in defence of a pro-sex radical feminist.
I decided rather recently, indeed, in the last 6 months or so, that I was a pro-sex radical feminist. I’ve had quite radical feminist views for the past few years, but I considered myself to be somewhat “anti-sex”. By that, I mean I wouldn’t feel guilty about calling other women “sluts” “slags” or “whores”. I thought that what they were doing (promiscuous sex) was vile, and held back the feminist cause drastically. I didn’t feel that they were my allies, and I didn’t feel they they had respect for themselves, and so I didn’t respect them.
I regret believing those things- they were misinformed beliefs I had forced upon me by patriarchy, by a media and a culture that didn’t want the sexual liberation of women (unless, of course, it benefitted men). Admittedly, I still feel some women do lack respect for themselves, and aren’t necessarily allies, but I no longer blame them. I blame society, for commodifying women, for creating a sexual culture in which women are there to be objectified and a culture in which some women feel they can only gain respect/love/friendship by sexually gratifying their male counterparts.
But, despite this, I still see sex as a tool of empowerment. It was a realization that came to me quite slowly- first, I think, with the respect I gained for burlesque performers. I admired women who loved their bodies, whatever shape, and could flaunt it; sometimes for the gratification of men, sometimes for the gratification of women, but mostly for the gratification of themselves. I knew it was for themselves, because it’s the same kind of self-gratification I carry out every day when I put my make-up on. I don’t do it for men, I sure as hell don’t give a darn about what most of them think- I do it for myself, and sometimes for other women. For them to admire what is, in a way, artwork: the meticulously painted lines of my eyeliner, excrutiatingly separated eyelashes, the subtle blending of eyeshadow (I realise I’m definitely romanticising make-up here, but I hope that serves to strengthen my point?). Anyway, the last person that I’m thinking about when I get ready in a morning is a man.
Similarly, when I shave my armpits, I’m not thinking about men. I fluctuate between not shaving for months and then shaving every day for an extended period of time- I don’t become a “better” or “worse” feminist as I fluctuate. I really don’t like the “good feminist” “bad feminist” argument, and how your aesthetic values somehow reflect this.
I think this is where my views will differ from some people who read this- I don’t inherently mind sexual gratification. I believe we are all agents of our own body (men AND women) and should act accordingly- if for you, this means sex work (whether it is dancing, prostitution, porn..) then that’s fine. Selling your body isn’t necessarily a bad thing (well, it’s bad insofar as wage labour in general is bad, but that’s a different argument), it’s the low value it is given and the fact that it is a predominantly female industry. Sex work isn’t inherently bad, but the gender inbalance is; the problem lies with the fact that men are overwhelmingly the consumers of sex. This seriously needs to be addressed.
I agree, that generally, sex is a tool of oppression- women “receive” in porn and are montrously degraded, offense-words slung at women often relate to promiscuity (because, if we’re not inferior animals “cow” “dog” “bitch”, we’re sluts), and so it is obviously difficult to reconcile, but how else are we to overcome sexual oppression, if we don’t take sex as our own and feel contented with it?
Sexual abuse is always about power- it’s a battle for dominance. Whether this is rape, or a bloke beeping his car-horn, it’s about power. That’s why the overwhelming number of sexual crimes are committed by men- because they are the powerul, and there’s one key thing to power: it corrupts. And so, people go power-mad, they take power where they should not have it, they want more and more until it results in another party’s loss of autonomy. It’s only through the destruction of partiarchy, and a loss of admiration and value for power that this will end. But reversing sexual stereotypes and not allowing ourselves to be controlled by the culture of anti-women and anti-sex we can go some of the way.
This is where I think my argument gained its inspiration. I read this today, and found it to be a wonderfully written, concise and powerful piece. Largely, I agreed, but I can’t help but feel that it pitted “radical” and “pro-sex” against each other, and for me, they are not contradictory terms.
I’m a strong believer in “reclaiming” words- purely from a linguistic standpoint, I feel it is much easier to reclaim a word and amerliorate it, than to hope it becomes obsolete. Hence, I’m a comfortable user of the word “cunt”, and I’m also happy to get on the “slutwalk” bandwagon (or at least accept the word “slut”) .
Cunt wasn’t originally such a bad term, of course, it has always meant the vagina, but its status as the most abhorrent, yet speakable word in the English Language is a fairly new phenomena. Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” (at least, I think it’s The Miller) states “he grabbed her by the quentye”- which wasn’t nearly as shocking as it would be to read “he grabbed her cunt” in contemporary literature. Even street names used to include “cunt” in them, such as Gropecunt Lane, because they were often places where prostitutes could be found. Indeed, it sounds pretty vile to modern ears, but this is a result of the demonisation of women and their increased position as subordinates. (Of course, I hardly think we should have a “prostitute lane” in every town/city, but, it serves to point out that the word itself, as a truly vile thing, is fairly new).
