Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Irony of Anti-Sex-Positive Feminist's Arguments

This is a guest post from Whatsername of the Jaded Hippy

It's been a while since I wrote a post from a specifically sex positive perspective. But that all changes tonight because a few days ago I had a run in that sent my mind off in that direction.

In comments at fem.men.ist's place a conversation began about sex positive feminism, with a very angry radical feminist who was hearing about it for the first time and didn't like what she was reading. Needless to say, she and I exchanged words. But since then I've been going over and boiling down my argument and though it's getting to the same point as my very first post about sex positivity, I thought it might be worth going into again.

The radfem's main argument (in the comments conversation, though her argument in her blog post appears similar) consisted of two points 1) certain sexual behaviors are inherently degrading to women (she also threw in there that heterosexual sex can never truly be consented to, which I would take to mean is "always rape" as the famous quote goes, but I never got to follow up on that point) and 2) that by supporting and accepting women who choose to engage in such behaviors for pleasure, sex positive feminists are supporting and enabling the sexual exploitation and degradation of women.

So here's my problem: this line of arguing is utilizing the master's tools.

Here's what I mean by that... Kyriarchy doesn't want women in solidarity with each other. That's the reason we're socialized to dislike each other (which is the essence behind this post on my Tumblr). It's the same tactic used against poor whites and poor Blacks after emancipation and into today, the same tactic used to divide white feminists from womanists and feminists of color, the same tactic used against the middle and the working classes, and on and on and on; divide and conquer. "We" must create divisions and hostility between them or "they" might join forces and overthrow us.

And there's this fine line between critique and condemnation that too many anti-sex positive feminists (as I've experienced them) trample all over. Critique is "there are these things that influence us towards accepting this behavior and eroticising it and we should be conscious of that." Whereas what this and so many others I've seen do is "that behavior is degrading, the end!" And anyone who makes an argument in support of women's sexual agency is cast promptly as the enemy, woefully brainwashed by Patriarchy. Critique leaves room for discussion, the latter just shuts conversation down entirely.

So let's take a step back here...

We're ALL woefully brainwashed by kyriarchy.

Feminism isn't an end to that, its just a lens we can use to liberate ourselves and each other. A lens which helps us figure out and hopefully dismantle our brainwashing. Radfems and SexPos' alike = brainwashed by kyriarchy. And sexual practices, like so many things, are essentially a nature vs nurture debate.
What came first, me liking to be spanked or kyriarchal norms teaching me that sexually fulfilled women should be disciplined?

The fact is? WE WON'T EVER KNOW. We can deconstruct the messages we're indoctrinated with, we can dissect our turn ons, we can even construct elaborate and well thought out theories as to how and why we ended up being turned on by sexual discipline, but we'll still never know what came first; the kinky bdsm chicken or the leather loving egg.

But in their fervour to impart how degrading some sexual practices are, and to point out the sexual horrors women as a whole are subjected to, this particular brand of radfem seems to forget that they are conditioned too.

They also seem to forget that kyriarchy fears few things more than unconstrained female sexuality. I mean, that's a given, yes? If asked, every feminist would agree that the powers that be have spent inordinate amounts of time and effort to "reign in" the terrors of female sexuality right? That's what the whole "virgin whore dichotomy" is all about, that's what rape as a punishment is all about. And yet when these radfems are turning on their sexpos sisters, it never seems to occur to them that perhaps this condemnation and social shaming is just as much a conditioned response as they think the desire for so-called kinky sex is.

And as the history of kyriarchal successes go: women once again turn on each other, disciplining each other's behaviour and creating wide rifts across which solidarity really isn't possible.

Is that "radical feminism"? Really?

How is disciplining women for what turns them on "radical" in any way? How does that tear down kyriarchy?

And I know the argument to this; "well their behaviour is reinforcing patriarchal norms!" Well, maybe. Maybe it is. I don't know for sure (but neither do you).
What I do know is this:
1) In a woman's search for sexual liberation there will undoubtedly be times when she is not "perfectly feminist". Because none of us are always perfectly feminist, ever.

And 2) there is nothing that kyriarchy fears more than women becoming truly sexually liberated... except for women in solidarity with each other.

Whether one particular sexual practice "does it" for you, or not, if you're throwing up walls against those who practice them, if you're setting yourself up to deny the sexual agency of other women...that's definitely not creating solidarity. It's only creating more divisions. It's only making it easier for you to disregard "those women".

Which is exactly what the Patriarchy wants.

Now, let me end with some ownership because I am not immune to this critique either. I wasn't particularly gentle in my approach with aladydivine. No, I was incredibly irritated by the utter reading failure she demonstrated throughout our conversation. And that dominated my response; not any sort of compassion for the emotions which were stirred up by that reading (false though it was, clearly a nerve was hit and I definitely didn't help delve into that and compare/contrast it with sex positivity).

Was I creating solidarity in that moment?

Hell no.

I was too pissed at seeing yet another feminist tearing down and shaming fellow women, fellow womanists/feminists for their sexual choices, and for basically utterly missing the point behind sex-positivity and at the same time dismissing it entirely out of hand.

Was that really the best way to handle it? Probably not, no.

I can't apologize for defending women's agency and criticizing what I still think was a total misreading, but I could have done so from a very different starting point, and taking my thoughts here to their logical end, I should have.