Mandolin on Sex Neutrality and Call-Outs, with Lots of Decorative Swearing

I am posting this here because it was the longest comment ever, but a decent blog post length. It is about sex positivity and radical feminism. For the record, I consider myself sex neutral.

It’s a direct response to Clarisse’s post about sex positivity on Feministe. She’s responding to a post by Holly at Pervocracy who is responding, among other things, to Twisty Faster, who herself responded (sort of) to Holly, and basically you should be able to chase down the links if you want them.

Mandolin on Sex Neutrality and Call-Outs, with Lots of Decorative Swearing

Hey Clarisse–I guess some of my issues with sex positivity come from what Twisty says here: “femininity is not a “choice” when the alternative is derision, ridicule, workplace sanctions, or ostracization.”

I know Holly says, “I talk about [sex positivity] in terms of promoting enthusiastic consent, promoting body acceptance, promoting the idea of finding out and coming to terms with your own sexual desires.”

Which is, you know, good. (And I haven’t read the pervocracy but I like her comments on manboobz so I am definitely not anti-Holly.) But a lot of the sex-positive stuff I’ve read has been pretty deeply entangled with fatphobia, even the stuff that’s not trying to be. Which, lots of stuff is, so it’s not like I think sex-positive feminists are more fatphobic than other people or even other feminist activists (probably less as a whole!), but sexuality and body issues are really at a–I’m going to say it, “problematic” :-P –crux so…

Well, at heart, I guess, I think some of the assumptions of sex positivity run counter to my experience as an unattractive woman. I’ve tried to pornulate, my goodness. And I’m not trying to say here “I’ve tried to be sexy” or “I’ve tried to be feminine.” Because I am feminine! And I wasn’t trying to be sexy, I was trying to be “sexy,” to be the ideal pornulated female. (And the fact that I never could is one of the big pains of my life since it eventually drove me away from my chosen career.)

And I have been, continue to be, and will always be, disadvantaged in my life, both socially and materially (wages, frex) by my inability to conform. So, you know, you can wear high heels. Great? And they *are* bad for your feet. But I can’t even really wear them. So, it’s like, a really limited choice. First, because I can’t do some of those sexy performance things even if I want (mostly I don’t at this point), but mostly because I’m penalized if I don’t do them.

For them to be fun, for them to be redeemed, they really need to be actually, genuinely, completely voluntary.

And I don’t know the best way of going about that. Attacking the feminine behaviors themselves seems unlikely to work, much as attacking infanticide of female infants seems unlikely to work. You have to break down the goddamn sexism so that the femininity isn’t *required* before it can start to be anything else. Anything even like a choice.

Supporting and reclaiming feminine behaviors… you know, I think it’s complicated. People have to do what people have to do. I wear makeup like whoa and when I was in grad school, I learned to speak as if I was a bit stupider than I was so that social situations were manageable. It is not any person’s onus to flout the system.

And I think social movements benefit from multiple approaches (as I think we’ve discussed before) so I think there is some work on reclaiming that can be done. Some ways that it can reframe femininity, teach people–especially women–that their image of themselves doesn’t have to be bound by the way that patriarchy perceives them. Do I fucking love that shit? I totally do. I love talking to my friends who break those rules and find themselves and love being sex workers and rock out the best clothes ever and take burlesque classes from Dita Von Tease. I love what they do, genuinely, and I love them for doing it.

But that’s not all the work. I think there *has* to be a strain of radical feminism pulling us elsewhere. Because I can fucking adore your joy and your burlesque all I want, but you’re still being socially rewarded for your makeup skills, and I ‘m still being socially punished for my body, and that person over there can’t even afford the kinds of femininity consumerism that would help her from being socially punished.
I think of this stuff as basically like hair straightening, and maybe I’m wrong about this analogy, but from hearing black women talk about hair straightening, it seems like it’s all kind of similar. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting straight hair. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to exaggerate your eyes with purple powder. But those things have costs—expense, pain. And they *are* socially coerced.

Maybe if there was no social coercion you’d throw on a pair of high heels anyway. But how could we know? Culture is ubiquitous and invisible. What would we do in a gender egalitarian society? I have no idea. I know some pieces of what some cultures looked like that were more gender egalitarian than ours, but ours wouldn’t necessarily look like that. I can make a guess that some women would choose to preen the way some men choose to preen and that the social positives would be there, but the social negatives of not preening wouldn’t be the same, or be as severe.

But every time I put on makeup to leave the house, I am complicit. I am adding to the prevailing cultural narrative that women wear makeup and that they need to wear makeup. My presence in the room, wearing makeup, supports that idea.

Now maybe that makeup allows you (using “you” as a generic here) to get through some social situations more easily so that you’re able to do different kinds of political work and that gains society a net benefit.

Or maybe you’re doing something awesomely sex-positive and wonderful and you’re accomplishing wonderful activism. And that wonderful activism totally outweighs your contribution to upholding the idea that “woman=makeup.”

Or maybe it’s something that you just need to do for yourself. Because it benefits you. Because it eases your social anxiety, or helps you get a job you want, or it’s fucking pleasurable. Not everything’s about politics.

But it’s an inevitability. Few actions are totally, unidirectionally good. I wear makeup pretty much every time I leave the house, and by doing so, I contribute to the expectation that “women=makeup,” but it also makes me much more able to participate in public spaces for both personal and cultural reasons. Twisty says giving a blow job is like “sucking on a funk-filled bratwurst” and Holly perceives that as slut-shaming, but for me, it was a dawning permission to go—you know what? I hate blow jobs. It’s not just me. There’s not just something wrong with me. And the comment thread where women shared being forced to give blow jobs and some of the treatment they’d gotten from their boyfriends, you know, that made me go, again. That’s not just me. There’s not just something wrong with me.

Could she have said it in a different way? Yeah. But I’m not sorry she said it.

I’m not sorry Dworkin said that cultural metaphors for sexual intercourse construct it as inherently violating.

I think cultural constructs of oppression are so complicated, so tangled, that they have to be broken apart in many different ways. And sometimes those ways are going to be wonderful, and obnoxious, and insightful, and eye-opening, and off-putting, and kind of fucked up, all at the same time. Just like there are benefits to and problems with the public statement I make when I put on makeup before leaving the house, there are benefits to and problems with the kinds of dialogues we have.

And sure, there are limits to that. Some things are just fucked up. For instance, going off to shoot someone who paints soup cans. Or a random bunch of salon customers. Or, on a much different scale, blog comments about how trans people are STEALING OUR BATHROOMS, which contribute to the oppression of an already oppressed group. That’s just fucked up.

And I’m not saying there are hard limits between something that’s kind of good and simultaneously kind of fucked up, and something that’s just pure fucked up. I can point to examples or one or the other—doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of grays.

But funk-filled bratwursts? Well, it gave me some good. It really did.

For what it’s worth, I think all this is basically the problem I have with [ETA: the critiques of] call-out culture, too. I think it’s really upsetting that some feminists want to go to a base assumption that call outs are in bad faith or bullying. There’s often real substance to the call outs, even the ones that later get kind of fucked up. La Lubu’s right—fashion and class are essentially intertwined (not that that one got fucked up, but it was recent so it came to mind). Idiot (or whatever the word was) *is* an ableist insult. Monica’s guest blog post was by fuck amazingly fatphobic.

That doesn’t make the whole post invalid. That doesn’t make the whole individual who wrote the post invalid. It doesn’t make the blog that posted the post invalid. Monica is probably a fantastic activist even though I personally have no interest in interacting with her. Fucked-up stuff in blog posts doesn’t even necessarily make the person –ist of whatever variety. Or at least no more than most people are. Because everything is shades of gray. I have totally fucked up on ableism issues a zillion billion times and I still do. And I am ableist, but I’m trying not to be. I’m trying to find the anti-ableism that make sense for me as someone who is only recently willing to call herself disabled. I’m not as ableist as I was. It’s not just an on/off, good/bad, valid/invalid thing.

And we forget that. We get into a war about the vocabulary of ableism, and then the person on the other side is all bad, and all wrong, even if you are mostly allies, mostly. The post is not “a post that contains something fucked up” but a post that is bad. The blogger is not “someone who wrote something fucked up” but a blogger who is bad. A call-out is not “a valid point that may or may not have gotten out of hand” but bullying; a person who makes a call-out is not “someone who disagrees with me” but someone acting in bad faith.

I’m not saying I don’t do it, because you know, there are feminist commenters who have so vastly irritated me at some point that I just scroll on past them whenever I see their names in a comment thread anywhere. Send me abusive emails and I start to ignore you even if we do agree on 90% of shit, and even if I do know your opinions can be surprising and interesting and thought-provoking. I could give many uncharitable rants. I’m excellent at ranting.

I totally engage in black and white thinking. I just don’t think it’s the best or most accurate path, for individuals or for movements.

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91 Responses to Mandolin on Sex Neutrality and Call-Outs, with Lots of Decorative Swearing

  1. 1
    Ampersand says:

    I’m really loving this post. I’m too tired to do much but nod agreement, but I’m loving it.

  2. 2
    lilacsigil says:

    Apart from the fact that I’ve met plenty of fat and fat-positive sex-positive people (and that certainly doesn’t invalidate the fact that you’ve met the opposite!), I have nothing to add but a great big round of applause.

  3. 3
    Maia says:

    I also really love this post.

    I mean part of that is because our experiences are very close. A lot of performative feminity just isn’t an option for me either. Dyspraxia means I can’t put make-up on, cannot deal with accessories, have to make ‘not falling over’ a priority for my shoes and so on. And as you say not having the ability to perform feminity has material and social effects on women’s lives.

    And I think that part of the problem is, as you say, what can be an amazing liberating click moment for some people, can be an . And the reason for this is obviously that the first rule of patriarchy is that women can never win. So you don’t win by not giving blow-jobs, but you also don’t win by giving them. And I guess I see awareness that whatever you’re doing and being shat on for it – there’s a woman not doing and being shat on for that too (and vice versa) is really important. And trying to keep that tension present within feminist writing. I guess where I disagree with Twisty (or at least the bits of that have filtered through to me a non-Twisty reader) is that I don’t really think anything is really patriarchy approved.

    Although I do get frustrated because I think the pro-woman line was such an amazingly clear way of articulating the relationship between the individual and the structure and that was figured out in 1969. But then I lean heavily towards focusing on the structure anyway. And one of the things that has happened in the last thirty years is the promotion of individualism within social movements (I think as part of neo-liberalism and as a way of rendering movements less powerful – but that’s because I’m a structure person).

    Also I’m totally using the phrase ‘sex-neutral’ from now on – it’s ace.

    *******

    I also really like your discussion of ‘call-out culture’. Because I never had much time for the ‘call-out’. It has the air of positioning – why call someone out – why not just say “I disagree with you and think you’re wrong and here’s why. Although that may be a cultural thing – because I may be very prepared to be vocally critical for a NZer, but I am still a NZer. But I’ve found the recent critiques of ‘call-out culture’ even less useful. Partly because of that very vagueness about what people are talking about. But also because you cannot know, from the other side of hte key board who is acting in bad faith (most of hte time).

  4. 4
    Denise says:

    I liked this post. A lot. And I’ve totally been in your shoes, where something a radical feminist says on the internet made me feel like, holy shit, someone else out there agrees with me and I’m not alone. I was in a bad relationship once, lets call it an emotionally manipulative relationship because I don’t need to get into details. But a different radical feminist (not Twisty, this particular radfem is no longer online to my knowledge) talked about exactly the type of manipulation that was happening in my relationship and said in no uncertain terms, this is wrong. And it really helped me put myself in a mindspace where I wasn’t constantly blaming myself and I was able to finally end the relationship.

  5. 5
    AMM says:

    I saw the post on Pervocracy (and wrote a comment), then saw the one on Feministe (but didn’t read the comments), and now this.

    I have to say, the number of “I loved this post” comments I’ve seen is starting to bother me. Each of the posts only describes part of the elephant (because the whole elephant is simply too big and too complicated in a sort of fractally way to be described in a single post, or even a dozen.) “I loved this post” in the context of an on-line debate of this kind sounds too much like “go, team, go!” It ends up sounding like an us-versus-us fight, and I refuse to be a cheerleader for any “side.”

    On another note, while it’s quite true that women are constantly encouraged and pressured to perform femininity and rewarded for performing it, and rewarded more for performing it well (for suitable interpretations of “rewarded”), it’s also true that they are also punished for doing so — cf. the incident that provoked the SlutWalks.

    Of course, as Mandolin points out, women who don’t perform or don’t perform well get punished on both ends. It all comes down to the standard oppressive tactic: set things up so no matter what you do, you’re going to get screwed — pun intended.

    Finally, someone paraphrased Twisty Faster (of “I Blame the Patriarchy”) as saying that pretty much anything you do ends up supporting(?)/fitting in with(?) Patriarchy. Ultimately, each of us has to find a level and form of compromise with Teh System that we can live with (the alternative being to die.) Since we are all different, our compromises are going to be different.

    I wish we could cut one another some slack. I also wish we could resist the temptation to turn our particular set of compromises into yet another version of the One True Feminism. But I also wish we could accept that our own compromises (inevitably!) have their own problematic aspects, and that we need to re-examine our choices on a regular basis.

  6. 6
    Jadey says:

    I keep thinking I must be using “sex positive” wrong! Or at least been seriously limited in my contact with sex-positive people. My association with sex-positivity is the idea that sexiness and positive sexual behaviours encompass a much broader range than what is mainstream acceptable. In fact, the first thing I think of when I think of my sex-positive experiences (well, besides kink) is all the marvellous porn I’ve found celebrating fat people in non-fetishizing ways. Personally, I still struggle with my own body a lot and that interferes with my desire to have sex with people (although I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not kinda in greysexual territory, but it’s hard to say given all the unpleasant body shame happening), but sex positivity is something I would have said is a tool to combat that, rather than something propping it up. Clearly, that’s not a universal experience! I would have also said from my own experience that sex positivity might celebrate feminine performance, but, unlike mainstream culture, does not elevate it as the *only* way for a woman to be sexy and sexual – again, clearly this is at odds with what is actually happening.

