“And she took this leap while displaying the full measure of female unpredictablity, while the world watched, astounded, dismayed and outraged. This Mary was quite contrary, and her reputation over time, unsurprisingly, has suffered from this complexity. Surely we women have a gene — in addition to those saucy, but ill-mannered, hormones — for theatrics, so frequently do they puncture our inner lives and decorate our outer ones in operatic robes. But occasionally high drama is the most efficient way to break through the status quo, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical mission called for extreme measures” ( Toni Bentley )
Her “Vindication of the Rights of Women” was no prose masterpiece, but its angry polemics and honest, sometime hot air inflated missives against the blatant misogynist and puerile meanderings of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke found an audience. Of Burke, she accused the erstwhile champion of liberty of selectivity and essentially the liberty to continue to squash women. ” You are the champion of property…Man preys on man,… and you mourn for the idle tapestry that decorated a gothic pile and the dronish bell that summoned the fat priest to prayer.”
In 1792, she published her Vindication on the Rights of Woman, an important work which, advocating equality of the sexes, and the main doctrines of the later women’s movement, made her both famous and infamous in her own time. She ridiculed prevailing notions about women as helpless, charming adornments in the household. Society had bred “gentle domestic brutes.” “Educated in slavish dependence and enervated by luxury and sloth,” women were too often nauseatingly sentimental and foolish. A confined existence also produced the sheer frustration that transformed these angels of the household into tyrants over child and servant. Education held the key to achieving a sense of self-respect and anew self-image that would enable women to put their capacities to good use. The notion of equal rights and control over one’s body was regarded as an appalling nuisance, and was one thing the English and French male intelligentsia could agree on.
Rousseau, who had a somewhat bizarre sexual history as a youth, resulting in some acute repression and timidity, had decreed that women were tools for pleasure, and creatures too base for moral or political or educational privilege.
“If female animals do not have the same sense of shame, what do we make of that? Are their desires as boundless as those of women, which are curbed by shame? The desires of animals are the result of need; and when the need is satisfied the desire ceases; they no longer pretend to repulse the male, they do so in earnest. . . . They take on no more passengers after the ship is loaded. Even when they are free their seasons of receptivity are short and soon over; instinct pushes them on and instinct stops them. What would supplement this negative instinct in women when you have taken away their modesty? When the time comes that women are no longer concerned with men’s well-being, men will no longer be good for anything at all.” ( Rousseau, Emile )
IN 1915 Virginia Woolf predicted it would take women another six generations to come into their own. We should be approaching the finish line if Woolf’s math was as good as her English. A little over a century before her, another Englishwoman, Mary Wollstonecraft, declared in her revolutionary book of 1792, ”The Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” that not only had the time come to begin the long slog to selfdom, freedom, empowerment — or whatever current feminist term serves — but that she would be the first of what she called, using the language of taxonomy, ”a new genus.”
However, Wollstonecraft did have desires and after the buzz of her success had died down, she looked around her apartment and realized she had reached a point in her life without ever having had a love affair. She had spent her childhood as an adult in the home of a drunken and abusive father and her life seemed now, to be passing swiftly; she panicked a bit. She was rebuffed by the Swiss painter Henry Fuseli, and she left for Paris. Partly to escape theme and also because she wanted to observe what the fuss was about the French Revolution.
On her arrival the lofty ideals seemed to be only window dressing for the fetid odor that came from the stockroom.For a woman who always carried a cloud of Gothic gloom over her, she could not have been entirely disappointed since the attraction/repulsion dynamic was so visceral, perhaps even beyond her level of tolerance. One of her first recollections was seeing Louis XVI “sitting in a hackney coach… going to meet death.” Back in her room, she wrote to Joseph Johnson of seeing “eyes glare through a glass door opposite my chair and bloody hands shook at me… I am going to bed and for the first time in my life, I cannot put out the candle.”
As the weeks went on, Edmund Burke’s implacable critic began to lose her faith in this much vaunted brave new world. “The aristocracy of birth is leveled to the ground, only to make room for that of riches,” she wrote. By february France and England were at war, and British subjects classified as enemy aliens.
Though many Englishmen were arrested, Mary and a large English colony stayed on. One day in spring, some friends presented her to an attractive American, newly arrived in Paris. Gilbert Imlay. About four years her senior, Imlay, a former officer in the Continental Army, was an explorer and adventurer. He came to france seeking to finance a scheme for seizing Spanish lands in the Mississippi valley. This “natural and unaffected creature,” as mary was later to describe him, was probably the social lion of the moment, for he was also the author of a best-selling novel called “The Emigrants”, a far fetched account of life and love in the American wilderness.
