I love those blog posts that make me shout, “Yes!”
Infinitethought has posted a biting critique of the bulging strawfeminist-packed closets of the so-called “sex-positive” individualist feminist, the second, larval stage of the embryonic INAFBer :
Trotting out the tired old line ‘I used to think that all feminists were miserable and hairy’, Valenti does her very best to sell us her feminist manifesto, in all its, cough cough, radicality: ‘liking your body can be a revolutionary act’ she concludes, regarding her navel with a curious kind of joy as centuries of political movements that dared to regard the holy body as secondary to egalitarian and impersonal projects crumble to bits around her.
Do we really, really need more people talking about how anger and body hair are terribly counterproductive to the women’s movement? How can someone profess to like their body with a straight face while still thinking “Hair is gross and icky, ewww!”?
I’ve mentioned my dislike of the term “sex-positive” in my bio, but haven’t really elaborated. Here’s my take: Any set of ideas that insists that I affirm my personal sexual availability every time I talk about my politics, as not even a footnote but a mandatory adjective, is not for me. What’s liberatory about this? Are women to be freed of everything except their paramount sexbot role? “Sex-positive” functions like “pro-life”; it only serves to construct a false category of “sex-negative”, which is, of course, automatically “bad”. Consensual sex is lumped in with the worst of rape-roleplay and exploitative porn and everything in between, and those who are against some must of course be against the other in this particular binary. Why is one of the biggest divisions in feminism all about sex? Why are we categorising women using sexual attitudes as a primary descriptor? Whose hands are we playing into by maintaining this as our focus?
The look-at-me priority of little black dress feminism obscures the central tenets of the movement – that ALL women are people. That women everywhere in the world deserve to be free of rape, abuse, hardship, reproductive control and oppression. Not just smooth-legged cheery L’Oreal-infested twentysomethings dancing their asses off in American nightclubs.
Valenti makes some excellent points in the meat of her Guardian article – about rape, equal pay, reproductive rights, and political representation. So why qualify it all by treating her audience like apolitical ditzes? Her Guardian article opens with beauty:
You don’t need to get bogged down in political analysis to know that feminism is still necessary – you just have to look in a mirror.
and closes with sex:
Feminists do it better.
Infinitethought sums up:
Stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover.
 INAFB = “I’m not a feminist, but…”
Categories: gender & feminism
It’s a strategy issue. There’s a lot of young women out there who are scared to death that being feminist equals never getting a date again. Now, we can tut at them and lose them, because they are 100% correct that it’s unfair to tell them that their own personal sex life is worth sacrificing for the cause. Or we can find ways to reach. Say what you will about Jessica’s approach, but she gets to audiences that we more cantankerous feminists can’t reach.
I was a fairly fluffy feminist at one stage myself. I’ve got more cantankerous as I’ve aged: back then I made a point of not shaving my legs, but would I have done if I wasn’t a pretty hairless person anyway?
Young passionate feminists with hairy armpits and boyfriends need to be made more visible to open up the Overton Window for young women regarding the possibilities of living an openly feminist life, and we know the media’s not going to do it. So how can we do it?
Do we really want people that shallow in the movement? I mean, I think they’d spend all their time arguing about how serious political thought was scaaary anyway. (I’m 22, just because you are young doesn’t mean you are incapable of understanding political ideas more complicated than “Ooh, they have cute shoes!”)
But are they really “that shallow”? Or are they simply immersed in the Borg of “being feminine” and don’t (yet) see a way out of that CONSUMERIST DISPLAY = SUCCESSFUL ethic?
The brainwashing of the whole culture into corporate consumerism is amazingly strong, and one of the reasons the Establishment hates and fears feminism is its resolute anti-consumerism at the radical core. So to someone still accepting that consumerist display is the only way to succeed, feminism looks both stupid and dangerous.