    I don’t disagree with many of the tenets of radical feminism either and I don’t think that these two positions are necessarily contradictory, although my past experiences with radical feminists have been bad enough that I no longer enter their spaces. I just don’t think that radical feminism and sex-positivity are necessarily opposed to each other. Radical feminists recognize some uncomfortable truths about the societies in which we operate, but to me sex-positivity is the radical act of challenging and trying to subvert those realities, rather than a re-writing of what they are without actually changing them. (And not just by “more sex, all the time!”, but by challenging notions of what sex is and the ways in which people can engage, or not engage, in it.) If instead the discussion is being broken down to agency vs. determinism, then I think that’s pretty reductionist and silly, as many commenters (at least on the Feministe thread) have pointed out.

  7. 7
    Jadey says:

    re: funk-filled bratwurst

    I totally get what you said about the value of that phrase to you, and I respect the validation of experiences. But the thing is, Twisty doesn’t say, “For some people” or “For more of us than we realize” or something – she uses it as an essentializing concept: either everyone feels that way, or anyone who claims to feel differently is deluding themselves. From the originating post for that phrase (as far as Google knows): “Flame me if you will, but I posit nevertheless that no woman, since the dawn of the patriarchal co-option of human sexuality, has ever actually enjoyed this submissive sexbot drudgery. There’s a reason that deep-throating a funk-filled bratwurst makes a person retch.*”

    This is as shaming to me as all the body-hating, fat-negative crap I put up with in mainstream culture every day. This is not, “Sexual acts exist within a patriarchal system, are compromised in meaning because of these systems, and cannot be completely divorced from their context although they can be challenged and partially subverted within these bounds”, this is straight-up “You only think you enjoy putting a cock in your mouth because the patriarchy tells you to.” I get that it’s blogging and we aren’t always nuanced when it comes to blogging, but I still think there’s a problem with this. I fully understand the various ways in which my sexual experiences have been compromised and problematized by the various contexts in which they have occurred (and, yeah, regret a few of them), but I don’t actually believe that fellatio is inherently sexist or only enjoyable because of its patriarchal sheen, and the suggestion that it is so attacks one of few aspects of my sexual history in which I have felt like I was truly able to exert some autonomy over my sexuality, and something which I would really like to repeat on my own terms if I ever get around being uncomfortable with intimacy with most people who have penises.

    So I agree that she could have said it a better way, and I really wish that she had (and not the “funk-filled bratwurst” part of it), because I don’t think that validating one of our experiences actually needs to be at the expense of the other, which, again, for me is the essence of sex-positivity, or at least what I would like sex-positivity to mean.

  8. 8
    Susan says:

    this is straight-up “You only think you enjoy putting a cock in your mouth because the patriarchy tells you to.” I get that it’s blogging and we aren’t always nuanced when it comes to blogging, but I still think there’s a problem with this.

    Although I don’t enjoy the act myself, and so agree with the premise as far as it goes, I still think there’s a problem with universal statements to the tune of “whatever it is that I think is Universal Truth, and anyone who disagrees with me is a tool of the patriarchy [or, a heretic, or, a communist, or a Bad Person Generally].” Feminism, or progessivism, or whatever, can become as oppressive a belief system as the belief systems they’re attacking.

    I wish we could cut one another some slack. I also wish we could resist the temptation to turn our particular set of compromises into yet another version of the One True Feminism.

    Me too.

  9. 9
    BlackHumor says:

    You’re strawmanning Holly, and I know that because Holly doesn’t like makeup or any of the other performative behaviors herself. And complains about them fairly often.

    Actually I think this is pretty much exactly the sort of strawman she complained about in the post you’re responding to:

    This criticism goes beyond mere criticism, and into denying sex-positive feminists’ agency.
    If you tell me that I’m wrong, I can talk to you. I’ll probably use bad words and too many italics, but I’ll talk to you. We disagree. But if you tell me that I don’t really think what I’m saying, that the words coming out of my mouth aren’t mine, how the fuck do I answer that?

    Here’s a bit from the XOJane article:

    So you should go ahead and do things that are patriarchy-approved, if you want to. Buy new nail polish! Care about celebrities! Have a giant wedding! Wear a thong in your hair! Put your picture on the Internet! Look good according to particular patriarchal ideas of what looks good! Be flattered when men wolf whistle at you, literally or metaphorically! Whatever aspects of being a “Hot Chick” work for you, enjoy them. Maybe except the hair thong. But don’t fool yourself that you’re doing so of your own unconstrained free will.

    That’s right; women who are sexy are victims of mind control. You can tell by looking at them. There’s no way a woman can choose to wear nail polish or care about celebrities. I know I’ve been harsh on femininity myself at times (mostly I’m just harsh at the idea of me being feminine), but this goes beyond criticism of femininity. This is a claim that femininity is a symptom of Borg assimilation.

    (Even worse than the Borg claim is the claim that feminine women are deliberately sucking up to men to get cookies from their oppressors. Ugh.)

    It’s also, implicitly, a claim that women who reject femininity aren’t influenced by patriarchy, which is even more unfortunate. You don’t break free from our entire social system and all the behaviors and preconceptions that come with it just by growing out your armpit hair. If we are all blinded by the culture we live in and the privileges we have, then it’s the height of arrogance to claim that you’re so enlightened you’ve risen above all that. If women don’t have full agency in the patriarchy, where the fuck do you get off claiming that you do?

  10. 10
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Well, I don’t wear high heels … heh … but aside from all that, I think I get what you’re saying, and I’m in agreement, but like you I’m not sure where to go from here. Like I said in the Feministe thread, I’m looking for ways to make sex-positivity better and more complete, and I want to walk a line where I get to keep the stuff I like from radical feminism but also sex-positivity and even, God help me, people whose politics I really don’t like but who I think are occasionally correct (like say Susan Walsh or Lori Gottlieb).

    I wonder if you ever read my article I’m Not Your Sex-Crazy Nympho Dreamgirl? Would be interested to know if you feel like it walks that line. I mentioned a similar moment about radical feminists and blowjobs in that post, come to think of it.

  11. 11
    The Nerd says:

    “I don’t disagree with many of the tenets of radical feminism either and I don’t think that these two positions are necessarily contradictory… I just don’t think that radical feminism and sex-positivity are necessarily opposed to each other.”

    This is basically my response to having read all the threads involved here. It sometimes seems that the two camps agree on everything except whether women are “allowed” to enjoy some elements of the patriarchy while they’re passing through, or whether they need to be vigilantly aware of how oppressed they are at all times. And you know what? If we have some women doing one, and some women doing another, that’s just what is going to happen, and I think I can deal with that. I used to try to femme myself up. Then I finally accepted that I’m trans genderqueer and do my own thing now. But as long as I live in a gendered society which refuses to grant me exit from the checkbox marked F, this shit affects me too. And more than anything, I wish I’d see empathy and compassion from both camps, not this “you’re everything that’s wrong with feminism today” battle.

  12. Just want to say that this is a magnificent post! And that the comments are really good too.

  13. 13
    Mandolin says:

    Sorry, Clarisse, re: high heels–I must have been thinking of Jill!

    I haven’t read Holly’s post, apart from what Clarisse quoted. I am aware that there are multiple ways of expressing sex-positivity; that doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced uncomfortable-for-me expectations about body and femininity in some of them.

    Jadey–I agree that the best sex positivity celebrates femininity, but not as the only way to be sexy. Yay that stuff! Love that stuff. I hope I participate in that stuff.

    I started to reply on agency v determinism and got all wordy, so I put up another post — http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2011/10/24/free-will-determinism-and-a-brush-of-semiotics/

  14. 14
    Mandolin says:

    Clarisse, I’m getting database errors when I try to go to that article (I also googled it and tried some of the links from google search with the same result). Is it the same as this one: http://jezebel.com/clarisse-thorn/?

  15. 15
    Les says:

    “femininity is not a “choice” when the alternative is derision, ridicule, workplace sanctions, or ostracization.”

    This sentence really irritates the pants off of me, not because I disagree that there are major normative forces at work that try to make femininity mandatory for women, but because of how it shores up the idea of butch tragedy / non-existence.

  16. 16
    Mandolin says:

    I think it is the same article. Yes, I think you walk the line *really well* there. (And I basically agree with your comments about Twisty’s post although I think she does something complex with the set-up narrator of that blog wherein I think some portion of what’s written is not meant to be taken as truth, but as something that will highlight cultural reality by being so removed from it. This is my experience as a long-time reader and something I find supported by the persona shift and all sorts of other meta-things that exist in her writing. I still agree w/ what you say about it, especially looking at the piece of writing excerpted from the blog.)

    That’s a really good article, Clarisse. And very similar to my shell. Being a plastic, sexy dreamgirl is really deadening. I was definitely plastic sexy partner with my first serious boyfriend and I think, among other things, for me at least, it created this kind of tough, calloused tissue between me and him (which I’m not sure he was ever aware of). It created this fundamental detachment from him and from intimacy that extended beyond sex. And for me, it wasn’t just acting out the fantasy, which I did, but sex with him was often very painful for me, for a variety of reasons including the fact that I just intermittently have vaginal pain, and so a lot of our intimate moments were him having pleasure while I created a fake image of myself and experienced active pain.

    When I started on the medication that lowers my sex drive, and suddenly my husband and I were having sex a lot less often, which sucked/sucks, it was a horrible question. The idea of sex wasn’t neutral to me, it was repelling. Did I have sex anyway? My husband would hate sex with someone who it was making nauseated, but I was well-aware I could deceive him. I mentioned something about it to my mother when she asked about the side effects of my medication (we have an unusually frank relationship) and she said, “Just pretend.” And I was like… really? So my husband and I talked about it and he was like, whatever, we can find other ways of dealing. And I was so grateful to him which, when I really think about it, is fucked up. I’m grateful to him that he doesn’t want to make me, his life partner, into a plastic sexy dreamgirl, masking her pain?

    Which is all rather personal, but I agree with you one hundred percent that it’s important to share personal, sexual stories, to fight the taboo that says these things should be shrouded in secrecy, that the porn or the R-rated movie or the whatever should be the only voice about what sexuality is. I think it’s important to raise voices in counter to that. Not that everyone should have to raise their voices, or that people should have to listen if they don’t want to, but it’s important work to tell the stories and put them out there. And I have enormous respect for you and others who do that all the time.

    It is upsetting to me that people trivialize and dismiss that work.

  17. 17
    Mandolin says:

    “because of how it shores up the idea of butch tragedy / non-existence.”

    Would it work better for you if it said “when the alternatives often include…?” Or “when the alternative is facing punishment for gender-noncomformity?”

    I guess it was my impression that women who present as butch in non-culturally-condoned ways would basically, as a default, become subject to the intersection of both sexism and certain forms of homophobia, whether or not they themselves are queer.

    I hope I’m not being offensive in the way I’m probing here… I genuinely would like to understand what you mean. I self-identify as queer, but I’m feminine, so I’m sure I have some big blind spots here.

  18. 18
    BlackHumor says:

    I haven’t read Holly’s post, apart from what Clarisse quoted. I am aware that there are multiple ways of expressing sex-positivity; that doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced uncomfortable-for-me expectations about body and femininity in some of them.

    I’m beginning to get the feeling that people doing this is responsible for a lot of the negative comments. Which means, I suppose, that Clarisse chose her quotes badly.

    But I AM still fairly sure that anyone who is okay with women being forced to wear makeup is not any kind of feminist. It’s just some of them think that forcing women NOT to wear makeup is missing the point.

    I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen in the comments on Feministe (and the OP as an extension of that) say things like “I’m sex neutral, I don’t want women to be forced either way!” THAT’S THE POINT OF SEX-POS.

    (Oh, and a short tangent: the phrase “sex-pos feminism” does in fact assume that the rest of feminism is sex-negative. Because it is. It is because SOCIETY AS A WHOLE is sex-negative and so EVERYTHING in society is sex-negative unless marked otherwise. Just because feminism is not immune to this is not a slur against feminism in particular.)

  19. 19
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Thanks Mandolin. Yeah, that’s the article. My site is also back up now too. Goddamnit I need a new server company.

    I totally identify with your experience of your husband. I’ve felt that same gratefulness when a dude partner “released” me from my “obligation” … and then the same anger that I HAD TO FEEL GRATEFUL FOR THAT!!

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    I don’t know why you assume I haven’t participated in other sex-positive spaces. Holly is not the only sex-positive feminist. Therefore, my other experiences are relevant, and I am not alone in them. It is good that you have not shared them.

    And I was, in fact, clear about my relationship to her (that I don’t read her) above. So.

    I agree that there are probably not any sex-positive feminists who are in favor of forcing women to wear makeup.

  21. 21
    BlackHumor says:

    @Mandolin:I realize that Holly is not the only sex-positive feminist in the world. I’m just saying, sex-pos feminists as a whole are ALSO against forcing sex or sexuality upon people.

    It seems a bit silly to me to think that anybody who likes anything would be blindly in favor of it ALL THE TIME.

    Oh, but since now we’re talking about your experiences with other sex-pozzers you weren’t comfortable with, maybe it would be helpful if you told us who they were and what exactly they said?

  22. 22
    Susan says:

    The idea of sex wasn’t neutral to me, it was repelling. Did I have sex anyway? My husband would hate sex with someone who it was making nauseated, but I was well-aware I could deceive him.

    Maybe it’s about being together for so long, but I couldn’t deceive him. If I tried. Forty-five years is forty-five years, that’s all our adult lives. (And part of our kid lives it the truth be told.) You don’t lie to such a person and get away with it. When I was taking such medication, and we realized what was happening, I went back to the doctor and said, find something else, this isn’t working for me. This isn’t working for ME.

    And as my husband says, re nursing mothers : being tolerated is not the same as being wanted.

    So my husband and I talked about it and he was like, whatever, we can find other ways of dealing. And I was so grateful to him which, when I really think about it, is fucked up.

    Gratitude is never fucked up, even when you’re grateful for something the person should have done anyway as a matter of course. The sun rises every morning, but we should always be grateful for it.

    We are not entitled to anything. Every breath is a gift.

