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As I wrote the adjoining essay, many radical feminist websites were being attacked by men who would exploit software vulnerabilities to shut down their pages. Where such attacks wouldn’t work, they instead turned to pornographic images as their weapon of choice.

The following essay (published in 2004) speaks about that process:

The Weapon of Choice

For all the actual disgust it generated, Goatse.cx was a building block, a pillar, of men’s gendered community, and thus deserving of protection. The foremost result of men’s pornographic attacks on each other is desensitization, an inuring that occurs, that makes such attacks easier to commit on women (men have to look at the pictures that they are using to harass others, at least once, after all) and more increasingly effective, as it widens the gulf between men’s and women’s culture and hence males and females.

   
   

Our Bodies, Ourselves Funds Abusive, Racist Porn

by Richard Leader


“Ohh my goodness…. When u get a chance to dive into some cute lil argentinian pussy… DO IT! I only knew jenaveve for like 8 minutes before I started in, and digging her out!!! I fanangled my way over to her table in the mall, and from there on, the only thing on my mind, was where on that pretty face to nut on!” —8thStreetLatinas.com

Feminist organizations such as Our Bodies, Ourselves and Ms. Magazine are now funding the creation of such pornography. While they are only indirectly funneling cash into the hands of companies like Bang Bros., it’s still a shameful situation. Ironically, it was feminist shame that helped engineer this fiasco in the first place.

In the summer of 2006, a prominent feminist website was sold to an unknown party that still remains anonymous. The website was Amptoons.com. First created and owned by Barry Deutsch of Portland, Oregon, the site was created to showcase his work as a cartoonist. It later became a blog that he co-wrote with several female volunteers.

The new owner of the Amptoons required Deutsch to keep things as they were. According to Deutsch, his only personal obligation was to remain on as a blogger for a period of one year, working to maintain the level of internet traffic that the site was accustomed to receiving. After that he would be free to abandon any association with Amptoons or its new owner. On August 5th of 2007 Deutsch wrote that he’d no longer be writing or moderating comments at the Amptoon’s blog in order to revitalize his career as a cartoonist; most of his female staff stayed on.

The anonymous owner’s only other addition to the site was a number of hyperlinks to an innocuous sounding “review software.” These surreptitious links are designed to redirect visiting search engines, such as Google, to a “portal” page on Amptoons. There, yet another series of links invites users to connect to dozens of pornographic websites.

The goal of the person or group buying Amptoons was to capitalize on its good name—and keep that good name—in order to profit from its link popularity. That is, how many other pages on the internet link to it and continue to link to it on a daily basis. Those incoming links serve as positive votes of a sort, lending it more credibility with search engines than sites that receive less links from outside sources. Rather than just changing the content over to pornography, it was more cost efficient to put feminists in charge of freely maintaining the site’s credibility and future linking opportunities.

By maintaining traffic to Amptoons, the buyer would have the ability to outcompete others in the porn-shilling business. There’s a popular myth that pornographers don’t have to compete with each other, at least not to the extent of other industries (Coke vs. Pepsi), as male hunger for their product is unlimited and can be safely distributed into various niches. While porn websites often cooperated to form “link farms” in the past, the invention of blogs where people rapidly link to one another has seriously undercut their earlier advantage with search engines.

Furthermore, as porn users seldom have a reason to go out of their way to publicly promote the porn sites they frequent, most pornographic sites do fairly poorly when it comes to generating link popularity from third-parties. As such, being able to simply buy a slice of the feminist blogging community and its search engine credibility from one man must have seemed like it was worth a cool five-figure sum (likely a minimum of $30K, perhaps much more).

The buyer was banking on Amptoons’ continued popularity. Even if the sale proved to be controversial, a link is a link and there’s no bad publicity when it comes to search engines. The more attention that Amptoons receives, even from critics, the more likely it is that search engines will refer their users to its sub-domains, portal pages like review.amptoons.com and bangbros.amptoons.com. Thus anyone using their own websites to link to Amptoons would be adding to the link popularity of any of the pornographic websites it advertised. And yes, Our Bodies, Ourselves and Ms. Magazine are guilty of that—although this story is even more complex than even that.

While Barry Deutsch made a brief note of the sale on his blog, he initially forbid visitors to comment on it. (Comments were enabled months later, after a critical mass of feminists became vocal about the website’s new connection to pornography.) His choice to deny comments on the sale notice had the effect—likely intended—of allowing the news sink quietly off of the front page.

Only the most frequent readers of the blog would have had time to view the topic before it was buried under other posts. Even then, such “heavy users” were also likely to miss the news of the sale as they frequently navigate through the blog by using its comments section, focusing on the subjects that allow for comments and the raucous arguments that ensue. Indeed, many critics of Amptoons complain of its longstanding tradition of encouraging anti-feminists to debate with feminists at the blog. As a male host can more safely tolerate misogyny than his female counterparts, as the attacks aren’t personal in the same way, this aspect of male privilege was an advantage that enabled Deutsch and his Amptoons to outcompete other feminist websites when it came to generating link popularity.

