In Which I Call A Truce on the "Sex Wars" Thing

Dear Feminists:

I’d like to propose a truce on this whole “sex wars” thing. It’s a battle that’s been raging since before my time, but that doesn’t mean it has to go on forever. No matter how we define ourselves, at the core of it we all want women to be treated as people, right? We want to end oppression, right? Correct me if I’m wrong, but if feminism had to be summed up in one sentence it would be fair to say that feminists “seek to end oppression” perhaps throwing in a comment on how feminism’s focus tends to be on gender.

So why do we have to tear into each other when it comes to… well, everything, really. But, talking about the sex wars, why is it when one of us makes a post on the sex work industry, it all too often is addressed to the “opposing side” which isn’t, as one would think, the industry itself, but rather the feminists who take a different approach?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that women shouldn’t be the focus of this battle. And by that I mean we shouldn’t target them — we should target the sex work industry. When talking to feminists outside of our particular mindset, what’s to be gained by dragging the conversation down into the pros/cons of being a sex worker, or watching porn, or whatever? All it does is make it personal, therefore obscuring any useful conversation that could have taken place about the human rights abuses that do happen.

Listen, when it comes down to it, whether or not women should do sex work is a theoretical debate. The fact is, for good or ill, women do. And, even if you believe that no woman would freely choose that, it’s an ending point, not a starting one. If we want to stop the oppression, we gotta start with the begining, and it’s one I think we can all agree on: our sexual culture is hostile to women. Before we do anything, we have to change that.

So, are we going to sit here complaining about women and each other, or are we going to look into ways of changing the sexual culture so that the sex work industry can’t degrade, dehumanize, and traffic in the women unfortunate enough to not have a choice in how they work? Are we going to address pornography, not in terms of ban/not-ban, but rather in terms of critiquing content and treatment of the actors? What about looking at how popular culture feeds into and is influenced by sexual culture, and how that culture has a different standard for women than for men?

Respecting women starts with respecting each other.

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This entry was posted in Eradicating Divisive Discourse, Feminism, Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to In Which I Call A Truce on the "Sex Wars" Thing

  1. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » In Which I Call A Truce on the “Sex Wars” Thing

  2. Whenever the sex stir-up occurs, I shield my eyes and look away. Which isn’t exactly productive. But yes, you are right–the focus is all wrong. I’m tired of women, and feminists, blaming each other. It is the system. Solidarity is always something I’m working on–but it’s hard because it’s not exactly stressed as important.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Great post. I entered into the feminist blogosphere just in time for the action, and it’s been heated! I’m going to link to this post. I wish I’d seen it last week when the flames were still being flung with such great ferocity.

  4. Nick Kiddle says:

    I’ve been following the discussion on Alas, and it’s really frustrating because you made an important point and it seems to have got lost in the flame war. I agree with much of what you say (coming at it from an anti-eradication perspective, as if you wouldn’t have guessed), but I’m beginning to believe the truce is impossible. It’s one of those topics that’s just too emotive and too polarised for a realistic middle ground to exist.

  5. tekanji says:

    Cheryl said:

    I wish I’d seen it last week when the flames were still being flung with such great ferocity.

    They were still being flung with great ferocity when I signed on this morning and closed the thread. Wank can be fun sometimes, but it annoys me that I wrote something that, to me, said, “Let’s stop the wank!” and then wank followed me… I’m actually surprised it didn’t make otf_wank.

    Nick Kiddle said:

    Ive been following the discussion on Alas, and it’s really frustrating because you made an important point and it seems to have got lost in the flame war.

    Yeah… at least I learned the constraints of Alas. Without moderated comments, it’s impossible to keep a discussion in line. There are just too many things that go on when I’m not looking and then what am I going to do? Deleting entire conversations that have already happened just isn’t realistic.

    It’s one of those topics that’s just too emotive and too polarised for a realistic middle ground to exist.

    Maybe. But for the most part I saw a few vocal people stirring up trouble and then everyone reacting to them. If people do actually follow my suggestion to start up a conversation here, I think that maybe we could get somewhere…

  6. Tanooki Joe says:

    But for the most part I saw a few vocal people stirring up trouble and then everyone reacting to them.