    Always affirm the positive wherever you find it, however hard you have to look for it. Always remember that other people (and you too) don’t usually do the right thing, so the right thing is deserving of some praise. Always remember that what you subsidize you get more of.

  23. 23
    Susan says:

    Re makeup, I’m noticing that in media depictions of powerful women (not, alas yet, in real life) these women are not wearing even lipstick. A positive straw in the wind.

  24. 24
    figleaf says:

    Hey Mandolin, I think you’d really enjoy reading Holly’s Pervocracy. I’ve met her twice, once for a long lunch and another for an even longer breakfast just before she moved to Boston. I’ve said before that if I could only read two blogs for the rest of my life they’d be hers and Twisty’s. I’m glad I don’t have to make that choice (especially since Jill seems to have largely retired her “Twisty” persona) but I’m sticking to it. What I like best about Holly is that she will defy your expectations, perpetually, even when you know her far better than I do.

    I think you’d appreciate the way she distinguishes “sexy” from “sexualized” or “performative,” as in this paragraph from last November

    [C]ompulsory sexiness isn’t just demeaning and creepy, it gets in the way of real sexiness. Makeup and heels aren’t even sexy any more, and even the ever-present images of mega-sexed-up models are barely a blip on the bonerometer. If women could be sexy on our own time–if looking and acting sexual was an indicator that we were actually interested in being sexy, rather than just doing what we gotta–then sexiness would mean something. We’d realize that actually, women aren’t sexless when left to our own devices. We’d discover the many different things that make women feel sexy (some of us kinda rock the cargo pants, thank you) and we’d be more comfortable with women being unsexy when they had other shit to do.

    I think that a nice summary of “sex positive.”

    Also, I think one of the problems is that “sex positive” isn’t trademarked with the result that it’s often used in the same spirit 70′s pornographers used “liberated” — i.e. as a hammer for peer pressuring people into letting them get away with exploitative bullshit. But really, seriously, there is such a thing. And it sure doesn’t have much to do with expectations that all women should wear high heels or give blowjobs or, for that matter, expectations that all men should be perpetually woo-hoo-ing high heels and demanding blowjobs. (My personal metric for “sex positive” is how someone who makes the claim deals with people with very low or no interest in sex. Clue: if someone freaks out about asexuality they’re not “sex positive.”)

    figleaf

  25. 25
    chingona says:

    So, I am an occasional reader of Holly’s blog, and I read her post before it got excerpted.

    I commented there that I am not a fan of the term “sex-positive” because I think it’s deliberately set up to contrast with supposedly “sex-negative” or sex-hating/man-hating hairy-legged second-wavers. I used to think the term applied to me because I like sex, but I don’t like the idea of “not-one-of-them” feminism, so I stopped using it.

    I reject the idea that feminism that is not explicitly labeled “sex-positive” is sex-negative because society is sex-negative. I just don’t think that’s an argument with any substance.

    Holly’s defense of sex-positive feminism is more a defense of prioritizing issues that come up around sex and sexuality in feminism than it is a defense of femininity or sexiness. (She is not, as far as I can tell, particularly femme, and she included a picture of herself in the post that would seem to bear that out. And for context, she has recently been criticized on her blog for being too critical of femininity, so she may have been trying to be really clear that she’s fine with voluntary femininity in the post in question.)

    That said, I never understood regular, plain-ole feminism to NOT be concerned with issues of sex and sexuality. Sex. It’s pretty important to people. It’s a major source of pleasure and identity and a major axis along which women experience oppression in relation to men. I didn’t think that was something only “sex-positive” feminists talked about.

    But that said, I never understood “sex-positive” feminism to be primarily concerned with performing femininity.

    Maybe I just need to get out more.

    Oh, and I’m a structure person too.

  26. 26
    Maia says:

    AMM –

    I wish we could cut one another some slack. I also wish we could resist the temptation to turn our particular set of compromises into yet another version of the One True Feminism. But I also wish we could accept that our own compromises (inevitably!) have their own problematic aspects, and that we need to re-examine our choices on a regular basis.

    See I disagree fundamentally that we need to re-examine our choices on a regular basis. And I think that any movement which thinks individual people’s actions (as individuals not as part of a collective struggle) is creating change will ever be able to cut anyone else any slack. My reason why belongs more on Mandolin’s other thread, and I’ll go put it there in a minute. But the idea that anything is gained for anyone by people ‘examining their choices’ is nonsense. Genuine change in people’s lives has come through collective struggle, and creating a hierarchy of political value in how people live their lives makes that harder not easier.

    ************

    Society is sex-negative? I just don’t find that concept useful. I think the role of sex, sexuality and sexual discourses in society and the meanings and power attached to those concepts is so complex, that the only thing calling it ‘sex-negativity’ will do is make it harder to understand.

    To demonstrate, figleaf quotes Holly:

    “If women could be sexy on our own time–if looking and acting sexual was an indicator that we were actually interested in being sexy, rather than just doing what we gotta–then sexiness would mean something.”

    But what does looking sexual mean? (unfortunately I can’t find out any more of the post, because the university blocks Holly’s site). How can you look sexual? Are there ways of looking that are not sexual? Are there ways of looking that are more sexual than others?

    And then later – how can you feel ‘sexy’? Isn’t being sexy being desireable? How can you feel the way someone else perceives you?

    Clarisse – I had exactly the same reaction (as did someone else) with the extract of Holly’s you clipped over at Feministe – which created ‘sexy women’ as a group separate from the extent that anyone actually desired them, but based on behaviour which was (in the extract) treated a ‘sexy’ in some kind of innate way. She’s doing the same thing in the bit BlackHumour clipped. I assume she means “women who in some way resemble what is considered sexy by society” – but to conflate that with “sexy women” is just so anti-feminism and such a narrow view of sex I can’t even respond to the quotes as they stand.

    And you’re clipping these bits because they’re supposed to speak to people, because they resonate with you – and I actually literally don’t know what they’re talking about and can’t parse them in a way that isn’t actively offensive.

    I get that this is a problem with extraction – because we don’t have very good language around sex and any qualifiers that she may have made are lost. Although in terms of asking what could change for ‘sex-positive feminism’ I think reading what you extract and asking what it implies about sex separate from the whole might actually really help -because just reading the quotes in this thread have turned me off far more than I were before.

    But this comes back to my point that this stuff is complex, and therefore both ‘sex-positive’ and ‘sex-negative’ are far too blunt concepts to suitably deal with (or apparently conceive of) the nuances.

  27. 27
    chingona says:

    Just so folks have a broader idea of what Holly was talking about – and without copying and pasting the whole thing because it’s very long – this is what I would have excerpted if I wanted to discuss the piece (not necessarily that I agree with everything here but that I think it gets more to her main point):

    Most critics of sex-positive feminism have not bothered to figure out what sex-positivity is.

    It’s not the giggling, hair-twirling exclamation of “it’s feminist to be sexayyy!” It’s really not. I’m not going to defend that strawman. (I also think it’s funny how often I get accused of being a Hooters-girl-bot, when I’m about the least Hooters-looking-person ever.)

    Nor is it the demand that everyone be sexy or have sex. Nor is it the claim that everything that involves sex is beyond criticism. Nor is it the suggestion that sex will fix all the problems of feminism.

    Instead, sex-positivity is the belief that sex and sexiness are… okay. It’s the belief that people shouldn’t be judged by the sex they have. It’s the belief that consent matters and social norms do not. It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is). It’s the belief that neither “slut” nor “prude” should be an insult. It’s the belief that every sexual and gender identity is valid.

    Sex-positivity is, in a nutshell, the belief in sexual freedom as a key component of women’s freedom and of having a better world in general.

  28. 28
    chingona says:

    See I disagree fundamentally that we need to re-examine our choices on a regular basis. And I think that any movement which thinks individual people’s actions (as individuals not as part of a collective struggle) is creating change will ever be able to cut anyone else any slack.

    I hadn’t seen anything yet on Mandolin’s other post, but I hope you will talk more about this specifically as it applies to performative femininity. While I am a structural person, from where I’m sitting, doing femininity seems significantly less mandatory than it was when my mother was coming up, and it’s hard for me to suss out what the mechanism for that change was, other than a bunch of women in the 1970s saying “Screw this shit.”

    I’ll also add that for the last six or seven years, I’ve lived in parts of the country (U.S., where there are some distinct regional differences) where it’s fairly common to see, for example, women who don’t wear make-up, older women who don’t dye their hair, more relaxed standards for professional dress (no heels, more pants, that sort of thing). It’s definitely easier to not do those things when you see plenty of other women also not doing them (and not seeming to suffer many repercussions for it), but I don’t know what the cause and effect is, other than individual women making different choices. What does collective struggle look like when we’re talking about make-up and heels?

  29. 29
    figleaf says:

    @Maia: “But what does looking sexual mean?”

    I’m pretty sure what Holly meant was that rather than being expected or even required to mimic arousal just to go to work, school, or even church (e.g. high heels that push the body into postures of arousal, wearing makeup that imitates the coloration of arousal, clothes that invite eyes and by implication touch to areas were touch is welcome only during arousal) she could instead resemble an aroused woman only on those occasions when she was actually aroused.

    So that’s part one of what I’m pretty sure she meant. Part two was she meant that if someone doesn’t wear faux-arousal clothes and makeup, or if she doesn’t look particularly good in them, it would be nice if (for instance) colleagues didn’t presume she was un-sexual and therefore was up for shared moments of slut-shaming other women because of this rumor or that evidence that their interest in sex goes beyond obliging their husband as grudgingly as possible.

    In other words, as the paragraph might have said too succinctly for easy interpretation, it would be much better if society stopped expecting women to pretend they were “sexy” when they’re not feeling it while also pretending they’re never really interested in sex when sometimes they actually are.

    Also you asked “Society is sex-negative?”

    I’m not positive about Holly but my interpretation is that to the extent that society brands women’s real, non-faux, non-docile sexuality in negative terms like “wild,” “crazy,” “brazen,” “damaged,” “reckless,” “naive,” “immature,” “attention-seeking,” “fallen,” “asking for it,” “enthralled,” “pornified,” and “self-oppressing” then yeah, it’s “sex negative.” (Same thing when society seems to assign admiring terms to what in reality tends to be inconsiderate or reflexively sexual behavior in men.)

    figleaf

  30. 30
    Maia says:

    Figleaf – You quoted that section as an example of a nice summary of what sex positive means. Now you’ve given an explanation, which introduces an entirely new idea that what society treats as ‘sexy’ in a woman is about mimicking arousal. I find that idea interesting (but as a historian I don’t find it very convincing – as there is such different ideas about these things over space and time). But my point was – in the context you gave it – that quote reinforced that there was a way that you can ‘look sexual’. An idea I think is both a narrow view of sex and anti-feminist. And explaining what you think Holly meant, doesn’t change what she said – and the extract you chose to present.

    I’m sure people could do the same thing with my writing. It’s hard to always be precise. But that’s why I’m arguing for more precise language not less. That’s why I don’t find ‘sex-positive’ or ‘sex-negative’ useful terms. I think the role of sex in society is incredibly complicated and it needs very precise language to tease out. Positive and negative are very blunt instruments (to mix metahphors a little).

    Chingona – sorry that ohter thought got too convoluted – maybe tomorrow. In particular, when it comes to compulsory feminity – a couple of brief thoughts that I might expand on tomorrow. First I would argue that it wasn’t individual women saying fuck it that changed things in the 1970s, but women being part of a movement where they said ‘fuck it’ together.

    How do we fight make-up and high heels – I think the answer is in what we’re actually fighting for – which is the distribution of material and social rewards based on women’s conforming to make-up and high heels. And then the answer becomes a little more clear – demand those material and social rewards for everyone. It’s by pushing for a more equal distribution of material and social rewards that we lessen the pressure on individuals – or at least that’s what I think happened in the 1970s.

  31. 31
    B. Adu says:

    comment-25, chingona, does it for me.

  32. 32
    Emily says:

    I think there is something to be gained by extremist positions, and my experience with IBTP puts it in that category for me. For me, some of the times that I have been moved to think most deeply and critically about what I believe is when people who I feel like I “should” have an affinity with/agree with say something that I find totally, viscerally off-putting. For me, that is an incredible learning experience – to try to make sense of what they mean, why they express it this way, whether it separates me from them in some significant way, etc.

    A totally off-topic example (for me) was when I saw a sign at a rally that made some sort of equivalency between an Israeli leader and Hitler. It was viscerally offensive to me (I am Jewish). But the rally/protest as a whole was on an issue that I identified with (I don’t remember if it was Palestinian specific or if it was more generally against police brutality; it was a long time ago in NYC). It made me think about whether I was welcome in this group; how my Jewish identity intersected with my political positions and beliefs; and where this particular expression was coming from (people speaking from personal pain and oppression often do not use the most approachable language, and they communicate their experience not only through the meaning of their words but also through the power of the statement to shock/stop/affect those who hear it).

    For me, I see some IBTP posts the same way. Every single one of us has some part of our identity that is bound up with patriarchy. For me, the way radical feminism sometimes talks about heterosexual sex acts can be hurtful/shocking/frustrating/confusing but damned if it doesn’t make me really think about the way that I do or don’t accommodate to patriarchal rules/norms/expectations in my own life. I value that, and I think the language used is part of making that impression. I’m not sure how much of it I agree with, but I like to be challenged. I can understand for some it might be too painful, and it’s just not a place they want to be a part of, and that makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that it has no value or harms feminism to have those ideas exist and be expressed.

  33. 33
    savagebeard says:

    After doing a bit of reading, it seems to me that arguments between sex-positive and radical feminists boil down to “all sexual expression is good, and even many choices that fall within traditional expectations for women can be valid” vs. “sexual expression is good, but all choices that fall within traditional expectations for women need to be examined and their origins held to light.”

