Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Month: September, 2015

The Post With a Parental Advisory Warning

This is another blog I have been afraid to post because I know how controversial this subject is and how difficult it is to talk about and I know I will be misunderstood. And really, when it comes right down to it, I am afraid I may offend people – which I really hate to do. But I have been trying to learn to not allow fears dictate what I do and say and this is an issue I really care about and want to see discussed more openly and more seriously, so here it goes. Just please know I do not feel like I have this figured out at all and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.

I am anti-pornography. In fact, I think pornography usage is detrimental to both individuals and society.

I know just saying that negates the few “cool girl” points I may have. I know this makes me sound anti-sex. I know that some people may question how forward-thinking I am. I know that I am supposed to believe it is normal and without stigma. I know some people may assume I have this position just based on bad personal experiences. I know it is currently avant-garde for most feminists to be pro-pornography and so even stating this can bring my feminism into question. And I do not generally like to label myself as “anti” anything.

All of those potential assumptions make me hesitant to write about this but I want to be able to be open about and have honest and serious conversations about why I think pornography is so harmful. Please do not think I am a prude or frigid or anti-sex. I am very much sex-positive. I regularly champion films just because they show any aspect of the sexual experience from a female perspective. There is a shocking lack of scientific study of sex and especially of female sexuality and I think that is a problem that needs to be rectified. I completely reject the hypothesis that women are biologically less interested in sex than men. So when I say I am anti-pornography, what I am against is objectification of women and men.

The limited research there is on porn’s influence on an individual’s sexual behavior is pretty dismal. Most studies show a correlation between increased porn use and decreased real-life sexual satisfaction. Being introduced to sex by way of porn is unfortunately becoming the most common way young people (especially boys) first learn about sex. This has been proven to severely limit their ability to perform well sexually or find sexual satisfaction when they are old enough for an adult sexual relationship. Several studies also show strong correlations between regular male pornography usage and more domineering and/or misogynistic views of women.

Women and girls use pornography also. And once again, because of the limited research on sex, there are even fewer studies correlating female porn use with their real-world sexual satisfaction but I have a hard time imagining it is any more positively correlated than the male studies. Some women view porn usage as an inherently feminist action – taking control of their sexuality and sexual expression on their own terms. Even this makes me uncomfortable. I do not want to simply turn the tables and as a woman start objectifying men. This does not feel like progress to me.

Personally, it is in a large part because of my feminism that I am so anti-pornography. Women have had to work very hard to come to a place where their bodies and sexuality are not their main commodities but where their talents, minds, creativity, and hard work are appreciated and monetized (though unfortunately still at a lower wage than their male counterparts.) And we still have a long way to go until women globally enjoy the same workplace and societal status as men.

These inequalities are obviously not porn’s fault. These inequalities come from a long history of women being undervalued and objectified across cultures. Pornography just so easily undermines the achievements that have been made by once again making a woman’s body and sexuality the items that are for sale. Now I realize that not all porn continues the culture of objectification. I know there is female-positive porn but the vast majority of it is not.

I do not see men and women as essentially in conflict. I personally believe that gender is pretty skin deep and it bothers me when too much personal identity is tied to gender. When we define each other primarily by our sexual characteristics, I feel like we are over-highlighting differences that may be fun and interesting but should not put us at odds with one another. I love the ways that men and women are different and also the ways we are really so similar.

And even though personally, morally, I do not think sex outside of committed relationships is a good idea, I think pornography use is an even worse idea. It takes sex – which is meant to bring two different people together – and makes it a (usually) solitary and self-centered activity. It is the opposite of what makes sex great – two people connecting and discovering each other in a deeply intimate way.

It seems unlikely to me that there is a way to view porn without objectifying the actors involved. And when we can easily sexually objectify people on a screen, it seems likely that we can begin objectifying the people around us as well. This seems very detrimental to relationships of all types but especially committed sexual relationships. It is so easy to take a significant other for granted already without the added complication of sexual objectification.

This is not even getting into all of the murky ethics involved in the pornography industry itself. Even if there are some adult actors who knowingly and willingly choose their career path, there are many, many young girls who are coerced or manipulated into performing extremely degrading sexual acts on camera. Rather than even attempt to begin discussing this side of the issue, I recommend the documentary Hot Girls Wanted.

