Because apparently women just shouldn't leave the house

After an Arizona police officer was convicted of sexually abusing a woman at a bar, here’s what the judge had to say to the victim:

The judge sentencing Evans, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch, said she hoped both the defendant and the victim would take lessons away from the case.

Bad things can happen in bars, Hatch told the victim, adding that other people might be more intoxicated than she was.

“If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you,” Hatch said. …

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change,” Hatch said that her mother used to say.

I guess bars are just a permanent no-go zone for women. Or anywhere that people are drunk. Or anywhere that anyone might sexually assault them. They just have to stay away from any place rapists might be.

Except, you know, that’s everywhere. Women are raped anywhere and everywhere: at bars, concerts, rallies, offices, in hotels, subways, alleys, parks, the woods, elevators, cars, any secluded or isolated space, in public, in broad daylight, even in their own homes. The “she shouldn’t have been there” argument is really nothing more than a “she shouldn’t have been anywhere” argument, because there is nowhere that women are not raped. What “power to change” ought the victim have exercised? The power to remove herself entirely from the society in which she lives, as all women supposedly must do because rapists just can’t stop raping people?

Would-be rapists do not have some Sims-like beacon above their head that says “I am here to rape someone”. If they aim to get close enough to someone to rape them, then broadcasting clear signals of their intentions is precisely what they will try not to do – they’ll seek to imitate non-rapists as best they can, so they don’t stand out at all. But hey, let’s not go blaming other people for raping women or anything. Let’s just hold the victims responsible for not being able to read people’s minds and identify predators at a glance, and for failing to wall themselves into a sealed room for the rest of their lives.

By the way, that claim of “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you”? It’s not even true. It is explicitly, demonstrably false, in this very same case:

Evans also pinched another woman on the buttocks an hour before sexually abusing the victim in this case, according to a witness. The judge ruled before trial that the incident would be prejudicial if it was allowed to be admitted as evidence.

If she had not been there, someone else would have been assaulted. Someone else was assaulted. How many women should have to avoid public spaces just to keep from being abused by this man? All of them? They aren’t the ones to blame for this. If he hadn’t been there, none of this would have happened.

Because apparently women just shouldn't leave the house
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Because apparently women just shouldn’t leave the house

After an Arizona police officer was convicted of sexually abusing a woman at a bar, here’s what the judge had to say to the victim:

The judge sentencing Evans, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch, said she hoped both the defendant and the victim would take lessons away from the case.

Bad things can happen in bars, Hatch told the victim, adding that other people might be more intoxicated than she was.

“If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you,” Hatch said. …

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change,” Hatch said that her mother used to say.

I guess bars are just a permanent no-go zone for women. Or anywhere that people are drunk. Or anywhere that anyone might sexually assault them. They just have to stay away from any place rapists might be.

Except, you know, that’s everywhere. Women are raped anywhere and everywhere: at bars, concerts, rallies, offices, in hotels, subways, alleys, parks, the woods, elevators, cars, any secluded or isolated space, in public, in broad daylight, even in their own homes. The “she shouldn’t have been there” argument is really nothing more than a “she shouldn’t have been anywhere” argument, because there is nowhere that women are not raped. What “power to change” ought the victim have exercised? The power to remove herself entirely from the society in which she lives, as all women supposedly must do because rapists just can’t stop raping people?

Would-be rapists do not have some Sims-like beacon above their head that says “I am here to rape someone”. If they aim to get close enough to someone to rape them, then broadcasting clear signals of their intentions is precisely what they will try not to do – they’ll seek to imitate non-rapists as best they can, so they don’t stand out at all. But hey, let’s not go blaming other people for raping women or anything. Let’s just hold the victims responsible for not being able to read people’s minds and identify predators at a glance, and for failing to wall themselves into a sealed room for the rest of their lives.