Critics of the sale were horrified that a feminist website was connected to pornography, especially of the Bang. Bros style where exploitation is celebrated at every turn. Other complaints focused on the fact that the entirety of the money went to Deutsch when it was the female bloggers there who did the bulk of the writing. It was they who gave the site a feminist legitimacy that he—or any man—couldn’t have achieved on his own. (Most, but not all, of the women stayed on after the sale.) Even people who merely commented on the blog in its margins added to its sale value. Not only did they add repeated “hits” throughout the day as they came back to see if anyone had responded to their messages, the often redundant usage of keywords helped in making the blog a star with search engines. (Essays and articles have to worry about word repetition marring the elegance of their prose; internet bickering has no such concerns and key terms have to be constantly reintroduced for clarity.)

In many ways it was the online feminist community as a whole that decided that Amptoons was the place to speak one’s mind. The female cast of volunteers all had their own blogs, after all, but participating at Amptoons gave them the ability to speak to a larger audience and promote their own brands. This feedback loop elevated the site to the point where it was evidently the first and only feminist blog that its buyer sought to acquire. Many feminists believed that the sale was a violation of that community.

Not everyone objected to the sale, of course. Not everyone has a problem with the sexism of porn—or its racism for that matter. A few of the libertine men who stalk about Amptoons found themselves absolutely tickled by news of the sale, knowing that their hated radical feminists, in particular, were in a row about it. Others explained away the sale in more practical terms. “We all make deals with the patriarchy” and other nouveau “glass houses” appeals were made on behalf of Barry Deutsch. A significant number suddenly found themselves very much concerned with the absolute right to property (the site belonged to Deutsch and was his alone to sell), throwing themselves on the altar of capitalism. It’s astonishing how skeptical Progressives tend to be about capitalism until the idea of sex is introduced: then, they’re all about the joys of the free market.

The most fashionable apologetic was grounded in technology. The argument stated that the deal would not result in the addition of any new porn to the internet as the scheme would only result in “one porn site stealing customers away from other porn sites.” They argued that the sale of Amptoons to what they called a Search Engine Optimizer (SEO) wouldn’t have any net impact on porn in general and would only work to redistribute funds within it. As such, even if one is politically against pornography, the involvement of Amptoons in the industry must be regarded as entirely neutral.

This defense falls flat for a variety of reasons. Some women countered that teens looking for factual information about sexuality could be redirected to Bang Bros. due to the leveraging of Amptoon’s feminist credibility with search engines. That is true enough. There is a far more basic flaw, however: Amptoons was never sold to an SEO.

A Search Engine Optimizer is generally a consultant or company that helps clients to better market their products. This is done through a variety of fair and legal means—and many unscrupulous ones as well. In brief, for an agreed upon fee, an SEO works to push their client’s website to the top of selected key words that potential customers might use when querying search engines. In other cases, it tries to improve general traffic or even inspire accidental visitations through trickery.

People employing the SEO theory to defend Barry Deutsch were under the mistaken belief that Bang Bros., or a similar company, bought Amptoons outright (perhaps under the advice of an SEO consultant, one would have to imagine for the theory to live up to its name) to use for its own marketing purposes. However, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back such an assertion.

I would argue that something quite different was going on. Each link at Amptoons contains a referral code that is used to track people who navigate through it. Every time someone clicks “through” one and later subscribes to the pornographic sites, the referrer, an unrelated third-party, receives a substantial portion of the subscription fee as their cut. That person needn’t have any further involvement with the porn websites or the content that they create. Bang Bros. might have received an eponymous subdomain at Amptoons, something that presumably led the SEO theorists to believe that they were the ones behind the purchase, but the portal at the blog refers visitors to a variety of unrelated websites. Bang Bros. was merely the most popular—and potentially profitable—company to encourage male referrals to visit. As such, it received top billing.

While the distinction between an SEO and a referral-partner might not be meaningful to many people, there is a clear difference that undermines the “no net-benefit to porn” claim. More important than that difference, however, is how the simple acronym SEO supplied masculine power to those who invoked it in the argument over Amptoons and pornography. As I explained above, those believing they had insider knowledge of technical jargon had nothing of the sort: instead, the constant refrain of “SEO this” and “SEO that” was used as a phallus to silence the voices of women who objected to the sale.

For his part, Barry Deutsch could safely play a luddite, even to the point of pretending to be less technologically savvy than he is. He claims to not know certain basic things that he must have researched during the transfer of Amptoons to its buyer. Likewise, the male blogger that Deutsch ultimately chose to respond to (in lieu of directly addressing female critics), Hugo Schwyzer, was equally keen on admitting he had very limited knowledge of such matters.

