Healthy Communication and Mutual Respect: A Rare Practice of Equality in Sadistic Patriarchies
What immediately follows is from the book Love and Pornography (2009). (See the previous post for more.)
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From the bits of the book I've read so far, there is a clear commitment on the part of Victoria and Garry to struggle together to work towards greater intimacy and healthier communication built on the values of honesty, compassion, and empathy.
It is rare, in my experience, that couples and friends know how to communicate with one another with mutual compassion, especially when both people are feeling psychologically defensive or emotionally threatened in some way. At those times in particular, caring communication tends to break down, no longer flowing in a constructive way that allows each person to feel genuinely heard and understood.
Victoria Prater's book, Love and Pornography gives me a deep experience of what that sort of communication sounds like and feels like in action. It is, to say the least, refreshing.
In this regard alone, I find this book to be both solidly feminist and activist, on the interpersonal level and now, with the book's publication, on the social level.
I come to relationships with various levels of openness, wariness, distrust, curiosity, and longing. But I am not especially good at identifying what I am needing, in part because I grew up in a family where me identifying my needs, let alone expressing them, did not seem to be welcomed. Or, at least, that was my experience of my family; others' needs seemed to take priority. Additionally, due to various forms of trauma, I had learned to dissociate from my body and to partition feelings, putting some away to be felt at a later date. Often it takes days for me to know all of how I feel about something that has happened that caused some level of dissociation. (And I know this is not uncommon.)
Additionally, though, white and male supremacist socialisation allows white men to be oblivious to a lot of what is happening in the world, including the world of women and girls around them. Not only are boys are shamed by other boys and men for expressing vulnerable feelings, we are simultaneously encouraged to pride ourselves on being tough, on not feeling the hurt that comes from living life. For example, we are told by grade school sports coaches (and also in college, if we get that far) to shake off pain, to push through it. I can't tell you how many times I've heard men in boys' lives tell them to "be a man" when the child gets hurt and starts crying. It's disgusting. I despised male team sports because of this, seeing it as utterly inhumane. This enforced lack of self-care, and learned callous disregard for the human who is hurting, is directly related to being able to inflict pain on others, including, horrifically, for fun or a sexual thrill. Various combinations of sadism and self-unawareness are hallmarks of men's treatment of others, historically and currently. Society, in so many ways, teaches boys to be hurtful to others as badge of honor, as a route to status-among-men. Those who enlist in the military and go abroad to slaughter people are frequently called heroes, particularly when they die. To say that patriarchy is a death-worshiping form of civilisation is an understatement.
I remember one time a male child I babysat was with his mother and the man she had chosen as a romantic partner. Thank god it didn't last between them; he was such a jerk in so many ways, in my view and also, not soon enough, in hers. The boy, around eleven, had slipped on a rug and landed against an active wood stove, burning his forearm badly. He cried in obvious pain. Soon this adult male jerk was around him, verbally encouraging him to be tough and not cry. I was furious. I think I intervened, saying "He doesn't have to be tough; he just got badly burned!" but it may be something I only said in my head. I lost all respect for him then, as did the boy and his mother.
As I read Love and Pornography my heart is warmed by the heterosexual couple's commitment to caring communication that is not just aimed in one direction--from her to him.
The warmth cools on occasion. I do have issues with Garry; so far, he doesn't name or take responsibility for his male supremacist privileges. Seeing how that lack of naming and irresponsibility impacts her negatively makes me angry. I get that obliviousness comes with privilege. But, often, if not always, there's a level of willful (self-serving) ignorance that is usually present in the privileged as well. I'm curious to see what he is willing to "get" and hope he does his homework, so the humanisation of a man doesn't fall on the shoulders, once again, of a woman.
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