By the way, that claim of “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you”? It’s not even true. It is explicitly, demonstrably false, in this very same case:

Evans also pinched another woman on the buttocks an hour before sexually abusing the victim in this case, according to a witness. The judge ruled before trial that the incident would be prejudicial if it was allowed to be admitted as evidence.

If she had not been there, someone else would have been assaulted. Someone else was assaulted. How many women should have to avoid public spaces just to keep from being abused by this man? All of them? They aren’t the ones to blame for this. If he hadn’t been there, none of this would have happened.

Because apparently women just shouldn’t leave the house

Names have power, such as…

My partner and I have recently been reading The Lightning Thief with our 9-year-old son. One of the recurring ideas is that “names have power”, which is usually meant as “don’t say someone’s name or they’ll get pissed off”. While it initially seemed absurd that Greek gods and other creatures would somehow be okay with people talking about them as long as no one uses their actual names, it’s more likely that this is just a literary device to allow these newly renamed figures to be included as characters in their own right without triggering too many of the cultural associations that have become attached to their usual names.

But in looking into what “names have power” might mean, I found that this was actually a somewhat common idea. One person cited the Genesis myth of Adam naming every animal as an example of the act of naming symbolizing one’s power over the thing being named. This is just a specific instance of a more general kind of power: there was already an imbalance, because animals typically lack the ability to assign or comprehend names in the same way as humans. While the actual act of naming is an expression of this power, it’s not central to it. It’s a symptom, but not a cause.

Elsewhere, the American Druid Isaac Bonewits listed the “Law of Names” as one of many “Laws of Magic”. As he explained it:

Knowing the complete and true name of an object, being, or process gives one complete control over it. …knowing the complete and true name of something or someone means that you have achieved a complete understanding of its or their nature.

Ironically, this appears to disregard the common understanding of the name “name” as a convenient label for something, instead using the term to refer to an extended and comprehensive description. While fully grasping the functioning of a given entity might enable someone to exert control over it in certain ways, merely knowing its name – as most people use the word – is only a starting point.

But even as nothing more than convenient labels, names do have a variety of “powers”. The reason they have power is that identities have power, and the use of names provides a way to create, access, alter, merge, separate and destroy identities. This applies not only to people, but also to events, concepts, and movements.

For instance, a name can serve to integrate multiple identities that would otherwise be separate, such as someone’s offline identity and whatever additional identities they may have online. By associating these with the one individual behind all of them, they can be resolved to a single identity and a single name, potentially compromising that person’s privacy or safety. Conversely, omitting any identifying information, or using a very common name like “Anonymous”, can prevent the unwanted unification of one’s identities.

Putting a name to something also allows it to be discussed much more efficiently than if it had no name. Notice the ease of simply being able to say a name like “Elevator-gate” rather than having to rehash the specific nature and timeline of a certain controversy every time you talk about it. A name enables people to begin staking out the precise boundaries of something, defining it as a distinct entity.

For example, “atheism” has an obvious and well-understood definition, but in practice, it often implies a variety of stances beyond the disbelief in gods. “Humanism” and “secular humanism” can describe some of these additional beliefs, but these terms still haven’t always been linked to specific positions on ethics or political issues, and they’re even compatible with certain religious faiths. Because of this, their practical implications are often unclear.

People who identify strongly with atheism and secularism as a movement, but also share particular beliefs pertaining to equality, sexism, racism, women’s rights and LGBT issues, have long recognized that they constitute their own movement of sorts, but the lack of a distinct banner to organize under has sometimes left unclear just who they are and what exactly they stand for. Putting a name to this, like “Atheism Plus”, gives people something to affiliate themselves with and collaborate on to establish what it should mean.

Of course, this particular power of names is not a one-way process. The use of names can clarify and distinguish ideas and movements, but the ways people use and misuse them can also make their meaning much less clear. In the case of feminism, someone might use it to mean gender equality, but others may hear it as meaning an effort to subjugate, castrate or exterminate all men. This occurs because people don’t understand feminism as one distinct concept, and they have many mutually exclusive ideas of what feminism is – ideas which have become so, shall we say, “diverse”, that using the term can often result in these disconnects in communication.