I’m not saying that I’m totally divorced from consumerism: middle-class feminists like me can and do get sucked into the gadget-bliss and coffee-snobbery, and if we’re climbing the corporate ladder some consumerist display is part of the way that one shows one’s achievements (without some nods to which one will not get promoted), but one of the aspects of becoming aware of the classist structure of the patriarchy is becoming jaded with the classist display games. Feminist contempt for the hierarchical display bullshit is one of the reasons the hierarchy demonises us.
To broaden the reach of the feminist message, we need to strike a middle road between reaching out to young feminists still caught in the web of consumerist femininity, and still pointing out the essential shallowness of consumerist femininity. Just because the philosophy is shallow doesn’t mean those who haven’t found a way out of it yet are shallow people.
Say what you will about Jessica’s approach, but she gets to audiences that we more cantankerous feminists can’t reach.
Fair enough, Amanda, but as I said over at Lauredhel’s other blog, the narrowness of her conception of her audience is never made explicit. She doesn’t say that she’s only talking to single, sexually active, het-or-bi, vaguely hip urbanites.
Her target market is the same as the “sex sells” target market, and that’s okay, but it’s a bit weird that her presentation renders people outside that target market just as invisible as any “sex sells” advertising pitch.
It appears shallow to me because even when I was a young teenager I could see that the whole thing was stupid. So feminine women continue to be a mystery to me- I can’t grok the idea of using values not your own to measure your own worth and what you’re going to think. To me, it’s like if a Republican decided to become a Democrat because Republicans wear those awful walrus mustaches. I don’t like them, but I don’t see the connection between that and one’s policy views. So I’m thinking “So you’d rather not work for women not dying…because some guy would think you didn’t shave…even though you clearly shave your legs..?”
Who is telling them that they must sacrifice their sex life for the cause? To me, that seems to be buying into the “everyone who doesn’t label themselves sex-positive must be sex-negative! And therefore bad! Because sex is great!” argument.
Truly “anti-sex” feminists are a small minority nowadays, I think – and I don’t feel the need to either personally identify with them as a group, nor to revile them. I’m happy to embrace them as people who, generally, have well-thought-out and coherent views; and to recognise that I’m not compelled to share 100% of their philosophy. Because it should be about the patriarchy, not about which individual women are advertising themselves as fuckable at any given time.
I agree with reaching out to women who don’t currently identify as feminist, and all of them, not just the group Brooklynite describes. What I don’t agree with is denouncing feminists as a marketing gimmick.
“Whose hands are we playing into by maintaining this as our focus?” That’s my question.
“So you’d rather not work for women not dying”¦because some guy would think you didn’t shave”¦even though you clearly shave your legs..?”
LOL I’m young too, and I agree with you 100%, shannon. And I’m sorry, but if someone my age or older told me they can’t have political views because their boyfriend might leave them if they didn’t simper and preen enough, or if they stood too close to someone wearing last year’s fashions, I might volunteer something about the prospects for their relationship to last. It’s not that you have to sacrifice your sex life, it’s whether or not you care that maybe some assholes who aren’t worth the effort anyway won’t be able to accept you. I’m a little bit more concerned with whether or not I’m going to be allowed to vote and be granted basic human rights than whether Newt Gingrich will marry me, so “sacrifice” might be the wrong word.
a somewhat more detailed exposition of Valenti’s ideas and rationale can be found here.
What makes my skin crawl about the Infinite Thought post is the elitist language – both the attempt to paint Valenti as a lamebrained Valley girl (ohmigodnoway) and this:
Cos, you know, I bet you thought that those brave women who spend their days boldly and stridently speaking out against, you know, SEXIST CRAP couldn’t possibly be the same ones getting smashed at the bar and requesting
Dirty Dancing tracks for the hundredth time…well, I’ve got news for you, sister! They really are the same girls! Who’d have believed it…
Umm, yeah. unless you live in academia, you probably wouldn’t know. God forbid Valenti should try and educate young women that the stereotypes of feminists they are taught are incorrect. Similarly with the quote about her boyfriend cleaning the apartment – sure, it’s not high minded political theory, but expecting household equality is part of feminism, and anyone who expects it is a feminist. It’s not like we live in a society that’s dealt with that problem after all – women still do more housework than men.
Conflating the chocolate/kissing crap (which is obviously a riff on that recent horror, I’d Rather Eat Chocolate) is poor form too – just because Valenti’s targeting people who identify as apolitical doesn’t mean she supports consumerism over politics. Kind of a strawfeminist tactic.
oops, forgot to close a tag there. sorry!
barry: Interestingly, you’ve picked out for criticism the parts of the Infinitethought article that didn’t resonate with me. I’m not convinced, at this point, that elitism vs populism is a useful way to frame this particular debate, though you’re welcome to try to convince me.
Feminists have far more common ground with other feminists than they have differences. I have a huge number of beliefs in common with Valenti, as I mentioned in the article. That’s exactly why I don’t like the Big Divide of the so-called “feminist sex wars”. For me, it feels too much like a mirror-image of the patriarchal fuckable/unfuckable classification of feminine value.
I agree so much with your post. I’m glad to have found you, I will definitely be reading.
For me, it feels too much like a mirror-image of the patriarchal fuckable/unfuckable classification of feminine value.
I certainly don’t disagree here, though i can sympathize with the concerns raised by self-identified sex-positive feminists. I guess my point here is that some of the more sex-negative views held by particular feminists (which i’m aware are not representative of all views and are inevitably misrepresented and exaggerated by antifeminists) are a big sticking point for a lot of women as well. of my friends, a number are most definitely feminist in deed but are particularly insistent that they are not feminist – and it is inevitably about either a perception or experience of feminism/feminists as anti-sex. i think this also part of a reaction against some of the prescriptive ideas of what feminist sexuality should be – which is where elitism starts to come in.
as i’ve been told by several female friends, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of betrayal when your feminist sistren condemn your sexuality – whether in the abstract or in your face – and i guess sex-positive feminism could be seen as a reaction to that kind of personal policing.
I think where we might be differing on this is on our opinions of what might be useful reactions to these misrepresentations. I would love to see a diverse and inclusive approach, debunking the myths and accepting all feminists as people with something worthwhile to say, rather than a deliberate distancing of factions from second-wave/radfem. 
What gets my back up is an apparent attitude of “Oh, you’re dead right, THOSE feminists are all anti-sex hairy-legged fat old mommy types, come join OUR feminism instead.” I’m exaggerating for effect, but not by much.
The whole anti-sex finger-wagging strawfeminist figure is a curious one. It seems to me that one of the absolutely central focuses of post-first-wave feminism has been reproductive rights, with contraception and abortion right up at the forefront; and the feminist blogs I read, including the radfem ones, tend to be very explicitly intolerant of “slut-shaming”. So I’m wondering about the genesis of this myth, and I think it deserves more scrutiny. What do you think? Can we blame the Patriarchy for this one?
 Which is not to say that sixties feminism didn’t have its issues – as Valenti identifies in the Traister interview – particularly with areas such as race, class, disability, and nationality. I’d be interesting to know how Full Frontal Feminism addresses these areas.
I would love to see a diverse and inclusive approach, debunking the myths and accepting all feminists as people with something worthwhile to say, rather than a deliberate distancing of factions from second-wave/radfem.
for sure, though i can see how Valenti might have used that distancing tactic particularly to draw in people who have that stereotype embedded, kind of trojan horse style.
As for the slut shaming – well, IBTP has had some pretty dubious episodes in the past, as well as the Ann Althouse debacle , but the episodes that spring to mind for me are things like radfem lesbians excluding bisexual and straight women from the women’s room on campus, attacking lesbians for ‘betrayal’ if they dared to sleep with a man, preventing feminist women with pro-feminist boyfriends from attending certain feminist events, that sort of thing.