Trying to sum up my many (probably disparate) thoughts on the issue, I think it comes down to this: I think sex is great and I think pornography undermines great sex. I also think pornography can really hurt both the performer and the user. And why in the world would we want to do that?

P.S. After reading this again, I realize this post is very hetero-normative and I apologize if that is offensive to anyone but that is my experience of sexuality and all I can really write from authentically.

Sharing Beauty

There is something uniquely beautiful in the sight of a city newly cleaned by a fresh rain. And this has never been more true than while living in Los Angeles during the last four years of drought. Any rainfall feels like a special treat. On Tuesday morning I was driving along the 134W near Eagle Rock when I rounded the corner that allows me see across the valley all the way to Downtown LA and I audibly gasped. The air was so clear and clouds were just beginning to disperse and little golden threads of light were lighting up downtown. “Wow.” I breathed again and did what I do so often when I encounter beauty – I looked around for someone to share it with. Of course I was driving alone but I glanced into the windows of the cars next to me just to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. Unfortunately it is difficult to share meaningful experiences on a busy freeway between cars so this was a moment of beauty I had to savor on my own.

Growing up my parents read aloud to us almost every night. One of my favorite read-aloud books was “Little House in the Big Woods” which my parents read to us when I was five and my younger sisters were three and two. We savored every detail of the story. Giggling when Pa called Laura “half pint” and riveted with excitement when the Ingalls had to light fires to keep the wolves away from the horses. The next morning, my sisters and I would act out the stories we had heard the night before and make up alternate endings and scenarios for the Ingalls family. When we were playing with our cousins or little friends, we were always disappointed if they were not familiar with the little house in the Big Woods and could not share our love of the story. We had found something that resonated with us so deeply that we wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

My love of stories and my love of sharing them with others only grew as I grew. Next I discovered children’s theater and radio shows. It is debatable how much “Adventures in Odyssey” or a community theater’s production of “Little Red Riding Hood” really count as art but at a young age it did not really matter as long as I could share them with other people. I have always loved being in an audience. If you know me at all, you know how much I love films and that my favorite way to watch them is in a theater. Alternately laughing and crying along with a room of tens or hundreds or thousands of other people has always been such a rich experience for me. Sharing moving experiences with others adds depth and nuance that I cannot experience on my own. I have had some of the most profound and spiritual experiences of my life in a movie theater. I resonate with contemporary critics who liken cinema to our postmodern church sanctuary. Sharing wonder, delight, sadness, and introspection with others is a truly bonding experience.

Sharing good meals with other people is one of my favorite things to do. Eating as an act by itself is pretty boring but my appetite grows with other people at the table. I relish well-prepared complex food but my mother teases me that I would happily eat plain rice as long as it is served on a beautiful plate at a beautiful place setting. I agree except to add: as long as I am not eating alone. Food tastes and looks better at a table full of people talking and enjoying the meal. In college, a friend and I had a tradition of Sunday night (canned) soup and (supermarket) french bread for dinner. An almost embarrassingly simple meal but we still remember those dinners fondly. Meals by myself are pitiful affairs – even the most complex menus – because beautiful food is meant to be shared and savored with others.

Photography is another way that we try to capture a beautiful moment or experience to share with others. I love photos that catch a person mid-laugh or the first pink streaks of sunrise. Photos can capture moments that will never be repeated but allow us to still marvel at them with the photographer. I recently realized that most of the reason I enjoy Instagram (despite the rampant self-promotion and commercialization) is that I am being invited to share another person’s experience of beauty or amusement or curiosity.  I like seeing photos of your baby not just because she is cute but also because I get to experience your joy and delight for your baby (though obviously in a much diminished way) with you. With our prolific photo sharing we are inviting others to say, “Wow” with us. It is a deeply human desire to want to share experiences with others and beautiful experiences all the more so.

There is a reason it is so profound when you find someone you can share life with intimately on a daily basis. Your individual experiences are brought depth and nuance by sharing them with someone else. And when you are invited into someone else’s experience on a personal level, it can feel like you are being given new eyes with which to see the world. I think part of the reason sex is so enjoyable is because your pleasure is deepened by sharing it with another person.  And hopefully not just any other person but a person that you know and knows you on a deep soul level – someone who has already experienced and appreciated beauty and life with you. It is possible to imitate the physical pleasure alone but you cannot imitate the great joy and beauty that comes with sharing pleasure by yourself.