Sometimes, people act as though names have more power than they actually do. They might disavow the labels of “racist” or “homophobe” or “hateful”, and then exhibit precisely the beliefs which are understood to be racist or homophobic or hateful, mistakenly believing that they can somehow alter the substance of their behavior merely by renaming it and attaching the disclaimer of “I’m not a racist”. But in using the name “racist” for something very different from how most of us use it, they’ve already disavowed that common meaning, so their defense that they’re “not a racist” ends up meaning very little. It can only be persuasive to others who commit the same error of thinking that something isn’t racist as long as you say it’s not.

People’s attitudes toward personal names also imbue them with certain powers. Because no one is capable of naming themselves at the time of their birth, their parents or guardians must provide a name for them. That name will be attached to them throughout their upbringing, and even once they reach the age of majority, most people still never change their first name. Because of this, that original name will always occupy a privileged position in their history, and the act of naming a child carries the solemnity of having to choose something that will be fitting and proper for them until death.

Changing your own name means rejecting these norms, and many people aren’t comfortable with that. When we do change our names, some people see these newly chosen names as somehow less authentic than the original name. Because they’re no longer something that we’re tied to for life, people might treat them as simply capricious, with no more significance than a change of hair color or a twenty-something’s ill-considered decision to get a tattoo.

At the same time, a chosen name takes on additional meaning in the case of transgender people. Because names are usually gendered, and gender is seen as one of the most fundamental aspects of our identity, changing your name to that of another gender is a declaration of not only who you are, but what you are. The popular notion of one’s original name being a “real name” can cause serious problems here. If your original name is the “real” one, then any name for yourself other than that will be treated as less real. And when you’ve declared yourself as the gender you now identify as, this use of “real” implies that what you are now is less real than what you used to be.

Considering how prevalent the notion of birth names as “real names” is, it’s not surprising that many people will ask trans people what their “real” names are. But they shouldn’t expect that we’ll be all that eager to tell them. Because of how people treat names, our original names have the power to invalidate who we are in the eyes of others. Rather than just ignorantly seeing us as “really a man” in the generic sense of “man”, knowing our previous names may lead them to see us as “really that one specific man”. It assists them in constructing some imagined identity for us that simply doesn’t exist, as an alternative to the person standing right in front of them. Our present may not erase our past, but our past doesn’t erase our present, either.

We’re proud of our chosen names because they represent who we are, but we can be equally secretive about our original names because they represent who we’re not. Just as our chosen names serve our own purposes, our original names can be used against us. And much like how people are willing to fight over the concepts and movements that a name stands for, they also seem to think that who we are is open to dispute. They might argue that I’m not really Rachel, I’m actually Tom. Not everyone seems to understand that while ideologies are up for debate, individuals are not.

These are the powers of names: to declare your self or deny someone their self, to affiliate or disaffiliate yourself with a movement, to make something into a thing in its own right or make it meaningless. Know them, understand them, and use them appropriately, and the powers of names can be yours.

Names have power, such as…

Heather is here for YOU!

Since a lot of people seem to be asking about this, I think I should explain why I sometimes feature my partner Heather and her videos on our channel. Many seem to think that this is just something I grudgingly indulge out of a sense of obligation. In reality, I’ve actually had to convince her to do this. She usually doesn’t want to do videos, because she thinks they aren’t good enough.

But I want her here, because she covers an area that I’ve often neglected: the explicit discussion of feminism. And quite simply, she’s better at it. To me, it’s like watching videos by QualiaSoup or AronRa – I look at her work and I think, I wish I were that insightful. Fortunately, we live together, so why shouldn’t we work together on this?

