A TALE OF TWO WOMEN

14 10 2007

Two sexually sensational stories graced the pages of the Nashville Scene recently, although they were pitched in radically different directions. Now, if you’re not from Nashville, or even if you are, there are three things you should know about the Nashville Scene. One is that it bills itself as “Nashville’s alternative weekly.” The second is that its editor, Liz Garrigan, is an admitted Republican. The third is that the paper is owned by the Village Voice, which is owned by that icon of the counterculture, Rupert Murdoch. Is that enough to rust your sense of irony, or what?

The original wave of “alternative weeklies” in this country was started by a widespread, disorganized gang of political and cultural radicals who lived on the cheap to scrap together newspapers that would present a sympathetic view of the counterculture and a critical view of the establishment. Papers like the East Village Other, the Fifth Estate, and the Berkley Barb put out stories and reviews that mainstream news distorted beyond recognition, or wouldn’t touch at all. Their weak spot was advertising; while they provided a forum for local community economic endeavors, their big revenue came from the record companies, and when the record companies got together and decided not to advertise in publications that referred to them as “capitalist pigs,” (which, really, does make sense from a certain point of view), most of the “underground press”collapsed in a matter of months, surviving only in bigger cities where there was enough local advertising to sustain them, and ultimately mutating into renamed, tamer versions of their wild and woolly original selves, like many of their founders and readership.

The “Nashville Scene” has no such honorable lineage. It was started in 1989 by an advertising executive and a disgruntled reporter for the Nashville Banner, a now-deceased, strongly Republican newspaper. In response to this loss of polarity, the Nashville Tennessean, formerly a crusading liberal Democratic newspaper, was sold to the Gannett chain and has since done its level best to be innocuous. And, after making a success of the Scene, with the motto “all the news that gives you fits,” frequently referring to the local establishment as “bizpigs,” and to their credit printing “the twenty-five most censored stories of the year” for many years, the Scene’s local owners sold out to Mr. Murdoch, whose publications are occasionally known for challenging peoples’ sexual sensibilities, but not the status quo. No more “bizpigs,” no more Project Censored.

But, as I so often say, I digress. A couple of weeks ago, the Scene put out what at first glance seemed like a National Enquirer-worthy story about an airline pilot married to a much younger woman who is serving a lifetime prison sentence. My first thought was, “Good grief! Tennessee’s got the most hackable voting system in the country and it’s being defended to the death by our election officials. We’re in the grip of a killer drought that has been brought on in part by widespread deforestation of the state in the name of economic development, and we cut thousands of people off from public health care rather than divert money from our road building funds or raise taxes on the wealthy, and THIS is what they’re featuring?”

When I read the story, I was relieved to discover that they were actually onto something good. The heinous crime, it seems, was not committed by the woman, Teresa Harris—the heinous crime was that she had been imprisoned for it when she was only there as the virtual hostage of her abusive boyfriend, forced to witness a cruel and senseless death while she feared for her own life. An incompetent defense lawyer and a zealous prosecutor sealed her fate.

Her presence at this murder was the culmination of a lifetime of sexual molestation and physical abuse by literally dozens of relatives and so-called “friends,” none of whom have ever had to take any responsibility for causing such severe damage to a child.

It was just life in small-town, lower-class America. There are millions of girls and women in this country who have suffered this kind of abuse. Abuse is not over when it’s over. The repercussions are passed on through the generations. “It happened to me, so it’s no big deal if it happens to my daughter. She’ll get over it. It’s no big deal if my sons or brothers or cousins or father do it. That’s just how men are.” Most of the women who are abused, and the men who abuse them, don’t end up involved in murder. They just die slow deaths….

This attitude of helplessness, of passivity in the face of personal injustice, is a poison in our society. It poisons not just relations between men and women, but all our relations—political, economic, religious. A symptom of this poisoning is hypocrisy, in which we prosecute women when they act out their abuse and alienation without paying any attention to what made them that way. Teresa Harris is one example. Another was provided by the Nashville Scene the very next week, when they featured the tale of an exotic dancer who had been busted for giving “hand jobs” to patrons of the club where she worked, but had not lost her dancer’s license for this “crime.” The Scene’s reporter opined that this was just awful, as well as throwing in a gratuitous mention of Nashville’s private sex clubs and calling for them to be outlawed, too. I think this reporter has a problem.

