You may have noticed that my blog was kinda dead for a week. That’s because I’d tripped off to Melbourne to attend the Global Atheist Conference.
I wasn’t going to write about it on this blog. After all, it should be about porn, right? And I don’t want to alienate any of my readers who may be religious in their own way. But I feel the need to have a bit of a ramble about myself and what I experienced at the convention because it touches on the two things that define this blog: feminism and porn.
As a teenager I was a Christian but we never went to church. My family were very liberal in their beliefs and we didn’t go in for all the hymn-singing and praying stuff. As the years went by I whittled down my idea of religion into a fairly nebulous blob of “spirituality”. I thought that I’d probably go to heaven when I died because I was nice and surely God would see that. Beyond that, I didn’t think about it much. I’d read my bible, knew a lot of it was horribly violent and nonsensical but figured I liked the philosophy of Jesus. He was a good guy, like Ghandi. Still, I had serious problems with his followers and their idea of morality, particularly sexual morality.
It all changed when I read the God Delusion last year. I couldn’t fault the argument of Richard Dawkins against the existence of God/gods. I realised that I was actually an atheist but I hadn’t really examined my beliefs properly up until that point. It was confronting to realise that yes, I was going to die and that would be the end of me. At the same time, that realisation is rather freeing. I’ve got one life, I need to make the best of it. When I die, my non-existence will be exactly the same as it was before I was born.
SO… what’s this got to do with porn and feminism?
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Fact is, religion is a major factor in the way we approach sex and gender. Unfortunately, the impact of religion on sexuality has been largely negative. The Christian/Jewish/Muslim view of sex as being sinful and dirty informs how we construct our own sexuality; it shapes what we find to be sexy. The idea of women as either Madonnas or whores is reflected in porn’s treatment of women.
You see the results in the very language of porn: how women are sluts and whores, how porn titles often use the words sinful, secret, dirty, filthy. I’ve seen people say that sex is best when it’s dirty. There’s so much guilt and shame surrounding the act that we rope in these emotions and fetishize them. The result is sexual expression that is often problematic, sexist, unrealistic and demeaning.
On top of that, so much of the opposition to porn comes from religious people and is informed by a religious morality that dictates a very narrow view of sexuality: that monogomy is the only acceptable form of relationship; that homosexuality is wrong; that “promiscuity” is sinful; that certain sex acts such as anal sex are evil; that masturbation is harmful. The push to label all porn as “addictive” has its roots in the desire of some religious people to control the sex lives of others.
Similarly, I find that the lives of women the world over are negatively affected by religion. All the monotheistic religions, Hinduism and even some strands of Buddhism teach that women are inferior. The entire basis of Islam seems to rest on the idea that men cannot control their sexual desires but it is women who are responsible for the sexual behaviour of men. Across the world oppression, violence and rape are regularly perpetrated against women in the name of God.
One of the best things about the atheist convention was that it was openly feminist. There was no animosity towards the concept of feminism whatsoever. The equality of men and women was accepted as self evident by everyone there. It occurred to me that I’ve rarely felt so comfortable with expressing feminist ideas. There was no animosity, no nervousness from the guys, no hesitant expressions of “I’m not a feminist but…” It was all relaxed and intelligent. Imagine how far we could get if all discourses on feminism were like that?
One of the highlights for me was the speech by Bangladeshi author and feminist Taslima Nasrin who is currently in exile from her home country and under the threat of several fatwas from Islamic fundamentalists. She was forced out of India in 2007 because she dared to write an article criticizing the burka and the way women are treated by Islam. She said: “Religion is made for the pleasure and comfort of men. I don’t know why any woman would subscribe to it.” For her, there is no compromise between Islam and feminism. She believes that a woman who wears the veil cannot call herself a feminist because she hasn’t properly analysed the religion that seeks to oppress her. This is from a woman who was brought up as a Muslim.
As she described the pain of living in exile and the constant fear of assassination, I blinked back tears. The audience gave her a standing ovation. Here is what feminism is really about, I thought. Here is a woman risking death in order to speak her mind, speaking out against women’s oppression.
And then I thought, I’m a feminist because I’m an atheist and I’m an atheist because I’m a feminist.
At the convention, we discussed a lot of things: philosophy, ethics, evolutionary biology, science and politics. While there was a huge diversity of opinion on show, one thing we all agreed on is the idea of a secular society. Church and state need to be separate. Political action should be based on evidence and reason, not personal belief.
Everyone has the right to their own religion (or lack thereof) but they should keep it to themselves. When we start telling each other how to behave according to religious beliefs, conflict and oppression are the inevitable result.
Every day I see examples of the way that religion is exerting too much influence on our society and causing harm. The bans on gay marriage, the growth of abstinence-based sex education in the US, the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandals, the Pope saying that condoms are not the answer to AIDS, the plan to censor the internet in Australia, the ongoing oppression of women in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and Iran, the widespread practice of female genital mutilation, the attacks on reproductive choice and the right to abortion for women, the tax-free status given to churches so they can prosletyse, the death threats against those who speak out against Islam. The murder of Dr Tiller. The whole Arab/Israeli conflict. 9/11… I could go on.
Because I oppose these things, I’m an atheist. And it’s part of my larger philosophy, one that includes feminism and what the psychologists stupidly call “erotophilia” – an enjoyment of sex without shame. I’m also a humanist; I believe in a secular society, freedom of speech and universal human rights.
I hope that there are religious people out there who also believe in these things and will stand up for them. In that we have lots of common ground.
I hope this post hasn’t put off any of my readers; I realise this is one of those issues that can be confronting and I certainly didn’t want to upset anyone with it. Rather, it’s simply a statement of where I’m at right now, and why I felt it important to attend that convention.
I think that the path to atheism is a very personal thing; you can’t really “convert” people to this way of thinking. They have to be ready to go there themselves. There’s no dazzling miracles on display, no mystical experiences to be had. Only the wonder of the physical universe and life on Earth and a sense of amazement at the improbable fact of your own existence.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled porn.