One particular incident that is illustrative of this is a friend who was raped a number of years ago – she wanted to attend Take Back the Night with the two people who had helped her recover: her father and her best friend, also male. She was unable to, obviously, as Take Back the Night is a women-only event. This for her was a problem – and contributed to her opinion that rad-feminism promoted a hatred of men that she could not identify with.
(i understand the rationale for it being a women-only event, and i’m not criticising it for being so, i’m just making a point about how it can be perceived.)
the virulent hatred from some radfems (particularly the ones who congregate around IBTP) toward sex-workers/BDSM enthusiasts/people who enjoy porn/people who make porn/ is also a concern – while there are some genuine political issues around those topics, what is generally articulated is abuse.
So – i don’t think the finger-wagging strawfeminist is entirely a creation of the patriarchy, though a lot of it is. Rather, i think the voices of finger-wagging feminism are the ones that are beneficial to the interests of the patriarchy, and therefore those are the ones that are amplified/exaggerated in the media.
I’m thinking “legend” would have been a better word than “myth”. Legends often have a basis in grains of truth. Then that truth is twisted, elaborated, exaggerated, and re-framed; and often told and retold in ways that reinforce stereotypes, shore up social differences, and/or hammer home cautionary tales.
I take your point on who the finger-wagging minority might be; and I think that equating the abusive subset of the separatist subset of the lesbian subset of radfems with all radfems does feminism an extreme disservice. (Not that you’re doing this, but it is certainly done.)
They’re also a small minority amongst IBTP readers and commenters – but that’s the minority that people notice.
[addit: I just read the Alternet interview. Worth reading, and it gives quite a different slant on the book from the Guardian article. I’d like to think that older feminists and younger feminists can learn from each other rather than drawing a generational line in the sand – I’ve certainly learnt plenty from women much older and much younger than I am – but I get the impression that’s not cool.]
it’s also important to contextualise the abusive subset too – a lot of them are angry – very angry, and justifiably so – and that can lead to people lashing out.
a lot of people get upset when they feel they have been insulted, when it’s more likely they’ve been the victim of rhetorical excess or intellectual shorthand. After all, blaming ‘the patriarchy’ is easier and more concise than ‘the systems of oppression that place men above women, but we’re not trying to offend you feminist-friendly men, or you men who are trying to be better, or women who are in happy heterosexual relationships’. I know i had to deal with this – Ilyka Damen’s post really helped me kick this annoying habit.
a bit off track there, but… what worries me is, if you do want people to ignore the hateful subset, how do you do it in a way that differentiates hateful comments from valid concerns, expressed in emotive language? How do you allow people to accept that some comments come from a place of anger without buying into a female=emotional=irrational idea.
Is it perhaps because most radfems distinguish between porn (exploitative depictions of degrading sex) and erotica (arousing depictions of genuinely consensual sex) whereas the sex-pos don’t seem to, lumping all the sex “fun” in together?
Certainly the stuff I remember from the 80s was cheesy British sex romps where everybody was depicted as having fun, with an occasional hammy spanking scene. That’s a far cry from the degradation and pain inflicted on women in just about everything available in internet porn.
sorry, to clarify – when is “what is generally articulated is abuse” i meant: what comes from (some) radfems to sexworkers/porn performers/etc is not critique, but abuse. That is, the commentary from some radfems is about denigrating the people, not critiquing the politics.
I think the conflation of BDSM, sex work and porn with ‘sex’ is causing some confusion. They all involve sex yes, but just because I may say “The amount of female submissives is not a coincidence’, “most sex workers are affected by sexism, classism, colonialism,etc” and “OMG! How the f is that supposed to arouse anyone!?” doesn’t mean I’m against sex. Not to mention, how many college coeds really are like “Woah! I’d totally be for feminism, but like, they don’t like Bang Bus! Like OMG!!!”. I think the totally reductive idea that any young woman under 30 is totally dependant on the approval of the worst men ever is sort of insulting. Many of us have lives. I think that if you want to argue a point, don’t hide behind a straw version of us, go with actual facts and stuff.