Here we have the sad intersection of men so desperate for sexual release that they will pay a complete stranger $100 for the few minutes it will take her to milk them, and a woman so desperate for money that she will comply with their wishes. It’s certainly not a very happy arrangement– you can bet they don’t cuddle afterwards. Now, I find both parties’ behavior neurotic in the extreme, but I see no reason to criminalize the interaction. Hey, there’s millions of people in bars every night of the week looking for, and getting, something like this, except that the woman doesn’t come out of the experience a hundred dollars richer. Come to think of it, doing it for money makes it a lot more straightforward, y’know?

But I don’t mean to devalue a serious subject. While there are brave, outrageous women sex workers who wear their chosen profession proudly, the odds are that a woman who is selling her body has suffered from the kind of abuse and molestation that put Teresa Harris at a murder scene. Criminalizing them does not heal them.

And men…we like to talk about addiction in this society, but we consistently ignore the most pervasive addiction of them all—addiction to male orgasm. Everybody just assumes that’s normal, that’s what sex is about, “boys will be boys.” Nobody asks whether this is one of the origins of the malaise of our culture. Hey, “Sex sells.”

Think about it. Heterosexual men go through life, blithely assuming that women are supposed to provide them with orgasms, one way or another. This objectifies a man’s sex partner. That is, it turns his sex partner into the means through which he attempts to satisfy his addiction, and this creates alienation, even when two people love each other very much.

It is fair to ask at this point just how I’m defining “addiction.” My Webster’s dictionary defines the word as meaning”being devoted or surrendered to something habitually or obsessively.” I think it’s further in the nature of addiction that the proposed solution, whether it’s orgasm or heroin or alcohol or tobacco, doesn’t really fix the problem, and so another fix becomes necessary. Here, of course, we intersect with the definition of “crazy” as, “repeating the same action over and over again, expecting to get different results.” I believe the incessant male quest for orgasm fits within these parameters.

So, now what? and what does this have to do with the Green Party?

I think the facts laid out in this essay, from the crucifixion of Teresa Harris to the almost universal male selfishness that broke her, call for very specific actions, as well as an overall change of direction in our legal system.

First, we must reform our legal system so that District Attorneys can no longer build a career on the number of convictions they can get. Judges and D.A.s must be reoriented away from punishment and blame and onto the path of fact finding and appropriate action. Sending people to jail does not heal the wounded individuals who commit anti-social acts, let alone the wounded individuals who commit victimless crimes. And of course, many of those who commit so-called victimless crimes aren’t wounded at all, at least until the criminal justice system puts them through the wringer.

We need to reform our whole society on the subject of sex, so that those who try and spread a rational, accepting attitude towards this basic human drive are not demonized and opposed by uptight parents and fearful clergy. It will take many, many people speaking out in many places for such a thing to happen. Our culture has relentlessly pilloried the prophets of this notion ever since Margaret Sanger first tried to disseminate information about birth control. The main lesson is that there is more enjoyment for a man in pleasuring a woman than there is in him coming, rolling over, and going to sleep. Male orgasm equals game over, everybody go home, y’know? With female orgasm, the sky’s the limit!

And we need to reform our economic expectations and opportunities, so that the lifestyles of the rich and famous are seen as the shamefully self-indulgent crimes against humanity that they are, while at the same time young women have more attractive and lucrative opportunities available to them than pole dancing and hundred-dollar hand jobs. I don’t see the Democrats coming up with the courage to tackle any of this.

Freud was wrong about many things, but one of the things he was right about was that peoples’ sexual attitudes form the core of their personalties. Violent revolutions and non-violent revolutions alike have failed in the face of the reactionary psychology of those they intended to help. To make a real change in America, we have to begin in the hearts of our most wounded and downtrodden women, and in the hearts of the wounded and downtrodden men who hurt them. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s the only thing we can do.

music: Eliza Gilkyson, “The Ballad of Yvonne Johnson

Advertisements

Actions

Information

One response

28 10 2007
Dan Feather

When Martin writes, “To make a real change in America, we have to begin in the hearts of our most wounded and downtrodden women, and in the hearts of the wounded and downtrodden men who hurt them,” I shout, “Right on!” . . . Real change is society only comes AFTER real change in individuals, and working to end suffering is an all-too-obvious, but not often easy, place to start. Thanks Martin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: