Two sides of the same coin

Great comment in a thread over at Feministe about yet another book calling for more sexual modesty (from women, of course):

This seems like a great time to focus on re-directing the debate away from regarding “raunch culture’ and “modesty’ as opposites (or worse, attitudes we must choose between), and towards acknowledging them as two sides of the same coin. Both treat a woman as a commodity, the function of which lies in being a man’s sexual receptacle, the only difference being that the former places the value on recreational, the latter on procreational sex.

In raunch/porn/hyper-sexualized culture the most valuable woman is the one the most men want to have sex with the most badly. A woman who is not desired, or who removes herself from the competition, is treated as valueless. In abstinence-glorifying/purity-ball-attending/burqua-wearing/genital-mutilating cultures a valuable woman is one who is likely to bear a man offspring that he will not doubt is his.

Both treat a woman’s own sexuality as at best inconsequential, at worst a threat. Both regard a woman as property to be valued according to her sexual usefulness. Our priority should be to insist that mainstream discourse recognise this, and stop trying to hoodwink us into treating the positions as either/or.

Very succinct analysis, Orlando. Egalitarian sexual relationships can’t happen if the culture continues to commodify either procreation or recreation re sexuality.



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4 replies

  1. I’d rework that a bit and say that feminist erotics can’t happen without addressing all the ways that hegemonic capitalism others embodiment and sexuality.
    The raunch culture “debates” are very frustrating in terms of their complicity in reiterating binary views about sexuality. It’s such a baseline concept in feminism that those binaries of Maddona/Whore dichotomy, public/private spheres etc. are both patriarchal and punish less privileged women’s sexualities the most.
    I’m noticing a wave of books on Science vs. Religion themes now to. Where would consumerism be without an ahistorically “new” binary hype to market every year?

  2. There was a comment I thought was very insightful from pisaquari over at IBTP about the undesirability of the problems of the concept of taboo within sexuality, too, and how it leads to the entrenchment of patriarchal ideas of sexuality.
    Both the raunch culture and modesty camps are hostile to womens sexuality being controlled by them primarily for their own benefit. As you say its just a shift in what is commodified and controlled.
    The sex-positive feminism debate so often misses the point, which is that the feminist agenda should be people taking control of, and responsibility for, their own sexuality — and taking control means that sexual choices should be about what your sexuality and your response to it (abstinence, or indulgence, or somewhere in between) means to you, not someone else. That requires empowering people to make their own choices at all ends of the continuum of sexual behaviour.

  3. It’s a real shame that the word “modesty” has been hijacked by ”abstinence-glorifying/purity-ball-attending/burqua-wearing/genital-mutilating cultures” to define “modest” attire as that which preserves sexual purity for a husband.
    In our house it simply means dressing so that we don’t attract unwanted sexually-oriented attention.

  4. In a society which didn’t commodify women’s sexuality either as raunch or modesty/purity, unwanted sexual attention wouldn’t be a problem. Not because it would no longer occur, but without commodification leading to a sense of male entitlement there would be neither threat nor shame in sexual attention, merely a decision whether to engage in a response or not, and that decision would be respected.

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