That makes absolute sense to me. I feel that largely due to the efforts of outsiders, the commonalities of feminist discourse have been marginalised into this debate about sexuality and sexiness.
So how do we counter that?
sorry, i’m not critiquing that perspective. i’m just saying that, of the women i know who feel excluded from feminism by sex-negative feminists, do so because of the abuse they receive over some of the above issues.
sure, not many college coeds are against feminism cause they like bang bus – but that’s not what i said. i was pointing out that there are voices particularly within radfeminism that do engage in slut-shaming, judgment of other women’s sexualities and verbal and physical abuse of other women. some women like porn, some women make porn, some are into BDSM – and there are some voices and people within radfem that condemn and attack them for doing so.
I’m not arguing that critique of all the above should not take place, and i’m not taking a position on those issues, i’m just responding to Lauredhel’s question whether the sex-negative feminist is a creation of patriarchy – which, as i said above, is often simply the exaggeration and amplification of existing sex-negative voices.
i’m not arguing that young women under 30 are dependent on the approval of men either (i’m not sure where you got this).
Hm … well, I’m the evil evil sex negative radfem of everyone’s nightmares (although my age is 30 minus double digits), and the reason I gravitated towards feminism in the first place was because feminism seemed to present the possibility that I have some worth as a human being, not merely as a sex toy or mannequin.
So maybe you can see why I’m annoyed (and no, I’m not about abusing other women – I have said some mean things in the past but I usually apologize later) when women who are into the very things that I came to feminism to avoid, demand that I have to celebrate them, defend their choices wholeheartedly, and shut up about the way that beauty culture and raunch culture have harmed me, or else I’m oppressing them.
I’m saying that those women are rather on the fringe as a percentage of young women, so saying that young women don’t like feminism because people they have never even heard of think BDSM is oppressive is a stretch. I think that argument overestimates not only the amount of young women who are say, alt porn stars, it also overestimates the importance of porn and BDSM to most young women. There’s a huge difference between watching a porno to laugh at it, and styling your whole political lifestyle around who likes porn or not.
Also, tog, I have no idea.
“a lot of people get upset when they feel they have been insulted, when it’s more likely they’ve been the victim of rhetorical excess or intellectual shorthand”
Yeah, but barry, that being the case, how are women who don’t fit into socially approved definitions of “beauty” or “proper grooming” or “acceptable level of sex-positivity, as demonstrated by taking pole dancing classes or whatever” supposed to feel when they’re held up as the example against which feel-good feminism is defining itself? If you’re taking social analysis as judgment, then you might want to consider how difficult it might be for other women to have to deal with, not the raised eyebrow of somebody on a message board with zero influence nobody’s ever heard of, but the whole weight of society telling them they’re lesser.
It’s sort of like what you alluded to, how every discussion about feminism devolves into a bunch of guys wanting to talk about how oppressed they feel by someone using a phrase like “white dudes.” If you’re (the general you, not you personally) so self centered that you constantly have to derail every conversation to demand personal validation and reassurance that it’s not you being talked about, instead of just considering the larger, general points, are you going to be that valuable an ally? If someone is being abusive, obviously that’s wrong, but it seems overboard to have to denounce radfem-as-a-whole based on some exaggerated, distorted, undifferentiated view of who they are, how much influence they have, and what they believe.