It is essential to our experiences of beauty to keep sharing them with our families, friends, broader communities, and even strangers. Obviously which experiences and how you share them will differ among those groups but I think we are often missing out on enhancing beautiful experiences because we forget to share them. I love to see the way your new dress lights up your face or hear the thoughts you had about a great book you just read or see a screenshot of your latest favorite film scene. Beauty can be found and shared in happy moments or sad moments or even confusing moments. I believe sharing those moments communally deepens all of our experiences of beauty. And sometimes I just want to go to the beach with a friend so we can watch the sun set over the cliffs and waves and say, “Wow” aloud together.

Healing Spaces

Physical spaces carry powerful memories and connections for me. I have a photographic memory so when I remember things I usually see a snapshot of how I remember a place and the people there. I can sometimes remember smells or the temperature or ambient sounds but I always see the space. Physical spaces also carry great emotional significance for me. When I think of physical spaces, I remember how I felt and what I was thinking about there. And when I return to especially significant places, I am usually hit by the wave of emotion I associate with that place.

This may sound strange or mystical but I think it is actually very human. From the beginning of time, humans have designated some spaces as memorials and some spaces as altars or sacred spaces. We have strict societal rules over how to behave in cemetery or a sacred building or even a secular space like a state capitol. We protect and honor these sacred spaces. Wars have been started over desecrated places. We assign strong cultural and personal associations to physical spaces.

There are physical spaces that hold such joyful, beautiful, alive memories and feelings that I get excited to visit them over and over. There are physical spaces that hold such awe, reverence, and spiritual connection that just visiting them makes me feel whole and full and sure. There are physical spaces that carry memories of disgust and physical spaces that carry memories of humor.

There are also spaces which once held happy memories that are now tainted by more recent experiences. When I used to think about those spaces, they were bright and clear in vibrant colors. Now when I remember them, they are tinted grey and the image looks distorted or just off somehow. These are difficult spaces. The memories and feelings are confused and complicated and I now shy away from returning to or even thinking about those places.

Last weekend I returned to a space that I have been hesitant (maybe even afraid) to return to. It is a cinema in a part of town that I used to visit often to unwind and reconnect with my husband after a long work day. Almost all cinemas are sacred spaces for me but this one has especially strong emotional memories. Now there are new associations with that place (and even that whole section of the city) that are dark and hazy and when I think of them, I feel trapped and claustrophobic.

I did not know if I was ready to return to that part of town or to that theater and the only reason I did was because some friends invited me to join them there. Of course it ended up being a really wonderful evening. Talking, laughing, discussing, learning, enjoying – so many of the things that make me feel full and alive. And as the evening progressed, I felt the tightness of the dark, claustrophobic memories loosen and shrink to allow space for new joyful memories to grow. I felt my new experience of the space replace the wounded memories and return to some of the original happy associations I have with the place. Now I have new sacred, beautiful, joyful memories in a formerly desecrated place. I can now remember this space with healed memories.

Last year I committed to myself to not allow past painful experiences dictate decisions of the future. It has been a guiding courage in a confusing and complicated year. Last weekend I chose to step back into a place that has difficult memories. I chose to create new memories over living trapped by old memories. I chose to return to a formerly painful space rather than allow past pain keep me from living the joyful, affirming, growing, full life I want to live.

Forgetting or blocking bad memories does not often bring healing. Part of healing is working through wounded memories. It is acknowledging and grieving the pain, loss, and brokenness but still allowing those memories to live. And for me, part of healing is reclaiming sacred spaces. It has been finding new associations with places that have felt dark, forbidding, and sometimes too painful to return to. It is finding new joy or refreshed joy in a conflicted or formerly painful place.

Next month I am returning to country that has difficult memories for me. It is unusual for me to not have a good experience traveling so this particular place is very unique in my memory. I have been trying to look at my upcoming trip as an opportunity for redemption. A chance to create good memories and have joyful experiences in a place where I have not had good associations. Hopefully I will have some good experiences to loosen the memories of bad experiences. Hopefully it can also become a healing space.