    While the first point of view seems at first glance to offer more freedom to everyone to do what they want, I believe that it is actually anti-freedom to perpetuate the idea that women don’t need to ask themselves why they find it fun to wear traditionally sexy gear and act in a traditionally man-pleasing way. No woman chooses to wear a miniskirt in a cultural vacuum. Given how miniskirt-wearing is tangled up with a history of patriarchal carrots and sticks, I think it would benefit any woman’s quest for self-expression to examine why she wants to wear one. Just because it makes you happy doesn’t mean that it’s an expression of your authentic personality or sexuality. For women, there are many things that make us happy mainly because they win us the approval of our traditional masters. To attain real freedom, we need to unpack the things that make us happy and figure out how much of that happiness consists of patriarchy-approved people-pleasing and how much of it stems from the genuine expression of self.

    I’ve hardly ever seen a radical feminist take the position that women need to stop performing traditional femininity right now. Radical feminists live in this world too. If you read the comments on many of Twisty’s posts, you will see that many of the radfems over there practice femininity to a certain extent too – because they need to for the sake of their jobs, or often because they feel socially uncomfortable without it (translation: it makes them happy). Radfems generally just advocate examining the choices you make and understanding the patriarchal element in them, and then trying to do away with those practices that you can live without and that were never part of you to begin with. What I see them doing with “sexy” women is not slut-shaming, but more of a throwing the hands up in despair that so many of these women are choosing to man-please, NOT unpack it, and then call it empowering because it makes them happy.

    I find the radfem perspective much more effective, in terms of furthering feminism, than insisting that people should unquestioningly practice whatever feels good to them. It is specifically not feminist to unquestioningly practice femininity as sexual expression, even though I’m sure that a woman who does that can be a feminist and show it in other areas of her life.

    And I’ve seen sex-positivity look pretty flawed when it’s put into practice. Both the sex-pos and the radfem camps are theoretically in favor of everyone having the ability to express their sexuality in non-conventional ways. But in practice, sex-positive communities seem to revert too often back to the old order of femininity performance for women and posturing for men. I live in San Francisco, and while I’ve seen many vibrant displays of decidedly non-patriarchal sexual expression, I’ve seen a lot more events and people that, while embracing the idea that everyone should do what they want, ended up mostly as a gothed-up, punked-up, Burning Man-esque version of mainstream heterosexuality with all its masculinity and femininity traditions thinly veiled by rebellious outfits. I mean, when a good quarter of the men at your event could have come straight from that “Dear Woman” video that was circulating the web a while ago, and about forty percent more are dudes who are mainly hoping for a chance to get laid, and most of the women feel the need to be in a bikini just because, you’re doing something wrong. Encouraging people to question their choices would be a good start.

    Radical feminism does a much better job at giving a voice to that part inside me that really doesn’t enjoy traditional sexuality performance and allowing space for the stuff I actually like. It often accomplishes this by labeling mainstream things as unpleasant, which begins my process of questioning them. Such as when Twisty says “Giving a blowjob is like sucking on a funk-filled bratwurst” – or any number of other things that I had long accepted as standard. The more I read, the more I unpack my life and find why various things have always given me a squicky feeling and that I don’t have to do them anymore. That leaves a promising empty space that can then be filled up with things I really like. So far, this has worked much better than trying to figure out stuff I really like when the “sexuality” part of my brain is still polluted with things that are in direct opposition to my happiness. And when I want to continue to enjoy something that a bunch of radfems are busy gutting on some post, I do. I just go about enjoying it with a heightened awareness of why, and reserve the right to stop enjoying it later on.

    EDIT: I started out intending to post this on The Pervocracy and decided halfway through to post it here instead, so apologies if the focus is not quite clear.

  34. 34
    mythago says:

    I find the radfem perspective much more effective, in terms of furthering feminism, than insisting that people should unquestioningly practice whatever feels good to them.

    If I can’t point and laugh at self-serving false dichotomies, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

    I like to be challenged, too, but I like to be challenged where I’m being an idiot (say, in response to privilege) or when the challenge is actually intelligent and meant to provoke progress. I’m not terribly interested in challenges whose main purpose is to make the other person feel more enlightened than I am.

    Thinkers from Califia to Dworkin have asked ‘what would sexuality look like without patriarchy?’ and it’s an interesting question, but anyone who answers that with ‘it wouldn’t include blowjobs, ew‘ is projecting, not thinking.

  35. 35
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    If I can’t point and laugh at self-serving false dichotomies, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

    Hahahaha. Perfect. That’s a Twitter quote right there.

  36. 36
    mythago says:

    Feel free. I mean, I wholeheartedly agree with the viewpoint that “sex is the one thing where we shouldn’t drag in politics!” is nonsense, but it’s ridiculous to pretend that it’s a clash between the oh-so-reasonable radfem viewpoint and the strawman of “insisting that people should unquestioningly practice whatever feels good to them”.

  37. 37
    savagebeard says:

    @mythago, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Does it seem to you that I’m in favor of women questioning why they practice femininity because it makes me feel superior?

    Also, what about my comment hinted at a “self-serving false dichotomy”?

    Maybe I’m just tired, but I find your comment cryptic, and I can’t tell whether you’re agreeing with me or disagreeing with me, though it seems like the latter.

  38. 38
    savagebeard says:

    @mythago

    *shrugs* Well, your “strawman” is what I have seen put forth as sex-positive feminism. I can’t think of internet examples right now, but in real life I’ve listened to people at various times defend that “strawman” by saying that they or their girlfriend choose to look hawt because it makes them happy and they like it, and that they find this to be quite a valid feminist choice, no different than any other possible choice.

  39. 39
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    I’ve seen plenty of examples of radical feminists saying things like “All women would be happier as lesbians” or “Men shouldn’t be allowed in public spaces, for everyone’s safety”. I would never claim that one of those statements accurately represented radical feminism, even though I’m one of those selfish shallow sex-pozzies.

    I didn’t even bother responding to your comment at #33, because your definitions felt so obviously weighted against the sex-positive side, I didn’t have the energy to start deconstructing at the level I’d have to in order to engage you. If you find that you’re creating a definition for “the other side” that other people who know as much or more about “them” consider to be self-serving and/or ridiculous, then maybe it’s time to reexamine that definition.

  40. 40
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    To follow up:

    What really burns me about the sex-pos/radfem divide at Feministe (and elsewhere) is that people like me, who are actively trying to bridge the gap, are basically ignored once the battle is joined. It seems that it’s much more fun to make snide comments about one side or the other than it is to build a better mousetrap (argh, there’s that non-vegan analogy again).

    In the original Feministe thread that Mandolin responds to in the OP, I specifically asked for more productive feedback multiple times. I said things like “Okay, it seems that you (radical feminist sex worker) disagree with other sex workers on this issue; how can we try to bridge that gap?” Or, “Hey y’all, I already wrote some articles where I tried to address these complaints, like for example this sex-positive feminist 101. Could someone give me feedback on that?” And those questions were almost universally ignored.

    Occasionally, when I get insistent that I’m feeling ignored, people will say things like: “Oh Clarisse, stop taking it so personally! *Of course* we’re not talking about *you* when we talk about how much sex-pos sucks.” But like … with no intention of sounding arrogant, I seem to have a pretty high degree of exposure when it comes to internet feminists, with publications all over the place and a regular contributor spot at Feministe. So if I “don’t count” when people bitch about sex-pos, what *does* count? Only the *bad* examples that are *fun* to complain about, I guess.

  41. 41
    savagebeard says:

    I’d be happy to reexamine my definition. I actually did read (a lot of) your 101, as well as a bunch of stuff on Holly’s blog, as well as a ton of comments in various places that all claimed some affiliation with sex-pos and didn’t seem to be random crackpots. As I said in my first comment, I am aware that sex-pos encourages people to develop alternative expressions of sexuality, and I’m not making sex-pos people out to be giggly lipstick-wearing strawmen. However, I think that sex-pos just doesn’t work very well when it comes time to really take apart traditional femininity. I did see in your 101 that you would, on seeing women have “sex in line with ridiculous and oppressive stereotypes,” want to dialogue with them as to why they do it. You also say, though, that you believe that criticism is secondary to the fact that they are getting pleasure from what they do. I see this creating a dialogue that is quickly ended when said woman tells you firmly and positively that she truly enjoys wearing makeup and it makes her feel better about herself. Or that she really likes doing her boyfriend’s laundry because it makes her feel like she is taking care of him, and he likes it too.

    Maybe you initiating the conversation will put a seed in her mind that will bloom in five years’ time. But that’s not much to rely on. If you are going to accept this stuff at face value and not continue to ask hard questions, then you are not pushing the envelope nearly enough to get women to examine their own choices. Sorry, but from reading around, radfems are consistently the ones who push the envelope and get people to figure out their more authentic selves, because they don’t even pretend to take people seriously when they start talking about how some women just enjoy wearing heels for the aesthetic value of it.

    I don’t think sex-pos has to be opposed to radical feminism. They seem to have most things in common, including many attitudes about sex. I just think that radfems are correct in believing that almost no one practices traditional femininity because they are hardwired to love it, and that the other 99.9% of us had better take a hard look at why we do it and try to minimize the damage. Sex-pos people seem too forgiving of the “but I really enjoy it” defense.

    By the way, I question no one about their choices half so thoroughly as I question myself, and I am the last person to feel smug because I’ve left those silly patriarchal things behind and others haven’t. I haven’t left them behind either. That’s probably why I care so much about this.

    Also, I never said that a “post-revolution” sexuality wouldn’t include blowjobs. I have no idea whether it would or not. If anyone thinks that’s what I said, then you’re projecting a strawradfem onto me.

  42. 42
    Maia says:

    Clarisse – Reading this debate reinforced the feeling that I had, mostly from people I know IRL who claim to be ‘sex-positive’ that it wasn’t a label that I found useful, and that there was more written in the name of sex-positive that put me off than resonated with me.

    I talked about one of the reasons why up thread. The quoting, by you, blackhumour and figleaf of really imprecise discussions about sex and sexuality that essentialised, or reinforced a narrow view of, what it meant to be sexy and sexual.

    I’m actually genuinely interested in why you posted that extract that talked about ‘sexy women’. To me it seems so basic that it’s anti-feminist and a really narrow view of sex to talk about ‘sexy women’ as a self-evident category – which in order for it to make sense as a concept and there have to be women outside that.

    On the other hand, I agree absolutely with pretty much everything in Chingona’s quote (depending on your definition of pornography – which quickly comes back to me sounding like a Marxist so we’ll ignore it for now).

    I think part of the problem may be trying to ‘bridge the gap between the sex-pos/radfem divide’. Because I suspect only a very few people see things in those lights – and by seeing yourself as bridging the gap I think it’s very easy to reinforce the dichotomy. I am certainly not a ‘radfem’ – not a term that makes sense to me – don’t agree with what people are saying. I’m fairly sure that a reasonable number of people who responded critically on the feministe thread aren’t either. What happens in those threads (to generalise massively) – is that people argue with the person on the thread who annoys them most (POTTWATM) – it doesn’t mean that they don’t agree with some points that some people who agree with POTTWATM makes – or they agree with everything that other people who disagrees POTTWATM makes – but generally there is only so many minutes in the day to write blog posts and POTTWATM (with often a few seconds to Person on the thread who they agree with most as well). So I’d suggest hte answer is to try and avoid creating threads like that in the first place. Say what you think – rather than in relationship to other camps. I may be completely off base – but I wouldn’t be suprirsed the more you try and be a bridge, the less effectively you can draw similarities between ideas.

    But possibly the other problem is that I imagine most commenters on Feministe don’t htink of themselves as either Radfem or Sex-positive (I may be wrong but that’s the distinct impression I get). So by seeing it in those terms your leaving a lot out – and maybe not really allowing space for people to talk about what they think.

    Talking of which – Savagebeard – you have created a ridiculous and incredibly narrow dichotomy. And what it has in common – to continue my resemblence to a stuck record – is individualism. Some feminists don’t see oppression and culture in terms of individuals, but in terms of structure. Therefore the important thing is not what individuals do, but how we collectively fight.

  43. 43
    chingona says:

    I’m not entirely sure this is relevant, but it keeps coming to mind, so I’ll just throw it out there. I’m kind of thinking as I go, so keep that in mind.

    There’s a line of thinking that criticizing femininity or criticizing things that are traditionally the domain of women is itself misogynist and posits masculinity as the default. There’s something to this line of thinking. Whether you like or don’t like Sex and the City, it’s basically a buddy movie/TV show, and it’s not inherently more frivolous than a buddy movie about guys who play football together or go on a road trip or whatever. Or caring about fashion as an art form and means of expression is not inherently more frivolous than liking, I don’t know, NASCAR or video games.

    I also think this view has some significant limitations. As Mandolin said, high heels are objectively bad for your feet. No make-up is the actual default condition of the human face. That many women but nearly no men feel like they can’t leave the house without putting on their face is not some value-neutral coincidence.

    So, in theory, I don’t think sex-positive feminism requires taking this line – or taking it uncritically – but I also am curious why people seemed to find so much resonance in the part of Holly’s post that defended performing femininity and “sexiness” and what people see as the relationship between that and being sex-positive. (Full disclosure: When I got to that part of the post, I just started skimming. Sure, people can do whatever they want, but I don’t feel like performative femininity is in enough danger to get really excited by a defense of it.) Are “sexiness” and sexuality really that closely tied? Maybe for some people they are. Do you see a connection between defending being submissive while being a feminist and defending “sexiness” and femininity while being feminist?

  44. 44
    savagebeard says:

    What false dichotomy are you seeing here? Having read some more of the Feministe thread, I’m seeing even more comments, some by respected sex-pos people, that say you shouldn’t criticize or question a woman’s choice to perform femininity. Where are the sex-pos people who are willing to do such questioning?

    I would agree that how we collectively fight is important. However, especially in the present day, I don’t think you can say that individual choices are irrelevant to a feminist fight. That’s where we have to fight a lot of our battles.

  45. 45
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    savagebeard — You also say, though, that you believe that criticism is secondary to the fact that they are getting pleasure from what they do. I see this creating a dialogue that is quickly ended when said woman tells you firmly and positively that she truly enjoys wearing makeup and it makes her feel better about herself. Or that she really likes doing her boyfriend’s laundry because it makes her feel like she is taking care of him, and he likes it too.

