that particular statement was directed generically at "people who say restricting women is 'for their safety' or 'for their own good' is liberation." There was no intent at all to say that Hugo, in particular or as a man, was not entitled to an opinion.

Since I believe that everyone is not only entitled to, but nearly obligated to have an opinion on almost everything, I would never tell someone they weren't entitled to have an opinion on any public issue.

On the second point, you continue to be wrong. The question of me "approving" or "not approving" the book in general does not enter into it.

I dealt only with the specific material that Hugo chose to quote and to express support for. I disagreed with that specific material and consequently disagreed with his support of that specific material.

There is no logical, rational, or moral fallacy in that.

I take your last comment and agree with it, in a fashion.

I am willing to consider the one point, the "slippery slope" that is the only argument you offered that I can see the potential truth of.

I see my line of argument as unexpressed, although logical extrapolation, but the whole "slippery slope" argument almost aways hinges on one person's extrapolation being another person's unwarranted jumping to conclusions.

Had I not been, as I made clear, posting while angry, I might well have chosen to show my line of thought about how easily a society can move from a suggestion of modesty to outright subordination. And I would have discussed how critical it is to consider these things.

Embracing any position, any call for action, without considering likely potential consequences is, in my view, intellectually and ethically dishonest.

On the other hand, exposing the path of your thoughts, the trend of your reasoning is an obvious necessity if you're really trying to communicate. I failed at that step.

Posted by: Anne at May 13, 2004 01:42 PM

Anne- I’m sure you don’t see anything in your post that would interfere with my desire to be treated with dignity as a human, and my desire to allow disagreement and differing viewpoints. I do, however, and here is the main example I saw:

“The topic is that in a society where a man never sees female flesh, his wife defaults to being really hot. (Because everyone wants to be hot because their partner has no other choice.)
Women, you see, should cover up from head to foot and the female body should go back on the list of prohibited public sights because it's better for men's sex lives. “

Gross misstatement of a post that rubbed one the wrong way does not seem to be filled with much dignity for any involved.

I also disagree with your statement “As do most of us.” It has actually been my experience and my struggle to realize that while I, and others, desire to be treated with respect, I, and others, do not necessarily want to treat all that way. My view of equality is that we deserve respect simply because we are all human. It is my struggle to live that out.

“The difference between us is that I’m not able to read selectively. I consider the entire idea being presented, not just the bits that appeal to me.”

At the risk of overstating, I would say the difference between us, in this instance, is that I want to learn from those with whom I disagree, at the same time acknowledging that I can and do agree with parts of what is being said. You, however, seemed to take in the bits that triggered your anger and threw away the rest. Perhaps I was looking for points of commonality and you were looking for points of dissonance?

“while we argue semantics our youth are being sacrificed on the altar of porn,
It's dangerously short-sighted to dismiss semantics as unimportant. If you don't consider what words mean, what they mean in context, and what they mean to the user, how can you possibly know if you actually agree with what you're reading or not? “

Thank you for stating much clearer than I the exact point I was trying to make. It was somewhat obvious to me, in the context of who I know Hugo to be by his writings, that he would not be advocating a burkha wearing society. It seemed to me as if certain thoughts were pulled out of the post, but the entirety of the piece was not accurately described. In other words, your semantics were being imposed on Hugo’s words.

I would agree with you about the overstatement of “sacrificing our youth on the altar of porn”. For some reason, it seemed to fit with the writing style exemplified in your post.

One statement that I agree with wholeheartedly is this: But I do share your desire to explore these topics with people holding different opinions in the hope of coming to some kind of understanding of what we're facing. Thanks for offering me that opportunity.

Posted by: anj at May 13, 2004 08:22 PM

Anj -

I also disagree with your statement “As do most of us.” It has actually been my experience and my struggle to realize that while I, and others, desire to be treated with respect, I, and others, do not necessarily want to treat all that way. My view of equality is that we deserve respect simply because we are all human. It is my struggle to live that out.

I said. I said I "most of us." The fact that some might not share this desire doesn 't make 'most of us" an untrue statement.

Perhaps I was looking for points of commonality and you were looking for points of dissonance?

If I didn't think he had valuable and interesting opinions to offer, I wouldn't be reading his blog. What you're describing is trolling and I don't troll.

In other words, your semantics were being imposed on Hugo’s words.

That's very possible. But if I don't challenge his words, how am I going to figure out what he intended to say as opposed to what I thought he was saying?

I could, have course, sent a polite little e-mail. "I don't agree with most of what you said but maybe that's because I don't understand how you mean the words you used" demands, in fact, that he "explain himself." He's not required to "explain himself" to me and it would be presumptuous of me to expect it. If I respond to a post of his publicly, he's free to get into a discussion with me, or not, as he chooses.

(As it happens, I don't doubt at all that he'd have enlarged on his thoughts if I'd asked politely, but as I keep reminding everyone, I was angry.)

I would agree with you about the overstatement of “sacrificing our youth on the altar of porn”. For some reason, it seemed to fit with the writing style exemplified in your post.

Yes, but I was angry. :)

In any case, if my post did nothing else, it gave me the opportunity to discuss Hugo's post with some people I might otherwise never have had the chance to talk to, and that has to be good, right? I was forced to consider my own words again, evaluate whether or not I'd meant what I said, and decide exactly what I had meant by various sentences.

Dissent keeps us honest.

Posted by: Anne at May 14, 2004 08:10 AM