I find it really interesting that when I have featured various feminist ideas in my videos, hardly anyone has a problem with this. I suspect it’s because I’ve rarely used the word “feminism” itself – a term with an almost magical ability to turn people’s brains off. As soon as you say you’re a feminist, out come the standard array of reflex responses: “you’re ugly”, “you’re a bitch”, “you just hate men”, “why don’t you support everyone’s rights?”, “what about the men?”, “but men and women are different!”, “women are already equal!” – the sort of thing that most of us already have the good sense not to say about LGBT rights, atheist activism, and other issues I regularly discuss.

Somehow, this topic alone has managed to enrage more people than when I’ve recommended boycotting the Salvation Army, told preteens it’s okay to be gay because there is no God, suggested that transgender people shouldn’t have to tell anyone they’re trans before sleeping with them, and drawn Muhammad and then eaten the drawing. Apparently it’s much worse to call yourself a feminist and say that gender roles are mostly arbitrary, often restrictive, and usually disadvantage women. If that’s really the worst thing you’ve ever heard on this channel, then I’m pretty proud of Heather for accomplishing something that even I couldn’t do.

And as long as this is how people react to any mention of feminism, this tells me that more coverage of feminism is exactly what we need. We need more open discussion of what feminism actually is, why feminism is a necessary movement, why the issues addressed by feminism are important, and why being a feminist is nothing to be ashamed of. If this isn’t something you want to hear about, well, that’s your loss. But as always, we do hope that some people will at least make an effort to listen and understand. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it mattered.

Heather is here for YOU!

In a radical feminist world, there is no transphobia

by Heather

Radical feminism is a platform for gender equality which includes, among other things, the belief that most gender is performed. As a radical feminist, I believe that gender roles are artificially created, that most dimorphism is affected rather than mandated by nature, and that the divide has been pushed beyond all reason to the express benefit of men. This is what we call the patriarchy.

One unfortunate aspect of this socialization is that society, through various messages including but not limited to role-modeling from peers and media, teaches young men that they are entitled to the hearts and minds of women, including but again not limited to domestic and sexual servitude. Women, no more fond of subjugation and servitude than men, become unfortunately prone to self-loathing and more fortunately prone to rebellion.

In the process of shaking ourselves loose the shackles of gendered expectations, different schools of feminism have emerged. Varying degrees of oppression are recognized, and socialized roles and appearances are sorted differently into categories of oppressive and benign. Radical feminism, as the name suggests, subscribes to the most severe criteria. Radical feminism is also unfortunately best known by queer communities as transphobic.

The rift between radical feminism and trans activism begins with the application of known oppressive phenomena to the analysis of trans presentation and activism. On the surface, it’s easy to see what their problem is. To the casual observer, trans women assert and express their womanhood physically and visually. They often wear feminine clothes, shave feminine areas, and insist on feminine names and pronouns. Trans men resist feminine obligations, much the way radical feminists do, but then also resist the designation of “woman.” In the eyes of transphobic radical feminists, the former too closely resembles role enforcement while the latter too closely resembles self-loathing.

If trans people and trans activists were at all interested in sending women at large back to the kitchen, entrenching them further into the sex class, or in the case of trans men, eliminating women altogether or otherwise gender-leveling up, the transphobic radical feminists might have a point. Inconveniently for them, this couldn’t be further from the case.

The patriarchy has the same persistent negative impact on trans women as it does cis women. Society tells them that they are more acceptable when they present in a feminine manner and worth less as a person when they fail to please the eye. The rigid physical standards applied to women cause trans women inordinate amounts of stress. The sex classing of women and requisite caste system of the class (more commonly known as varying degrees of fuckability, or even more commonly as a scale from 1 to 10) has inhumanely relegated trans women with a certain remaining organ to the undesirables. They are expected to be content with either fetishization or pity fucking, along with cis women of the overweight and differently abled varieties. This particular problem has recently been the birth of a massive online “cotton ceiling” debate. We’ll get back to that.