    That’s always the problem though. Once I’d like to discuss the issue without someone poisoning the well.

  7. tekanji says:

    Once I’d like to discuss the issue without someone poisoning the well.

    That’s why I wouldn’t mind if the discussion moved over here. I have strict guidelines when it comes to polite discourse, and if the bile doesn’t get published then maybe those of us who actually want to work together, instead of against each other, can do it.

  8. Thomas says:

    I find the discussion frustrating for three reasons.

    First, I’m generally against the commodification of sexuality and I am persuaded that the sex trade, including the porn industry, on the whole is too problematic to try to save. So I’m a Swedish model proponent and I’m fine with solutions that attack the porn industry, with my only concern being for “by us/for us” work (which is generally either noncommercial or minimally commercial) That puts me at variance with a lot of feminists who self-identify as sex-positive, and puts me in general agreement with a lot of feminists who identify as anti-pornstitution. However, I’m not willing to abandon the idea that there is by us/for us erotica out there or throw it out with the bathwater. And when I raise those criticisms, I can’t seem to find any flexibility on the anti-pornstitution side.

    The second thing that I find frustrating is the culture clash. It’s possible to find common ground on specific positions and proposals that I think get lost in a larger incompatibility between the worldviews of the camps. I am more in agreement with the anti-porn folks than not of the specifics of proposals — Swedish model, don’t consume the porn industry’s products, etc. However, I keep feeling like the folks who identify as sex-positive are my natural allies because of the attitudes that the a/p feminists express about sex outside the commercial context. Everybody weighed in on Twisty, with many of her fans dismissing what she said as just stirring shit, but that’s too facile. She posted again and again and clarified that, while she may have just done it for a reaction, she really does think that blowjobs are inherently patriarchal, and the Twisty Army agrees. On this blog, others of the a/p bent have expressed the view that anal sex is horrible and painful for women. That is, of course, not the whole story; women are not the only people who are receptive partners in anal sex, and the rest of us who take it in our asses do not find the experience horrible, and someone who asserts unreservedly that it is horrible is either flat mistaken or very biased. And of course there’s BDSM. The folks on the a/p side often express views on sex that go far beyond opposition to the commercialization of sex, and it’s tough to support them on the porn/prost stuff if one believes that one is their next target.

    Some a/p feminists have asserted that it is absurd and unfair to characterize them as prudish or asexual, and for that reason I have stopped using the “sex-pos” terminology. I don’t think that being anti-porn or anti-prostitution is being anti-sex. However, I’m not going to pretend that nobody is anti-sex. Folks who think that giving a blowjob or doing an s/m scene is inherently reaffirming patriarchal control of female sexuality really are sex-negative. While I think it is unfair to infer that position from a stand against porn and prostitution, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

    (NB I am not asserting that the non-commercial sex lives of either men or women ought to be beyond the range of critique. I don’t believe that. I believe that the personal is political and that our sex lives are in fact rich areas for analysis. Rather, I’m taking a substantive position within that debate: some blowjobs are abuse, some are women making relatively unconstrained choices. Some BDSM is abuse, some involves people constructing artificial power dynamics for the purpose of sex play that do not replicate the power dynamics of the patriarchy.)

    Third, some of the loudest advocates on that side have a nasty habit of (a) declaring other feminist positions unfeminist (referring specifically to Witchy-Woo here) or (b) making deeply personal attacks on other women, specifically and by name, that are not even plausibly an attempt to find common ground and are clearly just throwing rocks.

    Speaking of thing number 3, Tekanji, when I saw your Alas headline, I thought you were going to talk about this, specifically, and not the substance of proposals. While middle ground may be hard to come by on the issues, I can’t see a reasoned defense of some of the personal attacks.

  9. Nio says:

    Feminists don’t get along? Wow, I had no idea.

  10. I came over here from Alas, and I just wanted to say, as someone very new to online discussion of what you have called “The Sex Wars”–I remember having face-to-face discussions with people when I was in college–that I was surprised at the level of anger your post generated. Perhaps it is my own naivete, but it seemed to me from reading the discussion on Alas that the two positions have been needlessly, pointlessly and even destructively dichotomized. Too bad. You were trying to do something positive.

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