Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Dallas' Attempt at Selective Subjugation
What is porn?
What constitutes smut?
Exactly how do we define those things that subjugate women?
Earlier today, by the thinnest of margins, the Dallas City Council voted to prohibit a large porn industry trade show from renting the city-owed convention center for their event. According to D Magazine, the 8-7 vote came at Mayor Mike Rawlings' request that the council back him up as the city's main "brand manager." And as a brand, he says Dallas shouldn't be known as a city that endorses the subjugation of women.
To illustrate his point, Rawlings - a wealthy, white Democrat - recounted to the council a description of an event scheduled for Exxotica,* an annual exposition booked this year for Chicago, Dallas (tentatively), and suburban New York City.
“I read online that there’s a place (in the Exxotica event) called the Dungeon, where women are tied up and whipped,” he said. “There’s where it crossed the line for me.”
Now to be sure, in just about any definition of subjugation, whether of men or women, being tied up in a dungeon and being whipped rates as a pretty heinous example. Except... nobody at Exxotica will be forced to undergo what otherwise would be a human rights atrocity. In fact, for some people, what would otherwise constitute an egregious breach of civil protocol is titillating.
Not that I'm defending the flaunting of taboos - especially sexual ones. Yet it's a fact that some people consider things like bondage and pain to be sexually arousing. I don't excuse that, or endorse it. But if two consenting adults want to do something, where do the legal lines prohibiting them from doing it get drawn?
What's the difference between watching two actors perform something like that on the stage, or the big screen... or at a sex industry convention?
What makes the taboo illegal?
It's kinda the same argument people used to use against homosexuality. Social conservatives said that since they believed homosexuality to be vile behavior, it should be illegal. But if the aim is to try and legislate morality, we all know how effective that is.
We can't simply say that something we believe to be immoral should also be illegal, and leave it at that. Don't we also need to reinforce our beliefs with comprehensive behaviors on our part? Rhetoric and half-measures only convince some of the people some of the time.
For example, one council member voted to deny Exxotica its convention permit by reasoning that she didn't want "to stay silent and let things happen behind closed doors in the city of Dallas that I don’t approve of.”
What kind of rational statement is that? I'm sure there are all sorts of things taking place behind closed doors across Dallas of which she and plenty of other people don't approve. Yet lots of those things are legal. So, when it comes to the ways consenting adults choose to express their sexual desires, within legal parameters, who gets to bend those legal parameters? Or deny them?
Besides, if we're talking about the subjugation of women, how many times have the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders appeared at the city's convention center? Shucks, they flaunt on national television some of the same provocative clothing and body gyrations as what's available at Exxotica. One of Dallas' richest families, the Hunts, members of which came out vehemently opposing Exxotica's presence in Dallas, owns the Kansas City Chiefs, an NFL team with a cheerleading squad which wears provocative clothing. Is it merely because sexy cheerleaders have become mainstream that the way they subjugate women is accepted by acceptable society?
After all, it could be argued that cheerleaders subjugate women by presenting an unrealistic stereotype of femininity that looks a certain way, suggests certain sexual things, enhances certain body parts, and uses all of this sexuality to superficially support gridiron warriors on the field. And guess what? Just because you may not agree with that assessment doesn't mean cheerleaders don't subjugate women.
And just because you may think that certain types of sexual taboos don't subjugate women doesn't mean that they don't.
See what I mean? Frankly, I agree with the mayor that sexual acts of bondage do actually serve to subjugate the people being held in bondage, and I presume that most of those people are women. Yet as long as a double-standard exists in which other examples of activities depicting the subjugation of women are allowed to go on unpenalized, then where is the legal ability to use the subjugation of women in a narrow definition of pornography? And the denial of public space for a legally-operating smut convention?
In my essay yesterday on the topic of Exxotica's presence in Dallas, I intentionally described the annual convention of cosmetics giant Mary Kay. Now, here's a company that has built a business empire on the idea that women need to doll themselves up artificially in order to be considered attractive. Yeah, sure, I have a friend who sells Mary Kay, and she keeps telling me they now have products for men. But we have no idea what Mary Kay Ash, the company's founder, looked like without all of her company's products lathered on her face. Why? Because she believed that the face she presented to the world needed to be artificially enhanced. And many women believe their face needs to be artificially enhanced to be acceptable in public.
Funny how men don't wear cosmetics. And why is that? Because American women apparently feel as though they'll be better accepted by men - and even other women - if they paint and powder their faces to look a certain way.
In more primitive countries, both men and women paint their faces - and their entire bodies - to look more beautiful, or more fierce. They wear makeup to appease their deities, or indicate a rite of passage. Indeed, Mary Kay Ash didn't invent the cosmetics industry, and wearing paints and other disguises isn't wrong in and of itself. But why do American women wear so much of it, especially since we supposedly don't have the primitive mating rituals found in other parts of the world?
Or, maybe our mating rituals are more primitive than we want to admit?
At any rate, even though I don't approve of pornography and its various smutty accouterments, and believe that they serve to denigrate and damage the people who create and consume them - whether they want to believe it does or not - we have a problem here. Because sexual promiscuity is so widespread and rampant in our culture, when it comes to trying to legally contain it, we invariable run up against free speech questions. On the one hand, parallels between pornography as a genre and evils like human trafficking and the subjugation of women seem readily apparent. Yet on the other hand, not everybody in the porn industry participates in human trafficking, nor do they believe that certain taboos, when performed consensually, constitute subjugation.
So how do moralists stand up for what they believe is healthy, when legislating morality can be so tricky?
One conservative councilman who voted in favor of barring Exxotica from using the city's convention center rationalized that "evil triumphs when good men do nothing." Which brings us back to whether the provocative clothing and gyrations by NFL cheerleaders is an example of evil's triumph or not. And do "good men" let their women disguise themselves behind layers of makeup in a pursuit of culturally-relative beauty? Which evil is worse: letting women play-act at sexual bondage, or spending public dollars on a First Amendment lawsuit the city will almost certainly lose?
If we're going to talk about exploitation here, I think some exploitation of last year's Exxotica that was held in Dallas bears some repeating: three non-profit organizations that work to transition sex workers and porn addicts out of the industry actually paid for booths within the convention, establishing a sort of beach-head of moral redemption during an event which otherwise celebrated sexual decadence. At a city-owned facility, such strange bedfellows can be allowed to exist.
Which actually opens up a whole new area of dialog that Dallas, a Bible Belt city awash in churches, should be primed to exploit.
If evil does indeed triumph when good people do nothing, should Dallas' conservatives simply let this thing play itself out in the courts, instead of outside (and inside) the convention center?
And imagine what could happen if all of this self-righteous concern over the subjugation of women could be unleashed against the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and all of the women who believe they need cosmetics to be presentable in public?
After all, if you're not going to play the full "subjugation against women" card, why should you expect Exxotica's fans to take you seriously when it comes to shutting down their convention?
* The official name has three X's in it, but I'm afraid that putting all three online will trigger spam filters and prevent readers from accessing this essay.