Let us first work on the premise that trans women are women and trans men are men. Of course without the validity of their genders decided upon, it’s easy enough for transphobes to make their arguments unchallenged. The most common radical feminist position on trans identities is that a post-patriarchal world would not require men to call themselves women to be feminine. They could just be feminine men; reverse that for trans men.

But this doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Society already does not require masculine women to call themselves men or feminine men to call themselves women. Furthermore, a post-patriarchal world – more specifically a post-gender role world – would necessarily have eliminated almost every trait that divides men from women. Things we think of as masculine or feminine would no longer be associated with men or women and would no longer even be recognizable as masculine or feminine. Masculinity and femininity would lose all meaning.

This is not a utopian fantasy. Many things have already lost masculine and feminine categorization. In my mother’s time, trumpet playing was masculine. In my grandmother’s time, making jokes was masculine. Today, neither of these activities are associated with gender. It is not possible to draw a line in this gender-blending at the physical. Perhaps the imaginations of older-generation feminists who grew up in far more oppressive environments than today’s feminists were unable to think as far ahead as, say, the thick-necked, slender-hipped, flat-chested physiques of the very feminine 2012 Olympic women’s gymnastics team, or the soft skin and round, well-developed breasts of a trans woman on HRT. Nonetheless, here we have it. The lines are being erased with the slow liberation of women and medical advancement.

If the contention of radical feminism is that neither behavior, nor presentation, nor physical appearance should make or break the difference between men and women, why draw the line at the word “man” or “woman?” The very words will become nonsensical and impossible to define. Sure, there will still be some natural hormonal division, but when people can safely, permanently, and completely alter these differences at will, why deny it? When women and men are socialized equally, what will anyone have lost? What will anyone have gained but the right to define themselves, the right for which radical feminists so arduously fight?

Back to the cotton ceiling debate, or really, any debate online between radical feminists and trans activists: Is a childhood of boy-designated socialization sometimes evident in arguments from trans women? Absolutely. To start with, they don’t question themselves, apologize for themselves, or wait for their turn to speak quite as often as cis women are taught to do from birth. Likewise, a childhood of girl-designated socialization is sometimes evident when trans men make arguments. It will be nice when girl-designated socialization and boy-designated socialization include a childhood where respect and assertiveness are taught equally, but though there has been progress, we’re not there yet.

However, there is no reason to make the leap from a sense of the way somebody was socialized as a child to their “true” gender. Like the wage gap, sex classing, and glass ceiling, all of which very much apply to trans people’s identities rather than their designated birth sex, these are simply the costs and benefits of the patriarchy. Like skirts, heels, trucks, and sports, they are no more reflective of the true identity of a trans person than they are a cis person.

In a radical feminist world, there is no transphobia

Halfway to victory: The diminishing returns of activism

by Heather

The other day as she was reading something online, Zinnia asked me my opinion on the question of why people seem to be more supportive of LGBT activism than feminism. At first I gave the simplest answer I could think of: A cis, straight person can support the rights of LGBT people and then never, or very rarely, be personally affected by that support. They may never knowingly encounter a trans person or be invited to a same-sex wedding ceremony. If they work for a smaller company, they may never encounter an LGBT person at work. They may have none in their family.

It’s not so simple to avoid women. To support equal treatment of women is to admit that you’re a part of a system that disadvantages your mothers, sisters, daughters, and possibly significant others. If you’re a woman, it’s to admit that your fathers, brothers, sons, and possibly significant others are benefiting from a system that gives to them at your expense, and that most of them are either willfully ignoring this fact or actively maintaining the status quo. Feminism means acknowledging harsh realities about people you love. LGBT activism may or may not do the same.

Naturally, Zinnia thought this would be an excellent topic for me to discuss on my monthly contribution to her channel as her videos about LGBT activism, however abrasive, are significantly more liked than anything either she or I can say about feminism, so I spent a lot more time thinking about it. I realized my original thoughts were correct, but incomplete. While the current incarnations of feminism are regarded as either angry fringe movements, or overplayed songs of the past, it certainly had its day in the sun.

