Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Theory Heads, Take Note

Heather Corinna has written a long and very interesting post about the problematic nature of "sex positive feminism" as a category. It's really worth a read if feminist theory interests you. This response post is a little less to-the-point, more rambly, and less cohesive than my usual post, but bear with me.

Clearly, sometime this fall, I decided that "sex positive feminist" was a label I could claim for myself. Before that I had claimed "sex positive", but as for feminist... I guess I thought it went without saying. Anyway, Corinna raises some very important points, most importantly (I think) that these kinds of divisions amongst feminists aren't beneficial. While it's true that my opinions on pornography and sex work and the "adult industry" might differ from another feminist's, we still have a common goal, and for most of the relevant issues our differing perspectives on sex won't be pertinent.

She points out the sex-negative "strawfeminist" -- that is, that no such feminist exists -- to which I initially reacted "well of course no one labels herself that way." She creates a women's sexual autonomy manifesto of sorts, which is worth quoting:
To whit: women DO need the agency to have sex (or physical and emotional intimacy combined, however you’d like to put it or whatever you’d like to have) on their terms, and by their definition, that is pleasurable, that is real communion, that honors our bodies and selves.

Women DO need real sexual autonomy and ownership of our bodies and our sexualities.

Women DO need a cultural sexuality that includes them, truly allows for them, and which holds them in equal regard.

Women DO need to be able to define sex on our own terms, whatever they may be, and have equal allowance made for us to even be able to discover what our authentic sexualities and terms even are — to truly author our own sexuality — free of pressures to make our sexuality fit, support or enable a cultural model of sexuality which men created, not women, and which men created without much, if any, accord for women. Hell, we didn’t even get to be the ones who named our own parts.

She follows it with an assertion that radical feminists recognize that masculine sexual culture is one source of women's oppression. That may be true, and I also think she's right that most feminists affirm the importance of women's sexual equality, but I certainly feel like issues of sexuality are often treated as frivolous and unimportant in radfem circles. The exception, of course, is when pornography and sex work are being burned at the stake as the primary means by which men are keeping women in their place (okay, I'm taking a deep breath, I'm moving past it).

Corinna also worries that adding "sex positive" to the label "feminist" weakens it by half:
To plenty of men, that sex-positive in front of feminist says that either I am the sort of feminist they just don’t have to worry about, because I pose no real threat to them — since I don’t appear to want to take away or limit access to sex — or worse still, in some cases, it says additionally that they will get the heart of what they really want from me — sex — regardless, so who freaking cares if I’m feminist, right? So, you nod and smile when I talk women’s equality and it’s all cool: you’re still getting laid, Joe.

This reminds me of my own rejection of the term "bisexual" based on the fear that people would hear it and assume I was 'easy' or 'greedy'. A housemate of mine put "bisexual -- and still not interested in you!" in her facebook profile to combat that perception; I chose queer as a label instead, for several reasons, but definitely to prevent people from thinking that I'm just a horny bitch who'll do anyone she can get her hands on.

But if we reject terms like bisexual and sex positive based on what other people think we mean by them, aren't we just perpetuating the stereotype? I am sex-positive; that doesn't mean I'm not critical of sexual culture (in fact it may well mean I'm more critical than most), and it sure as hell doesn't mean I'm going to sleep with you. Why should I allow anyone to think that my intellectual and political interest in sex means I'm indiscriminate when it comes to sexual partners? I want a bumper sticker: "sex positive -- and still not interested in you!"

So. Corinna makes a lot of good points, although I don't agree with all of it. Certainly lots to think about, in any case; I think one of the most basic, and most important, points she makes is that feminist "community" isn't sweet and gooey and always supportive. It's hard, and challenging, and critical, and in order to be a part of it you have to be willing examine what's really behind your position.

1 comment:

figleaf said...

Nicely put, Amanda. Heather's post definitely set off lightbulbs in my head.

She summed up my growing concern that while "sex-positive" feminism is actually pretty *personally* empowering for the individuals who practice it in the sense that it's women seeking their own direct enjoyment instead of the "saving/giving myself to/from a man" attitude that used to be so incredibly prevalent. The problem being its significance is usually sort of lost on men.

Since the alternative to "sex-positive" feminism sounds a lot like a retreat to the "save yourself for the right man" model, the answer for me is to start kicking men's butts about our ingrained belief that sex is all about us and women just play along because that's what we want.

If we ever get to that point then Heather's wishlist, which I think is also yours and mine, will come *a lot* closer to fruition.

Take care,