I can’t speak for any other ‘sex-positive’ feminist (versus ‘anti-porn’ feminists, who are in no way required to be ‘sex-negative’), but I can speak for myself and my values. Vociferate’s Andrea wrote what I consider to be a very disappointing rant on sex-positive feminism. I don’t know who she’s reading, but categorizing all of us as (basically) patriarchy-apologists is as bad as if I decided to label all radical feminists as transphobes based on commenters like funnie. I don’t have a chance to reply to her post on her blog, as she only allows blogger members to comment, but it probably would have been a case of Attack of the 50-line Comment anyway.
What I got from her post is that, in a nutshell, Andrea believes that (all?) sex-positive feminists:
- Dismiss the potential harm of porn.
- Perpetuate the ‘myth’ of rape fantasies because it’s what men want to hear.
- Believe that radical feminists, or any non-’sex-positive’ feminists, are anti-sex.
- Use the label to be a constant reminder that they like sex.
- Are defined solely by their one label as ‘sex-positive’.
- Must, by nature, be seeking a ‘compromise’ with male sexual entitelment.
Please, Andrea, don’t speak for me; you have neither the knowledge, nor the right. Engage with the argument, engage with the issues, but do not label us all by what you have seen in your limited research. That is no better than the kind of stereotyping all feminsits get from anti/non-feminists. Like the feminist movement as a whole, sex-positive feminists are not one trick ponies. We have different takes, and different interpretations, on pornography and sexuality. Taking the main points from Andrea’s post that I outlined above, I will present a different, but most assuredly sex-positive, take on that branch of feminism.
I. The potential harm of porn
Andrea accuses us of ‘dismiss[ing] the idea that porn causes men to view women as objects for their use,’ and I won’t deny that I have seen some sex-positive feminists do just that. It is hard, for both sides, to draw the line between embracing one’s sexuality (and sexual desires) and objectifying (or being objectified). And, you know what? It’s not an easy distinction. It’s not always as easy as Playboy or Hustler. I don’t agree with flat out saying, ‘yay porn!’ but I can understand the mentality. Of course, just as I don’t agree with flat out saying, ‘boo porn!’ I can understand that mentality, too.
In simplest terms, my stance on porn is that I am pro in its most basic form (material that arouses), but anti-mainstream (and not-so-mainstream like Suicide Girls), anti-industry, and anti-porn culture. There is nothing wrong with me wanting to get off on sexually explicit pictures, stories, videos, scenarios, etc. And, for the record, I don’t think anti-porn feminists are saying that there is. The difference between me and anti-porn feminists is that I believe that, while hard, it is not impossible to have pornography in this culture that doesn’t objectify/degrade the participants (not always women, as with the case in male gay porn).
My mom is anti-porn, and with good reason. She has been tangibly harmed by American porn culture. She has been held up to those impossibly high standards and has been found wanting. She has, in essence, been a victim of pornography. I get that. My sex-positive stance does not and should not preclude me from acknowledging and criticizing harm pornography has done, and will continue to do for as long as it remains unchecked. Just as Andrea’s feminist stance does not, and should not, preclude her from engaging in a critique of another feminist stance she doesn’t agree with (however regrettable I think her chosen way of addressing it was).
II. Rape: Fantasy versus Reality
I dislike Andrea’s insinuation that rape fantasies are a ‘myth.’ She is not omniscient (nor do I think she would claim to be), and therefore she cannot have definitive evidence of what does, and does not, turn a person on. I do think, though, that her concern that it’s “dangerous for women for this idea to be around,” is a valid one, and one that should be considered before bringing up rape fantasies in any conversation.
Consideration, however, is not the same thing as blanket denial based on what seem to be misattributed sentiments. I would like to point out that what she blames on sex-positive feminists arguing for people’s rights to have rape fantasies is, in fact, better attributable to the patriarchy’s rape culture. I, personally, have never heard a feminist (of any stripe) tell a survivor that she’s “making a fuss over nothing,” or that “the biggest turn-on for a woman is rape.” I have, however, heard misogynists who wouldn’t listen to a feminist argument even if it came out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth espouse that BS. And, personally, I think victim blaming is one of the few things that would merit someone’s “feminist club card” (so to speak) being revoked. I don’t think it’s fair to malign all sex-positive feminists based on misogynist crap that may or may not have actually been advocated by someone claiming to be a “sex-positive feminist.”
Part of the problem, I think, is that what she thinks of as a ‘rape fantasy’ is vastly different than the explanations for it that I’ve seen. Her claim that these fantasies are tantamount to women “getting moist about people raping them” is based on the reality of rape, rather than the idealized power play that the fantasizers wish to interact with. After all, a fantasy is, by definition, something not real. I have never encountered, met, or heard of a person who wants to actually be raped. Which is not to say that such a person cannot exist, but rather that when people (sex-positive feminists or otherwise) talk about ‘rape fantasies’ they are talking about role playing between consenting adults. That, right off the bat, removes the core of what makes rape a disgusting and heinous act: violating a person against their will.
What’s left is the eroticization of power, which is a double-edged sword. One argument is that the eroticization of power is a vestige of influence left over from the centuries of patriarchal oppression and therefore it cannot exist in a truly egalitarian society, and furthermore hampers the formation of such. The other argument is that, regardless of its origins (taught or innate), people do eroticize power, and it is more productive to do so in an informed, consenting way than to let it manifest itself in harmful ways (hiding under ‘romance’ and leading to anything from unequal relationships to domestic violence and even rape). I can understand the first argument, but I must confess that I lean more towards the second.
