Content Notice: Discussions of cisheterosexual norms, sexual activity, and consent
There’s often a tension between reality and principles that is difficult to articulate except in context.
My ethical values include upholding consent in every way, shape, and form. That includes engaging in sexual activity without as few assumptions as possible regarding what the other person wants. And yet today, I found myself more concerned with the sexual imbalance and disparity targeted by a statement than that statement’s less-than-consensual implications.
The statement is this meme of Gunther from Adventure Time with the original penguin-shaming text rewritten:
I must admit that my initial read of it lacked in nuance. I saw it the other day because it was posted by at least one Facebook friend. I laughed and enjoyed it, misogynistic slur and all. My first reaction wasn’t a careful and thoughtful sussing out of its implications. Then another Facebook friend pointed out discomfort with it, which got me thinking.
The implications of the meme are cisheteronormative, for one. For another, the meme implies that you need to reciprocate whatever sexual acts your partner performs on you, tit for tat — specifically oral sex — rather than seek out a more compatible partner for your sexual desires.
In the case of this particular sexual act, I do have a personal history of assumptions leading to negative experiences within the cisheteronormative context. You might think I should’ve known better. You would think that I would recoil from the meme by remembering those times I received (truncated, mediocre, perfunctory) cunnilingus so that my male partner could check the fake feminist fairness box before demanding fellatio. Instead, I laughed and felt it in my soul, bitter in my memories of the many, many other times men refrained from even symbolic lip service for my pleasure.
It’s complicated because though we SJW types may have solid consent principles, we also live in a deeply-flawed society.
We don’t exist in a void, we live in a social context. Unfortunate partner mismatch isn’t what is leading to cis het men not going down on the cis het women who go down on them. The oral sex and general sexual satisfaction gap in the cisheteronormative world isn’t something that most cis het women can fix by simply finding a more sexually-compatible partner; more likely, a cis het woman’s next cis het male partner is just as unlikely as the preceding one to be unconcerned with her satisfaction. It’s a social issue, one of misogyny, not one that can be explained by simple incompatibility.
And also because it’s a social issue, the meme fails because it paints what is a broader problem as a personal failing that can be fixed by assuming reciprocity. Sending the message that you should be willing to sexually perform whatever acts your partner also performs sets a bad premise.
In the end, the issue is more complex than some text jokingly ‘shooped over an image from a cartoon can properly convey. I fully recognize the failings both of society and of the meme, but am overall far more angry at the misogynistic lack of concern with women’s sexual pleasure in cisheteronormative contexts than I am at a meme for being imprecise. We need more memes in the spirit and with the intent of this one, but with more thoughtful wording.