Women, on the other hand, were terrified of being seen as ignorant. After the three letters of SEO were first introduced to the argument, defenders of both Deutsch and pornography (not necessarily one and the same) were thrilled to have them at their disposal. It was a marker of difference in the classic feminist sense: women who employed it did so to differentiate themselves from those who didn’t. Those who used it were entitled to be seen as more rational, reasonable, and powerful than those who didn’t: in short, the acronym made them more “male.”

Those on the opposing side of the argument were unable to use that same jargon without at least conceding that Amptoons was, in fact, bought by an SEO. A feminist objecting to the sale or pornography in general had to admit that she had less knowledge of the situation than her feminist peers. She could adopt “SEO” for use in her own statements about the sale—and thus allow others the power to entirely frame the debate and what direction it might go—or she could avoid its use entirely.

Women are seen as deficient when it comes to science and technology without proof to the contrary. Lacking access to that jargon and its transformative power, a feminist woman would appear as someone arguing out of emotion, rather than the concrete “facts” thought to be held by those wielding “SEO” as if it were a weapon—a penis.

Feminists on both sides of the discussion had severe anxiety about their competence with technology. It was obvious and palpable. And it was also no accident that men supplied a solution to that problem for only those women who would defend male interests, even if that solution proved to be phony. Indeed, the credentials of the men who first supplied the idea were never tested: their simple claim that an SEO was involved was taken at face value and without question. The masculinity of both the men and the jargon was enough to make it true.

Conversely, the two most popular male feminist-bloggers on the internet were able to brag about being computer illiterate. Rather than undercutting their male privilege, being assumed competent in such matters by default, such a pose reveled in it by denying the anxiety that women were experiencing in the debate. Feminist women had to learn the jargon or shut up. Technophobic grandstanding was not a choice available to them. For Barry Deutsch and Hugo Schwyzer, their professed ignorance served to separate them from men in general, insulating them from class responsibility. In effect, the pose gave them access to a new gender identity that afforded them both male power and the ability to be trusted as “one of the girls” when appealing to feminist solidarity.

It is the very same anxiety on the part of women that directly links Our Bodies, Ourselves and Ms. Magazine to Amptoons and its pornography.

Ms. Magazine once hosted a highly influential forum on the internet. The conversations that took place and the myriad relationships that arose had far reaching effects. Not only did famous authors, some feminist and some not, peek in and make an appearance from time to time, some of its more dramatic moments were discussed on FOX News. That might not seem all that impressive now with the mainstream media flocking to Yearly Kos, but this was years before such a thing had become commonplace.

Although it was often a tinderbox and the limelight was often not necessarily the sort Ms. Magazine was hoping to attract, in retrospect, it was a tremendous accomplishment. It set the stage for some of the most popular feminist blogs, Amptoons and Echidne of the Snakes. Even my own journal, Adonis Mirror, has Ms. to directly thank for its creation. Others from the forums are serving as editors at Rain and Thunder and Off Our Backs. There are a number of activist groups—some open, some clandestine—that were formed from the ashes of the “Ms. Boards.” Amongst our number is even a candidate for the President of the United States.

Overseeing such a community was undoubtedly a daunting responsibility. It was likely a thankless one at the time: the Ms. Boards were unceremoniously closed without notice in mid 2004. An up-swell was occurring elsewhere on the internet, however, as forums were being displaced by the more masculine blog format. Blogs, with their strict hierarchy governing social interaction, even had a name that was culled out of the most ridiculous depths of male jargon. (Are we really supposed to believe that someone once found themselves too winded to say “web log” and the truncated form somehow stuck?)

Although a “blog” might just be a macho rebranding of what was once demurely called a “home page,” those lacking one in this new environment were told that they were no longer relevant in public discourse. To be without one is to be impotent. Ms. hired their first professional blogger, Christine Cupaiuolo, scarcely a month or two after they had shut down their forums. She was to pen their Ms. Musings.

Ms. Magazine might have bought itself a cock—in the form of a blog—to parade before their male peers at The Nation and other Leftist publications, but Ms. Musings was an abject failure. While they retained Cupaiuolo for nearly three years to write blurbs about newspaper headlines, it never generated the sort of acclaim or prestige that the Feminist Majority Federation (FMF) seemed to hope for: the sort they saw routinely afforded to men and their blogs.

Not only did Ms. abandon Ms. Musings, but two other blogs as well. Their second attempt was a short lived effort by radio comic Carol Ann Leif, while the third was an intermittent series by Eleanor Smeal herself.

