Thursday, July 27, 2006

At night we walk into our houses and burn

Recently there's been an on-going discussions about sex among feminist bloggers. It started with a debate on blow-jobs, and kind of continued through various different permutations, the most stark of which was tekanji's post calling for a truce in the 'sex wars' ending up in a heated argument about prostitution.

There's a lot I could say, a lot of different things I may respond to, in a round about kind of way, over the next few weeks. It all feels a bit strange to me. I don't think there are enough New Zealand feminists to have sex wars. Even when people disagree (and there were feminists who opposed prostitution law reform) we don't have enough troops for two seperate armies, and we couldn't afford the casulties.

But we do have discussions about sexuality, and I see the same idea among feminists I know as I have seen on blogs. I think Punk Ass Marc expressed one such idea most clearly

The same is true for guys. I can say “men suck” all day, and I can’t possibly add to the oppression of men, because such a thing as oppressing “men” isn’t really possible. Once it is, then that language ceases to attack the power stranglehold of a ruling class and starts to be trouble.


And while it isn’t a perfect analogy, I think there’s a strong argument to be made that submissive feminine acts and qualities are every bit as protected as the rich/white/males out there — and that’s because those men are the ones protecting them.
He was quickly critiqued on many different fronts by feminists who had more of a clue than he did. I understand why he wrote this, and I think I understand what he was trying to say. But I think he's completely, utterly wrong.

I think the idea that some forms of female sexuality match what men want, and are therefore more acceptable - even protected, is one that makes sense, on the face of it. But I think it completely misses the point of the way female sexuality is framed in our society. It's not particular sexual acts that are protected, but women meeting men's needs. A sex act that is protected when done to meet men's needs, is not the same act when it comes from women's genuine desire.

When I talk about genuine desire I'm not trying to imagine what our sexuality would be like in a free and equal society, I think that's impossible to know. I mean something much more simple - knowing, and being able to communicate, what you want for yourself.*

I think that's actually the problem with this whole discourse - there's a pretty effective version of divide and rule being played. Many women feel that their sexuality, their desires, are not OK, and they have to fight for them. But just because your desires are unacceptable, doesn't mean that other women's desires are acceptable. Having virgin and whore as your two options is supposed to make women who have no sex feel shit, women who have lots of sex feel like shit, and women who fall somewhere in between also feel like shit.

During these supposedly feminist discussions about sex you do frequently see women telling other women 'your sexuality isn't under attack'. I don't think this is true, I don't think any women's sexuality is free from attack, because I don't think it's OK for women to have seuxality independent of men's needs. I know that the way I feel about sex, and experience my sexuality and my desires, is not OK in this society. But I try to fight the feeling that other women have it easier, because I don't really know what it's like to walk in their shoes. I certainly don't think it's OK to tell another woman that her sexuality isn't under attack - particularly not if she feels that she needs to fight for it.

I feel like this post needs to end with a disclaimer. I've no idea if anything I've said is right. All I know about is me, my friends, and what other women have chosen to share in writing. Maybe there are women who find everything about their sexuality accepted and easy to navigate. I certainly don't want to imply that it isn't harder for some women than others. But I think if we started from the position that any sexuality a woman feels, experiences and communicates that is based on genuine desires, as opposed to male needs, challenges our socitey's views of women, then the divide and rule tactics would be less likely to work.

* I'm not trying to say that hetrosexual women's desires aren't or can't be partly about mutuality and pleasing their partners. For many women there is over-lap between your own desires and meeting other people's needs. But I think my point, that women's own desires aren't acceptable, still stands.

1 comment:

  1. I guess it depends on the circles you inhabit (mine are a bit traditional) but I have always thought sexuality in its entirety wasn't acceptable.

    Being a virgin obviously isn't but neither was talking about doing it.
    Doing only vanilla things wasn’t acceptable but neither was any non vanilla thing.

    And while being a lesbian WAS acceptable (interestingly) being 'gay' sure as hell wasn't or being attracted to anything even slightly different from the others.

    Maybe that is just two cultures clashing. Might be easier for guys to get out of such a catch 22 because they can play the "F U" card and get a little bit of "manly credit" for it merely at the cost of some repression.