Also, what shannon said.
exangelena – thank you. important point, made perfectly.
shannon – i guess i live in a fairly unrepresentative section of society. the issue comes up a lot around the women i know (university sector, media studies, telecommunication engineers, filmmakers (not porn), sound engineers, doctors) – but it’s anecdotal, so i’ll leave that point.
cammy: absolutely, though i’m not denouncing radfem and i don’t think FFF is either. i think though, if you want to get young women interested in feminism, starting where they’re at, rather than chucking them in the deep end with the radfems, anarchafems, ecofems and womanists might be offputting. that’s not to say that those are important parts of feminism, but you have to start somewhere. This book (which is what i’m talking about, not feminism as a whole) is kind of the opposite end of the scale to IBTP – it’s for beginner blamers, not advanced ones.
anyway…. i think i’ve said enough on this debate, and i should shut up. i’m keen to hear ideas about tigtog’s question:
aaargh! sorry! that should read: that’s not to say that those are NOT important parts of feminism, but you have to start somewhere.
got my double negative confused.
Well, like I said, I AM a young woman, and I’m interested in learning and hearing what all different kinds of women have to say. I don’t think shannon and I are the only ones out here who don’t fit this stereotype of how shallow and flaky “young women” are and where they’re starting from. I’m certainly no genius or expert in ideology, but I really don’t think young women necessarily freak out and run away and impute the worst possible motives if they’re exposed to an idea they haven’t considered before. I don’t know about your experiences, but maybe if you’re talking to doctors and professional women there’s a class element/being accepted within your peer group and reflect “mainstream” values in there as well.
Shannon, Cammy, exangelena, barry, I’m really enjoying reading your perspectives and insights. Thanks so much for keeping the conversation passionate but respectful.
I’m definitely interested in contemplating the relative-power issue and how that impacts on the various women involved. As you say, Cammy, wealth and social class will definitely have some big roles to play here.
And colour – has anyone seen any feedback from WOC about this sort of approach to “feminism for youngsters”? How about disabled women?
Lauredhel – Actually I’m a woman of color, but not particularly engaged in any feminist of color/woman of color/ethnic communities in “real life”.
I actually lean more towards the radical feminist perspective on this stuff because I’m nonwhite and lower-middle class. I’m not trying to universalize my experience and I realize that many other women of color and similar income levels will feel differently.
On a class level, I have big problems with “pretty feminism!” because you have to buy things to be pretty. Even if you look good naturally, you still have to get expensive salon hair removal (I remove hair regularly at home and trust me it NEVER looks as good as professionals), hair and makeup products and trendy clothes and accessories.
On a race level, I have big problems with “pretty feminism!” because the beauty standard is so racist. I’ve at times had bad luck confronting white liberal feminists with this. Yes, women of color if they have white features and/or are mixed race, can be “exotic” or the flavor of the week. But the beauty standard is still largely constructed around a white aesthetic. I *don’t* think it’s a coincidence that so many women of color bleach and straighten their hair, get nose jobs, reshape their eyelids, bleach their skin and wear colored eye contacts.
PS I *heart* antifeminist bingo.
I’ve been sort of making my own response over at Lauredhels personal lj, but I thought I’d join in here.
I think tigtog has put her finger quite exactly on the problem, that the sexuality debate is obscuring the commonalities.
I think the different responses to the debate from different generations of feminism are part of the issue here. The sex-positive vs sex-negative debate was a big division in feminism for an earlier era, and a real one.
Who is telling them that they must sacrifice their sex life for the cause?
In the 1970s that was an easy question to answer – you could start with Sheila Jeffries political lesbianism (which literally did tell women who were sexually unattracted to women that they should become celibate for the cause), and work outwards. This hard core hasn’t gone away – I’m a active anti-censorship campaigner as well, and you still see the influence of this school of thought, and the arguments of Dworkin and MacKinnon etc, today. I’m not singly these theorists out as bad – I disagree with their viewpoint, but I think its consistent and well argued and forceful and sincere and important, and I’m well aware that their views are often mischaracterised – just to illustrate that in an earlier era the ‘sex-negative’ camp was a clear, obvious, current, and politically important group you could point to (and that those active in some feminist or other political circles really would be forced to develop a response to).