The Nineteenth Amendment, passed in 1919 guaranteeing women the right to vote, was the beginning of a century of notable advancement for women. In 1969, president Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11375 banning discrimination based on sex in federal workforce hiring decisions. 1972 brought us Title IX which entitled women to equal educational opportunities and finally ended the tyranny of enforced sex discrimination in education, and 1973 brought us the infamous Roe v. Wade, which entitled women to medical and reproductive privacy. These things did not happen with the support of only a few. These things happened with the support of a majority. Yes, at one point, the majority of the United States was identifying and voting feminist.

Currently, LGBT activism is in its heyday. Friends, we just eliminated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Countries all over the world are legalizing gay marriage. States all over the union are… they’re… trying. President Obama is the first president of the United States to endorse gay marriage. For the first time in history, polls are showing overwhelming support for LGBT rights. The standard of care for trans people is improving with many countries in the world providing full and free access to medical transition, and even in the United States it is getting easier. Progress is being made, but we’re nowhere near done.

Employment nondiscrimination for all gender and sexual minorities needs to be enforced on the federal level. DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act which makes it so that same-sex marriages, even in states where they are legal, are considered invalid outside of the state and are ineligible for federal benefits – is probably next on the chopping block, but it’s still there. Access to medical transition needs to be as guaranteed as access to any other valid and necessary treatment guaranteed by American health insurance companies. Laws governing the ability to change one’s legal gender status are being liberalized in many states but have fallen backwards in others. Our battle for legal equality is in full force and we’re on the winning team. Of course it’s easy to support it.

Since the civil rights movements in the 1960s, it would seem that, at least for the United States, legal equality is nearly a solved problem. Precedence has been set in the Supreme Court time and again. All we need are the right lawyers, and time. For Americans, this is a point of pride, and the majority, however slim, is happy to join us.

But what happens to equal rights movements when their battles are won? When the privileged majority declares the problem sorted and moves on to another cause du jour? When, instead of cookies and claps on the back, cis straight white men still have to hear about how people of color are overwhelmingly impoverished and imprisoned, women still can’t make a buck in spite of eager and overwhelming academic achievement, are getting raped left and right, and are slowly losing their reproductive rights, or that gender and sexual minorities are still forced into conversion therapy or homelessness?

It’s an inevitable aspect of the human condition that we cheer for the winning teams, donate to the popular charities, save the cuter animals. Legal equality is a popular fight and a solved problem, but social equality is what Americans do worst. In time, like feminism, black power, and any number of fights for real equality, LGBT activism will peter out. The work will be left to those of us affected the most, and ignored by those affected the least. We’ll scowl over statistics that show our disadvantages while the majority ignores us and wonder when it ever got to be so uncool to be LGBT.

Halfway to victory: The diminishing returns of activism

Guest post: Is Feminism About Choice?

by Heather

Recently, as I was procrastinating something important or another, I came across a picture on somebody’s Tumblr. It was a silly graphic of a woman shaving her legs, and it said, “To me, feminism means choice. I can choose to shave my legs, and I can choose not to. There is no right answer, one option does not make me any more or less of a feminist than the other. I can shave or not shave. Whatever the hell I want to because it’s my choice!” This was reblogged hundreds of times and posted on Reddit and various other places online. It received quite a lot of support.

I find this disturbing. It’s as though somebody took the entire lexicon of feminist theory, feminist literature, history of feminism, and women’s studies, and then crossed out billions and billions of words and circled the one that justified literally anything they wanted. Feminism is not about choice. Feminism is about equality of the sexes.

