Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sexual Ethics in a World of Selfish Selfie Me

On our wedding day, my wife and I cut the cake, and while we both had our respective pieces in hand, and eyed its delicacy with eager anticipation of the sweet taste and smooth texture, some dolt from the crowd yells out, "Shove it in her face!"  I look askance in his direction with disapproval.  Monica and I then enjoyed the cake we each had in our respective hands.  Why didn't we do the "cake in your face" so prevalent at weddings?  It's because neither of us wanted to shame the other.  Maybe you think it's a harmless bit of humor, but to me it's lost its flair.  Why?  I think it is because a person's dignity and essence is endowed in their face.

Recently on Patheos, an author D.G. Meyers wrote an article, "You Tell 'Em Duke Porn Star," about a Ms. "Belle Knox" whom we now know as Miriam Weeks, the 18-year-old girl who made blue films in order to pay for her $60,000 annual tuition.  Meyers aptly notes the that the media, while they themselves empower Weeks' "empowered woman" message, fail to explain the shame and abuse Weeks is subjected to in her films.  Meyers reminds us that the practice of "facials" (ejaculation onto the face) is a common feature of the films, along with abusive speech and acts of violence against Weeks on the part of her male "actors."  She is subjected to violence and humiliation, and she says this empowers her, and mainstream media has tagged along with this message.

The genesis of the "empowerment" message, says Meyers, comes from an absence of shame, and the failure to recognize two things.  First, we fail to recognize that the face of a person is in essence, who they are.  It is not all who they are, but the face of a person carries their essence in no other way than the rest of the human being can or does.  Secondly, the "empowerment" message comes from a dismissal of how we use to relate to one another: the old way was in a face-to-face meeting, where personhood is exalted by means of relationship and all the idiosyncrasies that are involved.  It is in this most intimate form of human expression that is destroyed in a "facial."  That which is base (semen) desecrates the most sacred aspect of the human being - the face.  Why is it that Weeks and a large part of our society refuses to cast shame on what she's doing?  The reasons are myriad, but they boil down to a fundamental difference in how we now relate to one another.  Rather than the aforementioned face-to-face way of relating, we now are under a "power struggle."
Meyers writes that this power struggle is rooted in the French philosophy of Michel Foucault (1926-1984):
An entire generation, drilled in the Foucauldian apothegm in nearly every humanities course taught over the past three-and-a-half decades, has learned its lesson well: there is no distinction between knowledge and power, there is but power: “the deployment of force and the establishment of truth” (those are the same thing).
What Meyers means here is that since, according to Foucault, knowledge and power are one and the same, any time someone seeks to offer someone else a bit of knowledge for them to ponder, and hence, to change their way of life, this is seen as a "power move."  You can see the force of it, I'm sure.  Heh.  Truly, Foucault gives us much to think about (and act on!).  We are reminded of course, that knowledge isn't power; it is not necessarily so.  People are free to act according to what they know, and they are free to not act according to any new knowledge they obtain.  (The obtaining of new knowledge will always bring about some kind of change in a person, but this is beside the point). What is the point?  It is precisely that because we live in an autonomous society, we are afraid to shame most anyone.  We are constrained by the fear of violating someone's personhood by engaging in a power struggle with them.  Hence, we do not bother to offer someone suffering from a pathology of self-inflicted pain like what Meeks is doing to herself, for fear of usurping her autonomy to do what she pleases.  For, who are we to judge her?

Well, I'd like to offer this, especially with regard to "facials."  Consider the face of a person.  It's who they are, no?  Now consider when someone throws a pie in that face.  We find it humorous, in part, due to the fact that the pie simply does not belong on the face.  It's in the wrong place.  But something in the wrong place does not make it humorous.  No.  It's humorous because the person throwing the pie gets a sense of faux superiority over the person into whose face the pie is thrown.  Now consider the crime of acid attacks. Go to the website Stop Acid Attacks (warning: graphic) and consider why a man would desecrate a woman in this way.  It is because he knows that her face is who she is.  If he can destroy her face (so he thinks), he can destroy her life.  And by and large, he does.  It is a life sentence.  She will suffer horror til she dies. Thankfully, the good people at SAA help these women to have a sense of pride and empowerment through acts of love and compassion toward them, and through offering them ways of creating life-giving, means of beauty.   Now consider the "facial."  What is the purpose and motive for a man to do this to a woman?  Is it not to feel superior to her?  Is it not to shame her?  Is it not a power move, the very thing Foucault tells us about?  Is it not because, both the man and the woman know intuitively, that the bodily fluid is in the wrong place?  And it is a base fluid.  It is not evil, of course.  But it has an express purpose - to create life.  It has the purpose to create other faces!  It's purpose is not to desecrate a face.  

Now someone will ask, "Why is this wrong, but not the pie, for you are arguing about purpose and goal, and you accept the one but not the other (acid attack excluded because of the permanent damage)?  To this I say, consider first of all your intuitions.  (We could also talk about Aristotle's four causes [material, formal, efficient, final], but space does not permit it.  Just consider the differences between a pie and semen, and see if your common sense comes into play).  Does it not seem to you that this act is a form of shaming the woman?  Actually in both cases, the person is shamed.  One is merely less harmful than the other.  And why is it less harmful?  Again, consider: pie, or this time, human waste.  Get it?  Just as a pie is to be eaten, so also the man's bodily fluid is made with the express purpose of being inside the woman, and human waste is meant for the sewer.  That's just plain natural, but people don't get that because they think that because of the pill and because of condoms, the semen of a man is dispensable and without any purpose at all - except what purpose "I" give it.  And that's the entire problem here with the whole thing: the Self.  It is Foucault's philosophy of power and the Self which pits any kind of ethic, sexual or otherwise, over against any kind of responsibility to protect and nurture the dignity inherent in any human being.  Humans have inherent dignity, and the Founding Fathers, whether they were Deist or Christian, knew with keen observation that humans are endowed with inalienable rights from "their Creator."  But even if you don't believe in a Creator, consider: does it seem right to you that a young woman should subject herself to acts of violence and pain, abusive speech, and sexual acts which demean her personhood (her face - not to mention her body), in order to obtain money?

Meyer's excellent article is here.


philwynk said...

I apologize for the graphic nature of this comment; the subject matter requires it. I speak as a recovered porn addict.

I think you are correct about power, but overemphasize the face.

The "facial" in a porn movie is, in fact, a declaration of power, but not precisely for the reason you claim. Everything in porn films is about male power--men take what they want from passive women, using them as objects for their pleasure. Ejaculating on the face matters to some with particular fetishes, and the face does have some special importance, but it's just as much a mark of ownership if the semen lands on other parts.

As to weddings, again, you're on the right track but one might quibble with particulars. At weddings, the bride is concerned about far more than her face. The ambiance of one's wedding is a subject of much emotional importance to young women. To risk ruining it by a frat boy prank is foolish and crass; no man with any sense would begin his married life by marring his bride's memories deliberately.

Thank you for taking on a difficult subject. You're certainly near the 10-ring, if not precisely in the middle.

chris van allsburg said...

Thanks Phil. Yes, pornography is a terrible destroyer. I'm glad you are free of it!