But that was then. I think part of the issue here is different generations of feminism responding to a different climate. The old debate was more or less whether feminism should be for or against a social move towards a more sexually permissive society, now we are talking now about how feminism responds to the excesses of a society that has clearly made that move. The sex-positive/sex-negative division made sense at one point (I mean, it still obscured the commonalities of feminism – but it did point to a major, genuinely divisive, debate), but I think for many younger feminists who have grown up with the sexually permissive culture of internet porn etc the distinction is more about the difference between feminist sexual liberation and raunch culture, both of which can be regarded as sex-positive, and which sometimes can look similar at an extremely cursory glance, but only one of which is feminist.
In the end, though, its still highlighting the differences more than the commonalities. The idea that women are people is a lot bigger than whether you approve of people pole-dancing for recreation or looking at porn.
See, the problem with me is, my experiences with raunch culture indicate that it is *not* compatible with feminism.
Raunch culture evaluates a woman’s worth according to her sexual and physical attractiveness, in other words, according to her body. To me, feminism is all about recognizing that women have worth other than our bodies, because we are human beings. I think that embracing raunch culture dilutes feminism. And while sex positivity =/= raunch culture, frankly most of the sex positive feminists that I have encountered, have such a hands-off approach that they don’t challenge the illiberalism and misogyny of raunch culture.
And yeah, what Cammy said at #25.
I’m black,actually. And yes, when I hear sex pos feminists act like they are the only ones saving sex from the rad fems, I get confused, because I’m 22, and we got reality tv about playboy playmates, the internet is for porn, and in college I had to hear mess about how badly guys would treat girls because they thought they were entitled to treat girls like sh*t in the bedroom.
I agree with ex too. What happens to those of us who either won’t or don’t fit into the beauty standards- the fat, the too dark, the nappy haired, the pubic haired, etc etc? If one’s worth as a person is measured in how ‘hot’ you are or how low you’ll go to please a man, what happens to the majority of women in that system?
exangela – I guess what I’m saying is that the sex-positive feminism of the 1970s and 1980s meant something very different in a world that was nowhere near as sexually permissive.
But we don’t live in that world any more, and just being ‘sex-positive’ doesn’t provide any useful answers any more, at least not to the problems of raunch culture. Raunch culture may be misogynist, shallow and ugly, but its sure positive about sex.
In a world which is so much more sexual, ‘sex-positive’ can now just mean ‘not willing to challenge the status quo on sexuality’. And quite often, thats now all it does mean.
But that doesn’t mean female sexual liberation isn’t a legitimate feminist concern, or that you can’t combine a sexually permissive attitude with serious feminism. There are a lot of people who do combine them, and some of whom call themselves sex-positive feminists (some of them because they remember when the term meant something meaningful).
Raunch culture is sex positive? But for who?
Two bloggers follow the porn spam in their mailboxes:
(warning, descriptions of adult content)
All I got in my xmas hamper was a shitload of spam
Rape spam leads to secret patriarchy handbook
Maybe I’m unusual, but I don’t find misogyny, rape, objectification and torture very “sex positive”.
I read Dave as saying raunch culture was “positive” about sex in terms of approving of sexual promiscuity, not that it was actually a positive benefit to anybody except the orgasm hounds and the pr0n-profiteers.
I think the confusion between “positive” as approving of sexual promiscuity and “positive” as affirming sexual autonomy is exactly one of the reasons that “sex-positive” needs to be retired in terms of describing current feminist views on sexuality. I’ve used sexually-liberated in the past in distinction to sex-positive, but as was brought up over at lauredhel’s crosspost of this at her own blog, sex-radical is probably a better term for describing owning our own sexuality free from patriarchal constraints without pandering to raunch consumerism.
That’s a double bind, isn’t it? As a WOC you can spend as much as you like, but unless you have white features, you’re unlikely to “pass” the mainstream beauty standard.
