Last month, in one of HAT’s most commented posts, Lauredhel riffed off a trenchant criticism of the marketing around Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism to make some larger points about the common co-option of “sex-positive” feminism into the Feminist Sex Wars that perpetuate the sexist fuckable/unfuckable allocation of female value:
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?
Lauredhel, not having read the book at the time, was very careful to point out how much she agreed with in Valenti’s Guardian article and other writings about feminism, and while she was critical of some of Jessica’s choices in presenting meaty feminist issues inside a fluffy “fun-feminist” frame as she promoted the book, Lauredhel didn’t descend into frenzied Jessica-bashing. There’s been many other criticisms of FFF since then, some more substantive than others, and sadly quite a few have indeed been frenzied bashfests of a woman who has done a hell of a lot for feminism just by founding Feministing, and she’s done a lot more than just online newsclearing – she lives an activist life. Not that doing some good things makes anyone immune from criticism over anything else they do that’s not so good, but it does help to keep some perspective.
Last week Jill of Feministe waded into the fray, loyally defending her friend and making some very good points about the nastier snipes in the commentary. Unfortunately, she let her emotions get in the way of a thorough and accurate analysis of some of the criticism of Jessica, and lumped in some critical posts that were not bashfests with some of the nastier bashfest posts. The comments erupted in acrimony. Piny rounded up links to substantive critiques of Jessica’s book in response to requests from that thread, and added some of her own thoughts.
Today Jill has apologised for fucking up. Go read it. The level of self-examination and honesty is powerful and so refreshing. Jill quite rightly still stands by her own criticisms of the actual bashfests, but fully acknowledges that many of the criticisms she linked to weren’t bashfests and that her post contributed to a sense of exclusion for already marginalised voices.
We so rarely see people with a public voice own up to fuckups and apologise clearly and with dignity. I’m very impressed. I do however have one caveat – as Jill points out, her reactions to what she reads are unavoidably coloured by being a middle class educated heterosexual white women, and that’s me as well – there are some things that simply aren’t immediately visible to us unless we listen to other voices about their experiences. So what do other feminists with different backgrounds and experiences feel about the various critiques of FFF, Jill’s initial response and now her clarification and apology? Does it work for you?