Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What's The Problem With Women Being Sexually Submissive?

Bitch Lab: On Fire

What some people do in this debate is insist that some acts can only be read and experienced as degrading because they are culturally defined as such. This is what Amanda wanted to do in the original Blow Job War. It was fine to talk about your own personal experience but somehow you were being disingenuous if you didn’t acknowledge the wider context within which the meaning of blow jobs circulate. But that suggests, again, that the meanings surrounding blow jobs are monolithic in this culture. It’s simply not clear that this is the case.

The problem is that, human beings -- and this is pretty well documented in social science literature -- are simply not passive dupes of any cultural system. Ever. Not only do we know of other societies where sexual activities aren't defined that way (which means there is no meaning *in* the blow job itself, thus its meaning is malleable), we can document in our own society how people adopt a range of understandings of these activities.

To defend women's right to perform submissive sex acts without talking about rape and sexual abuse as the root of the degradation is like supporting women's right to be as thin as they can be without talking about anorexia and all of pressures that contribute to the push toward thinness.

Many of the acts that get so hotly debated are acts which are frequently forced on girls and women. As long as that's true, many women will have negative associations with those actions. If we want to eliminate the negative associations, the first step needs to be eliminating the true cause of the negative association.

Unwanted sexual contact.

Those who exploit others sexually and who say they did nothing wrong because they are just doing what everyone else is doing are the closest we have to cultural dupes. The same goes for those who expect women to embrace pleasuring a man in certain ways without considering whether the act is actually physically and emotionally pleasurable for that particular woman.

Making a man happy isn't, and shouldn't be, reward enough.

Rather than debating whether women can be liberated personally and submissive sexually, we should be thinking about how to help make the goal of allowing every girl and woman to freely make the choices about what type of sexual contact she wants and doesn't want -- while respecting the rights of other people -- a reality.

Update:

Since my response to Bitch Lab's post seems to be misunderstood (read Lab Bitch's comments and my reply to that response), I thought it would be helpful to include LB's definition of Sex positive feminism:

[SPF] involves a disparate group of people who share one thing in common: a rejection of universalizing claims about women’s (and men’s) sexuality such that one’s sexual practices — whether you hate sex, wank off to donkey porn, ride your cowboy or cowgirl and put her/him away wet, are asexual, like to dress up like Superman and leap off the top of the dresser on to your partner below [1] — do not prove or disprove your feminist street cred."

Unfortunately, this definition fails to exclude those who enjoy sexually abusing others. Those who support this movement may assume this exclusion is understood by all. It isn't.

My point was and still is that any assertion that says "whatever floats your boat" without addressing rape, sex abuse and sexual exploitation will cause some people to resist that assertion. It doesn't help that this sex positive statement echoes in many ways what some of us have heard from abusive men. They could have whatever they wanted and we shouldn't cramp their style or say they aren't great guys.

Rather than seeing any resistance to sex positiveness as irrational, it may help to understand that even extreme reactions are quite rational, but possibly outside of the other person's range of experience.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 5:41 PM   8 comments links to this post

8 Comments:

At July 19, 2006 12:42 AM, Blogger Bitch | Lab said...

Well, of course, that's *your* theory. It's debatalbe. it's not simply an unerring truth, but needs to be supported by an argument. And, you are inturn obligated to hear out my theory and the evidence and arguments I have. But, to sit around and dismiss people outright as wrong, by simply asserting that they are, is unconsciounable in my book.

To even *think* for a minute that your fellow feminists aren't interestied in fighting those things is, likewise, unconscionable. I don't know that's what you are doing here, but the notiong that I have to be a radical feminist in order to be a feminist at all is really distrubing. As someone who's experienced two attempted rapes and several sexual harassment incidents, I really find it disturbing that people immediately jump to the conlusion that sex positive feminists don't understand harrasment, abuse, rape.

 
At July 19, 2006 12:46 AM, Blogger Bitch | Lab said...