Does the word “choice” sometimes occur in arguments and discussion about women’s equality? Absolutely. We want choices. We want our choices to be sexy, be parents, or be feminine to necessitate sacrifice no greater or lesser than those of our male counterparts. We want to be attractive and have sex without being reduced to a sex class, where every inch of skin, pound of fat, and follicle of hair on our bodies are monitored for youthfulness and open to all for comment. We want to choose to be parents without having to choose between putting brand new babies in expensive daycare ten hours a day, or lose our careers entirely. Those are the choices we want. Those are the choices we don’t have.

When a woman chooses to shave her legs, she is making a choice that has absolutely no negative consequences, real or imagined. For feminism was never about not shaving legs. It was never about being sexually unappealing, not having children, or not sleeping with men. In fact, when a woman “chooses” to shave her legs, she is choosing a course of action that will earn her approval from men and women alike. When a woman chooses not to shave her legs or underarms, she is making a choice that will earn her almost universal disapproval. Her femininity and heterosexuality (if she is heterosexual) will both be called into question. Her politics will be assumed radical and man-hating. Her decision will be considered an aggressive rejection of men, sex, and femininity. She will have broken the barriers of her class, assigned by her sex, and for that she will be rejected and punished. The choices to wear makeup to work and parties, or not, follow the same lines of consequences, as do the choices to battle wrinkles and gray hair or not, eat daintily or not.

Nonetheless, a choice either way on any of those questions does not determine whether a person is feminist or not. The defining choice that determines whether or not a person is feminist is whether they’re going to be satisfied with the unequal set of choices they have. It is the choice between being complacent with a society that teaches us that we must put financial independence and ourselves second to men and babies, or wanting a better reality that gives us the options to have both, as men have had since the beginning of time. The future of feminism is in breaking the glass ceiling, unraveling the sex classing of women, and equalizing the sacrifices of parenting and careers between the sexes. It has nothing to do with the state of your legs.

Guest post: Is Feminism About Choice?

Guest post: Sex-positive feminism vs. anti-pornography feminism

by Heather

Sex positive feminism is a relatively new movement in feminism which originated in the 1990s. It arose as a reactionary movement in direct opposition both to millennia-long patriarchal and usually religious movements against specifically women having sex, and opposition to second-wave feminists’ anti-pornography viewpoints. It is the idea that a woman’s sexual liberation is central to women’s liberation as a whole; that a woman’s freedom must include the freedom to have sex whenever, however, and with whomever she likes. Parallel goals include recognizing different kinds of beauty, and celebrating various sexualized expressions of beauty, masculine, feminine, and everywhere in between, including pornography and sex work.

Opponents of sex positive feminism, sometimes derisively referred to as “sex-negative feminists,” argue that pornography objectifies women, sex work keeps women second-class and in a great deal of danger, and that the sex positive movement is not actually feminist but a disguised extension of male privilege – a movement which overwhelmingly makes colorful excuses for the objectification of women and favors men’s dicks. Sex positive feminists are sometimes derisively referred to as “fun-feminists.”

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to those on the feminist side of the opposition to the sex positive movement as anti-pornography. The division of feminism into sex-positive and anti-pornography feminism began in the 1990s and persists through today, and like any radical movement in its adolescence, sex positive feminism has brought enthusiastic and idealistic attention to some important issues – and has some glaring blemishes on its face.

Sex positive feminism has been a positive force in the acceptance of queer sexuality. The movement places heavy focus on the acceptance and inclusion of different sexual orientations and gender identities, which was long, long overdue. It is also inarguably important that women be able to enjoy the freedom of having sex with whomever they want and whenever they want to do it. For too long over too many thousands of years, women’s sexuality has been institutionally controlled. Only recently has western culture stopped actually killing or shunning women for having extramarital sex, and there are still exceptions. Some eastern cultures still mutilate women’s genitals to keep their sexual expression in check. There is definitely a place for sex positive discussion in the gender equality movement.

