here’s (yet) another article by my brotha (of another mama), simiyu barasa

Nairobi, KENYA – ‘Pornography is the theory, Rape is the practice’ -Robin Morgan

Pornography has, literally,been viewed from all angles. In universities, ladies have dropped from literature classes after reading Ayi Kwei Armah, D.H.Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and David Maillu’s After 4.30, claiming that they are pornographic. Yet in the movie halls films on sex are the craze, and one can’t visit any room without finding the roommates reading glossy porn magazines. One of the ladies, disgusted by all this, almost burnt magazines because the pictures used to advertise cars “expose too much” of the feminine body and thus are ‘pornographic.’ She claims that pornog raphy subordinates women, triggers and promotes violence against women, is immoral, dirty, perverted and bad. But is pornography really to blame for all this?

There has been controversy even in the feminist literary circles, where one group advocates for a total ban on pornography because it denigrates women and another group promotes pornography because they think that it liberates women. It is therefore important that all gender activists debate on the contemporary literary dialectics of feminism, female sexuality and pornography.

What exactly is pornography? Probably the best attempt at its definition is given by Andrea Dworkin, a feminist writer, and her lawyer compatriot, Catherine Mackinnon. Known as the Dworkin /Mackinnon ordinance, it summarises pornography as “. .. the graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words” that also includes those in which women enjoy being raped, are seen as sex objects, reduced to their sexual organs, are seen as whores by nature, or as being penetrated by objects or animals.

When our girl says she walked out of the movie hall because the pornography shown there depicted women as sexual objects, she implies that a woman is a tangible object. Raping a woman indeed is treating her as a sex object. Is it the same as in Dambudzo Marechera’s streams of consciousness in House of Hunger, where it is the mental act of fantasizing about having sex with her, a similar case of treating her as a sex object?

By focusing on the ‘body’, we exclude the ‘mind’.

Linda Moncheck in Feminist Politics and Feminist Ethics recognises liberal feminists who see sexual objectification based on physical bodies as what has domesticated women, shackling them to domestic duties and making them mere sex objects to their husbands. They have to eradicate this and press for access to economic and political power that will emancipate them. This is through doing ‘mind’ jobs like astronauts, doctors, etc.

In literature, and especially writing by women, this creates a problem. Don’t women want to be treated as objects of sexual pleasure when they dress up nicely for dinner? Is this not a form of sexual objectification? What then makes one form of sexual objectification good and another one bad?

In the movies and drama, don’t the women want to hear their perfect figures praised? They surely do not want to be treated like philosophers and discuss Cartesian dualism in bed, neither would a movie having a Wole Soyinka discussing African mythiopoesis during foreplay sell.

Linda goes further to show how valuing the mind over the body is no liberation for the woman who enjoys physical sex. Patriarchal societies can even use the superiority of the mind, which such feminists want, to make them ‘sexual’ factors e.g. when a male worker finds his female senior a turn-on due to her brainy nature (“I find her attractive, not because she is beautiful, but because she is intelligent”)

Social feminists seem to offer an answer to this when they propose a rejection of the metaphysical distinction between the mind and the body, and hence a rejection of the moral and aesthetic evaluation we place on the mind at the expense of the body. However this use of dualism would be a paradoxical fall into the anti-feminist trap of using the same traditional values defined by the same patriarchal society they intend to free themselves from.

Our girl also said that pornography subordinates women. One wonders why, in the South African theatre circles, and even causing more controversy when staged here in Kenya, feminists put up a production of The Vagina Monologues that was, to some conservertists, nothing short of vulgarity bordering on pornography.

One is also reminded that in December 1985, Richard Shchener’s Prometheus Project was staged at the Performing Garage in the U.S, to critical acclaim by gender activists. Its central image was the link between the Promethean fire and the Hiroshima bombing. At the end, Annie Sprinkle conducts a masturbation show-within-show. Psychoanalytic feminism supports this as true feminism celebrating women’s genitalia.

When our girl claims that Maillu’s ‘pornography’ about bar room prostitution is for ghetto people and thus is not an art but dirt she invites Marxist feminism to task.