"The same goes for those who expect women to embrace pleasuring a man in certain ways without considering whether the act is actually physically and emotionally pleasurable for that particular woman."

have you ever actually read a feminist saying that anyone should perform sexual acts they don't enjoy?

seriously, Rachel didn't say that. What gives with this serious horrid misreading. Please, one feminist who says that women should engage in missionary sex or anla if they don't like it?

The whole point of sex positive feminism is that you can be *asexual* a, celibate, anything you want to engage in and that no one should tell anyone who to make love to and how to do it, and that whatever your sexual proclivities, none of them can make or break your status as a feminst who ought to be respects by other feminists, regardless of that.


how folks turn that into the notion that we are forcing you or anyone else to do anything you don't want to do is a mystery to me.

 
At July 19, 2006 9:06 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Bitch Lab,

It isn't the intent of sex-positive feminists that I think creates a negative response. I'm all for women having a full range of options. However, to talk about how all types of sex should be positive without acknowledging the source of the negativity creates problems.

This is true whether someone is supporting sex positiveness or opposing it.

The message I got from your post was that those who view certain acts as demeaning are merely "dupes." Yet many who take this view do so because of sexual abuse, exploitation and rape rather than because they are duped by society's messages about sex.

From your comments, your view is much more complex than the contents of the post I quoted.

I don't agree with anyone who says women should never participate in acts that are frequently used to demean women. If the contact isn't demeaning, exploitive, abusive or without consent, then women should be free to indulge.

But it should be an eager indulging rather than one because women are told they should view sex positively.

No, "Enjoy it, already!"

I'm sure those who enjoy these same acts with willing partners don't appreciate hearing, "You were so demeaned!" when you weren't.

I welcome discussion about this subject even though it triggers many people. We may discover that those who on the surface are in direct opposition have huge areas of agreement.

 
At July 19, 2006 1:20 PM, Blogger Amber said...

However, to talk about how all types of sex should be positive without acknowledging the source of the negativity creates problems.

I didn't read BL as saying that. What is it that she said that made you interpret it that way?

Was it this?


The whole point of sex positive feminism is that you can be *asexual* a, celibate, anything you want to engage in and that no one should tell anyone who to make love to and how to do it, and that whatever your sexual proclivities, none of them can make or break your status as a feminst who ought to be respects by other feminists, regardless of that.


She's not saying that all types of sex should be positive. She's saying that if a particular type of sex is positive for you, then no one should try to tell you that you can't do it, or that you really don't like it and you're just in denail, or than it means you're a bad feminist.

 
At July 19, 2006 2:13 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Amber,

What struck me the most in Bitch Lab's post was her use of "passive dupes."

She may not have meant it as an dismissive insult toward those who disagree with all or part of what she says, but it came across that way.

 
At July 19, 2006 3:05 PM, Blogger Amber said...

What struck me the most in Bitch Lab's post was her use of "passive dupes."

Gotcha.

Ultimately BL can explain her wording if she so chooses, but I did not read her as actually calling anyone a passive dupe. For reference, she said...

The problem is that, human beings -- and this is pretty well documented in social science literature -- are simply not passive dupes of any cultural system.

I read it as her taking issue with people who suggest that women are merely passive dupes. One way of suggesting that women are passive dupes is to indicate that no matter what we do, we might think we're really liberated but actually we're not, bc of Patriarchy.

 
At July 19, 2006 5:15 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Amber,

I see what you're getting at, or I hope I do.

Using patriarchy as if it is something fixed and monolithic is rarely helpful when talking to people who don't already know what we mean and agree with the way we use the term.

This subject is rife with triggers for all involved. That makes it difficult to tell which reactions are based on another person's position and which are based on their word choice combined with our associations.

 
At July 19, 2006 7:51 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

As a continuation of my previous comment here's an example of something from the Village Voice article, Fucking and Feminism: I encourage all men and women to make the sexual choices that are right for them, regardless of what's "cool."

The problem with this statement, made without qualifiers, is that it describes what many rapists and sexual abusers are doing.

To say, "Hey, wait a minute," to that statement and others like it isn't prudishness.

 

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