I find it interesting that your experience has pushed you toward radical feminism, but it pushes others away. I’ve been using “neoradfem” for an approach to radical feminism that retains the radical questioning of gender and critique of patriarchy & rape culture, but firmly includes intersectionality – class, race, wealth, nationality, disability, size, sexuality, parental status, and so on. And wondering whether there’s a better term for it.
tigtog has it exactly. All I’m trying to say is that sex-positive is a pretty useless term now, precisely because of the sort of confusion she is talking about.
But it used to mean something once – On Our Backs,favouring Susie Bright rather than Catherine MacKinnon, and all that. I don’t want to see the term turned into a negative one partly because I don’t think the group of feminists generally identified as sex-positive then deserve the blame for either the excesses of raunch culture, or lazy acceptance of them – the term retains some validity if used historically.
But its become practically useless as a term for identifying positions within current debate, and should be retired. Sex-radical seems a pretty reasonable term to replace it.
Raunch culture replaces the patriarchal pressure to sexually conform with patriarchal pressure to be sexually promiscuous and hyper-sexualised. In that environment, the original sex-radical agenda of owning your own sexuality free of patriarchal pressure becomes as much about deciding what you refrain from as what you choose to do (but its still concerned with encouraging individual autonomous sexual exploration).
Actually I did spend many years as a fluffy feminist, and I know that several other current radical feminists did also, FWIW. I understand that even if you’re upset about the pay gap, rape and antiabortion laws, it’s very difficult to extricate yourself from years of conditioning as the “sex class” (as Twisty puts it). For a long time, I struggled to differentiate myself from the scary feminists who were fat and didn’t shave or wear makeup, because such an outright rejection of beauty culture and societal norms frightened me. Now I don’t care. Not removing hair, being heavy and going about barefaced are really aesthetic personal choices – the only thing wrong with them is that they offend the tastes of sexist men. Feminism that plays along with the tastes of sexist men doesn’t seem like real feminism to me.
I’m not aware that most current radical feminists deny other oppressive structures (race, class, etc.) and I do not identify as a radical feminist because I signed a list of points, but because I tend to agree more with radical feminist bloggers, like Twisty, Witchy Woo, Ginmar and Amananta.
And as for sex radical, I’ve read some critiques of sex radicals that make me rather dubious of them in general (in the book “Not for Sale” there’s a whole essay).
Is sex-radical another example of terminology cross-talk? I’m using it to describe a commitment to full sexual autonomy and egalitarian sexual relationships. I have the feeling the essay you reference may use the term differently.
Tigtog- yeah, I think so – I think that your definition of sex radical is a *good* thing, and a very pro-feminist thing, but there are people who are sex radicals and promote antifeminist ideas.
PS – and thanks for letting me soapbox a bit 🙂
What if the RAD-HATING-ANGRY-Abused fed up Feminists at IBTP are right?
I’ve done the sex-positive crap, worked at strip clubs, been around the business, been into BSDM. Have friends who dominate for a living. Why? Cause I was raised in a radical right religion and was abused and molested as a kid. As are most of the women in those areas of life. Trust me, I have yet to see any BSDM be about encouraging female equality or power. Fantasy and pain yes. It is about exercising demons some and can take a person into the toilet or into a new mind as you grow out of it.
I’ve seen the girls coked up, pushed into selling themselves more, giving the managers blow jobs cause they have too, most 18 or 19 with a couple of kids, dreaming of the prince who will come save them.
And it disturbs me how the comments seem to write off these notions simply because they’re not in line with the popular partriachical idea that it’s ok to exploit women. Because it is the feminism of the 70’s. Radical, Angry, Explosive, Loud and Strong. Instead it has been written off as not expressed in the correct way or possibly misguided due to those silly women not realizing they are just angry cause that one guy abused them.
sorry, should have read past barry before commenting:D thanks for saying it the way I wanted too!
Commenting to add a link to Blackamazon’s take:
Imperative of the Life