Their rush to the blog bandwagon was informed by the same anxiety that manifested itself in the debate over the sale of Amptoons. Women were terrified of being left off of the cutting edge and were forced, by male sexism, to overcompensate. The FMF’s overcompensation turned out to be a tremendous waste of resources. This is something they were too embarrassed to share with the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (Our Bodies, Ourselves), who have recently hired Christine Cupaiuolo to produce a similar project, a daily “Our Bodies, Our Blog.” Despite her best efforts—and her talents are ultimately immaterial to its future—it seems destined to the same fate as Ms. Musings.

When Cupaiuolo started at Ms. Musings is was clearly a challenging prospect. Although she had the power of the Ms. name behind her, it was still difficult to integrate with the online feminist community as a whole. It surely didn’t help that a small but vocal number of feminists were still upset over the dismissal of the Ms. Boards: heavily linking to certain members of that community such as Echidne of the Snakes and Amptoons worked to mitigate that to some extent. The latter even enjoys two prominent links on Ms. Musings, the first under a general feminist heading, and a second one privileged under “Men we Love.” Cupaiuolo is likewise responsible for a link to Amptoons at Our Bodies, Our Blog.

It is not my intention to blame Christine Cupaiuolo or the women at the FMF or the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective for the sale of Amptoons to pornographers. That is solely the fault of Barry Deutsch. Instead, I am arguing (and why I saw fit to title this essay the way I did), that far too many feminists have been caught up in a system of values that made that sale possible—and defensible—in the first place.

Many might believe that I’m writing out of jealousy or spite; or that my intentions aren’t entirely (or even partially) noble or feminist. In some instances they might be justified in saying so. Still, if we are to believe that the personal is political, there has to be meaning in ignoble thoughts. Such ugliness is at the root of this discussion and it certainly isn’t mine alone.

By ridding itself of the Ms. Boards, the FMF seems to believe that it put that sort of ugliness behind them: they could buy their way back into the online feminist community (much as the buyer of Amptoons did), only they’d no longer have to worry about the pettiness (or the glory) of human interaction. Ms. Musings would be a prize to keep safely on their mantle, a way to compare themselves to the big boys of the publishing world. Whether or not it currently contains links to pornography is not a thought that members of the editorial board even have to consider—or could even possibly begin to consider. The pedestrian infighting, the tangled relationships, and even the “lil argentinian pussy” being pimped at Amptoons: all of that is safely beneath them.

Fear has driven feminist organizations to corporate isolationism. Blogs might be worth buying into for the sake of masculine credibility. But these purchases have been insincere, with no effort to treat the feminist online community as equal partners. When the fact that one of the most popular and celebrated feminist blogs is owned by someone making money off of the filming of international sex tourism (and even George W. Bush has the sense to be against that) is reduced to a “blogosphere” squabble that is too unseemly or divisive to take notice of, rather than a call for action, one has to question why the Professional Feminists saw fit to buy into this realm in the first place.

I believe the answer to that question lies behind the same anxiety that caused feminists to parrot “SEO” in that same debate over Amptoons. The so-called Digital Divide isn’t just a problem for little girls: it’s equally an issue for adult women who are actually quite comfortable with technology until men start inventing reasons for women to doubt themselves. The profound and revolutionary nature attributed to blogs is merely the most recent invention. And it worked. The FMF might have been far ahead of the curve when it came to leveraging online community and yet it was more than willing to abandon that progress, fearful that they were straggling behind.

I certainly have my own anxiety. In speaking up against the sale of Amptoons to pornographers I have been accused several times of acting under my own jealous impulses. These critics offered the opinion that Barry Deutsch and I were merely competing for the attention and respect of women—and that neither one of us was any better than the other in that regard. There is some truth to that. There is some falsehood, too. After all, if one is just as guilty no matter what, you’d have to be a complete idiot to be the guy not making money off of porn.

I think I’m happy to be that idiot. Maybe feminism is the best form of revenge by a failed patriarch.

I encourage other males reading this to be idiots, too.

There are plenty of smart men around. Men like Richard Jeffery Newman, a poet and professor at Nassau Community College. His academic stature has made him a natural to write as a guest blogger at Amptoons. It’s a smart opportunity. He has moved women to tears there with an essay on sexuality entitled “My Daughter’s Vagina.”

It would be stupid to give all of that up just because the venue is being paid for by the body of a girl named Jenaveve.

“Ohh my goodness…. When u get a chance to dive into some cute lil argentinian pussy… DO IT! I only knew jenaveve for like 8 minutes before I started in, and digging her out!!! I fanangled my way over to her table in the mall, and from there on, the only thing on my mind, was where on that pretty face to nut on!” —8thStreetLatinas.com

8thStreetLatinas (“See hot young & brown latinas that will do absolutely anything to get their citizenship”) has a review of 86 points and “two thumbs up” at Amptoons.com.

http://reviews[dot]amptoons[dot]com/review/8th-street-latinas

 
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