Moses freed the Jews. Lincoln freed the slaves. I freed the neurotics.
— Larry Flynt
In Part I, I described my experiences while attending two “Women’s Studies” courses at Harvard, with a total of two men in both classes. Only one man was actually registered, and he was an older student who had already left a successful law career and was working on a book.
I attempted to illustrate that women’s studies offers little to no cultural or professional currency for those who are career fast-tracking, also known as the “ghettoization” of women’s studies.
I then described the philosophical position of female students — primarily undergraduates — who argued for a hand’s off approach to female genital mutilation out of deference to cultural difference, or some such intellectual good. Their position was best understood as being the consequence of”socialization,” but their lack of empathy was disconcerting at best.
In conclusion, through dramatic if strained anecdotal leaps, I posited that most of our so-called sexual morality is actually economic, rooted in externalized authority, i.e., the status quo, that rarely sees through its own shortcomings, as it’s habituated and unconscious. To this end, I concluded:
“Correlation may not be causation, but socialization usually hides behind truth’s intellectual respectability. For this reason, the moral awareness diplomat argues against intervention for the lives and bodies of other women, because society’s truths keep her safe. Her father, meanwhile, confesses to his phone whore his need to humiliate several types of women, mitigating the pain of his safe guarded domestic life. The systemic violence lurks, in the father’s fantasy, in the daughter’s diplomacy.
If you will indulge the strained analogy, privileged father and surrogate daughter suggest the wholesale socialization of men and women, in a comprehensive system that is economic, not moral.”
Now to Larry, and why he is important.
Larry has said, “I exploit women like McDonald’s exploits hamburger,” (I think he means cows) and this assertion is the unvarnished, honest truth. He doesn’t speak about how the world ought to be, or hide behind the ‘crinolines of respectability’ (Toni Morrison, Nobel lecture) where wholesale violence goes unchecked, invisibly under the radar, in social norms and comforting if empty language. Unlike the female Harvard undergraduate that I portrayed, or her symbolic father who must cathartically humiliate and torture during paid sex to release the tensions caused by his unexamined status quo driven life, Larry shows us what this culture is made of, and it’s violent and it’s ugly and he lays it bare with brutal honesty.
I like Larry, for many reasons, his raw honesty being one. He’s not socialized into what needs to be said to gain cultural capital. He doesn’t give a damn, and has created an empire by not caring what anyone thinks: he takes our many hypocrisies to task with attention grabbing flamboyance and great business acumen, and doesn’t pretend to be doing anything other than what he does, i.e., capitalist exploitation of a consumer commodity, women. Consequently, in the most base terms, he lays out what this culture is made of. Unlike other mainstream sex for sale enterprises, Beyoncé, J-Lo, just about everything else bought and sold, or Hefner’s polished cultural posturing, Larry doesn’t pretty up his exploitation narrative with anesthetizing bull-shit about “the articles,” if you will indulge my own predilection for honest language.
He knows precisely what he does, and he owns it outright.
Larry has also said, “I love women, as do our readers, all of our readers.”
Of course, he means “men.”
Men who buy his magazine, in which women are exploited, because, according to him, sex has always been exploited, and will always be exploited.
Larry’s (or Hustler’s) biggest challenge these days is finding women who are still au naturel, because in the past decades, despite all the feminist dialogue about our right to be ourselves, women are going barer and barer, and it’s always been Hustler’s policy to have them be bushy and beautiful. So while many of our well intentioned feminists ignore the rights of sex workers in their dialogue, trashing sex work as demeaning and horrible and oh the men who consume this stuff are just rotten to the core, they are more than happy to go on crusades against Larry, who has a hard time finding unshaved women to exploit, because feminism has been so effective in one of its presumed goals, having us not be made in man’s image, which is now defined by the Brazilian wax.
Gotta love irony.
Back to Larry.
Larry freely admits, yes, I exploit women. Using one of the most egregious metaphors possible if one wants to be an effective agent provocateur and marketing master for a publication empire: compare women to hamburgers.
Then he goes onto to say: “I love women. [Hustler] readers love women.”
Exactly. And I believe he does.
He loves them and he exploits them. It’s called cognitive dissonance, a.k.a., neurosis.
This is the insanity of the world that we live in.
We’re living in cultural neurosis twenty-four seven, and buried under so many inconsequential narratives about crap that doesn’t matter, meaningless narrative piled upon meaningless narrative, most of us fail to recognize the depth and breadth of our personal neuroses, let alone the fabric of the neurotic meta-narratives governing our lives.
Stripped of pretense, Larry lays that neurosis bare, cuts straight to the heart of at least one aspect of our cultural cognitive dissonance.
Of course, knowing that you’re neurotic and actually fixing it are two different beasts. But recognizing neurosis is the first step to freedom.
However, until we understand our own sexuality and its many complex layers, sex work and sex for sale will be with us, and we are simply arguing ideal worlds and caught in false dichotemies of right and wrong, good and bad, what might be versus grappling with what is, impeding our personal progress, and progress as a species.
More important, we’re ignoring the sex worker’s sacred and vital function, as it has been deeply buried under meaningless morality narratives about dignity, many of which are built on inglorious concepts of shame, vaguely comforting ideas about what is wholesome and good that issue from religion, cultural mores, or the violation of individuals who will not be consoled.