    Maybe you initiating the conversation will put a seed in her mind that will bloom in five years’ time. But that’s not much to rely on. If you are going to accept this stuff at face value and not continue to ask hard questions, then you are not pushing the envelope nearly enough to get women to examine their own choices.

    If “getting women to examine their own choices” means “telling other women they’re wrong about what they think they want”, then I don’t want your revolution, and this is exactly what alienates modern women from feminism ALL THE TIME EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    YES, I shut up when other people tell me what they want quickly and firmly. ESPECIALLY IF THEY HAVE LESS PRIVILEGE THAN I DO. (Which includes women who, say, feel that they have to perform femininity for the narrow corporate job they have because they can’t afford my life as a freewheeling starving artist who doesn’t shave her legs or wear high heels.) This is a lesson I’ve not just learned from feminism but from all kinds of community action and international development work.

    Perhaps you might be interested in the “sex-crazy nympho dreamgirl” article that I linked upthread. That’s an example of an approach I consider way more valuable than telling people what to think.

    And co-sign to everything Maia is saying about collective action.

    Maia — As I said in the OP on Feministe, I struggled over what quote to chose. I chose the quote I did because it spoke to me, personally, as someone who has experienced (and still experiences) some guilt and anxiety about having a conventionally attractive body, etc. I would NEVER say that I experience the degree of oppression and anxiety that comes with being conventionally unattractive. (Though I presumably will get the exciting opportunity to have more of that as I get older! Yay!)

    And because I suspected that it would pull in readers who are more-mainstream women, less-educated about feminist concepts, and way-too-accustomed to a version of feminism that comes across as “EXAMINE YOUR CHOICE, BITCH”. (Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m a lot more concerned about communicating with the mainstream than most feminists. But then, I also have my own narrow conception of the mainstream.)

    Maybe I chose the wrong quote. Not sure. It clearly was not useful to people who have a great deal of experience with these debates. I’m not convinced that it wasn’t useful to a more mainstream audience.

    chingona — Do you see a connection between defending being submissive while being a feminist and defending “sexiness” and femininity while being feminist?

    Yes. I see a very strong connection. Not because I think submissiveness is (or should be) necessarily connected to “sexiness” and femininity. But because all of those behaviors are attacked for the same supposedly-”feminist” reasons. “You’re not examining enough. You don’t really know what you want. You’re colluding with your oppressors.” Etc.

    It may be worth noting that a lot of the “examine!” BS can come to us internally. Feeling guilt for being a “bad feminist” not because someone actually said that to us, but because at some point we internalized the argument that we’re bad feminists if we do these things. And so pushing back against it may not always look coherent from the outside. But at the same time, there ARE feminists who say things like Alice Schwarzer’s famous line: “Female masochism is collaboration.”

    Relatedly, a post on “examination burnout” from SM-Feminist.
    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2009/03/examination-burnout.html

  46. 46
    Myca says:

    Yes. I see a very strong connection. Not because I think submissiveness is (or should be) necessarily connected to “sexiness” and femininity. But because all of those behaviors are attacked for the same supposedly-”feminist” reasons. “You’re not examining enough. You don’t really know what you want. You’re colluding with your oppressors.” Etc.

    I don’t have a problem with “examine your choices,” because hey, we should all examine our choices, right? I have a major problem with “examine your choices” as code for “and when you’ve your choices as truly and honestly as I’ve examined your choices, you’ll see how fucked up and wrong they are and reject them.”

    I know people whose submissive sexual needs are the result of abuse. They know this. They’ve examined it. It’s not like they’re unaware, in the slightest. It doesn’t matter. It’s still how they get off. That’s the part I have a problem with, is that sometimes “examine your choices” is used in a way that’s functionally equivalent to magic. Examine your choices and *poof* now you’re not kinky any more! Whee!

    What happens to you after you’ve examined your choices, you know where they’re coming from, and yet that pesky thing called reality continues to exist?

    Furthermore, the assumption that a difference of conclusion must be the result of insufficiently rigorous thought, rather than a difference in lived realities and experiences is deeply arrogant and oppressive, especially when applied to something as personal and internal as sexuality.

    I read a quote a while back that cuts to what I consider the heart of it: “Is it possible for someone to have a valid understanding of their own sexuality that differs from your understanding of their sexuality?”

    —Myca

  47. 47
    Mandolin says:

    Clarisse: I very much hope this hasn’t come across as an attack on your positions or as ignoring you. I respect the work you do very much. I also definitely think you count as sex-positive.

    I’m sure that 90-99% of my response has more to do with thoughts about my own attempt to bridge the two camps than it does with the quote you chose.

    I think talking to women who have more mainstream-than-feminist points of view is very important, I just don’t tend to expect that to be what the Feministe space is about?

    Re: examination burnout–I don’t have an issue with people saying, “Fuck it, I don’t want to examine this. Meh.” And in the context of alternative sexuality, it has the power of recontextualizing what the default is, which is cool.

    I don’t understand the idea of politically engaging something and simultaneously refusing to examine it, though?

    Or, I guess, I understand someone saying “I don’t want to spend my energy examining X about my issue because I’m looking at Y instead,” (e.g. I don’t want to talk about the origins of desire because I’m talking about consent right now, and maybe I don’t ever want to talk about origins of desire, because that’s not my interest), and personally opting out of that examination, especially in a public space. But it seems to me like the examination is still going to be part of the broader, structural conversation, and that’s okay and even necessary?

    Maybe this is what everyone else is saying, too, and I’m seeing differences where there aren’t any.

  48. 48
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Mandolin! Sometimes I think you couldn’t come across as attacky if you tried. I always appreciate your perspective and find it very helpful.

    Re: mainstream, this reminds me a little of how the comments went after I posted In Praise of Monogamy a while back. It was then cross-posted in a million places, including The Guardian, and was generally very successful. A lot of comments went after me for being too normative; at the time, the point I basically made was that I was trying to communicate with the mainstream, and in response people were like “but should Feministe be the mainstream?”

    Jill hasn’t given me restrictions about what the Feministe space is or isn’t for. I was super nervous when I first started posting there, and she reviewed everything I put up. I was very tentative and all “Is this feminist enough for the site?” or “Am I going about this wrong?” I think I even asked specifically about the Monogamy post when it went up, and she was very encouraging and said it was awesome. And by this point, she’s pretty much made it clear that she trusts me to post whatever, whenever (I’m sure there are places where I could push the boundaries past what she wants! but I haven’t seen them — she seems pretty set on not trying to control my tone or approach).

    So I’m in this position, where I seem to have access to this platform, and the primary moderator doesn’t seem to mind when I take an experimental approach to it, or approach from a different perspective from the typical “superfeminist who has already thought of everything” one. And it is the biggest platform I have consistent access to, hands down — I’ve been posted in bigger places, but my access in those places isn’t consistent. And items that are posted there can get signal-boosted to much bigger fora.

    So: what is it for? What am I allowed to use it for? I use it for a number of different purposes right now, and I guess I could take the “reaching the mainstream” goal away from those purposes, but it seems weird to take that option off the table when it’s been so successful.

  49. 49
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Also on the “mainstream” note: there are a LOT of people who read Feministe and don’t comment. And the people who comment skew heavily towards experienced feminists with enormous understanding of the feminist landscape. People who don’t get our norms are often scared out of commenting, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad reasons. The commentariat is NOT a useful tool for understanding the people who read there. (I really wish I had a more fine-grained understanding of who reads, actually. But it’s hard to get for obvious reasons. Same for my own blog. I sometimes think I should work harder on sorting my analytics, but … I already do so much, it’s exhausting.)

  50. 50
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    And re: examination, I am perfectly happy to say that we shouldn’t order people to examine their choices, straight up. I’d much rather share perspectives and say “Here is how this choice felt FOR ME … here is how this oppression felt FOR ME,” and let people learn from there. I haven’t seen anything gained by telling people they don’t understand their own experience.

  51. 51
    savagebeard says:

    I would agree that sex-pos feminism may be needed to gently bring people into feminism. However, once they’re on board, I think it is unnecessary and probably counterproductive to keep reassuring them that they “choose their choice.” I think that, instead, it’s time to start introducing theories about how the patriarchy may be affecting their choices at fundamental levels. That doesn’t even really need to be incongruent with being sex-positive. And like I said originally, I’m not about to throw anyone off the entire feminist train if they want to keep practicing femininity and not examine it. We can still agree about birth control, sexual harassment, spousal abuse, and sexist marketing practices. I do, however, think that questioning one’s traditional sexuality practices is a really valuable thing to do.

    Speaking of my own experience, I started off with feminism by reading Hugo, just a couple of years ago. That was a pretty gentle introductory primer. Then I read various other blogs I found from his site, which were of all stripes. At that point, I was beginning to question why I dressed to look sexy for men, among other things. Some writers reassured me that that was my perfectly natural choice. Then I discovered IBTP, which told me in no uncertain terms that it was something I had been conditioned to do. I was surprised, but I kept reading and figured out fairly quickly that IBTP was right about the social conditioning. I started to slowly peel away one feminine behavior at a time. I still feel like I’m emerging from some sort of chrysalis.

    If I had stuck with sex-positive stuff, it would have taken me a long time to figure these things out for myself. It just did not challenge me to move forward, because it was so quick to accept the status quo as a valid choice. I believe that’s a big reason why people tend to co-opt sex-pos feminism who clearly do not have a basic understanding of what feminism is trying to do. For example, that person on the Feministe thread who posted a bunch of comments about how making herself appear weak, frail, and feminine through makeup and clothing gives her a type of power that is exactly as valid as the other types of power feminists are fighting for. Or the random guys who tend to show up as commenters on sex-pos threads and spout off about how they love sex-pos because it gets them laid more often. Really, people need to be challenged.

    Oh – I specifically said earlier that I would never tell someone to stop wearing makeup, or whatever, if it affected their job. I’ve never seen any kind of feminist tell someone to take a principled stand and get fired over it. Same goes for if a person needs to practice femininity to feel comfortable in public, or for anything else. In fact, I would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup, period. It’s not the makeup itself that needs to go – it’s the underlying attitude that makes people dependent on it.

  52. 52
    savagebeard says:

    @Myca – I never said that the end result would be rejecting those practices. We live in the real world, and I am not going to get down on anyone for examining their practices and then continuing them, even when they conflict with one’s ideals.

    In terms of kink, I differ with a lot of feminists who say that the right thing to do is to retrain your orgasm. I am kinky and I know it’s not going away. But yes, I do think it benefits me to look at why I’m kinky in the way I am.

    If I met people once in a while who declared that they prefer to express their sexuality in traditional ways, I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. But instead I see a large number of women whose authentic preferences just happen to line up with socially approved preferences, and that does not make sense to me. Unless you think, of course, that those socially approved preferences are truly hardwired in many women, rather than being drilled into their heads by society in such a complete way that they often obscure, for a long time, whatever was there in the first place.

  53. 53
    machina says:

    savagebeard: Or the random guys who tend to show up as commenters on sex-pos threads and spout off about how they love sex-pos because it gets them laid more often. Really, people need to be challenged.

    Hahaha, that’s me! Hi.

    But I wonder why it needs to be challenged, presuming that it’s bundled with sex-positive concepts of negotiation and consent. Do you think that there’s something missing from sec-positive feminism or do you think that men miss parts of it?

  54. 54
    mythago says:

    presuming that it’s bundled with sex-positive concepts of negotiation and consent

    Big presumption.

    savagebeard @37: Oh, come on. You’re clearly intelligent, and you understand exactly what it means to pretend that all sex-positive feminists have a simplistic and stupid view (which just happens to play up why your admiration of radfems is superior), and when called on it, you say, golly shucks, but I’ve heard *some* sex-positive feminists say that.

    I, too, have heard plenty of women who declare that their natural and un-patriarchy-imposed sexuality just so happens to map exactly with culturally-appropriate notions of femininity, whodathunk? But I can count the number of them who identified as feminists of any kind on one hand. Saying ‘but isn’t feminism about choices?’ is not synonymous with ‘I am a feminist’.

    Indeed, it benefits us all to take a look at exactly why we think the way we do, and “but I liiiiike it!” is not a magical Ring of +5 Protection from Critical Thinking. That is very different from the radfem perspective you endorse, which in fact does posit that there are absolutely right and wrong things to enjoy, such that “I enjoy being submissive” is no more morally defensible than “But I like exploiting the poor”.

  55. 55
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    In other news, Twisty now has a thread about this kerfuffle over at “I Blame The Patriarchy”. From the comments:

    Who the mother-fuck is this whiny twit Clarisse Thorn? (“I work so hard at empowerful pole-dancing fun-feminism and nobody listens to meeeeee!!!”)

    I DO declare. I kind of want to send that quote to Twitter, too, except most of my followers wouldn’t get it because it has too much in-group jargon and assumptions.

  56. 56
    mythago says:

    Why don’t you just point out what a sexist, patriarchal insult “mother-fuck” is?

  57. 57
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Hahahaha. Tempting. I think my comments are being moderated out of existence, however. I tried leaving a friendly one and I don’t see it, so there you go.

  58. 58
    mythago says:

    We live in the real world, and I am not going to get down on anyone for examining their practices and then continuing them, even when they conflict with one’s ideals.

    What was it Myca said? Oh yeah: “Furthermore, the assumption that a difference of conclusion must be the result of insufficiently rigorous thought, rather than a difference in lived realities and experiences is deeply arrogant and oppressive.”

    Condescendingly saying that you understand that some people in the real world are just too damaged to ‘fix’ their sexuality to match a nonpatriarchal ideal, poor things, is in fact telling them they’re fucked up and evil. You’re just saying that it’s understandable that they can’thelp being fucked up and evil. And you might want to think about how much internalized self-hatred that suggests.

  59. 59
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    A friend of mine, who is inexperienced with feminism but trying to learn, recently emailed me the following. I think it’s kind of brilliant and am considering making it a top-level Feministe post. However, there are probably ways that this plan could go wrong. What do y’all think?:

    ::::::::::

    I have thought about this some, and here are some thoughts.

    A lot of cultural stuff is kind of like a Ouija board. All the
    participants have their hands on it and they are yanking it their own
    particular way, and the system as a whole emits some sort of meaning
    or framework for understanding the world.

