I'd like to respond to some of the comments in my post below about stripping.
One of the important things I need to remember is to articulate a specifically male pro-feminist perspective on issues like stripping and sex work. Rather than just respond one by one to all of the criticisms of my strong anti-porn, anti-strip club stance, let me offer an overview of where it is that "I'm coming from" on this issue.
First off, it is damn near impossible for a man to take an anti-porn, anti-stripping stance without being perceived as being anti-sex worker. Some of this is my own fault. Either I'm construed as arguing that all female sex-workers are victims who need to be rescued, or folks assume that I see them as selfish narcissists who are "letting down the feminist side". I'm trying to avoid taking either stance, and I'm not doing a very good job so far. So while I regroup and prepare for another post on that subject, let me deal with the aspect of this issue where I do feel far more comfortable: writing about men who "consume" porn and other products of the sex industry.
If you do a Google search for "overcoming porn" or "stop going to strip clubs" on the Internet, you're going to find that virtually the only organized groups challenging men to change their behavior are religious organizations. There are dozens and dozens of Christian ministries in this country calling men to sexual accountability; Promise Keepers chief among them. They do important work, and I have many friends in these groups. Heck, I've even belonged to one or two of them. What these groups do get right is that they understand that the sex industry doesn't just hurt those who are the paid workers within it; it has devastating consequences for the consumer and his family.
But outside of the religious blogosphere, there is very little male writing about the problem of the sex industry. Furthermore, I almost never read posts about porn addiction/sex addiction on feminist blogs. We debate legalizing prostitution, and we all wax eloquently (or not so eloquently) about "gazes" and "subjectivities" and "perfomativities" and "agency." We all sound very sophisticated! But the reality is that millions and millions of American boys and men are spending hours staring at porn and masturbating to it, they're spending a fortune at strip clubs, and they are experiencing very real consequences. When feminist blogs do address these consequences, they understandably approach them out of concern for the women who are negatively impacted by men who use porn or visit strip clubs or consume sex workers.
But as a man who cares deeply about other men, I am grieved by how few non-Christian resources there are for men who are struggling with issues of sexual compulsion. (If that seems too strong a word, please understand that I've met a lot of guys in my day -- and I've met very, very few whose sexual behavior around porn/prostitutes/strippers wasn't compulsive to one degree or another. The power of sexual imagery and fantasy is so great that it tends to to turn folks who are remarkably self-controlled in other areas into embarrassed, ashamed addicts.) As a Christian, I have lots of resources if I choose; my friends who don't share my faith commitment (and are not likely to convert) have far fewer.
One conversation pro-feminist men need to have with each other revolves around our own feelings and experiences with the sex industry. If you're a pro-feminist man, you can't live your life in compartments. I simply don't believe it's within the range of human possibility to see women as autonomous agents of worth and value, with desires and wants of their own on the one hand -- and at the same time be viewing images of hundreds of images of women on your computer or gazing hungrily at a naked stripper gyrating on a stage. If sex touches us so deeply, it defies reason to suggest that any of us can keep our private behaviors from bleeding over into everything else we do. That's not just a Christian notion, that's sound psychology. But before we can all agree on that, pro-feminist men need to share their stories around the sex industry, not to shame ourselves but to see how universal our experience has been -- and to see the damage it has done.
What I don't like about the state of the male pro-feminist blogosphere is that so many folks spend a lot of time deflecting the conversation away from their own behavior. Lots of men comment on lots of feminist blogsites, and because these men hold solid opinions on reproductive rights and other public issues, their pro-feminist credentials don't get challenged. Now, I'm the last person to challenge anyone's credentials about anything, but I do believe that there's got to be more to being a pro-feminist man than holding a certain set of political and social convictions. To put it another way, I don't just want to know what you believe, I want to know what you live out in your private life. And if you're a heterosexual pro-feminist man, I want to know if your sexual behavior with women (in reality or fantasy) matches your public commitments. Tom, Dick, and Harry can wax eloquently in the comments sections of dozens of blogs about egalitarianism and justice. But I want to know, what do they look at on their computers when no one is around? And, even more importantly, how does what they look at affect their relationships with women?
To put it really bluntly, if you want to be a pro-feminist man you've got to honor your commitments with your mouth, your mind, your heart, your hand, and your penis. Few of us will do this easily at first; learning to live with that kind of integrity (or wholeness) takes a long time. But once you do get there, you become a resource for other men who are leading double or triple lives, filled with shame and embarrassment and a deep sense of their own weakness. Through a hell of a lot of work (and even more grace), I've created a life for myself where there is no discrepancy between my public pronouncements and my private behavior. I have accountability partners who know every website I visit; I like knowing that I will be challenged if they see something on my browser report that doesn't seem right. If my students, my blog readers, my friends could watch me on a hidden camera, they might see me singing silly songs to myself, or talking to my pencil or picking my nose, but they wouldn't see me directing any of my sexual energy anywhere other than towards my wife. And even if -- God forbid -- I were to be single again, I am confident that my commitment to staying away from the sex industry would remain firm and absolute.
That last paragraph sounds boastful. That's not my goal! Look, without getting into hurtful details, I've made a huge number of mistakes in this area. I've lived a quintuple life based upon privately objectifying the very class of human beings whose dignity I was publicly defending. That didn't work so well; heck, it nearly killed me to know what an absolute and utter fraud I was.
So the upshot of this very long post is this: men who care about feminism need to be willing to match their language and their lives. When it comes to discussions of sex work and sexuality, we mustn't hide behind academic jargon. We can't issue sweeping defenses or condemnations of the sex industry without first being honest about our own personal responses to that industry. That doesn't mean that every male pro-feminist blogger has to go public about his private life (not everyone has tenure!) But it does mean that when it comes to something so profoundly powerful as sex, it's absurd to pretend that any of us can discuss this without our own experiences, fantasies, and sense of shame coming into play.
UPDATE: As always, some folks just don't want to discuss this issue head on. This is not a thread to discuss the role of women in sex work. This is a thread focusing on men as consumers, as customers, as clients -- and how the sex industry (stripping and porn in particular) shapes their lives. This is not a male-only thread, but it is a thread that focuses on the impact on the male consumer and those around him. If you want to comment on the impact on female sex workers, the earlier post is the place to be.