We’re also ignoring life’s most precious lesson, that to live is to be interdependent. If left unchecked, that interdependence becomes exploitation, but exploitation can only take hold when the dignity of that work is stripped away under a sanitized notion of “the greater good.” To deny the sex worker her or his dignity and needed role in society is itself a form of exploitation — it’s a way of buttressing a grossly self-righteous view of the world underneath the ‘crinolines of respectability’ that serve those who have, almost always at the expense of the have nots.
We possess dignity, not because of our religious beliefs, our moral position, our status, our livelihood, what we do or don’t do with our genitals, whether other people respect us or not, whether or not life has graced us with people and circumstances that treat us well: we possess dignity because we live, breathe, and occupy the planet with our one precious life. It’s not the onus of the sex worker to garner their dignity through getting new work and creating a new life, it’s the onus of society to recognize the sex worker’s inherent human dignity through legal and economic rights.
If religion teaches us anything, it’s the redemptive power of love, and the only vital morality in religion’s pages is the dictate of love.
Love. That’s it.
Or as Cornel West writes, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Of course, it’s getting to love that’s the big issue for most of us, one interaction at a time, one social reform movement at a time.
I’m going to invoke a flawed analogy.
As a human who has rarely eaten other animals since she was eleven years old, I consider myself a much better pro-life advocate than many of those I hear moralizing about the unborn child’s right to life.
I love animals. I don’t eat them.
Similarly, because I embrace life, and actually do not consider that the being a woman carries in her body is simply a cluster of cells, but a potential human with a world of experiences that may be lived, the idea of abortion disturbs me. If confronted with a healthy pregnancy, I doubt that I could deny life to another. The unborn feels pain as early as two months into gestation, the heart beats, the nervous system feels the mother’s moods and feelings in an extraordinary symbiosis, and who that person will be already carries a spark deep inside, connected by a beautiful cord of cells and membranes and veins to a woman’s body. “I need you” is the place we all start from, it’s our first life lesson, right there, between mother and her unborn.
When we sever the “I need you” life lesson and bury it under the socially respectable language of science and objectivity, we’ve lost something important in our world view, we’ve replaced the experience of vital connection with a scientifically skewed idea that too easily distances us from our first and perhaps most important life lesson — interdependency.
Fetus? Not in my mind, nor for my understanding.
But that’s my choice, my world view. It’s also not for me to shame those who must make a different choice, because their reasons are valid and true for them and their life circumstances. Shame and blame aren’t my place or prerogative.
Because I choose a world where we all need each other for survival, and I respect difference.
At this juncture, I presumably still live in a democracy, and in the conundrum between the life that has already been realized, and the one which is still forming, the rights go to the woman carrying the unborn.
What I can do is support democracy, then make my voice heard, and learn in the process.
My respect of interdependency and difference holds for the lives of nonhumans.
I can try to explain that I believe nonhuman animals have souls, they think, they feel, they learn, they protect, they fear, they make decisions, and they have a right to live without being exploited for something as frivolous as human consumption.
Larry’s easy use of the hamburger analogy speaks to yet another cultural malaise, our easy and unchecked exploitation of gentle creatures with a life to live. Certainly, no animal deserves the kind of treatment that most of us are aware of by now.
We love animals, but we exploit them.
A nonhuman life and a potential human life carry meaning for me and my world view. But the world we live in is not ideal, it’s a world we’re working towards A world in which animals are free to live without pain and suffering, and universal access to healthy reproductive choices exists unfettered, is taken advantage of, and every child grows up wanted, loved, cared for, free from war and poverty.
A world in which sex is no longer written in Madonna-Whore narratives, where economics welded to morality doesn’t dictate that swaths of women will be cared for, and others will be treated as human trash, working for slave wages. Or pitied as victims.
Or whatever other narrative assumes that sex work is fundamentally “dirty” and therefore we have some neat little cognitive box to stick it into, because cultural neurosis keeps us hypnotized.
I would love a world in which all intimate relationships were written in love and understanding, and we could all find the partner of our dreams, a place where our egos had already gone through the necessary lessons needed during this lifetime, and we enjoyed complete and fulfilling intimacy with the partner(s) of our choice, because there was no mucking around in the complexities of life.
What we can do, until then, is learn the simple lesson of dignity, and have it be written deeply in our behaviors.
And law. And public policy.
Of the three, a world where animals remain free from human selfishness, a world where babies are born into love and caring, and humans will give and get the intimacy that they need, it’s the last that I believe will be the final frontier of change.
Too many men and women benefit from the Madonna – Whore schism, and, unfortunately, many women who rabidly support women’s issues are smitten with an idea of dignity that belies how removed they are from the lives of those who are simply trying to support themselves. To this writer, ideologues fail to understand that Larry Flynt does indeed love women, people love animals while chowing down their McDonald’s hamburger, all life is a precious gift that we need to affirm with a deep and circumspect reverence if we’re to embrace sustainable interdependence, and sex work is an economic issue waiting for its workers to be treated with legal dignity and respect, simply because they are humans, it’s their right.
No other reason needed.
More ruminations, and more on Larry’s importance, in Part III.