    It seems like the sex-positive vs. radical feminist faultline is that
    they both agree that the dominant sexual culture has a problematic net
    meaning, but they don’t agree on whether it’s ok to participate in the
    dominant sexual culture’s Ouija board. Thus, sex-positive feminists
    talk about what they get out of being in it, and radical feminists
    talk about how much they hate the output of it.

    One could draw an analogy to women and academia; everyone would
    probably agree that academia is and used to be even more dominated by
    white men and their perspectives, but it’s also undeniable that
    school and reading and learning make life much richer and it enriched
    the lives of women that did these things, even if they couldn’t
    make the Ouija board move the way they wanted it to.

    But, academia has become more open to female perspectives by listening
    to women more and integrating previously marginalized things
    like gender studies. So, instead of arguing about who
    sucks and whatnot, it seems like it would be more productive to answer
    two questions:

    1. What are the problems with the dominant sexual culture that all or
    most feminists can agree on, and how would you nudge the dominant
    sexual culture into different patterns, without simply exiting the
    dominant sexual culture?

    2. What other sexual cultures have grown up outside the dominant one,
    and how would you integrate parts of them into the dominant one, and
    how would that address problems with the dominant sexual culture?

  60. 60
    FeministWhore says:

    I liked Holly’s post, and I absolutely expected the reaction it got and the reaction it got on feministe too. I’d been reading, refreshing, reading the feministe thread when you closed the comments Clarisse, – and it sorta felt like my mom had come up and snapped off the TV and told me to go to bed right before it got to the good part. Nonetheless I understand why you chose to close it. Seems I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to the feminist sex wars.

    I do think it’s interesting if you compare the comments on Jill’s labiaplasty thread a week or so ago with the comments on your more recent thread. I saw the same commenters on the older thread pulling out the “examine your choice, bitch” stuff later complaining on your thread about how sex-pos feminists never want to discuss ‘bad sex’. On that labiaplasty thread people did try to discuss bad sex, sex so bad that it required surgery, but the reaction demonstrated that many people preferred to discuss women who choose it for the ‘wrong’ reasons. Any attempt to focus on women who chose it for ‘acceptable’ reasons (like pain) was treated as a refusal to admit that society influences our choices. The whole thing was and is disappointing.

  61. 61
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Hahahaha. Hate to be an annoying mom. Maybe I should have left the comments open and just quit bothering to moderate. I’ve done that a lot though, and it has some pretty serious potential pitfalls.

  62. 62
    Mandolin says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the way your friend has parsed the premises of the debate, but that can probably be eased with some hedging.

    I’m not sure what she means by cultures that have grown up outside the dominant culture? Maybe this is just me being weirdly social-science-vocab nitpicky, but subcultures exist within the dominant culture, not outside it. Is she talking about cultures that developed outside the western hegemony? Or just using different words to describe subcultures?

    I think I find the comment to be a slightly superficial engagement with the issues? But maybe that’s good, especially if you want to start talking to people who are playing less insider pool. Maybe you could frame the post by saying that part of your goal is to communicate about feminist issues to women who don’t necessarily identify as feminists, and that might give the commenters a clue about what your goals are and how they might be able to participate productively.

  63. 63
    Mandolin says:

    Also, it might be useful to add to her comment that it deals with a lot of the same differences that are articulated in other political movements as “radical” versus “reformist.” Where radicals think the system is fundamentally broken and needs to be reworked from the ground up, and reformists think the system can be changed in its current form.

    Not that there aren’t overlaps between the two positions. I’m a reformist, generally, but partially because it seems more pragmatic in the short term. And the radicals I know (who are some of the people who most blow my mind with how awesome they are) still work to reform the system while they work for radical change.

    But there is a shift in outlook between us. I live in the capitalist system even though I don’t like it, and I have essentially no problem with the idea of a benevolent capitalist system in the future (one in which the needs of the population are provided for); I am deeply uncomfortable with but don’t exit many capitalist practices that I disagree with. My friend Katie dissents from the capitalist system to an extent that’s much larger than almost anyone else I know, sculpts the circumstances of her life to conform to her beliefs, accepts the places where her dissent causes her personal problems rather than using those problems as an excuse to conform (which I do, and which I think is a defensible action), and doesn’t limit her imagination to the pragmatic.

    It’s not that there’s no value in acting or believing as a reformist; there’s lots of value in it, including the fact that it may actually be a more efficient method for creating local, immediate changes. But personally I envy the fuck out of Katie’s dedication, intelligence, and courage.

    Anyway, where we’re talking about participating in the system to change the system (or discus how we benefit from the system), the word (or at least the concept) of being a reformist might be useful.

  64. 64
    Mandolin says:

    Figleaf–I apologize for not responding to your comment earlier. I find it really helpful, thanks! Especially with the way that you’ve unpacked the quote. I’m not sure I have much more to say right now because I think I need to take time to reflect on it, but this is very helpful. Thank you.

  65. 65
    Myca says:

    For what it’s worth, I understand the whole, “I was turned off by sex-positive feminism because I’ve heard a lot of comments over the years that were [shitty to asexual people|fat-shaming|etc].”

    A big part of why I’ve been so thoroughly turned-off to radical feminism is because I’ve heard a lot of comments over the years that were transphobic, homophobic, kink-phobic, sex-hating, misogynist, oppressive, and slut-shaming.

    I’m not saying that these perspectives and experiences aren’t valuable. There’s always value in knowing where people are coming from. It’s just that I sort of think that’s as far as the value goes.

    Once we’ve established ‘both communities say and do some shitty stuff from time to time,’ where does that take us? We can argue about prevalence rates, we can argue about level of shittiness (and I’ll happily stack the vileness of radfem transphobia against anything anyone else wants to present), we can no-true-scotsman it, we can discuss how inherent to the philosophical movements these stands are, but I don’t really think any of those take us to useful places. Those are rhetorical tar pits.

    I’m totally not arguing that these experiences are invalid. Mandolin’s historic discomfort with sex-positive communities makes a lot of sense, as does mine with radfem communities. Rather than get lost in the weeds, though, it might be more useful to discuss the actual words of actual people. I can argue against “nobody likes giving blowjobs” or “labiaplasty is always feminist.”

    It’s harder to argue against a nebulous, “sex-positive feminists think all choices are equal!” Well … wait, I don’t think that. I don’t think Clarisse thinks that. Who are you talking about? Do you have a quote?

    Just a suggestion.

    —Myca

  66. 66
    machina says:

    Mythago: Sure, I don’t remember seeing men defending sex-positive feminism that didn’t buy into the basics of consent though.

    Clarisse: I think the internet can continue to function without another sex-positive vs. radical flame war.

  67. 67
    chingona says:

    Who are you talking about? Do you have a quote?

    Just a suggestion.

    Who are you talking to or about?

  68. 68
    chingona says:

    Once we’ve established ‘both communities say and do some shitty stuff from time to time,’ where does that take us? We can argue about prevalence rates, we can argue about level of shittiness (and I’ll happily stack the vileness of radfem transphobia against anything anyone else wants to present), we can no-true-scotsman it, we can discuss how inherent to the philosophical movements these stands are, but I don’t really think any of those take us to useful places. Those are rhetorical tar pits.

    Respectfully, I feel like you’re one of the people engaging in this kind of stack-em-up debate.

  69. 69
    Myca says:

    Who are you talking to or about?

    I’m trying to speak to a general tendency to make arguments based on our impressions of the other side, rather than things the other side actually said. I’m deliberately not calling out anyone specific here, but I can, if you’d like.

    Respectfully, I feel like you’re one of the people engaging in this kind of stack-em-up debate.

    Really? How so?

    I know it’s a tendency I have, which is how I’ve formed the impression that they’re argumentative tar-pits, but I’ve been trying to avoid it here.

    Rather than respond to “I don’t like sex-positive communities because they claim all choices are equivalent” with “Oh YEAH?! Well Radfems are all filthy transphobes,” I’m saying, “We could play that game all day. Let’s not. If someone specifically said that all choices are equivalent, let’s look at that.”

    My point is just that “your community sux” doesn’t get us anywhere, and unattributed impressions are hard to discuss.

    —Myca

  70. 70
    savagebeard says:

    @chingona – I think he may have been talking to me.

    Yes, I can give you quotes. Let’s take a comment by Holly in the Feministe thread.

    “That’s still kind of condescending, though, to women who want to wear killer heels, lots of makeup every day, and the rest of it just because that’s what they feel good in. Saying “you poor dears, I don’t blame you” still isn’t really respecting their choice.” (Comment 121)

    I’m not totally comfortable quoting someone who’s not here to defend herself, but you asked – so, “just because that’s what they feel good in”? Does that not bear out what I’ve been saying about how sex-positive feminists don’t try nearly hard enough to ask about the roots of those choices?

    Someone else, at comment 155, taking apart a quote from the XO Jane piece: ‘This isn’t “we shouldn’t be expected or required to buy nail polish, care about celebrities, have giant weddings,” etc. This is unmistakably “women who buy nail polish, care about celebrities, have giant weddings, etc, are brainwashed, whereas you and I, reader, are the smart ones who know better.” And that’s patronizing, false, gender-essentialist bullshit, because there’s actually nothing the fuck wrong with most of the things she cites except that they’re coded feminine and therefore lesser.’

    She’s right in that feminine=lesser is a problem assumption. But I’d say that a person feeling the need to paint her nails and have a giant wedding actually does come with some baggage, and that feminists question those desires because the first one is rooted in the beauty mandate and the second one often stems from the cultural validation that marriage confers on a woman (finally, a man to decide that you’re worthwhile, the public declaration of which is the Most Important Day of Your Life!).

    I can agree that not all sex-pos feminists hold the same opinions on this stuff, but I do see a lot of clustering toward the views I’ve described. And I am not going to go say that radical feminism is superior. The transphobia alone is enough to knock it off whatever pedestal I might want to put it on, and Myca pointed out a number of other problems as well. While not all radfems subscribe to the views I take issue with, radfem thought in general tends to cluster toward them. When a movement keeps endorsing certain perspectives, I take those to be standard principles of the movement, even if a minority tries to insist that they’re not. So just as I can’t identify as a sex-pos feminist because of the way the movement tends to deal with traditional feminine sexuality, I can’t and don’t identify as a radical feminist because of the way that movement tends to deal with trans people (among other topics).

    I do, however, think that radical feminism has it pretty spot on when it comes to femininity as an ingrained preference. For example, I find it very hard to believe that any woman wears makeup for reasons that are not fundamentally patriarchy-pleasing. I’ll exclude costume makeup, which is obviously different. Everyday makeup is worn to bring one’s face closer to the beauty standard expected by the patriarchy. That is what I have experienced by looking around me and observing what people do and listening to what they say about it. If anyone has had a different experience, then I’m curious to hear about it.

    By the way, neither I nor most radfems think that women who try to adhere to patriarchal standards are “fucked up and evil.” Jesus. It’s the culture that’s fucked up and evil, not the people in it. And thanks for the dig about my internalized self-hatred, but I have never thought that I was a bad person for doing things that comply with the patriarchy. When you start off with so little agency and have to find it for yourself, you can’t blame yourself for adhering to dominant norms along the way.

  71. 71
    savagebeard says:

    @machina – I don’t know exactly what you say when you comment, but if it is indeed “sex-positive feminism rocks because it helps me get laid more!” than you are missing a central tenet of not only sex-positive feminism but also of feminism in general, which is that it’s not about how good your penis feels. Also, if you read posts where women talk about finding sexual agency and react by making it about your penis, I would worry that your empathy for them has not developed to the point where you can have a full grasp on negotiation and consent (not just “don’t rape,” but beyond that).

    I mean, it’s like me going on a pro-fat blog and saying “Pro-fat is great because it makes me, a thin person, feel better about my own body!”

  72. 72
    chingona says:

    Myca,

    You wrote:

    But the argument is often not, “Hey, we all engage in culturally influenced practices, and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what that means, because some people are more able to do so legitimately than others, and some people are more able to do so period than others, and these behaviors aren’t entirely innocuous, etc.” Often, the argument is, “No women like giving blowjobs, and if you say you do you’ve been brainwashed.”

    And the thing is … it’s not that I think cultural influence doesn’t exist, god knows. It exists, and it’s everywhere. But when we try to apply it to the individual behaviors of individual people in a way which says “Your choice is less valid because it’s culturally influenced in a way which I think invalidates it,” or, “though you claim to desire x, you don’t really desire x,” I think we run into a serious problem of authority.

    and …

    I think that part of what’s going on is that, as part of the standard “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” nature of the patriarchy, the social messages around sex are not just “go be sexxxy and have lots of sexxxy sexxx all the damn time!” They’re both “go be sexxxy and have lots of sexxxy sexxx all the damn time,” and, “Sex is nasty and disgusting and if you have sex you’re disgusting and probably a whore.”


    I think that a lot of what Twisty says that I object to is rooted in the second

    I think you’re creating a version of the “opposing” argument that is as extreme, unrepresentative, and lacking in nuance as the statement that “sex-positive feminism think all choices are equal.”

    There’s an asymmetry here in terms of “owning” unpleasant arguments from either side because I don’t think anyone in this discussion actually identifies as a radfem, while several people do identify as sex-poz, but I’m not trying to tag you or Clarisse (or Holly for that matter) with the worst excesses.

    What I’ve mostly seen in these posts and these threads is people saying why they do or don’t feel an affinity for certain kinds of arguments and analyses, what they think the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches are, how they overlap and aren’t necessarily always opposed.

    Saying that I don’t find that label or certain kinds of arguments that tend to come from the sex-positive side particularly useful is not saying “your community sux!”

  73. 73
    Maia says:

    Clarisse –

    And because I suspected that it would pull in readers who are more-mainstream women, less-educated about feminist concepts, and way-too-accustomed to a version of feminism that comes across as “EXAMINE YOUR CHOICE, BITCH”. (Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m a lot more concerned about communicating with the mainstream than most feminists. But then, I also have my own narrow conception of the mainstream.)