Anyway, aside from this, if a man (or a woman, whatever) wishes to call me a cunt then they are at liberty to do so; I am not offended. Why not? I have a cunt, that’s fine. It’s my cunt, in all its glorious ugliness. I mean, if you want to offend me, you’re going to have to do a little bit better than point out my biology- seriously, get witty. The fact that I am a woman is something that I am so infinitely proud of, and the fact that I have come so far, with the restrictions being a woman has, makes me feel even better. So go on, point it out- think you’re objectifying or offending me, but it’s my cunt and I love it- it will never offend me.
So, onto slut/slag/whore etc etc. I see this as somewhat more contentious than cunt, personally. I am quite happy to reclaim words that point to promiscuity. If a slut is someone who engages in promiscuous, but safe and consensual sex- what’s the problem? Should I be offended because you call out something that I like to do? It took a very, very long time for me to think this way, but now I do- unashamedly.
Now, I can see two problems with the term. Firstly, it is heavily gendered. Men aren’t “sluts”, and if their promiscuity is ever pointed out as negative, they’re man-whores, as if they’re somewhat deviant from regular, “women” whores. It’s a double standard that needs sorting out- but how else will it be sorted unless women become confident with their sexuality and accept it? If we let ourselves be plagued by terminology then we’re doomed. It will be a slow and arduous process, but the only way to eradicate it is to say “So what? Yes, I sleep with people if I want to but I enjoy it, and I’m happy, and I’m safe”.
The second problem I see is that it is obviously a trigger word, obviously. I will never take away from that, and if a woman does not feel comfortable using it, because it is too much of a trigger, then that is her prerogative, 100%. So many women are sexually abused, day in, day out. Often, it comes down to sex. Women either sleep with too many people, or they’re too frigid… somehow, “slut” seems to cover both grounds (which I never really understood). Especially if you have been a victim to an abuser who manipulated you sexually and bullied you sexually, then of course, to feel comfortable with sex and the vocabulary of it is going to be difficult- perhaps impossible. So on those grounds, I accept if people don’t feel it is their place to reclaim those words, or if it is right to do so at all.
It still remains though, that for me, I will never be ashamed of my sex (pun not intended).
I think the points I’ve made are, at least for me, reconcilable with radical feminism. Yes, I might engage in a one-night-stand, yes, I am somewhat of a “lipstick feminist” and don’t feel right unless I have a face that is painted on, yes, I might quite like to have my cleavage on show- but these do not take away from my identity as a feminist. All of my sexual encounters, from one-night-stands to fully-fledged relationships have been instigated by me. I am the subject of my sex-life, certainly not the object. And that should not be a bad thing. Men complain that benevolent sexism somehow oppresses them: “oh well men always have to ask women out”. Firstly, fuck off- that’s not oppression. Secondly, it’s just not true. I certainly am not happy to wait around for someone to pluck up the courage to ask me out, I’ll fucking well do it myself, thanks (and I think more women should feel this way, too!)
As has been said before, my aesthetic is there for my own gratification. There is probably a sociologically deep-rooted reason why I value the aesthetics that I do, which, though being somewhat divergent (I have blue hair, for God’s sake), are typical in some ways; my red lips and curled hair obviously hark back to Monroe, but they’re for me. They’re an image I create every day, a personality stamp that shows externally. If someone looks at me and thinks that I’m too obnoxious/generally hideous then fine, because they’ll probably think that about my personality too. It’s a fast-track to making friends and saying “here’s the facts: I’m confident, I’m quirky, I reject “normality” (whatever that is), and I’m also a little bit attention seeking/antagonistic”.
And you know what? So what if my cleavage is on show: I have tits, yep, there they are. Isn’t that amazing: I have something that the majority of my (not necessarily biologically) female counter-parts have. It must be a pretty sad existence to still be amazed by something that you see on a daily basis (and not even something genuinely awesome, like a starry night or a sunrise)…a pair of tits. It’s only a testement to your lowly mentality. I certainly shan’t be ashamed of them.
None of these change the fact that I fight for women’s rights: that I believe women have the right to education, to contraception, to abortion. That a woman NEVER deserves a sexual assault- it was NOT her skirt, how drunk she was or what she said. That there is NO excuse for rape, and it should never be apologised for. That women are not “mothers” and men are not “breadwinners”. That a woman is not a psychotic dominatrix if she participates in BDSM… and for me, that’s what radical feminism is really about, NOT my sex life.
I welcome comments, I’m sure people will disagree with a lot of what I’ve said, and I’m still young, I’m still finding my voice and what I believe: this is just a stepping-stone in my feminista-path 🙂