III. Sex-positive’s opposite is not ‘sex-negative’
No matter what the unfortunate name may imply, “sex-positive” isn’t an accusation that anyone not agreeing with us must hate sex. The two basic camps I’ve seen are ‘sex-positive’ and ‘anti-porn,’ with the dividing line between the two being their stance on whether or not pornography has the potential to be non-exploitative. I sparked a long, but productive, conversation on the terms and ideals over in the comments on a post at Mind the Gap. The entire thing is worth a read, but I’ll just pull the relevant parts to illustrate my point.
I don’t know why the group chose “sex-positive” for their label. Although thinking about it, I can’t come up with another term that isn’t equally problematic.
I’ve taken up the term because that group, in general, typifies my understanding of feminism and pornography. The sort of “opposite” camp is the anti-porn feminists (again, their terms).
I argued that all feminists object to exploitation of female sexuality. Personally, I think exploitation and equality are mutually exclusive. Anti-porn feminists, I said, believe that the product (pornography, sex work, etc) cannot be separted from the industry (and I’d like to add, the culture) and therefore is unacceptable in all forms. Sex-positive feminists, on the other hand, believe that it is not that the product needs to be removed, but rather that the industry and the culture need to be changed. As I’ve mentioned before, both positions are deserving of respect no matter where you stand on them.
IV. Like, omigawd, I like sex so I must be a sex-positive feminist!
I am not some green virgin who goes around talking about how much she likes sex. I will talk about sex, sure, and liking it – when appropriate. Sometimes when not appropriate, but that has nothing to do with being a sex-positive feminist and everything to do with me having a habit of saying inappropriate things. I’m not sex-positive because I’m horny, I’m sex-positive because that is the school of thought that best meshes with my stance on sexual culture.
As part of her argument, Andrea says:
Sex positive feminists defend their position by stating sex is only one of their areas of interest, which is what other feminists do day in, day out, and receive no special recognition for. My suggestion is that if you do not wish to be indentified by the characteristic of your ‘position’ on sex, do not choose such a characteristic to define yourselves by.
When I saw that, my reaction was, excuse me? If I’m reading it right (which, I confess, I may not be as the paragraph is confusing to me), she’s saying that sex-positive feminists should be defined solely by that characteristic. As should be obvious from my blog, sex is only one of my areas of interest. One that I don’t blog about often, and when I do I probably come across more as anti-porn (or even anti-sex) than sex-positive. At least to those who conflate correlation with causation, or believe that attacking a product/industry/company that perpetuates the exploitation of women is the same as claiming men are sexual beasts who are slaves to their hormones.
And, anyway, why should my sex-positive feminist aspect be any more important than my feminist gamer one? Or my geeky feminist one? Or my angry feminist one? I am not a single issue kind of girl. I am the sum of all my parts, and my sex-positive stance is but one of many. To say I’m a sex-positive feminst (full stop) would be to cheat me of my unique humanity. I’m a sex-positive feminst, yes, but I am also a fantasy-reading, game-playing, people-loving (and hating), green-haired freak and so much more.
V. Sexuality != sexual entitlement
And here I find myself in a ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t, so I may as well go with what works for me,’ scenario. Some anti-porn feminists (as I wouldn’t say that anti-porn feminists are necessarily anti-sex-positive feminists, just not in agreement with us) believe that our stance is taken for the express purpose of becoming ‘acceptable’ to the patriarchy. Non-feminist pro-porn people I’ve talked to seem to think quite the opposite about me. Who’s right? Both and neither.
Both because 1) I do use my stance as a way to reach out to those who would never give the time of day to an anti-porn argument, however rationally it is presented. I suffer no delusions that my words will give them an ephiphany and they’ll say, “You’re right! I promise to stop supporting the industry and the objectification of women.” However, I do hope that by showing them a different side of the sexual culture, it may cause them to be more critical of what practices they support and why. And 2) Because I am uncompromising on issues like the treatment of sex-workers (who are, surprise!, overwhelmingly female) and that puts my ‘grey’ a little too dark for many avid porn advocates to stomach. One side effect of being a sex-positive feminist, I suppose. I care about women as if we were people. Oh, wait, we are.
Neither because, when it comes down to it, it isn’t about being ‘acceptable’ to menfolk, or viewing the world in a black and white frame. For me, it’s about finding an egalitarian sexual atmosphere that welcomes all consentual adult expressions of sexuality, whether I personally like them or not. After all, how can I preach gender democracy and then turn around and form a sexual dictatorship? No one should have a right to tell a woman what to do with her life, whether it be becoming a stay-at-home-mom or being tied up because she likes it.
I’m not asking Andrea (or any other person who feels the same as she does) to agree with, or like, sex-positive feminism in any of its incarnations. I’m not asking her to refrain from examining the rationale behind it, or thinking about how it affects society. Critical thinking is good. Constructive criticism is good. Ranting, even, is good. But, I don’t think that it’s helpful to write off an entire school of thought as “immature,” especially not when you’ve only seen the most extreme elements. Deconstruct the arguments, sure, but don’t alienate those of us who respect you and your opinions (even if sometimes they differ from ours).