Some feminists see banning of porn as a class argument, where the middle-class identity in a bourgeoisie culture protects itself from contamination.

In Kenya, what people despise as ‘pornography’ are films shown in the Eastland area, while “Kamasutra” and its likes being shown in Nairobi and the Fox Cineplex are seen as ‘erotic’ movies.

Erotica is defended as High Art and as about sexuality (Florida 2000 cabaret shows, D.H.Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Jackie Collin’s Hollywood novels, Playboy magazines and a host of other ‘White’ publications).

Pornography, in turn, is ferociously attacked as back-street trash that needs to be banned because it is about power and sex as a weapon (Mugithi nites in our pubs, Maillu’s After 4.30, and Okot P’Biteks Horn of my love). But where is the boundary between erotica and porn? Erotica is simply the pornography of the elite.

Other feminists, like Jacquelyn Zita in her article ‘Enclitic,’ see a ban on pornography as perpetuation of male dominance. It divides women into good ‘respectable women’ protected by their men (husbands, boyfriends and fathers.) The bad women are out there in the streets unprotected by men. This marks off the privileges of upper-class women against the economic and sexual exploitation of lower class women exemplified by Maillu’s Lili.

Even Susan Sontag, a feminist, is one of the best defenders of porn, for it is “extreme forms of consciousness that transcends social, personality and psychological individuality … because sexuality is the main force of humanity”.

To argue that Maillu’s works are immoral and full of perverse acts would force us to jump into metaethics. If literature is for freedom, then whoever says that pornography is bad has the right to give us advice, but not to impose it on us. Moral advice needs to have justification. Male chauvinists can argue it is an invention by females to serve their agenda.

If our hypothetical outraged girl searched for them in the moral market place that is religion, she can find it exists in all of us. If she links it to the deviation from normalcy because sex is for procreation not literary production, she steps onto the toes of radical feminists who view heterosexual relationships as essential in maintaining the oppressive phallic nature of men, for sex is seen as a manifestation of the anti-feminist violence implicit in the discourse of the dominant power structure.

The fundamental question now remains are we saying that pornography does not subordinate women? Are we saying that CAP.63 sec.181 (1)(a-e) of the Kenyan constitution, which says that anyone caught with pornographic material is liable to be imprisoned is obsolete?

Porn is not the subordination, but a depiction of the subordination of women.

Maillu’s After 4.30 does not subordinate women. It exploits an already existing misogynist attitude for commercial gain.

It shows how bosses exploit their secretaries like Lili after working hours, with one eye on literature and the other on the market value of this controversy. Such works, to quote Dworkin, show how women are humiliated until they finally realise that the ‘O’ in each of their body orifices is a ‘zero’ which symbolizes their nothingness in a man’s world.

These literary works do not encourage violence and rape but they reinforce the already existing negative attitudes towards women. It makes women fall into patriarchal mental slavery that makes them full of contempt for their bodies, so much so that they hate seeing themselves exposed in public. This confines them to domestic spheres.

Literature does not support this. It seeks to resist any systematic devaluation and humiliation of a spec ific target group, be it race, class, or sex.

It however accepts that this might be difficult to engineer if it were to involve tampering, not just with the circulations of magazines and books, but with the modes of thoughts and fantasizing which are not the prerogative of one sex only.

Our hypothetical girl should return to the Literature Department of her hypothetical university and learn that such works like Maillu’s tap into already existing stereotypes. She should also, by now, realise that Maillu, Armah’s and Lawrence’s works are not pornography for they do not fulfill the Dworkin/Mackinnon ordinance.

Literature does not condone pornography. Instead, we should all castigate some of those numerous movies and magazines that go further to represent such evil acts in order to gain financially from the amusement of others. We should condemn pornography and its businesses. It thrives by exploiting the profoundly pernicious enjoyment too many men find in the pornographic images of demeaning subordination.

Blogger’s note: as a pan-afrikan(ist)/feminist, I’d have to disagree with the premise and conclusions of my brotha (in another place, not) here, in his ‘literary’ analysis of the connections between pornography and feminism.