Imlay and Mary soon became lovers. They were a seemingly perfect pair. Imlay must have been tickled with his famous catch, and, dear, liberated girl that she was, Mary did not insist upon marriage. Rather the contrary. But fearing that she was in danger as an Englishwoman, he registered her at the American embassy as his wife.
Blood was literally running in the Paris streets now, so Mary settled down by herself in a cottage at Neuilly. Imlay spent his days in town, working out various plans. The Mississippi expedition, not surprisingly, came to naught, and he decided to install himself in France and try his hand at the import-export business, part of his imports being gunpowder and other war materials run from Scandinavia through the English blockade. By now it was summer, and Mary, who spent the days writing, would often stroll up the road to meet him, carrying a basket of freshly-gathered grapes.
A note she wrote Imlay that summer shows exactly what her feelings for him were:” You can scarcely imagine with what pleasure I anticipate the day when we are to begin almost to live together; and you would smile to hear how many plans of employment I have in my head, now that I am confident that my heart has found peace. …” Soon, she was pregnant. She and Imlay moved into Paris. He promised to take her to America, where they would settle down on a farm and raise six children. But business called Imlay to Le Havre, and his stay lengthened ominously into weeks.
It is not east to gauge what kind of a man Imlay really was, and what he actually thought of his adoring mistress. After the conquest of his trophy, he took a miserably long time to leave his mistress alone. His novel, though appearing unreadable, does show he shared with Mary some of her feminist views. The farm promise was bogus, but he did not totally abandon her; bringing her to Le Havre and living with her through the pregnancy until six months after the child was born. The baby was named fanny after her old friend. Mary loved her instantly and her joy in this chid illuminates almost every letter she wrote henceforth.
Fanny’s father was the chief recipient of these letters, and to Mary”s despair, they hardly ever lived together again. A year went by; Imlay was now in London and Mary in france. She offered to break it off, but oddly, he could not let go. In the last bitter phase of their involvement, after she had joined him in London at his behest, he even sent her, as “Mrs. Imlay”, on a complicated business errand to the Scandinavian countries. Returning to London, Mary discovered that he was living with another woman. By now half crazy with humiliation, Mary chose a dark night and three herself in the Thames. She was nearly dead when two rivermen pulled her from the water.
Viktor Frankl argues that the “will to meaning” is the essential human drive. it follows that the frustration of the will to meaning results in “existential vacuum”. since nature abhors vacuums, the place meaning abdicates gets quickly filled with angst and neurosis. to discover and actualize meaning in life is the most difficult task, fraught with dangers and risks. most of us fail at it at every turn. thus the parabole that r. nachman of bratzlav (xvii century) taught: “life is a very narrow bridge and the most fundamental lesson is never to be afraid at all”. ( Hune- Martin Buber Ecological Society )
…According to Dines’ publicity,
“By carefully analyzing and dissecting the images, Dines helps to promote image literacy by making the viewers aware of the ways in which the media manipulates and seduces it audience.”
How she uses her chosen medium — the slide show — is key to this method of “dissection” analysis. Indeed, the anti-porn slide show formally constructs the objectifying dismemberment which it claims pornography does: it gives a serial display of anonymous female body parts cut out of any meaningful context. In an essay written in 1981, Paula Webster describes a feminist anti-porn slide show that included:
“About 30 images of predominantly heterosexual couples engaged in intercourse…There were shots of individual women, bound and gagged, pictures of female dominatrixes, assorted album covers, posters, clothing advertisements, as well as a handful of very jarring images of self-mutilation and the now-infamous Hustler photos of women arranged as food on a platter or put through a meat grinder.”
That description from 1981 could easily apply to Dines’ current slide show.
This strategy of reconstructing pornography as images without specific histories suggests that porn is a static cultural form. To support the objectification theory of violent imagery and its detrimental effects on women, anti-porn feminists have to mount evidence that popular culture is dangerous and even resistant to change. Indeed, Dines exhorted the MIT audience to “stop analyzing” pornography and start building an “old-fashioned organization” to fight it.
Following Dines’ presentation, MIT professor Henry Jenkins noted a contradiction: she criticized “textual analysis” yet used it to read meaning from the slides. Dines said her method of textual analysis — in contrast to what she identified as polysemic postmodern approaches — was accurate for understanding “overall context” as well as how texts are constructed……