At the core of the rift between sex positive and anti-pornography feminism is their interpretations of what constitutes empowerment and oppression in the larger arena of female sexuality, from high heels and lipstick to submissives in sub/dom relationships to sex workers. Simply put, while anti-pornography feminists tend to view socialized aspects of female sexuality as coercion until proven innocent, sex-positive feminists see most of it as consent until proven guilty.

The anti-pornography crowd, for example, will often argue that high heels, miniskirts, and makeup are uncomfortable, expensive, and in some cases near-crippling, and that to call them empowering expressions of femininity is disingenuous and insulting. Sex positive feminists might argue that high heels are hot and if women choose to wear them, then they ought not be shamed either by agents of the patriarchy wishing to devalue them due to their visible desire for sex, or by their sisters in feminism who would take something as benign as an article of clothing and claim that it was oppressing women. After all, heels make their calves look good.

The same goes with things such as pornography and sex work, where anti-pornography feminists claim that a monetary contract for sex is oppressive and dangerous to women (and men, but disproportionately women), sex positive feminists claim that women can consent to these things as much as they can consent to sex without pay, or as much as they can consent to any other sort of work that pays them, and the only difference between getting paid to be a secretary and getting paid to be a sex worker is that sex outside of marriage is considered by the patriarchy to be improper and debasing for women.

While sex positive feminists certainly have a point by saying that women should be considered able to consent to sex in all contexts and can even consent to wearing things traditionally labeled sexy, and while they definitely have an argument that women should not be shamed or devalued because they look sexy or have sex for work, there are significant problems with these arguments.

Full gender equality does not yet exist, and many of us are hesitant to join in enthusiastically on current ideals of sexiness in the contexts of interpersonal relationships, feminine presentation, and especially commerce. While sex positive feminists claim to be challenging those ideals, they are only doing so inasmuch as they intend to add to them with things not previously considered sexy (for example, fat acceptance). While there is certainly a place for that, there is also a pervasive and purposeful push for acceptance of the current ideals if that’s your preference. The idea that any sexual preference whatsoever is legitimate and natural, and is probably only considered bad because patriarchy, is to deny how overwhelmingly the current ideals benefit heterosexual men at the expense of the rest of us. How awkward and out of place would it be to hear a heterosexual man say that he was not in fact oppressed or anything, but simply wanted to burn his hair with styling tools, then put on those crippling shoes, revealing short shorts, and daily face paint because he thinks it’s sexy and therefore women think it’s sexy, and he likes women and sex? No one would mistake such an individual for empowered. If it seems absurd to expect from men, then it ought to seem absurd to expect from women.

Further to the point, this focus on expanding the ideals of beauty and sexiness so that everyone can have a slice to further empowerment for women is doing exactly the opposite of what feminists have been working toward for decades, and not for nothing. It keeps us locked in this asinine prison of a value system that teaches women they must be aesthetically pleasing to be sexually desirable and sexually desirable to be whole. Again, how awkward would it seem to base a movement on reassuring men that they’re all handsome? Or, to use a stereotype more often associated with men’s desirability, to assure them that no matter how little money they have, they’re rich so long as they’re confident?

However, the biggest and most shameful crime of the sex positive movement is the cherrypicking of testimonials from sex workers of all sorts – from nude models to actors in pornography to exotic dancers to escorts – as though middle-class, healthy, educated agents of gender equality made up a significant portion of the industry’s representatives. The stories of hundreds of thousands of women who worked in the sex industry and experienced emotionally painful objectification, dehumanizing treatment, addictions, and abuse should not be dismissed as problems that can be erased by simply erasing pimps, and cannot be replaced with the assertion that sex workers are adults and therefore have agency and consent freely or that porn is healthy. Safe working environments and emotionally healthy consent simply are not components of most sex workers’ realities. Sex workers are overwhelmingly female and overwhelmingly unsafe. Scrawling the word “empowerment” over the sex industry is by far the sex positive movement’s largest insult toward women.

But, it’s still a baby. Maybe it will grow up someday.

Guest post: Sex-positive feminism vs. anti-pornography feminism