    That pushes my buttons a little bit, and takes me right back to the debate over the cover of Full Frontal Feminism. It really bothers me when people presentt the priority group of women who aren’t engaged with feminism that we need to reach as women with conventionally attractive women, and are prepared to reach that group at the expense of women who do not fit it (whether that’s by using the concept ‘sexy woman’ uncritically or identifying ourselves with flat, white stomachs). Only a tiny group of women would identify themselves as ‘sexy women’ given the many ways that all women are told that their bodies are wrong (and since you’re talking about people who haven’t been exposed to feminism you’re mostly blocking out women who conceive themselves as ‘sexy’ in a deliberate/reclaimig/political way despite what society says about them) . Many more women have told that they’re never sexy because of the various ways they’re marginalised. Because what that quote says to me (in the context you presented it) is that feminism should accept the mainstream definition of ‘sexy woman’.

    I guess that what I find so disappointing about this is that I had hoped that internet sex-positive work, based as it has to be in words, would be about unpacking ideas like ‘sexy’ figuring out what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and how to use it in a way that is much less limited. But you appear to still see Holly’s use of ‘sexy women’ as a self-explanatory category as not that big a deal – you’re unsure if it was the wrong quote to post (let alone if it’s inclusions disqualifies it as being an awesome post about what sex-positive means – which I would argue – because you can’t get a more narrow understanding of sex than the concept of ‘sexy woman’).

    I also strongly disagree with the analogy on a political level – because culture is not like a ouja board. To suggest that it is, is to ignore power dynamics within society – and I think if you talk about society in a way that ignores power then you are actively hindering the ability to make change.

    I also think it’s reductive. I don’t think (having hung round feministe comment threads a bit) that all or most of the people who didn’t like the extract from Holly’s post you provided are ‘radfems’. I don’t think it’s all about whether or not you engage with the dominant sexual culture (I mean I think it’s ridiculous to think you can not engage with the dominant sexual culture). I think the more you talk about this divide as sex-pos/radfem the more people will feel that they do have to pick a side.

    And I personally really hate the equating sex-pos/radfem with reformist/radical. Because people can have different analyses of sex and society, and the same ideas about how change is brought about. To equate the two is just to further muddle the debate. In fact I think there are at least three different things that effect people’s positins – how you analyse sex and society, what sort of change you’re envisioning (reform/revolution) and how you think change is made individualism/collectivism.

    Myca – I think I agree with Chingona:

    Rather than respond to “I don’t like sex-positive communities because they claim all choices are equivalent” with “Oh YEAH?! Well Radfems are all filthy transphobes,” I’m saying, “We could play that game all day. Let’s not. If someone specifically said that all choices are equivalent, let’s look at that.”

    Here I think you set up the only reason that people would have problems with what is said by people claiming to be sex-positive is that they’re radfem (a term I’m officially using to describe internet communities to use that term – I think the history of radical feminism defined as “people who believe that gender is the primary oppression” is much more complex and nuanced and don’t want to equate the two, but since there do appear people who use the term radfem I’ll go with it). You ignore the possibility that people might have other views in the debate.

    In fact, Holly appeared (both in the post – which I have now managed to read- and the feministe thread) to be saying that the philosophical position that choice that feels free is actually constrained by society should not be discussed within feminist circles. As someone who doesn’t believe that feminism is about individual change, but is interested in discussing the nature of choice and freedom, and thinks understanding the way women’s lives are constrained is important, this is a really frustrating position. Jess from xojane is not Twistyfaster (really look at her profile). There are more ways to criticise what’s written in the name of sex-positive feminism than as a ‘radfem’. If we’re going to understand the world we’re going to need to be able to see nuance and difference, and conflating wildly different things is deeply problematic.

  74. 74
    machina says:

    savagebeard: I set “sex-positive” as a desired trait on a dating site last week and I’ve gotten good results, attracting people I think are compatible, and with a probable long term partner resulting. So I thought that I was described accurately by “how they love sex-pos because it gets them laid more often” and it made me laugh. And while feminism isn’t about how good my penis feels, my sexuality is! At least in part, or as an analogy for sexual pleasure and fulfillment generally. That obviously has a lot to do with the attitudes of my partner, which are shaped by various ideologies. I find sex-positive ideals to be pretty good guide to having pretty great sex. Radical feminism? Well, I think people are going to get harmed less often if we spend our time trying to get enthusiastic consent than mulling over how well our sexual relationship is explained by the concept of a hegemonic masculinity supported by a complicit femininity rewarded for, yet disempowered by, its participation in a gender hierarchy. Even though they’re often fundamentally dealing with the same thing, whether someone really wants to do something or if it’s from social pressure.

  75. 75
    savagebeard says:

    I don’t think that getting enthusiastic consent is incompatible with mulling over why you’re doing what you’re doing. Actually, I think each of you knowing what fundamentally drives you may contribute positively to the enthusiasm part.

  76. 76
    Debbie Notkin says:

    Just to say I continued the conversation here.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  77. 77
    Charles S says:

    Maia,

    Okay, this is all really weird. I’d been really enjoying the discussion here, but hadn’t bothered to read Holly’s post until just now. Your description of it seemed so completely unlike anything Holly would write (but I generally trust your judgement pretty damn far) that I went over to read Holly’s post to see what was wrong with it or why you would be misreading it.

    And I read it and I was about to post asking why you thought it read that way, because I couldn’t get it to read that way. And as I was reading I thought I should read more of the exchange for context, so I went and read XOJane’s post to see what Holly was responding to…

    Holly’s post doesn’t seem to me all that problematic to me, and it doesn’t seem like it would be read as you read it, except for one thing: XOJane’s post does not do ANY of the things Holly is objecting to. The quote Holly took from XOJane’s post is fantastically out of context. All XOJane was saying with that (slightly overboard in its phrasing, sure, but that’s blogging) quote was that one person saying that they are fine with being seen as “sexy” does not make the concept of “sexiness” absolutely above consideration, and particularly one person saying they are fine with being photographed without their knowledge and put up on a tumblr as an exemplar of “sexy occupy wall street” does not in any way make “girls of OWS” at all acceptable.

    That isn’t a point that deserves Holly’s rebuttal, and I can see how Holly making her post a rejection of XOJane’s post (rather than, say, a minor caveat on XOJane’s particular way of handling that specific over-the-top passage) leads to Holly seeming to say that “the philosophical position that choice that feels free is actually constrained by society should not be discussed within feminist circles.”

    I think Holly’s meaning makes a lot more sense if you pretend you never followed her link to XOJane’s post. Assume it is just a response to the more stupid trolling in the metafilter thread. As a response to XOJane’s post, the wheels just sort of fall of her argument. I think Holly conflated “choice feminist” which XOJane explicitly attacks with “sex-pos feminism” which XOJane never mentions.

    But I think it is better to read Holly’s post without reference to XOJane’s post. Assume that XOJane’s over-the-top phrasing was a trigger and that Holly was arguing with ghosts (we all do it from time to time), not actually arguing against XOJane’s arguments (she was arguing with XOJane’s title, and reading “choice feminism” as a synonym for “pro-sex feminism”).

    Holly even acknowledges that when she writes:

    Sex-positivity is, in a nutshell, the belief in sexual freedom as a key component of women’s freedom and of having a better world in general.

    If you want to argue with that belief, we can talk. But if you want to argue with “everyone should be a Hooters girl because showing men your boobies is like totally the most feministical choice!” you’re not really arguing with me. I just think that I’m in no position to judge Hooters girls or assume that they’re dimwits, sexists, or helpless victims because of what they do for a living.

    which mirrors XOJane’s conclusion:

    Until the woman who doesn’t want to be seen as sexually available can go out with certainty that she won’t be harassed or ogled, your choice to turn heads and revel in attention is a privileged one. Until the woman who doesn’t prioritize appearance gets taken just as seriously in just the same contexts, it’s a privileged choice to achieve certain standards of beauty. You may be doing what you love, but you’re also doing what you’re told.

    There’s nothing wrong with YOU for making that choice — you’re doing what it takes to get by, and if you like it, you’re enjoying your good luck. But there’s something wrong when other options engender so much hostility or disdain.

    Feminists who want to fight for your ability to reject patriarchal standards of beauty or behavior or availability or occupation aren’t trying to constrain your choices. (Well, some probably are, but screw ‘em.) They’re trying to give you more genuine, valid, supported options. If you still like reading scratch-and-sniff wedding magazines or being on “sexy activist” Tumblrs after that, by all means do it! Just make people stop telling you that it’s the only acceptable option, so you can go back to doing it because it’s your favorite thing.

    Holly and XOJane do not actually disagree on anything of any great significance here. Holly wouldn’t have used the particular over the top language that XOJane did, but I would have been unsurprised to find Holly writing a piece excoriating the “girls of OWS” tubmlr creator, and I don’t think the fact that one of the photographed women wasn’t bothered by it would have carried any weight with her either…

    Oh wait, that is where she disagrees with XOJane. XOJane decided to make the concluding focus of her post about some assholes who decided to exploit and objectify a bunch of OWS protesters be about the women who say they aren’t bothered by being seen as sexy. Holly’s point is that those women are not the problem here and don’t deserve XOJane’s condemnation.

    I’m not actually sure about that. I think that there is a problem with defending “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” on the grounds that you personally don’t mind being seen as a Hot Chick. I think that it would be fine for one of the photographed women to say that she doesn’t mind being seen as a Hot Chick, but I think that a line is crossed when someone uses the fact that they aren’t bothered by some particular form of oppression as an argument that it isn’t oppressive of others and therefore categorically oppressive. I think not recognizing that “Hot Chicks of OWS” is oppressive even though it didn’t bother you personally is a mistake worth pointing out. But I’m not sure Holly would actually disagree.

    Hmm, I think I’m also creating a derail, as Mandolin’s post isn’t really about the details of Holly’s post. Mandolin, should we move any further discussion of Holly’s post qua Holly’s post to a separate thread?

  78. 78
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    @machina — Mythago: Sure, I don’t remember seeing men defending sex-positive feminism that didn’t buy into the basics of consent though.

    I have. It’s also easy for people to say they believe in consent and then betray that they don’t especially have the same definition of “consent” that I do, or that they aren’t making space for other people to object at the times when I would, etc.

    @Maia — (More of a comment coming up in a sec, but first, Holly) There are more ways to criticise what’s written in the name of sex-positive feminism than as a ‘radfem’.

    Argh. I feel like this is my fault. I wanted to link to Holly’s post, but I didn’t want to endorse her anti-Twisty notes, which is why I included the bit at the top where I was all “I have no problem with Twisty, but I’m linking to Holly”. Then the whole thread became pro-Twisty vs. anti-Twisty, which wasn’t even close to what I intended.

    Also, everyone who read that thread seems to assume that everything Holly said about critics of sex-pos was being said in opposition to radfems, which isn’t what her post actually said, and isn’t the opinion she holds. It’s obvious that many of the perspectives Holly criticizes aren’t radfem, in that post and elsewhere. Actually, one of the reasons I don’t read Holly’s blog more regularly (although I generally like her work) is that she spends a lot of time mocking “Cosmo” and similar outfits, which just strikes me as low-hanging fruit. (But one of my ongoing weaknesses [?] as a blogger is that I rarely have any interest in weighing in on the latest flavor-of-the-week scandal or magazine feature or what have you.)

    @chingona, Myca — I guess I agree with chingona when ze says:

    What I’ve mostly seen in these posts and these threads is people saying why they do or don’t feel an affinity for certain kinds of arguments and analyses, what they think the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches are, how they overlap and aren’t necessarily always opposed.

    I guess the conclusion I’m coming to is that I’d really like to be able to take these arguments out of what Myca described as “rhetorical tar pits” (hahaha, perfect) … but maybe that’s not possible because we are all too influenced by these other factors and have to acknowledge those influences first? Argh. I hope it’s possible, because I am really tired of these rhetorical tar pits. (And I liked Myca’s description of them, but I freely admit that I am apparently biased in the same direction as Myca.)

  79. 79
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    savagebeard wrote,

    I don’t think that getting enthusiastic consent is incompatible with mulling over why you’re doing what you’re doing. Actually, I think each of you knowing what fundamentally drives you may contribute positively to the enthusiasm part.

    I actually agree with this, and was about to say something similar. If I had to pick one short concept for people to grasp, it would be enthusiastic consent. But if I could pick more than one, then I’d want them to understand how other social forces affect consent, too. A lot of my sharing-perspective writing is an attempt to get people to understand some of the conflicts women often feel about sex, so as to reduce the harm being done during sex.

  80. 80
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    @Mandolin — What do you mean by “hedging”? Would you have any suggested vocabulary?

    @Maia — Firstly, I really want to thank you for continuing to engage me so thoughtfully. I appreciate it a lot and I understand that I may not be coming across as receptive, but I am trying to be.

    That pushes my buttons a little bit, and takes me right back to the debate over the cover of Full Frontal Feminism. It really bothers me when people presentt the priority group of women who aren’t engaged with feminism that we need to reach as women with conventionally attractive women, and are prepared to reach that group at the expense of women who do not fit it (whether that’s by using the concept ‘sexy woman’ uncritically or identifying ourselves with flat, white stomachs). Only a tiny group of women would identify themselves as ‘sexy women’ given the many ways that all women are told that their bodies are wrong (and since you’re talking about people who haven’t been exposed to feminism you’re mostly blocking out women who conceive themselves as ‘sexy’ in a deliberate/reclaimig/political way despite what society says about them) . Many more women have told that they’re never sexy because of the various ways they’re marginalised. Because what that quote says to me (in the context you presented it) is that feminism should accept the mainstream definition of ‘sexy woman’.

    I didn’t like the cover of Full Frontal Feminism either, and I thought that the cover of Feminism For Real was brilliant.

    I acknowledge that my understanding of the mainstream comes from a certain narrow perspective and that I have more experience with white, young, privileged people than with other groups.

    So I’m trying to stay open to the idea that I have a certain type of looks privilege and that I’m not owning that enough. At the same time, I really didn’t read Holly’s post, or even that excerpt, in the way that you seemed to. People keep saying that she conflated “sexy” with “conventionally sexy”, but it seemed so obvious to me that she had no intention of doing that, especially since she mentions body-positivity in other areas of the post. She could have written the post more carefully — yes. She definitely used “sexy” on occasion when it would have been clearer to say “conventionally sexy” — yes.