In my (not-so) lil’ ‘one-of-u-people’ position, najua that black feminism is intersectional and sex positive, fundamentally implies that we should not only condone [consensual] pornography but also educate ourselves en others about all the ‘good’ tings’ there are in our sex/uality, so that we KNOW  the difference between de good, bad na taboo.

So that we continue to legislate en support anti-oppressive (re)visions of  the current statutes on pornography, rape, sex work, sodomy, marriage, our right to assembly and privacy…

the bigger point is that , in (honor en memory of) audre lorde’s teachings, ni kama the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house…… tukona de powah of afrikan fractals.

 Literature, like a gun, depends on the hands it is in.

You ended your literature, blood and doves article with that (poignant en) powerful line, and I agree/d with you in that other place, not here, ndugu…..

precisely because literature CAN and HAS been, like a (loaded) gun, we have to be careful about using it to encourage the criminalization of some of the very people we claim to be advocating for, and strive instead to emulate the ‘good’ in us, doing the best we can to educate in (and for) the practice of freedom, au siyo?

One can play Russian roulette with a loaded gun, kill oneself or an/other (son of a bitch), en you can also remove the bullets, continue to play pretend, jus’ so everyone can continue to ‘think’ you’re tuff’, you can try to hide your darkness, buried deep within.  And ofcourse there’s always the (other) option of Jus’ change/ing and embracing our true true stories, spread(ing) love, (to) gain over/standing.

dear ndugu, literature does actually celebrate, glorify and pathologize sexuality in so, so many ways, WE  all know, because we see, hear, taste, embrace en witness this around us, so what about reflecting the light of sex/uality and decolonising methodologies?

Literature does not condone pornography. Instead, we should all castigate some of those numerous movies and magazines that go further to represent such evil acts in order to gain financially from the amusement of others. We should condemn pornography and its businesses. It thrives by exploiting the profoundly pernicious enjoyment too many men find in the pornographic images of demeaning subordination.

So your conclusion may be way off base [depending on where you look at it from ofcourse], pornography does not equal images of demeaning subordination, and it is not only (too many) men who find profoundly pernicious enjoyment in consuming these images…..the issue may be in jus’ what you glossed over, the consumption of….and these new ‘pernicious’ traditions of debasing [fe/male] sex/uality.

 if we weren’t living in a white supremacist capitalist partriarchal society, and instead in say an indigenous afrikan martriachal society, then there might be way less consumers than actors, lovers, priestesses, freaks, hos and those old couples needing to spice tings that kinda world, everyone would be free to enjoy consensual sex, with guidelines and rules to all relationships influenced by the individual, the ‘village’, and principles (based on something) like maat/ubuntu…..

Look at all the sex/ing around us…why do you think it ain’t that simple to jus’ reclaim (philosophies on) sex work and build bath houses (and temples) for the ‘chosen’ ones?  And why is there much less good porn than there is those straight ‘lesbian’ or cheesy ‘gang-bang/er’ ones?

Maybe we need to advocate more for the institution of affirmative action policies in the sex (work) industry, which would eliminate a lot of the ‘oppressors’ (strategically mis-identified as mostly) (!)

Our (kinda) feminism advocates consensual Sex acts for anyone, anytime they want it, no cop harassment, and as much sweaty, positive sex as you want or can afford instead.

Where [sex]workers are employed in safe spaces and paid fair wages.

 In other words, our kinda feminism practises the vision of a society that respects hos and mamas for their priceless gifts and ancient legacies.

So, dear ndugu, why don’t you listen to what your SISTA has to say on the issue of pornography, if you ask me nicely, I might even introduce you to some delicious, dangerously profoundly enjoyable, totally feminist porn flicks, like champion or crash pad, and there’s many more that (not only) I(‘ve) enjoyed, so I know the differences between good, bad en nasty porn out there, and I gotta confess I quite love the jood stuff,

dear ndugu, asante for writing out and sharing your thoughts on what is necessary to rebuild solidarity with OUR  cause, the liberation of not only all afrikan people, but all oppressed people , may we move forward ever with our growth and unity! The bigger point is, dear brotha, can we be friends and share resources?