Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sexual Health Sundays: What Does Feminist Sex Look Like?

In her introduction for the book Jane Sexes it Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, Merri Lisa Johnson writes, “we live inside the contradiction of a political movement that affirms and encourages expressions of female and/or alternative sexualities, and the “real world” of workplaces, families, and communities that continue to judge women harshly for speaking of sex, much less expressing one’s “deviant” acts and complex erotic imagination.” Even within the feminist movement, the topic of sex is pretty contentious. The Feminist Sex Wars of the ‘70s-80s may be ancient history for us younger feminists, but I for one still struggle to reconcile my personal sexual desires with my political beliefs. What does feminist sex look like? How can we avoid reproducing stifling gender roles in our personal relationships?  And what do we do when what really gets us off in the dark of our bedrooms would make our outward feminist personas cringe?

From Jane Sexes it Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, ed. Merri Lisa Johnson (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002) : 

“I wanted feminism to be bad like me. A young feminism, a sexy feminism. I found myself saying things like, “I’m not that kind of feminist,” all sly innuendo and bedroom eyes. Early in my research, however, I discovered that that kind of feminist is mostly a media construct – oversimplification spiced with staged cat fights.” (2)

“Whatever conflicts exist within feminism, the first lesson for each generation must be about the politics of representation (which histories are handed over, which are not, and why); for it is frequently against “representations” of feminism as puritanical or anti-male or just plain crazy—not against feminism itself—that many young women posit our sexy “new” brand of bravado.” (3-4)

“Young women define our politics in part by the second wave feminist legacy of sexual freedom—disrupting norms surrounding the body, unsettling rigid gender roles, and observing few, if any, boundaries on our speech as erotic creatures . . . [y]et sex-positive spokeswomen, often anti-intellectual in tone, fail to give women new ways of thinking about fucking, new ways of understanding what’s happening in our beds and to our bodies.” (5)

“Sometimes the best thing feminism can say to a woman is, “Go easier on yourself, girlie. You don’t have to make sense at every moment. You don’t have to measure up to some abstract structure called the right thing to do.”(8)

“. . . feminists who want to be fucked hard, held down, thrown against walls and pressed into them cannot be explained away by the simple charge of false consciousness (the idea that we eroticize the conditions of our own oppression) . . . [a]s feminists, we’ve learned to critique this gender role, we know there’s something wrong with it, it has been removed to the space of transgression, that which we are not supposed to want.” (43)

From Patrick Califia, Updated Introduction to Macho Sluts (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009) : 

“Self-understanding and self-expression are much harder to accomplish when so many supposedly progressive people are saying hateful things about each other and demanding that everybody take sides.” (22)

“I’m not sure we are well-served by essentialist notions of sexual orientation, anyway. This idea that you go through a one-time process of figuring out who you truly are, then you come out, and then you don’t need to do that anymore, sure hasn’t worked for me. . . I have come to believe that most of us are born with a wider range of sexual potential than we’ll ever exercise in the course of one lifetime. . . if we fall in love with the “wrong” person, read something that unexpectedly excites us, see a piece of porn that has a surprising impact, or listen to the far-out suggestion of a more experienced lover, we may find that we can’t take our core assumptions about ourselves for granted. When these changes take place, as long as they are truthful ones, we aren’t selling out or betraying our ideals. We’re just keeping pace with what life has shown us, how we’ve changed or grown.” (27)

I’ll be blunt: in my mind, there is nothing contradictory about being a feminist and getting turned on by dominance, submission, power, force, or authority, or whatever other type of sexual kink that may be labelled “unacceptable.” I don’t really care whether or not these things are “tools of the patriarchy” because the worst thing feminism can do is take away a person’s power to fully embody and enjoy their own sexual potential. The worst thing feminism can do is instill more guilt. We’re already told that we should be ashamed for our appetites, our desires, how huge they are, how much we want and can encompass. My feminism is liberating, not repressive, and tells me that, as long as there is full and enthusiastic consent and communication involved, there is no "right way" or "wrong way" to experience my sexuality.

What do you think?


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