    But her intention, it seems to me (and my intention in reposting) was not at all to say anything remotely like “sexiness = conventional sexiness!” but rather to say that “when women are attacked for being sexy, even when the source purports to have a feminist tone — and even when the source is attacking those women for being conventionally sexy in ways that are supposed to ‘protect’ them from the wrath of the patriarchy — it frequently sounds an awful lot like slut-shaming.”

    I guess that what I find so disappointing about this is that I had hoped that internet sex-positive work, based as it has to be in words, would be about unpacking ideas like ‘sexy’ figuring out what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and how to use it in a way that is much less limited. But you appear to still see Holly’s use of ‘sexy women’ as a self-explanatory category as not that big a deal – you’re unsure if it was the wrong quote to post (let alone if it’s inclusions disqualifies it as being an awesome post about what sex-positive means – which I would argue – because you can’t get a more narrow understanding of sex than the concept of ‘sexy woman’).

    Well … as I say, she could have been more careful with how she wrote it. And now that I’ve had this conversation with you I’ll definitely try to be more careful in how I write/think about it. But can you see how I would have arrived at the point I list above?

    I also strongly disagree with the analogy on a political level – because culture is not like a ouja board. To suggest that it is, is to ignore power dynamics within society – and I think if you talk about society in a way that ignores power then you are actively hindering the ability to make change.

    I’m not sure how it ignores power dynamics? Could you go into that more? I agree that it’s oversimplified. But I liked the analogy because it struck me as a simple jumping-off point that might make the discussion easier to access for people who don’t have very evolved theories on different power dynamics.

    And I personally really hate the equating sex-pos/radfem with reformist/radical. Because people can have different analyses of sex and society, and the same ideas about how change is brought about.

    I’m not sure anyone was equating them? I don’t see that anywhere in Mandolin’s comment, though I could be misreading.

  81. 81
    Les says:

    Would it work better for you if it said “when the alternatives often include…?” Or “when the alternative is facing punishment for gender-noncomformity?”

    I guess it was my impression that women who present as butch in non-culturally-condoned ways would basically, as a default, become subject to the intersection of both sexism and certain forms of homophobia, whether or not they themselves are queer.

    I hope I’m not being offensive in the way I’m probing here… I genuinely would like to understand what you mean. I self-identify as queer, but I’m feminine, so I’m sure I have some big blind spots here.

    Yes, butch women (or those read as such) do face multiple forms of oppression, and thus there is a large coercive element in the choice to express femininity. But since butches do still exist, obviously the choice to express that is also still possible and your original phrasing makes it sound as if it’s not. Women who choose to wear makeup and whatnot are making a choice under duress, but it’s still a choice and they still have agency. Many choices are made under duress, but I don’t think it helps to portray these choices as entirely without agency.

    I was butch before I transitioned and there were definitely oppressions at play, but my life wasn’t a constant tragedy either.

  82. 82
    machina says:

    savagebeard: I don’t think that getting enthusiastic consent is incompatible with mulling over why you’re doing what you’re doing. Actually, I think each of you knowing what fundamentally drives you may contribute positively to the enthusiasm part.

    Are you saying you don’t worry about sexual acts contributing to structural oppression?

    Clarisse: I have. It’s also easy for people to say they believe in consent and then betray that they don’t especially have the same definition of “consent” that I do, or that they aren’t making space for other people to object at the times when I would, etc.

    Ok, fair enough. But then, do you think that’s a particular problem that men have with sex-positivism?

  83. 83
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Just letting y’all know that I just linked this in my latest Feministe post:
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/10/28/marriage-singledom-social-evolution-and-that-kate-bolick-piece-in-the-atlantic/

    Apologies in advance if the comment field goes all ridiculous and nonproductive.

  84. Pingback: » Marriage, Singledom, Social Evolution, and that Kate Bolick piece in “The Atlantic” Clarisse Thorn

  85. 84
    Maia says:

    I’ve been talking about the extract from Holly’s post a lot, without actually saying what I think about it – just why I disagree. So I thought I’d start out with a rather extended rant about the phrase ‘sexy women’ – so it was clear where I’m coming from. Then reply to individuals (sorry for the huge derail Mandolin – direct us where you will). I’m not suggesting that I think anyone else who is directly engaging or implicated in this sprawling argument will disagree, just wanting to make it clearer why I think this is important (and randomly link to Robert Webb reading poetry – which is definately the highlight of the comment from my point of view).

    To me ‘sexy’ is about being desired. I don’t think that anything can be ‘sexy’ in an inherent way – things can only be ‘sexy’ in a relational sense – something can only be ‘sexy’ if someone is there who finds it so. I think it’s a really important point that no body, or type of body, or way of dressing, or whatever, is in itself, sexy.

    Usually this distinction doesn’t matter. If I say ” Robert Webb reading poetry is sexy.” Most people are going to understand that this is a much a statement as it is about Robert Webb. But I think maintaining the relational nature of the idea of ‘sexy’ is incredibly important if we’re discussing sexuality and society. That if you believe (as I believe)

    So, given that to me ‘sexy women’ as a category doesn’t make sense as a category. I think it’s important to understand to create a category is to create it’s opposite – if you say there’s a line there has to be something outside the line (so for example with the thing everyone is posting on facebook which says “Non-violent ). So if you’re talking about ‘sexy women’ you are also talking about women who are outside that category – there have to be people outside the category or the category doesn’t exist. I know this probably sounds obtuse, but who is in the category ‘sexy women’ – with a politically defensible use of hte word sexy, and who isn’t?

    I can only make that section of what Holly was saying make any sense at all if I equate ‘sexy women’ with ‘conventionally sexy women’. Obviously I find equating those two a problem politically. This paragraph doesn’t make much sense any other way:

    A lot of criticism of sex-positive feminism is really criticism of sexy women. It’s hard to find a piece that isn’t dripping with disgusted descriptions of women who wear high heels and shave their legs and then they giggle and they act all flirty and give blowjobs, oh my God. And it’s hard for me to see the difference between this and plain old slut-shaming. It always seems undercut with the implication that sexy women aren’t just unfeminist, they’re icky.

    Now I don’t think that’s necessarily a huge deal in most forms of writing – it’s just a little bit lazy. But it does bother me much more in a piece where the writer’s focus is on sex and therefore I would think would know what they meant when they used the term ‘sexy’ and use it consistently – and then more again when it’s been held up as an example of good writing.

    I guess there is another option: which would be ‘sexy women’ are women who perform acts are commonly seen as relating to sex (that’s deliberately vague). However, I think this is naieve. I think it ignores the way that the same acts have very different social meanings on different bodies, and get treated very differently [Hey I think that was part of Mandolin's was saying - hi topic!]. And I think it accepts the equivalence between commonly seen as relating to sex, and relating to sex (which I reject – because I think it’s important not to naturalise any particular thing as relating to sex).

    Charles – Thanks for . I agree with your point – that xojane’s post doesn’t do any of the things Holly says it was doing. As I mentioned up thread I can’t read the pervocracy at uni (although I have now subscribed to it on google reader and figured out how to go back and look at past posts). I definitely think that coloured my reading of the post. Both reading the extract alone, and then reading the post as a resposnse to the xojane post gave me a perspective on the post. I should say that most of what I’ve said on here is specifically in response to the bit that Clarisse clipped (which I’ve now explained in painful detail my response to it). I also assumed that Holly was using ‘sexy women’ as shorthand for ‘conventionally sexy women’. I don’t think she meant to say that lipstick and heals are inherently ‘sexy’ – but I do think that’s what she said.

    I find the discussion about ‘Hot Chicks of OWS’ – also super interesting – but I’ll move it to that thread – since it has a more on topic home.

    Clarisse – Just a first point – did you see Holly’s thread as being in response to Twisty Faster – because I really didn’t. Which is probably about me being new to Holly and not reading Holly. Basically the only mention of TF is in response to talk about the posts she used to write in response to her – the links are all elsewhere. I do think that that post was aimed at feminist criticisms of sex-positive feminism (because Holly says so) – but obviously not just Radfem critiques, because of the xojane and metafilter link.

    Like I said to Charles – I agree with everything you said about Holly’s intentions (in your second reply) and sorry if I ever gave the impression that I thought she intended to conflate sexy with conventionally sexy. I guess when new to a writer, particularly a writer who is trying to tell you what’s wrong with critiques of an ideology – the whole intention doesn’t matter comes in. What mattered to me was what she said and the meaning of what she said.

    About the ouja board metaphor – I think the image of everyone with their hands on a ouja board implies some sort both equality or participants and freedom to move the ouja board anywhere within a space. To avoid making this comment triple the length I’ll just say that I don’t see the world that way. It was the ouja board metaphor which I think equates how you engage with society with your analysis of it (if you see whether or not you’ve got your hands on the ouja board as being the difference between radfems and sex-positive feminists).

    Anyway thanks for your thoughts – and I don’t necessarily think you disagree about any of this.

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    Maia says:

    So I feel like after that mammoth rant – I missed the most important point which is why this is something where intentions don’t really matter for me. And I just wanted to say is the other side of my massive rant, and probably, is that I do think that this is incredibly important. I think the idea of desireability existing outside someone doing the desiring is incredibly problematic I think that the idea that some things are intrinsically ‘sexy’ is deeply tied up with rape culture and the idea that sex is something women have and men want.(For mroe of the things I think flow from this assumption I wrote some stuff before here and here). OK I really will stop ranting.

    Clarisse – I noticed your comments on this over at feministe – and I think it’s awesome that you noticed the limited use of ‘attractive’ in that post. Although I should make clear, while I always try and be really careful about what I’m communicating when I talk about ‘sexy’ – even in spoken language where I’m usually a lot more casual – I understand that sometimes people lose the ‘conventionally’. The reason that it bothered me so much in this case was the context. I think it’s really important when you’re supposed to be explaining to other people why they’re wrong about what you’re saying that you’re really precise yourself. So let us imagine there’s a loose group of socialists who are arguing about the place of women’s liberation in socialism movement. And a member of one group produces a piece of writing aimed at other socialists saying “Your critiques of our analysis in women’s liberation is wrong” and it gets widely reproduced and praised. But throughout this piece they’re using ‘he’ and ‘him’ and ‘man’. Not necessarily a super big deal in another context (although obviously problematic), but a reason enough not to take their analysis of women’s liberation particularly seriously, and to see it as not very far thought through. Does the analogy make sense?

    Les – I think interestingly what you’re saying here sort of resonates with everything else that has been said. I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from. Are you suggesting that to talk about the way women are punished for not performing feminitity is to cast those who don’t (or can’t) perform femininity as ‘tragic’? Because the reason this debate matters so much to me is that I think it’s really important for femininsts to talk about the way the world works, the way women’s choices are restricted, the effects of misogyny, its processes, because that’s the only way we’re going to fight it.

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    mythago says:

    savagebeard @70: Over and over again you portray ‘sex-positive’ feminists (I can’t say I like the label much) as an aggregate lump who lecture the reasonable, entirely diverse radfems about how women should never ever have to think about sexuality other than “does this or does this not make me wet?” And when you agree that it’s correct for radfems to suggest that there are certain things that women could not possibly enjoy or want but for patriarchy, you are indeed telling women who insist they do, nonetheless, enjoy and want those things that they are fucked up and evil.

    And playing by your rules of “I’ve heard this from a bunch of people using the label”, I’ve heard umpteen lectures from radfems that start off with ‘you poor thing, you can’t possibly enjoy/want/mean to do X’, and progress into angry denouncement about being brainwashed and/or a collaborator with the patriarchy when it becomes clear that I am not going to tearfully renounce X.

    machina @82: What we’re all dancing around here is the attitude among some men that “sex-positive” feminism is great because it is a net gain for their cocks, irrespective of whether it is a good thing for women, egalitarianism, a fair society or anything else other than their cocks. Similar to the way that Playboy has long been supportive of abortion rights – not because of a belief that women should control their bodies, but because if women can abort there are fewer consequences for men who fuck them.

  89. 87
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    @machina — Ok, fair enough. But then, do you think that’s a particular problem that men have with sex-positivism?

    No.

    It could be argued that since sex-positive feminism is supposed to be about fixing consent at least as much as it’s about anything else, we have more of a duty to force men to examine that kind of thing if they come into our spaces and make problematic claims.

    @Maia — Just a first point – did you see Holly’s thread as being in response to Twisty Faster – because I really didn’t. Which is probably about me being new to Holly and not reading Holly. Basically the only mention of TF is in response to talk about the posts she used to write in response to her – the links are all elsewhere. I do think that that post was aimed at feminist criticisms of sex-positive feminism (because Holly says so) – but obviously not just Radfem critiques, because of the xojane and metafilter link.

    I didn’t see her post as being aimed at TF — in my OP at Feministe I wrote, “(Holly’s entire post isn’t about Twisty, but part of it is.)” But I also REALLY didn’t want to be perceived as supporting her snippiness about TF.

    So let us imagine there’s a loose group of socialists who are arguing about the place of women’s liberation in socialism movement. And a member of one group produces a piece of writing aimed at other socialists saying “Your critiques of our analysis in women’s liberation is wrong” and it gets widely reproduced and praised. But throughout this piece they’re using ‘he’ and ‘him’ and ‘man’. Not necessarily a super big deal in another context (although obviously problematic), but a reason enough not to take their analysis of women’s liberation particularly seriously, and to see it as not very far thought through.

    That makes sense. I’m not sure I agree that it’s reason “enough” not to take their analysis seriously, but I agree that it’s a reason not to.

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    4jkb4ia says:

    Thank you. I was slightly upset when Alyssa Rosenberg wrote about seeing all of “Sex and the City” because she needed to feel that she could be sexy and glamorous. (And Alyssa Rosenberg can write absolutely wonderful posts.) I had an ambivalent relationship with that show because of course being sexy and glamorous is possible–it is a choice–but how much of 4jkb4ia will be left if I go over to that? I have enough problems with not really thinking.